TOWNSHEND — Robert “Bob” Thibault has been named Superintendent of the Windham Central Supervisory Union (WCSU).
Thibault, 51, will replace William Anton, who has been in the post since 2015 and is moving on to other things.
“Well, for the first time in a quarter century, my wife and I get to make some decisions about what we want to do in life,” Anton said about his future. “Our offspring are grown, independent, and out of the house, living in Boston (Colette, 23) and Halifax, Nova Scotia (Miles, 19). So we are going to explore the possibility of moving to a new location and introducing ourselves to a new community as a couple. We don't know exactly where, but most likely in the Northeast or maybe abroad working at an international school.”
The new superintendent, who will start in July, has been principal at Leland & Gray Middle/High School - a WCSU school - since 2016.
The second largest supervisory union in the state, WCSU has five districts, eight school buildings, and 10 member towns.
“I view the superintendent role as a mentor/leader for the principals as well as the boards that govern those districts,” Thibault says. “Each of the eight buildings is unique and they are also spread out geographically, and I have a lot to learn about the seven schools I haven't worked in.'
Thibault was the sole candidate for the job during an internal search.
Asked why he wanted the job, Thibault replied, “After seven years of Bill Anton's leadership, knowing the numerous challenges still ahead, we needed someone who already knew the landscape [and] the communities, and was invested in the success of the supervisory union. I felt I could help.”
“Bob is not a person who will come in and redo everything in places where people are thriving,” said WCSU Board Chair Rich Werner. “He comes to the board with an open mind and is ready to listen. He is an inspiration for all of us in the SU.”
“Bob is an excellent selection to be the next Superintendent for the WCSU,” Anton said. “He is an inclusive leader who values all voices, especially student voices. I have had the pleasure of working side by side with Bob for the last six-plus years, and I can't think of a better person to lead our Windham Central communities. The future is certainly bright for the WCSU.”
Trust and mutual respect
With a master's of education degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont and a bachelor of arts degree in history from the same school, Thibault also attended the Center for Creative Leadership and the Waddington Leadership Institute.
He started his education career as a social studies teacher at Leland & Gray before serving as assistant principal at Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Buckland, Massachusetts and as principal at Springfield (Vt.) High School before returning to Leland & Gray to be its principal for the past seven years.
He was named 2015 Vermont High School Principal of the Year and is a member of the executive council of the Vermont Principals'Association, where he has served as president.
Thibault led L&G in the past several years through the district's process of discerning whether to close some or parts of the schools, a discussion that concluded in the WCSU's decision to continue as a pre-K-through-grade-12 district.
Asked what he feels his strengths were during that time and what challenges he believes the district still faces, Thibault said his main strength is “in general, that I am a relational leader.”
“I work hard to build relationships built on trust and mutual respect,” he said. “Those relationships are essential to move any organization forward. I believe that my role in the potential closure was an advocate for the students whose voices were not represented in those parents who pushed for a voucher system.”
A 'public education warrior'
Asked about his overall educational philosophy, Thibault said he is “a public education warrior.”
“I believe so strongly that a well-financed and high-performing public school system is essential for the preservation of our democracy, as we need an educated populace and a strong middle class,” the soon-to-be superintendent said. “I also see a strong public education as a lever for historically marginalized populations to achieve and maintain real financial equity.”
What challenges does he face as he steps into the superintendency?
“As we are still coming out of the pandemic, we are still struggling to determine what additional supports we will need for our students and our staff,” Thibault said. “Bill adeptly took us through Covid, and I think my challenge will be working with the leadership team of the SU to continue to build for the future.”
“Additionally, there will be a couple of new principals in the SU, and the West River District continues to look at a feasibility study on a one-campus model,” he added. “I also hope to be an advocate for public education through my role as superintendent at the state level.”
A self-described “servant leader” who “works hard to support the people in the positions that report” to him, Thibault said he will “need to shift my thinking from direct support of teachers and support staff to one of the WCSU cabinet and the principals.”
When he's not advocating for kids and teachers Thibault is an avid reader, an amateur woodworker, and a “big basketball fan.”
He lives in Dummerston with his wife, Hannah Parker, who is dean of students at Brattleboro Union High School and who the WSESD board appointed on Nov. 8 as one of the school's two assistant principals for one year.
The couple has seven children ranging in age from 11 to 25. As their dad put it, “two are still at home, two in college, and three living their best adult lives.”
Asked what his guiding star would be, Thibault said, “my only guiding star is doing whatever is in the best interest of the students.”
“If we follow that, we will never stray from our mission,” he said.