Residents Express Concern about Loss of School Personnel

May 6, 2016


by Barbara O’Brien

A group of Windham residents has been complaining about the loss of beloved educators for an extended period of time, but the recent announcement that Fine Arts Director Jared Cassedy is leaving the school district, at the end of June, has really escalated the ire.

While there were a lot of familiar faces at the May 3 school board meeting, there were also those who had never before attended one of the meetings, let alone spoken at the podium.  Resident Jen Hamwey was the first to step up to the microphone.  “As a community, we are very concerned” about the departure of excellent staff members,” Hamwey said.  “It’s costing us financially and educationally,” Hamwey said, adding that the common thread in the departure of personnel seems to be that “the school board doesn’t value the expertise of staff.”  Hamwey named last year’s chairman, Ken Eyring, and vice chairman, Tom Murray, as the primary culprits.

Hamwey said she believes that all the “second-guessing” of administrators’ decisions is creating a hostile work environment, causing some to abandon ship.  “We don’t want to lose any more of our talent,” she said.  “How many more have to go” before things change?  Hamwey asked.  Educators are looking for an environment where they can make a difference, she said.  Hamwey’s suggestion was for the school board to establish a new partnership plan with administrators, directed at making positive changes and eliminating micro-managing.

Former school board chairman, Bruce Anderson, was the next to come to the podium, commenting on the tremendous number of employees that have been lost since he left the school board three years ago; one of whom had been named the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, another High School Principal of the Year, and now a Grammy-Award winning recipient.  “The school board’s goal should be to recruit and retain the most qualified candidates,” Anderson said.  “We have to look forward,” he said.  “We still have tremendous talent in the Windham School District.  We need to keep them!”

Former school board chairman, Michael Joanis, urged school board members to “get rid of the negative attitude.”  Referring to the loss of well-respected employees, Joanis said, “You made your own bed.  Now you have to lie in it.”  Joanis said the current school board made a mistake by not hiring a permanent superintendent last year, and by harassing the business and finance administrator on a regular basis.  Both interim superintendent, Tina McCoy, and Business and Finance Administrator, Adam Steel, will be leaving Windham at the end of the current school year.

As for Jared Cassedy, Joanis said the school board won’t find anyone to replace him one-to-one.  “Take out your wallets,” Joanis said.  “It’s going to cost you a whole lot more.”  Joanis also said school board members need to change their attitudes before they cause the loss of more administrators who are “the cream of the crop.”  “You have an opportunity to fix the situation with a new superintendent,” Joanis said, referring to Richard Langlois, who will take on the job July 1, “but you need to empower him; to let him do his job.”  Joanis wanted to know when the last time was that the school board had “evaluated” itself.  That question was not answered.

Resident Tara Picciano, who was visibly distraught over Cassedy’s move to the Salem School District, talked about what a loss it is to Windham students, including her own son, who learned to play seven instruments under Cassedy’s tutelage.  Picciano said she blames Cassedy’s decision to leave on the school board’s failure to support the Fine Arts Program.  “You did not do enough to retain him,” Picciano said.

Former school board chairman, Barbara Coish, agreed that there is a big “trust” problem between the school board and educators employed by the district.  Coish did not agree that Cassedy was leaving as a result of the school board, however.  “Jared is going back home to Salem,” Coish said.  “He’s happy about it and I’m happy for him!”

Resident Rich Amari said his heart sank when he learned the news about Cassedy leaving.  “Jared Cassedy helped put Windham on the map,” he said.  “The school board needs to become more involved in the retention of these amazing educators,” Amari said.  School board vice chairman, Rob Breton, pointed out that there are areas in which the school board should not become involved.  “There is a line we shouldn’t cross,” he said.  “Some things are not our job.  They are the superintendent’s.”  One thing that does need to happen, however, Breton emphasized, is that all the members of the school board need to move forward in the same direction.

School board member, Dennis Senibaldi, agreed with the allegations that certain members are micro-managing administrators.  “Micro-management goes on daily, I can tell you that,” Senibaldi said.

“We don’t hire and we don’t fire,” school board member Tom Murray commented.  “We only accept or don’t accept the superintendent’s recommendations.”  “It’s that simple,” Murray said.  As for accusations that school board members don’t listen to school district staff, Murray responded, “We would be foolish not to listen to our teachers.”

Chairman, Daniel Popovici-Muller, agreed with the assessment that the Windham School District has some tremendous talent and these people should be encouraged to stay.  Referring to himself and his fellow board members, Popovici-Muller said, “We’re all pulling in the same direction as hard as we can.”  “Sometimes, though, things just don’t go the way we want.  That’s life,” he said.  “It’s heart-breaking that Jared is leaving,” Popovici-Muller said.  “We were blessed to have had him for so long.”  That being said, Popovici-Muller noted that there are still many other talented and passionate staff working in the Fine Arts Department.