Derry School Board Seeks to Fill Neal Ochs’ Seat

One of Neal Ochs’ last acts on this earth was to remember the board he’d served on for 13 years.

Ochs, who died in August, took the time to write his resignation from the Derry School Board the day before his death, a letter Chairman Dan McKenna read in the Aug. 25 board meeting.

McKenna read in part, “I am writing to notify you of the need for my resignation. It has been my desire to continue to serve, until this period of declining health.”

Ochs mentioned his 13 years of service and said, “There is no greater service than the service to children.” He praised his colleagues, noting that, “Your commitment and level of caring has made you New Hampshire School Board of the Year.”

“He will be missed,” McKenna said before leading the group in a moment of silence in Ochs’ memory.

Later in the meeting, McKenna noted that it would be necessary to appoint a member to finish out Ochs’ term. “With the budget discussions coming up, it’s important that we have a full board,” McKenna said.

Ochs had 2 1/2 years left in his term, having been reelected this past March. McKenna said he wanted the board to appoint someone to serve until March 2016, with a new member then elected to finish out the last two years.

Board member Ken Linehan was the last member appointed to fill out a term, McKenna said, and Linehan was chosen because he was the next top vote-getter after the member who resigned. They can’t do that with Ochs’ term, he said, because both Ochs and member Michelle McKinnon ran unopposed.

McKenna said the vacancy is posted on the district Web site at

McKenna said in his opinion, it would be best to appoint someone with recent board experience to finish out Ochs’ term. He named three choices: Jenn Lague, who decided not to run in 2015; Kevin Gordon, who retired from the board two years ago and is currently district moderator; and Mark Beland, a former member, now chair of the Derry Arts Council.

McKenna said, “They all chose to stop serving, rather than losing an election.” They could, he said, pick up the duties of a board member right away.

Board member Jeri Murphy asked if that meant that no one else could apply for the spot on the board.

“We could do an open application,” McKenna said, adding, “But I’d rather talk with someone who has recent experience.”

“We need to have someone who can hit the ground running,” member Wendy Smith said. “Neal left big shoes to fill.”

Superintendent Laura Nelson suggested as a Plan B, the board could ask for applicants if McKenna’s three candidates are not interested.

The board agreed to have McKenna contact Lague, Gordon and Beland.