O'Connor and Shepard Are in Their New Posts at Hampton Academy

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Want to Boost Morale, Community Spirit

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 14, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
New Principal Dave O’Connor, right, and vice principal Andrea Shepard, left, are pictured in front of the bell at Hampton Academy.

Newly appointed Hampton Academy principal Dave O'Connor and vice principal Andrea Shepard said they are looking forward to the upcoming school year.

"We are looking forward to the challenge," O'Connor said. "And we are looking forward to being here a long time."

O'Connor, who served the last 10 years as the principal of Marston, is replacing Chris Sousa.

The veteran principal will be teamed with Shepard, a teacher at the Academy who taught at the school for the last 29 years.

Both have been brought in with the hope of bringing stability back to the middle school, which has seen a high turn over of administrators during the last decade.

Often called the stepchild of the Hampton School District, O'Connor and Shepard said they hope to change that perception.

"This is a fabulous building with a fabulous staff that do incredible things day in and day out," Shepard said.

"I think the problem is that we haven't had a consistent administration team to communicate or showcase that to the community."

One of the first things the duo is planning to boost community involvement is hosting a breakfast at the academy on Aug. 19.

"We want to invite the community in and have them talk to us," Shepard said. "We want to get feedback and get the ball rolling on what we as a community can do to improve upon the great things that are already happening."

O'Connor said they also hope to use the breakfast as the starting point to create focus groups to look at the advantages of the middle school philosophy.

The focus groups, he said, are in response to the School Board's defunct proposal to switch from a middle school philosophy to more of junior high one.

"We have to show what we are doing is working," O'Connor said.

Shepard believes the middle school philosophy is what is best for kids.

She was at the school when it was junior high and also when it switched to a middle school.

"I saw the benefits first-hand," Shepard said. "I think the biggest thing about being a middle school is showing the students that we believe in them. Building up their confidence for they can succeed and take on the world."

Another goal the duo is working on is improving morale at the school.

Morale took a hit several months ago after the School Board voted to eliminate five teachers as part of the proposed restructuring at the academy.

While the board reversed its decision, it still left a sour taste with the staff.

"Right now I believe the staff ended the school year feeling very positive about the future," Shepard said. "I think we just need to show what we are doing is best for students."

"I think nobody wants to repeat the history of March, April and May," O'Connor said. "I think the one thing everyone learned from that is that we have to work together to be successful."

O'Connor said he and Shepard have one advantage over their predecessors in that they already know the students, programs and staff.

New Principal Dave O'Connor, left, and vice principal Andrea Shepard, right, are preparing for the start of the 2009-10 school year at Hampton Academy in their new positions.

"We live in this town," O'Connor said. "We have also been parents of students that have gone to this school."

Shepard said she has been a resident of the community for the last 30 years. She taught in the same classroom as her mother-in-law.

"I will miss the classroom but the change doesn't mean I still won't be able to see kids and work with kids every day," Shepard said. "It's just in a different capacity."

"I think it's a great opportunity for her," O'Connor said. "She did a great job with the 80 kids on her team and now she has the opportunity to help 450 kids."

While at first he didn't want to leave Marston, O'Connor said he is now looking forward to working at the academy.

"For me, this first year is going to be about learning the culture and climate," O'Connor said. "I'm not looking to change things but build upon them. We need to celebrate the sense of community and to create a safe nurturing environment. If we can achieve those broad goals then I think we will be successful."

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