BENNINGTON — Elementary School Board members learned this week that Bennington Elementary and Molly Stark Elementary now have principal vacancies.
Southwest Vermont Supervisory Superintendent James Culkeen said he received a letter of resignation Monday from Molly Stark Principal Donna Bayzk.
He said he then learned Tuesday that she was on an approved medical leave — through June 30, when her resignation becomes effective.
“This is something that developed rapidly for us, so we are responding as quickly as we can,” Culkeen said.
Noting that Bennington Elementary has the same vacancy, Culkeen said there have been three applicants thus far for that position, despite extensive advertising “on many different platforms.”
He added, “It is a difficult position that not everyone wants to take.”
In addition, Culkeen said, some teachers are reluctant to become a principal because they would then lose their union protections.
Elizabeth Grunberg resigned in February from Bennington Elementary, shortly after it was reported in the media that the school had a high number of police calls for help with “out of control” students.
Local education officials noted at the time, however, that Bennington Elementary was not alone in seeking increased police assistance to handle student safety issues.
School officials also did not draw a connection between Grunberg’s resignation and student mental health or behavioral issues at the school.
Grunberg reportedly was on approved, requested leave and away from the position for “some time” prior to the announcement of her resignation in January.
SVSU Public Information Coordinator Katie West confirmed on Wednesday that Grunberg resigned from Bennington Elementary as of Feb. 9, and there was no separation agreement.
A search is underway to fill that post, Culkeen told board members, adding that principal openings typically attract only a handful of applicants.
Culkeen said he and others in the SVSU are looking at internal interim solutions, such as having assistant principals or others fill in for the vacancy at the top at Molly Stark.
Both schools have been described as having a high number of students living in poverty and/or in unstable home environments, contributing to significant student behavioral problems.
Culkeen said of Molly Stark, “It is a big school with a lot of challenges.”
NAMED IN 2019
Bayzk was named principal at Molly Stark in March 2019. She replaced former Principal Michael Mugits, who had announced in 2018 that he would resign and said health issues had prompted his decision.
Mugits had been hired prior to the 2016-17 school year, after former Principal Donna Mackenzie-King retired from the position.
PLEA FOR EXPERIENCE
During the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District board meeting Tuesday, former SVSU speech-language pathologist Julie Haupt, now retired, spoke about the situation. She urged the board to “hire people who have experience” as administrators.
“I’m concerned now we have two principal vacancies,” she said. “Obviously, this is costly to the district and disruptive to the smooth running of these buildings.” Haupt added that it seems obvious that Bennington Elementary and Molly Stark “are the two schools with the highest needs in this district.”
The schools also have the largest enrollments, she said, and lower socio-economic student status on average.
“I know you are going to have to look for applicants, and I just urge you to seek and eventually hire people to lead our schools who have experience,” Haupt said.
She said the next principals should also be experienced working in that position in other schools “that have this level of need ... We really can’t afford to make the mistake of hiring candidates who are not well prepared.”
Culkeen told board members that interim principals also would be considered for the positions, such as a retired principal or other administrator.