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Burlington superintendent is one of two finalists for ACSU top job

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Posted on December 13, 2012 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union has narrowed its search for a new top executive down to two finalists: Burlington School District Superintendent Jeanne M. Collins and John W. Johnson, director of education information services for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Collins and Johnson emerged as the top two choices from among a dozen applicants in what is the ACSU’s third effort in recent months to vet and hire a new superintendent.

Current ACSU Superintendent Gail Conley came out of retirement during the summer of 2011 to take the job for what he thought would be one year. His stint is now in its second year after ACSU officials have had difficulties in recruiting the right person to preside over a district that includes the schools serving Middlebury, Shoreham, Salisbury, Weybridge, Ripton, Bridport and Cornwall.

But an ACSU screening committee chaired by Cornwall resident Peter Conlon is confident that this third search will be the charm. The committee conducted candidate interviews on Monday, Dec. 10, and was pleased to forward the names of Collins and Johnson to the ACSU board.

Both candidates are set to visit the district on Wednesday, Dec. 19, for a series of meetings at ACSU schools, an opportunity to meet with and take questions from community members, and a final interview with the full ACSU board that evening. The board could offer a contract to its preferred candidate that evening, and then hire the person pending a resolution of contract terms.

Conlon said Collins and Johnson stood out from the rest of the field.

“We found both of these candidates had excellent skills and contributions to make, and we were pleased to be able to bring them forward to the community and the ACSU board,” Conlon said.

Of the two candidates, Collins is the better known in these parts.

She has been superintendent of Burlington schools since 2005, after joining the district in 2000 as director of Special Services. She’s lived in Vermont since the early 1990s and previously worked as a teacher and administrator at Harwood Union High School and in various education capacities in Arizona, Colorado and California.

“I am passionate about working with our teachers, families and community partners to ensure that every child succeeds,” reads her bio on the Burlington School District website. “I am committed to developing an educational system that will enable us to reach our comprehensive community vision for excellence and equity.”

Collins launched alternative schools in Vermont and Arizona public schools. With a background in the area of emotional disturbance, Collins also teaches coursework as an adjunct professor in crisis prevention and life space counseling, focusing on changing behaviors of disruptive students.

Collins completed her undergraduate work at Purdue University, earned her master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado, and Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Leadership from St. Michael’s College. She serves on several boards and committees, including the American Association of School Administrators, the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators and the Vermont Superintendents Association. She was named the Frederick H. Tuttle Superintendent of the Year in 2011.

In her résumé she describes the Burlington School District, with its 4,000 students, as the “largest, most complex pre-K-12 system in Vermont.” She cites accomplishments during her tenure as including:

•  The opening of the “first two elementary magnet schools in Vermont, focused on the arts and on sustainability for the purpose of socio-economic integration.” She said about 50 percent of the Burlington district’s enrollees meet poverty guidelines, while 30 percent are minority students and 15 percent are “new American students.”

•  Development and implementation of a “focused strategic plan on diversity and equity, including affirmative recruitment process.”

•  Developed “a social media communication plan to tell the district’s story throughout the year.”

She cites as her reason for looking for work elsewhere: “To branch out and continue to grow and learn.”

Collins came under criticism last year from some Burlington residents who charged that she had not done enough to stem racism within the school district. Some residents even called for her resignation. Collins fielded the criticisms at a series of school board meetings and declined to resign, instead pledging to work toward resolving the matters with a more multi-cultural approach.

In early June of last year, Collins released a plan to address racism and equity issues in Burlington public schools. Later that month, the Burlington School Board extended Collins’ contract for an additional two years.

Johnson’s work experience includes stints as assistant principal at Madison (Wis.) West High School (1999-2004); and various teaching jobs — primarily in the fields of special education, social studies and English — in schools in Wisconsin, New York and Connecticut from 1989-1998.

He earned his bachelor of arts in history from Georgetown University, master’s degrees in educational administration and special education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis.

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