Concord interim superintendent committed to rebuilding trust

  • Concord schools’ Interim Superintendent Frank Bass talks with Melyssa Paul (left) and her mother Barbara Willis at a meet and greet at Abbot-Downing School on Thursday night.

  • Concord Schools Interim Superintendent Frank Bass talks with a parent at the Abbot-Downing Elementary School on Thursday evening on November 14, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord School District Interim Superintendent Frank Bass talks with Elliot and Audry Clendenning at a meet and greet at Abbot-Downing School on Thursday as school board member Nancy Kane (center) and school board president Jennifer Patterson look on. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Published: 11/15/2019 5:41:25 PM
Modified: 11/15/2019 5:41:12 PM

Each morning with a cup of coffee in hand, Interim Superintendent Frank Bass begins his day at a different school in the Concord School District. He often arrives by 7:15 a.m., eager to interact with the students and teachers who he is sometimes meeting for the first time after only a week on the job.

Friday’s early start came on the heels of a late night spent meeting parents, students, teachers and other members of the community at Abbot-Downing School.

“Visibility, communication and follow-through will be key elements for me,” Bass said late Friday morning in an interview with the Monitor. “The last thing I want to be hearing is an issue has occurred and I don’t know about it. That puts me in a vulnerable position,” he continued.

Bass, a Manchester resident, officially assumed the role of interim superintendent on a part-time basis on Nov. 7, approximately one week after the school board announced that former superintendent Terri Forsten had resigned. Forsten was placed on paid administrative leave in late September following the board’s receipt of a 100-page investigative report that examines the district’s response to complaints of inappropriate behavior by former teacher Howie Leung.

Concord High School principal Tom Sica also tendered his resignation earlier this month, leaving a second administrative vacancy in the district that has not yet been filled. Bass hopes to recommend someone to the school board “very soon” to fill that role on an interim basis.

He said being present and accessible in the community is one of his major priorities during his time in Concord. He plans to spend at least a few hours three days a week at Concord High School and is in the process of creating video segments with students for Concord TV about positive changes happening in the district. He has implemented an open-door policy with parents and said he will return any emails or phone calls from community members within 24 hours.

In recent weeks, parents and community members were adamant that Bass should see the 100-page independent report – which has not been made public – so he can have an unfiltered view of where the district has been in order to effectively lead it forward. Bass confirmed Friday that reading the report was one of his first tasks as interim superintendent.

The report was compiled by board-hired investigator Djuna Perkins, who spoke with nearly 60 school employees, a dozen students and their parents, in addition to local and state officials about the district’s response to Leung, who was arrested on rape charges in April and now awaits trial in Massachusetts.

Despite the issues presently facing the district, Bass said he had no reservations in accepting the job. He said he learned about the opening from someone with ties to the district and then met with the school board for an interview in late September or early October.

The board recently disclosed that during a nonpublic meeting on Sept. 25, it had taken separate unanimous votes to terminate both Forsten and Sica. Just a couple of days earlier, board members had received Perkins’s report.

Bass said Friday that people in the community are ready to lift “the shadow” that has hung over the school in recent months and to feel that student safety and security is everyone’s number one priority.

“The whole issue of trust both within the community and within schools takes time,” Bass said.

“It’s not going to be just me – everyone has to be part of that conversation.”

Learning experiences

As interim superintendent, Bass said he has asked administrators and teachers to keep him abreast of “just about everything” happening in the district, even if it seems inconsequential. He said he wants to ensure any issues or concerns are in the forefront so they can be acted upon immediately and not left to fester.

Bass speaks from personal experience having previously led the Dresden School District during a difficult period following the abrupt resignation of former Hanover School principal Matthew Laramie in February 2016. An independent audit later revealed that Laramie had diverted more than $30,000 for personal purposes while misrepresenting that he was using the money for professional development. That same year, Laramie was found guilty of soliciting prostitution in Canaan after a sting operation by police.

Bass said Friday that he was constrained in what information he could share with parents at the time of Laramie’s resignation because of the ongoing investigation.

