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Officer says final farewell to Keene's retired police dog Patriot
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Patriot wasn’t your average dog.

Rather than cuddling with his family or taking a snooze while off duty, the Keene Police Department’s K-9 was always focused, ready for his next task, according to his handler.

“Patriot was very intense,” said Officer Joshua English. “Everybody has that friend that’s Type A and works all the time. That was generally his personality.”

But, a few years into his retirement due to an injury, Patriot’s age got the best of him. The all-black German Shepherd, who was still living with English, died Tuesday at the age of 12.

“He was really one of my best friends,” English said Wednesday. “I had the honor of having a job which was quite unique in that I got to live and work with my best friend.”

Patriot — who was English’s first K-9 — joined the Keene Police Department in 2010. English and his family took him in from Frankfurt, Germany, with the intent of having him become a police dog.

Sentinel file photo by Cecily Weisburgh 

Keene police Officer Josh English and his K-9 partner, Patriot, play after a walk in Wheelock Park in Keene in 2015.

He had already learned a handful of basic commands before arriving in the United States, so English said he continued his training in German to make the transition easier.

Specializing in patrol and narcotic work, Patriot would be called to various incidents in the region, for instance to find a missing person or to locate drugs, English said.

As an officer, Patriot was a huge help in such situations, according to English. At times, English admitted, the dog was doing better than he was.

“Patriot’s ability to learn quickly far surpassed my ability to read his body language. I was always the weak link for whatever call we had,” he said with a laugh. “I was slowing him down it felt like, especially in the beginning.”

Patriot and English also participated in community events across the Monadnock Region during their partnership.

“We as police generally do not deal with people at their best … having the K-9 is actually the first time, throughout my entire law enforcement career, where people were actually just happy to see us,” English said in a 2015 interview.

But being a handler wasn’t always easy, English said.

Keene police have a mutual-aid agreement with other towns, meaning surrounding agencies can request assistance during emergency situations. Though it doesn’t pertain just to K-9 work, English said he and Patriot were on call “pretty much 24-7.”

This was in addition to keeping up with Patriot’s training, which often happened in English’s free time.

“Being a K-9 handler is probably the hardest job I’ve ever had outside of being a parent,” he said. “However, it’s also the most rewarding. You get to live and work with your best friend, but you certainly take your work home with you.”

Patriot kept on with his police work until 2018, when he injured a muscle from his spine to hind leg. Though English said they were able to rehabilitate it, the pain was chronic and Patriot had to retire.

This change was difficult for Patriot, even years into his retirement. He just wanted to work, English said.

“It was horrible to come home for a meal break in the police car ... so he’d see me come in, in uniform, and I’d feel bad for him,” he said.

Even so, Patriot stayed positive up until his final moments, ready to take on anything.

“I was very fortunate with Patriot. We had a lot of great success,” English said. “... He’ll be greatly missed.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock to keep remote work for as many as 2,000 employees
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LEBANON — As many as 2,000 Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees will continue to work remotely at least part of the time on a permanent basis after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials with the Lebanon-based health system.

That total includes about 13 percent of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s employees overall and almost 20 percent of workers at the system’s academic hub, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, said Brenda Blair, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s vice president of total rewards.

The positions include those in human resources, information technology, finance and some clinical secretaries, she said.

“It is increasing our ability to recruit and retain our staff,” Blair said of the remote-work format. “We are employing workers outside of Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, an affiliate of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system, is also allowing people who were working remotely to continue doing so. About 30 percent of its administrative positions are able to work at home, spokeswoman Heather Atwell told The Sentinel.

Blair characterized the current shift as one from “remote by necessity,” which the health system adopted in March 2020, to “remote by design.” The difference between the two approaches is that Dartmouth-Hitchcock now has taken the time to think through how best to approach remote work, she said.

“[It’s] not just ‘go do it and good luck,’ ” Blair said.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock put together a task force in June 2020. Over the course of the past year, that group clarified expectations for remote workers and their managers and provided training to help leaders improve engagement and communication. It also conducted ergonomic assessments of what employees needed in order to work comfortably and determined what they needed for technology, both software and hardware, in order to be “efficient and effective in their jobs remotely,” Blair said.

Though about 5,000 Dartmouth-Hitchcock workers were initially sent home in March 2020 amid the lockdowns early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the health system has averaged about 2,600 remote workers through most of the pandemic, Blair said.

In addition to helping with recruitment in a tight labor market, the decision to continue having some workers remain off-site is partly because internal surveys show that workers like it, Blair said.

Some employees will work from home full time, while others will rotate in-person days with other co-workers, she said.

For her part, Blair, who was working from her West Fairlee, Vt., home office during a phone interview last week, said working from home allows her to skip the 45-minute commute to Lebanon.

“I personally enjoy it,” Blair said. “I am much more efficient.”

While Blair has both air conditioning and a good Internet connection in her home, she said “a handful” of workers without reliable Internet necessary to do their jobs have been allowed to work on site amid the pandemic.

Some Dartmouth-Hitchcock jobs are now being advertised as remote only, which helps expand the pool of candidates from which Dartmouth-Hitchcock can recruit, Blair said. Dartmouth-Hitchcock currently has more than 800 open positions, including 635 in Lebanon, listed on its website.

