ACSD left with one superintendent finalist
“(Komons-Montroll) was asked a lot of hard questions by our stakeholder groups (of parents, staff, teachers, students and local officials). That was a very important part of the discussion.”
— ACSD board Chair Barb Wilson
MIDDLEBURY — Addison Central School District officials have been working overtime this week to interview and showcase the two finalists for the ACSD’s superintendency: Suzanne Gruendling, currently the director of policy implementation for the Essex-Westford School District; and Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll, top administrator of the Windham Southwest Union Supervisory Union.
But today they discovered that they are down to one finalist.
Komons-Montroll announced late Wednesday night she had withdrawn her application.
This leaves Gruendling as the lone finalist, who is slated to appear at a community Zoom meeting tonight (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. The ACSD board is scheduled to meet this coming Monday, April 24, to decide whether to offer the district’s top administrative job to Gruendling or suspend the search and select an interim superintendent to lead the ACSD through the 2023-2024 academic year.
“It’s a very important decision that weighs heavily on us,” ACSD board Chair Barb Wilson said Thursday morning.
After the ACSD Superintendent Search Committee spent considerable time this week introducing Gruendling and Komons-Montroll to district parents, students, staff and other stakeholders, residents of the seven-town ACSD are still invited to meet Greundling this evening (Thursday, April 20), through a virtual community forum via Zoom, set for 6:30-8 p.m.
Those wishing to participate in tonight’s community Zoom meeting with Gruendling should use
the Zoom link
The passcode for entrance: ACSD.
ONE FINALIST WITHDRAWS
Komons-Montroll is currently superintendent of the Windham Southwest Union Supervisory Union (WSWSU), which delivers preK-12 public education to children in the Southern Vermont towns of Wilmington, Halifax, Whitingham, Readsboro, Stamford and Searsburg.
The Independent early this morning asked Kommons-Montroll, by email, to elaborate on her decision to withdraw. That email had failed to garner a response as of this writing. ACSD stakeholder interviews earlier this week saw Kommons-Montroll questioned about a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation into how Twin Valley School District (part of the WSWSU) responded to complaints of student-on-student harassment based on race and sex.
The DOJ reported its findings on March 14 in a letter to Komons-Montroll and Kathryn Larsen, acting chair of the Twin Valley School District board.
“The DOJ concluded that the district knew of, and did not respond sufficiently to, individualized harassment and a broader hostile educational environment in Twin Valley Middle-High School. Specifically, the DOJ found that the district did not respond sufficiently to racial harassment that created a hostile environment for Black students. The DOJ also determined that students had experienced serious and persistent harassment based on sex, including based on sexual orientation and sex stereotypes.”
Komons-Montroll provided the Independent with a statement regarding the DOJ investigation that in part read:
“Every superintendent is faced with trials. What we hope is that they seize them as opportunities for optimal growth and the sharpening of their toolkit. In my past few years as a superintendent, I experienced such a trial and related personal and professional growth when student-on-student harassment occurred in one of my schools. It deeply saddened me that one of my students experienced harm and did not feel a sense of belonging in their school.”
Komons-Montroll has since partnered with the DOJ “to put into place the most impactful, research-based means of transforming the school’s culture,” has “implemented ongoing inclusion and cultural competency training for all members of the school community,” and launched “listening sessions and restorative circles for healing, climate surveys to measure our progress.” She has also created a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team.
While Wilson said it wasn’t her place to speculate on Komons-Montroll’s decision for withdrawing from the ACSD candidate pool, she acknowledged the DOJ investigation was raised on more than one occasion during interviews.
“She was asked a lot of hard questions by our stakeholder groups,” said Wilson, referring to district parents, staff, teachers, students and local officials. “That was a very important part of the discussion.”
The ACSD superintendent spotlight now shines squarely on Gruendling, currently the director of policy implementation for the Essex-Westford School District. If selected, she would replace Peter Burrows, who will be leaving in June to helm the Milton, Mass., school system. The ACSD delivers preK-12 public education to students in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.
Next Monday’s ACSD board meeting — which hadn’t been officially set as of this writing — will feature a brief open discussion, after which board members will discuss their next move behind closed doors. The panel will then come out of executive session to reveal its decision, according to Wilson.
She said district residents will have opportunities to weigh in on the search.
“We set this process sup to receive input,” she said. “It’s critical in guiding us to making the right decision.”
MEET THE FINALISTS
The Independent earlier this week spoke with both Gruendling and Komons-Montroll about their credentials, background and what prompted them to apply for the ACSD superintendency.
Here, in alphabetical order, is a mini profile of each candidate based on their resumes, brief bios provided by the ACSD and interviews.
Gruendling earned a bachelor’s degree in Arts & Sciences from the University of Vermont in 1994, followed by a UVM master’s in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. She holds a Graduate Certificate in strategic management from Harvard University and a graduate certificate in Project Management from Georgetown University.
