Courtesy Photo - SAU 21
Dr. Caroline Arakelian in her most recent staff photo. Arakelian began as SAU 21 Interim Superintendent on Jan. 1.
The SAU 21 school district is entering 2021 with new leadership, following the resignation of Dr. Bill Lupini as superintendent. On Jan. 1, Dr. Caroline Arakelian began serving as Interim Superintendent until July 1, when a permanent replacement will begin.
Arakelian outlined two main goals for her superintendency: returning to school safely and finding a permanent replacement to lead the district, and said in a statement to the board after accepting the position that she would use safety and equity as her “guiding principles” in accomplishing these goals. Arakelian, the first woman to lead the district in its 63 year history, said each of these goals bring a unique challenge.
“There are many moving parts to [returning to school]. We have students in five districts and some families have children in more than one district, and there are so many things to have to consider in terms of health protocols, screening, and cohorting,” Arakelian said. “The superintendency is a challenging position in and of itself, with multiple districts, layer on a pandemic, not to mention we had a national crisis at the end of last week, and all of those pieces are challenging.”
Before accepting the role as Interim Superintendent, Arakelian spent a year and a half as Executive Director of Student Services at SAU 21. Prior to that position, she spent three years as Director of Special Services at Winnacunnet. She said she would attribute her relatively quick rise through administrative leadership in the district to her “tenacity” and passion for equity in education.
Arakelian was approved by a Joint Board vote 15-1: the only dissenting member was Hampton Falls School Board member Greg Parish. Parish said that although he voted no, he said he believes she will do a “wonderful job” in the position.
“I think the district is fortunate that we had someone within the district that wanted to take on this role, there’s a lot of benefits there,” Parish said. “After the vote, we spoke the following day, and her lack of experience in a role like this was pretty much the only reason I voted the way I did.”
Arakelian said within her two main goals, she plans to enhance communication between the district and students, staff, and parents, to ensure the district’s plans are as transparent as possible.
“Communication is another piece that’s important to me, and to make sure that out of this office, we’re doing our part to provide information about all of our districts from one centralized place,” Arakelian said. “We can’t ask people to work together if we don’t play our part in sharing that information across the districts.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Dave Hobbs, who will be taking on the primary responsibility for the permanent superintendent search, said he is excited to be working with Arakelian in the district.
“We’ve worked together for the last decade at WHS, and I’m happy to continue our
together at the SAU level,” Hobbs said. “She’s also done a fantastic job building programs associated with social-emotional wellness, safety, food security, support with homeless students, [and] preschool”
Hobbs, who was promoted from Winnacunnet administration to his district role at the same time Arakelian was, said he doesn’t plan on applying for the permanent superintendent job.
“I’m more than happy to serve in the capacity for which I was hired for now,” Hobbs said. “I’m honestly still trying to get my arms around this position and navigate the relationships, policies, logistics, and vision associated with running a multi-district SAU.”
In contrast, Arakelian expressed her interest in the permanent superintendent position, but did not commit to applying just yet. Instead, she said she is waiting to see what the district and community are looking for in a new superintendent, and will decide then if she is a “good fit” for that description.
“If the community says ‘I would like a superintendent with 25 years of experience,’ I’m just not that person, this is my first go at it,” Arakelian said. “If they’re looking for a person who has over 20 years of experience in education, with the priorities, skills, and expertise I bring to the table… then that’s something I would apply for.”
Parish, who serves on the Hampton Falls School Board and the SAU 21 Joint Board, won’t be serving on the Superintendent Search Committee this year, but he did serve on the search committee that ultimately hired Lupini.
“We wanted a superintendent who could take us to the next level, and when Dr. Lupini came on board, he began that process,” Parish said.
According to Parish, taking the district to the “next level” included several initiatives such as competency-based education and social-emotional learning. He said he is hopeful the Superintendent Search Committee will look for a superintendent candidate who can continue the “tremendous progress” made with these programs.
The Superintendent Search Committee, made up of SAU 21 administrators, staff members, parents, and community members, is set to hold their first public meeting on Jan. 27 at 6 p.m.