Michael Reardon chosen as permanent principal of Concord High

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (center) meets Superitendent of School 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

  • New Concord High School principal Michael Reardon (left) greets visitors as his dog Peanut looks on at the open house for the new interim principal at the high school on Thursday night, December 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • 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 with members of the community on Dec. 5. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 4/7/2020 12:37:40 PM

The Concord School Board unanimously approved the nomination of Michael Reardon as the next principal of Concord High School during a virtual meeting Monday night.

Reardon, a former English teacher who was previously headmaster of nearby Pembroke Academy for 15 years, has been acting as interim Concord principal since December of last year.

He took the helm at Concord High following a difficult year that included the arrest of a teacher on sexual assault charges, and the resignation of the previous principal and superintendent.

Kaileen Chilauskas, an assistant principal who was on the search committee, said Reardon’s ability to navigate that crisis, among other traits, made him stand out as a candidate.

“The team of assistant principals with Mike Reardon’s guidance have been able to provide a level of stability to a community that has not had that for the last six to nine months, and that is no easy task,” she said.

Staff and board members complimented Reardon for his skill at listening to others, his experience and positive relationships with the staff. Reardon has brought a lighthearted presence to Concord High with his little white poodle, Peanut, who joins him at school each day in the Main Office. A slideshow of photos of Peanut around campus is one of a few displays on television monitors around school offering news and updates.

Reardon has quickly blended in with the school community, staff said, making efforts to sit in on classes and get to know students. He has offered ideas about how to most efficiently utilize faculty, particularly the school’s four assistant principals. During recent school board meetings, he announced that he created a faculty committee designed to look at the structure of Concord High’s daily schedule.

Apart from leading the school in a period of transition, he has had to navigate through several difficult situations.

A month into his time at Concord High, a student came to school wearing what appeared to be an ammunition belt, causing administrators to put the school in lockdown. Reardon said during a school board meeting in January that when he got the call about the student, he rushed up to the area of the classroom where the student was located. He and other administrators discovered that the belt was filled with spent-shell casings, and not live ammunition. Police and the boy’s family were called, Reardon said.

However, after the ordeal, Reardon said that he discovered that not everyone in the building had been made aware of the lockdown while it was happening, and that a formal announcement over the public announcement system hadn’t been made.

He met with the faculty the day of the incident and told the school board he planned to speak to the student body the next day about what had happened.

“I made a major mistake today that could have endangered a lot of people, and I want them to understand that, and see me accept responsibility for that, so they understand that when they make mistakes, they are not alone,” he said.

“I just apologize to you guys, and the community and the kids that that happened today, I should have known better, I didn’t, and it’s my responsibility.”

At that meeting, school board members commended Reardon for being honest about how the situation had played out and turning it into a lesson for what the district can do better to keep students safe.

Board member Chuck Crush mentioned the incident during Monday’s meeting after Reardon’s nomination as principal was proposed.

“I feel very good about his leadership. He took responsibility for some things that went well, and for some things that did not go as planned,” Crush said of the January lockdown. “To me, that speaks volumes of a leader’s character, that speaks volumes about the person he is.”

Reardon has also led the high school in its transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. Concord High School staff had some assignments up for students within a day of Gov. Chris Sununu’s announcement that schools would be closed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Even though the board unanimously chose Reardon, members apologized for the lack of opportunity for public input in the process, which was interrupted by COVID-19.

Reardon and the other finalist for the job, Mike Berry, principal of White Mountains Regional High School, were set to spend an entire day at the high school each in mid-March and have dinner with the interim superintendent and the board. A letter was sent out to families detailing a process that involved two meet-and-greets with parents and several opportunities for student engagement.

The day Reardon was supposed to be available was March 13, the Friday before schools were closed by the governor due to COVID-19. Administrators said Reardon was busy trying to prepare for the emergency that day and wasn’t able to devote much time to meet-and-greets.

Berry’s day with the school community was scheduled for the following Wednesday, after schools were already closed. He wasn’t able to meet with students or parents that day, but met with a few staff members still in the building and one board member and the central office staff.

Board members said they heard from families that there wasn’t enough opportunity to give feedback in the process.

“There was a concern about lack of transparency and ‘making decisions because we can,’ ” board member Barb Higgins said.

Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said he didn’t get “the full, robust” input he would have liked from the public.

He said the search committee, comprised of 16 teachers, parents, students and school board members, were leaning in favor of Reardon. He said he received a narrative essay from each of Concord High’s four assistant principal endorsing Reardon as the principal.

In addition, Reardon put out a survey to the faculty asking about his performance and 92 percent endorsed him as their principal, Bass said.

Reached Tuesday and asked if he felt like the outcome of the search would have been different if the COVID-19 outbreak hadn’t happened, Berry said, “I enjoyed the process of interviewing with the Concord School District and learning more about Concord High School. I wish the district and the school the best of luck moving forward.”

Concord High School Assistant Principal Jim Corkum said the Concord community has had more than enough opportunities to get to know Reardon during the past few months and see the educator in action.

“For anyone who has sat on an interview committee, you know a lot of the times where you interview candidates, you’re really just getting, in some sense, a dog and pony show,” Corkum said. “You don’t necessarily know who the person is behind the interview and even going right back to that interview, I can tell you that the person who Mike Reardon presented as in the interview is who he is as an administrator.”

“The fact that we’ve had that opportunity to see Mr. Reardon in action for the last three or four months, we all felt very confident with moving forward with him as a candidate.”

Board member David Parker said he had the opportunity to speak with both Reardon and Berry in the process, and was impressed by both. He said Berry had a lot of creative ideas, and is someone who is early enough in his career that he could have stayed at Concord High School for five to 10 years.

“But, when you have 92 percent approval from your faculty… and you get the type of healing he’s been able to do while he’s here, it’s a good decision,” Parker said of Reardon. “We don’t, in any way, want to short change the process of leadership in this district right now.”

Gina Cannon said she didn’t have a disagreement with the decision to nominate Reardon as principal. She said the district is navigating unprecedented times.

“Nevertheless, we promised the community that they would have a chance to have input, and they didn’t, and so my concern is that the process was not as we said it was and the public may feel that they did not have an opportunity to speak and be heard,” she said.

School Board President Jennifer Patterson said the board is trying hard to make its processes more transparent despite the virus.

“I know (some) didn’t get a chance to meet any of the candidates in any of those forums, so I feel sad about that, but I’m glad that we did have so many board members and so many others who were on the search committee who did have that opportunity,” she said.

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