The Lamoille South school district voted Monday to extend the contract for embattled superintendent Tracy Wrend, citing her strong leadership, despite recent outcry from a vocal segment of the population bent on her termination.
The board voted 5-2 to extend Wrend’s current contract another year, through the end of June 2022.
“The board discussed the needs of the district and Superintendent Wrend’s record of meeting those needs. We evaluated Wrend’s job performance from all angles, and the majority of the board voted to extend her contract,” board chair David Bickford said in a statement Tuesday. “We understand some people will take exception to our decision, but the majority of the board believes our students and our educational district are well served by Superintendent Wrend’s strong leadership.”
After months of attacks from dozens of people from the three towns, innumerable letters to the editor and social media posts, and a marathon of 30 mini executive sessions in a single night, it really only mattered how seven people felt.
And five of them agreed that Wrend deserves at least another year.
Voting in the minority were Stowe representatives Tiffany Donza and Erica Loomis. In a letter to the editor this week, Donza said she thinks Wrend failed to “take the proper steps” in transitioning the district to proficiency-based learning.
“I believe we need a fresh set of eyes on the issue,” Donza wrote. “I believe we need new leadership.”
In a Feb. 4 email to the board, Caroline and Jack Marhefka said Wrend was the “driving force” behind the new grading standards.
“If the position of superintendent were a position the community voted on, I am certain she would not win,” the Marhefkas wrote.
In other recent correspondence with the board, Stowe resident Steve Schleupner, in a Jan. 7 email, suggested that Wrend was governing the board, not the other way around, “by controlling the agenda and monopolizing time with details.”
“Don’t let the tail wag the dog,” he said.
Afraid of Wrend?
The school board’s decision comes after it held an unorthodox series of closed-door meetings with residents from Stowe, Morristown and Elmore at its Feb. 3 board meeting. The board invited about 30 residents, one by one, into a series of two-minute executive sessions to let them talk about Wrend as part of the board’s evaluation of her.
Board members have been mum about what was said behind in the private sessions, although there was a palpable anti-Wrend sentiment among many waiting their turn.
On Monday, Rachel Duffy, a Peoples Academy teacher, suggested that there was such short notice about the Feb. 3 public/private comment period that word was mostly spread on social media and word of mouth “from people who wanted to come and say negative things about Tracy.”
Notably supportive of Wrend was former Stowe School Board member Cam Page, who was there when Wrend was hired as superintendent in 2007. Page likened the process to a performance review “by a mob.”
For many people who opposed Wrend’s tenure as superintendent, the last straw came last September, when a federal jury decided she had retaliated against a former Peoples Academy teacher when she fired him in 2014. That teacher, David Bain, sued Wrend and was awarded $150,000.
Wrend’s lawyer said he would appeal, but as of yet, there has been no documentation of an appeal at the Second Circuit court.
Some oppose Wrend because they think she might retaliate against other faculty and staff, as she was accused of doing with Bain. In fact, some people expressed concern about even showing up Feb. 3, lest Wrend surmise who was talking about her.
Stowe resident Lee Genung, in a Jan. 31 email to Bickford, asked if people could send their thoughts to the board in confidence, but Bickford noted that emails to board members are public records.
“Some are worried about possible ‘retribution’ and are not willing to put themselves, their kids or, in some cases, their jobs on the line,” Genung wrote.
Some even took the school board to task for making public the list of people signed up to speak, thinking they were entering a “safe space.” However, Vermont’s open meeting laws require that everyone in an executive session be listed. For instance, Wrend was in Monday’s executive session as the board discussed her contract.
Linda Hunter Fucile even wrote an email to the Vermont State Board of Education, saying she saw the superintendent’s staff take a photo of the list, which she found “unprofessional and intimidating.” This newspaper also took a photo of the list, which is a public document.
At Monday’s meeting, board member Stephanie Craig of Morristown said she didn’t think the sign-up sheet was accurate as a public record, since there were some people who spoke who were not on the list and at least one person on the list who didn’t speak. The board denied Bain the opportunity to weigh in, citing his lawsuit against Wrend.