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School Notes: Randolph Area Superintendent Is State’s Best

Brent Kay Plans to Stay Put After 12 Years in the Same District

Brent Kay has been named the Vermont Superintendent of the Year by his peers. (Randolph Herald photograph)

Brent Kay has been named the Vermont Superintendent of the Year by his peers. (Randolph Herald photograph)

Randolph — Watching a long parade, if not an outright stampede, of school-district superintendents in recent years to new jobs, retirement and whatever else passes for greener pastures, Brent Kay doesn’t see himself following them out the door after 12 years overseeing the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU).

“I’ve been offered many higher-paying jobs, and I’ve said no to many offers,” the 48-year-old Kay said last week, not long after his Vermont peers named him superintendent of the year for 2014. “Here, we’re focused on what matters. That speaks more volumes than money.”

Money does talk in one sense in Orange Southwest: During his time overseeing the schools of Randolph, Brookfield and Braintree, including Randolph Union High School and Randolph Career Technical Center, as well as the district’s special education programs, Kay said, the district has saved millions by running single systems of transportation, maintenance and food-service costs, instead of each school handling its own.

“Our boards have come to know the value of working together,” Kay said. “You have to be patient. I’m blessed to be working with amazing people — in the classroom, on our boards, throughout the system. It took a long time to build what we have here.”

Time is what many school systems don’t have: The Vermont Superintendents Association recently reported that 20 of the state’s 59 superintendent jobs will turn over come July, and districts with vacancies are seeing fewer candidates apply for the positions.

“The average tenure, here and nationally, is about three years,” said Kay, a former president of the VSA. “And it’s not uncommon for a district to turn over every position — a whole school board as well as a superintendent — in a single year. As a student of organization and leadership, I recognize the need for stable leadership. Practically speaking, you need seven or eight or nine years to really get a handle on things. It’s almost impossible to realize significant change and improvement in a system without that kind of time.”

Kay said that superintendent positions — as well as those of business managers and principals — will continue to see high turnover unless they have opportunities to learn the ropes with veteran administrators, as he did while working in a 6,000-square-mile, 1,900-student school district deep in the bush of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

“If you’re not trained well, as I was, your chances of success in the long term are very small,” Kay said. “For many people in these administrative positions, they sort of get thrown to the wolves.”

Laura Soares, a former OSSU chairwoman who served during Kay’s first 12 years, praised him at the superintendent’s award ceremony for “developing efficient systems to support and sustain learning opportunities for students (and) … deep connections in our communities.

“Brent inspires and assists every person, from community member (and) board member (to) administrator, teacher, staff and student, to be their very best.”

Kay said that while he appreciates the recognition of his peers, he has benefited from working with administrators who have earned similar recognition. Over the years, Steve Kenney has been named special education director of the year, Bill Sugarman has been named technical center director of the year and Dave Barnett of Randolph Union High School has been named principal of the year.

“We’ve also had boards that don’t micromanage, but they hold everybody accountable,” Kay said. “We’re focused on what matters.”

STEM Honors

Despite less than a week’s warning, neither Jonathan Butler of Meriden nor Philip Kessler of Newport was going to say no to the invitation to the White House Science Fair. So last Wednesday, Kimball Union Academy teacher Tom Pasquini escorted these two juniors in his Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) team to Washington.

“It was a real eye-opener,” Pasquini, director of KUA’s STEM team, said of the fair. “An opportunity like this, you see what happens when kids are given the time and the resources.”

Butler and Kessler are leaders of the Real World Design Challenge team, made up of a core group of about 25 students, that won the second of its three consecutive New Hampshire titles in 2013 and went on to place third at the national championships in Washington. By winning their third state championship in a row this year, the team will return to nationals in November.

Pasquini said that while Kessler is strong in programming, Butler’s interest is in airplane design. “He wants to join the Air Force,” Pasquini said. “He’s a pilot and is in the Civil Air Patrol. That kind of experience was really big” in earning Butler an invitation to the fair.

President Obama addressed the nationwide gathering of invited students, who mixed with their peers and with professional scientists, high-level government officials in science and with representatives from the private sector.

