Memoe, Fishwick named next co-principals at MEMS

MANCHESTER — Manchester Elementary and Middle School will welcome two new co-principals on July 1, following their appointment at Tuesday's meeting of the Taconic and Green School Board.

Betsy Memoe of Manchester has been named to the role of middle school principal at MEMS, where she has spent the last 25 years as a primary middle school counselor, while Debra Fishwick, principal of the Shrewsbury Mountain School, was appointed to the role of principal for the elementary program.

Memoe, who has an undergraduate degree from Springfield College and a Masters in school counseling from Plymouth State University, is currently working to obtain her school principal licensure at Castleton University.

"Middle school is my passion and my love, and I can't wait to lead the school in that capacity," said Memoe, who notes that she has taught everything from pre-k students to adult learners. "I'm very much looking forward to this opportunity."

Fishwick has served as principal of the Shrewsbury Mountain School since 2004.

"I'm excited to be here, and to become a part of the MEMS community," Fishwick said at Tuesday's meeting, acknowledging that she had only met her counterpart that evening. "I'm also looking forward to working with Betsy; we've already decided that our weekly meetings will be on hiking trails."

The appointments follow the earlier than expected resignation of current co-principals Martin and Irene Nadler, announced in December, due to health issues.

"Irene and Marty came out of retirement to serve as co-principals in a time of need for MEMS, and together they have put the school on track to thrive during a time of change in today's challenging education environment," said BRSU Superintendent Jackie Wilson. "They can look back on a job well done. We will miss their commitment to the kids and school, and their love of the Manchester community."

Fishwick and Memoe will begin their tenure at the start of fiscal year 2019, with both administrators awarded a two-year contract. Their beginning salaries are set at $95,000, with a planned increase of 2.8 percent, totaling $97,660, for fiscal 2020.

Both administrators were selected by a hiring committee of 15 people including faculty members, board members, and Wilson herself. Both recommendations, she says, were unanimous.

Still, Fishwick and Memoe faced one last test prior to their appointment — an interview conducted by a panel of students.

"They asked tough questions; they want to know how they can work with the community to raise funds for more field trips and an upgrade of the school playground," Fishwick said. "They also want to take their learning outside. Vermont's landscape offers multiple ways to add knowledge from nature. We need to get outside to explore and learn."

Memoe, who was praised for her patience in letters of recommendation from students, thanked the hiring committee for giving them a voice.

"I love middle school students; it's such a great age," she said. "They are curious, unpredictable, and filled with great amounts of energy. You see them growing up into adults before your very eyes."

Wilson says that while the new co-principal's backgrounds may differ, they share a common commitment to students. Serving together, she says, the two will bring a complimentary mix of skills and experience to the MEMS leadership.

"There is a world of difference between educating pre-k through fourth grade students and kids in middle school," Wilson said. "The co-principal model allows the school leadership to fine tune their focus to the specific needs of their grade levels, with the result being a stronger school for children."

Though Wilson admits that the board has facilitated a sort of "arranged marriage" for the two women, she anticipates that Fishwick and Memoe will compliment each other. With both boasting an extensive background in education, the administrators stand strongly behind the co-principal model.

"I know from experience that being a principal can be a lonely job," Fishwick said. "I was drawn to the Manchester co-principal position because it both allows me to focus on early elementary, and have a colleague with whom I can share ideas for education curriculum and teacher development."

"The co-principal approach is the perfect model for this school," added Memoe. "During my tenure at MEMS I have seen both models in action; the years of co-principals were the best."

Reach freelance journalist Cherise Madigan at or @cherisemadigan on Twitter.


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