Having remote workers also alleviates the need to relocate new employees to the Upper Valley amid a housing crunch, freeing up rentals for others, she said. With fewer workers on site, office space on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus is available for other purposes such as clinical use, she said.

“That’s a very large part of our work right now, redesigning the use of our space,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth College in Hanover is approaching this fiscal year, which began Thursday, as “an experimental period designed to offer flexibility to our staff and managers,” said Diana Lawrence, a college spokeswoman.

As of April, about 75 percent of Dartmouth’s nearly 4,000 employees were working entirely remotely or coming to campus only occasionally amid the pandemic, but the college is slated to open for a normal, in-person term in the fall and has recently lifted most COVID-19 restrictions.

“Dartmouth employees whose jobs can be performed off site have been encouraged to discuss their preferences for remote or in-person work with their supervisors,” Lawrence said. “The one-year time frame will give us an opportunity to assess the new work arrangements to see whether they are productive and should become permanent.”

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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Colleges unsure how NH's 'divisive concepts' law will affect them
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As public schools in the Monadnock Region work to determine the potential impact of a new state law banning the teaching of certain so-called “divisive concepts,” local higher education officials say it remains unclear how the legislation could affect them, too.

The law, which Gov. Chris Sununu signed late last month as part of the new state budget, does include a clause that “nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to limit the academic freedom of faculty members of the university system of New Hampshire and the community college system of New Hampshire to conduct research, publish, lecture, or teach in the academic setting.”

Based on that language, Dottie Morris, associate vice president for institutional equity and diversity at Keene State College, said the law “does seem like it’s more directed at K-12” public schools than colleges and universities.

N.H. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, a former longtime Keene State administrator and interim president, said this clause does indeed protect academic freedom on college campuses.

“The authors here have avoided conflicts with the public university system, whereas they are very explicit about their intent on constraining both public employees and employers in a county, city or state government, including school districts,” said Kahn, who voted against the measure.

Nicholas Germana, a Keene State history professor, added that the faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement with the university system also includes a clause protecting academic freedom. But, he added, professors “don’t really know yet at this point” how the new law could be interpreted on campuses.

“I think there are real questions about what it means for us,” said Germana, who specializes in German history. For instance, based on his reading of the law, Germana said he does not know whether its ban on teaching certain topics extends beyond U.S. history.

“This legislation is just so broad, it’s not clear where the historical or cultural or geographical boundaries are around these topics, and where supposedly the boundary line is between understanding historical oppression and oppression today,” he said.

Among other provisions, the new law, which started as House Bill 544 before a version of the proposal was incorporated into the state budget, prohibits public employees from teaching “that an individual, by virtue of his or her age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The language in the bill has drawn sharp criticism from educators statewide, including in the Monadnock Region. Additionally, more than half of Gov. Chris Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, including Morris, who was the group’s vice chairwoman, resigned last week in protest over Sununu’s decision to sign the law, saying it “aims to censor conversations essential to advancing equity and inclusion in our state.”

Supporters of the legislation have expressed concern over the teaching of critical race theory, a scholarly framework that approaches the study of the United States through a lens of race and power and holds that systemic racism is a part of American culture, embedded in policies, laws and institutions.

And as Keene State faculty members continue to grapple with the new law’s potential effects, Franklin Pierce University in Rindge is also trying to determine how private schools fit into the legislation.

“At this point, the impact on universities, public and private, remains unknown,” Pierre Morton, the university’s chief diversity officer, said in a written statement. He added that Franklin Pierce will keep an eye on “how the bill would be implemented and operationalized from a legislative standpoint.”

Kahn said he does not believe the law applies to private schools like Franklin Pierce. And if he has his way, the new law won’t be on the books for long. He said he plans to introduce a bill in the fall to repeal the so-called “divisive concepts” language that was included in the state budget.

“Some legislators, as well as the governor, apparently, felt that they had to act on this, and said that if it were a separate piece of legislation, they would have voted against it, or the governor would have vetoed it,” Kahn said. “... I also think it’s important for the will of the Legislature to be expressed without the threat of a budget stalemate. So, now we have a budget. Let’s consider this legislation independently and see what the will of the Legislature and the governor are.”

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Swanzey man killed in Keene crash Monday, authorities say
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Police released the identity of a man killed in a vehicle crash on Route 101 in Keene Monday night.

In a news release Wednesday evening, Keene police identified the driver as David A. Smith, 68, of Swanzey.

The police department’s preliminary investigation indicates that Smith was traveling east on Route 101, drifted right while taking a curve just past the stone arch bridge, struck the guardrail and traveled a short distance in contact with it, according to the release.

Smith’s vehicle went into a spin after separating from the guardrail and struck the hillside on the opposite side of the road, and he was ejected from the vehicle, the release said.

First responders tried to resuscitate Smith, but he died at the scene, according to the release.

The Keene Police Department responded to the crash around 10:45 p.m.

In a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, the Keene Police Department said plans to close Route 101 from the stone arch bridge to Swanzey Factory Road for about 20 minutes at some point between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Thursday are part of an “ongoing motor vehicle accident investigation.”