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Eight candidates compete for four slots in two races for Concord School Board

  • Kass Ardinger<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Rusty Cofrin<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Clint Cogswell<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Oliver Spencer<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Tom Croteau<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Ridgely Mauck<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>
  • Pat Taylor is running for the Concord School Board and participated in an Ed. Board on Tuesday October 2, 2012.<br/><br/>(John Tully/Monitor Staff)
  • Eric Weiner<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/>

Eight candidates are vying for four slots in two races for the Concord School Board.

Four people are running for three, three-year spots. The other four are running to fill the seat vacated by Jack Dunn, who left to become the district’s business manager. Two years remain on his three-year term.

Concord residents vote in both races.

For the three-year slots:

Kass Ardinger

Ardinger, 52, has been on the board since 2006 and was elected its president in 2009. She’s seeking a third, three-year term.

Ardinger helped guide the district through the construction of three elementary schools, which have come in under budget. She’s also been involved with hiring the majority of the district’s administration.

An attorney and mother of three, Ardinger wants to stick around for more projects, albeit lower-profile ones.

The district is looking at a $1.8 million reduction in state adequacy funding for the 2013-2014 school year, is overhauling its teacher evaluation system and figuring out what to do with its closed elementary schools. It’s also preparing for a transition to the Common Core Standards, a move with wide-reaching implications for students.

“I really do think that one of our biggest challenges is an instructional issue, and that is how do we reach all of our students?” Ardinger said. She believes officials need to continue to rethink the way teachers and staff are organized to better reach all students.

“If there’s one positive thing that came out of the No Child Left Behind legislation, it shone a bright light on . . . the effectiveness of our teaching,” Ardinger said.

Ardinger, whose three grown children attended the Concord schools, said she wants to stay on the board, frankly, because she enjoys it. She and long-standing Superintendent Chris Rath have a good working relationship, Ardinger said.

“Now that she decided to extend her contract for three years, I think it’d be great to continue to work with Chris,” Ardinger said.

George ‘Rusty’ Cofrin

Cofrin, 54, coached track and taught math for 27 years in the Concord schools. In that time, among other things, he raised three children who went to the Concord schools, beat brain cancer and competed first in long-distance running and now distance bicycle races.

It’s time to give back, he said.

“The school district stood by my side as I struggled to get healthy,” Cofrin said. “This is one of the reasons I want to run for the school board, to give back to the community.”

A one-time, unsuccessful bike shop owner, Cofrin believes that students should have more opportunities to take financial literacy classes. He’d be open to promoting such a cause if elected.

Cofrin is an advocate for teachers but is also a taxpayer trying to make ends meet and is therefore cautious about increased budgets. He said he’d also advocate for vocational education.

“Every kid needs to go to college, but not every kid needs to go to four-year college,” he said. A lot of people in the trades will soon be retiring, Cofrin said.

“Who do they give their job over to?”

He is proud to have coached Olympian Guor Marial and says refugees – roughly 10 percent of the district’s students – benefit the community.

“We find that those refugee kids are very serious and don’t cause any trouble,” he said.

He said his years as a teacher would be a strength for the board, and that he would be an advocate for all constituents.

“I would not at all side with anybody until I hear all sides,” he said.

Clint Cogswell

Cogswell, 67, worked as an administrator in the Concord school system for 30 years until his retirement. He’s currently vice chairman of the board and is proud to have helped the district usher in its three new elementary schools.

Officials have been doing a lot right, he said, and sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve.

“We’ve got to be salesmen,” said Cogswell, whose three grown children attended Concord’s schools.

But he also concedes that educators need to be “more creative” to better prepare students for an ever-changing job market. All school districts, not just Concord’s, need to improve because “there’s a lot of competition out there,” he said.

“Kids learn in different ways, and we’re teaching one way,” Cogswell said.

To that end, he keeps an open mind to just about any opportunity if it will help a child learn.

Those include expanded online education and larger class sizes, if other conditions are right.

“The class size makes a difference in kindergarten to grade three, but above that it doesn’t make much difference,” Cogswell said. “I think you’ll see some of these charter schools that are going with technology, and they’ll have one teacher with 60 kids. . . . When they have trouble they go to the teacher.”

While he hasn’t approved of certain cuts by the Legislature in funds to employee retirement, he was grateful for other reforms, such as the decision to move the period before a teacher receives tenure from two years to five. It gives administrators more flexibility, he said.

“Now we can work with teachers to try and make them better before the five years are up,” Cogswell said. “If they’re not making that adjustment, then you let them go.”

Like many others, he’s concerned about the projected $1.8 million reduction in state adequacy funding and scratching his head about how to make up the difference. He’s concerned the district will need to cut teachers.

“We cut out papers and widgets a long time ago,” he said.

Oliver Spencer

Six years ago, when Spencer did a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps, his wife and three children stayed with his in-laws in Concord.

“If you talk to my kids, it was the best year of their life,” Spencer, 46, said.

Now, after more than 20 years of service, he’s retiring from the Marines and starting a new career.

“The dream job is to manage a ski resort,” he said. But the more likely scenario is working in business development, he said.

He’s also looking to give back to the community that served his family while he was away.

Spencer applauds the state’s decision to seek a waiver for some of the standards set by the No Child Left Behind law.

