Hudson-Litchfield News

It Was a Tropical Weekend

by Lynne Ober

Once again the Hudson Historical Society sponsored a three day celebration in Hudson.  This year’s theme was “The Tropics Come to Hudson.”  Vendors decorated their booths – the bowing flamingo in front of the Society’s food tent was an attraction for the youngsters - and activities were planned with a tropical theme.

The weather was warm, but not too humid when the event opened Friday night.  It wasn’t long before the fair grounds filled with happy voices.  Hula and Tahitian Dancers kicked off the musical entertainment on Friday and came back for an encore performance on Saturday.

Charlie Christos, who has played with the Doobie Brothers, played guitar and sang for the audience in the Beer Tent.  It wasn’t long before the audience was calling out requests and he was performing them.  When he returned on Saturday evening, it was standing room only in the beer tent as fairgoers enjoyed his happy, toe-tapping music.

The Classic Oldies Band, playing on the porch of Hills House Friday night, welcomed everyone to the grounds and Super Legends Music played in the entertainment tent.

The State Police helicopter, K-9 demonstrations, and displays by the Police Department and Fire Department entertained kids of all ages.  On Sunday, Freddie, the very small, talking, fire truck entertained youngsters and your family.  “Do you want to be squirted?” Freddie would ask and then spray you with water.  Kids squealed, giggled, and ran to hide behind their parents’ legs.

An exhibit and slide show of Hudson History was set up in the Great Room of the Hills House and tours were offered of the house.

Limbo contests ran both nights and people got to show their flexibility while being cheered by those not so flexible.  A Hula Hoop contest for ages 6 – 12 was a highlight on Saturday evening.

Hot Like Fire, a Boston party band, played Saturday night from 7:00 until 11:00 p.m.

With cooperation from the weather, fireworks were enjoyed by all on Saturday night.

Bird Supply of New Hampshire displayed their beautiful tropical birds Sunday afternoon.  The birds preened and spread their wings for the appreciative audience.

Throughout the weekend, carnival rides were enjoyed by everyone and on Sunday, the Hudson Historical Society again offered a one-price wrist band that allowed the wearer to ride as many rides as they wanted.  The kids enjoyed the merry-go-round, the car rides and the big slide.  “I love the slide,” said Jody, 7.  “I’ve been up there ten times already.”  “And she’ll sleep like a log tonight,” her mother grinned.

The charity auction was a huge success with $3,000 raised to support the Jeff Roome Sports Scholarship Fund.  Jeff Roome, a Hudson resident, died very early and unexpectedly last year.  His family has started the foundation to support a scholarship.

Saturday’s antique car show is always a draw.  While people looked at the cars, a DJ played music. 

This year, kids enjoyed not only a sawdust pile treasure hunt, but also beach scavenger hunts.  The beach was set up outside Hills House. 

Sunday Music by the Tune Factory pleased fairgoers and when the event finally ended, no one wanted to go home.  Mark your calendars for next year – Hudson Old Home Days will be the third weekend in August.


Septic Woes at Griffin Memorial School

by Lynne Ober

Water levels on the grounds of Griffin Memorial School make replacing the septic system an opportunity for the “Mission Impossible” team to perform.  With Gary Hamm, playing the Tom Cruise role, progress is being made and high tech gear is being deployed and, as with any Mission Impossible story-line, it will be a race to the finish, but the team will surely triumph.

Last year, administration at Griffin Memorial School (GMS) noticed that the septic system pumps were running continuously.  A check on weekends showed that the pumps never stopped – even when the building was unoccupied.  Something was clearly wrong and leaks into the septic were the most likely culprits.

Gary Hamm of Hamm Septic Services, Inc., a Hudson family-owned company, reported that his company did find and fix some cracks in the septic tank, but that didn’t stop the pumping.  School was in session and hard decisions had to be made to support students.

The School Board and Administration decided, after consulting with experts, to wait until summer, the supposedly dry season, to replace the septic system.  The plan was to remove the 12,000 gallon tank and replace it with a tank with two compartments – one 8,000 gallons and one 4,000 gallons.  At the end of last year, a purchase order was cut for the work and $67,000 was encumbered from last year’s unexpended fund balance.

