Burlington school superintendent to step down in 2020

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The Burlington School District's superintendent will be resigning his post later next year.

Yaw Obeng/File

In a letter to the community Wednesday, Yaw Obeng said he plans to step down in June to "explore other personal and professional opportunities."

In his letter, Obeng listed accomplishments including leaving district finances in stronger shape than they've been in a decade, a capital plan for aging infrastructure, restructuring the central office, and closing the achievement gap while raising the bar for all students.

Obeng's tenure in Burlington has had its ups and downs. The Burlington school district had been plagued by financial and leadership issues for months prior to Yaw Obeng's hiring in 2015. The Toronto administrator was brought in to address finances and diversity. But some criticized the cash-strapped district for spending tens of thousands to bring him here after issues getting a visa.

Obeng began by auditing district spending to bring its finances in line. His tenure faced challenges. In 2017 teachers went on strike after 10 months of failed negotiations. And there was the internal squabble that year among school board members over Obeng's salary and diversity. Voters replaced seven members of that board the next spring.

In 2018 there was a public flap when Burlington High School's then-director of guidance, Mario Macias, went in front of the State Board of Education facing several allegations. Among the testimony from former guidance counselors during that case was that Obeng and other administrators were aware of the toxic culture Macias was creating and didn't act strongly enough.

But there were also successes. Voters approved the district's capital plan to shore up infrastructure. The re-envisioning of the high school and tech center is underway. Voters also approved millions to fund pre-K investments -- something Obeng championed.

"I'm quite surprised," said Bridget Thabault, the mother of a student. Most parents, like Thabault, hadn't heard the news yet. She feels Obeng has been good at communicating with parents. "It seems to me, as a parent, that he is trying to do everything good for the school district."

"We have mixed feelings. We really enjoyed some of the progress he was able to make, and there's room for improvement with the next person that comes through," said Alison Bullis, a parent. She hopes the district can find a replacement soon. "I am disappointed because it felt like we put a lot of time and effort into finding the right person for the job, and I'm worried that with less than a year to accomplish that task, that we might not be successful."

The Burlington Board of School Commissioners in a statement thanked Obeng for his many accomplishments and said the nationwide search for a replacement would begin immediately.