MIDDLEBURY — Peter L. Burrows, 42-year-old principal of Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore., will officially take the administrative helm of the Addison Central Supervisory Union on July 1.
Burrows was offered the superintendency on Wednesday evening after a day-long introduction to the ACSU community and a 50-minute interview with the district board. That panel, chaired by Mark Perrin of Middlebury, unanimously endorsed Burrows, who accepted the job that evening. The ACSU board selected Burrows over fellow finalist Winton I. Goodrich, the assistant superintendent of the South Burlington School District.
On Thursday, a few hours before boarding a flight back to Oregon, Burrows said he was honored to have been chosen.
“Throughout this process of getting to know people and visiting schools and talking to community members, I feel like this is probably, of anywhere I have ever lived, a place where the community is most invested in education and is really focused on students and doing what is right for the community,” Burrows said. “There is great potential here and there are great things happening. I look forward to being a part of moving the supervisory union forward and serving our students here.”
Perrin said Burrows has tentatively agreed to a three-year contract, although the salary was still being negotiated late last week. The ACSU had previously set a compensation range of $112,000-$117,000 for a job in which Burrows will answer to nine boards. The ACSU includes Middlebury Union high and middle schools, along with elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Shoreham, Salisbury, Ripton, Middlebury and Weybridge.
Burrows’ hiring caps the ACSU’s fourth search for a superintendent following the departure of former top executive Lee Sease at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. Current Superintendent Gail Conley was originally hired to take the job for just the next academic year, but agreed to extend his stay for another year, until this coming June, when attempts to recruit a successor failed.
This will be Burrows’ first job as a superintendent. His résumé includes a combination of teaching and administrative duties in schools in the United States and abroad.
He has served as principal of Willamette High School, with a student enrollment of 1,550, since September of 2010. He had served as assistant principal of Willamette for two years prior to that, and as a teacher there since 2004, specializing in language arts and English.
Burrows also worked as a language arts teacher at Sisters High School and Middle School (2003-2004), and as a teacher and designer of English and other courses at universities in South Korea, Mexico, Japan and India.
The Connecticut native also has previous work experience in Vermont, having served as an English teacher at the Intensive English Institute in Brattleboro from January through August of 1999.
During his interview with the ACSU board on Wednesday evening, Burrows described how he had placed his own imprint on Willamette High School after the previous principal had been there more than two decades. His strategy included encouraging business, community and student participation in programming and facility improvements at the school. Burrows authors a blog for the school community to share news and his education philosophies.
Burrows acknowledged the issue of declining enrollments and increasing school budgets within ACSU and Vermont in general. He said he would participate actively in the current study of potential consolidation of ACSU governance structure to reduce board meetings and find more ways for district schools to share resources.
He also pledged to embrace technology to help students learn more effectively.
Burrows touted a philosophy of keeping special needs students within mainstream classrooms to the greatest extent possible.
“I believe in inclusion,” he told the approximately 20 ACSU board members who participated in the interviews. “Special education students … can often be successful in class with the supports they need.”
Leadership, Burrows said, is best when it comes from the ground up, rather from the top down, stating that new initiatives are best implemented when affected groups are invited to be part of the process.
“(Leadership) needs to be bred, I think, at the teacher level,” he said, adding, “The ownership part is vital … Change comes very slowly if you don’t have that ownership.”
Burrows emphasized how impressed he was with the district and its schools. He said he spent March 19 — a snow day — driving around to look at ACSU schools.
“I see, in this supervisory union, the makeup of a community that puts students at the front of every conversation that is happening,” he said. “People are really connected, committed and will do what it takes to make sure that students do their best.”
It was Burrows’ stated philosophy of putting students first that helped earn him the job, according to Perrin. Board members were also impressed with his track record of developing relationships with school associates to get them on board with his initiatives.
“He truly wants to get the community into the schools and foster relationships,” Perrin said. “We think it is a really exciting time for (the ACSU).”
The next few months will be busy for Burrows. He will phase out his career at Willamette while looking for a Middlebury-area home in which to relocate his family, which includes wife Sonja and their three young children.
“I would like to stay in this service a long time and want to live in this community, too,” Burrows said. “It’s really important to be out in the community, especially in this role. I want to go to as many functions as I can and be a presence.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].