MANCHESTER — The superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union has announced he will be stepping down from that post next June, and moving on to a teaching and administrative position at St. Michael's College in Colchester.
Daniel French, who has served as the BRSU superintendent since 2007, recently accepted the position of Coordinator of the School Leadership Program at Saint Michael's College, according to a statement released Friday by the BRSU.
Having recently finished work for his doctoral degree from the University of Vermont on educational leadership and policy studies, French had been considering what the next phase of his career in education might be when the position at St. Michael's opened up. Leadership development has been one of his interests, he said Monday during a telephone interview. The position will involve a mix of teaching aspiring school principals and educational leaders at the graduate school level with administrative responsibilities for coordinating the program, he added.
French will be "sorely missed" at the BRSU, said Jim Salsgiver, the chairman of the supervisory union's board of directors.
"Dan French has provided exceptional leadership — helping to make the BRSU one of the highest functioning supervisory unions in Vermont," Salsgiver wrote in a letter announcing the impending change that was sent to the BRSU's other school directors. "We have evolved into a cohesive educational system, with a clear focus on our primary roles of providing the best education for our children, while being responsible with our taxpayer's dollars."
French will be continuing as superintendent until June 30, 2016, according to the prepared statement.
The BRSU will be forming a search committee to begin the process of finding a successor, once the state's Agency of Education grants formal approval of that, a technical step needed before a search can officially begin, Salsgiver said.
A committee numbering perhaps five members, with input from the area's education community, is what he has in mind, he said, and they will start with defining what they will be looking for in a new superintendent, as well as developing a transition plan.
French was named as Vermont's Superintendent of the Year in 2009. Before coming to the BRSU, he was the superintendent of the Essex North Supervisory Union from 2004-07. Prior to that, he was a social studies teacher at a school in New Hampshire before being named the principal of the Canaan schools in Canaan, Vt., where he served from 1997-2004.
While French will leave large shoes to fill, his nine years at the helm of the BRSU have helped the supervisory union become an organized and smoothly functioning entity, and the transition to a new leader should be a manageable one, Salsgiver said.
"While it's not going to be easy ... we're in a much better position than we would have been if he hadn't done all that work," Salsgiver said.
French's upcoming departure comes at a time when the supervisory union is assembling merger study committees to tackle consolidation questions and issues posed by Act 46, a statute enacted last spring which aims to simplify the governance structure of Vermont's many school districts and supervisory unions. The BRSU has recently launched one study committee for several of its component districts, and more may follow. The supervisory union includes several towns and school districts with a wide variety of educational options for the residents of its assorted districts. Towns represented within the BRSU include Manchester, Dorset, Sunderland, Pawlet, Rupert, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Winhall and the Mountain Towns RED (regional education district) which consists of the towns of Weston, Landgrove, Londonderry and Peru.
But neither Salsgiver or French feel that this process of exploring consolidation options will be upended by French's departure.
"Dan's been there to usher us through and get us to the point where we have a group of districts and we have our study committees set," Salsgiver said. "He's helped us get to the point where we need to be to carry forward."
The path ahead on Act 46 merger studies is fairly clear, French added.
"I think the Act 46 work has come together nicely," French said. "School board members are in a good place to lead that phase of the work."
Looking ahead, French said there were significant educational opportunities for school leaders in Vermont in the coming years, and was optimistic the replacement of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 with a new statute labelled "Every Child Achieves," which recently passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law on Dec. 10, opened the door to a new era.
"It presents a significant opportunity for leaders to hopefully get back on the right track for what's best for students," French said.
Similarly, Act 46 presented Vermont's educators with an opportunity to advance the state's educational system along more modern lines, he said.
"I think it would be a significant missed opportunity if we didn't take advantage of this restructuring to allow rethinking how we do business," he said.
Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont's Secretary of Education, said the French had been an "extraordinary superintendent — forward thinking, systems oriented, focused on children and skilled at delivering on commitments."
"His departure will be a loss to the region," she wrote in an e-mail sent to the Manchester Journal. "That said, we have a critical need for high quality professional development support for our education leaders, and I can't think of anyone better equipped and positioned to take this on."