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Community turns out to support FRES principal

By Jessie Salisbury - For The Telegraph | Jan 20, 2019

WILTON – On Jan. 8, Florence Rideout Elementary School Principal Tim O’Connell was described by dozens of residents as “an innovator,” “a man devoted to the school and community,” “caring,” “loved by his students,” and the person responsible for adding cultural programs, raising the school’s test scores and improving the atmosphere of the school.

Prompted by a rumor that the School Board was not going to renew O’Connell’s contract, parents and staff filled the media room at the middle/high school to overflowing on Wednesday.

The rumor had been circulating on Facebook since Friday with no reasons given for the non-renewal.

Board Chairman Harry Dailey said they could not discuss personnel but said the board had not yet considered any contracts, which they typically do the first of April. He invited those present to say why they had come, and they did so for about 45 minutes. The discussion remained polite and civil throughout the presentations with no restrictions on length of comments.

One resident presented a petition she said was “signed by 275 residents in five days” urging the board to renew the contract.

Several people suggested that “there must be come reason behind the rumor” or “the board knows something they aren’t saying,” or suggesting a personality rift between O’Connell and Superintendent Bryan Lane. Several noted there had been no hints or rumors at school of any criminal or poor professional actions on O’Connell’s part.

Most speakers described their children’s interactions with O’Connell as positive.

One resident summed up the general feeling of the gathering: “It is absolutely imperative that we keep him here.”

In answer to questions, Dailey said teachers have to be notified about contracts by April 15, and “all hiring decisions are made by the board.”

O’Connell has been principal since 2014 when he was hired at both FRES and Lyndeborough Central School. He oversaw the combining of the district, the construction of the new elementary school in Wilton in 2016, and the introduction of several innovative learning programs.

Those attending also brought up several areas on concern at the middle/high school, including a reorganization of the middle school program, which was discussed later in the meeting, a failure of the phone system during a snow storm, and the lack of a sixth grade math teacher.

The sixth graders have had a series of substitutes, parents said, “and aren’t learning.”

Reasons for the teacher’s leaving could not be discussed. Dailey said.

Lane said he had been searching for a qualified teacher, “but it is difficult to find someone during the school year,” and said he would be interviewing a candidate later in the week.

Dailey thanked those attending for coming and invited them to attend all board meetings.

About half of those present remained for the middle school discussion.

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