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The Student News Site of Burlington High School

BHS Register

The Student News Site of Burlington High School

BHS Register

7 principals in 7 years

Beaupre’s resignation continues high turnover trend
7+principals+in+7+years

BSD Superintendent Tom Flanagan announced Principal Debra Beaupre’s resignation from her position in an email sent to BHS students and families on November 21. Sabrina Westdijk assumed the role of acting principal after Beaupre was put on administrative leave and will continue until further notice – making her BHS’s seventh principal since 2016.

Beaupre was originally put on administrative leave on October 23 following her controversial handling of a student altercation. On October 18, Beaupre pulled the school fire alarm. On October 20, Beaupre sent an email to families explaining her reasoning for pulling the alarm.

“I decided to evacuate the building to ensure safety and provide emotional space to students and staff amid a heightened, atypical situation,” Beaupre said.

This is not the first major controversy Beaupre has been involved in as an administrator.

While she served as principal of Cavendish Town Elementary School, a small school of less than 100 students, a group of nearly 70 community members signed a petition of no confidence and sought for her behavior to be investigated. In one incident, Beaupre allegedly stopped her car in front of a school bus full of students, forced the bus to stop and then boarded the bus in order to lecture students about their behavior.

Before coming to BHS, Beaupre never served as a secondary school principal and her experience as a principal was exclusively confined to her stint at Cavendish.

Beaupre spent less than three months at BHS. She was hired following the resignation of Lauren McBride, who herself spent less than two years in the position. McBride was hired after principal Noel Green abruptly resigned during winter 2021. Green resigned abruptly in early January accusing the School Board of not supporting him in his resignation email. Green had succeeded Tracy Racicot who had become interim-principal less than two years earlier.

Beth Fialko, BEA President and an English teacher at BHS, described how she thinks this string of resignations affected the principal hiring process.

“When you’re desperate, I think you hire who you can – and I think that that’s what we’ve been doing. I don’t think that’s a secret. If you don’t have a robust candidate you’re undermined out of the gate.”

— English teacher Beth Fialko

“When you’re desperate, I think you hire who you can – and I think that that’s what we’ve been doing,” Fialko said. “I don’t think that’s a secret. If you don’t have a robust candidate you’re undermined out of the gate.”

With Beaupre’s resignation, the trend of high administrative turnover continues. Amy Mellencamp, who served as principal of BHS for over 16 years, described how this trend has affected the district.

“Constant turnover leads to confusion, uncertainty and frustration. Teachers and staff members do their own thing without clear leadership. This impacts how learning connects from one classroom to the next and how students build and deepen their skills and knowledge,” Mellencamp said. “Principals who stay in their positions over time stabilize the learning environment in a school.”

Fialko had similar thoughts.

“I think [the turnover has] been devastating. I think morale is at an all time low for employees of the school. I think morale is at an all time low for students of the school. Having a consistent building leader, one with vision and autonomy and authority to create systems and create a future for an institution is essential,” Fialko said. “We believe teachers know, as does the superintendent, that a good leader is all and we just haven’t found that leader yet. The person who can do this job with integrity and tenacity and we’re losing hope.”
In his email announcing Beaupre’s resignation, Flanagan recognized the problem, and confirmed his commitment to solving it.

“I want more than anything to get stability in leadership at the high school, and I give you my word that we will work hard to do this. I know that sentiment is shared throughout our community,” Flanagan wrote. “My team is working diligently to ensure that we support our administrators to help minimize the frequency and impact of mid-year disruptions. We will look at this situation and others, learn from them, and do better.”

The need for stability in the district has been recognized, but the pathway to achieving it is less straightforward.

“We haven’t been able to staff our school with people who can [lead effectively],” Fialko said. “Some responsibility for that needs to be taken by this system. Were those people put in positions that they shouldn’t have been put in? Did they have the support in those positions? That they needed to thrive? To succeed?” Fialko said.

Mellencamp provided multiple ideas on how to improve the situation.

“One reason why there has been high principal turnover at BHS could be due to the appointment of people who don’t necessarily want to be principal, instead of a hiring process that finds people who truly want to serve as leaders of the school,” Mellencamp said.

Mellencamp also emphasized the importance of hiring strong support staff and fellow administrators who will allow the principal to succeed.

In his email announcing Beaupre’s resignation, Flanagan stated that the next BHS Principal would begin working on July 1st, 2024. Despite recent history, Mellencamp has hope for the new hire.

“Support for new principals is key to keeping [them]. When there is not a strong superintendent or district team to support a new principal, that also erodes a feeling of confidence and success for school leaders,” Mellencamp said. “Fortunately, our district now has a superintendent invested in the success of school leaders which should make a difference in the future.”

Mellencamp sees another big reason to be hopeful – the new high school.

“Our school district has a unique opportunity to attract and retain administrators – the chance to move into a brand-new building! Most principals only dream of new facilities designed specifically to meet the teaching and learning needs of a community,” Mellencamp said. “This project should be a source of positive energy for administrators for years to come.”
To Fialko, the issue of turnover is unsolved, but commitment to its resolution is unanimous.

“So how do we conquer [the issue]? I don’t know, I don’t know that anybody knows,” Fialko said. “But I do know that, from the hill down, we all have the same desire, which is to find somebody who is steady, talented, passionate and committed.”

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