Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington has been without a permanent leader since last fall, when the former principal died unexpectedly just a week before school started.

Current and retired administrators stepped in to fill the hole left by the late Karsten Schlenter, as the school community mourned and a slow search for his replacement began. With two and a half months of school left, the district has finally found a new principal in Scott Sivo, an educator from Shelburne who will start July 1.

“Middle school is really where my heart is,” Sivo said, after the school board approved his hire April 6. He’s entering his 20th year in public schools, and currently works as lead principal at Shelburne Community School, where he’s been for the last five years.

Scott Sivo

Scott Sivo will take over as principal of Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington starting July 1.

Visiting Tuttle, talking with students and meeting the other middle school educators helped solidify Sivo’s decision to join the community, especially after hearing about how difficult the current school year has been.

“They’ve experienced a huge loss this year,” between Schlenter’s sudden death and the ongoing pandemic, Sivo said. “So, I’m coming in with that sense, that this community really needed someone to enter gently, to be a good listener, to understand who they are and what their needs are.”

A Providence, R.I., native, avid hiker and hardcore Phish-head, Sivo graduated from Colby College with a bachelor’s degree in government and a minor in education before completing his master’s in education from Endicott College.

He transitioned from teaching high school social studies to assistant principal roles at various schools, then landed his current role at the middle school in Shelburne, where he lives.

Teaching at different grade levels in different states around the south and New England, Sivo has said he’s picked up many different “tools” in his educator toolbox — a metaphor that seems to be a favorite in the educator community — which have helped him hone his skills and passions.

“Middle school is the age group that just resonates with me. I feel like I really understand kids and what the specific need is at that period,” Sivo said. One of the reasons he felt drawn to Tuttle was the more targeted focus he'll have working with students in grades 6-8 going through unique developmental milestones, as opposed to his current role in Shelburne where he works with students ages four to 14.

Meeting and talking with Tuttle families in a virtual Q&A also proved “impactful,” he said. “It would have been hard for me to picture making the decision to transition from Shelburne without having that sense. Relationships are really important to me; my feel for people is a lot of what guides me and so that was just important to have that experience. It was wonderful.”

As superintendent David Young recommended Sivo’s hire to the school board, Young noted the importance of the position as the school district continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The students at Tuttle have done well but we’re excited about the next chapter as we move forward in the endemic,” Young said, himself leaving the South Burlington school district in June.

Pandemic school closures and remote work remains at the forefront of Sivo’s mind when he thinks about what school recovery means.

“I think the stress and the great pressure on schools coming out of the original surge and the shutdown was learning loss, learning loss, learning loss. We’ve got to get back, we’ve got to fill the gaps,” he said, adding hand in hand with that is student mental health, which is vital to academic success, especially at the middle school level.

“I think, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we need to go back to the basics of relationships, human connection and students understanding of the social skills and just generally social emotional skills that allow students to access their education and to be successful in school,” Sivo said.

In Shelburne, that’s meant talking about intervention and hiring more teachers, homeless liaisons and school counselors.

Tuttle’s assistant principal, David Hyatt, has temporarily filled the role since last fall, and will return to his position when Sivo officially comes on board this summer.

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