NEWMARKET – Three top school administrators have resigned in Newmarket’s SAU 31, leaving the School Board scrambling to find an interim superintendent.
Superintendent Susan Givens, Assistant Superintendent Debra Black and Junior-Senior High School Assistant Principal Sheana Thorell each tendered their resignation according to an email from Givens to the School Board dated April 13.
Newmarket Junior-Senior High School Principal David Dalton also resigned in March, creating four major positions the School Board will have to fill this year.
The School Board held an emergency meeting April 15 to accept and discuss the resignations. The board released a statement Thursday announcing the resignations. The statement said the board is in the process of recruiting new administrators and that the board and administration had no additional comments at this time.
“The School Board thanks them for their service to the school district,” the statement read.
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Board Chairman Gary Swanson was reached by email Friday but declined to answer further questions, including what date the resignations were effective.
School Board member Amy Tilton was reached by phone Friday and declined to speak beyond the press release, although she said that Givens’ resignation was effective 120 days after she tendered it.
She said it was her understanding that David Dalton, who also resigned in March, is expected to be in his position as principal through the end of the school year.
Givens did not return a call seeking comment.
At Thursday’s School Board meeting, she told board members it was district protocol to release written press releases when media outlets seek comment rather than speak on the phone. Board members then voted 4-1 to release the written statement, board member Phil Nazzaro voting against.
“I don’t think there’s anything dramatic going on here, but I think language is powerful,” Givens said. She also advised the board to respond “in a way that’s positive and puts all of us in a positive light.”
The board considered discussing the press release in a nonpublic session, though Nazzaro said doing so “creates the appearance that there’s something potentially here that is not.”
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The board also met Thursday with the executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, Barrett Christina, to discuss the coming search for an interim superintendent, then a permanent superintendent. He said it was too late in the year to find a permanent superintendent and recommended a small committee to find an interim in time for August.
“We’re looking for somebody to sort of keep the lights on and pay the bills and just steady the ship for the next year,” Christina said. He said the NHSBA recommends 14 to 16 weeks for a search for a permanent superintendent.
Board members discussed in the April 15 meeting whether to conduct exit interviews with Givens and Black, who were not present at that meeting due to prior commitments according to Swanson.
Givens normally conducts exit interviews and serves as the SAU’s HR person, Swanson said. The board was advised by their legal counsel that boards are not normally involved in exit interviews. Tilton said she was unsure the board was entitled to exit interviews, but Nazzaro said, “This is an abnormal situation.”
“There’s reasons behind this that I’m not even entirely (indiscernible) to,” Nazzaro said. Tilton agreed the information would be valuable.
“How do we get that feedback? I feel like that feedback is lost between us and the superintendent, like why people are leaving,” Tilton said. “I just would always like to know, so things can be worked on.”
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Givens was under fire in 2019 when a group of parents circulated a petition calling for a vote of no-confidence due to “lack of communication” in placing then Junior-Senior High School Principal Chris Mazzone on leave. Mazzone was later reassigned from his job to school facilities director in 2020, replaced by Dalton. The SAU 31 School Board defended Givens with a 5-0 vote rejecting the request for a vote of no-confidence, Chairman Mike Kenison saying he did not “see any merit” in the petition.
The resignations have raised concern with community members. Resident Anne Ellis of 8 Wiggin Drive said she had 17 years’ experience as a school administrator, and said she was concerned about the effect the resignations will have on the school district. She said her own child was struggling in fourth grade when, the next year, they found success with Thorell, then as his fifth-grade teacher.
“I just can’t imagine this district moving forward with this loss,” Ellis said. She also said the community of public-school administrators is “a tight one.” She said while she had not spoken with any of the people resigning, resignation is often a last resort.
“Sometimes the only way you have to stand up for something that you’re being asked to do, that is morally, ethically wrong, or out of your compass in terms of what is right for your community and position, is to resign,” she said.
“These are extremely dedicated people,” Ellis said. “I cannot believe that they are leaving for any other reason than that is the only action they can take to stand up for themselves in that position.”