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ConVal

SMS principal retiring

Dunning looks back on his 40-year career path in the district

  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, sitting, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>If you want the boy sitting, he is Jordan Cooper.<br/><br/>Kathy<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, sitting, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.

    If you want the boy sitting, he is Jordan Cooper.

    Kathy

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students  Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Dick Dunning in a photo taken in Vietnam in 1968, while he was serving in a Special Forces unit.

    Dick Dunning in a photo taken in Vietnam in 1968, while he was serving in a Special Forces unit. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Teaching principal Dick Dunning and students at Dublin Consolidated School work on a lung dissection, in a photo taken in the early 1980s.

    Teaching principal Dick Dunning and students at Dublin Consolidated School work on a lung dissection, in a photo taken in the early 1980s. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, sitting, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>If you want the boy sitting, he is Jordan Cooper.<br/><br/>Kathy<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students Jordan Cooper, Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning, who will be retiring at the end of the school year, with, from left, SMS students  Patrick LaRoche, Tim Burgess,Jacob Weidner and Jeremy McCall.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Dick Dunning in a photo taken in Vietnam in 1968, while he was serving in a Special Forces unit.
  • Teaching principal Dick Dunning and students at Dublin Consolidated School work on a lung dissection, in a photo taken in the early 1980s.

PETERBOROUGH — Last Thursday, South Meadow School Principal Dick Dunning was looking forward to marching out of the gym at the of the school’s farewell ceremony for eighth graders alongside his granddaughter, Danica Morris.

“After 40 years and seven months, I’ll finally graduate from eighth grade,” Dunning said.

He’ll also graduate to a new stage of life, as Dunning’s retiring after spending those 40 years entirely in the ConVal School District, as a teacher, teaching principal and middle school principal. The winner of the 2006 N.H. Middle School Principal of the Year award, Dunning has been at the helm of South Meadow since 2000, but he first came to the building as assistant principal in 1986, when it was still known as Peterborough Middle School.

“In 1989, it became South Meadow,” Dunning said, recalling how the former Honeywell factory was rebuilt when the ConVal district established two new middle schools. “That was an amazing year. We never missed a day of school during the construction.”

Dunning, who grew up in Dublin and attended Dublin Consolidated School, joined the U.S. Army not long after graduating from Peterborough High School in 1965. He served in Vietnam in a Special Forces unit, earning a Bronze Star for valor.

“I’d read Robin Moore’s book about the Green Berets, and I was enthralled,” Dunning said. “I did Special Forces training at Fort Bragg and went to Vietnam in January 1968.”

Dunning was assigned to an A-team, training indigenous Montagnard personnel in the central highlands. He later joined a mobile strike force team that would fly in to support units under fire on the front lines. He clearly recalls the day he was wounded — Aug. 28, 1968. “The camp was being mortared and they couldn’t medevac me out. I thought, ‘This is where I’m going to die.’ My great regret was that I’d never told my parents how much I loved them.”

Dunning was eventually pulled out on a poncho and airlifted away. “I made it almost eight weeks,” he said about his tour of duty.

After getting medical treatment in Japan, he was sent home to the military hospital at Fort Devens and when he left the Army, he enrolled at Keene State College, planning to become a teacher.

In 1972, Dunning did student teaching, first at Temple Elementary School with Teaching Principal Jim Grant and then at Dublin Consolidated School, working with Barbara Fontaine, a certified teacher who came out of retirement to mentor Dunning, in a third-grade classroom. “We both had great fun, and I learned so much from Barbara,” Dunning said. “When the kids came back from Christmas vacation, I was their teacher. Dublin was a wonderful, wonderful school, and it still is.”

Dunning taught third grade for a year, switched to sixth grade, and became teaching principal at DCS in the mid-1970s. He went to Peterborough Middle School in 1986 as assistant principal.

Dunning said he has loved working with middle school students. “It’s sort of like being Peter Pan in Never Never Land,” he said. “You don’t have to grow up. As long as you work with kids, you never get old.”

Dunning said the South Meadow School community offers a great deal of support to students and their families. “We have our own food pantry. I think we’re the only middle school in the state to do something like that,” he said. “It’s all done very confidentially.”

Dunning said if schools don’t address the social and emotional needs of students, academics will be a real struggle. So one of his goals has always been to give students ways to have an identity. He said the school offers multiple clubs — beekeeping, a radio club, the “Dirt Dogs” in the greenhouse on the front lawn, an environment club and a Green Eggs 4H club are just a few. “A parent told me a story about her daughter, who’d joined the Green Eggs club,” Dunning said. “She got a club sweatshirt, with her name embroidered on it, and she said to her mom, ‘Look, I’m somebody.’ That’s an example of the identity that I think makes this school unique.”

Dunning said all the members of the school’s bands and choruses have uniforms, funded through the school’s Friday night roller skating program started by Dunning and his wife, Wendy, that has raised more than $100,000 over the past nine years.

Dunning credited the staff at the school with providing so many unique opportunities for students. “They have enthusiasm and are always willing to take the extra time to help kids be successful,” he said. “They do it because it’s the right thing for the kids.”

Dunning and his wife, who retired a couple of years ago after working as a music teacher and a paraprofessional in the ConVal district, have no specific future plans. “Right now, we’ll be taking it one day at a time,” he said.

The Dunnings are looking forward to spending time with their family. Their daughter, Shannon, is a teacher at Peterborough Elementary School. She is Danica’s stepmother and also has a 3-year-old daughter, Amaya. Their daughter, Courtney, is a nurse at Monadnock Community Hospital. “We’ve lived in Peterborough for years. It’s seven minutes, door to door, from home to school,” Dunning said. That’s a commute that he’s never minded making.

“For 40 years, I’ve never had to go to work,” he said. “I tell young teachers that you have to take a position that will bring you happiness. Find a place that feels like the right place for you. I did, and I really appreciate the opportunities I’ve had. It was a gift.”

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