“We knew the water table was high, but we had no idea what we were really facing,” said Hamm, who outlined the steps that had been taken.  Pumps were set up to pump the water out, but the pumps were unable to lower the water table.  “At that point we were pumping between 40 to 60 gallons a minute and the water wasn’t going down.  The water table was a couple of feet higher than when we fixed the leaks.”

Then two sump pumps were set up that could pump 200 to 300 gallons a minute.  After two days little progress had been made and Hamm said there was more water than could be handled so they called in de-watering experts.

It was decided to sink wells every three feet.  “Normally they would have set those six feet apart, but because of the amount of water, we were advised to set them [the wells] three feet apart.”  Each well would have a heavy-duty pump.  The wells needed to be fourteen feet deep, but heavy clay soil was encountered at eight feet and that mandated the use of a different technique.

In the meantime Superintendent Cathy Hamblett watched the bills mount while the work was seemingly stalled.  “Thank heavens we encumbered enough funds for contingencies,” she smiled.  “We knew the water table was high, but we didn’t realize how much water was there.”

Finally the new pumps were sunk at fourteen feet and pumping began.  “We went home over the weekend and just hoped that some of the water would be gone by Monday,” joked Hamm, “and it was down.”

Pumping still continues and delays continued to mount.  Hamm was aware that it was a race against the clock because students would soon return to school.

Even though the crane and new tank had to be delayed for a few more days, Hamm is optimistic that the work will be done before school starts.  “We did run into more water on the last side than we expected and had to delay the crane and tank for five more days, but we are pumping the water out.”

Hamm said that if they turned off the pumps, the large hole would fill with five feet of water every hour.  “There’s a tremendous water flow going through this land.  That’s a lot of pressure on any tank.”

Architect Dan Cecil, who has been working on the new school design, told the Litchfield School Building Committee that they should be very glad that they had chosen to build on land near Litchfield Middle School.  “No one had any idea as to the amount of water flowing across this property.  It appears to be an underground stream.”  Cecil said that he asked the people who did the original de-watering estimate to update their estimate based on the findings made during the septic tank replacement.  “They now think it would cost more than a million dollars and we’d have to get permits from the State in order to drain that amount of water under Route 3A and into the Merrimack River.”

The new septic tank will not have the horizontal seams that failed on the old tank.  “Once we got the water out, we could see where the tank had failed and where water was infiltrating,” said Hamm.  Septic pumps were constantly pumping in order to remove the infiltrating water.

Building Inspector Roland Bergeron, who is also a member of the Litchfield School Building Committee,” stated, “This site is not good for building.  There’s too much water.”


Because water was still standing in the hole where the new tank needed to be installed, installation had to be delayed for five more days.


Hudson’s Special Education Program Evaluation

by Maureen Gillum

The results of Hudson’s Special Education (SPED) program review, the first in a series of formal studies, were featured at the last School Board meeting (8/15/05).  The two-part study, sponsored by the Hudson School Board as part of its on-going quality control process, was launched in March 2005 for an approved cost of $25,000.  “The first part of the study, from the New Hampshire School Administration Association, was a benchmark comparison of Hudson and four other New Hampshire districts comparable in size and demographics,” explained School Board Chairman, David Alukonis, “part two of the research was derived by focus groups and surveys of our parents, staff, and students, conducted by Ms. Judy King, educational consultant.”

“Our primary objective was to look at Hudson’s Special Education program as a whole and how it measures against two central questions: effectiveness and efficiency, especially with state and federal compliance standards,” elucidated Dr. Mark Joyce, Executive Director of the private, non-profit, New Hampshire School Administration Association (NHSAA, www.nhsaa.org).  Mr. Denis Pope, retired school superintendent of Bedford, New Hampshire and Associate in the NHSAA study, identified the four comparable school districts to Hudson as Londonderry, Merrimack, Salem, and Timberlane Regional. “Hudson had the second lowest overall per pupil cost, both within both general education and special education,” reported Pope, “Hudson also had the 2nd lowest percentage of identified students out of grade 1-12 population and the lowest percentage of identified students within the pre-school population.”  Mr. Pope also shared Hudson had the lowest number and lowest comparative ratio of service providers to the number of SPED students.

