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Open Doors weekend expands to spring

MEREDITH — For more than a decade, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen has presented "NH Open Doors Weekend," which encouraged its members to welcome the public into their studios, galleries and kitchens, to allow patrons of fine arts and crafts to see where and how the products are made, and to meet the people who create them. The success of the Open Doors Weekend, held in the fall during foliage season, has inspired the League to expand the event by adding a spring weekend. This weekend, April 9 and 10, League members across the state will be opening their doors to people who want to learn more about what they do.

Kate Sussman, operations manager for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, said that many members have signed up to participate, despite the fact the spring event is in its first year.

"We're really pleased," she said, adding that the two Open Doors events, about six months apart from one another, should get shoppers in the habit of visiting different craftspeople each fall and spring.

About a dozen Lakes Region craftsmen are listed on the site, and many of them will be presenting at the Arts Collaborative space, located at 5 Winona Road in Meredith.

The Arts Collaborative was started by David and Heidi Little, who each pursue their own creative endeavors at the space. On the first floor, Heidi, a mixed media artist, creates her art as well as leads art classes.

Upstairs, David creates and showcases furniture and decorative pieces he makes out of his forged iron in collaboration with woodworkers.

David grew up outside of Boston, but spent childhood summers at his great grandfather's lake property in the Lakes Region. Later, at a summer camp in Holderness, he was exposed to his first blacksmith shop.

"When I touched a hammer to hot iron when I was a teenager, I was hooked," he said.

While his early work was what he called "traditional" wrought iron furniture, he soon began to develop his personal style, incorporating natural forms and patterns in his iron work. As he became interested in this aesthetic, his customer tastes did as well, keeping him busy with custom orders.

"I've never grown tired of it. I look around outside and there's always a new, natural detail for me to interpret."

David enjoys working with other local artisans, such as Peter Bloch, a wood turner who shapes shades for David's lamps, and with Steven Hayden, an artist whose creations range from wood furniture to large-scale metal sculptures.

Hayden, a California native who has lived in Meredith since 1999, has developed his own signature, a technique for working with copper that he calls "flame painting." Hayden uses a type of blowtorch that allows for a very accurate mixture of oxygen and either propane or acetylene, which allows Hayden to control what kind of oxides are created on the surface of the copper.

"It has gone through a huge development in the last 10 years or so as I've figured out how to use it in a meaningful way. When I first started playing with the technique, I had no idea where it would lead," he said. He now can create a broad range of colors, including red, purple, blue and earth tones. "The palette is pretty amazing."

Hayden travels up and down the East Coast to display his work. With NH Open Doors, he gets the chance to share his passion with his neighbors.

"It's really nice to have this event and stay close to home and meet folks in this area," he said.

At the Arts Collaborative, visitors won't just be spectators, as Heidi plans to have a small art project for them to try. "My idea is to put some materials in their hands and have them make something," she said.

Also at the Arts Collaborative this weekend will be fabric artist Natalie Hebden, with Full Moon Fashions. Genuine Local, a company that makes sauces next door, will be barbecuing for the event.

"I think this is going to be a great weekend, we are looking forward to it," said David.



Alton teachers, residents demand action from superintendent and school board

04-09 Alton SB meeting

Ann Ransom addresses those attending a meeting of the Alton Teachers Association and concerned residents Thursday evening. (Courtesy Photo)


ALTON — The Alton Teachers Association has appealed directly to residents and parents to join with teachers in a concerted effort to bring the School Board and the administration to heel.

The appeal followed the impasse reached earlier in the week when, with four of its five members present, the School Board split evenly between the two nominees for chairperson — the former chairperson Steve Miller and a newly elected member Peter Leavitt — and recessed for lack of a chairperson.

At a public meeting hosted by the association at Prospect Mountain High School on Thursday Richard Brown, president of the association, urged more than 50 people to press Sandy Wyatt, a member of the School Board who voted for Miller as chairperson, to convene a meeting of the board and join with Leavitt and Michael Ball, the second newly elected member, to elect Leavitt as chairman.

At the same time, the association circulated a resolution alluding to the grievances of teachers, parents and other stakeholders with interests in the success of the school. The resolution closed by affirming that "the Alton School Board shall authorize at least one of its members to participate on a committee dedicated to improving transparency and collaboration with respect to decisions that affect students." The resolution prescribed that the committee shall consist of one or more administrators, School Board members, teachers, elected by their peers and community members.

George Strout of NEA-NH, who attended the meeting, said that the resolution mirrors similar resolutions adopted by school boards around the state that have found themselves in circumstances like those that have roiled Alton for months.

Brown said that the resolution spelled out "how the School Board should conduct itself in the future." In addition to the resolution, he said that the association is also asking the board to reinstate those teachers whose contracts were not renewed, and convene a committee to address the issues reported by a survey of teachers (see accompanying article).

