Speno credits collaboration for top principal award

Mark Speno, former principal at Green Street Elementary School in Brattleboro, is serving as interim superintendent for the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.

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BRATTLEBORO — About 734 people signed a petition created by Brattleboro Union High School students in support of giving interim Superintendent Mark Speno the job, as of Tuesday at noon.

Three students who spoke at the Windham Southeast School District meeting last Tuesday created the petition at change.org/p/wsesu-school-board-support-speno-for-long-term-superintendent.

“This comes from us observing [Speno] as interim superintendent and believing in all faith that he is the man for the job because he is a focused leader who really brings integrity to his leadership,” said Benjamin Berg, sophomore at Brattleboro Union High School.

“We all truly believe in the community of our union and feel that it would be our privilege to have him as our leader.”

Berg described being a little surprised by the large outpouring of support.

“But mainly, I’m really happy about how the community, as a whole, agrees that Mark is the guy,” he said. “He’s our leader. I’m really thankful and grateful, and it makes me really happy to see the community feels that way. We were surprised by the School Board’s decision to defer, and this is why we are backing Mark Speno.”

At the district meeting, supporters of Speno were encouraged to bring the subject up with the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Board, which decides on the hire. The district spans schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney; the supervisory union includes those schools and Vernon Elementary.

In an announcement made March 4, the supervisory union board announced it “did not reach a consensus in its superintendent search.”

“As our time as a duly constituted board is running short, it will fall to the next board to deliberate and consider what steps to take going forward,” the board said. “It is expected a new board will be seated as of March 16.”

The supervisory union board has been working on hiring a superintendent since the fall. Former Superintendent Andy Skarzynski stepped down from the position at the end of June to be with his family in Connecticut after one year on the job, and Speno, principal of Green Street School in Brattleboro at the time, was named interim superintendent in July.

Feb. 17 meeting minutes show members of the supervisory union board made a motion after coming out of executive session “to accept the recommendation of the search committee and move the candidate forward to the full WSESU board for a final interview.” According to minutes for the board’s Feb. 21 and March 1, the board entered executive sessions to discuss the appointment or employment of a public officer or employee, but no action was taken.

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Berg said the three students, who are members of the Student Council but advocating for Speno as individuals, plan to go to the board’s Wednesday meeting to present the petition and comments submitted with the signatures. He noted several teachers also signed the petition.

Berg said the students have not spoken with Speno about the situation. Speno has declined to comment.

Kerry Amidon, supervisory union board chairwoman, previously said because personnel and contract matters fall under executive session, she couldn’t get into specifics related to the number of candidates considered nor their identities. Attempts to reach her Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Recognized in 2020 as a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Speno spent eight years at Green Street School. He started his career at the school as a teacher from 1999 through 2008, and also served as principal of Vernon Elementary School for five years and a school administrator in the Chesterfield, N.H., Elementary School.

“As a Green Street School parent, I know Mark Speno is an exceptional leader,” said Ann Braden, former district educator who signed the petition. “Recently in our district, our students and staff have had to shoulder far too much, often as the ground continues to shift beneath their feet. But this year, Mark’s calm, steady, compassionate approach has been just what we needed. He is a leader who puts his ego to the side, so he can put students first.”

In a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s Reformer (page A5), Braden wrote that she doesn’t know the inner details regarding the superintendent search, but Speno should be hired if he applied. She called him “the finest school administrator I have ever witnessed.”

“Children thrive emotionally and academically, all because he leads with a quiet, steady and enduring love,” she wrote.

Jill Stahl Tyler, a parent and former member of the now dissolved Brattleboro Town School Board, also signed the petition.

“He listened,” she said. “He learned. He leveled with us if something was not going as he expected. He led his staff. And, I know Mark as a fellow parent, sitting on the sidelines, cheering for his own kids, worried about the same things as all the rest of us. He wants what we all want: a good, solid education for our kids in a safe environment.”

Tyler said Speno is from Brattleboro and graduated from schools in town.

“He has served our community as a classroom teacher and as a principal,” Tyler said. “When we were caught without a superintendent, Mark stepped up and filled a hole. People here in Brattleboro are not shy to say what they think. And right now, there are teachers and students asking the board to have Mark continue. Those are the people with whom Mark interacts every day — and they are the people who matter the most. I guess I just believe in listening to them.”