Last week, Twin Valley School Board members authorized their hiring committee representatives to negotiate a contract with Tom Fitzgerald, who is currently the principal at Poultney High School. Board members said he was one of six applicants interviewed from a field of 23, and was their top pick.
Whitingham and Wilmington’s middle and high schools were merged in 2005, but since then they’ve occupied different buildings. With the full consolidation of the two towns’ K-12 program, voters authorized the consolidation of buildings with a $13 million construction and renovation program. The plan eliminates the current high school building in Wilmington, and middle and high school classes will be combined at the newly renovated Whitingham facility, which will also include a new art and industrial art building, a new gymnasium, a performing arts, music, and media arts center – and a new administrative wing. Fitzgerald will be the first principal of what is, essentially, a new school.
“It’s a unique opportunity, and that’s one of the reasons he reached out to us,” says Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd. “After a tour of the project he was very impressed with the new facility and what it can offer in the form of programming for a school our size.”
Boyd said Fitzgerald has a lot of middle and high school experience that will be important in helping establish the priorities and new traditions at the new school currently under construction. “He certainly has some very strong educational experience,” Boyd said, “especially at the middle/high school level, and he has some experience with school improvement strategies. He has gone into schools and made a difference in their programs in a short time.”
Fitzgerald previously served as principal at Goshen-Lempster Cooperative School in Lempster, NH, and before that at the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School. Boyd said he was highly recommended by those who had worked with him in the past. “He’s a very personable guy, a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy,’” says Boyd. “Anyone who has ever worked with him had nothing but good to say about him, and in interviews he was the top pick.”
Although Fitzgerald isn’t officially on board until July 1, Boyd says he’s already been involved in the screening process for the assistant principal positions and the staffing plan for next year. Once he’s at the school full time, Fitzgerald will be helping to implement changes that have been initiated by the district’s academic committee.
“The board feels that new leadership is a key component of what we envision for Twin Valley,” Boyd said. “We’re very excited. We’ve been working hard, too hard, on things that we shouldn’t be doing because we’ve had to jump in and do them. So we’re excited to get some strong leadership.”
Boyd also chairs the supervisory union board, which announced this week that they’ve hired Chris Pratt as superintendent. Pratt lives in Brattleboro and is currently the principal at Newbrook Elementary School. Boyd says the board was looking for a long-term hire. Pratt was one of two candidates who made it through the initial screening process and were invited to come in for an interview. “He was looking to advance his career into a superintendent position and this is right in his neighborhood,” he says. “He’ll bring some structure and stability, but he’s a fresh administrator who is very tech-oriented.”
As a local teacher and administrator, Pratt also knows all the players and the field when it comes to education in Vermont. “He already knows and works well with our neighboring supervisory unions and superintendents,” Boyd says. “But we were also looking for someone who knows Vermont education law and Vermont education funding.”
Pratt may face some challenges, coming to the superintendent’s position while the supervisory union’s largest school is under construction and set to open its doors at the beginning of the school year. But Boyd says Pratt, like Fitzgerald, is looking forward to the opportunity to work with “fresh clay.”
“(Pratt) was impressed with what Twin Valley’s doing, and wanted to be part of that,” says Boyd.
Pratt doesn’t officially take the reins at WSSU until July 1, but Boyd says he’s already working with McClements to ensure a smooth transition.