BRISTOL — After two decades, Gaynell Lyman is finally coming home. The Mount Abraham Union High School board this month tapped Lyman, a native Vermonter who has been teaching in Virginia since the 1990s, as the next principal of the school.
For Lyman it’s a return that has been a long time coming.
“I was always looking to return,” Lyman said. “When I took the job in Virginia it was with the intention of getting experience to come back.”
Lyman, 42, was born in Bennington and raised in Newport. At an early age, she realized she had a passion for teaching.
“I never pictured myself doing anything but teach,” Lyman said. “I was in high school science when I realized that’s what I wanted to teach.”
Lyman enrolled at the University of Vermont and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1993.
Because of stiff job competition in New England, Lyman looked elsewhere for her first teaching job. She was hired to teach chemistry and physics at Varina High School in Henrico, Va., a suburb of Richmond.
While in Virginia, Lyman earned a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, and later a Certificate of Advanced Study in Education from that institution.
She ascended the ranks to become an “Instructional Technology Resource Teacher” at a middle school in the same district. In this capacity, Lyman served as an adviser to educators on teaching students 21st-century skills. In 2013, Lyman was promoted to be the associate principal at Douglas S. Freeman High School, the position she holds currently.
At first, Virginia was supposed to be a temporary stop in Lyman’s career. After three years, Lyman said she hoped to return north.
“Three years turned into 20, because there were so many opportunities there I didn’t want to give up,” Lyman said.
Lyman said she and her stay-at-home husband, Ty, were also thinking of their children’s education.
“When my children got to be school aged, we wanted to provide them with the experiences we had growing up,” Lyman said.
When she learned of the vacancy at Mount Abraham, Lyman jumped at the opportunity. From a group of 12 applicants, three were interviewed, ANeSU Superintendent David Adams said.
Lyman described the daylong interview process as intense, but welcomed the queries from teachers, administrators, parents, community members and students.
Lyman said a question from a student — “What is your spirit animal?” — caught her off guard, but showed her how creative students in the district are.
Other prompts from students got down to the nuts and bolts of a principal’s job.
“They wanted to know what I would change, what my leadership style was, how I interact with people, how I would integrate school culture,” Lyman said. “The students asked phenomenal questions.”
In addition to her interview, a team from ANeSU traveled to Virginia to observe Lyman in her natural habitat, so to speak.
“They came to visit me on site, which was intimidating,” Lyman said. “They spoke with my colleagues, our students, parents and administration.”
After an extensive vetting process, Adams said Lyman was the unanimous choice of both the board and the 16-member search advisory committee.
“We are very excited about this appointment,” Adams said.
Lyman said that her experiences at Mount Abraham will likely be markedly different from her current job, due to the disparity in size between the two districts.
“We have as many high school students as you do in the whole five-town district,” Lyman said of her current school.
A benefit of moving to a small community, Lyman said, is that she will be able to connect better with students.
“One thing that will be interesting will be a community where everybody knows everybody,” Lyman said. “I’m excited about that — the possibility that I could know all of the students’ names in a school is not something I’ve experienced before.”
Lyman said that she hopes to continue the school’s focus on indivualized learning for students.
“Something that draws me to Mount Abe is the concept of personalized learning,” Lyman said. “What is exciting for me is finding ways to appropriately challenge all students, and this is a rigorous experience that prepares them to be high-quality thinkers and members of the community.”
The couple’s children, ages 7 and 8, will attend school in ANeSU. Gaynell and Ty Lyman are currently searching for a home in the five-town area.
Outside of her job, Lyman has taught yoga for 15 years, which she said has provided her with balance in her life.
“We’re an outdoor family, we like to hike and garden,” Lyman said.
When she’s not roughing it in the woods, Lyman said she enjoys a good novel.
Because her school in Virginia is currently on spring break, Lyman is in Bristol this week, meeting with administrators, faculty and staff, to get a feel for how the school is run. Her first day on the job is July 1.
Moving to Addison County will also bring the Lymans closer to their relatives, which Gaynell Lyman said was a good thing. Her family lives in Rutland, while her husband’s kin reside in Essex. Lyman said her family treks to Vermont for holidays.
“We’re back and forth three times a year, at least,” Lyman said. “It’s a lot of miles.”