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Tension rises at Mt. Abe as Asst. Principal Bouvier mulls quitting

BRISTOL — For nine days in October it looked like Mount Abraham Union High School would lose one of its most beloved figures.
In an Oct. 17 letter to school and district officials, assistant principal Justin Bouvier announced his resignation, effective no later than Jan. 18, 2019.
“I want you to know that my time with Mt. Abraham UM/HS has been, on the whole, satisfying and productive since 2001, in fact I would say some of the greatest years of my life,” Bouvier wrote. “However, for a while now I have become less and less satisfied with my work situation.”
The letter did not specify the nature or duration of his dissatisfaction, and Bouvier (pictured, right) declined to comment when contacted by the Independent. School district policies designed to protect the privacy of employees prohibit public discussion of personnel matters. MAUSD board chair Dawn Griswold, district superintendent Patrick Reen and Mt. Abe principal Jessica Barewicz also declined to comment directly on the matter.
Bouvier’s was the third letter of resignation submitted by a Mt. Abe assistant principal in two years. David Ford at the middle school and Ellen Repstad at the high school both announced in late 2016 that they were quitting. Ford cited personal reasons. Repstad told Reen and Barewicz that “the current administration has been unsupportive” and that she felt “it is in my best interest to move on.”
The latest resignation — but since withdrawn — shocked many in the 5-Town community, especially those familiar with Bouvier’s deep connection to the school. After graduating from Mt. Abe in 1999, Bouvier returned to work as a paraeducator. In 2011, he began teaching math in the high school. Three years later he was hired as the school’s administrative liaison, then as dean of students. He took over as assistant principal March 2017, after serving as interim for four months. A talented thespian, Bouvier also directs the Mt. Abe spring musical every year.
“When I heard that Justin had resigned his position at Mt. Abe and did not have another job he was going to, it immediately raised red flags,” said Danielle Hill, the parent of a Mt. Abe student.
According to Hill, a few parents met with Bouvier the week after he resigned and asked him if he’d be willing to reconsider — if they were able to “generate enough support from teachers, students and community members to help facilitate whatever changes needed to be made.” He said he would.
To gather community voices in one place, Hill created an online petition, which more than 300 people signed.
“Justin is an integral positive part of the Bristol community,” wrote Judy Mayer on the petition. “If he is resigning, something is very wrong.”
Another petition supporter, Bristol Teen Center director Brian LeClair, described Bouvier’s fierce advocacy on behalf of youth, both inside and outside of school.
“At a time when class sizes are growing and staffing is shrinking in schools across the state, and when statewide data reports more sadness and despondence among youth than ever before, support and advocacy must be given for educators who give their all to prevent students from falling through the cracks of this delicate system,” LeClair wrote.
When MAUSD convened its regular board meeting on Oct. 30, more than 40 people showed up, many of them to express frustration.
“I would encourage the board to postpone its acceptance of Justin Bouvier’s resignation until a review is done of administrative practices at Mt. Abe,” said longtime teacher Tom Learmonth, who is also co-president of the Addison Northeast Education Association. “I believe there are issues that could benefit from further review.”
A Mt. Abe student who could not attend the meeting, Emily Tardie, wrote a letter to be read aloud by her mother, Darcy Tardie.
“The internal problems that currently exist, that even students have begun to see, will only worsen if Justin Bouvier leaves the administration,” the 12th-grader wrote. “There is no way a man who has worked his whole life to be exactly where he is right now would truly want to leave unless there were major fundamental issues with our school’s administrative system.”
High school counselor Alan Kamman pointed to the “astonishing turnover” of administrators in the district, 16 of whom had departed over the last six years, according to his count.
Later in the meeting, however, board chair Dawn Griswold revealed that Bouvier had indeed written to rescind his resignation — four days prior.
The MAUSD board “definitely stands behind concerns expressed about problems that arise in the district,” Griswold later told the Independent. Deciding how to solve specific problems, however, would be up to the superintendent, Patrick Reen.
“We are making changes to increase equity across our schools,” Reen said. Budget targets, declining enrollment and district unification can “create challenging circumstances which frustrate some employees.” Still, he added, “I am optimistic that we are moving toward a place of improving outcomes for our students.”
At Mt. Abe, principal Jessica Barewicz was all ears.
“I welcome individuals who have feedback (positive and constructive) on how we can improve as a school to call or meet with me,” she said. “I’m open to all ideas and perspectives. This winter I plan to hold community roundtable discussions to give more open and routine avenues for dialogue.”
Hill viewed Bouvier’s rescission letter as a victory.
“At the school board meeting we learned that Justin felt he had enough support from the students, staff, faculty and community that he rescinded his resignation and will remain assistant principal at Mt. Abe,” she posted to her petition page. “The school board has been asked to help facilitate the needed changes to create solutions to the problem that led us to this point (in the first place).”
But this isn’t over, she told the Independent separately, “not by a long shot. This is simply the first step in the process of facilitating positive change at Mt. Abe. This was one battle, not the whole war.”
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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