The leader of the Mill River Unified Union School District has been named superintendent of the year for 2020, according to a release from the Vermont Superintendents Association.
David Younce has been superintendent at the school district, which serves North Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford, since 2014.
“Believe it or not, I was completely surprised,” said Younce with a laugh. “Folks asked me afterward, ‘Did you see that coming?’ and the answer was ‘Absolutely not.’”
Younce, who is also serving a two-year term as the incoming president of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said the association has an annual meeting in May, but like much of life recently, the meeting was modified so it could happen remotely as part of Vermont’s efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
Younce learned he was superintendent of the year during a remote meeting.
“Pretty cool experience to be honest with you,” he said on Monday.
According to the release from the association, Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union, announced the award by calling Younce “articulate, motivated and passionate about equity for all students.”
“His leadership and advocacy skills have been considerable as he helped to guide VSA through the unprecedented COVID-19 school closures, at the state level and the regional level. He continually advocates to support colleagues, often reaching out when he is aware anyone is struggling with a challenge or could use a listening ear,” Olsen-Farrell said.
Younce said he realized he was going to receive the Frederick H. Tuttle Superintendent of the Year award while hearing Olsen-Farrell’s introduction.
“Maybe a minute or so in, I kinda started to realize, ‘Oh, my goodness, I think she’s talking about me,’” he said.
While Younce said he’s not often speechless, he said he was while “pleasantly, genuinely surprised,” He said he was also happy that the association had arranged to have his wife and two sons watch the meeting from another room so they could see him be awarded the Tuttle.
Younce said he was a principal at a school in the Chicago suburbs, but his wife has family in Arlington in Bennington County. The family decided to move to Vermont and Younce found his first position as a superintendent in the North Clarendon-based school district, which was the Rutland South Supervisory Union when he arrived.
Younce said one of the achievements he was proud of was the early adaption of the district of Act 46 mergers.
“That allowed us to organize and develop systems and build from the ground up in a sense,” he said.
He also said that because the central office moved into Mill River High School during the merger, he was able to maintain contact with students in a way that some superintendents working at a remote location may find more challenging.
Tammy Heffernan, chairwoman of the board for Mill River Union, said the board was “thrilled” that Younce received the award.
“It speaks a lot that out of the 60-odd superintendents in the state of Vermont that he was chosen. It’s definitely a distinction that’s well-earned,” she said.
Heffernan has been leading the board since Younce has been superintendent.
“I can’t speak highly enough about him. He’s always reaching to do what’s best for the kids. Through the whole COVID-19 pandemic, life that we’re been living over the past few months, David just ran with it He’s kept the board well informed of everything that was going on, really kept the community well informed,” she said.
Younce said he was also proud of his leadership team of principals and central office education and business leaders.
“They’re good people with good hearts who are working their tails off,” he said.
Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said the Tuttle award was named after a long-serving superintendent from South Burlington. He said the award is significant because it’s a recognition from a superintendent’s Vermont peers but also allows the recipient to participate in national activities of the American Association of School Superintendents.
Francis said the criteria for the award are the contributions at the local, regional, state and national level.
“In David’s case, he has been, I would say, an exemplary leader for the association,” Francis said.