SUNDERLAND >> The Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union board of directors named Jacquelyne Wilson last Wednesday to serve as a 1-year interim superintendent while they mount and organize a second search for a replacement for the outgoing Daniel French.
Wilson, who is currently an assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment with the supervisory union, will be able to return after one year to her current job if the search produces a permanent appointment under the terms of agreement hammered out with the BRSU's board of directors. She might also opt to become a formal candidate herself for the top job, depending on how things are going later this year, she said.
"I wanted to be able to return to my earlier work (on curriculum development) which I really enjoy," she said. "I want to see how things unfold with Act 46 (legislation passed last year which encourages school districts to consolidate into fewer and larger entities); and do I get to do enough educational leadership work — that's my main question."
If the new post doesn't offer enough in that area, she'll happily return to her current job, she said.
Dr. Daniel French, the current school superintendent of the far-flung supervisory union, which includes 12 school districts serving approximately 2,200 students and operates six schools in Manchester, Londonderry, Dorset, Pawlet, Danby, and Sunderland, is leaving after nine years at the helm to take another position at St. Michael's College in Colchester. A search for his replacement conducted last year failed to turn up a candidate the supervisory union's board of directors was prepared to offer a contract to. That search will be resumed this fall. French's last day will be June 30, and Wilson's appointment takes effect the following day, July 1, 2016.
The supervisory union's board of directors is very comfortable turning over the leadership reins to Wilson, said Jim Salsgiver, the chairman of the BRSU's board of directors.
"As BRSU assistant superintendent, Jackie has been a very effective leader," Salsgiver stated in an email to The Journal. "For several years, Jackie has also been taking the lead role from the BRSU for the Mountain Towns RED and Winhall districts. And Jackie has been a truly key part of a great senior leadership team at the BRSU. In recent months, this leadership team has worked together to build an Interim plan for the coming year — to allow us to continue progress on our educational goals, and to manage the challenges of the Act 46 work of our districts."
When they started their search for a new superintendent, members of their search committee were advised by consultants from the Vermont School Boards Association that searches for that position had become increasingly difficult, and the pool of qualified candidates was not deep. The large number of school districts contained within the BRSU and the complexity of its governance structure — ranging from large towns like Manchester and Dorset which operate its own K-8 schools, to other towns like Sunderland and Danby, which operate K-6 schools, to towns like Winhall, which doesn't operate a school at all and tuitions all its students from kindergarten through 12th grade — was a factor which gave potential candidates pause, Salsgiver said.
So was uncertainty over Act 46, which Wilson acknowledged will form a significant part of her workload going into the coming year.
Merger study committees — the forerunner of actual proposals which eventually be put to voters for approval — are beginning to form. One covering Manchester, Dorset, Sunderland, Danby, Mt. Tabor, and the Mountain Towns RED (Peru, Landgrove, Weston and Londonderry) is expected to start meeting shortly. Another committee is in place for Rupert and Pawlet, and a third one involving Winhall — which may seek to hold merger talks with Stratton and Sandgate — is also in the works.
"I'm sure we'll be supporting those committees as they put their studies together and we'll be moving towards establishing time lines for community votes," she said.
To fill the void left by her promotion, the supervisory union board and she will be looking to see if one of the members of the teaching faculty can be tapped to oversee curriculum and instruction for a year while she is serving as the interim superintendent, she said.
At the same time, she will be also keeping tabs on educational assessment, an often hot-button issue over the past 15 years since the passage of the "No Child Left Behind" Act. That federal legislation, often derided by educators who expressed concerns it forced teachers to "teach to the test" and penalized schools unfairly if they were unable to meet certain federal benchmarks, has been replaced by new legislation, known as the "Every Student Succeeds" Act.
"I don't think there are a lot of significant changes," Wilson said, referring to 'Every Student Succeeds.' "But there are some and the big one is that states have been given the authority to develop their own accountability systems. Vermont is pulling that together right now."
The supervisory union will also be negotiating a new contract with its teaching faculty during her watch, she said.
Wilson has deep roots in the BRSU. She started as a teacher at Manchester Elementary Middle School in 1992, back when it was still MES — and taught there until 1999. She became an assistant principal at MEMS in 2001, then spent two years in Montpelier as a school principal there. She returned to MEMS in 2003 as a co-principal, then was named as sole principal, winning an award for leadership in 2008 from the Vermont Principal's Association. She remained as principal until June, 2011, when she left to take the curriculum development post at the supervisory union's central office. The position was upgraded to the assistant superintendent level in 2013 as Wilson began to take on a larger role on governance issues with the Mountain Towns RED.
The key qualities the BRSU board is looking for in their next superintendent are strong consensus building skills and a view on the future of education that is roughly consistent with the direction they have been taking over the past few year's under French's leadership, Salsgiver said.
The BRSU considered looking outside their current leadership structure, but in the end decided that having someone in place for a 1-year interim position who was familiar with the supervisory union was the better way to go, he said.
"Ultimately, we concluded that building from the strong team in place would better allow us to keep our work on track, would match well with the traits we were looking for in a new Superintendent, and would position us to handle the challenges of the coming year," Salsgiver said. "We are quite pleased that the BRSU senior leadership team was willing to step up and take on this challenge."