WESTMINSTER — For more than a month, members of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union (WNESU) community have told school officials they don't want Principal John Broadley to leave.
An online petition to keep Broadley in his current role had more than 1,020 signatures as of March 3.
But the principal - who told the school board last month that he would not renew his role at Bellows Falls Union High School - apparently doesn't want to talk about it.
At a March 1 meeting, high school board Chair Molly Banik said she had reached out to Broadley in the previous three weeks and invited him to speak with the board, but “he hasn't come talk to us.”
As he has since sending his letter, Broadley also declined to comment to The Commons.
At the school district's previously scheduled annual meeting that followed, voters overwhelmingly approved a motion strongly urging the board to offer Broadley a contract.
Broadley's departure is another blow to the district after Bellows Falls Middle School Principal Susan Johnson resigned in January.
The saga has swamped school board meetings in the district since Broadley's non-renewal letter was read at a Jan. 24 meeting.
At a special meeting Jan. 31, members of the community voiced their surprise and displeasure. Dozens of community members showed support for Broadley at meetings through February - and some have questioned whether he is being forced out.
A meeting deferred
The March 1 meeting itself added more controversy to the situation as residents believe its messy scheduling was a move by officials to quash protest.
The meeting, initially advertised as an open community event to occur Feb. 27, was postponed due to weather to March 1, the date of the regularly scheduled board meeting.
District board Chair Jack Bryar called Windham Northeast Superintendent Andrew Haas on the morning of Feb. 27 and voiced concern about the weather, after which the meeting was delayed, Bryar said. When reached for comment after the meeting, he was unsure about how much influence his advice had on the delay.
“At the end of the day, the person who moved the meeting was Haas,” Bryar said.
Haas, in turn, told The Commons via text message that “our legal [counsel] advised us to warn the meeting and [the district has] since gotten interpretation from the [Secretary] of State's office that it should be warned as a meeting.”
The change in format frustrated residents hoping for more of a discussion with the board.
“We need to have an actual Q&A,” said parent Samantha Simonds in comments to The Commons. “They kept changing the type of meeting.”
Some of the students who had planned to protest at the community event on Monday believe the weather was just an excuse.
“We think it's because so many of us wanted to protest,” said Junior Alexis Keefe. “There were supposed to be 50 protesters at Monday's meeting.”
Still, the rescheduled meeting drew between 50 and 60 attendees. Students in front of the high school building waved with colorful signs - bearing slogans like “Honk for Broadley,” “We Love Broadley,” and more - while a handful of them danced.
Despite the non-renewal letter and Broadley's apparent disengagement with the board, community members believe there's more going on than officials have let on.
Board has yet to discuss
Most people at the March 1 meeting were there in support of the principal, many of whom believe Broadley was forced out.
“I believe John did not resign,” said district resident Fred Robling. “It's not coming from him.”
Stephanie Mitchell, a former paraeducator at Westminster Central School, went further: “I 100% believe John Broadley did not write that letter willingly.”
Mitchell said she had to leave her job in the district because “she had no other choice.” When she last worked at the district, she had no lunch breaks “starting August through Thanksgiving break,” she said at the meeting.
Student Kali Desmarais, who'd been at the school since 7:30 that morning, felt that “if Mr. Broadley leaves, he's not only taking teachers with him, he's taking students.”
Junior Morgan Rumrill shared those sentiments: “He's one of the only reasons I stayed at the Tech Center. For the school board to make this decision [...] is hurtful. We're students, we go here every day.”
After the meeting, Rumrill told The Commons that she felt “we were not heard the way we should've been heard [...] They ignored everything.”
The board has yet to meet and have a full discussion about the community's wishes for Broadley.
“We have not had a meeting as a board to even talk about what we're talking about here,” said Banik.
She said the board needed the presence of Superintendent Andrew Haas, and she cited busy schedules as the main difficulty in facilitating that process.
In an interview the week before the meeting, Haas told The Commons that “one of the things we can do better is to communicate.”
A timeline released to the community states that the district intends to conduct interviews for Broadley's successor beginning in “the second week of March” and a second round of interviews the week after.
School officials indicated to The Commons that they're looking to start interviews the week of March 19. They indicated confidence in their timeline but didn't want the search to extend past mid-April.
Voters urge board to offer contract
At the end of the special meeting, Haas told The Commons that he was “glad to see community engagement.”
Minutes later, during the board's previously scheduled annual meeting, Rockingham resident Samantha Simonds presented a motion that sought to ask the board to offer him a contract, and said “the community” would like to see that happen.
But board member David Clark wanted to change the language to instead refer to “present members of the community,” rather than the entire district community.
He also wanted to soften the language because the board can't be compelled to spend money that it has not budgeted for - and that a contract for Broadley is not in the budget.
The sides negotiated the language to say the motion reflected “the sense of the community” to offer a contract.