ACSD taps Mass. principal to lead MUMS
MIDDLEBURY — Michael Dudek knew he and his spouse, Sarah, would move from their native Massachusetts to Vermont some day.
It was either going to be sooner, as a career move, or later, as part of a retirement plan.
Sooner won out over later, thanks to an ad for the Middlebury Union Middle School principal vacancy. Dudek — currently the principal of Blackstone Millville Regional High School in Blackstone, Mass. — was among 27 who applied for the MUMS post. Addison Central School District Superintendent Peter Burrows last week confirmed that Dudek, 41, had won the job.
Dudek succeeds former MUMS Principal Kris Francoeur, who had hoped to resume her duties this fall after taking a one-year sabbatical to care for her husband, Paul, who is living with Lou Gehrig’s disease. But Francoeur resigned in January in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potentially devastating effect the virus could have on her husband’s remaining time, should he become infected.
Andrew Conforti has served as interim principal during Francoeur’s absence. He’ll return to his role as assistant principal.
According to Burrows, Dudek’s name rose to the top because of his “years of principal experience, his work at building a culture focused on social and emotional learning, social justice, and culturally responsive teaching, and his excitement and connection to joining an International Baccalaureate World District focused on student agency and engagement.”
Dudek has been Blackstone’s top administrator for almost nine years. Prior to that, he worked nine years at St. Mary’s, a private parochial junior/senior high school in Worcester, Mass. He spent his first four years at St. Mary’s as athletic director and science teacher for grades 7 and 8. He was promoted to principal for his last five years there.
“It was interesting and a good opportunity,” he said of becoming a school principal at age 26. “The principal at the time wanted to get back into teaching. He said, ‘I know you want to get this at some point; you’re probably thinking at a later stage in your career. But here’s an opportunity.’”
Dudek earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the College of Holy Cross, and a master of Education at Providence College.
He subsequently completed a principals training program through Northeastern University.
Mike and Sarah Dudek, and their three-year-old son, Theo, were comfortable in Worcester. But Vermont and MUMS beckoned. Principal Dudek wanted to become involved with the school’s transition to an International Baccalaureate program that reflects critical thinking and preparing students for real-world vocations and experiences.
“Reading about the district vision, strategies — the whole International Baccalaureate program — that really aligned with my core philosophy of what I think teaching and learning can be, and should be,” he said.
It’s all about challenging students with new teaching techniques, according to Dudek.
“Oftentimes, kids know how to do ‘school,’ in terms of behaving and getting work done, meeting deadlines and taking traditional exams,” he said. “But I often see students struggle when they go on to careers that really push them to think outside the box.”
MUMS passed the ultimate test for the Dudeks.
“Everything that Middlebury was offering was aligning perfectly with where I would love my son to be to develop as a student,” Dudek said.
He takes the reins of a school that’s preparing to welcome the ACSD’s sixth-graders into the fold. Beginning this fall, MUMS will become a grades 6-8 school.
“I understood going in that there was going to be this transition,” he said.
He’s already reached out to Conforti to discuss their vision for MUMS, and to get a sense of what the school’s transition team has been planning to absorb the sixth-graders.
“I’m thoroughly impressed by what they’ve been able to lay out for a foundation,” Dudek said.
Dudek expects to do a lot of networking with students’ parents to make sure they feel knowledgeable about, and comfortable with, the expansion of the school.
“With change, families might be fearful of the unknown, so we’re trying to be clear and transparent about what we’re looking to do,” he said. “Welcoming families and students is going to be really important.”
Parent-teacher Zoom conferences are in the works, and Dudek wants to be a part of some of those sessions.
While the MUMS population will be expanding, Dudek also realizes he’s joining a school district that’s been seeing declining enrollment. He’s familiar with that trend, as Blackstone was educating more than 500 high school students when he first joined. Now there are around 440.
Massachusetts schools, according to Dudek, are maximizing their enrollments by offering the most innovative programming possible — including introduction of pathways to careers in engineering and biomedical sciences.
But there’s a more liberal school choice program in the Bay State than there is in Vermont. The Massachusetts choice program allows parents to send their children to schools in communities other than the city or town in which they reside. Tuition is paid by the sending district to the receiving district. Districts may elect not to enroll school choice students if no space is available.
“For us… it’s about how do we think creatively, how do we combine programs, how do we engage students and families to want to ‘choice in’ from other areas?” he said. “It’s also ‘How do we retain as much as we can, but at the same time be creative with what that could look like.’”
Dudek is looking forward to getting started at MUMS and enthusiastic about bringing his education philosophy to his new school.
“Education done right is one of the greatest equalizers for us. I believe all students can and will succeed if provided with the appropriate supports,” he said. “Being collaborative, always looking for thought partners. Thinking about outside-the-box solutions will always be a priority for me.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.