Our view: Principal search must be more transparent

This fall, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and the Mount Anthony Union School Board will begin the process of searching for a permanent replacement for recently-departed Mount Anthony Union High School principal Glenda Cresto. We hope that this search will be done transparently and with input from the community throughout, so as to avoid the cloud of controversy that dogged Cresto throughout her entire tenure as principal.

On April 8, 2015, the MAU board unanimously voted to hire Cresto after an executive session, a move that caught many within the school community by surprise. The principal search committee, made up of administrators, teachers, and community members, had preferred the other finalist, MAUHS social studies teacher and then-assistant principal Mike Molloy. Superintendent Jim Culkeen had also called Molloy the night before and told him he would be putting his name forward for the position.

As the details of what transpired came out in the coming months, Culkeen would explain that after attending site visits on his own with both candidates, he had come to prefer Cresto as a candidate, but was led to believe that the board would not approve her over Molloy, the well-liked local candidate. With that in mind, Culkeen made the decision to nominate Molloy. At some point during the discussion in executive session, Culkeen's read of the situation changed, and he subsequently nominated Cresto for the position.

From the beginning, this meant that Cresto needed to fight an uphill battle against a school community that was largely against her before she even stepped foot in the school. One teacher wrote to the board anonymously after the hiring, but before Cresto was even introduced, saying, "Make no mistake. Things will fall apart as a result of this decision." Over 40 members of the community came to the May board meeting to express their displeasure about the hiring process and the results. A lawsuit against the board for their actions at the April meeting is still pending. With this level of anger surrounding the hiring, even if it wasn't directed at Cresto personally, how could she have been expected to unite the school community behind her vision for the future of the school?

According to SVSU policy, it is only the duty of the search committee to put three qualified candidates forward to the superintendent, who then has the authority to make the final decision on who to recommend to the board. Culkeen followed the supervisory union's policy, we're not disputing that, but if the process had been more open throughout, perhaps the public vitriol toward the hiring could have been avoided.

Whether it means an expanded search committee with more of a voice in the final selection, more meetings between staff and candidates before a decision is made, or even introductions of the candidates to the community at a public forum, there has to be something that can be done to ensure that whoever the next principal is has the trust of the community upon taking the job. The new principal deserves that much.


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