BRATTLEBORO—Confusion and misinformation reign following a five-hour executive session of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) board on March 1 that ended with no final candidate named for superintendent.
A movement is brewing among constituents who deeply admire the work of Interim Supt. Mark Speno and want the school board to give him the job.
Alternatively, some supporters have wondered if Speno has had his hat in the ring as an applicant and have been upset that, as Chair Kerry Amidon stated after the meeting, “consensus” could not be reached in the process of hiring a new superintendent.
But several people familiar with the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Commons that Speno was actually offered the job and declined due to conditions proposed in the contract.
Amid the confusion, Brattleboro Union High school students are circulating a petition on change.org urging that Speno be hired permanently.
Three students started the petition, which as of March 15 had 739 signatures. It remains unclear if they are asking the school board to offer a contract to a person who actually was offered the position and turned it down.
“Our school board is not doing its job,” reads the preamble to the petition. “After months of searching, they still have not found a superintendent to lead us next year. Our schools can not afford to have instability in our leadership. This is unacceptable.
“We ask that you, the student body, and the community, support us in advocating for Mark Speno to be given a 3-year contract as superintendent. Speno has been a great leader for our school and he is focused on the well-being of the students. We need him to make our school district function.”
Code of ethics cited
Amidon cited a code of ethics that her board adopted as reason why she could not clarify if one candidate remained under consideration or confirm any of the details that are flying around the rumor mill.
“School Board members sign a code of ethics to not disclose executive session information that’s confidential and privileged under the law,” repeated Amidon this week when asked to confirm that Speno had been offered the job and rejected the offer.
A model code of ethics for Vermont School Board members, provided by the Vermont School Boards Association, includes a clause to “maintain confidentiality of information and discussion conducted in executive session and uphold applicable laws with respect to the confidentiality of student and employee information.”
Contract negotiations is one of the state’s recognized exemptions to the Vermont Open Meeting Law, which permits public boards to hire and engage in other personnel management processes out of the public sphere.
And while final votes must take place in public meeting, the Open Meeting Law says nothing about the public interest of a lack of a decision.
Educator gets rave reviews on petition
Speno was named interim superintendent in July 2021 after Andy Skarzynski stepped down from the job overseeing WSESU schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney, and Vernon.
“As we enter the new normal of a post-pandemic school year in the fall, we look forward to Mark’s leadership and innovation,” Amidon said in a news release when Speno was hired as interim in 2021.
“He is known by the educational leadership team as having a student-centered approach and belief in a distributive leadership model,” she said. “Parents have been amazed at the foundation he provides that allows students and families to navigate their educational journeys with success and confidence.”
Speno was recognized in 2020 as a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. He started his career at Green Street School as a teacher in 1999 and taught there through 2008. He served as principal of Vernon Elementary School for five years and as a school administrator in Chesterfield, N.H.
Dozens of folks have written comments in support of Speno on the petition website.
“Mark stepped up to lead the district in a time of crisis and has done an excellent job and is well-liked and supported by teachers and parents,” wrote Jaime Scanlon.
“Across the state of Vermont, there are a large number of districts currently conducting superintendent searches and a dearth of qualified and willing candidates to fill them,” she continued.
“For the Board to deny the position to a qualified, experienced, dedicated candidate like Mark and leave our district without a leader at a time when leadership is desperately needed shows a lack of consideration and respect for the students, educators, and families of WSESU,” Scanlon wrote.
Michael Auerbach wrote this: “Do your job, WSESD Board. Let Speno do his. He has proven that he is more than capable. You, on the other hand. . .”.
“Mark has done a remarkable job navigating the near impossible task of being a superintendent in the era of Covid,” wrote Mary Emery. “What an incredible thing it is to be able to say that our superintendent was born, raised, and educated in the Brattleboro schools he now oversees. Our town should be proud to support such an outstanding local such as Mark.”
The Commons also reached out to Speno, but no reply was forthcoming by press time.