A look back of Todd Allen’s 36 years in the ORCSD
Having been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, ORCSD parent, coach, and athletic director, Todd Allen has seen the district from more perspectives than most. After 36 years in the ORCSD, this will be his last.
Allen has worked his way up in the ORCSD and contributed greatly to the community while doing so. Along the way, he proved how much of an asset he is through his strong leadership, ability to problem solve, and compassion for others. Additionally, what sets him apart is his valuable perspective when it comes to decision making. He knows what it is like being a teacher in this community, and therefore understands what is plausible for staff members and students to achieve, and has left an impact on many of the people he has encountered.
Allen has been surrounded by education his whole life. His father was a shop teacher and started one of the first vocational schools in Maine. “Education was always part of my vision of my future. I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to be a teacher, but I always valued it pretty highly,” said Allen.
Allen attended the University of Maine Orono, where he ran cross country and track. During his junior year, Allen realized he couldn’t make money being a distance runner, and had to find a clearer career path. He was a political science major, but in his senior year, he decided he wanted to be a teacher: a job where he could combine his love for political science and coaching. and figured he would become a certified social studies teacher. He ended up graduating in the spring of ‘85 with a BA in Political Science, with concentrations in Economics and Education. His senior year, he student-taught at Bangor High School, and became a certified social studies teacher.
After becoming certified and right out of college, he saw an advertisement in the Boston Globe that ORMS was hiring a social studies teacher. This was the first job he applied for, and he got it. Going into this job, he didn’t know anything about Oyster River or the surrounding community. “Right away, people were like ‘how did you get a job at Oyster River? It’s such a great school, I’ve been applying there for years.’ […] To this day, I don’t know exactly what it was I brought to the interview that caused them to hire me,” Allen said. However, what started on a whim, ended up leading to 23 years as a ORMS social studies teacher. When reflecting on his time as a teacher, Allen said, “I definitely still long to be in the classroom. I love to debate, and argue, and particularly around the elections and politics, it certainly has crossed my mind, ‘wow, how would I deal with all of these issues in the classroom?’”
Jason Demers, ORMS science teacher who worked with Allen when he taught, spoke to him as a teacher. “He made lessons real and related them to kids. He would sit there and just tell [students] stories and engage them. He just had a way about him, and even I caught myself in class listening to him because he’s very engaging.”
Allen was also the ORMS track and cross country coach for the entirety of his time at the middle school, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He said, “being a middle school track and cross country coach was fun because it was something I personally really liked to do and it was great to be working with kids that were also personally interested in it. We won a bunch of state championships, and it was a good program.”
However, this was not the only coaching he did. He also coached the ORMS boys basketball team for six or seven years, and was the ORMS Athletic Director for a few years. He shared that at one point, “I was a cross country coach, a basketball coach, a track coach, and the athletic director, and a teacher, and worked all summer.”
Allen was very dedicated to his students, and has remained that way his whole career regardless of his position in the district. In 2008, Allen became the assistant principal at ORMS, when the former assistant principal quit, and he got a call over the summer asking if he wanted the job.
As for why he decided to leave the classroom, he said, “I think everybody goes through periods of time when they’re like, ‘is this all there is? Is there something else that I can accomplish with my life?’ Allen continued on to say, “when I became the assistant principal at the middle school, there were chronic issues that were very frustrating to teachers and I took the approach of ‘maybe I can play a role in solving some of these problems.’” Allen described that, at the time, the issue was the master schedule. He had gotten involved in the schedule committee and was already a part of forming a solution anyways, so he thought he could do more, and accepted the job.
When becoming assistant principal at the middle school, “his personality didn’t change at all. He was very approachable, always would listen, he would take perspectives, insight, and feedback,” said Demers.
Every step of the way, when moving up in positions, Allen said, “the situations [where I have stepped up] have usually been conflict or trauma oriented situations that needed somebody who was a calming presence, and I was able to give that. I’m not a person who loses his temper, or gets angry, or tries to force things on people. I’m very much a person who believes that you find solutions by collaborating with people and solving problems together.”
Jason Baker, ORHS school counselor and Allen’s son-in-law, agreed with this, and said, “he doesn’t get angered, bothered or elevated by a lot. He’s very even keeled […] He rules with common sense and thought versus his emotions, which is much needed in some situations.”
These unique assets made him a top candidate when the ORHS principal position opened up in 2011. He had a good relationship with the superintendent at the time, and when the School Board rejected the superintendent’s initial nomination, he asked Allen if he would step up. Allen agreed, thinking it would be a one-year position, but he ended up as principal for five years.
As principal, Allen accomplished many things. Some of the major things he worked on was the negotiation of the Barrington tuition agreement and achieving a shift in the ORHS counseling program.
“Prior to bringing in Barrington students, enrollment at ORHS was declining and we were being pressed to cut programs. Negotiating a long term agreement for Barrington students to tuition into ORHS really saved a lot of programs and also helped the district pay for the new athletic fields. Today the district gets approximately $2.5-3 million dollars in tuition revenue every year that has helped stabilize many programs at ORHS. It also added some great kids from Barrington to the ORHS student body,” shared Allen.
