After an unsuccessful search to fill the job suddenly vacated in June, Tom Drake — Crossett Brook Middle School’s longtime principal — will take over leadership at Warren Elementary School.
“As we are truly a ‘unified’ union school district, and in the spirit of ‘teamwork makes the dream work,’ I will be moving into the Warren School principal position, as an interim for only the coming school year, effective Monday, Aug. 19,” Drake wrote in an email to Crossett Brook parents on Aug. 8.
For the past 10 years, Drake has been a principal at Crossett Brook. He will fill the vacancy left by Beth Peterson, who resigned in early June to take a position with St. Michael’s College.
“The timing was great for St. Mike’s, but it was terrible for us,” said Rosemarie White, who represents Warren on the Harwood Union school board. “Her passion is teaching, and I can’t blame her for leaving.”
Peterson became Warren’s principal in September 2015. Before that, she taught regular and special education at St. Michael’s College for 10 years.
After Peterson announced she was leaving, Superintendent Brigid Nease discussed the challenge of finding a replacement on short notice.
“This is not a good time to find a permanent replacement, as most high-quality candidates are already under contract,” Nease wrote in a report to the Harwood board on June 5. “Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to put together a comprehensive search and committee over the summer.”
Nease did not respond to an interview request for this article, a reflection of her standing policy not to speak with the press. Instead, she insists reporters submit questions to her by email. Nease did not respond to an email seeking additional information.
Drake did not respond to an interview request for this article, but he did respond to an email.
“Sourcing qualified and licensed public school administrators is proving more and more of a challenge, most especially in the summer months,” Drake wrote. “Knowing the predicament that Superintendent Nease would be in to fill this position, I offered my services as an interim principal at the Warren school if she was not able to find a great candidate in June or July.”
Drake said he will fill in at Warren for the upcoming school year, and will return to Crossett Brook for the 2020-21 school year. For the upcoming year, Stephanie Hudak, current co-principal at Crossett Brook, will become the school’s sole building leader.
However, Drake said he will remain involved at Crossett Brook.
“I will be consulting with Principal Stephanie Hudak and the CBMS Leadership Team, and have a direct hand in budgeting and hiring for the 2020-21 school year,” Drake wrote.
Finding a principal in Vermont can be challenging, and Peterson’s sudden departure didn’t help the situation, said Jay Nichols, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association.
“There were several principal jobs around the state that were open in June and July, and superintendents have told me they only had one or two candidates, or no candidates at all,” Nichols said. “We have fewer candidates that apply for principal jobs than we’ve ever had.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Do I really want to take on that extra level of responsibility?’ You have many bosses. In theory, you answer to the superintendent, but in a lot of districts, you have school boards that are way too involved in the day-to-day operations of the school.”
According to Nichols, in Vermont, there are more people who hold principals’ licenses who are not principals than there are people working as principals.
“Most people who are really good are under contract at this point, and the people who aren’t under contract, you have to wonder about,” White said.
White said the district will continue to search for a principal, but even if a good candidate turns up in the next few months, she expects Drake to remain at Warren Elementary for the full school year.
“I would think, from a disruption perspective, you would want to have Tom for the full year. If we found a great candidate, we would want to bring the person on and have them learn the ropes alongside Tom,” White said.
White expressed gratitude that Drake volunteered to lead Warren Elementary for the upcoming year.
“Tom stepping up to the plate tells me that, one, he is confident in his staff at Crossett Brook, and two, that we are a team here at Harwood,” White said. “To have someone within the district offering his services really warms my heart.”