Longtime Rutland superintendent retires
06/17/09 7:49AM By Nina Keck
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(Host) The usual tenure for a school superintendent is between three and five years. William Mathis, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union has pushed that a bit. At the end of this month, Mathis will retire after 27 years on the job. As VPR's Nina Keck reports, educators and community members alike say his imprint will be a lasting one.
(Keck) Ask any school board member and they'll tell you. They go to a lot of meetings. Now imagine being a superintendent and having to attend the board meetings of every school in your district.
(Mathis) "People keep asking me how many school board meetings I've been to and my best guess - and this is just an estimate - is 3,250 and that's conservative. And I look at that (laughs) and say oh my, is this a wasted life or what?"
(Keck) Sitting in his office in Brandon, Bill Mathis shakes his head and smiles.
(Mathis) "It's that kind of a night and day 24-7 kind of thing. And you have to really be committed to it. And if you don't take on the purpose of education with fervor and your belief structure is not there - then the job is probably not for you. ."
(Keck) Taking on education with fervor is something Mathis is famous for. Remember that law called Act 60? Bill Mathis was at the heart of it when the family of one of his students - Amanda Brigham - brought suit against the state of Vermont for unfairly funding public education. Mendon resident Harry Chen is a former state lawmaker and former school board member who's worked closely with Mathis. Chen says the impact and what he considers benefits of that case can't be overstated.
(Chen) "That decision defines how we fund education in Vermont - basically stating every child no matter where they live should have that access to equal opportunity. Really sets us apart from many states where it's a town by town decision."
(Keck) Mathis' efforts on behalf of public education haven't stopped at the Vermont state line. A vocal critic of the federal No Child Left Behind policy, his school district joined a national lawsuit against the federal government arguing the law wasn't being adequately funded.
"One of the things that I admire him for - is that he's really willing
to put himself out there. And I don't think that that is easy for him despite
(Keck) Jeffrey Francis directs the state Superintendent's Association.
(Francis) "He is willing to take that roll because I
think he feels it is so important to be an advocate for public schools and more
importantly for kids."
(Keck) While Mathis is retiring as superintendent, he'll continue to work in fields he cares deeply about - education, policy and research. The University of Colorado has hired him to direct their education and public interest center. He'll cyber commute, he says, so he'll stay in Vermont. Mathis says his passion for education is something that runs deep in his family. He points to a small framed document that hangs over his desk. It's his grandfather's teaching certificate awarded by the state of Tennessee in 1893. Mathis says education has always been important to his family - dating back to his great grandfather.
(Mathis) "He came back from the civil war - and it was a border state, Tennessee, and the entire place was leveled - the houses were burned, the crops were gone. And they said how are we going to put our community back together when our entire social fabric has been destroyed? And the Confederate and Union veterans -and my great grandfather was a Union Calvary soldier . . . they said how are we going to put it back together? And they said we'll do it by building a school."
(Keck) His great grandfather donated land and helped build the Seal Mathis School. That school is still standing says Mathis proudly and both his father and grandfather taught in it.
For VPR news, I'm Nina Keck in Brandon.