Mellencamp to Return to Role as Principal of Burlington High School | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Mellencamp to Return to Role as Principal of Burlington High School


Published January 3, 2023 at 6:20 p.m.
Updated January 17, 2023 at 3:33 p.m.

Burlington High School's temporary downtown campus - FILE: CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington High School's temporary downtown campus
Former Burlington High School principal Amy Mellencamp will come out of retirement to reprise the role she held from 1999 to 2016 following principal Lauren McBride's announcement last month that she is resigning to take a leadership role at a local company.

McBride's last day will be January 9. Mellencamp will begin serving as acting principal on January 17, Superintendent Tom Flanagan wrote in a December 22 email to the school community. Mellencamp will work four days a week, and the administrative team will devise a plan for the day she is not there. Meanwhile, the school district plans to launch a national search for a permanent high school principal.

In Flanagan's announcement, he lauded Mellencamp's "deep understanding of BHS and Vermont’s statutes and policies" and her positive relationships with district staff. 

Currently, Mellencamp serves on the board of the Curtis Fund, a philanthropic organization that provides postsecondary educational scholarships to low-income and at-risk Vermonters. For the past year, she has also volunteered with the Burlington School District to help with scheduling at the high school. 

Though Mellencamp comes with deep institutional knowledge, her tenure was not all smooth sailing. In May 2016, she was one of five principals in the district reassigned to another school by then-superintendent Yaw Obeng in an administrative shake-up. Mellencamp served as principal of C.P. Smith Elementary School for a year before retiring in 2017. At the time, she told media outlets that she was caught off-guard by the reassignment and suggested that Obeng's decision was spurred by her speaking out against teacher cuts at the high school.

In June 2016, finance director Nathan Lavery singled out Mellencamp in a memo to the school board detailing the findings of an outside audit of the handling of student activity accounts. In the memo, Lavery wrote that auditors had found that Burlington High School exhibited  "practices that violate the intended uses of student activity accounts." The accounts had been used to reimburse thousands of dollars to employees without proper documentation, the memo stated.

"The only approver on these payments is the principal, who repeatedly failed to ensure the presence of sufficient documentation prior to authorizing payment," Lavery wrote.

Mellencamp contested the findings of the memo at the time, writing in an email to
Seven Days that "this is the case of [Lavery] never asking questions of administrators, including myself, and just going ahead and making assumptions without gaining appropriate information."

In an email on Tuesday, Superintendent Flanagan said Lavery's 2016 memo noted that the audit found all six of the Burlington schools had issues with the handling of student activity accounts and that those shortcomings had been addressed in the years since the audit was done.

"I am fully confident in Principal Mellencamp’s ability to manage the school, staff and our budget," Flanagan wrote. "I know she is the right person to move us forward through this transition and I am excited to have her helping us finish the school year strong."

  • Courtesy of Burlington School District ©️ Seven Days
  • Lauren McBride
McBride, who was promoted from BHS assistant principal to principal in January 2021 following the surprising resignation of Noel Green, will leave education for a leadership role at Burlington-based cookie dough manufacturer Rhino Foods.

McBride's tenure as principal was short but eventful. She oversaw the move of students into a temporary downtown campus — the site of a former Macy's department store. She also helped make the case to the community for a new high school and technical center. In November, Burlington voters overwhelmingly approved a $165 million bond to support that project. Demolition of the old Institute Road building is slated to start in January, though an emergency motion filed by PCB-manufacturer Monsanto seeking to delay demolition could hold up the project.

McBride wrote in a December 13 letter to the school community that she had no inclination at the beginning of the school year that she would be leaving her job, but she was presented with a professional opportunity she felt she needed to pursue.  In a letter later that day, Flanagan wrote that he was saddened by McBride's departure and praised her work through "a challenging leadership transition" and "her willingness to lead from a place of humility and to be student-centered in decision-making."