Woolridge reflects on first month as superintendent of schools in SAU 92


HINSDALE, N.H. >> After a little over a month as superintendent of schools in SAU 92 (Hinsdale, N. H.), Wayne Woolridge is sure he has the perfect job.

"This is a great place for a kid to go to school," he said. "The community believes in education and is supportive. The PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) is very active. The teachers care deeply. It's a small district (Hinsdale Elementary School and Hinsdale Middle/High School), so it's possible to build relationships."

Woolridge retired in summer 2015 after nine years as superintendent of SAU 29 (Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, and Westmoreland), the largest multi-district in New Hampshire, according to the SAU 29 website.

"That district cares deeply about education, too," he said, "but it's much larger. As superintendent there, I dealt with seven school boards, 35 board members, and 13 bargaining groups."

The Hinsdale School Board comprises five people, all of whom work together well, Woolridge said. He appreciates that people are close to what's happening in their schools, and they ask smart questions.

Originally from Montana, Woolridge taught English for many years. As computer technology grew more common in schools, he became very interested in writing across the curriculum using computers.

"I loved the idea of writing centers," he said, "and the interdisciplinary grouping of students. I saw how using technology could improve instruction."

He gave workshops for other teachers on interdisciplinary writing using computers. Teachers found the workshops inspiring and helpful, he said, but "they told me they couldn't get that message to the people who write the checks." As he thought how he might address teachers' concerns about funding, Woolridge began to consider going into administration. That is what brought him East. He was hired at Keene High School as assistant principal, supervising student activities, athletics, and a third of the discipline. As a member of the district technical committee, he was able, he said, "to encourage great things." He also served in SAU 29 as principal and assistant superintendent before becoming superintendent.

After a long and satisfying career in administration, Woolridge expected that in retirement, he would pursue other interests, such as fishing. But he found his anticipation didn't mesh with the reality.

"Once I fished for four days straight," he said, "and I found myself saying, 'I think this is the same fish I caught yesterday.'"

"I put up all my own wood for the winter," he added, "about seven cords a year. Usually, I'm bumping into November before it's all in. This year I was done by mid-August."

So, although he wouldn't have predicted it, when he saw the ad for a 60 percent superintendent's position in SAU 92, he knew he would apply.

"The skill set and experiences I offer are relevant," he said. "I've worked with PTAs. I've worked with the New Hampshire legislature. I've met with senators about policy, such as special education funding. I have the ability to use my past connections to help promote the agenda for Hinsdale and to be a public advocate for kids, to say, 'Here are the needs right now, and here's why.'"

With the Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, local school districts now have more control. SAU 92, with a current enrollment 534 students, has five district goals, Woolridge said: 1) Develop a three-to-five-year strategic plan based on data, which has the additional advantage of the Hinsdale school district and Hinsdale town government being mutually informed about tax impacts on the town's taxpayers; 2) Develop a plan to recruit, support, and retain highly qualified teachers (HQT) who are dedicated to the success of all students; 3) Provide a continuum of instruction at all ability levels, one that is informed by testing data so it can be differentiated and individualized; 4) Develop a budget and a plan to address the technology needs of the district, including students, teachers, and administration; and 5) Promote an atmosphere of open communication, collaboration, and forward thinking.

"I report out every month on those goals," Woolridge said. "We held a public forum on Jan. 27 for parents, students, and community members, to find out what the community is looking for in their schools and what issues we face."

One of the challenges the district faces is the increase in the number of students in the early grades, at a time when other districts are experiencing declining enrollment.

"Our younger grades are growing at capacity," Woolridge said. "Younger families are moving into the district. We have a pre-school program and a full-day kindergarten. And thanks to a 21st Century grant, we have a great after-school program that operates until six at night. These are very attractive to working parents with young children."

Since the district office, the elementary school, and the high school all within walking distance of each other, Woolridge looks forward to breaking through the traditional barriers between administrators and teachers.

"I can go to classrooms, I can go to basketball games. It's easy to get around," he said.

He recently met with the elementary teachers to talk about professional learning communities.

"When teachers work together to solve problems," he said, "they can improve their ability to deliver the best services to kids."

The SAU 92 annual meeting will take place on Saturday, March 12, at 9:00 a.m. in the Hinsdale High School gymnasium.

Nancy A. Olson can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.


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