This story by Nora Doyle-Burr was originally published in the Valley News on Feb. 6.
BRADFORD — Changes are in the works for the Orange East Supervisory Union.
The supervisory union, which includes schools in Bradford, Newbury, Wells River, Thetford and East Corinth, is losing its superintendent at the end of June. In addition, the principal and assistant principal of Oxbow High School in Bradford also are leaving.
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All three leaders are long-time educators.
Superintendent Emilie Knisley, a nearly 43-year-old St. Johnsbury resident, has been with schools in the supervisory union for 18 years. She began as a student teacher at Oxbow in 2004, and then served as an English teacher, principal and superintendent at Blue Mountain Union School in Wells River, before arriving at her current post in 2018.
In a Jan. 18 letter to the supervisory union’s board announcing her early retirement, Knisley said she plans to finish her doctorate, continue teaching aspiring administrators at Castleton State University and spend more time with her family. She plans to take a trip with her sons to see the national parks before her oldest, who is now in 7th grade, enters high school.
She said she felt comfortable doing so because she is leaving the supervisory union “in a more stable and solid place than it was when I entered this role four years ago.”
During her tenure, Knisley has overseen the merging of Orange East Supervisory Union and Blue Mountain Supervisory Union, as well as the Act 46 merger that created the Oxbow Unified Union School District.
“It is a challenging time in public education, but we remain poised to grow and flourish — despite a myriad of changes brought on by multiple mergers and a global pandemic,” Knisley wrote.
“We’re very happy for Emilie,” board Chair Angeline Alley said.
But, Alley said Knisley’s departure is a “huge loss” for the supervisory union.
“She’s been an asset,” said Alley, who also serves as chair for the Blue Mountain board. “She’s really brought all of the districts together.”
After advertising the position internally, the supervisory union has already named Assistant Superintendent Randy Gawel to be Knisley’s successor.
Gawel, 51, began his current post at Orange East Supervisory Union last July, following the retirement of Bruce Williams. A Franconia, New Hampshire, native, Gawel previously worked as a teacher, dean, assistant principal, director of teaching and learning, and high school principal in Michigan. He holds a bachelor’s degree from what was then Lyndon State College, a master’s in education from Boston College and an educational specialist degree from Wayne State University in Detroit.
He and his wife, Leah, live in Piermont, New Hampshire, where Gawel has joined the fire department. He also is president-elect for the Cohase Rotary Club in Bradford and is a member of the Bradford Business Association. Their children, Sophia and Sam, are both students at Dartmouth College.
Alley said she’s “comfortable and confident in Randy moving into the superintendent position.”
She also feels fortunate to have him.
You “can’t run a supervisory union without a superintendent (but you) can run one without an assistant,” Alley said.
Oxbow Principal Jean Wheeler and Assistant Principal Robin Wozny also are departing their posts at the end of the school year.
Wheeler, who has been in her post for five and a half years, said it’s been challenging to lead the school through the pandemic and that her departure is not a retirement. Wheeler, who has worked in education or a related field for the past 35 years, had already planned to leave when the Oxbow board decided to shift leadership models, she said.
Beginning next school year, the school will be led by two co-principals, one focused on grades 7-9 and the other focused on grades 10-12, Knisley, Gawel and Danielle Corti, the chair of the Oxbow Unified Union School District, announced in a Jan. 31 letter to the community.
“All schools have a great deal of work ahead to redesign as they rebound from the past 22 months,” Wheeler said. “I feel Oxbow deserves a leader who can commit to the full five years that I anticipate it will take to make needed changes.”
Knisley, Gawel and Corti said the purpose of the leadership reorganization at Oxbow is to “improve the culture and climate.”
They expect the change — which also will include a school-based director of social emotional learning — will result in improved academic and social-emotional outcomes for students, increased community connections, more seamless transitions for students entering Oxbow from elementary school and increased community confidence in leadership, according to the letter.
“The change in leadership at Oxbow is an opportunity for us,” Gawel said in a Friday email. “I was a high school administrator for many years and truly love the transformative work that goes on at the secondary level.”
For her part, Wozny, who has worked at Oxbow in various roles for 35 years, said she is looking forward to retirement, but also will miss the school.
“As a coach, a math teacher, and most recently the assistant principal I have loved coming to work everyday,” Wozny wrote in her Jan. 28 resignation letter. “Oxbow certainly is a special place.”
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