Addressing the meeting, Ball said that he had spoken with Superintendent Ward, who assured him that she would be "more than willing" address a public forum to explain the changes introduced at Alton Central School that have aroused so much controversy.

Those changes prompted parents to petition the School Board in February, expressing no confidence in Ward as well as with the principal, Cris Blackstone, and special education director, Jennifer Katz Borrin, of Alton Central School and listing eight demands. Miller, who than chaired the board, told the petitioners that the board would consider their concerns at its meeting April, which was abruptly recessed when members failed to elect a chairman.

Repeatedly stepping to the microphone, Anna Ransom addressed these issues Thursday evening. She challenged the administration's contention that the school is overstaffed, with which it has justified the decision to not renew the contracts of a number of teachers. Citing data from the New Hampshire Department of Education, she said that teacher-student ratios at the school match state averages. Likewise, she claimed that census data indicates 31 preschool pupils will be enrolled in 2016-2017, not the 13 projected by the administration, which let go one teacher. She said that when she questioned the superintendent, Ward refused to discuss "personnel issues."

Ransom also questioned the board's decision to contract with Ward to mentor her successor, Pamela Stiles, who will come aboard on July 1, as well as to extend the contracts of the principal and special education director for three years. The superintendent's contract, she said, is unnecessary and the extensions, granted after less than 50 days of the school, were unwarranted.
Changes in scheduling, including the introduction of "looping'' for grades K through 2 and "block scheduling for grades 5 through 8 and adding 20 minutes to the school, Ransom charged were undertaken without explanation or justification.

Ransom said that in 2013 the School Board, with participation from members of the community, developed a strategic plan for the school while the administration and board have introduced changes contrary to the existing plan and without a plan of their own. Although the administration and the board have insisted that the changes are required to improve low scores on standardized tests, Ransom said that tests results "do not reflect the dismal scenario the superintendent is projecting.

"There's a lot of discontent, but nobody knows what to do with it," said Steve McKnight. "The teachers are putting themselves on the line," he continued, "and the rest of us are like an ant hill that got kicked over. We need to organize, to stop being the ant hill and start being the community."

"You oughta stand tall," urged Paul White, who called himself "a senior citizen and taxpayer. "This crap's got to stop. Don't kowtow!"

Teacher survey reflects a "caustic environment"


ALTON — A survey conducted by the Alton Teachers Association revealed what Richard Brown, president of the association, describes as a "caustic environment" at Alton Central School, the responsibility for which he said "falls on the superintendent's desk."

Maureen Ward, the superintendent of schools, could not be reached to comment on the survey.

The survey, which was conducted in February and March, drew responses from 38 of the 44 teachers and support staff at Alton Central School.

The survey posed four questions to teachers, one about their relationships with their peers, two sounding their opinion of the administration and the fourth measuring morale among teachers, support staff, students and administrators. Teachers were also invited to comment in response to each question as well as to offer remarks at the end of the survey.

Nearly three-quarters of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that that their fellow teachers treated them with respect and nine of ten said that their peers listened when they offered suggestions for "doing things better." One teacher commented "I strongly believe that one of the objectives of the administration was to create a divide and that is being accomplished," which was echoed by three others, one whom wrote "Some are targeted and some not."

Asked if they work with an administration that respects them, the teachers were divided, with 38 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing and 34 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing and the remainder neutral. Of the 38 respondents, 16 offered comments. One referred to a "culture of intimidation" and called the administrators "the least effective group of administrators I have ever worked with." Another said "I have yet to meet the superintendent" while a third described the administration as "not approachable." But, one teacher insisted "I have felt nothing but respect from our administrators" while another expressly confined criticism to the superintendent.

More than eight of ten teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed that the administration communicates effectively, operates under a shared vision for the school and helps teachers fulfill their vision. Seven in ten disagreed or strongly disagreed that the administrators valued input from teachers and parents.

"There is no shared vision as parents, teachers, support staff and more have not been allowed to be part of the process," commented one teacher, an opinion expressed by more than a half-dozen others. "Communication is abysmal," a teacher wrote, "and I do mean ABYSMAL."

More than eight of ten teachers and seven of ten support personnel disagreed or strongly disagreed that their morale is high.

"How could it be high?" asked one teacher, while another declared "Morale is the lowest I have ever seen it on all fronts" and another offered "Everyone seems miserable except for admin."

Many of the general comments touched on the theme that the administration, primarily the superintendent, has failed to establish sound relationships with teachers while at the same time fostering division among them. "A select chosen few have been pulled into the inner circle and are clearly getting preferential treatment," wrote one teacher.

However, a colleague remarked "I feel as if those teachers who are happy do not feel comfortable speaking out because they do not want to offend other teachers who are more vocal about their unhappiness."

"It is just an awful place to be right now," a teacher wrote. " A really awful place."