Speno hired as WSESU supt. — for one year
WSESU Supt. Mark Speno

Speno hired as WSESU supt. — for one year

The hiring process for the previous interim superintendent, who will continue to oversee 10 schools, ‘needed to be thoughtful and thorough,’ school board chair says; he must participate in training for new superintendents

BRATTLEBORO — After nine months as interim superintendent of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU), Mark Speno has been named Superintendent for the 2022-23 school year.

On June 1, the WSESU Board of Directors announced Speno's appointment for the coming school year.

“The Board is looking forward to collaborating with Mr. Speno, expanding on his excellent work supporting students and staff and extending it into effective implementation of policies and continuous improvement,” said the brief press release.

Following a short executive session on Wednesday, June 1, the board voted to authorize Chair Michelle Luetjen Green to “sign a contract for the continued employment of an administrator.” The exact position was not noted.

The lone dissenting vote came from Director Kerry Amidon, who said after the meeting that she “voted against the contract, as it was only for a single year.”

“I believe the needs of our two districts are better served when our superintendent has the tenure to enact long-range plans,” Amidon said. “I continue to fully support Supt. Speno in his work to serve the needs of all our students.”

As superintendent, Speno oversees 10 schools in the Windham Southeast and Vernon school districts.

“I'm really looking forward to just moving forward in as positive a way as we can,” he said this week.

What took so long?

A petition created by three Brattleboro Union High School students in support of Speno's hiring currently has more than 860 signatures at change.org/p/wsesu-school-board-support-speno-for-long-term-superintendent. Principals from every school in the Supervisory Union also signed a statement supporting Speno's being named Superintendent.

Asked why Speno wasn't hired sooner, despite an outpouring of support from teachers, parents, and students, Green said the fact that the former school board was unable to reach a decision before the annual election and a newly seated board met was the primary factor.

“When the newly seated board came together, it was decided to exhaust the efforts of the previous board and the superintendent search process they oversaw,” she said. “This did take several weeks to communicate and navigate.”

“A final meeting to review a draft contract offer did bring up some negotiations that required additional support and legal counsel,” Green said.

“The majority of this work was being done outside our regularly scheduled meeting times, and this simply was not work that could be rushed,” she continued. “The board needed to be thoughtful and thorough and feel confident moving forward and seeing through a process that several board members were not part of.”

Why one year?

Green also said that the one-year contract - versus a longer-term deal - was “consistent with where Mark is on his career path as a successful principal being promoted to superintendent of a large supervisory union.”

“He will receive appropriate professional support, typical for a first year superintendent, that he did not participate in as an interim superintendent,” she said, citing support services from the Vermont Superintendents Association (VSA).

In particular, Green pointed out opportunities designed for new superintendents, such as the VSA Superintendent Leadership Academy, which addresses such topics as effective leadership and governance, the Vermont funding system and fiscal management, human resources and labor relations, instructional leadership, communications, policy and legislation, crisis management, district operations.

“The board anticipates collaboration with the VSA and superintendent's office and will enthusiastically support any professional development needed or indicated that better allows Mark to succeed in his role as Superintendent of the WSESU,” Green said.

Asked if he would like the job for a longer term, Speno said, “yes, of course,” adding that the “formal training for new superintendents,” as he is, is consistent with his expectations.

He also said the support he has received mattered to him. “Of course it did,” Speno said.

“[But] my focus is really on tomorrow and planning for the future,” he told The Commons.

Speno was recognized in 2020 as a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. He taught from 1999 to 2008 and served as principal of Green Street School for eight years, Vernon Elementary School for five years, and as an administrator of the Chesterfield Elementary School in New Hampshire.

“I love the school district,” he said. “I've been dedicated to it. This is my 24th year. I've been the principal of two schools, and then this opportunity that arose last summer to serve as interim superintendent.”

Speno underscored the importance of identifying “the commitment to work collectively with all three school boards moving forward and keep the needs of our children in the forefront.”

“I'm excited to work with the boards and all of our teachers and staff,” he said.

“Mark has been a dedicated educator and leader in the WSESU,” said Green. “His student-centered approach is evident in his successes at Green Street School and is the heart of everything that matters.”

“I'm looking forward to witnessing Mark's approach to systematic improvements throughout the SU, including collaboration with the board and our development, so that we might all be as effective and successful as possible in our respective roles,” she said.

The challenges - this year, and moving forward

Speno said the main challenge of his year as interim superintendent was navigating the pandemic - not only the immediate changes in learning that it brought, but also the lingering effects that now require finding new ways of accomplishing educational goals.

“The major challenges are a continuation of recovery from Covid and all that's brought to our school system,” he said.

“Having kids participate in remote school for more than a year, then balancing in-person with remote, then strictly in-person this year, and attendance issues and supporting children while they've been away - it's been a bear,” Speno said.

“I'm really proud of the work we've done getting through all those challenges and the way we have made a commitment to collaboration and I believe that's what it's going to take moving forward,” he added.

“It's an overwhelming feeling at times, but I'm the kind of leader who has always relied on distributive leadership and giving folks opportunities to lead themselves,” Speno continued. “That's one of the major things I've enjoyed this year.”

“We've tried our very best not to get stuck in the fog of Covid and worked collectively as a team to develop systems and structures to support our children and use our many resources as best as possible to meet our children's needs, not only academically but socially, emotionally, and behaviorally,” he added.

Speno, whose contract would have expired June 30, is also keenly aware of the questions and qualms of parents and students about next year's leadership team at Brattleboro Union High School.

There, Principal Steve Perrin has been on unexplained administrative leave since spring break, and Assistant Principal Chris Day will soon be taking a two-year leave to go on active duty with the Vermont National Guard.

“We need to solidify supports and share as much as we can with the community before the summer break,” Speno said. “We need to be able to provide clarity before the break about what is in place to start the school year.”

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