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Two school leaders are preparing to step down

SUPERINTENDENTS PATRICK REEN, left, and Peter Burrows are both seeking new jobs.

MIDDLEBURY — Two of Addison County’s three union school districts could find themselves searching for new superintendents early next year.

Addison Central School District Superintendent Peter Burrows this month sent an email to ACSD staff informing them that he’s now looking for a new job “in urban settings outside Vermont.” This comes after almost a decade as top administrator for the ACSD, which delivers PreK-12 public education to children in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.

“I realize this represents a significant change, and I am carefully analyzing all facets of this potential transition,” he told staff in the email.

“I am still very much committed to our work, our vision and our community,” he concluded in the brief message, which also thanked ACSD workers for their ongoing efforts to educate children amid COVID.

Meanwhile, Mount Abraham Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Reen has told his board of directors he’s applied for the superintendent vacancy at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.

Reen told the Independent the following, by email, at press time:

“I did inform the MAUSD board in executive session and sent an email a little more than a month ago to MAUSD employees, copying the MAUSD board, informing them that I had applied for the superintendent/director position at the PAHCC,” Reen said.

He added he doesn’t know much yet about the status of his application, except that he’s “advancing through the process.”

“It was important to me that folks heard about this from me and not through the grapevine,” Reen said.

The career center board is looking for a permanent successor to former Superintendent Dana Peterson, who retired this past June. Tim Williams is serving a one-year stint as interim leader at the center, which provides career and technical education to students in the Addison Central, Addison Northwest and Mount Abraham school districts.

Burrows, reached by phone on Tuesday, confirmed his own search, adding he’s been named a finalist for the Milton (Massachusetts) Public Schools superintendency. The Patriot Ledger newspaper reported on Nov. 9 that the Milton School Committee is “conducting an expedited search” for a new school superintendent in hopes of making a selection next month. The newspaper further indicated former Milton Public Schools Superintendent James Jette resigned on Nov. 4, “after having been on paid administrative leave since July following his arrest on a domestic violence charge, which was later dropped.”

This isn’t the first time that Burrows, 52, has considered other job opportunities. In February 2020, he emerged as one of three finalists to lead the Burlington (Vt.) School District. Burrows ultimately withdrew his name from consideration, however, because he said he didn’t feel comfortable leaving the ACSD without an experienced leader at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s continued to helm the ACSD during the pandemic, but he again feels the pull to a new challenge.

“This is an amazing community,” he said. “I love working with staff, with the community and students here, but was feeling professionally it was time for something bigger, more diverse and more urban.” 

Burrows said he’s focusing his job search in the Northeast, given he has family ties to Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Burrows took the administrative reins of the ACSD on July 1, 2013. He’d previously worked nine years at Willamette (Oregon) High School, first as a teacher (beginning in 2004), then as an assistant principal before becoming principal in 2010.

His resumé also includes stints as a language arts teacher at Sisters High School and Middle School (2003-2004) in Oregon, and as a teacher and designer of English and other courses at universities in South Korea, Mexico, Japan and India.

It’s been an eventful nine-plus years for Burrows and the ACSD. Among other things, the district has:

  Consolidated its school governance through Vermont’s Act 46. The resulting Addison Central School District was one of the first Vermont public education systems to make the transition to a single school board presiding over a global budget for all member schools.

  Transitioned to an International Baccalaureate curriculum that emphasizes experiential learning and transforming students into world citizens. The ACSD added grade 6 to its Middlebury Union Middle School population as part of the IB transition.

  Adopted a strategic plan outlining the district’s educational priorities.

  Worked on a facilities master plan to help the ACSD prioritize investments in its aging school buildings. That plan is expected to inform a district debate on which schools will fit in the ACSD’s long-term plans and which could be candidates for closure or consolidation.

ACSD officials are in the early stages of planning a major capital project aimed at bringing all nine of the district’ school buildings up to code.

Burrows has also seen two of the ACSD’s member communities launch bids to withdraw from the district. Weybridge residents voted against an independence bid in January of 2021. Ripton residents overwhelmingly embraced withdrawal before electing to rejoin the district this past September when it became apparent the town wouldn’t be ready to operate its own school system beginning next summer. 

DECADE-LONG RUN

While some might view Burrows’s time with the ACSD as being relatively short, 9-10 years is a long run these days for a school district superintendent.

The average tenure for a superintendent is five to six years, and the annual turnover rate for superintendents is between 14-16%, according to the national School Superintendents Association.

Longevity among top administrators has only gotten shorter during the pandemic, officials acknowledged. School systems have had to take on more responsibilities — particularly in the areas of health and human services — during COVID-19. And they’re having to do it amid a major shortage of teachers and support staff.

“I think if you talk to any superintendent in the country, the last three years have been pretty challenging on staff, communities and everyone,” Burrows said. “If you look around the country, there are probably a record number of superintendent openings. The work has been hard — not just for the superintendent, but all of us.”

Asked about his current status, Burrows said, “If and when I get an offer, I’ll then determine whether it’s the right fit, or if staying makes sense.”

If Burrows is offered (and accepts) the Milton job, he’ll be presiding over an education system that serves approximately 4,400 students in four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. In addition, the Milton district offers a developmental preschool, before- and afterschool programs, and summer school programs. All six of the district’s buildings have been rebuilt or updated to state-of-the-art facilities, according to miltonps.org.

Milton, population 28,382, is in eastern Massachusetts, about 10 miles south of Boston.

Victoria Jette, chair of the ACSD board, provided the Independent the following statement about Burrows’ potential departure:

“Although I am saddened to learn that Peter Burrows is pursuing other opportunities, I understand his desire to seek new challenges … We have been incredibly lucky to have Peter at the helm of this district for as long as we have. If he is to move on in his career, one of the legacies he leaves behind is a fantastic group of administrators who I have no doubt will continue to lead our schools in the same thoughtful way they have under Peter’s direction. Because of them, we are in a good position to weather this transition period well and attract excellent candidates. If the perfect opportunity does not present itself for Peter, I look forward to him continuing to lead ACSD.”

The Independent sought to get teachers’ perspective on Burrows’ potential departure. Efforts to reach Larry O’Connor, a veteran special educator at Middlebury Union High School and an officer with the Addison Central Educators’ Association, were unsuccessful before deadline.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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