Great Barrington — The search to find a replacement to succeed retiring Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Marianne Young may have come to an end.
“We’re very excited about the prospect of Amy Rex being Monument’s next principal,” Dillon told The Edge. “Her experience as a leader, the depth of her work around student voice, and her commitment to teams make her an excellent candidate.”
The race to succeed Young had been narrowed to three finalists, all of whom revisited the school Friday (June 16) for a final round of interviews with a search panel.
Young announced her retirement in February after leading the school for a total of 16 years. A regional search yielded 21 applicants. The search committee narrowed the field to six and then the trio that returned to Monument last week.
Two of the finalists are sitting principals. Alan Strauss has headed the Gilbert School, a quasi-public middle and high school in Winsted, Conn., for five years. Another finalist, Jennifer Chassman, is assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Holyoke High School.
Rex has been co-principal at Harwood since 2012. Before that she was principal of Danville School, a pre-k-12 school in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom region.
In response to a question from members of the search committee, Rex, who grew up in Foxborough, Mass., said her father was a school principal and she was a student at his schools.
“When I went to college, the last thing I wanted to do was teach,” Rex said. “I was a rebel then.”
After graduating in 1987 from UMass-Amherst with a B.A. in Soviet Studies, Rex worked for Project Harmony, helped facilitate an exchange program and “fell in love with education.” So she went back to school to learn to be a teacher and administrator, eventually earning a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Vermont.
Rex said she moved into administration because sometimes as a teacher she “was frustrated with the decisions administrators were making or the way they interacted with the faculty and the kids.”
When she noticed the opening at Monument, Rex did some research on the school and found its philosophy to her liking.
“It’s very similar to the school that I’m in currently,” Rex said. “It’s similar in size and I like the philosophy around learning, personalization and creativity.”
Asked how she could help teachers improve, Rex said it’s all about inspiring the faculty and supporting them when they want to try out new pedagogical approaches.
“You need to consider them an asset,” she said. “I want to inspire them to be more creative and take risks … One of my favorite things to do with teachers is helping them take risks and explore opportunities.”
Rex was also asked which three qualities an exceptional school should possess. Her answer: an acknowledgement from faculty and students that all students can learn; an environment where “students and teachers are genuinely glad to be here” and “you can tell students are working hard and teachers are pushing them”; and “a community that loves their school” and “feels it’s a centerpiece.”
Dillon said Rex’s salary and benefits will be negotiated. Hiring the principal is Dillon’s call but he made the decision to include others in the interview and visioning process.
In addition to a handful of students, asking questions at Friday’s interview session of the three candidates were English teacher Mike Rosenthal and guidance counselors Mike Powell and Marci Velasco.
Harwood Union has about 800 students in grades 7 to 12. Like Monument, it is a regional school. Harwood serves six towns, including Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
While at Harwood, Rex emphasized student-centered learning, a team-oriented strategy for instruction and a personalized approach to learning. In 2016, she was the Vermont nominee for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Lawrence W. O’Toole Award, as this video produced by the foundation illustrates: