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Vergennes high school principal leaves helm

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — After three years at Vergennes Union High School, VUHS co-principal Manya Bouteneff will leave this summer to take over the principalship at Fox Meadow Elementary School in her hometown of Scarsdale, N.Y.

Bouteneff, who will sign her new contract on Wednesday, attended the school from kindergarten through sixth grade, and her son went to Fox Meadow for two years before she moved away.

Bouteneff said the facts that she still has family in the Scarsdale area and that she will be heading her old school played roles in her decision to apply to be the Fox Meadow principal.

“It has the sentimental attraction to me,” said Bouteneff, who added that while writing her application for the post she had the sense of “being transported to those hallways … There’s a definite full-sensory memory of all of that.”

Bouteneff came to VUHS in 2003, when she was hired as the VUHS assistant principal. Her job description changed twice: In 2004 she was asked to focus on the VUHS middle school, and a year ago she became the VUHS co-principal with Edwin Webbley, with her primary duty oversight of grades seven through nine.

Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom O’Brien said Bouteneff, a 1981 graduate of Trinity College who this spring earned her Ph.D. in education from Columbia University, has earned the opportunity to run a school on a solo basis.

“It’s unfortunate for us to see her go. But I support her,” O’Brien said. “I’m glad for her.” 

Bouteneff, a Middlebury resident who also has a master’s degree from the University of Vermont, came to VUHS from Brandon’s Neshobe School after serving for a year as its interim principal and for four years as its assistant principal. She also taught French language and culture at Middlebury Union Middle School and Mary Hogan Elementary School, a position shared between the two schools.

Before then Bouteneff taught French at Orwell Village School; French at a New Rochelle, N.Y., high school; and French and English in the Republic of Djibouti in Africa. 

As well as for reasons of family and sentiment, Bouteneff said she was lured to Scarsdale by the chance to work at a high-performing school with an ethnically diverse student body. 

“It’s very different from the schools I’ve worked in, and loved working in, in Vermont, and that will provide new challenges,” she said. 

She said she valued her stay at VUHS, and believes her work to install a new “expeditionary learning” program in the middle school will help its students in the years to come.

Bouteneff said the school experimented with that approach this year, and that the teachers agreed to adopt it for next year at a late-May meeting. The cornerstones of expeditionary learning, she said, are a narrowed focus on parts of curriculum that still allows students to meet state standards for achievement, and a hands-on element that results in teams of students creating “authentic products.”

For example, one team studied history and science by looking at adolescence both through history and the physical changes adolescents go through. That effort will produce a booklet that will be distributed to local pediatricians’ offices, she said.

In the future, VUHS middle school students, she said, could study the history and science of Lake Champlain with field trips to take water samples and visit historic sites, with the products being a brochure for visitors.

“You’re really conducting an expedition into what they’re learning,” said Bouteneff.

Bouteneff said when she arrived at Vergennes she and teachers were seeing a “growing disengagement” among students, and she praised “the incredible willingness of the staff to take on the challenge” of new teaching tactics to excite students about what they are learning.

O’Brien praised Bouteneff’s effort to bring “cohesion” to the curriculum and staff of the VUHS middle school grades.

“There’s a great sense of team among the teachers at the middle school level, and that has spilled over into the entire program and opportunities for the kids,” he said.

Looking ahead to the future at VUHS, O’Brien said he and board members plan on maintaining the co-principal system at VUHS.

“We’ve said the position will remain open until a qualified candidate is found,” he said.

However, the timing of Bouteneff’s resignation will give VUHS little time to mount a full search and hire a new co-principal before the beginning of the next school year. O’Brien said it is “late in the game,” and that at some point he may have to look to an interim solution.

“If we don’t find someone by Aug. 1, I’ll look at an alternative,” he said.

 Bouteneff said she has a difficult task ahead of her, also.

“I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences here,” she said. “It’s hard to think about leaving.”

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