Her work experience includes services as a middle school math/science teacher in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union (2003-2009); an applied math and statistics instructor at Community College of Vermont (2004-present), assistant principal at Camel’s Hump Middle School in Richmond (2009-2014); and principal for the Summit Street Elementary School in Essex (2014-2022).
Her current role as director of policy implementation for the Essex-Westford School District has seen her “develop and implement district-wide approaches to decreasing student truancy, supporting families, and addressing student behavior issues,” according to a district bio.
Gruendling, a Shelburne resident, is no stranger to Addison County. She spent 2002 as a long-term substitute teacher at Starksboro’s Robinson Elementary School, is a 20-year fan of Middlebury College Panther hockey, rarely misses an Addison County Fair & Field Days and enjoyed visiting many Addison County schools as a parent of two former student athletes.
It was the ACSD’s good academic reputation that prompted Gruendling to apply for its superintendency.
“ACSD has had a longtime history of dedication to the community, of having a dedicated staff,” she said. “I felt (the position) was well-matched to my skills and experience working with rural schools and in districts that have a variety of enrollment numbers — from very small to larger ones.”
Gruendling said she’s also appreciated that “The ACSD community has always had great hope and drive for their learners.”
The ACSD’s International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, which emphasizes collaboration and preparing students to be world citizens, was another application inducement.
“It is a research-based, evidence curriculum that focus on results through inquiry, and that’s a big draw,” she said. “Staff dedication to improving the outcomes of students with any high-leverage practices that are in front of them, and developing teacher best practices, is a draw.”
Gruendling described her leadership philosophy as being collaborative and inclusive, one that places a premium on clarity, “and that all teachers, staff and students in the community have what they need to be successful.”
She’s also keen on “efficient resource management, so our resources and investments have the most impact.”
The challenges facing Vermont schools are many, and Gruendling zeroes in on two: Aging facilities and student equity.
She said the ACSD and her own Essex-Westford School District share the common lament of having a long repair list for buildings that have seen years of deferred maintenance. The ACSD last fall received a consultant’s report listing a menu of $110 million in repairs — some urgent, some not.
Gruendling pointed to growing disparities in student performance, some of it due to social-emotional learning issues.
“We’re finding growing gaps in student learning… and we want to make sure they have all the tools and resources they need for the future,” she said.
Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll
Komons-Montroll, a Burlington resident, holds a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Geography and Education from Dartmouth College (1989) and a master’s in Educational Leadership from UVM (2009).
She’s been an educator in Vermont for more than 30 years, including work as an elementary school classroom teacher in Underhill and as an elementary school principal in Worcester and Charlotte. Her work stints include regional director of the Building Bright Futures Early Childhood Council (2009- 2011); principal of Doty Memorial School in Worcester (2011-2015); lead principal of Charlotte Central School (2015-2017); director of communications and public relations for the Champlain Valley School District in Shelburne (2017-2018).
Since 2018, she’s been superintendent of the WSWSU. The district has six school boards and an annual budget of around $23 million.
Komons-Montroll has served as regional president of the Vermont Superintendents Association.
During an email exchange with the Independent, Komons-Montroll pointed to a variety of reasons for applying for the ACSD job.
“First of all, it is because of what ACSD values and believes,” she said. “I am particularly drawn to ACSD’s mission to inspire a passion for learning and cultivate empathy and responsibility among students. In addition, my entire educational career has been motivated by a goal common to the ACSD board’s founding vision: help all students meet their full potential.”
The ACSD’s IB curriculum was also a draw for Komons-Montroll.
“Throughout my career, I have been dedicated to similar tenets to those held by IB schools, and have worked to foster rigor, relevance, reflection, and student agency through learning practices that involve inquiry, interdisciplinary projects, student voice and choice, performance tasks, and authentic assessment,” she said. “So, having the IB curriculum framework, which offers a PK-12 aligned curriculum inclusive of the best practices in teaching that I value, further excites me about ACSD. I believe in the potential of IB to help every student learn and leave their schools with the skills needed to contribute to a rapidly changing global society.”
The Independent asked Komons-Montroll to describe her leadership philosophy.
She replied that it’s “rooted in supporting the academic success and social-emotional growth of all students through equitable learning opportunities. One way I do this is by supporting the well-being and professional growth of all of the adults I serve. Another way I do this is to keep students at the center of decisions and listen closely to student voice so that we can be the adults that they need us to be.”
Komons-Montroll added that “building bridges of understanding across stakeholders in order to meet our common goals,” is another one of her leadership strategies, along with creating a shared vision of “where we are going and empowering people throughout the system to feel collective ownership in moving a district forward.”
Asked what she believes are some of the most serious challenges facing Vermont schools, Komons-Montroll listed such things as staff shortages; the impending loss of pandemic-relief funding; safety upgrades at schools that must be made in response to real and fake threats of violence; recent state laws requiring testing for — and remediation of — lead in water, radon, and PCBs (each with varying state funding and effort to comply); and deferred maintenance of school buildings.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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