By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — When Paulette Bogan steps down at the end of the year from her position as principal at Mount Abraham Union High School, a familiar face will be standing by to take the baton.
Mount Abe earth science teacher and Addison resident Andy Kepes accepted the position last Wednesday after interviewing in late January with the Mount Abe school board. He and Leon Wheeler, who currently works as the middle school principal, will serve as co-principals next year.
“He’s just a fabulous person,” said Lanny Smith, the chair of the school board. Smith cited Kepes’ enthusiasm and excitement as factors in the board’s decision to make the hire, as well as his familiarity with the school and its programs.
“He’s well known to the school, and within the school community,” said Smith. “His knowledge of the program and his desire to make it a better program were definitely key factors.”
Kepes was one of three finalists for the position who interviewed with the board — and met with students, faculty and community members — on Jan. 27. Smith said the decision was a tough one.
“We had some extraordinarily good candidates,” he said.
Smith said that feedback from parents, teachers and students all supported the board’s choice. The question that popped up most frequently had to do with Kepes’ lack of administrative experience.
In the end, Smith said, the board decided to take a chance — much like they took a chance a few years ago in hiring a similarly inexperienced Kristine Evarts as the dean of students, a decision with which Smith said the board has been very pleased.
“We all know Andy,” Smith said. “We took a shot with great confidence.”
Kepes, who recently earned his master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont, has taught at the Bristol-based high school for five years. Prior to that, he also worked at Mount Abe for a year as a long-term substitute math teacher.
He was selected as the UVM Outstanding Teacher for Mount Abe in 2007.
Kepes and his wife, Janet, have a daughter and a son, both in grade school.
Kepes said that while he’ll miss being in the classroom full time, he was inspired to aim for an administrator’s position because of the chance it offered for making long-term changes at the school.
“Sometimes, if you want to make change, you have to be in the driver’s seat,” he said.
One of the biggest changes he envisions for Mount Abe down the road is a program that would allow students to take multiple pathways to graduation. Kepes’ vision would allow students to choose a “major” in 10th grade that would allow them to pursue an area of interest — like art, music, or science — more aggressively than they can currently.
Kepes is a jovial man. He joked about coaching the school’s “alligator wrestling team — the only one in Vermont,” he said, and changing the school’s mascot to the Mount Abe Yankees (“I think we’ll look good in pinstripes,” he said). But he’s serious when it comes to the new job, and acknowledging the difficulties he knows he’ll face — and the school will face — in the coming years.
He said he knows that there will be a “big learning curve” as far as administrative duties are concerned, and he predicted that he’ll rely on Wheeler a lot in the first year.
The school will also face significant budgeting challenges in the coming years, given the current economy and the smaller student body numbers projected for the future. Matching up a desire for new programs with dwindling state aid will be “major concerns,” Kepes said.
But Kepes said that he thinks his jump from the classroom to the principal’s office will be, in some ways, a beneficial one, despite his lack of administrative experience.
“I guess, having been in the trenches, I’ll have a good perspective of what’s facing teachers,” he said. Plus, having taught over half of the students at the school currently, he said he hopes that they’ll continue to find him approachable.
And Kepes said he feels his familiarity with the school could go a long way toward a goal many students, teachers and parents raised in meetings with the candidates for the job: Strengthening the sense of community at Mount Abe.
Though he does not anticipate it happening next year, he said he hopes to return to the classroom to teach at least one class in the years to come.
“I love teaching, but the hope is down the road that I continue to teach a class, maybe not the first year but eventually,” he said. “I think it’s important that an administrator be in the classroom part time.”
Kepes begins his work as the principal at Mount Abe on July 1.