WLC community meets three potential principal candidates


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 03-27-2023 11:09 AM

Wilton-Lyndeborough school district residents met with three potential candidates for high school principal last week, in preparation for a final selection for the 2023-24 school year.

The district had already gone through one selection process and held a meet and greet with two finalist candidates, who were not in the mix this time, and are no longer under consideration.

This round included three finalists, Rick Barnes, Tom Ronning and Peter Stivali, who all met with faculty members during the day on Thursday, and with members of the community, including some School Board representatives and candidates, on Thursday night.

Barnes is most recently was the principal of Hollis-Brookline High School, and was named the 2021 Secondary School Principal of the Year by the NH Association of School Principals. He left the school in June of 2021, for a consulting position, but is seeking to get back into the school environment.

Tom Ronning is the current Interim Principal at Fall Mountain Regional High School, where he previously served as assistant principal from 2001 to 2007, and principal from 2007 to 2016, but also has previous experience as a principal of the Newport Middle School, and assistant principal in the Hinsdale School District. 

Stivali’s background is mainly in teaching, and is currently a social studies teacher at Lin-Wood Public School, though he has also served as a dean of students at a private institution.

Each candidate was given roughly twenty minutes to answer questions from the public during the meet-and-greet on Thursday giving a brief background, and answering questions about their priorities, and how they would approach the pressing needs of the district, including struggling test scores and building maintenance.

“My number one job is safety and security,” said Barnes. “That trumps everything.”

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Barnes said he had a proven track record of being an instructional leader, and effective communicator. He said during his time at Hollis-Brookline, he had been assistant principal when the district adopted an advisory block for students to work more individually with teachers on areas where they struggled. He said at first, some members of the community were resistant to the idea, but when it was implemented, saw its value.

Barnes said he was willing to lead by example, and spoke of a time at Hollis-Brookline when the school was struggling for space, leading to teachers often having to move rooms, carrying their equipment on carts, and Barnes recognized that it was a difficult situation for them, while still trying to teach at a high level. Barnes said he gave up his office, half of which became a conference space for special education.

“When you ask a staffer to do something, making sure you’re doing it as well is really important,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he was attracted to Wilton-Lyndeborough due to its small size, and the fact that the combined middle-high school spans grades six through twelve, which allows for

Ronnings said his role as principal would be to be a communicator, and a connecting bridge between the district administration and school staff, and to the community.

Ronnings said his philosophy is looking at where students are in their learning, and how they can improve on that level. On improving test scores, Ronnings said he encourages a culture of asking students to be their “best version of self,” whatever that might be. Even for those who don’t plan to seek higher education, Ronnings said, should put care and effort into their learning, because they are working on becoming the best version of themselves.

When asked about issues such as enforcing rules such as the dress code, which one parent said is inconsistently enforced, Ronnings said to start, the school should look at the handbook, and see if it was a solid starting point, or it needs updating. But, he said, he believes in fair and even discipline.

“If you break the rules, you break the rules, no matter who you are,” Ronnings said. When asked about willingness to work with local law enforcement, Ronnings said in previous positions, he had enacted regular lunch meetings with local law enforcement, to keep each side up to date on potential issues.

Stivali said what he would bring to the position was a sense of enthusiasm and energy.

“I want to make students feel involved, and build relationships within the school and within the community,” Stivali said. For himself, Stivali said he would like to regularly visit classrooms to “get the pulse of the building.”

When asked about discipline, Stivali said he would foremost try to make discipline about teaching accountability. He said he would work with the local police department when necessary, but said that discipline could become a “teaching moment” for students.

On testing, with one parent noting that the high school particularly has struggled with testing performance, Stivali said he’d first examine data to see where the gaps are, and if there is a pattern there that needs to be addressed.

“If I can identify a gap, what are we doing in that area to close that gap?” Stivali said.

The WLC School Board could act on a hiring recommendation as soon as its next meeting, scheduled for April 4.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.