Merrill offered AMHS principal position

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ARLINGTON — An educator with ties to the community has been offered the position of the next principal of Arlington Memorial Middle and High School.

The Arlington School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the recommendation of Sarah Merrill as the school's next principal, and allow board Chairwoman Nicol Whalen and Superintent William Bazyk to enter into contract negotiations.

Merrill, a resident of Arlington and alumnae of AMHS, is currently the principal of the West Rutland School, a K-12 school in the Rutland Central Supervisory Union. Should she accept the position, she would begin her new position in Arlington on July 1, at which point current principal Tim Stewart would return to the classroom, although Bazyk said on Tuesday that the details of that transition have not yet been worked out. Stewart announced his intention to resign from the position earlier this year.

Merrill began her career at Manchester Elementary Middle School as a third grade teacher, and eventually served for four years as vice-principal before being named principal in 2011. In Dec. 2014 she announced her intention to resign from that position at the end of the year, saying in a statement, "Over the past few months I have found it to be progressively more difficult to navigate the complexities of our educational system, and increasingly more diverse community, without full support from the Manchester School Board of Directors. The lack of trust, respect, and support for my decision-making, vision, and procedures creates a non-collaborative relationship which undermines my leadership."

"She's an experienced principal in Vermont, she is familiar with all the large initiatives the state is going through," said Bazyk, who noted that out-of-state candidates often have a large learning curve as they become used to not only the state's educational system, but also the culture of rural Vermont. Bazyk said he worked with Merrill for six years during their time at MEMS, and said that the best part about her is the amount of energy she brings to the table.

"I think we're really lucky to have somebody who is so uniquely qualified," said Whalen. "Her professional experience is exceptional, and the community already knows her." She added that Merrill's experiences in implementing Act 77 and in navigating Act 46 with West Rutland will be a benefit to Arlington. "The stars aligned," said Whalen.

Bazyk said that the screening committee narrowed the 10 candidates who applied down to two finalists, one of whom eventually withdrew from the process, leaving Merrill as the sole remaining candidate.

AMHS media specialist Megan Maguire, who served on the screening committee, said that that committee was very satisfied with the result of the search process. The committee was looking for a new principal that displayed investment in the community, longevity, innovation, and an understanding of the unique challenges Arlington faces educationally, she said.

In 2015, Jessica Dryden and Kathy Willis, co-presidents of the the Manchester Teacher's Education Association, wrote in a letter to the Banner, "Sarah is a leader who works tirelessly to build a climate of trust, a vision of hope, the creation of structures of support for the challenges we face and the professional development to carry us forward with common understandings. She fosters expectations that we continually revise so we grow to meet the needs and the challenges of the children we serve. If you ask her, 'Have you made mistakes along the way?', her response would be, 'Of course.' She admits her mistakes and learns from them. Sarah's absence will leave an empty place in our hearts, but we are professionals. We will hold the course and, in the spirit of Sarah Merrill, always put the needs of children first."

Merrill was available to meet with members of the community for about an hour prior to the meeting, but had to leave prior to the announcement. The board made the decision after a brief executive session.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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