Burlington School Board Chooses New Superintendent | Off Message

Burlington School Board Chooses New Superintendent


The Burlington School Board announcing the new superintendent - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • The Burlington School Board announcing the new superintendent
Updated on March 13, 2020.

A top administrator with the Providence, R.I., public school system will be Burlington's next superintendent of schools.

The city school board voted unanimously Thursday evening to hire Thomas Flanagan Jr. under a two-year contract that starts this summer.

His experience in handling special education, school construction projects and attempting to close the student academic achievement gap helped him rise above the competition, board members said. The board had announced three finalists and had invited them to a public forum last week.

"He brings years of experience leading curriculum efforts and has significant expertise in teaching and in special education," board chair Clare Wool said.

Flanagan's experience in Providence, as well as prior experience in Washington, D.C., shows he has a track record in districts with racial and economic diversity, another plus, board members said.

He will earn $170,000 annually. Flanagan has agreed to reside in Burlington, unlike outgoing superintendent Yaw Obeng, who created controversy when he successfully sought a waiver to a city rule that requires the superintendent and other key leaders to live in the city. He instead chose to live in South Burlington.

Wool said the school board heard "loud and clear" from the community during the interview process that they wanted the new superintendent to live in the city. Flanagan has committed to live in Burlington with his wife and three children, Wool said.

  • Courtesy of Burlington School District
  • Thomas Flanagan
Flanagan is the chief academic officer of Providence Public Schools, one step below the superintendent of schools there. He's been in his current job since 2016 and prior to that was deputy chief of specialized instruction for the Washington, D.C., public schools from 2012 to 2016. He also worked as a principal there.

Last fall, the State of Rhode Island took over the school district Flanagan currently works in after a “blistering” report found “many teachers and students do not feel safe in their classrooms, principals struggle to lead and deteriorating school buildings have become health hazards,” the Washington Post reported in June 2019. “Most students, the report concluded, are not learning on grade level — or even near grade level.”

The 24,000-student district was a “picture of systemic dysfunction” with “dreadful” conditions that caused a seasoned team of researchers to break “into tears while visiting crumbling school buildings,” the outlet reported. The district hired a new “turnaround” superintendent in January, NBC 10 News reported.

Flanagan appears to have been looking to leave the Providence system: He  was one of four finalists for the superintendent of schools gig in Everett, Mass.

Obeng was hired in 2015 and has run the Burlington district of 3,500 students for nearly five years. He announced in November that he would step down at the end of the current school year to look for other opportunities.

Obeng earns about $168,000 annually, and would have earned around $170,000 in the coming year, the same as Flanagan's salary, school officials said Thursday.

The new superintendent's salary is a worthy expense, board members said.

"It's commonly known in education circles that there is a shortage of superintendents in this country," said board member Martine Gulick. In order to attract an "excellent candidate," the board needed to offer appropriate compensation, she said.

Three other school districts in Vermont currently pay their superintendents more than Burlington's, Wool said.

When hired, Obeng stepped into a district facing controversies about budget deficits and failures to meet diversity and equity goals. He was the first African American superintendent hired in Burlington.

Challenges soon cropped up for Obeng, a Canadian citizen whose working papers were more difficult to obtain than school board members had expected.
He also faced controversy over personnel issues and some capital projects, including two proposed preschool buildings that voters felt materialized without sufficient debate.

Flanagan was not at the meeting Thursday in the Edmunds Middle School library where his hiring was finalized and announced — nor was Obeng.

Flanagan was selected after a national search identified three finalists, all of whom came to Burlington to meet with parents, students, teachers and community members.
The two other candidates were Peter Burrows, superintendent of schools in the Addison Central School District in Middlebury, and Erin Maguire, director of equity, diversity and inclusion for the Essex Westford School District.

Obeng's contract runs through June 30. Board members said they would announce more details on the transition for the new superintendent later this spring. 

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