BONDVILLE - Daren Houck, current headmaster at The Mountain School at Winhall, will be leaving his position of 10 years at the end of the current school year next June and will become headmaster of the Lyndon Institute in Lyndon, Vt. Houck will be succeeding Rick Hilton, who has been at the helm of the Lyndon Institute for the past 15 years.

Houck said while he was excited to join the Lyndon Institute, he was also very sad to leave The Mountain School behind.

"I've literally spent 25 percent of my life at The Mountain School," he said.

Since he has moved to Vermont, Houck said he has had a personal connection to the Lyndon Institute and said their commitment to the town academy model attracted him to the position of headmaster.

"I've always felt at home at Lyndon, even as a visitor," he said. "I was just recently there and I was inundated with a great welcome."

According to its website, Lyndon Institute is an independent high school offering instruction between ninth through 12th grades with an enrollment of more than 600 students. It is also a boarding school, and about 85 students live on campus. The school also operates an international program which attracts students from overseas as well.

Houck said he and Hilton had gotten to know each other through collaborations on earlier projects.

Hilton said this seemed like the prefect time for a transition. He had recently seen the institute through the independent school approval process and said the reaccreditation had not yet started. Also, he said he believes in a theory that headmaster's have run their course at a school at 15 years. Houck, he said, will be a great replacement because he really cares about independent education and the students at the Lyndon Institute.

"He [Daren] is a leader for independent education in Vermont, and an effective spokesperson in Montpelier," he said. "He values our [Lyndon Institute's] inclusive mission - we have never rejected a student for special educational needs, we admit virtually everyone."

Hilton told the board he was retiring about a year ago, and the search process began. The Board of Trustees named James C. Gallagher as head of the search committee. He also spearheaded the search that hired Hilton in 1999. One of the first steps, Gallagher said, was hiring Jim Bonney at Educator's Collaborative, an educational search and consulting firm. The firm, he said, helped create informational packets for the 40 potential applicants. After the applicants were weaned down, they visited campus.

"We appointed a 17 person advising panel - made up of faculty, administrators, alumni, parents and students - the finalists interviewed with the search committee, advisory panel and senior administrators," Gallagher said.

Houck was chosen for the position, Hilton said, because when he spoke to students about his retirement, they told him Houck seemed to genuinely know and love the Lyndon Institute.

During Houck's tenure at The Mountain School, he helped the school earn accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, created a a 5-STAR rated pre-kindergarten program, a middle school international program and saw an increase in reading and math standardized test scores.

According to a press release announcing Houck's new position, Chuck Scranton, the chairman of The Mountain School at Winhall board of trustees appointed trustee John Clark of Windham, Vermont to chair the search committee to find Houck's replacement.

Scranton said in a press release that Houck's contributions to The Mountain School are "without equal."

"He has provided a steady hand and an unparalleled commitment that we have greatly valued, Above all, Daren has created an exemplary educational environment at MSW, where students feel safe, conformable, validated and nurtured," Scranton said.

Houck said he is looking forward to working with the high school students, as well as living on campus and to really be embedded in the community, just like the school. This change will still offer some of the same challenges as an educator though, he said.

"Some of our challenges [at both The Mountain School and Lyndon Institute] are declining population in Vermont...and the continued assault on independent education," he said.