Another ACSU executive leaves

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) is in the market for yet another senior administrator. Associate Superintendent Jan Willey has tendered her resignation in a move she said was fueled by what she described as ongoing “turmoil” in the ACSU central office.
Willey’s departure, effective at the end of this academic year, is one of several administrative positions within the district that will be, or already have been, vacated during the past year under some strained circumstances.
“There has been a great deal of turmoil in ACSU over the past several years, and one very visible result was the departure of the previous superintendent last June,” Willey said, alluding to former Superintendent Lee Sease, whose contract was not renewed by the ACSU board.
“At the end of the last school year, this supervisory union appeared to be quite divided on several issues, yet many board members and administrators agreed to move ahead in a positive manner, looking forward rather than looking back,” Willey said in a written statement provided to the Addison Independent. “Most have proceeded in this way, knowing that it would be of great benefit to our students. Conditions persist, however, that continue to make my work (and the work of others) extremely difficult. Disregarding the considerable progress made over the years, the agendas of a few adults have taken precedence over all else, including what is in the best interest of students. Given these persisting conditions, I can no longer work in ACSU and feel that I am making a significant difference.”
Willey has worked for the district for the past 19 years. This is not the first time she has tendered her resignation. She first did so in late 2009, in protest of a shift in her job description she said was made without her input. But the ACSU board convinced her to stay on and ended up letting her boss, Sease, go when his contract expired on June 30, 2011.
Between Willey’s first resignation and Sease’s departure was the resignation of ACSU Business Manager Sharon Stearns. She resigned last May after having been placed on administrative leave by Sease. Stearns last Sept. 13 filed a lawsuit in Rutland County Superior Court against the ACSU, claiming — among other things — that she was bullied by Sease and then placed on administrative leave after she complained about his behavior. That lawsuit is still pending.
The district hired a series of consultants to fill Stearns’ post until appointing Paul VanMinos as business manager. VanMinos, resigned last month after not reporting to work for several weeks while dealing with a family illness during what was a key school budget preparation period.
Laura Nassau, who most recently served as business manager of the Chittenden East Supervisory Union in Richmond, was recently hired to replace VanMinos.
In the meantime, the ACSU is being led by interim Superintendent Gail Conley. A search committee is culling through applicants for the superintendent’s job, with the expectation that the ACSU board will offer the job to the top candidate on March 14.
The district’s administrative roster also includes vacancies for associate director of student services and coordinator of early education. Conley conceded that the current number of job vacancies is “on the high side,” but said work is getting done thanks to existing staff and some paid temporary help. He expects all of the vacancies to be filled within the next month or two.
Willey, 64, said she had been willing to serve beyond this June in anticipation of a new superintendent. But she said that option was not given to her. Willey said that Conley, during a meeting late last year, informed her that her contract would likely not be renewed for another year.
Conley acknowledged the conversation.
“(Jan Willey) has accomplished a lot and done some good work during her 19 years in this office,” Conley said. “But it was our belief and understanding that when the new superintendent is hired, the new superintendent should have the opportunity to help select his or her own assistant.”
Conley said the ACSU board last June came to that same conclusion.
But Willey pointed to the sweeping turnover of positions within the district and said that she chose to resign rather than be let go. In her letter of resignation, she said she spent “several thousand dollars” on attorney fees between November 2009 and April 2011 “to seek guidance … in order to continue to function productively in an incredibly unsafe work environment.”
She said she hopes the work environment can be improved under new leadership.
“While ACSU is filled with scores of outstanding teachers and administrators, this supervisory union is in dire need of a leader who understands the work we all do, and who is genuinely interested and capable of supporting us in our incredibly difficult but critical work,” Willey wrote in her resignation letter. “Since 2003, we have not had access to that kind of leadership, but hopefully the situation will change with the selection of a new superintendent in the coming weeks.”
Willey said she would leave this June with a sense of accomplishment. She said she is particularly proud of her involvement in:
•  Developing of a clearly defined K-12 curriculum for the ACSU, which she said did not exist prior to her arrival in 1993.
•  Facilitating the development of a series of “power standards” to measure student performance in grades K-12.
•  Promoting standard training opportunities for all K-6 teachers in the ACSU’s seven elementary schools.
•  Preparing a report on the feasibility of establishing district-wide, K-7 second-language program.
Willey is also pleased to have seen student achievement improve steadily in recent years. She specifically cited New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test scores released last October showing that 80 percent of the ACSU’s 6th-graders meet or exceed the state standards in reading upon graduation, while 78 percent meet or exceed state standards in math (both above Vermont averages).
Once she leaves the ACSU this spring, Willey said she will continue to work, probably on a part-time basis, in the education field.
“I feel I am not done yet,” she said.
School officials said they will be sad to see Willey leave.
“She’s one of my educational mentors,” ACSU board Chairman Mark Perrin said of Willey. The Middlebury resident credited her with bringing him up to speed on the intricacies of public education policy when he joined the ID-4 school board more than a decade ago.
“We have been extraordinarily fortunate to have someone like her in our district,” Perrin said.
Eben Punderson, an ACSU board member and chairman of the Weybridge Elementary School board, said he’s “very disappointed” to hear about Willey’s decision to resign.
“I think Jan has been very valuable, and in a way that is not always apparent on the surface,” said Punderson. “She may be worth a lot more to the district than people are aware of. It is a loss to the district. She leaves big shoes to fill.”
Conley said the district will soon advertise the associate superintendent position and collect résumés that the new superintendent will help review.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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