Overall, Dr. Mark Joyce appraised Hudson’s SPED program as a “low-cost and cost-efficient program.” He reported Hudson school district’s total cost for overall education, and also for Special Education, is lower than the state average and the second lowest in the sample group.  He deemed this “significant” as Hudson measures “very favorably” with the four comparable districts in geographic proximity, equalized valuation per student, and median family income.  On a performance basis, “while spending lower than the state average on resources, Hudson’s Special Education students in grade 6 and grade 10 performed well – above the state average in the NHEIAP (NH Educational Improvement and Assessment Program) testing, however grade 3 students did not,” said Dr. Joyce.  Other key NHSAA findings included:

  • •ith very conservative SPED identification rates, Hudson’s eligibility for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act) services is lower than both the national and state average; and 2nd lowest among sample districts. A lower rate in pre-school may indicate “under identification.”
  • Given its SPED program’s breadth and size, Hudson likely has a shortage of service providers and case managers, especially at Alvirne, where a 50:1 (case manager to student) ratio was cited. 
  • Hudson received a 75.9% late rating in completing its 45-day evaluations on initial referrals. However, only 13% NH districts currently comply with that standard and Hudson submitted an action plan to the NH Department of Education (6/05) to remedy this. 
  • District drop out rate was the 2nd lowest among the sample districts and represented the lowest percentage of students identified as needing Special Education services.
  • SAU 81 had no due process hearings and only three complaints (2 were screened out or resolved), indicating good customer satisfaction and strong early resolution procedures. 

“Operating a Special Education program is complex and challenging,” began consultant Judy King, who conducted part two of SAU 81’s SPED program review.  King gave highlights of her report and 106 page appendices, based on recent surveys and focus groups of parents, staff and students.  In compliment to the comparative NHSAA study, her prime objectives were to “capture perceptions and emerging themes” of the SPED program, as identified by the ‘customers and providers’ of SAU 81.  Ms. King noted she had excellent response rates from Hudson parents (45%) and staff (51%) across all schools, including leadership (administration, guidance, SPED directors), SPED teachers, classroom teachers, and paraprofessionals.  She also interviewed middle school students in small groups and high school students individually.  The research evaluated the program on a four-point satisfaction scale (from 0 - not at all; to 3 - completely) in four areas – SPED services, communication, school services, and IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings.  In addition, in-depth parent and staff focus groups at the elementary, middle and high school allowed more open-ended discussions.

Hudson’s SPED program has “very good satisfaction ratings (2+) from parents overall,” reported Ms. King.  “Most parents feel welcome and a part of an effective IEP team,” she stated, “especially at the pre-school and elementary level, where it’s easiest to coordinate.”  Parents also expressed interest in ‘being a greater part of the process,’ better and more ‘user-friendly’ communication.  Student School Board Rep, Brandon Mansur, also emphasized the “importance of transitional support” (elementary to middle to high school) for students, especially within SPED.  From a staff perspective, greater program input, more training and better team work are sought.  “For example, Alvirne’s SPED program offerings are widely perceived as strong resources to the classroom,” shared King, “with further analysis and staff ideas, how can this success be modeled to help strengthen the middle school program?”  In all, three major findings emerged from the internal audit: 1) overall, parents are quite satisfied; 2) staff morale is generally low; and 3) communications and collaboration needs improving at all levels.  Ms. King’s research-based recommendations included:

  • Encourage parent participation in the Special Education program at all grades and transitions.
  • Further analyze ‘what’s working’ among schools -- cross pollinate successes.
  • Further analyze professional development opportunities for all staff re: special education. 
  • Analyze and address program resources, especially space and staff needs.
  • Increase the number of classroom teachers who follow IEPs (especially middle/high school).
  • Review staff concerns (e.g., communication, morale), especially at the middle school. 

As many parents and staff inquired about the SPED program evaluation, Ms. King recommended the district openly share study results with the community.  She also cited a “key concern” that arose in almost every parent and staff focus group: “the role of the school board in special education, specifically regarding: parent advocacy; placement decisions; and the treatment of special education staff in school board meetings.”  While King “strongly advised the district seek legal advice” regarding their appropriate role in advocacy and placement, she encouraged an overall “spirit of collaboration” to maximize program improvements and positive change.

School Board Chair, Mr. David Alukonis, thanked the NHSAA and Judy King for their diligent work, and Board member, Mr. Rich Nolan, who championed the SPED program evaluation.  The Chairman also acknowledged the need for the School Board to further review and assess the considerable data and information within the comprehensive studies and set up a follow-up review session.  Last, Mr. Alukonis also expressed the Board’s commitment to release the complete study results to the public.

“We’re pleased with the overall SPED program evaluation, which was fairly positive,” responded SAU 81’s Assistant Superintendent, Mary Ellen Ormond at this week’s New Teacher Induction.  She concluded, “Dr. Sousa (Director of Special Services) is a really amazing woman who understands it’s all about Hudson’s ‘ultimate educational bull’s eye’ – to keep us moving forward on student achievement.”

Please also see related articles in this week’s Hudson-Litchfield News, New Hampshire DOE’s Latest NHEIAP Results and More for Hudson (below) and, starting in next week’s Hudson-Litchfield News, the first of the multi-part series Hudson’s Educational Leaders Respond for more important updates on key district statistics, issues, and plans.


NH DOE’s Latest NHEIAP Results and More for Hudson

by Maureen Gillum

In relation to Hudson’s Special Education Program Evaluation (above), the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) also collects and releases much key information on public school’s costs and performance on an annual basis.  For example, the latest significant measure of district performance was the 10th grade NHEIAP results (from May 2005 testing), released by the New Hampshire DOE on August 17.  Noting continued gains in the state performance averages in both reading and math, Lyonel Tracey, Commissioner of the New Hampshire DOE stated, “the improvements seen are a credit to teachers, administrators, faculty, students, parents and members of the community who are working together to improve schools at the local level.”

Like many other local districts, Hudson’s Alvirne High School 2004-2005 NHEIAP results went up a significant 8 scaled points in math, and 5 scaled points in reading, since 2002-2003.  Hudson performed one point below the state average in reading proficiency (256) and two points above the state average in math proficiency (257) on the latest Grade 10 NHEIAPs.  Overall, SAU 81 did fair (4th of 6) in reading and very well (tied for 1st of 6) in math, versus the comparative districts the NHSAA identified in Hudson’s recent SPED evaluation, as shown.  Litchfield’s smaller Campbell High School also ranked very high in reading (259), tying for 1st with Merrimack. 

NHEIAP Table

Of note, third and sixth grade students were not tested in NHEIAP in May, as the state transitions to the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).  The annual NECAP tests will be given to all students in grade three through eight in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, starting in October 2005.  The New Hampshire DOE expects the new performance tests to better track and follow a student’s progress.

Further New Hampshire DOE reports provided other revealing statistics about SAU 81, from start to finish.  For example, Hudson is one of 16 New Hampshire districts who do not offer public kindergarten; 137 New Hampshire districts do have kindergarten, as of 10/04.  With more districts supporting public kindergartens (e.g., Merrimack), Hudson will likely soon be among fewer than a dozen New Hampshire districts without kindergarten.  On the other end, Alvirne High School graduates (43%) significantly lagged the state average (62%) in students going onto four year colleges or universities.  Comparable districts’ post-secondary pursuit rates also considerably bested Hudson: Timberlane Regional (55.9%), Londonderry (56.2%), Merrimack (67.3%) and Salem (69.7%), as detailed by the New Hampshire DOE.

In the area of financials, the latest data (2003-2004) on Hudson’s cost per pupil was $6,888, or almost 20% below the New Hampshire state average cost per pupil of $8,497.  In relation, SAU 81 also ranked below state averages and last in both minimum starting teacher salaries and average teacher salaries against four comparable districts, according to New Hampshire DOE’s latest 2004-2005 reports.  Hudson was ranked 56th in the state (down from 38th in 2000/2001) for minimum starting teacher salary ($29,053) and also paid the lowest average teacher salary ($41,679).  By contrast, Merrimack was ranked 17th ($31,225) in minimum starting teacher salary and paid the highest average teacher salary ($46,215).

