Concord High interim principal Michael Reardon begins tenure

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon meets School Board president Jennifer Patterson at the open house for the new interim principal at the high school on Thursday night, December 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (far left) talks with guests as his dog Peanut draws just as much attention at the open house to meet the new interim principal on Thursday night, December 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (far left) talks with guests as his dog Peanut draws just as much attention at the open house to meet the new interim principal on Thursday night, December 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (center) meets School Board president Jennifer Patterson (left) and School Board member Jim Richards at the open house for the new interim principal at the high school on Thursday night, December 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Concord High School interim principal Michael Reardon (left) talks with School Board member Jim Richards as Reardon’s dog Peanut watches him at an open house at the high school on Thursday night. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New interim Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (left) greets visitors as his 10-year-old dog Peanut looks on at the open house with the community on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/6/2019 3:54:12 PM

Michael Reardon was not expecting to be in charge of a high school this year, let alone one of the biggest in the state.

The retired career educator said he got a call a few weeks ago from Frank Bass, Concord School District’s newly hired interim superintendent, during an errand to Walmart in Epping, where he lives.

“I wasn’t sure what I would decide,” Reardon said, sitting in his new office at Concord High School on Thursday. “Before that call, it was the furthest thing from my mind, doing this.”

There was no sign of lingering indecision as Reardon settled into the first week of his new job. He brought a friend with him – his 10-year-old white poodle, Peanut, and teachers stopped by the main office to say hello to the new principal and pat the little dog, who eagerly jumped at their feet. Peanut even made an appearance at a community meet-and-greet for Reardon at the school Thursday night.

Despite all of the wags and smiles, Reardon knows he has an important job to do. He takes the reins at Concord High following a difficult year that has included the arrest of a popular teacher on sexual assault charges, and the resignation of the previous principal and superintendent.

“I think maybe the most important thing I’m going to do is just listen to people and engage in a conversation about education and how we do it,” he said.

His term as interim principal runs through the end of July.

Reardon, a former English teacher who was last headmaster of nearby Pembroke Academy for 15 years, has been retired since 2014.

He said part of his early retirement was spent taking care of his late wife, who was ill. Caring for her was his priority, and he had no plans to work.

Since her death, he said he’s been appreciating the benefits of retirement, including reading for pleasure again. A fan of Russian literature, he just started re-reading Leo Tolstoy’s 1,225 page War and Peace.

He got a membership to the Boston Athenaeum, which keeps him busy making weekly treks to the independent library to look at rare art, and to write and read.

However, Reardon said, his greatest passion has always been education. He said he was intrigued by the prospect of coming to Concord.

Less than a week into his new job, Reardon said he is already glad he made the decision to join the Concord School District.

“As soon as I walked in here, even before I was hired, I felt the energy in the building,” he said, as Peanut curled up on the floor of his office. “I feel in my fourth day now, like I’ve been here for eight months.

“It’s not gradual,” Reardon said of the transition. “You come in and you’re thrust into it.”

Reardon likens a school community to a sonnet, a 14-line poem written using Iambic pentameter. Shakespeare wrote in sonnets.

Like a sonnet, Reardon said, a school has a structure, a master schedule, and student expectations for behavior and academic expectations. However, also within that structure is a lot of creativity.

“Within that structure, you have music playing, you have creativity, you have all kinds of imaginative engaging things taking place,” he said.

In his first week at the school, he said he’s been meeting faculty, studying policies and procedures and learning to find his way around the building. He joked that Concord High has more staircases than any school he’s ever been to.

As interim principal, Reardon said he wants to spend time more time out of his office than in it.

He wants to learn more about what books students are reading in English classes and what students are writing about. He says every day he is introduced to a Concord High program or member of the school community that impresses him.

One day, when he was venturing around the school he went into a social studies class where guidance counselor Jonathan Flower was teaching a program on mindfulness.

He met a teacher in the cafeteria, who was telling him about the architecture program he’s been teaching.

He said he has met many wonderful students, and he looks forward to supporting them as they work toward graduation.

Equally important, he said, will be supporting faculty.

“The folks here have had a difficult couple of years,” he said.

Reardon said he is full of admiration for how former principal Gene Connolly, who died of ALS, handled his diagnosis. Connolly continued to work in his role at the high school when he could no longer walk, and had to use a voice machine to talk. Connolly died in 2018.

Reardon said that loss, on top of everything that’s happened in the district in the last year, has been a lot for the Concord High community to process.

Former principal Tom Sica led the school for only two years before the school board received an independent investigation into his handling of reports of inappropriate behavior by former teacher Howie Leung. Leung was arrested in April for allegedly sexually assaulting a former Concord student.

Sica suspended a student in 2014, when he was principal of Rundlett Middle School, after she questioned Leung’s close relationship with a specific group of middle school girls.

Reardon said those experiences have cast a shadow on Concord High, one he wants to help lift. He says he wants to help the community regain confidence.

“It’s good for me to come in as an outsider and help people see how effective and talented and productive they are,” he said. “I want to remind them of that and try to get beyond some of this.”

“I want every faculty member, every student for that matter, to understand and believe if they have any doubt about what a wonderful school this is, and how it serves kids and serves the community,” he added. “I think that needs to be re-embedded in everyone’s consciousness.”

Reardon said he’s hoping to implement professional development programs for teachers that will be both helpful for healing and fun. He’s hoping to encourage workshops in yoga and crafts, as well as talking to professionals that will be coming into the school to work with teachers.

“There’s going to be inevitable issues, so we need to talk about those when they happen, and make staff feel like they can be open about them and that together we find solutions for them,” he said. “A lot of that stuff is common sense, but sometimes it gets lost in the day-to-day friction of so many people dealing with so much.”

Reardon will serve as principal of Concord High until the end of July 2020.

Reardon, who holds a Ph.D in literature from the University of New Hampshire, has been teaching since 1976, starting as an English teacher in Walpole, Mass., and working his way up as English teacher and department chair at Farmington High School; adjunct professor of English at the University of New Hampshire; department chair at the Timberlane Regional High School and headmaster at Pembroke Academy.

Reardon will work full time from Dec. 2 to April 3, but will switch to part-time work for the remainder of the year in order to receive benefits from the state retirement system, Bass said.

He will be paid $75,033 for the year, according to Bass. In addition, Reardon collects an annual pension of $42,726 from the New Hampshire Retirement System.




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