Caitlin Steele is named principal at MUHS
MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District conducted national searches for new principals for both Ripton Elementary and Middlebury Union High schools, but has now filled both jobs with homegrown talent.
The ACSD board on Monday appointed Bridport School teacher Megan Cheresnick to helm Ripton Elementary beginning this summer (see related story) and agreed to remove the interim tag from the title of MUHS Interim Principal Caitlin Steele.
Both votes were unanimous and provide more leadership stability and clarity to school district that’s been searching for three top leaders while contending with an ambitious agenda that includes designing a new, equity-informed strategic plan that will prioritize the success of each student, and planning for major repairs to some or all of the district’s nine school buildings.
It’s a to-do list that also includes finding a new superintendent to replace Peter Burrows, who’ll be leaving this June to shepherd the Milton, Mass., school system. A search committee set Tuesday, March 28, as the cutoff date to receive applications for that job. ACSD delivers preK-12 public education to students in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.
While there’s a lot still to accomplish, ACSD board members on Monday were pleased to have filled two key roles.
Steele has been with the ACSD since 2016, when she was hired as director of teaching & learning. She was promoted to assistant superintendent of teaching & learning in July of 2021, a role that has seen her, among other things, lead district efforts in curriculum, assessment, instruction and professional learning during ACSD’s transition to an International Baccalaureate curriculum.
“She was up against a strong field,” Superintendent Burrows said if Steele. “She brings an incredible amount of experience, intellect, passion and commitment. She’s great to work with. I think MUHS is really, really lucky to have her and she’s going to do wonderful things. She’s a great listener, is funny and laughs a lot.
“We’re so happy for us and for you,” he told a beaming Steele at Monday’s meeting.
During a phone interview on Tuesday, Steele said she was experiencing a variety of emotions:
“I feel relieved, I feel excited and I feel grateful. I’m so excited about the job. It’s such a relief to be staying in ACSD and being re-energized around the work.”
Steele was one of three finalists for the job. The others were Colden Golann, principal of the Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston, Maine; and Tom Drake, principal of Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vt.
Drake has led Crosset Brook since 2009. He served a one-year stint as principal of the Warren (Vt.) School in 2019-2020. His résumé lists previous principalships at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, N.C., and at the American Community School in Cobham, England.
Drake announced earlier this year he would leave Crossett Brook, and MUHS was one of several schools where he had applied to continue his career. But a March 25 report in the Waterbury Roundabout indicates Drake now wants to stay put at Crossett Brook; he’s applied for a co-principal post there.
Golann has led the Oceanside Middle School since July 2021. His previous experience included three years as assistant principal of Belfast (Maine) Area High School and as a teacher/athletic director at Islesboro (Maine) Central School.
Steele, Drake and Golann were introduced to the MUHS community last Thursday during a Zoom session.
Caitlin Steele had other career plans before warming to MUHS during her interim stint.
“I wasn’t aspiring to be a principal,” she stated candidly in a letter to the MUHS principal hiring committee. “When Peter (Burrows) announced that he’d accepted the job in Milton, I was transparent with many people that I intended to apply for the superintendent role in ACSD. It was a logical next step on my career path in education.”
But she took a detour after having been pressed into service when former Campbell resigned suddenly while giving few reasons back in late February. Campbell — who by most accounts had developed good working relationships with students and faculty since coming on board in June 2020 — announced his departure in two short paragraphs.
While Steele acknowledged her transition from assistant superintendent to principal is somewhat of a lateral career move, she has no doubt that leading MUHS was her best move.
“I’m really motivated by the work and the human connection, and I feel the place where I can make the most significant impact — and be the most positively affected by the work — is here at the school level, working directly with students and teachers,” she said. “It feels exciting, and I like to be excited about my work.”
The school now seems poised write a new chapter, this time with Steele, who has become enamored with the MUHS community during a short timeframe. Burrows recalled seeing Steele at the entrance to MUHS for the first time in her then-new role as interim principal.
“She was just a light — so happy,” he said. “Knowing her really well, I knew that something really magical was happening. In the time she spent there leading up to this hiring, I think she did a lot of thinking and realized this is where she wanted to be.”
It was an accurate observation, according to Steele.
“I am an educator at heart,” she said. “I am excited to see what I would need to learn next to serve the MUHS community well. I believe the answers to many of our current challenges are already living quietly in our system, so I’m listening to my MUHS colleagues now to learn from them.”
Steele stressed her commitment to doing a lot more than just listening.
“I’m also a doer,” she said. “I work hard, and I aim to support and empower those I work with to do their best work too. All of us doing our best is what it’s going to take to learn our way into an education system that serves all of our students well in this post-pandemic world, and I think MUHS is especially well-positioned to lead the way in Vermont.”
Steele’s transition leaves the ACSD in the market for a new director of teaching & learning. She promised to help the district carry out the tasks of that job until it’s filled.
Those who backed Steele for the MUHS post noted she has a diverse background in education. While she’s served the district primarily as an administrator, she can call upon previous experience as a classroom educator. Steele spent the first six years (2000-2006) of her professional life teaching English at Brighton Heritage Academy in Brighton, Colo.
She transitioned to a five-year (2006-2011) tenure teaching English at Otter Valley Union High School.
Her past employers have also included the Community College of Vermont and the University of Vermont.
ACSD board members James “Chip” Malcolm and Lindsey Hescock were among those who applauded Steele’s appointment on Monday.
“I think Caitlin obviously brings continuity, which, with having a new superintendent starting in July, is really important,” Malcolm said, adding news of Steele’s selection “made my day.”
“I feel we have chosen the best person for the job, and I am so thrilled we finally have a female leader of our school,” said Hescock, member of district’s hiring committee.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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