Conval School District

New superintendent discusses challenges and opportunities

Minnihan: One of district’s greatest strengths is extra curricular options

  • ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan shares his observations after two weeks on the job.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan shares his observations after two weeks on the job.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan shares his observations after two weeks on the job.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — The walls of Brendan Minnihan’s office are still bare, just weeks into his tenure as superintendent of the ConVal School District. The desk is also uncluttered, though Minnihan is quick to pull out the laptop computer he carries home each night. He’s been spending most of his time getting to know the teachers and other staff in the district’s schools and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.

“I’ve met a lot of great people,” Minnihan said earlier this month, shortly before heading out to a gathering with staffers. “One of the first things I did was put out some questions about the district to the staff, and I’ve had some really thoughtful responses. There’s a nice sense of community here, a real focus on kids and trying to do well by kids.”

He said there seems to be a real effort at every level in the district to enhance the curriculum offerings, citing the TV station run by students at Great Brook School and the solar car team at South Meadow School as examples. Minnihan said he hadn’t yet visited all the elementary schools, but the middle schools and high schools seem to be a beehive of activity, even during the summer.

“That’s really exciting to see,” he said.

Minnihan, 46, came to ConVal from the Sunapee School District, where he had been superintendent for five years. He lives in Greenfield; his daughter, Colleen, has been a student at both Greenfield Elementary School and South Meadow School and will be starting at the high school in the fall.

Asked about challenges facing the district, Minnihan said he’d suggest putting the focus on opportunities.

“We need to make our presence known in the community, through increased use of social media and our websites,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t always know the good things that are happening right in your own school. Perhaps there are ways to develop increased collaboration between schools, maybe more joint activities between South Meadow and Great Brook.”

Among the ConVal district’s greatest strengths, in Minnihan’s opinion, are the extracurricular options that are available to students, such as the N.H. Dance Institute offerings, the Cornucopia Project gardens at some of the schools and the Harris Center for Conservation Education programs.

He’s also been impressed with the level of expertise in the district.

“There’s real strength in technology here and it’s used well,” he said. “For example, when the new gym opened, the kids at the high school did that flash-mob video. They’re using modern technology that also contributes to developing a culture at the school. And it was fun.”

Minnihan said that as a parent, he’s experienced the interest teachers show in their students.

“They’re focused on trying to do what’s best for kids. That’s why we’re here. Teachers, on their own time, are coming to events to support their students. I see that time and time again.”

An effort is under way to have joint group of representatives from the School Board and the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee evaluate the organizational structure of the district and perhaps make recommendations for changes. Minnihan said he thought such a committee could be valuable.

“My role in that is to put out all the information we can possibly gather, so people can make informed decisions” he said. “I think the recent votes in the district show there’s a strong feeling that people want to keep their local elementary schools. There seems to be strong support for two middle schools. Whatever option is put out, we want to be sure people have all the facts. There are models for schools that are more efficient. There are also traditions and community values that will need to be accounted for. I hope we do this in a spirit of looking at all possible options.”

Minnihan said he supports the School Board’s goal of making ConVal a high-performing district.

“The question is, what does that really mean?” he asked. “In my mind, it means we allow students the opportunities to be successful in life. We have to have the resources we need, and we have to use them effectively. You have to get to the needs of each individual student.”

He said the community has to believe this is a goal that’s reachable.

“My sense is that ConVal was once looked on as a beacon,” he said. “Having a strong, vibrant school can help build a strong vibrant community. The quality of schools is to a certain extent an economic driver for a community.”

Minnihan said a recent waiver for New Hampshire schools from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act will really give a school district more flexibility. Formerly about 75 percent of schools and districts in the state, including some schools in the ConVal district, were labeled as being in need of improvement. The new system identifies a much smaller number of “priority” and “focus” schools, none of which are in the ConVal district.

“It acknowledges that our schools can always be better, but these are not failing schools,” Minnihan said.

The new superintendent said his goal in developing a budget is to keep people well-informed about the process.

“Being transparent is very important. We want to make sure there’s dialog on both sides. We also need to explain the expectations of the state and federal government.”

He said the district will be facing increased retirement costs, due to downshifting by the state, and insurance costs are difficult to predict.

“The biggest cost drivers are related to people and energy,” he said. “We have limited control over some of that. I think we can look for efficiencies and we need to tout the savings we have made.”

He said he’s hoping to develop some videos or other website presentations to keep people informed.

“My understanding is that we’ve held many budget meetings that are sparsely attended,” he said.

Minnihan has heard the talk that some of the towns might be considering withdrawal from the ConVal district.

“I think ConVal is a very strong district with nine distinct towns,” he said. “I want to reach out and work with each town. If a town does decide to withdraw, that’s a town decision and we’d follow the process. What I can do is to tout the benefits of the ConVal system and show people what they get by being part of this district.”

He said it is important to try to keep the tax rates down, but added a caveat.

“I don’t think we can do that at the expense of the education of our kids. That will only hurt us in the long run. It will hurt our kids and it will hurt our communities.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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