Reading all of the recent publicity around Mill River Superintendent David Younce takes me back to a very dark time in my life. Some years ago, a very vocal citizen had a personal vendetta against one of our school administrators, and launched a public campaign against that person. At the outset it seemed to be not much more than a reason to roll my eyes and sigh, but through carefully selected “evidence,” clever editing and outright lies, the campaign soon swept uninformed citizens into a feeding frenzy. It even made national news.
I watched as two outstanding educators who were all about kids had their careers ruined. It was like watching a train wreck, and no amount of the truth I attempted to impart could stop it, or even slow it down.
My frustration at feeling I had somehow failed in that situation does not, however, discourage me from sharing what I know of these more recent events. In fact, it may be driving me.
The very vocal citizen in this case was quoted as saying “I have learned a lot about the school district in the past two weeks.” Two weeks. I have been associated with Mill River since it was being built. My wife and our three children are all graduates. I served as chair of my local school board and the supervisory union board for many years, and have worked closely with five different superintendents.
I was communicating with David Younce via email before he came to Vermont to be interviewed, and was a member of the board that interviewed and ultimately hired him. This all helps me keep a more balanced perspective on the sensational reporting that has been thrust upon us all, but not all citizens are afforded that balance because they have only been told part of the story.
Of the 22-minute recording that was made on Oct. 19, 2018, the press has zoomed in on very small snippets, most notably the “turning over the rocks” bit. There is very little about what prompted the superintendent to call the meeting in the first place: A member of staff starting a rumor that he was having an affair with another staff member … announcing this in the main office of the high school (I’m told in front of students).
I haven’t noticed any mention of his speaking to love — his love of the Mill River staff. There has been nothing about him offering support to anyone who is feeling harassed, bullied, intimidated or such, saying that will not be tolerated and his door is always open. Just the opposite — he has been accused of the bullying by letting it be known that he intends to eliminate such subversive behavior. He let it be known loud and clear he has been and always will be seeking to provide what’s best for kids, and those who were not on board with that concept will be shown the door. Where does one find that in the press?
Given that he had been attacked personally, which inflicted no small emotional pains on his wife and children, I find Dave’s response very measured; I’m not sure I would be capable of such restraint. The bottom line is he did not call a meeting to bully the entire staff, he called the meeting to give notice to any who were not on board with what’s best for kids, those who have personal agendas, that enough is enough and that they could consider a corner having been turned as of right then and there.
We didn’t hire David Younce to win popularity contests; we hired him to be a strong leader for those educating our kids. He has repeatedly proven himself to be very capable in that role, and I applaud him for maintaining an even keel throughout all of this. Part of the job sometimes, I suppose, but a totally unnecessary part. When we expend energies on adult agendas, those energies are taken away from supporting student learning.
Ken Fredette served on the Wallingford, Rutland South and Mill River school boards for 20 years, including a term as president of the Vermont School Boards Association. He lives in Wallingford.