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Sheila Soule brings classroom experience to ANWSD

VERGENNES — The new Addison Northwest School District superintendent traces her interest in education leadership to her first job in the field: teaching in multi-age classrooms for five years in Fayston Elementary School. 
Sheila Soule, now 53, was then fresh out of Johnson State College with a Bachelor of Education degree. Soule said the collective approach to getting things done at Fayston Elementary made an important impression. 
“I was inspired and encouraged by my colleagues at that teeny, tiny little school to assume a leadership role, because everyone at the school really was a leader,” Soule said. 
In 1997 Soule left for a larger elementary school in Waterbury, the Thatcher Brook Primary School, where she taught for two years, also serving the second year as a teacher-leader. She said there she discovered that not all schools embraced the same shared approach to decision-making that she had come to believe was best for schools — and their students. 
“I saw that not all schools operated in that same way, and that really motivated me to want to get into leadership, because I’m highly collaborative and really felt that shared collaborative leadership is the difference-maker in helping schools really become high-performing,” Soule said. “That’s really always been my platform, that and educational equity for all learners.”
Soule, who for the past eight years has served as Harwood Unified Union School District’s curriculum director, left Thatcher Brook to work for Vermont Institutes as a mathematics instruction consultant. During that four-year stint she also obtained her Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of Vermont.
TIES TO DISTRICT
After eight years in the Harwood district, a superintendency was the next logical step, and Soule (it’s pronounced “sole”) said she found the ANWSD opening especially attractive. 
“I had a couple of connections to the community already,” said Soule, who will start at ANWSD on July 1 at a salary to be made final this week. “I already knew some of the staff members, and they’re fantastic.”
Among the faculty members she knows are the three Vergennes Union High School Rowland Fellows, whom she has met at curriculum conferences, and other teachers who have taken a course from her in her capacity as a Southern New Hampshire University adjunct professor. And one of her best friends from childhood is Ferrisburgh resident Carolyn Tatlock.
Soule has also worked on proficiency-based education in the Harwood district, and is familiar with the pioneering work done at VUHS on Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements.
“I knew Vergennes by reputation. They were leaders early on in the proficiency work. The staff from Harwood went over to visit them. I had familiarity with some of the work and the culture there,” Soule said.
According to ANWSD Board Chairwoman Sue Rakowski, Soule’s collaborative approach, background in curriculum and proficiency-based education, and commitment to educational equity were among the factors that made her stand out among the three finalists that the search committee put forward early last week. 
“Sheila’s background in curriculum development, proficiency-based learning, community engagement, and strategic planning align closely with current goals and initiatives of our district. Her confidence and expertise in these areas will be invaluable as our communities work together to shape the future of ANWSD,” Rakowski wrote in an email.
In an earlier email to ANWSD staff, Rakowski wrote, “We appreciate Sheila’s commitment to maintaining the best possible learning environment and promoting student achievement and equity. She articulated support for a model of shared and collaborative leadership, community engagement, and promotion of our communities’ values and strengths.”
GOALS
When Soule arrives on July 1 — replacing JoAn Canning, who is moving on to a job in Kuwait — she hopes to get off to a quick start. 
 “My short-term goals are to begin building relationships with folks. I’m eager to begin establishing all of those relationships and hit the ground running … and focus on student outcome and student achievement,” Soule said. “But I know we also have to deal with the fiscal realities of declining enrollment, so I think those three things I would identify as the top priorities, focusing on relationships, focusing on academic excellence, and working with the board and the communities to figure out how we’re going to get through these challenging fiscal times.”
Asked for what else residents should know about her, Soule said she grew up the youngest of six siblings in Randolph, where her parents, both Vermont natives, settled when her father retired from the Air Force; she is a mother of three, two recent college graduates and one recent high school graduate; when she has free time she enjoys hiking, kayaking and quilting; and that she is trying to train her young Australian shepherd mix to be a therapy or agility dog.
As for how she got into education in the first place, Soule told the story of an immigrant family she met in her youth. 
“I got to know a family that had moved here from Germany. I would see them from time to time. And in a short amount of time the kids picked up the English language so quickly. And the parents always struggled still because it wasn’t their native language. And it absolutely fascinated me watching kids learn, and I loved kids. So it was just a curiosity about how kids learn, and a desire to be able to work with kids in that way and see that on a day to day basis in a classroom.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com

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