Matthew Brankman named principal of Bridport school
BRIDPORT — Matthew Brankman couldn’t help but chuckle at the perfectly reasonable question he was asked during his recent interview for the Bridport Central School principalship:
“Will you be able to handle living in rural Vermont?”
When you currently live in a community of around 1,200 and your resumé includes seven years teaching to tiny groups of children in the Alaskan bush, it’s pretty safe to say Matt Brankman won’t feel isolated in rural Vermont.
Brankman, 43, was one of more than a dozen candidates who applied for the top Bridport Central administrative job, which will soon be vacated by Principal Jennefer Paquette. Paquette is leaving in June to take an administrative post with the Fair Haven Grade School.
“He brings strengths in instructional leadership, project-based learning, math program implementation, and collaborative practices,” Addison Central School District Superintendent Peter Burrows said in a written statement announcing Brankman’s hiring. “His approach to school leadership emphasizes achieving educational goals within a context of empathy, kindness, connection and trust.”
Brankman, during a recent phone interview, said he’s excited to begin his duties at Bridport Central, a school now serving 58 students in grades K-6. The University of Oregon graduate, who currently lives in Westport, N.Y., with his wife, Emma, and young daughters, Sophie and Maggie, has already had a lively career.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1996-2001 and then completed his studies in Oregon in 2003. He immediately proved willing to soar to great heights, and endure super-low temperatures, to kick off his career in education: in Alaska.
Brankman’s home base was a village called Grayling, where he taught math and science at the David Louis Memorial School, which had 60 students in grades K-12. Grayling, with its population of roughly 210 people, is located on the Yukon River, around 350 miles northwest of Anchorage. It’s part of the southern trail of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Things got really interesting for Brankman during his seventh and final year in Alaska, during which he worked as an itinerant principal for four small communities in the Grayling area.
“I had four villages, about 100 people in each village, separated by about 50-60 miles,” he recounted. “I would fly in small bush planes every week. I would go to a few different villages, sleep on the floor in the school. It was awesome.”
Awesome, but tiring. And cold.
“It was 45 degrees below zero on Thanksgiving Day, and my wife asked me to apply for a job elsewhere,” Brankman said.
So in 2011 he successfully applied for a job as principal of Bradford Elementary School, in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont. With a population of 250 students, Bradford Elementary provided Brankman with more responsibilities — not to mention more names and faces to memorize.
He enjoyed his time there, but was ready to take a significant professional detour by 2017 — from education to libation.
“My wife and I both grew up in Westport, N.Y., which is where we’re living now,” he explained. “We decided we were going to move home and open a brewery. I had gone from six years in the Navy, to seven years in Grayling, to six years being a principal, so I was pretty exhausted at that point.”
So Brankman launched the Ledge Hill Brewing Co., which has developed a nice little following in Essex County, N.Y.
In retrospect, he acknowledges the brewery start-up might not have been the best way to de-stress and make decent money.
“What did I do to relax? I opened a small business in a town of 900 people,” he joked.
Still, he has no regrets. Brankman said Ledge Hill is holding its own, even if it’s not yet generating enough revenue to support a family of four.
“It’s exactly what we hoped it would be, and kind of the trajectory we thought: I would open the business up and then we would hire people to do it,” he said. “The plan was to spend a couple of years starting this business, and then for me to get back into education.”
He briefly dipped his toe back into the public education field back in February 2018, when he served four months as an interim principal in South Hero.
“The principal there got sick; she’s doing fine now,” Brankman said. “But I stepped in and filled in.”
The experience whetted his appetite for a more permanent return to a school post.
“It confirmed I missed working in a school,” he said. “I loved that staff and it made me excited to get back into it.”
Brankman saw the right opportunity when the Bridport Central job opened up. It’s a comfortable commute from Westport, and Emma will continue to work as a social worker at the Moriah Central School in Port Henry, N.Y.
“I didn’t know Bridport would open up, but it’s perfect,” he said. “It’s the size school I want to work in, it’s close to our home, so our daughters can be very close to their grandparents.”
Brankman said he’s looking forward to beginning his new assignment.
“I spent a half a day at (the school) and was overwhelmingly impressed with the staff and what they were doing,” he said. “The kids were funny and curious. The kindergartners were trying to find Westport by looking over the lake out their window. We had a great time.”
Brankman described his leadership style as “Collaborative. I really see the job of a principal to be a helper, to help us decide what we’re going to do, to set the vision and then hold each other accountable.”
Educators at small schools are usually very busy, and Bridport Central will be no exception, according to Brankman.
“It has to be a team effort, and in a small school like Bridport where teachers are asked to do more than they can possibly do, everyone has to help each other out,” he said. “I plan on being very involved with the teachers in trying to make it easier for them to do the hard work they have to do.”
Brankman wants to hit the ground running when he officially joins Bridport Central School.
“I’m hoping to get over to the school a few times this spring and talk to Jen (Paquette) and the teachers and make sure we’re ready to go next fall.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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