School community meets, questions GM principal candidates

 By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Each of the two finalists for the GM principal post were scheduled to meet with the public on Tuesday night to talk about their experience and qualifications and to answer questions about how they would handle running the high school. The candidates are Gwen Hagenbarth of Killington and Keith Hill of Springfield.

But there was very little public participation as the overwhelming majority of the  47 people who attended the Zoom session were either faculty or staff members at the high school where Hill teaches.

Each candidate had about 45 minutes alone with the audience to introduce him or herself and answer questions, after which the candidate left the forum and Two Rivers Superintendent Lauren Fierman asked if anyone had comments. No one in the audience spoke. Fierman also gave a link to an anonymous survey and also encouraged them to email or call her with comments.

Gwen Hagenbarth a teacher for 35 years

Gwen Hagenbarth

Gwen Hagenbarth told the meeting she has been a teacher for 35 years, with 27 years in two Vermont schools: Rutland High and Woodstock where, in addition to teaching duties, she was also a student dean for nine years. Hagenbarth currently teaches high school math in Rutland. She said that working in administration as a Student Dean started her interest in becoming a principal.

In response to a question about how she would interact with the community, Hagenbarth said she is very approachable and is the sort of person who gets back to people quickly. “If there’s no immediate fire to put out” Haenbarth said that responding to someone “is the next thing I’m going to do.”

A question about whether Hagenbarth thought there was a racial inequity problem at GM prompted her to say she didn’t know but the question made her think she should be talking with the person who asked. She also noted that it was her style to speak with people individually whether it was for taking in information or handling a problem.

In response to a question from Facilities Director Todd Parah about how she would approach physical plant issues, Hagenbarth said she would be getting to know all the players and working to establish goals and schedules for projects.

Hagenbarth said she is someone who follows rules because that would be what she’d be hired to do. She also noted that she is comfortable questioning and revisiting rules as well.

The question of whether the school should change its Chieftain mascot was raised but Hagenbarth told the meeting that she is smart enough to know she does not have all the answers and that an issue like that would be something for the community to talk about and decide.

Asked why she wanted the job, Hagenbarth said that while a teacher can do a lot for students, and administrator “can do so much more.”

Keith Hill, GM teacher since 2008

Having attended Green Mountain and worked there since 2008, Keith Hill is well known to those at the meeting.

He outlined his education and his work with former Principal Tom Ferenc in a principal intership program that was part of his graduate program and noted that he has taken every opportunity to work with leadership in the school.

Hill said that in looking at teaching and learning, he likes to think about possibility not limitations . “It’s about collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking,” said Hill, noting that students are part of their education. “It’s not something that happens to them.”

Following on that, Hill said he was interested in including student’s opinions on a number of issues including rules like dress codes.

Asked about racial inequity, Hill said it was a question that needs to be looked at by everyone and there are important conversations that may be uncomfortable but must be had.

Several of the questions from colleagues were prefaced by praise for Hill’s work at the school and asked how his coming from  the community would help him to foster a sense of community among students. Hill spoke about the possibility of instituting an annual community service program as part of the graduation requirement.

Asked how he would stay connected to students after he leaves teaching, Hill said he would show up in classrooms to maintain the relationships he has built. He said he would also find other ways to stay connected and be part of the student experience at Green Mountain. “I’m going to need to walk the walk,” said Hill.

Fierman closed by encouraging people to give their thoughts about the candidates as the process goes back to the search committee to see whether it will send either or both of the candidates on to the Green Mountain district board.

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