The Orange East Supervisory Union announced today that Bernice Mills will be replacing Chance Lindsley as principal of Thetford Elementary School.
Lindsley, who joined TES in July 2019, announced his resignation in an email to the school community on February 10th, just minutes after it was kinda, sorta announced by OESU in a schoolwide email.
"As you are already aware from Mr. Lindsley, he has made the decision not to return to TES next school year," wrote OESU's Superintendent Emilie Knisley. In fact, this was the first time that families were hearing about it. She went on to explain, "The position has already been posted by our human resources department, and will begin on July 1st."
Not surprisingly, many parents were shocked by the news. Not only did Mr. Lindsley's resignation seem to come out of nowhere, but his soon-to-be vacant position had already been publicly advertised before any official announcement had been made.
The email that came from Mr. Linsdley several minutes later was brief, and offered little insight into his decision:
I'll be finishing the school year and then my wife, son, and I are embarking on a new adventure. Thank you all for being so supportive, especially through my rough tenure! I'm grateful to have shared time with you and wish you all the best.
The hiring committee got right to work. On March 25th, the TES School Board held a public forum to introduce the community to the two finalists for the position - Bernice Mills from Fairlee, VT, and Thetford resident Erika Schneider.
Mills, currently the Student Services Coordinator for the OESU school district, already has a decade of experience working as a principal, as well as many years as a Special Educator. Schneider, a former English and Social Studies teacher, is still in the process of attaining her Principal Certification through UVEI (Upper Valley Educators Institute). She's working as an Instructional Coach and Interventionalist at the middle school in Hartford, VT.
Community members – current parents as well as former parents, non-parents and future parents – spent an hour and a half posing questions to the two candidates. Inclusivity, communication, prejudice, and community-wide involvement were among the issues that were heartily discussed. Yet one question stood out as being of utmost importance: how long do you plan to stay?
Mrs. Mills said that she could easily see herself being principal at TES for the next ten years, and noted that she didn't feel the transition would be a difficult one as she already had an established relationship with the teachers and staff. "Last year when Mr. Lindsley was out I stepped in and helped out... He's out now, so I'm stepping back in."
This came as a surprise to one of the attendees, who waited until the small break between candidates to comment that she was unaware of Lindsley's current leave, and wanted to know if there was more information that could be shared about it. Melanie Rhoads, the Director of Human Resources for OESU and facilitator of the forum, replied that Lindsley was taking a short, personal leave of absence which she could not elaborate on. She added:
I was under the understanding that it went out, but the Superintendent has also been out for personal reasons, so I know that there's just been a lot going on in our administrative world at this particular moment.
(As it turned out, the following day there was a short message from Principal Lindsley in the school's newsletter explaining that he "had an unexpected shoulder surgery" and would hopefully "be back by the end of next week.")
No matter the reason, the fact that Mr. Lindsley was on a leave of absence, which parents seemingly knew nothing about, was a clear example of yet another top-down communication fail. The parent who initially made the inquiry went on to point out the lack of reliable information surrounding Mr. Lindsley's resignation and the similarly inadequate manner in which families had been notified.
A few moments later, another hand went up and a second community member, this time a parent of former TES students, brought up her concerns "in terms of our school operations and the fact that we've had so many principals - whether there's things our community needs to look at to make it a more doable job."
Rhoads didn't directly address the underlying issues or the unresolved confusion surrounding Mr. Lindsley's resignation – perhaps it was not her place to – but she urged community members to bring their "concepts and thoughts" to regular school board meetings instead.
There seems to be a trend in town: call it transparency, call it communication, but townspeople want more of it. Feeling out-of-the-loop is what breeds mistrust – it's the not-knowing, or the knowing-too-late, that sets the stage for suspicion (whether founded or not). One might go so far as to define transparency as the practice of consistent, thorough, and honest communication between two entities. Transparency requires communication; communication creates transparency. You can't have one without the other.
Mrs. Mills emphasized the importance of communication and connection with a broader community during her Q&A session, noting that it wasn't just the parents of school-aged children who benefited from being included. When asked what is something she would do in her first year to establish herself, Mills said that her priority would be "to build a relationship with families, community members, and the staff. And kids!"
There's no doubt that Principal Lindsley's positive outlook has made a lasting impression, though; he's brought a thoughtful, light-hearted energy to the school that's often hard to come by in administrators. He's someone who leads by example in every sense of the phrase – by being present, by listening, by showing gratitude and humility, and by embracing the opportunity to learn through one's mistakes.
With any luck, our community will learn to do the same.