Feb. 5, 2022 | By Lisa Scagliotti
In a field crowded with candidates vying for numerous Vermont superintendent positions this week, the Harwood school district made a match with its first choice candidate.
School Board Chair Torrey Smith Saturday morning announced that the board has chosen Mike Leichliter, currently superintendent of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Penn Manor School District, and that he has accepted the job offer.
The school board meets on Wednesday, Feb. 9, and will officially appoint Leichliter to the position with a finalized contract.
The news comes after the Harwood Unified Union School Board met Thursday evening to deliberate on which of the three finalists to choose in the search to replace Superintendent Brigid Nease when she steps down at the end of June.
The other two finalists — Zach McLaughlin, superintendent in Springfield, and Meagan Roy, an administrator in the Champlain Valley School District — each were finalists in other districts as well this week and received offers. Roy was the top choice in Washington Central and McLaughlin in Rutland Northeast. No word yet on whether they have accepted those positions.
The board interviewed Leichliter along with the other two top contenders at the start of the week and they spent time visiting schools, meeting principals and students and recording interviews for the public to view.
The school board asked viewers of the clips to offer feedback on the candidates and Leichliter received the most positive comments, Smith said. Leichliter also rose to the top of the list with board members in their interview process.
“We are really excited about this choice. Mike was a clear favorite among board members as well as among the 120 staff, parents and community members who responded in our survey. His previous experience as superintendent, as well as his community- and service-oriented approach, are an excellent fit for where our district is at this time,” Smith wrote in a letter Saturday to the community announcing the board choice.
The letter is posted on WaterburyRoundabout.org along with links to Leichliter’s video interview and community feedback sent to the school board.
Leichliter followed up quickly this morning with an email to Waterbury Roundabout and The Valley Reporter saying he looks forward to working with the local newspapers… “as I strongly believe in a community’s need for a dynamic and free press.”
In an interview, Leichliter spoke highly of his experience this week visiting the district and meeting everyone from school board members to students who gave him tours of his school. At Moretown Elementary, he said the principal handed him off two two fourth grade students who gave him a map “so they didn’t miss any spots on the tour.” No other adults joined the tour. “I was very impressed,” he said.
Leichliter is a 1991 graduate of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and social studies secondary education. In 1995, he earned a master’s degree in school administration from McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College) in Westminster, Maryland; he completed his doctorate studies in school administration in 2006 at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Leichliter has spent his entire career in Southcentral Pennsylvania where he started in 1991 York as a social studies teacher. He moved to the Penn Manor district in 1997 as an assistant high school principal, later moving to a middle school principal position, assistant superintendent and, since 2009, superintendent. The Penn Manor district today has some 5,400 students and an annual budget over $98 million, more than twice that of Harwood Union.
This summer will see the end of a $100 million high school reconstruction project, the plans for which started in 2014. Although his contract with Penn Manor runs until June 2024, he said this year seemed like a good time to start a new chapter.
“On a personal front, I feel ready for something new,” he said. “The pandemic has changed life for me too.”
He noted how having a daughter graduating from the University of Vermont this spring has meant many trips to Vermont in the past several years. During that time, he said he and his wife have come to love the state, its culture and people and set their sights on making Vermont their next home.
Leichliter said that a 2016 article in Education Week titled “Vt. High School Takes Student Voice to Heart” first put Harwood on his radar. The story looks at student involvement in decision making and the role students play in “pushing the boundaries of their power to shape the way they learn and how their school runs.”
That made a big impression. “That is next level,” he said.
Fast forward to 2021 and Leichliter said his thoughts of moving to Vermont made him look up the district where he saw a search for a new superintendent taking shape.
He announced in October his plans to step down at the end of this school year from his Penn Manor position, giving his current district what he considered ample time to conduct a search for his replacement. That also let him focus on learning about HUUSD as he prepared to apply.
He said his spouse was concerned that he was applying to only one position during a tight hiring cycle to fill superintendent spots for July – a dozen are in transition in Vermont this year. But he preferred to make Harwood his top choice.
Walking the halls at the high school earlier this week with students, Leichliter said, confirmed his choice: “That cemented what I read.”
Following the job offer and acceptance, Smith penned her letter to the Harwood community, sharing it with school board members, school staff and the community through the local news media. Likewise, Leichliter wrote a letter on Saturday as well — to his school community at Penn Manor.
He announced that he has decided where he will go next and introduced the Harwood district. “The schools and community are simply wonderful,” he wrote.
Below is the text of Leichliter’s letter to the the Penn Manor school community letting them know of his decision to move to Vermont this summer.
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Feb. 5, 2022
On Wednesday, February 9th my candidacy for the Superintendency of Harwood Unified Union School District in central Vermont will be acted upon by their School Board. I will conclude my time at Penn Manor on June 30th and will start my new position on July 1st.
The school district has 1800 students across six towns (Waterbury, Duxbury, Moretown, Waitsfield, Fayston, and Warren). You are probably familiar with some of the well-known businesses located in this school district including Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese Cooperative, Darn Tough Socks, Green Mountain Coffee/Keurig, and Sugarbush Ski Resort. The schools and community are simply wonderful.
The last twenty-five years of my life in Penn Manor School District have been truly amazing. Many of you have helped me grow from a young and novice high school assistant principal into the most senior superintendent in Lancaster County. Additionally, many of you taught my children and helped our family along the way as we worked together in an incredibly supportive community.
My decision to leave was both personal and professional but can be summed up as an overall feeling that I have concluded my chapter in Penn Manor. When you look at many of the projects I am currently engaged in, it felt like this timing was a logical conclusion for my superintendency. I firmly believe that Penn Manor will now be best served by a new superintendent who is able to look at the needs of the school district with fresh eyes.
I have been blessed with outstanding School Boards over my 13 years including the current nine men and women who quite simply love the school district and want what is best for its future. I have full confidence that our current School Board will continue in the tradition of making sure Penn Manor is a great place for students to learn and teachers to educate our children. I know they are working hard to select an outstanding new superintendent for Penn Manor and I look forward to working with the individual for a smooth transition!
For the past six months I have been thinking about different types of job opportunities that interest me as I fully intend to continue working full-time for many years to come. As I was considering my next steps, the bar was set very high and I only found one other place that meets those expectations for me where I feel I can both learn and help lead. With three children who are all over the east coast, the thought of a new adventure has been a continual dream between Mary Edith and me for about five years now. During the past four years we have frequently traveled to Vermont and fell in love with the people and places there. We quickly determined that this is where we want to begin a new chapter. I learned of the opening at Harwood in late September and as I continued to research the people and opportunities in Harwood Unified Union School District, it became clear to me that they value students, teachers, and community in ways similar to Penn Manor.
In the coming weeks I will share a little more with all of you about my journey and decision-making process. Leaving Penn Manor and Lancaster is hard. Mary Edith and I will miss all of you and this area but we know we will continue to be in touch and would love to have people visit us in our new home in the Harwood community. Rest assured though, the people of Penn Manor will always be a part of me.
I am looking forward to the next five months with all of you.