Jenn Gillis: 'Stronger together'

Mar. 18—Manchester Superintendent Jenn Gillis took the reins of the state's largest school district during the pandemic, charting a course through the uncertain waters of remote learning while she learned the ropes of her new position.

For her, Gillis said, the pandemic highlighted everything good about the city and school district.

"It pulled people in — who might have previously worked in a disjointed fashion — to work together," Gillis said. "We were all facing the absolute unknown. And trying to keep kids connected to learning, keep kids fed, keep staff connected, in a time where things were so confusing — the information was changing on the fly — it was hard just to keep up.

"What I'll remember about COVID, when I look for a silver lining to it, for me it's that return to community, that return to people looking to the left, looking to the right and knowing we were stronger because we were working together rather than trying to solve it on our own."

One aspect of the school district's response she is most proud of is the delivery of meals using school buses.

"That was a clear indicator of the dedication, the passion those members of our team have for the kids, have for our community as a whole, because that then contributed to Chromebooks being pushed out, academic materials going out, food going out," Gillis said. "From a real small moment of possible panic, we flipped it and turned it into an opportunity to stay connected."

Gillis said she gets protective of students and staff when hearing national news reports that the pandemic caused historic educational setbacks for children across the U.S.

"I hear some of the national coverage about how poorly students are doing in assessments post-COVID, and I want to call a hard pause," Gillis said. "Can we just recognize we disconnected them from traditional learning environments, from human contact for a period of time? Now they're back, and we're just now starting to see those glimmers of positive gain from students."

Gillis said one thing the pandemic taught her is that as a city, Manchester is "stronger together."

"Quite frankly, I think COVID connected all of us and built a level of trust that we're kind of primed to be able to be more successful."

— Paul Feely

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at