By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH â€” The Ferrisburgh Central School board last week hired as the FCS interim principal a Barre native with experience as a middle school principal, adjunct professor at St. Michaelâ€™s College, teacher at the University of Vermont, part-time curriculum coordinator, interim co-principal, assistant principal, consulting teacher, summer school coordinator and special educator.
JoAnn Taft-Blakely began work immediately after her hiring on July 3, and she said from the school in a Tuesday afternoon phone interview that she believes she will be able to use that extensive background for the benefit of FCS students and teachers.
â€œI have a really wide breadth of experience,â€? said Taft-Blakeley, a Colchester resident. â€œI think Iâ€™m pretty good at taking people where they are and helping them move forward.â€?
Tuesdayâ€™s hire ended a six-month process in a way FCS officials did not expect when it began in January: The board did not set out to hire an interim to replace popular seven-year principal Donn Marcus, who resigned to pursue a yet-to-be determined career change. A typical full search was mounted, and even produced a candidate to whom the position was offered.
But FCS chairwoman Adela Langrock said the search committeeâ€™s, parentsâ€™, teachersâ€™ and studentsâ€™ attachment to Marcus â€” who was known for reading to students, giving them pencils on their birthdays and wearing funny hats, as well as for his more substantial education qualities â€” proved to be too difficult to overcome for the school community and the winning candidate.
â€œWe were very close to Donn. We wanted another Donn,â€? Langrock said. â€œWe werenâ€™t ready to move on, and I think that message came through to the candidates. And when an offer was made, it was turned down.â€?
FCS officials and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom Oâ€™Brien then decided to go the interim route. Langrock said Taft-Blakely emerged as a clear winner in a field that produced five candidates strong enough to warrant interviews.
â€œShe looks like she is going to be wonderful for the kids, wonderful for the staff, and great for the community and the district. She has a lot to offer,â€? said Langrock, who also cited Taft-Blakelyâ€™s â€œinnovative ideas about curriculum.â€?
Although Taft-Blakely, who earned a bachelorâ€™s degree from Johnson State College in 1975 and both a masterâ€™s and a doctorate from UVM, came aboard as an interim, school officials believe she could be a long-term hire.
â€œIt is kind of a conversation we are hopeful to have in the future,â€? Langrock said. â€œIf the fit is right for her â€¦ she is open to that possibility. Weâ€™ll take it from there.â€?
Taft-Blakely, who was a middle school principal at BFA-Fairfax and a curriculum coordinator in Milton, said she shares the boardâ€™s interest, even though she declined to apply when the position was advertised as permanent.
She said she preferred the trial period the interim position allows.
â€œIt gives us both an opportunity to make sure weâ€™re going to be good together, that itâ€™s a good fit,â€? Taft-Blakely said.
Still, Taft-Blakely said she would not have applied if she didnâ€™t believe that fit was there. She knows both ANwSU curriculum coordinators Carol Spencer and Betty Lewis from her doctorate work, and she became familiar with FCS during her eight years in the 1990s as the Charlotte Central School assistant principal.
â€œFerrisburgh has a wonderful reputation. To come into a school with a wonderful reputation and a good staff is very important,â€? she said, adding that â€œit just seems a really positive, collaborative atmosphere in the district.â€?
Taft-Blakely said she plans to meet with staff members and write to parents as soon as possible, and plans to schedule a meeting before the school opens this fall to get to know parents and residents.
In the meantime, she was asked what residents should know about her.
â€œI am about building culture and community,â€? Taft-Blakely said, â€œand making sure that every kid feels safe and that every staff member feels safe, and that the school is a welcoming environment.â€?