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Capacity Issues Nothing New for Superintendent Candidate

Dr. Richard Bergeron is one of two finalists for the Windham gig.

Contocook Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Bergeron has dealt with overcrowded schools several times during the stops in his 41-year career in education.

The 62-year-old Windham Superintendent candidate has spent the last six years in SAU1, having previously bounced around Massachusetts towns of Boxborough, Chelmsford and North Andover.

As a principal in Chelmsford, Bergeron saw his elementary school grow from 600 students to nearly 800.

"We had to use spaces that were not designed as classrooms, including a gymnasium," he said.

Art on a cart, music teachers visiting classrooms and a suite of modulars are nothing new to Windham residents, and Bergeron faced all of those constraints during his stay in Boxboro.

In fact, he said the Boston Globe cited that district as the fastest growing per capita location in the state three years running.

From his experience, Bergeron said that it has generally taken three years to get a successful vote from taxpayers on various facility bonds. He used a gymnasium bond in ConVal as an example.

"You cannot pass a bond just on a parent vote," he said. "You need to involve the justification for the need for investment. Maybe that's why it always takes three years in my experience."

Bergeron is just learning about Windham's overcrowding, having just taken a tour of the four schools on Dec. 14.

He noted the capacity challenges, issues that were also communicated to him by members of the Windham School District.

He outlined plenty of creative voter outreach strategies, from podcasts, social media use, neighborhood discussions with face-to-face contact and video tours of the schools.

Bergeron said that he understands that frustrations can occur as each year goes by without an overcrowding solution, and that there are additional frustrations in terms of the educators trying to do their best with inadequate space.

He compared passing a bond to a political campaign.

"It needs to be designed as such and you need to have delegated responsibilities," Bergeron said. "Everyone has to be involved. There's a direct role for the PTA, a direct role for the school administrators."

For the second straight year, Windham voters will see a ballot item related to a new school facility on London Bridge Road. Last year the ballot asked taxpayers to help fund architectural and engineering fees, an article that was nixed. This year, the entire bond will find its way on the ballot.

One article that did pass in March created the decision to split off from Pelham and have Windham form SAU95.

Bergeron said that he is drawn to the idea of starting a new district.

He said he is also happy with the technology integration in Windham classrooms as well as a group of administrators he referred to as a "talented group."

The ConVal School District is made up of 11 schools – eight of which are elementary schoools. The district occupies 250 square miles.

Bergeron spoke to superintendent visibility, which is obviously a challenge in SAU1, but will be more managable in Windham.

For the man who has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Boston College, he said that he has always been associated with school districts that value education, and he sees that theme very present in Windham.

"The town is offering just wonderful components that would lead a district to success," he said of Windham.

Bergeron is one of two finalists to replace Superintendent Dr. Henry LaBranche, who is currently serving in a temporary capacity. SAU 55 Assistant Superintendent Winfried Feneberg is the other finalist for the opening.

The two will meet the public during a community forum next month.

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