L to R: New principals Bridget Gagne, Mary Fitzgerald and Becky Day pose for a photo outside Milton Elementary and Middle School. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

L to R: New principals Bridget Gagne, Mary Fitzgerald and Becky Day pose for a photo outside Milton Elementary and Middle School. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

A whole new leadership team will greet kids entering Milton Elementary and Middle School next week.

Three all-new principals were just hired for the lower grade levels. Mary Fitzgerald was named pre-K-2 principal, Bridget Gagne the interim 3-5 principal and Becky Day the middle school principal.

Day was offered a two-year probationary contract, while Fitzgerald and Gagne have one-year agreements, documents show.

They fill vacancies created by outgoing principals Troy Nolan-Watkins, Lynne Manley – who is now curriculum and technology director – and Marcel Choquette.

Angela Filion, a longtime elementary school teacher, was named pre-K-5 assistant principal and has a one-year contract.

Despite the turnover, Superintendent Ann Bradshaw is confident in the administrators, noting they each have a mentor through the Vermont Principals’ Association and a “buddy” within the Milton school system.

“If they have a question or just need a boost or whatever their needs are, we’re here to support them,” said Bradshaw, who, only starting last October, is a new administrator in her own right. “The team feels really gelled, and I feel like we all have our hearts and our minds in the right places.”

The new principals have varied prior experience. Fitzgerald was a math specialist and classroom teacher at BFA-Fairfax for 28 years, and Milton is where she shops and recreates. This is her first principal position.

Gagne, who hails from New Hampshire, most recently served as assistant principal in the Campton School District there for two years. She just started in Milton two weeks ago.

Previously a classroom teacher for 17 years, Day just spent five years as assistant principal at BFA-St. Albans and was previously assistant director/principal at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park. Her sister, Roberta, was hired as the Milton High School nurse a year ago.

Day is especially excited to return to middle school, a grade she taught in Middlebury from 2004-09.

“[Middle school] is a great time of growth, exploration, expansion in terms of knowing themselves and their identity,” she said. “Their minds are very open, and they’re about to go into a phase in their life where education becomes a little more focused.”

All three principals were excited to jump on the work already done to integrate personalized learning plans and proficiency-based graduation requirements, the former part of 2013’s Act 77, that helps students identify educational goals.

“We spent so much time over the summer talking about, setting goals and expectations for what it’s going to be like, planning it – I just want the students to be here and to get started because we’ve been anticipating it for so long,” Fitzgerald said.

Educational initiatives will only get them so far, though, she said. Success depends on parents and community members being engaged, a process Fitzgerald already started by meeting with local families in the Birchwood Mobile Home Park.

Fitzgerald’s goal is making “the school system a place that works for everybody,” which includes instilling school pride and celebrating the district’s youngest students for their uniqueness, she said.

For Gagne, the cornerstones of a successful school year are creating a happy, safe and productive environment. Day hopes to accomplish that in the middle school by being approachable. She’s already encouraged the parents she’s met to call her if they’re not getting answers.

“It’s about trying to understand who our children are, who their families are,” she said. “I don’t believe any student can access true learning without a sense of wellbeing.”

All the educators recognized that’s increasingly challenging in schools, which are now responsible for not only educating students but also feeding them and supporting their social and emotional needs.

“You’re a pioneer when you’re in this career,” Gagne said.

But schools are prepared, Fitzgerald added: “We’ve equipped ourselves to handle those changes,” she said. “It would be one thing if students were coming in hungry, and we didn’t have a breakfast program – that’s not the case.”

Day said schools deal with the same issues as in greater society, and the key is having access to resources and being a resource.

“It’s an expectation of a school and an administrator,” she said.

As the summer winds down, all three leaders look forward to seeing students in the building, which has been busy with construction projects, shuffling offices and summer classes (see more about the work done on page 1.)

“Their energy – I love it. I’m a high-energy person,” Day said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to that piece of that and getting to know them on that level.”

The principals all agreed Milton is a town on the rise and were excited to be part of the community.

“We have common theme of keeping high student achievement at the forefront. I wanted to be in a school district that has that solely in mind,” Day said, adding, “That’s exciting. When you say why Milton, it’s sort of like, why not?”