Leland & Gray principal leaves post


TOWNSHEND — Waving goodbye to the Windham Central Supervisory Union after this school year will be a principal, a superintendent and a chief financial officer.

Leland & Gray Union High School Principal Dorinne Dorfman's contract ends on June 30. She will be watching the same class she started with graduate on June 18.

"I'm going to be crying my eyes out," she said. "We've all kind of grown up together and we're all graduating together."

The School Board and other officials are involved in interviews to find her replacement this week and next.

Windham Central's CFO Victor "Bud" DeBonis will perform the same duties for the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union. He worked for the WCSU for two years. Previously, he held the job in several places in upstate New York.

Windham Central Superintendent Steven John is set to be replaced by Dover School Principal Bill Anton. Windham Central Director of Technology and Professional Development Matt Martyn will take over for Anton in the elementary school.

This week, Jen McKusick was hired as the supervisory union's director of curriculum, instruction and technology integration. She is leaving her job as assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional development in Greenfield, Mass. Prior to that, she was principal of the Oak Grove Elementary School in Brattleboro for five years.

McKusick "was our choice from a highly qualified and competitive applicant pool," John and Anton said in a press release, welcoming her back to Vermont.

The people — students, parents, colleagues and elementary school principals — will be missed most by Dorfman, she said, recalling the wreckage of Tropical Storm Irene and the deaths of local people plus other challenges they had "weathered" together.

Dorfman is heading up north after accepting a job as an administrator in the Burlington School District. She currently lives with her husband in Waterbury Center. Her brother and his family also reside there.

"I got to build a whole new web of relationships because that has to be established before academic performance improves," Dorfman said. "People need to feel cared about in order for it to work."

Dorfman took on the job at Leland & Gray in 2010. She said she knew she wouldn't be at the Townshend-based school forever, but wanted to stay as long as she could, knowing that in order "to see real positive outcome, a principal has to be at a school for at least five years."

When her husband heard that, he told Dorfman at the start of her sixth year she had to find a job closer to central Vermont where she has lived for over 20 years.

"I kind of reluctantly agreed because I love this school community," she said. "But relocating wasn't an option given my family."

School Board Chairwoman Emily Long said Dorfman came to the school after a construction project was recently completed and there had been "quite a bit of leadership turnover" at both the school and supervisory union.

"Consequently, we were looking for some stability and a principal who would help us focus on improving academic performance and opportunities for our students," Long said. "Dr. Dorfman was hired to help us navigate that process and we truly appreciate the six years of dedicated service she has given to our students, our school and our communities. She is a deeply committed professional educator and we wish her nothing but the best in her new job."

The next principal will be taking on the new education law Act 46, which mandates school district consolidation statewide. Windham Central officials are looking at their options now.

"The five towns that make up the Leland & Gray union have been challenged in their thinking," said Dorfman, noting that the towns are moving in a direction of creating a pre-k through 12th grade district.

"I believe they have arrived at the reality that Leland & Gray provides an extraordinary education for students that would either be splintered into other schools" or not be able to access the same opportunities available at Leland & Gray, she added.

The biggest challenge ahead, Dorfman said, has less to do with Act 46 but with the statewide trend of "stratification of students."

According to Vermont Agency of Education data, independent schools in Windham County have almost a 13 percent rate for students living in poverty while public schools in the county have a 48 percent rate. While some of the local independent schools' information was not available due to confidentiality, none showed that they had students with individualized education plans. IEPs are required for students in special education.

This concerns Dorfman, a proponent of public schools who says Vermont is starting to see higher concentrations of poor students in certain schools.

"In other states, it looks more obvious because so often the stratification is more like segregation," she said, explaining a school's minority population might be as high as 80 or 90 percent.

Dorfman was proud of the fact that Leland & Gray students can get health services at Grace Cottage Hospital down the street, and dental and medical health care at the school. Sometimes, transportation is the obstacle standing between a kid getting those services. Leland & Gray's busing helps make this a non-issue.

And the Journey East participants, just returning from their trip to China, are "a shining example" of Leland & Gray's "really embracing kids of all backgrounds" and making opportunities happen, Dorfman said. She worries about the future of children deprived of "middle-class" experiences due to cost.

Act 46 addresses this, Dorfman said, because the "number one purpose of the law is to promote equity."

What's best is to have special-education students mixed with their regular-education peers, according to Dorfman, who admits to not being a policy maker. But she said independent schools should have the same amount of special-education students as public schools.

"They should take all of our kids. They should not be able to pick kids," said Dorfman. "Perhaps that could be a viable policy. I'm sure it's very complex to make happen."

The search to find Dorfman's replacement is "going well," John said on Tuesday.

"We really appreciate her commitment to the well-being of our students, both academically and socially," John said. "We have very fine candidates. We'll make an announcement in a timely manner as circumstances permit."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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