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Merrimack Valley, Andover school districts begin search for new superintendent

The search for a new superintendent in the Merrimack Valley and Andover school districts is likely to be challenging, as districts across the state have struggled in recent years to find suitable contenders.

“There are a lot more openings than there are well-qualified candidates,” said Ted Comstock, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, which aids districts in superintendent searches.

This year will be Superintendent Mike Martin’s last at the helm of both districts. The search committee, which began meeting this summer, hopes to have an ad out for the job by the beginning of October and to select his successor by February, said Lorrie Carey, a Merrimack Valley board member and chairwoman of the search committee.

Martin initially planned to retire in 2008, but he agreed to stay because the search climate was weak at that time, and the district faced other possible retirements. He scaled his hours back to part time, but his replacement will work full time.

Although the economy has improved, Comstock said the pool of applicants is still limited. Many of the state’s superintendents are reaching retirement age, but in recent years, administrators in lower positions have been less likely to step up, he said. Qualified candidates also seem less likely to relocate now than in the past, he said.

Given these factors, the search committee and school boards are preparing for a potentially arduous search process.

“We know it’s going to be a long search, and we’ve been cautioned: ‘Be prepared, you may not find the person you want,’ ” Carey said.

Board members from Merrimack Valley and Andover filled out a survey earlier this month regarding qualities they’re seeking in a new superintendent. A tentative job description lists these job qualifications: superintendent certification from the state’s Department of Education, some type of advanced degree in school administration, and experience working in a district central office and as a teacher or principal. Board members said they’re interested in someone who is well-versed in school finances and technology, which Carey says is a weak point in the district.

A consultant for the New Hampshire School Boards Association will hold meetings in each town to gather community feedback in late September. All of that will be used to finalize the job description, which will be posted by the beginning of October. Ideally, the committee will use November and December to look through applications, January to conduct interviews and will name a new superintendent in February, Carey said.

Martin began leading Merrimack Valley in 1999, making him one of the area’s longest-serving superintendents. Comstock said he’s also widely regarded as one of the best superintendents in the state, making the task of replacing him that much more difficult. Members of the school board are hoping they can find someone to keep carrying the district down the successful path Martin has put it on.

“It’s been a very successful tenure, and we’re very excited about the opportunity of bringing in someone to bolster what Mike has done,” said Tom Godfrey, chairman of Merrimack Valley’s school board.

Before coming to Merrimack Valley, Martin was an assistant superintendent in Concord for nine years and an administrator in the White Mountains Regional School District. He holds both a master of business administration degree and a doctorate in education, which Carey says is a hard-to-find combination. In 2010, he was named New Hampshire Superintendent of the Year.

(Martin was unavailable to comment for this story because he is out of the office until next week.)

As superintendent, Martin is responsible for the effectiveness of school operations, ranging from finances to academics to instructional development. He reports to the Merrimack Valley and Andover school boards. As a part-time superintendent, he’s paid hourly at a rate of $77 per hour, which works out to about $128,000 per year.

During his tenure, the district opened the brand-new Penacook Elementary School and did a full renovation of the high school. He was also instrumental in opening two charter schools that serve Merrimack Valley students, which run independently from the district. CSI Charter School is for students who dropped out of high school and want to return to finish their degree, and the TEAMS Charter School focuses on technology, engineering, math and science.

Carey said Martin’s knowledge of school finances is one of his strongest qualities as a leader, because he is always thinking about ways to save the district and taxpayers money. During his tenure, for example, the high school, middle school and administrative building campus switched from an oil heater to a wood chip furnace, which helped control fuel costs. Overall, the quality of staff, school facilities and academics has been strengthened during Martin’s tenure, she said.

Carey says she wants to encourage community members to get involved in the search process by offering feedback or getting the word out to potential candidates. She and the other board members hope to find someone who will carry on in Martin’s footsteps.

“Merrimack Valley has come leaps and bounds during his tenure,” Carey said. “It’s just been amazing.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Related

How long have area superintendents been leading their districts?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Superintendent Mike Martin has led the Merrimack Valley and Andover school districts since 1999, making him the area’s longest-serving superintendent. Here’s a look at how long other superintendents have led their districts: ∎ Chris Rath has served as superintendent of the Concord School District since 2000. ∎ Helene Bickford and Patricia Sherman, who are co-superintendents at School Administrative Unit 53, were both … 0

Try splitting up his duties. If the only thing mentioned in this mans knowledge of school finances and ways to save the district and taxpayers money was switching from an oil heater to a wood chip furnace well, I'm sure there are very qualified people to make those kinds of decisions.

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