Interim middle school principal departs abruptly in Hartford

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-09-2023 11:44 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Leadership at Hartford Memorial Middle School is in flux. The school is looking for both an interim principal to finish out the school year and a permanent principal for next year.

Justin Bouvier, who held the interim post, resigned at the beginning of the month, citing health concerns.

Superintendent Tom DeBalsi informed families of Bouvier’s departure in an email on Dec. 1.

“We all wish him well and hope he feels better soon,” DeBalsi wrote. “We appreciate everything Mr. Bouvier did in his time at Hartford Memorial Middle School.”

His departure leaves the school in the hands of Sarah Hisman, the interim assistant principal who stepped into the role this summer after Bouvier took the principal position. The change up comes as the school faces some behavioral challenges, which have teachers and parents worried.

“The Superintendent Mr. DeBalsi has posted another interim job on Schoolspring but the Hartford Education Association is concerned with the high rate of turnover in administrative and teaching positions at HMMS,” Hartford Education Association President Nichole Vielleux said in a Thursday email.

Meanwhile, the school, which includes about 300 students in grades 6 to 8, also has been struggling with “an increase in alarming behavior and a divided staff,” according to reports teachers have made to the union, Vielleux said.

“We are working with the administration to make some progress in this area but next steps are unclear at this point,” she said.

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Bouvier, reached via Facebook messenger, declined to comment for this story. A Friday email to Hisman’s school account was not immediately returned.

The school is in its current predicament partly because last year’s principal, Tristan Upson, decided to return to the classroom last May, DeBalsi said in a Thursday email. At that point it was too late to begin a search for a permanent replacement, so the district opted to appoint Bouvier to the role. A hiring committee selected Hisman to fill Bouvier’s previous role as assistant principal on an interim basis. Hisman was an instructional coach at the middle school prior to her interim appointment.

“This is a lot of change in the middle of a school year,” DeBalsi said. “Something none of us are accustomed to but we are adjusting and things seem to be improving.”

He noted that several administrators from around the district have stepped up to help “and I am spending a lot of time at the middle school, which I enjoy very much. It is a great school with very strong teachers and staff.”

Sara Lamie, a White River Junction resident whose daughter is in 7th grade at the middle school, said in a Friday phone interview that she doesn’t know much about the leadership situation at the school, other than what was shared in DeBalsi’s email to families.

“I don’t think it seems to affect the day to day,” she said.

However, she said there have been issues with bullying and behavioral problems at the school in recent years. She wondered if those issues might be driving administrators out.

It “seems like a lot that they’re having to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Lamie said her daughter “pretty much keeps to herself” and has been fortunate not to be a target of the bullying, but it still “seems like a lot of disruptions”. Her daughter likes school and is there to learn, but some of the other students’ behaviors seem to interrupt that.

Lamie said she wonders whether students are struggling with mental health issues stemming from delays in their social and emotional development incurred during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of it is it’s a middle school, but also if you can’t teach a lesson something’s not working,” she said.

According to the interim middle school job posting on Schoolspring.com, the district is looking for candidates who are “committed to middle level learners” and “able to prioritize relationships with students, families, and staff.”

“The strong applicant will have a thorough understanding and deep experience with best practice in equity, trauma, and instruction,” according to the description. The person will be responsible for holding both students and staff to “clear and consistently high expectations.”

“The successful applicant will be creative, committed to collaborative leadership, accessible, open-minded, and excited about the unique opportunities that our middle school offers,” the description states.

The position would pay between $95,000 to $120,000 annually. Applicants must have five years of relevant experience and are preferred to have a master’s degree.

DeBalsi said the district will begin advertising for the permanent position in January.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.