ANeSU to bring in a mediator; board hopes to improve climate

BRISTOL — The Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Executive Committee at a special meeting Thursday pledged to address what it characterized as a “deteriorated environment” in the district’s six schools.
“The committee recognizes the need for an immediate assessment of current conditions,” the committee said in a prepared statement.
The executive committee, which is composed of one representative from the boards of each school, said it has retained a professional mediator to, by the end of the current school year, conduct an assessment of the working climate for stakeholders across the supervisory union.
Over a period of several months, the committee hopes to improve the working relationship between faculty and administrators, reform the governance structure under which school boards operate and more clearly define the manner in which administrators are evaluated.
After accepting copies of a citizen petition supporting the firing of the superintendent and a staff survey that gave poor marks to administrators, chair Dawn Griswold said at a crowded ANeSU board meeting March 24 that board members would evaluate the data and formulate a response.
On Thursday evening, Griswold and the ANeSU executive committee delivered on that promise, and outlined a comprehensive plan to improve the educational and professional environment across the district.
The announcement comes after months of vocal criticism by residents and teachers of the leadership of the supervisory union, much of it directed at Superintendent David Adams. Hundreds of residents, many of them irate, showed up to that March 24 ANeSU board meeting to deliver the petition with more than 500 signatures that asked the board to fire Adams.
That same evening, the union that represents the district’s teachers announced it had overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Adams. The union also circulated a school climate survey among staff, the results of which revealed widespread pessimism among those working at the schools.
Residents have taken their frustrations to the ballot box. So far this spring, ANeSU voters have rejected a total of five school budget drafts: two each for Bristol Elementary and Mount Abraham Union High School and one for Monkton Central School. In interviews and exit polls, voters have given a litany of reasons for voting “no,” including dissatisfaction with district administration.
Lincoln resident Mike Fisher, who spoke during visitors’ business at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, said he believed that the budget failures and dissatisfaction with district leadership were linked.
“I don’t believe that half the budgets went down in this district because of spending or because of cuts,” Fisher said. “I think it has to do with the negative feelings.”
Adams was not at the meeting Thursday because of illness, the board said. He was also out sick on Friday, the district said. In the past he has declined to comment on the petition and the faculty no-confidence vote.
Assistant Superintendent Catrina DiNapoli did not immediately return a request for comment about the committee’s plan Friday morning.
The mediator, from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will visit the schools and conduct confidential interviews with administrators, teachers, staff and board members.
Based on the mediator’s report, the executive committee will develop an action plan to address deficiencies and “implement a more collaborative and resilient leadership culture for our schools, students and community.”
The committee also promised to work with the mediator to hold training sessions in September to “establish the new tools, standards and practices necessary for a successful, collaborative leadership model.”
The committee did acknowledge that the current governance structure under which the supervisory union’s boards operate could be improved.
“It is evident to the executive committee that current monitoring methods failed to bring issues of concern to the attention of the boards before reaching a crisis point,” the statement read.
The statement did not criticize Adams, and said that he is making “reasonable progress” toward meeting the supervisory union’s curriculum goals and improving “fiscal discipline.” Nonetheless, the committee said more clearly worded evaluation criteria and collaborative leadership culture would better serve all the stakeholders in the five-town community.
The ANeSU board last year extended Adams’ contract through June 2016. He is paid $123,584 annually.
Lincoln resident and parent Su White, a regular presence at board meetings, said she is pleased by the work of the executive committee.
“It was generally a positive reaction from all of us who were visitors at the meeting,” White said. “What the board collectively communicated was a unified approach to a really hard scenario, that addresses the concerns of the supervisory union employees and the people who signed the petition.”
The executive committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, May 5, at 5:30 p.m. at the high school.

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