Former school chief returns

NASHUA – “Mr. B” is back.

Bob Bettencourt, the former principal of Sunset Heights Elementary School, is coming out of retirement to take over as interim principal at Amherst Street Elementary School for the rest of the school year.

Bettencourt, who spent 25 years as principal at Sunset, is known for bringing a sense of humor and colorful attire with him to the job. A mural of him wearing a loud plaid jacket is still painted on the wall at Sunset Heights.

He doesn’t have that jacket anymore, but he still has a bevy of his old colorful ties that always helped kids warm up to him. He’ll start at the school on March 1, the first day after February vacation.

“I’m hoping to get the same parental support as I did at Sunset,” Bettencourt said. “You need all the help you can get.”

Amherst Street has been through a turbulent year. Last spring, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Giuliano switched Amherst Street Principal Ruth Tuttle with the principal at Broad Street Elementary School, Karen Crebase. Crebase resigned last month after having her first child in October. Retired principal Joanne Paquette took over for several months, but she is leaving to spend more time with her grandchildren.

At the start of the school year, Amherst Street was named a “school in need of improvement” for failing to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Now enter Bettencourt. He said he agreed to take the job for two reasons. First, the district has been very good to him and he felt this was a way to give he felt this was a way to give

back. Second, he has always heard high praise about the staff and community at Amherst Street.

His decision to work at Amherst Street, if only for a few months, has some personal significance. All three of his own children attended the school.

“I’ve been an Amherst Street supporter for a long time,” Bettencourt said. “My kids got a terrific education.”

It didn’t hurt that he lives within walking distance of the school, either.

When he left Sunset in June 2002, he said he was young enough that he just might pull a Michael Jordan and come out of retirement.

He’s out of retirement, but don’t call him Michael Jordan yet. Bettencourt has no plans to come back for a full season. He has agreed to be a team player for the rest of the school year.

The School District is looking for a permanent replacement at Amherst Street. So far, 30 people have applied for the position, which is more than the district had been getting for other positions, Giuliano said.

Some of the candidates are from within the school district. Some are principals elsewhere in New England. Others are assistant principals, Giuliano said.

A selection committee will be formed in March and a new principal is expected to be hired by July 1, Giuliano said. The district is also trying to hire a principal for Fairgrounds Junior High School.

Ernie Belanger also came out of retirement to take over that school for a year.

In addition to his time at Sunset Heights, Bettencourt, 59, was principal of Alvirne High School for five years and principal of Hudson Memorial School for another 2½ years.

Bettencourt, who has a passion for baseball and played the game in his younger years, still hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

As the fourth principal at Amherst Street in the past year, Bettencourt said he now gets to bat cleanup.

“As long as no one throws a curve, I’ll be all right,” he said.

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465 or