Hundreds seek ouster of ANeSU superintendent

LINCOLN — For 26 seconds, applause rocked the walls of Lincoln Community School’s tiny gymnasium Tuesday evening. The cause of the ovation was not, as one might suspect, a game-winning basket or conclusion of a musical performance.
Rather, a local resident asked her supervisory union board to fire the superintendent.
During visitors’ business of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union board meeting, Koran Cousino of Starksboro presented a petition signed by hundreds of voters who support the dismissal of ANeSU Superintendent David Adams.
“Given the overwhelming community support represented by this petition, we respectfully ask this board … to take swift action in consideration of our request that David Adams be excused from his position as superintendent of the ANeSU,” Cousino read from a prepared statement.
Her comments were met with a roar of applause from the audience, about half of whom were forced to stand because there was nowhere to sit. A sign on a gym wall indicated a maximum occupancy of 200, but far more people turned up to the meeting. They filled the aisles of the gym and spilled into the hallway. Unable to fit into the school’s parking lot, their cars lined the narrow shoulder of River Road for a hundred yards.
They came to voice a litany of concerns about the running of the supervisory union, which encompasses Mount Abraham Union High School and elementary schools in the towns of Lincoln, Starksboro, Bristol, Monkton and New Haven. Many were angry; most spoke in favor of dismissing Adams. They charged that he is a poor leader, has not laid out a clear vision for the supervisory union and has fostered a culture of intimidation throughout the six ANeSU schools that has left faculty and staff afraid to speak out. However, they offered no first-hand evidence to support that claim during the meeting.
Cousino was the first resident to hold the floor, and said the petition bears 550 signatures, including 23 from out of state and 13 from Vermonters outside the five-town area. She said she does not believe Adams is fit to continue leading the supervisory union.
“A leader does not rule on high, talk down to colleagues and community members and justify actions that are unjustifiable,” Cousino said.
After the applause subsided, Cousino delivered a binder containing the petition to ANeSU board chair Dawn Griswold. Griswold said the board will review it and respond at a later date.
The petition won’t be the only reading material for the board to mull in coming months. Immediately before Cousino spoke, the ANeSU teachers’ union delivered to the board news that by a 163-1 margin its members supported a vote of no confidence in Adams, accompanied by the results of a climate survey of staff indicating poor reviews of administrators (see accompanying story).
After Cousino delivered the citizen petition, other residents raised their hands to speak in favor of it, or raise concerns about Adams.
Jen Oldham of Lincoln said she used to serve on the town school board, but resigned last year because she did not feel that the school boards received enough information to effectively evaluate the superintendent. She said there must be something wrong with the governance structure of the school boards if members find no fault in Adams’ job performance, while residents and teachers want him fired.
“I’m told that Mr. Adams, by the policies by which he is evaluated, is successful by all measures, and yet here we stand with a full house, with hundreds of signatures calling for his removal,” she said. “That makes me think something is really amiss.”
Kate McGowan of Lincoln also criticized the governance policies of the supervisory union, arguing that they are too vague to effectively evaluate administrators and articulate a vision for the schools. She charged that the policies lack clear language that details how administrators may or may not interact with faculty and staff.
“There’s nothing in there about treatment of staff, in your executive constraints,” McGowan said, drawing applause from the crowd.
McGowan added that she believes that the supervisory union policies give the board grounds to fire Adams, reading a policy that notes that the superintendent should not endanger the supervisory union’s public image, its credibility or its ability to accomplish its mission.
“Hello? There’s a whole bunch of public image stuff going on right now,” McGowan said. “There are grounds for some amount of review and disciplinary action, and change in course.”
John McNerney of Monkton, who also serves on that town’s selectboard, said current and former teachers have told him faculty fear discipline if they share concerns with administrators.
“My primary concern now is that there’s an atmosphere of fear and retribution, a fear of even raising a question, let alone a statement that disagrees with the superintendent,” McNerney said. “I’ve never seen a business that devalues its human resources so thoroughly as what is going on.”
He noted the mass exodus of teachers from Monkton Central School in 2013, where about half of the faculty resigned at the close of the school year, citing a variety of reasons. McNerney said while teachers may have not publicly criticized the ANeSU, in private they shared with him stories of being threatened and intimidated by administrators.
Adams, who was present at the meeting, sat silent and expressionless, his hands folded in his lap, as speaker after speaker expressed disappointment in his performance and the board’s perceived failure to address it. He was not available for comment Wednesday.
ADDISON NORTHEAST SUPERVISORY Union Superintendent David Adams, left, at a Tuesday evening meeting at Lincoln Community School listens to residents explain why they support a petition calling for his firing.Independent photo/Zach Despart
But Adams was not without some supporters Tuesday evening. Patrick Hartnett, who is retiring as principal of Robinson Elementary School at the end of this year, praised Adams’ leadership and said he was a mentor.
“I’ve found working for David to be very enjoyable. He’s incredibly supportive and very knowledgeable,” Hartnett said.
Bristol resident Sheri Bannister noted that while the majority of the residents at the meeting supported the petition to remove Adams, they represent only a fraction of the voters in the supervisory union. Bannister said she believes many residents who didn’t attend the meeting support Adams.
“There are certainly a large portion of people who support the board, who support the superintendent and who support the administrators,” Bannister said. “Let’s be sure we hear from them, too.”
One of the last comments about the petition drew the largest applause of the evening. Julie Olson, who for several years worked at Beeman Elementary School in New Haven, said there were more important issues for the community to consider than possible legal consequences for firing Adams.
“Can we go back to thinking about our children?” she said.
The crowd roared in approval.
Zach Despart is at zac[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @zachdespart

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