VERNON - With the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant scheduled to shut by year's end, these are uncertain times for Vernon and its elementary school.
But Principal Mark Speno says such issues did not play a role in his decision to leave Vernon Elementary at the end of this school year to become principal of Green Street School in Brattleboro.
"For me, it was more about taking on the challenge of a bigger school and working in my hometown," Speno said. "When the opportunity came up, I felt like I couldn't pass it up."
He added, however, that "It's going to be sad to leave a school that I care so deeply about."
Speno confirmed his pending departure from Vernon at the March 24 meeting of that town's school board. On Tuesday, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union issued a statement saying Speno had been appointed as Green Street's principal at a recent meeting of the Brattleboro Town School District board.
Speno will replace current Green Street Principal John Reed, "who is leaving in June to pursue other academic endeavors," the supervisory union's announcement said.
Reed became Green Street's principal in 2009. Prior to taking that job, he had served as Vernon Elementary principal. Asked about his plans on Tuesday, Reed said he is applying for special-education teaching positions.
"This is how I began my teaching career, and I'm looking forward to returning to my roots," Reed wrote in an e-mail to the Reformer.
Speno has spent 15 years in education as a teacher and administrator, but Vernon was his first job as principal. He was a Green Street teacher and, later, an assistant principal in Chesterfield, N.H., before accepting the Vernon position five years ago.
His work has garnered praise in Vernon, where school board Chairman Mike Hebert -- who has been involved in education for decades -- declared Speno "the finest principal I've ever worked with -- hands down."
"His whole heart and soul is in this building," Hebert said.
On Monday, as Vernon school board members reviewed the improved results of this year's student-climate survey, some credit went to Speno for those scores.
"There's been a change in the climate since you've been here," Hebert said.
Hebert also said Speno has boosted staff morale, and he said the principal's pending departure is "a tremendous loss for us here at the school."
Speno said his time in Vernon has been a learning experience and said he has relied on a "really good staff." Speno also gave credit to the town school board.
"I absolutely love working with you guys," Speno told board members. "Representing the school has been quite an honor. I've learned a lot over these five years."
Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley told the Vernon board that Speno's departure "leaves us with a big void."
The replacement process is expected to move relatively quickly.
"We've posted the vacancy ... and that will go through April 14," Stahley said. "I'll be starting to establish a screening committee, which will be made up of staff, parents (and) board representatives."
Asked about the future of Vernon Elementary, Speno acknowledged that future enrollment is a question pending the departure of some Vermont Yankee employees.
The elementary school now has 160 students, and officials have said the number of pupils with direct connections to Yankee employees is relatively low: At a January meeting, Vernon school administrators estimated that there are about 20 such students.
Speno also said the school "has a good board in place that's focused on doing what's best for students and student needs."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.