Published DateLACONIA — After serving for 31 years in the city school system, the last 13 of them as Superintendent of Schools, Bob Champlin announced yesterday that he will step down at the close of the school year.
In a letter to Joe Cormier, who chairs the School Board, read when the board met last night, Champlin explained "as you know, I have had some significant struggles with a health issue. While I am confident I will get better (as I have many times before)," he continued, "I also know that the Laconia Schools need and deserve consistent leadership."
Later Champlin said that "nothing is more important to me than the well-being of our schools, our students, our teachers and our staff. It is a 24/7 job and I'm afraid I would make a mistake. This was a very tough decision." He said that he had no immediate plans other than "to get my health together." He explained that in the 18 years since he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis "I've battled it really well. I've beat it before and I'll do it again."
A native of Rhode Island, Champlin captained the basketball team at Coventry High School, playing as a stretch forward against the likes of Marvin "Bad News" Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio, who later starred at Providence College. After a stint at Rhode Island Junior College, he graduated from Rhode Island College, majoring in both special and elementary education.
In 1980 he came to New Hampshire, where he began his career at the Spaulding Youth Center in Northfield, working with children with neurological and behavioral challenges and within a couple of years put his foot through the doorway of the Laconia schools as a crisis counselor for the eight schools of Laconia, Gilford and Gilmanton.
The story goes that when he arrived in the city to find Champlin Street in the South End, he knew he had come to the right place. Champlin began as a counselor at Woodland Heights Elementary School, then assistant principal and finally principal. "I've got some loyalty there," he said of Woodland Heights, where he met his wife and saw his youngest through school.
In 1999 Champlin became assistant superintendent and within two years superintendent. By then the schools had embarked on a program to renovate the three elementary schools as well as build a new middle school and high school. Ed Philpot, who served on the school board and helped frame the program, formed a lasting friendship with Champlin. "Bob came up through the district," he said. "He has an unfailing passion for this school district and has been its heart and soul."
Philpot described the building program, which is being capped with the completion and opening of the renovated and expanded Huopt Technical Center, new science laboratories and rebuilt athletic fields at the high school, as "the smallest part of it. He would have done it in a cardboard box if he'd had to. Bob was about delivering the core services," he explained. "How can we be the very best at educating kids. He is an indomitable spirit when it comes to kids."
Champlin was quick to attribute any success he achieved to "the shared leadership in our community. It's really been about the people," he said. In his letter he lauded the faculty and staff for "developing the potential for success in every student, every day, in every way" and observed "leadership is an exciting place place to be and my job has been made easier by the tremendous people who work in Laconia." The school board, city council, city manager, police and fire chiefs and other "community partners have helped make our schools so much more powerful and effective than I could ever have accomplished on my own."
Champlin said that "when I return to Providence and tell my old friends, the guys I played ball with, what I'm doing, they say 'excuse me you're doing what? Are you crazy?" In closing his letter he answered "I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Being someone who tried to help children and families in our little city is a dream come true for me."