For more comparative statistics of New Hampshire school districts, including assessments, financial reports, drop out and post secondary rates, staffing and salary, and more, visit the New Hampshire DOE at: www.ed.state.nh.us/education/data/index.htm.  Also, starting in next week’s Hudson-Litchfield News, please see the multi-part Hudson’s Educational Leaders Respond for more important updates on key district issues, concerns and plans. 


Community Supports Police Chief

by Lynne Ober

It was standing room only by the time Litchfield Selectmen and their attorney filed into their meeting room.  Litchfield residents, Litchfield police department staff, Police Chiefs from surrounding communities, ex-Police Chief Joseph O’Brion and his attorney filled every available seat and lined the walls.

Carol Bessette, a 25-year Litchfield resident and part-time dispatcher and secretary, was the first to speak.  She began her remarks by asking Selectman Ray Peeples if the meeting was being recorded for television, because Selectmen frequently have difficulty operating the equipment.  Peeples, without checking the equipment, assured her that the meeting was recorded and would be televised.

Bessette reviewed the hiring procedure when two of the three candidates for the Chief’s job came from the Litchfield Police Department.  “He [ex-chief Joseph O’Brion] never belittled any opponent.  His transition to the Chief’s position was smooth.”  She told Selectmen that some people in the department, a very few, were set on a “mission to destroy him.  Too bad you may have listened.  Why not ask the other people in the department too?”  Bessette also said that more people supported Joe than not.  “In my opinion, you have been given exaggerated negative information.  I want you to go home, look into your conscience, review your notes and ask yourself ‘did I make a mistake?’  It’s ok to make a mistake if you then make it right.”

Hollis Police Chief Richard Darling, who is President of the Hillsborough County Association of Chiefs of Police, urged that Selectmen reconsider.  He pointed out the Hudson’s Police Chief, Dick Gendron, headed the committee that chose the three finalists and was one of many chiefs who support Joe.  He also questioned whether Selectmen were qualified to judge the job done by O’Brion.  “We are all operating in a vacuum because we don’t know the facts.”

George Mack, a Director at Woodland Place Condos, spoke in favor of the Chief and praised the work that he had done at the condo complex.  “He was always professional.”  Mack warned Selectmen that the Town was watching and they planned to vote. 

Other Chiefs singing O’Brion’s praises were Lyndeborough Chief James Basinas, Londonderry Chief Joseph Ryan, and Bedford Chief David Bailey.  Words like professional, cooperative, caring, knowledgeable and open were common.  “I never worry if we supply mutual aid,” said Ryan.  “I know this is a professional police department.”

They also questioned why O’Brion has to go through this.  Ryan asked Selectmen to think about the fact that O’Brion is back in a patrol car.  “What’s in his mind when he goes out on the street for you?  Do you think he’s wondering if residents think he’s a thief?  You owe him facts.”

Board of Selectmen Chairman Cecil Williams finally pointed out that the people speaking did not have all the facts and that the former Chief did.  “If you knew all the facts you wouldn’t be here, but we are bound by our office not to speak of the facts.”

O’Brion’s attorney, Andru H. Volinsky, said that O’Brion would waive his 91a rights and that Williams could speak to the facts in the open meeting.  Volinsky cautioned Selectmen that O’Brion was not waiving his rights vis a vis defamation, but making the facts public was approved.

Town Counsel quickly shook his head in the negative at Williams, which Williams must have taken as a sign not to speak, because he told the audience that he couldn’t speak even if O’Brion would allow the facts to be given in public.

RSA 91a states that the person affected can request “that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted.”  O’Brion alone has the right to allow the facts to be heard in public and when his attorney gave the ok for Selectmen to speak, they declined.

Facts are at the heart of the dispute.  Written facts are required by law, but apparently were not given to the Chief. 