“The premise of No Child Left Behind was always a good premise but the actual execution was obviously flawed,” he said. “Now that we want to soften the requirements of that, that’s a perfectly logical, legitimate answer.”

He said he’s concerned that the challenges refugee families face are too great for Concord schools to handle.

“The whole concept of this thing has some serious problems,” he said. He’s worked with the U.S. State Department and has helped with embassy evacuations. The idea of resettling refugees is good in concept, he said, but difficult in practice.

“You do not have the capacity to handle all those families, all those students,” he said.

Spencer literally grew up in education – his father was the headmaster at a private school, and he attended private schools. He believes it’s the students’ responsibility to make the most of the opportunities given to them.

“Students have got to take charge of their own education,” he said. “We cannot spoon-feed our kids. We cannot be helicopter parents all the time.”

For the two-year slot:

Tom Croteau

Right now he carries a gun and handcuffs as a bailiff at the Merrimack County Superior Court, but for years Tom Croteau walked the halls of the schools in the Concord and Winnisquam School districts as a teacher and administrator.

Croteau, 59, first ran for school board in 2009 but lost in a tight race to Bill Glahn, whose term expires in 2013.

Croteau’s making another run for it, he said, because he wants to remain around people who care about education.

“I want to become part of this school board because I see it as a good and functioning team, and I want to be part of that team,” he said.

Early in his career, Croteau taught in Allenstown and Pembroke but then spent 19 years at Broken Ground School. His heart is in that school, but the new buildings, he said, are a testament to the city’s commitment to its children and education as well as the competence of the district’s officials.

He’s sensitive to the concerns that parents at the “older” schools have articulated that their children don’t have access to the same technology as the children at the “new” schools.

Mindful of both budget constraints and the needs of students, he said he’s open to a variety of innovative teaching methods that could improve efficiency and student success, even those that could be counter-intuitive, such as videos, lectures or small-group work. If its success can be documented, he said, he’s open to it. He’s also eager to improve outreach in the district.

“To have a good school you need to engage parents,” he said. “And it presents more of challenge.”

Ridgely Mauck

Mauck, 52, moved from Connecticut to study civil engineering at UNH in 1978 and never left. He issues storm water permits for large construction projects with the Department of Environmental Services, has lived in Concord since 1996, and saw three of the children in his family attend the Concord Schools. Mauck has considered running for school board for several years. Now that he’s an “empty nester,” he said, it’s time.

Mauck says his biggest concern is the projected $1.8 million reduction in state adequacy money. He doesn’t want to see education suffer because of it, he said.

“We should look at the budget and have a lean budget and cut where we can, but I don’t want to see cuts at the risk of jeopardizing what services or what can be offered to the students,” he said. “I think as a society matter, we pay in the long run if we’re not having a well-educated workforce.”

Like many others, Mauck said it’s important to make sure the students at the so-called “old schools” will also have access to quality facilities and the technology education as the students at the new elementary schools.

“I’m not in tune with some of the technologies nowadays that these kids are having placed in their hands as first-graders,” he said. “But I understand that is a concern of parents, that their children are going to be at some disadvantage when they move into, say, Rundlett.”

Patrick Taylor

Taylor, 37, would bring an “aspirational aspect” to the school board because his two daughters are 3 and 4 – too young to enroll.

“I’m going into it as a young parent,” he said.

A civil litigator with a Manchester law firm, Taylor was a law clerk for New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis after he studied at Northeastern Law School.

Now he lives across the street from the Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, which his own children will eventually attend. He said living in close proximity to the construction project got him more involved with the schools, and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.

“At the end of the day, they really did do a good job of soliciting input and doing what would be best for the city,” Taylor said.

He said he’s interested in what will happen to the schools that are no longer in use.

“I do understand that there was an aesthetic value to the school and probably a sentimental value to the school and that those are things that you don’t overlook. You don’t simply cast them aside,” he said.

He, too, is concerned about maintaining services if the projected $1.8 million reduction in state adequacy money hits the district.

He’s aware, he said, that people “perceive their taxes to be high.” But he’d put the students first.

“I would look at it from the standpoint of what is best for the kids and the school,” he said.

Doing so, he said, would help the city continue to flourish.

“You’ll see talented and skilled people staying, working here, contributing and giving back,” he said.

If elected, he said he would bring his analytical skills and ability to listen to help solve problems.

“I’m a tireless and focused worker,” he said.

Eric Weiner

Weiner, 46, believes the school board needs to answer to four constituencies: students, parents, taxpayers and employees. If elected, he said he would be attentive to the needs of all of them.

“I have a pretty good ability to listen to people and make what I think are reasoned decisions based on information that’s given to me,” he said.

A stay-at-home dad who used to work in sales, Weiner has a daughter at Concord High School and a son at Strong Foundations Chartered Public School in Pembroke.

Weiner was co-president of the Broken Ground PTO and a member of the district task force that explored the re-use of the now empty elementary schools.

He said he’s glad the state pursued a waiver to free itself from some of the requirements set forth in the New Child Left Behind law.

“Obviously No Child Left Behind, it was flawed and problematic from day one,” he said. “The only positive on it was that it did focus the fact that there are people, students, whose needs were not being met at all, and it did call attention to that.”

He said the only way to deal with the projected $1.8 million reduction in state adequacy funding is to “sit down, scratch it out and figure out how to pay for it.”

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors)

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