Former Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Judith Pullinen might come out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent for the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union while the district searches for a new leader, according to Matt Branchaud, chairman of the GRCSU board and the Rutland Town School board.
In a meeting Monday evening, the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union board voted to offer the interim job to Judith Pullinen, though Branchaud said he hasn’t spoken with her since then, and the contract has yet to be finalized.
With Superintendent Debra Taylor’s intended departure a year before her contract expires, Branchaud said the district has started its nationwide search with the assistance of a job search coordinator through the Vermont School Board Association.
Branchaud said the decision to offer Pullinen the position was easy, given her experience in her own district and in the early days of the GRCSU merger, and she won’t be alone in her new capacity.
A new assistant superintendent will come on board as well: Lisa Mattison, principal at the Wells Village School, will relocate to her new capacity effective July 1, and Wells is on the lookout for a new principal, Branchaud said.
The Washington Central Supervisory Union Board voted May 29 to hire Taylor as the district’s interim superintendent. Taylor will oversee another merger of a new supervisory union made up of Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester, effective July 1, with Taylor starting in her new capacity on July 15.
“We are delighted to welcome Debra to our school system — her deep expertise and strong track record make her a great fit to help WCSU through a challenging transition and to lead us in providing the best possible education and outcomes for the students of Washington Central,” WCSU Board Chairman Matthew DeGroot wrote in an email shortly after the hearing.
“It is a bittersweet transition as I’ve completed in eight years here,” Taylor said in a phone interview on Friday. Speaking about WCSU, she said, “I’m looking forward to being able to move their schools forward.”
Taylor said the transition would allow for a closer vicinity to family, some of whom live in Quebec.
Taylor originally came to the Rutland Central Supervisory Union in 2011 which merged with the Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union to form the current Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union last year.
The job should be a familiar one for Taylor, who came to what was then the Rutland Central Supervisory Union in 2011 and helped guide its merger with the Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union into the Greater Rutland County district.
Even without the merger, the last couple of years have been busy for Taylor. Rutland Central’s budget was one of several defeated in 2017. Last year, federal immigration disputes held up grant money for the hiring of two new school resource officers and a new teacher contract for the merged district hasn’t been finalized yet.
But Branchaud said things are looking up.
“We are making progress,” Branchaud said. “We have an upcoming meeting next week. ... We expect things to flow rather smoothly here (going forward).”
Mount St. Joseph Academy’s Class of 2019 heard messages of faith and determination at their graduation ceremony Friday at St. Peter Church.
The Rev. John McDermott, of Burlington, served as guest speaker and offered brief remarks focused on two quotes he remembered from his yearbook at his own graduation. The first was, “You work all your life for a certain goal, and then they move the posts on you.” He told the class of 2019 that this graduation just meant they had new achievements to work toward.
The second was, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” That would be God, McDermott said, and the graduates should turn to him each day.
The Class of 1969 was recognized with golden diplomas, and they then presented Admr. Barry Costello, who was a member of the class for two years but did not graduate from MSJ, with an “associate’s degree,” which Costello accepted to a standing ovation.
Salutatorian Kristen Elliott talked about determination in the face of difficulty and even failure.
“Failures in life are not the end, they are merely an obstacle to be overcome,” she said. “Once we reach our limit, we must keep going.”
Elliott talked about drawing inspiration from her grandmother, who grew up in poverty with few educational options, but walked miles to school each day, studying hard and becoming a nurse. Elliott said she did not always understand the significance of her grandmother’s story when she used to hear it as a child.
“As I look back now, I realize how hopeless my grandmother’s situation looked to someone outside looking in,” she said. “My grandmother knew she could not fail ... because she had the courage to push past limitations.”
Valedictorian Victoria Tracy talked about how it was an exciting time for her class, both an end and a beginning creating mixed emotions.
“The future holds no promises, rather mysteries and surprises,” she said. “The community of MSJ has given us all the confidence needed to handle whatever life holds for us.”
Tracy said she entered high school searching for a place to belong, and she found it at MSJ, crediting her parents, teachers and friends with helping her find her way. She said she and her classmates were future doctors, nurses, business owners, musicians and politicians and that they must continue to learn and grow.
“MSJ will always be part of our roots,” she said. “I cannot wait to see the things we all will achieve.”
WEST RUTLAND — West Rutland School’s gym glittered with emerald and gold gowns on Friday’s breezy evening, as 23 graduates assumed their thrones draped in ivory ribbons and cords of honor.
And for the first time in the school’s history, the school graduated not one but two valedictorians: Eric Alan Maxham and Phillip Hunter Wedin.
“I can proudly say that I enjoy my truly inspiring class that holds two people who knocked me down to third,” said Salutatorian Kasey Serrani with a grin.
After principal Robert Johnson read off the multitude of accomplishments of the class, including the numerous college courses that had been completed by the students and the fields they would pursue as they left the safe haven of West Rutland, where many had been for the entirety of their lives, Salutatorian Serrani assumed the podium.
As has been custom for the close-knit community of West Rutland, Serrani recalled the strong bonds she formed with others in the town and the school who served to inspire the roots she grew and the wings she hoped to spread once she departed for college.
She thanked her family and her teammates and then opened to a heartfelt reflection, a reconsideration of the journey away from home.
