Molly Stark principal Mugits to retire

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BENNINGTON — Molly Stark Elementary School's principal announced this week that he will be retiring following this school year.

Michael Mugits was hired by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union prior to the 2016-2017 school year, after former principal Donna Mackenzie-King retired from that position. After informing his staff that he would be retiring, he posted the following message to Molly Stark's Facebook page:

"I have submitted my resignation, effective August 1, 2018. Health issues have prompted my decision, although I am very fortunate at age 65 that it's more of an inconvenience rather than anything serious at this point. I remain committed to meeting the daily challenges and responsibilities of my role and will continue to exercise leadership of the school with the same dedication I have displayed since my first day at Molly Stark. I also look forward to the continued success of the school, the smiles of our learners, and the great work of our staff. We still have much work to do in our improvement efforts. It has been a pleasure to serve the community and I cherish my interactions with the learners, staff, and parents of Molly Stark."

"I've been enriched as a person through my interactions with everyone at Molly Stark, from the learners in the Early Education program to the most senior member of the staff," said Mugits in an interview on Thursday. "I have cherished the opportunity to see people grow into their potential and exhibit competence and confidence."

"It's hard to have a bad day when you can see smiles and hear laughter of children on a regular basis," he said. "The energy and enthusiasm of children has left me feeling young, until I am reminded by doctors that I'm sixty-five years old and the stress and demands of my role as principal have a far different impact on me physically than when I was thirty-five or forty-five. That prognosis made the decision easier and practical. I will leave school, but school will never leave me. I still hear from former learners and staff members who share updates on what they're doing now and how I might have influenced them. Those experiences reaffirm the decision I made to enter the field of education in 1975."

Mugits also looked forward to the challenges facing Molly Stark and its staff moving forward. "The staff and learners of Molly Stark must avoid accepting the level of expectations held by people outside of the school community. That is, they need to define themselves and create their own future, free of limitations, if they aspire to reach their potential. The staff and learners at Molly Stark must reverse the statement of, 'I'll believe it when I see it,' to 'I'll see it when I believe it.' Believe in yourself. I went from the free lunch line in elementary school to the registration line of an Ivy League school because I heard people project a dim view of my future based on preconceived notions and distorted perceptions but I didn't listen to their confining expectations. Instead, I followed a path made by determination, desire, and dedication. Learn from your mistakes. Be curious, be optimistic, look around corners, see over horizons. Alan Kay, of Apple Computer, once said, 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.' Invent your future - or someone else will do it for you."

"I have invested my energy and efforts in leading under-served learners throughout my career," he said. "I have been fortunate and I've always wanted to help children in the same manner I was helped by teachers long ago."

Last year, after a disagreement with the school board, Mugits tendered his resignation to the board, but the board did not accept his resignation and the school community came out in force to ask him to stay. ""We are here to make it clear that in our experience, he is in the right school, and he is in the right school district," said Molly Stark fourth grade teacher Shari Sargent at that meeting. "Furthermore, he has our full support."

Also standing up for him was colleague Donna Cauley, who is principal of Monument Elementary. "I have heard through the community, and I have heard through his staff members, the wonderful work he has done to change and improve the culture and climate of his community and also the greater community of the Bennington School District... Please don't let this happen to our school community. We are making progress, we are making improvements, and he is a big part of this."

Sargent and Cauley both served on the principal search committee that recommended Mugits as a finalist for the position.

Mugits received his bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Maine at Machias, his master's in school administration from Plymouth State College, in New Hampshire, and his doctorate in education from Sage Graduate Schools in New York. Prior to joining the SVSU, he worked as a teacher and principal at various schools from 1975 to 2010, then superintendent of the Green Island Union Free School District in New York.

"I am not just bidding goodbye to Molly Stark," said Mugits. "This marks the end of a career that started when I began teaching fifth grade on an island off the coast of Maine forty-three years ago. Members of the first class I taught are nearing retirement age themselves. I will miss a morning ritual I've had nearly every morning over all of the years, as an elementary principal, a middle school principal, a high school principal and a superintendent — greeting learners as they enter school, no matter the temperature, rain, or snow. They come with backpacks full of hope and heads full of dreams. They bring the best they have to school each day and I accepted my responsibility for nurturing their dreams and sustaining their hopes as they invented their futures. That's what I've tried to do for over four decades."

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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