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Peterborough man honored as Vermont Principal of the Year

  • Tom Ferenc of Peterborough was named Vermont's High School Principal of the Year.<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Dave anderson)
  • Tom Ferenc of Peterborough was named Vermont's High School Principal of the Year.<br/><br/>(Staff Photo by Dave anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — Tom Ferenc of Peterborough hits the road at 5:30 a.m. every week day during the school year. He’s off on a 56-mile commute to Chester, Vt., where he’s principal of Green Mountain Union High School. He’s there till late at night a couple of days a week and sometimes makes the trip on weekends as well. But he says the satisfaction of working with students is well worth the time behind the wheel.

“It’s a commute, but not that bad,” Ferenc said on Thursday. “Plenty of folks go longer, and if you love what you do, it’s not hard. But I wasn’t this gray when I started.”

Ferenc’s commitment to his students was recognized earlier this year when he was named Vermont’s High School Principal of the Year, an award sponsored by Met Life and the National Association for Secondary School Principals.

Ferenc, 60, has been at Green Mountain Union for five years. He previously taught at ConVal High School and was an assistant principal and principal in the Fall Mountain School District. He was recognized for developing programs to mentor and support struggling students and integrating technology into the classrooms at the 340-student school, which serves those in grades 7 to 12.

“I love working with the middle school age kids,” Ference said. “You can really engage youngsters at that earlier stage. Eighth grade is a critical age for dropout prevention.”

The Green Mountain Union students share one building, with the 130 seventh- and eighth-graders in a separate wing from the 210 high schoolers. Ferenc is working hard to give those middle schoolers a head start on technology.

“It’s called ‘flipping the classroom,’” he said. “I’ve just given all those kids iPads. The high schoolers will get them next. We’ve converted the library into a learning commons, with four separate areas where students can do a lot of online learning.”

Green Mountain Union added a technology integration specialist to the staff, someone who can go into classrooms to help teachers learn to use the new tools at their disposal.

Ferenc said the changes he’s made have been accomplished through careful readjustment of the school district’s budget and backing from a “progressive” school board.

“I’ve been lucky to have a school board and staff that are supportive,” he said. “And the town has passed our budgets. They’ve been modest, about one or two percent increases.”

Ferenc said program changes were made at the school to allow for increased spending on technology.

“We’re spending the money we have in different ways,” he said. “We’ve cut some programs. Home-Ec. was one. Students still have tech center opportunities off site.”

Ferenc said he tries to focus on the needs of students at risk of dropping out. That’s a carryover from his days at ConVal, when Ferenc and fellow teacher Greg Scerbinski were instrumental in helping a group of high-school students plan and create the first skate park at Adams Field.

“We had a group of students who weren’t engaged at school. But they had lots of talent. It was an opportunity to engage reluctant learners. Those are the kids who fall through the cracks.”

Ferenc and his wife, Christie, have lived in Peterborough for about 20 years. Ferenc said he got into teaching in his mid 40s, after spending 20 years in sales and marketing in the private sector. His first teaching job was as a substitute at ConVal High School, and he was then hired to teach biology. He earned a master’s degree in education at Antioch New England in Keene , became assistant principal at Fall Mountain in 2000 and was named principal there two years later. He moved to Green Mountain Union in 2007.

In September, Ferenc and other state award winners attended a conference in Washington D.C. , where he had an opportunity to meet with Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

“It was a marvelous experience to speak to legislators,” Ferenc said, “because we could soon be looking at an 8 to 9 percent reduction in federal education funding. That could be devastating. Lots of teachers are paid through federal grants. It would be asking a lot for towns to take that burden on.”

Ferenc loves Vermont — “Chester is very Rockwellian. Not as nice as Peterborough, but close,” he said — but he’s hoping his next job will be a little closer to home.

“My goal is to get back to New Hampshire, in a middle school or elementary capacity. I’m looking to do that next year,” he said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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