11-26-19 Clay Groves

Clay Groves, 46, is leaving Project SUCCEED to focus more of his attention on his fish-guiding service. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — The Clay Groves era at Project SUCCEED will soon come to an end. On Monday night, the school board accepted the popular program manager’s resignation. Groves, 46, of Conway has been at the helm of the before- and after-school program for the past five years. His resignation ia effective Dec. 20.

Managng Project SUCCEED (Schools Under Contract Creating Enriching Extended Days) has been a 25-hour-a-week position. The program serves all three of Conway’s elementary schools: Conway El, John H. Fuller and Pine Tree School. Groves said he was making $25 an hour with no benefits.

He had started with the school district as a science teacher at Kennett Middle School in 2012, teaching there for one year.

Groves is married. He and his wife, Kristin, have two daughters, Zoe, 12, and Sammy, 10.

“I decided it was time for me to resign my position at Project SUCCEED,” said Groves on Monday. “There’s a number of reasons, and the biggest one is I need to try and secure my future.”

One way he plans to do that is to build up his Fish Nerds Guide Service, which he runs with Vinnie Matturo. Fish Nerds started in 2011,when he and Dave Kellam of Exeter set out to catch and consume all 48 species of New Hampshire freshwater fish. Groves also writes a blog, hosts the Fish Nerds podcast and sells Fish Nerds merchandise at fishnerds.com.

He hopes to spend his newly freed-up time taking people on ice-fishing adventures in winter, and other types of fishing expeditions the rest of the year.

Two summers ago, he bought a 24-foot pontoon boat that can hold 10 people. In the winter he will have two bob houses, one on Silver Lake and one on Danforth Bay on Ossipee Lake.

Groves also will be bartending at 302 West Smokehouse in Fryeburg, Maine, as well as being a weekend DJ at WMWV-93.5 FM, replacing Rob Burbank, who now works at The Sun.

His resignation was accepted unanimously by the school board (Courtney Burke was absent).

During the public comment period, the Sun asked the board about Groves. Superintendent Kevin Richard described him as being “great with kids” and “very enthusiastic.” He said Groves “will be missed.”

School board member Randy Davison said they appreciated the time and effort Groves has put into the program, and board chairman Joe Lentini said Groves did a great job keeping the board informed about the program and rallying community support.

According to its website, Project SUCCEED has program offerings that include “safe and supervised activities for students through morning supervision, homework assistance, computer lab, enrichment programs, Tin Mountain Conservation Center and many more exciting activities. Conway Elementary School, John Fuller Elementary School and Pine Tree Elementary School offer extended day services up to five days per week, three hours per day to students in grades K-6.”

The 20-year-old program is mostly funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant. In the past 20 years, the program has served 4,000 students, allowed more than 8,000 parents to work before or after school and has brought more than $1 million of grant money. “Those are big things,” said Groves.

Later in the meeting, Richard called Project SUCCEED “very valuable,” at a total cost of about $290,000. He said Conway El and John Fuller have gotten a grant for about $141,340, and Pine Tree gets a grant of about $61,300. The rest of the funding comes from other grants, fees and fundraising.

Right now, children participants are charged on a sliding scale. (According to Groves, that ranges from free to $3.50 per day to $7 per day.)

But Richard said: “What we’ve heard is the federal government has said if you are going to take this money, you can’t charge fees for the population.”

He said the school board would have to offer voters a warrant article asking for $65,750 this year. He said last year’s Project SUCCEED article was for about $33,000. In past years, he’s seen articles ask for as much as $50,000.

Residents would vote on the article in April.

“Who came up with this? Our wonderful federal government?” asked Davison.

Assistant Superintendent Kathryn Wilson said the change is due to the state’s interpretation of federal rules. “There is nothing in writing at this exact second,” she said.

Lentini called this development “troubling.”

On Dec. 9, the school board will consider articles for the warrant.

Groves said during his tenure, they have served over 1,000 students. Programs include greenhouses, 3-D printing and robotics, plus dozens on enrichment activities offered per day. The SeaPerch program, which involves making remote-operated vehicles that swim, predates Groves, though he continued it.

New this year, 4-H will be offered after school. It will give students the chance to earn $500 scholarships to the University of New Hampshire.

The grants that keep Project SUCCEED going require “heavy-duty data collecting and reporting to the federal government,” said Groves. “There also are lots of meetings and supervisory work. My goal is leave the program in good condition so the next person can be successful with it.”

“There are a lot of layers to the job,” said Groves, adding he would be willing to train the next person.

Each school has a site director. At Conway El, it is Jayson Andrews; at John H. Fuller, Sheri Whitaker; and Pine Tree it is Heidi Belle-Isle.

Each has about 15 staff members under them. Groves said all three are doing a great job.

“I want the community to know the program is sound because of the people working at the schools,” he said.

A search committee consisting of Wilson, Belle-Isle, Burke, John H. Fuller Principal Danielle Nutting, and parents Lichen Rancourt and David Smolen is tasked with finding someone to replace Groves. The school board is to make a decision just before Christmas.

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