“I always planned on leaving,” Serrani said after thanking her family, the colleagues and teammates she’d acquired along her way. “It just doesn’t feel real. … I can’t imagine anywhere else feeling like home. … This is family.”
The community rose up in roaring applause before the two valedictorians took the stage, each from a different world: Maxham said he came to West Side from another world and Wedin from within.
The two graduates recalled their earliest memories as preschool students in the school district, from tearful days spent adjusting to new environments to the “regrettable” amount of college and advanced courses they took on in their later years, where they would learn the true weight of education, and the value of perseverance.
“I was in for a long, windy road to be who I am today,” Wedin said.
“Both of us were around basically the same people sitting up on the stage right now,” Maxham said.
The two played off one another’s speeches and bounced memories of their kickball days and team sports, drawing closer the other graduates on the stage with their recollections of celebrated victories, and how they remembered the way they used to be before change and evolution seemed a possibility.
The commencement speaker was a treasured former faculty member: Former science teacher Jennifer Jackson spoke about her own journey in between bright smiles to her former students and showers of congratulations.
Jackson encouraged love above all things, encouraging the students to believe in the next chapter of the story, to leave room for shifts in their paths and to go where life guided them, as she had.
She had started as a would-be veterinarian from age 5, but once in college she realized her path was taking her elsewhere.
She chose instead to teach environmental science classes in Armenia as a part of the Peace Corps, and once back in the United States, she found Vermont calling her home.
“A friend told me I should try to become a school teacher,” Jackson said. “My first real teaching job was here at Westside.”
Jackson recalled the love she developed for the students who so readily welcomed her into their minds and hearts, a group she said taught her about the person she wanted to be, and left her with wonderful memories.
“I’m thankful that 5-year-old me was wrong with the dream I had for my life,” Jackson said. “If she had been correct … I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of getting to know each of you.”
In her parting address, Jackson cited Conan O’Brien’s message to Harvard graduates in 2000.
“So that’s what I wish for all of you,” Jackson read. “The bad, as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess … remember that the story is never over.”
About 30 Rutland-area athletes will compete in basketball and bocce at the Vermont Special Olympics Summer Games in Burlington this weekend.
Michelle LaBerge, 41, of Kingdom Avenue in Rutland City, said she plans to use her defensive skills to help her team, the Rutland Raptors, do well at the games.
We have two basketball teams,” said Mary Mitchell, coordinator for the Rutland Delegation to the Vermont Special Olympics. “The Rutland Eagles are our Division I team and the Rutland Raptors are in Division III this year. They’re divided according to our assessment from our weeks of practice.”
LaBerge said she’s been playing basketball for the past three years, and competing in the Special Olympics for nearly five. She also plays soccer.
“I like to chase people down on defense and try to steal the ball,” she said. “I’m not a very good shooter, but I like to play defense. That’s my favorite part.”
She’s taken on a leadership role for the basketball team as well.
“We separate according to our abilities,” LaBerge said. “I like to help my friends out if they need help.”
She said the Rutland teams have good coaches and thinks they’ll do well in the games.
“With a friend’s help, you can really get far. With a good coach like Ted (Gillen) you get far, too.”
Gillen is the basketball coach for the Rutland Delegation. He coaches soccer as well.
“Whatever we do, we do, our team motto is, ‘Let me win, but if I can’t win let me be brave in the attempt,’ so just go out there and have fun, you hope to win but if you don’t at least you’re having fun and meeting new people,” LaBerge said. The phrase is also the motto of the Special Olympics.
LaBerge said she plans to enjoy time with her friends, make new ones and enjoy Burlington. She said there’s a dance being held that she plans to attend.
“I’ll go to the dance and dance with Billy Pierce, my best friend. He’s my best friend — and Scott Crawford,” said LaBerge.
Crawford is another of the delegation’s coaches. He was named Coach of the Year in 2017 by the Special Olympics. LaBerge said Crawford has improved her life a great deal.
Most volunteers with Special Olympics wear multiple hats, said Mitchell. It’s not unusual for one person to coach multiple sports.
“We also have a bocce team,” she said. “We have three double-teams, and we have a four-person team who will also be competing this weekend.”
Bocce, she said, is an old game with its origins in Italy. “It’s very much like bowling, only you play with smaller, heavy balls. The goal is to get as close to a smaller ball, called a pallina. The players roll a ball, in turn according to who’s closest to the pallina, and it just keeps going to that. The goal is to get as close to the pallina as possible and get as many points as you can.”
She said the bocce teams practice at the Italian-American Club on Grove Street, while the basketball teams improve their skills at Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford.
“We all work on a volunteer basis and rely on our community for support and donations,” she said. “The reason we do what we do is the athletes, it’s the hardest job we don’t have a monetary compensation for, but it’s the one we get the most reward.”
Athletes also find it rewarding. LaBerge said learning more about Special Olympics is as simple as asking.
“If you don’t know about Special Olympics, just ask somebody,” she said. “You can really get a lot of help in sports and you can really have fun. I know when I was in school I wasn’t allowed to do sports because I wasn’t good enough, but in Special Olympics you don’t have to be good enough, all you have to do is try.”
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