New ACSU superintentent lays out priorities for school district

MIDDLEBURY — New Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Peter Burrows has only been on the job for a short time, but that has not stopped him from thinking big.
Burrows, 42, last week unveiled a series of goals for the ACSU that include a long-term action plan, boosting the district’s technology resources and programming, and increasing public outreach to students and their families.
Burrows, former principal of Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore., began his job as the ACSU’s top administrator on July 1. He’s currently scrutinizing the various policies and systems in place with the district’s seven elementary schools and two secondary schools to make sure they are in synch.
“I think it’s true of any incoming leader, it’s essential that before you start making changes and start moving in a direction you think makes sense, you look at things that are currently in place,” Burrows said.
Though he’s been on board for only a month, Burrows likes what he sees in terms of the schools and personnel that make up the ACSU. It’s a supervisory union that includes the elementary schools in Middlebury, Ripton, Bridport, Salisbury, Shoreham, Cornwall and Weybridge, along with Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
“My initial impressions have been well-founded,” Burrows said. “This community is very committed and behind education, and the potential for innovation and support for all students is immense. It feels like everyone is behind students and ready and willing to do anything to make sure students are successful. I feel so fortunate to be in this position to help to lead this supervisory union.”
He vowed to be a visible and accessible leader during what he hopes will be a lengthy tenure.
“One of the big things I want to do is I want to be a presence in the community, and be active in the community,” Burrows said. “I see our work at ACSU as preparing students to be active leaders in Middlebury and beyond.”
With that in mind, Burrows wants students to embrace the traditional Vermont traits of civic engagement, community involvement, caring about one’s town and school, and caring about other people.
In addition to attending a variety of school board meetings and other public events, Burrows plans to engage the community through a blog, possibly Twitter and commentary in the Addison Independent. He will seek a lot of input as he puts together a long-term action plan for the ACSU that will among other things scrutinize the current curriculum and set forth the mandated transition to Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which will soon replace the New England Common Assessment Program — the standardized testing system currently used to measure student performance.
The ACSU’s action plan must prepare students to be successful into their 20s and not just through the 12th grade, according to Burrows.
“Our job really runs beyond graduation, to make sure students are successful once they leave the high school,” Burrows said. “We want to make education engaging and relevant for all students.”
And technology must play a key role in making education more engaging and relevant for students, he said.
“Part of establishing the action plan is engaging that digital landscape and really thinking about ways to take the traditional structure of the classroom and bring in media and technology in a way that isn’t just writing a report on a computer, but actually changing the way students learn to incorporate — what for them — is second nature,” Burrows said.
The ACSU has been working to shore up its computer network. Burrows hopes the district will soon have the ability to ensure each student has access to a computer.
“Establishing technology as the medium through which learning happens is essential,” Burrows said.
The new superintendent would also like to see more partnering between the ACSU and Middlebury College and the Community College of Vermont.
“Middlebury College is a huge resource,” Burrows said. “I can see great potential for partnership.”
Burrows realizes that he has also inherited some weighty issues that should garner a lot of discussion during the coming months. They include the prospect of governance consolidation within the ACSU, which currently has nine boards to which the superintendent must answer; and the concept of introducing foreign language instruction throughout the districts’ schools so younger students are better prepared for such offerings at the middle- and high school levels.
The ACSU Study Committee is working with a consultant on a report that could eventually lead to a district-wide vote to change the governance structure. A panel is also looking at the feasibility and costs of a district-wide world languages program.
“I think there are a lot of positives ahead,” Burrows said of his early appraisal of the ACSU. “I feel good about where we are and where we are headed.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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