By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The two finalists to become superintendent of schools went one-on-one before the people last night in a forum at Windham High.
Richard Bergeron and Winfried Feneberg squared off before an audience of about 50, a mix of parents, school district employees and taxpayers eager to size up the men.
Bergeron, 62, is the experienced veteran, chief of Contoocook Valley Regional School District, who has previously led Boxborough, Mass., schools and held the deputy superintendent post in North Andover.
Feneberg, 52, is the up-and-comer, an assistant superintendent in the Timberlane Regional School District who for the second time in a year is a finalist for a superintendent’s job.
School Board chairman Bruce Anderson let everyone know from the outset this wasn’t the medal round for the candidates.
“The board is not anywhere close to a decision tonight,” Anderson said.
In the days to come the board will be checking up on the candidates in their own school districts, “to see if what they’ve told us they’ve done, they actually have done,” Anderson said.
Feneberg and Bergeron handled the tough questions with grace and let townspeople know they are serious about landing the Windham post.
Feneberg said he recognizes the opportunity in Windham’s new standalone School Administrative Unit 95.
The district cares about education and is achievement oriented, he said. “That is very appealing to me.”
Bergeron said after six years balancing the interests of a nine-town district, he is looking to return to his roots in a one-town district where a superintendent can be highly visible.
“The opportunities in coming to SAU 95 are extraordinary and they drew me,” Bergeron said.
The two men agreed the biggest challenge facing Windham involves school facilities, acknowledging the School Board’s priority of building a new middle school.
But they also made clear they appreciate these are challenging times and money matters to taxpayers.
Feneberg said he understands there are fiscal constraints. “There are at this particular time limited resources,” he said.
Bergeron pointed to his track record as a superintendent. “I have brought in five successive flat budgets in Con-Val,” he said.
They spoke about the importance of preparing students both for college and the workplace and emphasized the importance of having good teachers and training those teachers.
Each stressed his ability to work well with an administrative team and the importance they place on listening.
“If you meet with me, you will come away feeling heard,” Bergeron said.
“You have to have an open door,” Feneberg said.
Bergeron views himself as a mentor with an adjustable leadership style who is glad to have his associates get the applause and appreciation.
“I don’t enjoy the spotlight,” Bergeron said.
Feneberg sees himself as a superintendent who would be in close contact with the community, strive for transparency and set goals the school district would stretch to reach.
“I don’t think Windham is about minimum standards,” Feneberg said.
While both have some experience in planning and maintaining facilities, Bergeron was able to point to passage of a facility bond issue on his watch as a superintendent.
They each displayed a sense of humor.
Bergeron opened and closed his presentation plugging a senior night fund drive, while Feneberg, after accidentally causing a loud noise in the sound system, asked, “Everybody awake?”