Reflecting on that time, Bass said he has one critical takeaway: “I don’t want to be in a position where I don’t know. I need to know. So, I have to take the extra effort to be in a position where I do know.”

At the same time, Bass acknowledged his limitations.

“Let’s be honest about this – I can’t know everything, as hard as I try. I have to trust the individuals who are employed to do their jobs, as well. One person can’t do it all; it has to be a team effort.”

As Bass assumes leadership in Concord, his former school district is also continuing to fight a lawsuit filed in federal court by a former Hanover High School student and his mother who allege administrators failed to protect the boy from sexual harassment. While Bass is not a party to the suit, his name does appear a handful of times.

The suit alleges the teenager was taunted and physically assaulted by a group of students during the 2016-17 school year and that the harassment eventually led the teenager to switch schools. While Principal Justin Campbell prepared a report to Bass detailing instances of alleged abuse, the family says Campbell’s report was incomplete and failed to conduct a thorough investigation.

While Bass said he could not speak directly about the suit Friday, he again spoke about the importance of honest and direct communication among members of an administrative team.

“It’s an issue of being directly involved and knowing first hand as opposed to learning about it later that makes all the difference,” he said.

Bass’s history as an educator and the legal battles that befell the Dresden School District during his former tenure did not go unnoticed by some parents and community members who had their first opportunity to meet him at a school board meeting Nov. 4.

Max Schultz, a parent of three children in the district, said parents had been talking about Bass’s history after Googling him and seeing the stories about Dresden School District, which includes Hanover. Schultz, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the school board in the Nov. 5 election, said he hopes Bass’s experiences in Dresden taught him lessons that can be applied to his work in Concord.

“I’m assuming that is one of the reasons you’ve hired him,” Schultz told the board.

School board member Chuck Crush, who led efforts to evaluate Bass’s candidacy, described Bass at the meeting as a “seasoned leader” who has managed in “multiple environments with some challenging situations.”

“He’s managed through with professionalism and courtesy and responsiveness,” Crush said. “I think he will assist us in this long journey ahead of regaining trust.”

Bass said Friday that establishing trust with parents, students and teachers in the district will take time but that he is committed to the task.

“Success breeds success. Once things start to happen, people actually believe I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do,” he said. “Then, they begin to trust me more and that trust cascades throughout the district and other folks will follow suit.”

Building trust

For the first time Thursday night, parents, students and teachers had the chance to meet and speak with Bass one-on-one during a meet-and-greet at Abbot-Downing School attended by about 30 people.

Parent Melyssa Paul said she thinks the district is moving in a better direction under Bass’s leadership. Paul’s daughter is a senior at Concord High, and her son is a seventh-grader at Rundlett Middle School.

“I feel like he recognizes that there’s a lot that needs to be addressed, both positive and negative. I feel that he’s going to focus on all of that,” she said about Bass. “That’s reassuring. I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time.”

She said she didn’t have any pressing questions for Bass that night.

“I didn’t want to berate him with my concerns because I feel like he gets it,” she said. “I want to give him an opportunity to put his words into actions and see how it goes.”

“I also feel like he is approachable, so if there are concerns, I could reach out to him,” she added. “I didn’t feel that with the previous superintendent.”

Paul’s mother, Barbara Wills, who worked in the district for 26 years, said the last few months have been difficult.

“My heart broke because of all the problems that were happening,” she said. “I know how much good there is in the Concord School District. I hate to see us focusing on the negative, so meeting with Superintendent Bass felt like the start of healing. I’ve sort of felt like we’ve been stuck for a good while.”

She said she was happy to hear that Bass is spending so much time in each of the district’s schools.

“They need to see someone is going to work with them and help them move in the right direction,” she said.

Bass is contracted to work three days per week. He’ll be making $750 a day, or $71,250 through the end of June. That comes in addition to his annual pension of nearly $74,000. A new superintendent is expected to take over in July.

When Bass agreed to the temporary job, he said he did so believing he could make a difference. And in a few months, when his contract expires, he said he hopes to look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

“I want to walk away from this on June 30 and say, ‘I’m glad I was able to help out the Concord School District, and I feel like I made a difference in that school system.’ That’s my personal goal.”




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