SOMERSWORTH — Gerri Cannon said she will step down from the city school board to have more time for her other duties, including as the New Hampshire state legislator-elect.
Cannon, who has been on the school board for five years, is in her third term as state representative at the New Hampshire House and recently started a new job. Something had to give, she said.
Cannon made history as one of the first two openly transgender people elected to serve in the New Hampshire House as a state representative, beginning in January 2019 after being elected in November 2018. She was re-elected in 2020 and again on November 8, 2022 and will begin her third term in January 2023.
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Cannon, who was re-elected to the school board in 2021, said she almost did not serve that term. She said people pushed her to run away, so she did. But when she felt the need to take some personal time, she decided to forgo it.
Discussing the Somersworth schools’ transgender policy was difficult for Cannon
Cannon said working with the school board earlier this year on a policy for transgender students was one of the reasons she began reevaluating her role on the board.
“Some of the things that we went through in politics really hurt,” she said. “It was hard to see how some people felt about it.”
In the end, Cannon noted, a modified version of the original policy was adopted.
“The focus, of course, was on transgender children,” she said. “If they are now ‘out’ and have parental support, their new legal names or preferred names can be used. You will be addressed by your name by the staff and you will have full use of the lockers and toilet. But if they don’t have parental support, they don’t have the same rights.”
Cannon said she believes there are many parents who would support her if given the chance. And she said it puts teachers in a difficult position.
“Some teachers want to be able to call a child by their preferred name. Your friends can do that.”
Lori Lane, Superintendent of Schools for Somersworth/SAU 56, said she was disappointed that Cannon feels this way, noting: “Gerri has been very supportive of the direction the Board has taken and the involvement of parents in the process. “
Lane pointed out that the Somersworth School’s policies regarding transgender students aim to serve the students while also involving the parents.
“At the heart of the policy is trying to find a mix of recognizing that we have vulnerable groups of students who may have additional needs,” Lane said. “We try to balance these needs of the children with the needs of the parents and work together with the parents. I truly believe that working with students is important, but we are not their transition advisors. … We are here to support them. The policy defines how we support students and also how we support parents.”
Essentially, Lane said, students can speak to counselors in private, but once they go public at school, e.g. For example, changing the name they are called in class puts the parents in the loop.
“Teachers want to do the right thing, and that helps them see their role,” Lane said.
Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard is the Somersworth School District Director of School District Operations. Cannon said he was one of the people who pushed her to start running again.
“Gerri helped the school board ensure that all students from preschool through 12th grade are celebrated,” Hilliard said. “She makes her mark by knowing that every hallway throughout SAU56 is a little more welcoming.”
“Only three of the nine people on the board were re-elected,” Cannon said. “I was one of them. The new board members are great and have good ideas. I just felt it was time for a change.”
Cannon’s life gets busier on many fronts
“Last October, I accepted a position as facility director for Community Action Partners in Strafford County,” Cannon said. “It’s very busy. I get calls when an alarm goes off. I love the job but it’s challenging to oversee the facilities, permitting requests take a lot of time.”
She spends another portion of her time in Concord, where she is involved in state legislative affairs.
“I have tabled four bills in the House of Representatives this year; two relate to transgender people,” Cannon said.
And she’s a steward at the Congregational Church in Rochester.
“I don’t have time to do anything in my own house,” she joked. “I’ve wanted and been trying to work on my porch for six years. I can’t make it I had an operation last year and wasn’t able to do much at the time either.”
Ultimately, Cannon said she had too many irons in the fire.
The city council will replace Cannon on the school board. She said they would collect applications and make a decision.
“I don’t think they would hold a special election, not the time left,” she said.