Gov. Phil Scott and soon-to-be Education Secretary Dan French
Gov. Phil Scott announced at a press conference Thursday that he has chosen Dan French as Vermont's next education secretary.
French, 55, a longtime educator who has served at every level of the state public school system, will begin on August 13.
He began his career as a high school teacher in Canaan, Vt., and moved up to school principal and superintendent in the same district. French served as superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union from 2007 until 2016, when he became coordinator of the School Leadership graduate program at Saint Michael's College. He lives in Manchester Center.
French replaces Rebecca Holcombe, who resigned with only a few days' notice on April 1. The state Board of Education received a total of 14 applications for the position, and forwarded three finalists to the governor in late May. When asked why it took him more than two months to choose among the three, Scott cited two factors: "First, it was an important decision," he said. "And second, we had to get through the legislative session," which extended into late June.
In introducing French, Scott referred to a favorite talking point: the high cost of the public school system and the need for the state to manage school spending. He called this "a pivotal moment in the history of public education in Vermont." The governor praised French's "tremendous understanding" of the system and "the opportunity we have to strengthen and transform it from good to great."
French focused more on the latter than the former. He cited the "significant talent and capacity for innovation at all levels" of the system, which made him "optimistic about our future."
There appeared to be a bit of distance between Scott and French on the need for top-down reforms. "It's a complicated issue. I've been involved in it at the other end, as a school leader at the local level, for a number of years," French said. "We are a local-control state. Yes, the state is ultimately responsible, but we delegate a lot of authority to local decision-makers."
French said it was "premature" to comment on specific reform ideas. "Right now I'm just looking forward to getting into the agency on August 13," he said. "I intend to enjoy going through the organization and seeing what's going on, and getting ready for the legislative session."
Don Tinney, the president of the Vermont-National Education Association, issued a written statement after French was introduced. “We are heartened that the governor has chosen an experienced public educator with deep Vermont roots to head the Vermont Agency of Education," Tinney wrote. "Dan French knows the issues affecting our students and educators."
At the press conference, Scott hinted at a new education spending reform package in the works but offered no details. "We'll first have to get through the election" in November, he said. The governor acknowledged that issuing wide-ranging school spending plans late in the legislative session, which he has done in each of the last two years, has failed to produce the results he wanted.
"Suffice it to say, we'll try a different approach" in 2019, Scott said.