CONWAY — Plans are underway to find a long-term substitute to replace Andy Shaw, a popular Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center teacher who was suspended last week by the school board for allegedly hosting an underage drinking party.
Shaw, a metals and machine tool teacher at Kennett High School, had been charged in November with hosting a house party with alcohol that was attended by teens under the age of 21, a misdemeanor. He pleaded not guilty. His case has not yet gone to trial.
Shaw continued to teach at the school until he was recently notified that a termination hearing would be held by the Conway School Board on Jan. 31 and that Superintendent Kevin Richard told him he intended to fire him.
The standing-room hearing last Thursday was attended not only by school officials but about 80 members of the public, many of them past and present students, who came out to support Shaw.
After going into non-public session for about an hour, the school board came back and announced that instead of voting to fire Shaw, they instead decided to suspend him without pay, effective immediately, until May 15.
In addition, he was placed on a three-year, last-chance improvement plan with conditions to be established by the superintendent.
Kennett High Principal Neal Moylan had a substitute teacher lined up to cover Shaw’s classes last Friday. He and Virginia Schrader, executive director of the the career and technical center, also met with Shaw’s students, apprising them of what would happen over the next three months.
Richard said Friday a help wanted ad has been posted, seeking a long-term substitute for machine tooling. He said Schrader is working with the Career Tech Advisory Board to track down leads for a short-term replacement.
“I think it’ll be a tough position to fill,” Richard said. “We’ll do the very best we can.”
Shaw and his machining students are in their sixth year of partnering with HUNCH (High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware).
Kennett was one of three schools selected last year to build handrail parts for the exterior of the International Space Station. The Eagles manufactured 50 of each of three different parts (Cam 90s, lock shafts and jam wheels) that they presented to NASA last May 19.
Many students who attended the hearing said Shaw will be impossible to replace. Sam Pollard, a 17-year-old senior, called him the best teacher he has ever had.
Having the opportunity to work for NASA gives Kennett students an "extreme advantage" over other aspiring engineers across the country, Pollard said. “He sets up so many kids’ futures.”
Fellow senior Trey Snowden wondered why the school board came up with the date of May 15 to end Shaw's suspension. Snowden said he was glad that Shaw will be with the class before the end of the year.
“Andy has taught us to be professionals and fine young men, so I think we have a lot of leaders in our class because of him,” said Snowden. “We will get through this for sure.”
HUNCH participants expressed concern for their trip to Houston, which normally happens in the spring.
Conway School Board Chairman Joe Lentini told the Sun “there was no significance to" choosing May 15. He said the board simply wanted to give Shaw the chance to say goodbye to his seniors and to be able to write letters of recommendation.
At last Thursday's hearing, Richard reprised the circumstances that led to the termination hearing. He said that on Nov. 9, 2018, Moylan informed him that police had been interviewing students about a party that took place the previous Saturday (Nov 3). Richard said Moylan told him there was video of the party taken by a student’s phone.
Through the investigative process, Richard said, "It has been determined that the teacher hosted the party at his residence for the purpose of celebrating a 21st birthday,” said Richard.
“The mother of the birthday celebrant provided the keg of beer and a large bottle of Captain Morgan rum.”
Heather Stevens, 40, of North Conway has pleaded not guilty to three counts of prohibited sales of alcohol. The complaints say she “negligently gave away or allowed a person under the age of 21 to procure alcohol.” One charge pertained to her son, Ryan Stevens, whose birthday it was.
Richard said that based on interviews with “the teacher and others,” he learned that at least five current Kennett High School students and six former students, all under the age of 21, were at the party. There were also four adults.
Richard said their investigation showed at least two current students unrelated to Shaw were drinking, as well as other underage attendees.
“Through interviews with Mr. Shaw and others it was confirmed that there was a Breathalyzer at his residence provided to ensure no students left the residence under the influence,” said Richard.
“Several current students stated Mr. Shaw told them to make sure they blew into the Breathalyzer prior to leaving his residence.”
Shaw, according to Richard, admitted he knew of two current students drinking alcohol at the party but also said he had declared there would be no underage drinking.
Richard said Shaw said he kept at least one of the current students from accessing the keg area outside.
Shaw's attorney, Don Ekberg of Ekberg and Associates Law Firm of North Conway, sat beside Shaw at the hearing.
Ekberg said that the students Richard interviewed might have felt pressured to tell Richard what they thought he wanted to hear.
Ekberg said he wrote Richard asking for the terms of Shaw’s probation. He said he also wants to know what if anything the state will do and whether or not the school board would push Shaw further if he’s found guilty. “There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Ekberg said Monday.
At the hearing, he noted the law only says the school board “may” fire a teacher but don’t have to.
“When the statement was read, he (Shaw) whispered to me, ‘That’s not true, that’s not true,’” said Ekberg.
“Despite everybody’s efforts to be fair and to be accurate, there may be another side to this story that hasn’t been heard yet,” said Ekberg.
“We’re kind of at a disadvantage because we can’t say anything about the charge because it’s still pending.
“Trial is not set yet and probably won’t happen until the summer,” he said, adding that he would recommend the school board wait to act until either the criminal case or the school year is over.
On his Facebook page last Friday night, Shaw posted: “I would like to thank my wonderful community-family and friends for all of the kind words and support over the last few months. I am very humbled.”He received 291 likes and hearts.