For primary- and secondary-school teachers aiming to beef up their students’ interest in STEM subjects, Plymouth State University is offering two workshops later this month — the first for grades 7-12 on June 24, the second for grades 1-7 on June 25 — in collaboration with the American Institute of Aeronautics. During the first day’s workshop, running 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., AIAA’s Educator Academy will challenge junior high and high school teachers to build electric airplanes of no more than three feet in length, width and height that can carry the most cargo while flying on a tether around a power pole that supplies electricity and mechanical support. The goal is to equip teachers to show students how engineers combine science, math and experimentation to build cargo planes.

On day two, the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. workshop for teachers in grades 1 to 7 will make models of the Mars Rover module, with the aim of showing their students how to create such modules in the classroom while learning how to apply lessons from the classroom in the real world.

Tuition for each workshop is free for up 40 teachers at the various levels, including materials and lunch. A $25 fee per teacher covers a certificate and Continuing Education units. To sign up for the cargo-plane workshop, visit event.unh.edu/RegistrationForm.pm?event_id=16662. To register for the Mars Rover workshop, visit event.unh.edu/RegistrationForm.pm?event_id=16661. For more information, call Linda Hammond at 603-535-2868 or send e-mail to lahammond1@plymouth.edu.

Helping Hands, Hearts

Lebanon High School’s Destination Imagination (DI) team recently won a grant of almost $18,000 from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation to continue the team’s community-service project to train and certify students in providing mental-health first aid to their peers. The team will work with instructors from West Central Behavioral Health to train juniors from Lebanon, Mascoma and Hanover High Schools over the next three years.

This past February, the team and West Central trained and certified 20 area students on topics including depression, suicide, self-harm, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, psychosis and ADHD.

Lebanon’s DI team is looking for between six and nine students, who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors this fall, to join the program’s steering committee.

Student Honors

Kearsarge Regional High School students Jonalyn Burt and Katharine Scheuch, both of New London, last week won National Merit Scholarships from the colleges they’ll be attending.

Burt, aiming for a career in veterinary medicine, earned her scholarship from the University of Vermont. The University of Chicago sponsored the scholarship for Scheuch, whose career path is undecided.

National Merit Scholarships provide between $500 and $2,000 a year for up to four years of study at the school financing the scholarships. This year, 190 institutions underwrote scholarships. In all, some 1.5 million juniors in 22,000 high schools nationwide entered the competition for scholarships by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in 2012. In the fall of 2013, with the field narrowed to 16,000 semifinalists, remaining competitors submitted scholarship applications that included writing an essay and describing their extracurricular activities, awards and leadership positions.

Abby Jackson put an exclamation point on her career at Lebanon High School recently by collecting the school’s Student of the Month award. Cited by her nominating teacher as a resource among her peers for emotional support, she has helped teach a class in Teen Roles, with a focus on preventing suicide, since she underwent training in that field in 2012. She cooperated with peers at Hanover High School in organizing a Suicide Awareness Walk in September 2013. While consistently earning spots on the honor roll, Jackson also found time to compete for the gymnastics team, of which she is the captain, and to do some creative writing. She is heading for the University of New Hampshire to study psychology.

Kiah Laramie of Canaan was named to the dean’s list for both semesters of her freshman year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. She is a graduate of Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

Gabrielle Roberts of Hanover wrapped up the 2013-2014 academic year at the University of Vermont by amassing a grade-point average of 4.0, good for a place on the dean’s list. She is majoring in early child education.

By Degrees

Natacha Houdegbe of Lebanon graduated with honors from Temple University in Philadelphia on May 15, with a bachelor’s degree from Temple’s School of Media and Communications. A 2010 graduate of Lebanon High School, she majored in advertising.

Caroline Ruth Ketcham of Hanover graduated magna cum laude from the University of North Carolina-Asheville with a bachelor of science degree in environmental studies. A University Scholar who earned distinction in her field, she concentrated on environmental management and minored in economics.

Brooks Hubbard of Enfield graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Keene State College on May 10.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and 603-727-3304.