With the counseling program, Allen said, “early in my time at ORHS we recognized that student needs had changed and our programs needed to change to meet student needs. This lead to what I would call a full-service counseling model where students are supported by their counselors in many ways, not just when it’s time to apply to college.”
Another tangible point of pride for him is the ORHS turf field and track. This idea came to him in 1997 when he was riding home on the bus from a track meet very late at night. At the time, the only track in the area was in Rochester, so all New Hampshire meets were held there.
The school planned to just add a track, but not change any of the other facilities. After starting the project, the school realized all of the fields had to be improved. “The cost of the project went from $250,000 to install a track to $2.5 million to do a track, turf field, reconfigured baseball and softball fields with lights on the turf. Once the scope got bigger it took longer to figure out how best to pay for it all,” said Allen.
He continued on to say, “we started a fundraising effort, and raised the money which eventually went towards the field. It took us 19 years to get there. When I became principal of the high school, that was one of the first things I wanted to do: to get that field project underway.”
Allen also did a lot of work on the development of the new middle school. Because of his past experience working in the old middle school building, his unique perspective was useful, and he knew how important this new building was.
With that being said, he is also proud of the things he has achieved within the classroom. “I do think one of the things about being in the education world is that most of what you accomplish is invisible. You don’t normally put up a monument when a first grader learned to read, so it’s mostly a process or a role you played. It comes down to relationships I had with kids, families, and community.”
Allen accomplished many things while principal, but also was a leader the staff respected greatly. “At the high school, when he was the principal, if I was like, ‘hey Todd we need to talk about a kid who might not graduate,’ I always admired that he’d think ‘whatever the kid needs, whatever you guys in counseling need, whatever the teachers need, if we can make it happen, we will,’” said Baker.
After five years as ORHS principal, Allen is now assistant superintendent, and he has been for the last five years. “My job as assistant superintendent popped up too. The person who had preceded me resigned at the end of the summer of 2015, and we needed an assistant superintendent. So the superintendent said, ‘hey Todd would you be willing to do that?’”
In a typical year in this position, Allen said he works to “coordinate curriculum and assessment planning, to make sure that teachers are trained the way they need to be, and are given the professional development to implement the programs we’re doing, that the curriculum aligns with standards, and to track student growth.” He continued on to say, “the job on a daily basis is a lot of conversations and interactions with people on lots of different things.” With those being just a few of his duties, it’s clear Allen is an instrumental part of this district’s success.
Allen describes gaining all these positions as a series of “happy accidents,” but it is evident that he has been deserving of all he has achieved and has been a unique leader throughout. “[He talks with staff about] curriculum, what’s best for kids, trying to push teachers to use content that is meaningful to kids, and he is always willing to listen. One of the biggest aspects of Mr. Allen having been in the classroom for years, he understands what teachers can and can’t do, and understands how the dynamics work. He never lost sight of what it meant to be a teacher,” said Demers.
James Morse, ORCSD Superintendent, added on to why Allen has been so valuable over the years, and said, “he is a human being first and not the role. Lots of times we get trapped in titles, and he tries really hard to not get trapped in a title, and not be the authority figure, but to really engage people in meaningful conversation and solutions […] He is an active listener and that has made for better decisions for the district.”
Over the years, there’s been a lot of positive change in the Oyster River community that he’s witnessed first-hand. Allen said, “when I first started working here, you had stereotypes of what kids from Durham, Lee, and Madbury were like. You’d walk into a classroom and could generally tell where each student was from. It didn’t seem like things were as blended as they are now. I think the school district plays a big role in that, but also, it’s the community investment in providing opportunities for kids, like Oyster River Youth Association, and other things that blends things together.”
While Allen will miss being directly involved in the community, he will also miss the relationships he had. He said, “I’ve made a lot of friends. I’ll be around, but I’ll miss not having a reason to interact as much. Also, being able to see things that the kids are really excited about on a daily basis, I’ll definitely miss that.”
As for next year, he plans to not have a plan. “I started thinking about retiring, and I didn’t realize I was on the front-edge of a trend. Apparently, there’s something called a mid-career gap-year that a lot of people are doing these days. […] People take some time off from their job, and they say ‘ok, let’s go do something else.’ In the back of my mind, I don’t think my time in education is done. It just might be a different role.”
Allen also has four grandkids, so “I spend time with grandkids and my kids, and it’s a lot of fun. I definitely intend to do more of that in the next year. I also hope to reclaim some parts of my life next year. I want to get back into running, and those are the big things.”
Baker said, “he believes in family. My youngest son wants no one in this world but him. The second we go to their house, he’ll run right to grandpa. He’s just that guy. With School Board meetings, my kids think they’re boring but they want to watch them until grandpa gets on the stage.”
While Allen’s grandkids might not be seeing him at the school board meetings next year, Allen will still remain a valued member of the community. Over the past 36 years, he has certainly facilitated physical changes, but has also left an impact on everyone he has worked with for the better. Allen said, “I would like to think that my lasting impact on the district will be the relationships that I have built over 36 years in the ORCSD. One of the best things about staying in one place so long is that you get to know multiple generations of families and community members. The ORCSD is a very special community. During my time in the district I have taught thousands of students, gotten to know thousands of parents and worked with hundreds if not thousands of colleagues.”
Images courtesy of Todd Allen