VERGENNES — After 38 years in public education and 25 years as a school principal — the past 13 at Vergennes Union Elementary School — VUES Principal Sanford “Sandy” Bassett will step down from his post at the end of this academic year.
Bassett, a Greenwich, N.Y., native who will turn 60 in June, insisted that he is not retiring, but that it is time for new challenges after nearly four decades on the job.
“I’m going to take some time and reflect ... It’s been 38 years,” Bassett said. “It’s time to step aside for a bit and reflect and decide what I’d like to do next.”
He has spent 25 of those career years in Vermont, working for a dozen years in Rutland, where he lives, as an elementary and middle school principal and a director of a citywide kindergarten-through-12th-grade program for at-risk students.
For the past 13 years Bassett has commuted up Route 7 to Vergennes. Despite the long daily drives, he said VUES has been an almost ideal job.
“(I have) a lot of fond memories. I feel very blessed. The stars lined up for this one,” he said. “I serve three communities that highly value children and their education.”
Bassett said his luck has extended to his relationships with Addison Northwest Supervisory Union personnel and VUES colleagues and directors.
“I’ve been fortunate to have collegial and cooperative school boards, and I’ve had the same superintendent (Tom O’Brien) for 10 years, and I’m surrounded by competent people,” he said. “All those factors ... it makes it doable. I’ve been very blessed in that regard.”
Although VUES, like most Vermont schools, has been identified as a school that must make more progress on its New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test scores, Bassett said VUES scores have consistently improved thanks to the concerted efforts of the school staff.
“Our NECAP scores have gone up every year for six consecutive years. We’ve improved every year since the inception of NECAP,” he said. “How many businesses can say that their overall improvement ... has gotten better for six consecutive years?”
Bassett is also pleased that all the school’s classrooms now have Smart Boards (interactive whiteboards that can be linked into computer software), and VUES also now has two technology labs. In the meantime, the school’s budgets have typically seen among the lowest increases among county schools while earning consistent voter support.
He said many share the credit for “maintaining the integrity of the program” while being fiscally responsible.
“It’s not Sandy Bassett. It’s a good school board. It’s working with the same superintendent for 10 years. It’s working with predominantly the same teachers,” he said.
O’Brien called Bassett a “trusted and hard-working” and “kids-first” administrator who does deserve some of the credit for meeting students’ needs without unduly burdening the residents’ in Vergennes, Panton and Waltham.
“He is very cognizant of the three communities that are served by VUES,” O’Brien said. “When making recommendations he always has the taxpayers in mind as well as the needs of the program and the kids, and ... it’s been a successful mix.”
O’Brien also noted that in fact while Bassett has been an ANwSU principal for 13 years, he spent one year pinch-hitting at Vergennes Union High School when former principal Peter Coffey unexpectedly resigned in mid-summer. O’Brien said Bassett’s flexibility allowed for a more thorough search, benefited the district in the long run, and showed how tight-knit ANwSU has become.
“That was one of the first real tests of whether the entities of this district could work together ... and I think by all accounts it worked well,” he said.
O’Brien said that was not the only time Bassett’s contributions extended outside the VUES walls.
“I just know how much I’m going to miss him,” he said. “He’s been intimately involved with a lot of good work we’ve done in the district. His input and expertise will be sorely missed.”
A search committee that O’Brien said will contain VUES staff and board members, parents and community representatives will soon be appointed to recommend Bassett’s successor to the full board. O’Brien said the first advertisements that have been placed have already begun to generate responses, and that interviews and site visits will occur in March, with a decision due by early or mid-April.
By then, Bassett will be in the home stretch.
“I’ve had 13 years of reasonable peace and stability, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said. “I’m very humbled to care for people’s children. It’s been a good run.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.