McClements was living in Wyoming where he had also served as a superintendent when he accepted the position at WSSU. Before that, he also served as a superintendent in Arizona. But his move to Vermont brings him closer to his hometown and his family.
McClements says his early life on a farm in upstate New York has been an influence in his work as an educator. “We were poor,” he says. “My father was a tenant farmer, working for a wage and the house we lived in. At the age of 10 I had to work hard, like a man, helping him every day. What I did made a difference. His job depended on it.”
McClements’ mother worked for a wealthy woman who took an interest in him. When she died at about the time McClements was planning his first semester of college, she left him money for his education. “I was planning to go to college for a semester, then work a semester, then go to college for another semester,” McClements recalls. “She left me enough money to go to school anywhere I wanted.”
McClements says the gift made his life meaningful and opened up opportunities for him. He decided he wanted to make a difference in the lives of children in the same way his teachers, and one in particular, did.
For the last 29 years, he has been a superintendent. “I really like what I do,” he says. “It’s a fascinating job; it’s different every day.”
And a Vermont superintendent’s job is different than a Wyoming superintendent’s job, McClements notes. “I’ve never worked with so many different boards, there are the town school boards, the executive board, and the superboard. And some of those meet twice a month – I’m used to one board meeting a month.”
McClements also notes that Vermont doesn’t have the resources that were available in Wyoming. The western state has a population similar to that of Vermont, but ample revenue from energy production. As a result, “There isn’t the level of support to do my job as fully as I might want,” he says. “I have to spend time every day doing things that I should be able to delegate. But that’s part of the job. Vermont doesn’t have the same funding level.”
And the move to Vermont also brings him closer to his two daughters, who live three-and-a-half hours away in upstate New York, and his girlfriend, who lives in Massachusetts. “We used to see each other once a month, now we can see each other every weekend.”
WSSU is blessed with good board members and good teachers, McClements says. “The board members are impressive. It amazes me how hard board members work. I don’t know if people realize all they do.”
The new superintendent’s priorities will include staff development for teachers and administrators. “I want to work with principals as a mentor to help them become better instructional leaders this year,” he said.
McClements also plans to institute a national teacher development program called PD360, an online service with instructional professional development videos. “It’s outstanding. I’ve just got to look and see if we can come up with $5,000 to buy the system.”
Districts throughout the state will soon be implementing Common Core standards, and McClements will be helping guide WSSU through the transition. He is recommending that local educators look at New York’s online Common Core resources. Although there has been some criticism of Common Core and the idea of a national standard, McClements says it is a step in the right direction, if the goal is to graduate students who can compete globally. “As I look at it, (the United States) ranks well down the list in terms of educational accomplishment,” he says. “There’s far more rigor elsewhere than we ask of our students. What I like about the (Common Core) standards is that, rather than 50 states with 50 different programs, and different programs in all the districts in each state, there’s one national curriculum. I think that’s what our kids need to compete in the global economy.”
Innovation is an important part of the global economy, and McClements plans to implement ideas that will help students learn to be innovators. One is simply to get students talking – debating and discussing ideas in the classroom, rather than listening to lectures. He points to a Boston University program at a failing school in Chelsea, MA. “They were getting horrible results on testing. Boston University took 256 third graders and had them get into a rigorous conversation program in math. Their proficiency jumped from 20% to 80%.”
Like his predecessor Jack Rizzo, McClements also plans to spend as much time out of the office and in schools and classrooms as possible. “All of the teachers and students will know me, even the kindergartners,” he says.
And, although he was hired with the word “interim” before his title, McClements may be here longer than one year. WSSU is currently engaged in a study with Windham Central Supervisory Union to determine how the two supervisory unions might share costs. Because recommendations might have included a merger, WSSU was instructed by the state to hire a new superintendent on an interim basis only. But McClements says the study, which should be released soon, isn’t likely to recommend a merger. “There are things we can do collectively, like purchasing, that make sense, but a merger isn’t probable,” he said. “I don’t know what the board’s decision will be when my year is up, but I’m open to staying longer.”