Yesterday afternoon a friend I had invited and I walked into the office and we were greeted by Maggie who poured coffee and sat with us for over half an hour just talking about real world things that were on our minds. Maggie was quite personable and open and we had a very pleasant visit. We did discuss some of the social and economic issues of the day but those talks were quite civil and the conversations centered on how can we help to improve those issues.
Where was the office and who was Maggie? Well, the office is at the New Hampshire State House and Maggie is the Governor of New Hampshire. So why were we there?
Since Maggie Hassan became governor, she has occasionally donated "Coffee with the governor" to charities to auction in their fund raisers. I won the "coffee" in this year's Birchtree Center dinner and auction. This year's event will be held November 15th at Redhook Brewey. For those who have not yet taken part in live charity auctions, bidding can be spirited and most of the bidders seem to have a high degree of competitiveness and prices can reach unrealistic levels. This "coffee" was almost literally worth its weight in gold but it was for a very good cause. The Birchtree Center is a private non-profit school whose mission is: " to promote independence, engaging relationships, and productive lives for children and youth with autism at home, at school, and in the community".
During the course of conversation, the governor mentioned that New Hampshire is the sort of place that she wants to start occasionally just "dropping in" on a school at random when her schedule permits it. One worry she had was that administrators might think she would be checking up on them, but her wish is to see first hand how things are going with the students and get first-hand feedback. She is from a family of teachers and education holds a very high position in her priorities.
The friend who attended with me was Command Sergeant Major Manfred (Fred) Fred Muscara, US Army Retired. After retiring from the Army, Fred graduated from Southern New Hampshire University and studied education at Franklin Pierce College. He then served in the administration at Winnacunnet High and then served as principal of Hampton Academy and after retiring again, worked a few years as a Truant Officer. He had worked with the state on attempting to revamp and modernize the state's truancy laws but the legislature eventually took away funding that would have supported the laws. Fred asked the governor to look into reviving that effort since revamping and rationalizing the laws would be in everyone's best interest.
My request of the governor before leaving was that some effort be placed on certifying the lay people, in many cases mothers, who act as paraprofessionals within the school systems . These paraprofessionals do a wonderful job at helping and easing the burden of licensed teachers and they are often not given nearly the amount of respect they are due. If they are given some type of training to work with the students they spend every day with the perception of their position would be much improved. The governor said she is aware of this situation and she mentioned that such a certification process would also have a benefit at helping with the overall burden as our population ages and even home care becomes more critical.
In larger states something like an informal coffee break with the governor might be impractical. But, in a state where the knock on your front door on a rainy Saturday afternoon just might be a presidential candidate walking the neighborhood, an afternoon sitting and chatting with the governor just seems to fit.