By Scooter MacMillan, Editor
The Champlain Valley School Board planned for a 30-minute executive session on April 5; instead the closed session lasted more than two and a half hours.
When the board came back into public session, the usual committee meetings scheduled for this, the first Tuesday of the month, were cancelled. No decision was made and nothing was revealed.
However, there’s a strong possibility that some of the executive session was spent discussing the large number of upper-level educators leaving their positions, transferring or being promoted in the district.
In the public comment portion of the meeting before the executive session, allegations were made that something was wrong with so many in leadership positions leaving the district, particularly in Shelburne.
With more than 20 years of experience in multiple districts, Shelburne Community School music teacher and parent Jodi Sanders said she was concerned about “a mass exodus of highly skilled, well-liked, exceptional leadership from our district.”
“I’ve been through the hiring of principals, the turnover of superintendents, the changes of boards and the consolidation of schools many times and I’ve never seen this amount of leadership change in a single year,” Sanders said. “As both a staff member and a parent, this change and this amount of change is unnerving and concerning.”
In her experience in education, Sanders said the amount of change is unprecedented and a red flag that something is wrong.
Former board member Dave Connery was among several who sent messages about the leadership exodus.
Connery sent the paragraph below on social media, part of a post urging others to copy, amend and send it to the superintendent:
“This week, Shelburne lost an amazing educator who truly cared about the students and faculty in the building. I am a concerned parent, shocked at the number of people leaving the district in the past few months. Yes, I understand that turnover is an issue, and we will always hear stories of retirements, and COVID fatigue. We will hear stories of how people relayed the news and dispute the veracity of their claims. But, the loss to Shelburne of Scott Sivo is a real disappointment.”
This disappointment is exacerbated by the exodus of leadership, Connery said.
The lure of better jobs?
Part of the flotsam left by the pandemic is a massive employee shortage. The administration’s response has essentially been to respond that a massive overturn in upper administrative leadership has been happening all over the state.
Sanchez said in emails to parents that the Champlain Valley School District’s large overturn in leadership is in large part due to poaching.
“More than a quarter of the Vermont superintendents and more than 60 principals will be new to their roles next year,” Sanchez said. “These and other central office departures create opportunities for movement around the state. As a result, many of my superintendent colleagues in the state are looking for applicants for their leadership positions.”
Connery said he wanted to hear from the superintendent how he planned “to staunch the flow” of experienced, talented leadership “before they are all gone.”
His list of those leaving includes Meagan Roy, director of student support services; Jeff Evans, director of learning and innovation; Jeanne Jensen, chief operating officer; Mike Kanfer, director of IT; John Pontius, Hinesburg Community School principal; Peggy Sue Van Nostrand, Shelburne Community School special education administrator; and Scott Sivo, Shelburne Community School lead principal.
Roy is leaving to become superintendent of the Washington Central Supervisory Union. Evans, Kanfer and Pontius are retiring. Van Nostrand accepted the position of director of student supports for the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools.
Sivo is taking over as principal at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington.
In an email to Shelburne Community School families, Sivo said, “The ability to be bold and strong, in difficult moments, is predicated on trusting that you are well supported and fully backed by well-established systems of leadership and governance. While change is always difficult, the unprecedented amount of leadership change we have and will face as a school district, along with the general uncertainty it brings, greatly impacted my decision to seek and accept this new opportunity.”
“I don’t believe it is a coincidence that these leaders are resigning one year after a new superintendent was hired,” Jeff Nowlan said in an email. “The sheer amount of turnover is quite unnerving. From what I have heard, superintendent Sanchez has been criticized for being absent, non-responsive, and that his vision/educational values do not align with those of our current leaders and community.”
The Shelburne Community School has been through this before, Connery said. Five years ago the school needed a new principal, a vice principal and another administrator. The new principal the school got then was Sivo and that worked out well.
Not leaving but shifting
One administrator who is not leaving but shifting to another job within the CVSD is Jensen, who is stepping down as chief operating officer to shepherd the district through the perils of weighting.
The state is in the midst of a weighting study that appears to have “pretty serious ramifications,” Jensen said. She can’t handle her job and keep up with those ramifications.
The school district is looking to hire a chief operating officer who will have a year to settle into the job with Jensen’s help. This will give Jensen the opportunity to cut back on her duties as she prepares to retire in a year.
The school weighting study is research into whether the way students who may cost more if, for example, they are experiencing poverty or learning English as a second language, are weighted. Right now, students from backgrounds that inhibit learning are weighted at 1.25 of a theoretically regular student for determining tax rates.
The study looks certain to conclude that 1.25 is not enough weight to make up for the difference.
When the weighting per pupil is changed, it could have a big effect on the tax rate. The school system has been told “if you weren’t willing to raise your tax rate, it could cost the district $10 million,” Jensen said. “We have some hard work to do to figure out what we’re going to do about that. It’s not something I can do on top of a really intense job when I’m thinking about retiring.”