Reen says listening and building relationships are his strengths

BRISTOL — Middlebury Union Middle School Principal Patrick Reen says he knew he wanted to work in education when just a youngster — that, or become a forester because of his love of hunting, fishing and being outdoors.
Teaching won out.
“I was probably somewhere in the ballpark of 12 years old, and I had a younger niece who was learning to spell,” Reen said. “I helped her on a spelling test and she did really well and it felt so good to help her that I thought, ‘That’s kind of a good feeling; maybe that’s something that I want to be thinking about.’”
Last Friday, Reen advanced as the sole finalist candidate for Addison Northeast Supervisory Union superintendent. This coming Monday, March 14, he will visit all six ANeSU schools, hold a Q&A forum with teachers, parents and other community members at Mount Abe, and go before the ANeSU board for a formal interview. That evening the board will decide whether to offer Reen the superintendent position or go back to the drawing board. (See “MUMS Principal Patrick Reen is finalist for ANeSU superintendent.”)
For Reen, the desire to help others is part of what has motivated him to move from elementary school teacher to principal to — quite possibly — school superintendent.
“It’s about helping kids,” he said. “I got into education because I liked helping people. As a classroom teacher, you can help in a really intensive way a small number of kids. When you step into administration, it’s less direct with students but the number of students that you can impact grows exponentially. So that is what is exciting to me.
“My influence on making things happen took a step up, moving from classroom teacher to assistant principal. It took another step moving from assistant principal to principal. And I see it similarly, moving from principal to superintendent. My close-knit relationship with kids takes a step back, but my influence over the number of kids takes a big step forward, and I can help more people.”
A native of Morrisville, the 37-year-old father of two is no stranger to Addison Northeast. Not only is Reen a Bristol resident with a child in fourth grade and a child in sixth grade at Bristol Elementary School, he taught sixth grade at Bristol Elementary early in his career.
Reen came to BES in 2002, after getting his B.A. in Elementary and Special Education at Castleton State College in 2001 and teaching third grade at Castleton Elementary School for a year, replacing a teacher who was on a one-year leave of absence. Reen taught sixth grade at Bristol Elementary for six years, team teaching part of that time with colleague Andrea Murnane. Each had their own classroom but walked across the hall to teach special subjects, with Murnane covering writing and Reen science and math.
In 2008, Reen became assistant principal at MUMS and then, with the abrupt resignation of MUMS Principal Inga Duktig in March 2012, was appointed acting principal for the remainder of that school year and interim principal for the next. In January 2013, Reen competed against 35 other applicants to win the MUMS principal position, where he’s continued for the past three years.
During his time at MUMS, Reen also acquired a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Vermont.
Reen recognizes that ANeSU has experienced much contention and disruption over the past year and that it boasts many stakeholders who have contributed much to moving the district forward. He says that listening and collaboration are at the heart of his leadership style.
“Education is a people business,” said Reen. “It’s a business where people are the service provider, people are the customer, and people are the product. It doesn’t get any more people-oriented than education. And the only way I know to work with people is to build relationships first.”
Reen continued, “That starts by listening because I think that what most people really want is to know that they’re being heard — genuinely being heard. And I think when decisions maybe don’t go the way folks wish they had gone but they know the process allowed for them to be heard, they can live with the decision, even when it’s not really what they thought was best.
“So if you’ve built that relationship and you’ve made clear what your foundation is — so for me (that’s) what’s best for kids and I don’t mean that just as a cliché, anyone you would speak to here at MUMS would say that that’s really where I’m coming from — then when I make a decision and people know it’s coming from a place where it’s what I think is best for kids and they’ve been listened to and their thoughts have been accounted for, they can live with it” even when they disagree.
Reen stressed that not only is he collaborative by nature, but he thinks that better decisions get made when more voices get heard.
“I know some things, but when I work with others collectively we know a lot more,” Reen said. “And I think when we can really put our heads together and hear differences of opinions, we can make decisions that are best for kids. Sure, there are times when the decision has to be mine because of my positional authority, but more often than not I much prefer, as messy as it is, to engage in that more collaborative decision-making because I think ultimately it produces decisions that are more durable and that are better for kids.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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