Former St. Johnsbury Academy Headmaster Tom Lovett introduced himself as a new member of the state education board to the Vermont Senate Committee on Education on Thursday.
The Senate hearing, held remotely via video conference, was an opportunity for Lovett to discuss his background, his interest in serving on the board and particular educational issues he’d like to see the board address. His testimony followed a discussion about how the state board of education needs diversity in its membership.
Sen. Kesha Ram, of Burlington, and Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, of Hartford, as members of the Social Equity Caucus, addressed the committee about a change to the law governing the appointment of board of education members. The change would delete, “To the extent possible, the members shall represent 11 geographically diverse areas of the State” and replace it with “To the extent possible, the members shall represent the State’s geographic, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity.”
Said Sen. Ram, “I think that’s an incredible step in the right direction really sending a message to the administration, the governor, whoever they may be, that this is a really critical step to making sure that our board of education is more reflective of all of those elements of diversity.”
The board of education has 10 voting members. The current make-up speaks to gender diversity with six women and four men.
Lovett was recently appointed by Gov. Phil Scott to serve on the board. He retired from St. Johnsbury Academy in June 2020 after serving 19 years as headmaster. Most recently Lovett served as an interim director for the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative.
“Through it I learned the power of collective action and the knowledge one can gain by gathering stakeholders and listening to the wisdom in the room,” said Lovett.
He spoke about the influences of his parents who taught in public school and their teacher friends.
“These teachers inspired me to strive to make a difference in the lives of young people and see education as more than academics; [it’s] educating the whole person to be a constructive citizen and a person of good character,” he said. “They also taught me to care about those who struggle and to love those who need it the most.”
He said concerns and opportunities in education revealed through the pandemic inspired him to apply to serve on the board of education. He said issues of mental health are especially relevant. A greater need for equity and inclusion is also evident, he said.
Lovett told the senators what he’d like to accomplish as a board of education member.
“During my time on the board I hope to do all I can to ensure high quality, personally relevant educational experience to all students,” he said. “For me, that means education, culture and climate … I’d like to see Vermont’s diverse educational landscape be a world-class model.”
Sen. Andrew Perchlik, of Montpelier, spoke of Lovett’s career serving at an independent school as a possible point of contention for some. He asked Lovett to respond to a public school vs. independent school perception.
“To be direct there are people out there who feel that some of these independent schools are draining the public schools and they’re like stealing the kids,” said Perchlik.
Lovett said he could only speak for St. Johnsbury Academy in terms of enrollment. Since there are no other public school options in St. Johnsbury and several area towns, the Academy is the local option, he said.