Hollis and Brookline’s SAU 41 superintendent finalists share their vision at public forum

Three candidates with their sights set on the soon-to-be-open Hollis/Brookline SAU 41 superintendent seat took questions at a public forum on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Brian Balke, Mary Lyons and Andrew Corey are looking to replace Interim Superintendent Dr. John Moody, whose term expires June 30. Each comes with a wealth of experience and leadership positions in their respective school districts.

Mary Lyons

Lyons currently has served as the assistant superintendent at SAU 50, which covers the towns of Greenland and Rye, for about four years. She has also served as a director of pupil services and as a special education coordinator for Rye’s public schools.

She began her teaching career in Chicago in 1978 and said she has had a passion for education ever since. Lyons told participants at the public forum that she was attracted to Hollis Brookline’s vision of comprehensive education and academic excellence.

When asked why she would want to leave her current position, Lyons said that she is ready to “broaden her horizons” and take on a larger school district.

“I’d love to be able to lead these schools here in preparing our young ones to face the ever changing world we live in,” she said.

Many of those in attendance expressed concern for the warnings within the last evaluation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Hollis Brookline High School could lose accreditation if it does not address space and curriculum issues. Lyons said that she would focus on developing a focused long-term plan that is reasonable and moves the school past these problems.

Other questions centered on meeting state standards for student competencies, dealing with dropping enrollment and making sure students are prepared for college and careers. Lyons said that her role at the school district would be to make sure that the bar for student achievement continues to rise with clear expectations for success.

“We need to be very clear about what skills are necessary in 2014 to be successful, and the future,” she said.

Brian Balke

Balke has served as the interim superintendent in SAU 19, which covers schools in Goffstown, Dunbarton and New Boston, for the past year. He had previously served as the assistant superintendent there for five years, and as director of pupil services in the Londonderry School District.

Balke focused his answers on improving communication in the school district and focusing on what the district’s actual needs are. He also said that he would dedicate himself to the school district and bring a high level of professionalism if hired.

“If you have me, you have me for at least 15 years,” he said.

“I walk the talk,” he soon added.

In response to NEASC concerns, Balke said that the school district needs to evaluate the “nice-to-haves” and the “need-to-haves” as it works to address these issues at the high school. He warned that the multiple projects proposed, including a multi-million dollar addition to the school, should not have been lumped together and need to be re-evaluated.

Balke said that the school district needs to take a closer look at demographics and other data to determine what is actually needed. At the same time, the schools need to do a better job sharing their vision and data with the public.

“I want to be a champion of education in the district, tell the story, be honest, sincere and humble,” he said.

Participants in the forum were also worried about the exodus of teachers and administrators leaving the school district. Balke said that there is still a lot of work to be done to solve this problem, but enrollment needs to be considered throughout the process.

He added there also needs to be an implementation of universal expectations and vocabulary for educators in the district.

Balke said the main reason why he wants to leave his current position is to separate his administrative work from his personal life. He currently lives in a town in the school district he serves, and wants to ensure his children are not affected by his position as a superintendent.

He stressed his experience in working with multiple towns, boards and the politics that comes along with them. Even though he is very busy dealing with the many factors of leadership in a school district, he said that he still finds time to teach at Southern New Hampshire University and Rivier University.

Andrew Corey

Corey has served as the assistant superintendent in the Londonderry School District for the past four years. Prior to that he was a principal at Londonderry Middle School and a head of instruction in the Dover school district.

Corey said he was attracted to Hollis Brookline because it is similar to the community he currently works in and he places “great value” on education. It is the only other school district he wants to work in.

“I have one resume and it is here,” Corey said. The school district is “very impressive, passionate about education and ready to take off.”

Corey had much criticism for the NEASC results and would rather focus on other aspects of student education in the district. He said that Hollis Brookline has gotten much attention for its excellence and, while it is important to maintain accreditation, there are much more important issues than spacing.

“They are all very important issues, but not necessarily why we send our kids to schools every day,” he said. “There are truly outstanding kids and programs here.”

In response to a question about student competencies, Corey said that the schools need to focus on maintaining student standards and accommodating excellence.

Common Core also came up during the forum and the superintendent candidate wants to make sure schools implement it correctly. This includes making sure that the standards are integrated when needed, but do not bring down areas that are already successful in schools.

Corey has spent many years teaching on top of his administrative work, and is especially passionate about special education programs. He has seen the positive results of these programs in his own experience and wants to ensure that all students have a chance to succeed.

More interviews

The SAU 41 Governing School Board will continue to interview the candidates before making a decision on Thursday, Feb. 20.

Feedback can also be sent to the board at sau41board@sau41.org before 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18.