New White River Valley School District Hires Principals

  • Reed McCracken (Courtesy photograph)

  • David Wells. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Royalton — After a four-month search and interviews with three finalists, two principals have been hired for one-year contracts with the newly formed White River Unified District, which will begin teaching students from Bethel and Royalton this fall.

“They’re both seasoned people,” said White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Bruce Labs, who was on the search committee that recommended the new hires to the School Board. “I’m really excited about both of them.”

Reed McCracken, a Waterbury, Vt., resident who currently works as a coordinator at Montpelier High School, will be the new principal at the White River Valley High School in South Royalton, at a salary of $87,500.

“I am so excited for this wonderful opportunity to shape the future” of the newly merged high school, he said, in a press release sent from Labs’ office on Tuesday afternoon.

The high school is in the process of deciding on school colors and a mascot, and installing a curriculum, among other items.

McCracken, a former high school social studies teacher, graduated from Brown University in 1989, and chaired the Waterbury-Duxbury School District as it merged into the Harwood Union Unified School District.

Montpelier resident David Wells, currently the principal at the Underhill ID Elementary School in Jericho, Vt., has been hired as one of two principals of the district’s elementary schools, at a salary of $92,000, said Labs.

Wells, who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in education from Castleton University, has served as principal at other institutions for 19 years. Before that, he was a teacher at Williamstown Elementary School.

The two hires will be critically important to establishing the culture and curriculum in the new district, which was created when the two towns voted to merge their school districts to comply with the 2015 education reform law Act 46.

Both McCracken and Wells have an official start date of July 1; until then, money from a transition fund from the soon-to-be-merged Royalton and Bethel school boards will be used to pay them on a per-diem basis for work as needed.

More than 30 candidates applied for the two principal positions, in a joint search process that began in February, said White River Unified School Board Chairwoman Lisa Floyd, who also participated in the search committee.

After an original round of interviews failed to result in a hire, a fresh search committee that included a parent and two teacher volunteers re-opened the process in late March, interviewing McCracken and one other candidate for the high school post, and only Wells for the elementary school position.

“(McCracken) seems very collaborative and very engaged, with a calm presence,” Floyd said. “He had the attributes we had been hearing the community wanted.”

Wells, she said, “really impressed us with the culture of the school he’s been running,” and she noted that some of the district’s teachers knew him from having taken his classes when he was an instructor at Castleton.

Floyd said the board received feedback that the search committee had not included a broad enough representation of community stakeholders, and had not made the finalists available for interactions with staff and students before making a recommendation.

She said the committee had felt time pressure to complete its work, because both McCracken and Wells were considering positions elsewhere, but that she took the criticism to heart.

“I wish we had students in that first round of interviews,” she said. “I made clear that I think it’s important in the future.”

Labs said the next big hire for the new district will be a full-time athletic and activities director to serve the entire district.

In January, Joanne Melanson was hired to serve as the interim principal of South Royalton School, replacing former Principal Dean Stearns, who was placed on administrative leave and later resigned after police charged him with secretly recording video of a teenage girl in her bedroom and bathroom while she was a guest at his Sharon home.

Stearns in March was charged with having surreptitiously recorded a total of five girls under the age of 18. He has pleaded not guilty.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.