BRISTOL — The Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU) board and superintendent search committee are closing in on a new superintendent.
On Monday, the three finalists for the position — David Adams, Catrina DiNapoli and Douglas Harris — toured the supervisory union schools and met with more than 120 local residents at a public forum that night. On Tuesday, they then interviewed with the ANeSU board in executive session. Ray Proulx, an outside consultant who is overseeing the superintendent selection process, said the board would decide on a new superintendent within a month.
The finalists are vying for a vacancy that will be left this summer when ANeSU Superintendent Evelyn Howard steps down after 12 years on the job.
At the Monday night forum at Mount Abraham Union High School, the finalists briefly explained their reasons for applying for the superintendent position and laid out their moral and educational tenets. Local townspeople were given a form to analyze the finalists and were asked to judge the candidates based on four criteria: the candidate’s personal and professional reasons for applying, their “vision for the future of education,” their ability to build infrastructural capacity and their ability to act as an “ambassador for ANeSU schools.” Proulx will then compile these ratings and submit them to the ANeSU board.
In Mount Abe’s large cafeteria at Monday’s forum, Harris succinctly outlined the superintendent position.
“The superintendency is a highly demanding position,” he said. “It’s a position with long hours, a lot of work, a lot of people to deal with, a lot of groups to deal with who have different dynamics and agendas. And all that falls into the lap of the superintendent. On the other hand, I believe the superintendent makes a difference for kids. I believe it matters who sits in central office.”
Harris is a seasoned educator, who held the superintendent position at Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union and then acted as the executive director of the Vermont Institute for Science, Math and Technology. The well-published author of several publications on education design has recently filled his time as an education consultant. As a consultant, he’s helped school districts solve structural problems, but he indicated that it leaves him partially unfulfilled because he doesn’t get to stay with the institution through to the end. This is one reason he’d like to return to a superintendent post.
“I’ve been working with some really good people in different places, and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve enjoyed the work,” he said. “But at the end of the day I always walk out and don’t get to see things through to fruition.”
Harris said he wants to help ANeSU reframe the core curriculum — math, science, English, etc. — in a digital and global setting. He spoke about preemptive problem solving and setting up policies for continued learning. He also answered audience questions comprehensively.
David Adams also brings a wealth of administration experience to his candidacy, as the current superintendent of Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union in Chester and former assistant superintendent at Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in Bennington. The main reason that he said he’s applying for the ANeSU superintendent position is that he sees great potential in the basic ANeSU structure that already exists.
“I have always been a true supporter of the Vermont union school district organizational structure,” he said.
Currently, he’s the superintendent of a K-8 system, which he believes pales in comparison to ANeSU’s K-12 system. He laid out different school district structures for the audience, and he thinks ANeSU positively affects students and helps bring adjacent communities together. In summary, he’d like to build on a fundamental structure that he thinks already works.
Adams touted the benefits of learning with teachers in the room — not from a distance via technology. He supports a hands-on approach to learning, and he and Harris both spoke about needing to create an education system that turns students into lifelong learners.
“We shouldn’t be training kids to be good students,” said Adams. “Being a good student really isn’t the (desired) outcome. It’s really being a good citizen and making a positive contribution to society overall.”
The third candidate, Catrina DiNapoli, is in the middle of her third year as principal at Bristol Elementary School. With the least overall experience of the three candidates, she is the only candidate who has worked for ANeSU — although Harris has consulted to ANeSU — and is the only Addison County resident who is a finalist.
Although her speech may have been the most succinct and uplifting of the three candidates — beaming with personality, big ideas and a reading of one of her favorite motivational poems — she didn’t include as much detail as the others when it came to how she’d execute her job as structural overseer of the supervisory union. Her stated reason for applying is to help further build a community that she already has a huge professional and personal investment in.
“I’m a Monkton resident. I have two kiddos in our system. I have a ninth-grader here at Mount Abe and I have a fifth-grader over at Monkton. So my connections are both professional and personal and run deep,” said DiNapoli. “I’m not out looking for a superintendency anywhere. I want to be here. I have no intention of leaving this community one way or another. So it’s really just to see what I have to offer and help expand some of the programming across our system.”
She said she’s pleased with the overall direction of ANeSU schools and would like to see less standardization. She spoke about offering students more freedom in the classroom and looked to Mount Abe’s individualized learning program Pathways as an example. She’d like to shift the education system to reward teachers based on their outcomes and she’d like to create a more flexible system that allows students to explore learning more deeply.
“We need to outwit the things that feel confining, like lack of time, lack of resources, declining budgets, various readiness levels of the kiddos, those nagging interruptions like fire drills and principals asking for things and put the kids in the driver’s seat more often than we do,” she said.
Of all the candidates that presented in the big cafeteria — candidates also spoke in two other rooms — DiNapoli was the only one to touch upon extended education. She raised some eyebrows when she indicated that students shouldn’t be able to graduate unless they’re 18.
Kim Farnham, a member of the Mount Abe and Hannaford Career Center boards, asked DiNapoli to clarify.
“Are you talking about a 13- or 14-year program? Are you referring to that when you say they should stay until they’re 18? Some kids are 17 when they’re graduating. Are you inferring maybe we need another year?”
“I’m thinking we may — absolutely,” said DiNapoli, “That would be great.”
And after talking about “opening the walls a bit more and being flexible,” she was asked about an open campus.
“I think a lot of details would have to be worked out,” she said. “I think I’d have to know more.”
But she said she’s open to new possibilities.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]