WEST RUTLAND — The students at Rutland Intermediate School won’t be the only ones cleaning out their desks at the end of the school year: Principal Jay Slenker is moving west to join West Rutland School as its new principal starting July 1.
“If anything I’m very, very happy here (at RIS),” Slenker said. “If you talk to anyone in leadership, at some point it’s just time for a change.”
Slenker said he first heard about the position at West Rutland School two years ago but decided against applying, and felt later that he had missed an opportunity.
But Slenker’s train was slated to come back around, and the opening was re-posted while Bob Johnson served as the interim principal after Sarah Merrill’s departure earlier this year.
Inspired by the K-12 school’s student-centered learning, dual enrollment and distance-learning programs, Slenker applied again.
“(They’re) looking at personalized learning plans, what the student needs to know, how can they demonstrate that they know it, how will they get there — that’s exciting stuff that is all research based, does take time, does take training, but it is really good for the students,” he said.
Though he didn’t always envision being a principal, Slenker said he always felt he could do well as the leader of an institution incorporating compassion and cooperation.
“You always have authoritarian vs. authoritative people,” Slenker said. “Being authoritative, you have to believe in what you do, believe in what you say, and you can accomplish a lot of really positive things.”
Slenker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from Utica College before coming to Rutland in 1992, where he said he started as a substitute teacher before becoming a para-educator.
Slenker earned his master’s degree at Castleton State in special education with a certificate of advanced studies in school administration, before becoming a special-education teacher at Rutland High School. He later served for three years as the assistant principal before becoming the principal of Rutland Intermediate School.
Slenker said he lived in West Rutland in the 1990s, and said he’s looking forward to once again becoming a part of the community and its school.
“(I’m excited) to make some value-minded changes and be part of a larger supervisory union,” Slenker said. “There’s a lot of good work already being done ... and a lot of the things I align with are already in place.”
In his 13 years at RIS, Slenker said, the Rutland community welcomed him as one of its own, and offered opportunities to grow as an educator, but also to bond with many parents whom he had as students when he taught at Rutland High School.
After all he has learned from the Rutland City community, the decision to leave the school he’s called home for more than a decade was not an easy one, Slenker said.
“(In my time) here, I learned how to grow as a leader,” Slenker said. “I learned that decisions need to be thoughtful, you need to build consensus among stakeholders, and you need to be genuine.”
He hopes the new position will be a long-term role where he can put down roots and form new, lifelong connections, the way he has in Rutland City, Slenker said.
“In education, I’m a huge relationship guy,” Slenker said. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the Rutland City school system. I have an allegiance to the folks and kids I work with, I just professionally needed new chances to grow.”
Slenker said there’s no word yet on who will replace him next year, but said leaving in winter would allow for more preparation and candidate vetting before he begins his new position in July.
“(Slenker) is passionate about providing all of our children with a well-rounded, dynamic education,” Greater Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Debra Taylor said in a statement.