The pleading filed in court states, “On the morning of August 9, 2005, the chairman for the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Litchfield, Cecil Williams, orally advised Chief O’Brion that he was no longer the chief of police of the Town of Litchfield, effective immediately.  Chairman Williams did not provide Chief O’Brion with a statement of the reasons for his dismissal.  The chairman offered that the chief could remain employed as a patrol officer.”  RSA 105-2a requires that written reasons be provided upon dismissal.

Several police officers expressed their support of their former chief.  One officer stated that the “Selectmen who had something to do with Joe [referring to Selectman Jack Pinciaro’s request that O’Brion hire his wife] should have excused himself.

When Pinciaro commented that he had excused himself from votes after the vote to dismiss and that this was a “casual conversation,” the officer shot back, “A casual conversation between a boss and his subordinate.  I don’t think so.”

The court pleading also contends that after O’Brion did not hire Pinciaro’s wife, Pinciaro asked the two Police Lieutenants under O’Brion to evaluate him. 

“Shortly thereafter, Selectmen Pinciaro advised Chief O’Brion that Pinciaro had asked the department’s two lieutenants to evaluate the chief of police.  Chief O’Brion is unaware of another occasion on which subordinates were asked to evaluate their boss.

One of the lieutenants, Lieutenant James Gaudet, was, at the time, the subject of a disciplinary proceeding instituted by the chief of police based on misconduct believed to have been committed by Lieutenant Gaudet.

Selectmen Pinciaro attempted to intervene in the disciplinary proceeding against Lieutenant Gaudet and instructed Chief O’Brion to discontinue the effort to discipline Lieutenant Gaudet.  Selectman Pinciaro was furious with Chief O’Brion when he learned that Chief O’Brion had included in his internal affairs final report a description of Selectman Pinciaro’s efforts to end the investigation,” states the pleading. 

Finally Selectman Pat Jewett rose and spoke.  She had prepared a two page statement that praised O’Brion.  During her speech, she acknowledged that she was the one Selectman who voted to keep him.

While Jewett was speaking, Town Counsel wrote a note, folded it, and passed it to Williams.

After public input was over, Selectmen moved to take a five minute recess.  Peeples walked to the recording equipment and announced that it was not recording again. 

Bessette confronted him about this because she had specifically asked that question when she began speaking.  While Bessette was trying to discuss the situation with him, Peeples stalked out of the room.  Bessette furiously stated, “I’ve never seen such behavior.”

This case will be heard in court.  A date has not yet been set.


A full house at Litchfield Selectmen’s meeting.


New Police Officer Hired for Hudson

The Hudson Police Department announces the hiring of Brandaon Cannata of Westford, Massachusetts, as a Recruit Police Officer.  Officer Cannata is a 2004 graduate of Norwich University majoring in Criminal Justice. 

Officer Cannata is currently receiving in-service training and will be starting the 138th session of the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Recruit Academy on August 29.  Officer Cannata will be attending the Academy for a 12-week period and upon graduation will be assigned to a Field Training Officer for eight weeks.


Project Lead the Way Teacher Training at New Hampshire Technical Institute

This month, New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI) – Concord’s Community College - hosted the annual Project Lead the Way Training Institute, training high school teachers from around the country to become certified to teach the pre-engineering curriculum of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national organization that encourages high school students to become interested in pursuing engineering careers.  Beginning as early as ninth grade, students follow a prescribed sequence for completing five courses.  PLTW's goals revolve around providing students with knowledge and experiences they can use to make informed decisions about careers in engineering and engineering technology, and to strengthen students' preparation in mathematics and science.

NHTI has been a pioneer in offering such training, which is sanctioned by Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.  This summer’s two-week training program concluded on August 19 with a “graduation” ceremony for the 40 teachers enrolled. 

While there were high school teachers here from as far away as Oregon, Texas and Virginia, there was a decided New Hampshire connection, with teachers from Alvirne (Hudson), Belmont and Winnacunnet (Hampton) High Schools going through the certification training because those schools will offer the PTLW curriculum for the first time this fall.  The addition of those three high schools will make a total of 30 of the 78 high schools in the state that offer PLTW.  About half of the 40 teachers enrolled in this year’s training were from New Hampshire high schools.


Alvirne teacher Frank DiFonzo (right) receives his certificate of completion from Jim Leon (left), director of the PTLW program.

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