Former education secretary to lead Bristol-area schools
BRISTOL — Former Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca will soon take the reins as interim superintendent at Addison Northeast Supervisory Union. There are still some details to be worked out with the ANeSU board, but Vilaseca plans to begin his duties the week of Nov. 30 and work through the end of the school year.
“Well, it’s still early, I still need to learn a lot more about what’s happening at ANeSU, but I believe that interim positions are there to help districts make it through their year and provide positive supports,” said Vilaseca. “The leadership team has done a heck of a job in the short time that they’ve been doing this without a superintendent.
“If I can provide them another perspective on things, some guidance, some mentoring, some support — that’s really what I’m there for.
“The bottom line, ultimately, is, ‘How do we improve opportunities for kids?’” Vilaseca continued. “The bottom line in whatever we do is improving schools so that kids have a better experience.”
“ANeSU is excited to welcome Armando Vilaseca to our district and are very much looking forward to working with him,” said ANeSU board chair Dawn Griswold of Monkton.
Vilaseca is looking forward to being back where he loves best, walking the halls and making schools better.
The 60-year-old Westford resident’s core belief in the power of education to transform kids’ lives comes from the way education transformed his. Vilaseca came to the United States from Cuba as a young boy of eight.
“Growing up in an immigrant neighborhood — real working class, many of our kids were not going on in education — one of the things that my parents and others instilled in us right away was: Education is the way to reap the benefits of living in this wonderful country,” said Vilaseca. “So to me, helping students, helping schools, helping teachers, supporting boards, anything that I can do to help students have a better experience in school really goes back to my upbringing.
“Fortunately all the folks in our family of immigrants have done well,” he continued, “so to me education is really valuable from that perspective.”
That belief has powered and inspired his entire career, starting from his first job teaching seventh-and eighth-grade social studies, reading and language arts at the middle school in Georgia, Vt. As teaching principal at Reading Elementary School, Vilaseca both ran the small school of 75 students and 10 staff and kept his feet in the classroom, teaching third and fourth grades.
From Reading, Vilaseca served as assistant principal in the elementary and middle schools in Westford. At Essex High School, Vilaseca started as assistant principal and then moved into the principal’s office full-time. He went on to serve as superintendent at the Colchester school district and of the Franklin West Supervisory Union.
Vilaseca served five years as Vermont’s top education policymaker and administrator, beginning as Commissioner of Education in 2009, and then, after the state Education Department was upgraded to an agency, as Vermont’s first Secretary of Education. He left that post in January 2014.
Given this trajectory, Vilaseca’s career in education has spanned the Vermont gamut, from teaching in one of the state’s smallest, rural schools to being principal of its largest high school to overseeing a multidistrict supervisory union.
Vilaseca originally came to Vermont from New Jersey to attend the University of Vermont.
“I came as part of a program that was trying to bring more minority students to UVM,” he said. “I had never even considered coming towards Vermont for school but this outreach to diversify UVM was how I came to hear about and apply to UVM. After graduation I was offered a teaching position in Georgia and decided to stay and work here, never thinking that I would stay and make my life here in Vermont. It was a great move.”
In addition to his UVM bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Vilaseca holds an M. Ed in Educational Administration from Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.
MIDDLE EAST POSTING
Vilaseca recently returned from the Middle East, where he served 14 months as a senior adviser to the Director General of the Education Council in Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. The job was very similar to his posts as Commissioner and Secretary of Education in Vermont. He was joined as senior adviser by former Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker and Kenneth Greer, head of Fife Educational Services in Scotland.
In Abu Dhabi, Vilaseca stayed true to his classroom roots, overseeing professional development for the emirate’s 15,000 educators and providing leadership support for principals and higher-level administrators called “cluster managers.”
“They face a lot of challenges,” said Vilaseca. “It’s an evolving society, trying to retain its cultural and religious values while also moving in becoming a world class educational system.”
One of the reasons Vilaseca was recruited to Abu Dhabi was to bring the strengths of Vermont’s school systems abroad.
For Vilaseca, one of the greatest strengths of Vermont’s education system is its small class size and low student-teacher ratios. Another core strength is “the feeling that you get when you walk into most schools in Vermont, that real warm, caring familial feel that you get in Vermont schools.” As additional strengths, Vilaseca cites the financial support that communities provide for their schools and the safe environment that schools strive to provide for kids.
The greatest challenges in Vermont schools? While Vilaseca fully acknowledges the challenges of Act 46 school district consolidation and the budget limits schools are addressing statewide, for him the greatest challenge in Vermont is lifting students out of poverty and erasing the achievement gap between kids from economically disadvantaged households and their peers.
“That’s our number one challenge,” said Vilaseca.
He acknowledges the good work being done “by having small classes, very highly professional and very caring teachers, a support system that is not only school based but also reaches out to families to provide more support.
“But the challenges of poverty, that’s number one.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].