COOK ON CONCORD: Nick Donohue deserves to remain at top education post

Education in New Hampshire has been the state’s central political issue for the last decade or so (or is it century?). The funding of it, the adequacy of it and the relation it has to our political lives has been divisive, energizing and curious. But there is a lot more to the education issue than that.

Education Commissioner Nicholas Donohue has brought energy, creativity, compassion and insight to the job under part of the Shaheen administration and the Benson administration. His term is up in November. Whether he is reappointed will say a lot about Governor Benson’s views, philosophy and willingness to work with the education community.

Nick Donohue worked hard to make progress for education under Governor Shaheen. The Best Schools Council and Initiative, a creative program to share the best thoughts and practices, had his support and drew a lot of its success from his energy. After it died, and after a new chairman was named to the state Board of Education — Fred Bramante — Donohue did not sulk or disappear.

Rather, he stepped up to the plate, shared his creative ideas with the energetic and creative chairman, a former teacher and music company executive, and has worked tirelessly to accomplish things, such as credit for non-traditional educational experiences and the implementation of the state’s first charter schools.

I had the opportunity to be in Commissioner Donohue’s office a couple of weeks ago. It is filled with creative toys, stuffed animals, posters about the creativity of teachers and students and the excitement of learning. He has framed posters of conferences sponsored by Governor Benson to discuss education. His conversation was not political but philosophical.

Keeping Nick Donohue on the job would provide great support and validation for those who believe that education should not be a partisan issue. Those who believe creativity in education is important, diversity and energy is critical and no political party has a monopoly or a right to presume it knows the right ideas would be enhanced by keeping Donohue on the job.

Teachers, administrators and school board members throughout New Hampshire know they have a friend in the commissioner and his ability to speak with them as well as his ability to speak with the chairman and the governor would be a great bridge, presuming the results of an election yet to come.

Seeing Donohue with his young daughter some years ago at an education conference was proof that his educational philosophy extends from the commissioner’s office to the classroom to the breakfast table. We have been well served by Nick Donohue, and it would be a sad thing to lose him. The governor’s decision will be a telling commentary on the present administration.

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One of the great educational experiences in New Hampshire has been going on for over 40 years. The St. Paul’s Advanced Study Program is held each summer for 5-1/2 weeks at the St. Paul’s School in Concord. One of the great prep schools in the world, St. Paul gives back to the state of New Hampshire a tremendous gift in opening its campus and programs to 290 of New Hampshire’s best juniors in high school, who participate in a remarkable program.

Majors range from law and government to “artificial intelligence” to Chinese and Japanese, advanced mathematics and many other subjects. Everyone has to take a writing seminar. Each student participates in one or two athletic activities. All study hard. They have an opportunity to meet state leaders, national leaders and have an educational experience that leaves them energized at the end of their summer and prepared to face any college to which they might be admitted.

The alumni of the program include prominent doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers — a great number of the best of New Hampshire’s leaders.

For those unfamiliar with the program, it has produced a change in many students. Director Tom Bazos and his staff are to be commended and St. Paul’s School thanked for providing this opportunity to New Hampshire students.

New Hampshire public school parents will be interested to know that the ASP faculty comment on how refreshing it is to have the best of New Hampshire’s high school students. Their comments about the quality of New Hampshire public high school students is telling. nhbr

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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