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A native of the western suburbs of Chicago, David Younce draws on more than twenty-five years of experience in large suburban and small rural school districts in the Midwest and northeast to lead and support other leaders.
Currently, in his eighth year as superintendent of the Mill River Unified Union School District in southwestern Vermont, David previously served as a middle school social studies teacher for six years, middle school assistant principal for three years, and elementary school principal for nine years in the Indian Prairie School District in the western suburbs of Chicago.
David is focused on relationships, team development, and the creation of effective systems. David’s experience with the following critical aspects of school leadership has positioned him to support and guide other leaders and their students across the nation:
- Equity leadership
- Proficiency-based learning implementation
- Complex school district merger and consolidation
- Leadership coaching and mentoring
- High-quality teaching and professional development strategies
- Long and short term strategic planning
Having learned significant lessons and gained skills in navigating leadership growth in environments mixed with urban/suburban wealth and poverty during the first 18 years of his career, David has experienced the profound impacts of rural isolation and generational poverty in more recent years and understands tangibly what the challenges of a lack of resources and opportunities in a community looks and feels like. Those variable experiences have shaped his worldview and leadership in significant ways and have prepared David to lead and support leaders in many settings.
In partnership with school board members, David successfully helped lead a merger of 6 separate school districts into a single unified school district in 2016, forming the new district from the ground up and becoming the first such district in the state to do so. The merger process stabilized local education costs and tax rates in an unsustainable fiscal era fueled by declining enrollments across the state of Vermont.
Working with a team of leaders, David helped to build a framework for district equity and instructional work that has been borrowed and duplicated by districts throughout the State of Vermont. This same team of district leaders has brought a disparate, disjointed system under institutional, instructional, fiscal, and governance control. Under his leadership, that team also nurtured leadership internally and externally to foster an organization that will sustain itself over time.
David served previously as a Trustee for the Vermont Superintendents Association (VSA) for two years, as President-Elect for two years, and is currently the President of that statewide organization. His experiences in the President’s role during the COVID era have been impactful, working closely with the Vermont Secretary of Education and the leaders of other major state educational associations as Vermont navigated COVID and worked tirelessly to meet the needs of school districts, through both direct and political efforts.
David is one of two elected representatives from Vermont serving from 2017-2023 on the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Governing Board, affording the opportunity to engage at the federal level in policy advocacy and leadership.
From 2017-2020, Vermont Governor Phil Scott appointed David as the sole superintendent in the state to serve on the Vermont Standards Board for Professional Educators, which oversees all educator licensing in the state.
David’s colleagues recognized him as the Vermont Superintendent of the Year for 2020-2021 in recognition of a pattern of career service and contributions above and beyond to the field of education generally and more specifically to the benefit of the students of Vermont.
We recently connected with David Younce to learn a bit about how he handles the different challenges that come along with leadership in education.
What is your approach to starting a new project?
Figuring out the scope and pacing matters the most so that I can create reasonable expectations for what will be done and when. That is followed by developing my own informal communication plan. This involves thinking about who needs to know what and when.
In my field, projects are often simultaneous and there is seldom an exciting moment of happiness when something is finished because other priorities have arisen while the one was being worked through. That is simply the nature of the work that I do.
What are some of the keys to effective decision-making?
In this order:
Access your previous experience
Assess the impacts – both real and imagined.
Identify the worst and best outcomes connected to the decision.
Go with your gut.
What criteria do you use to decide what to do yourself and what to delegate to others?
I used to struggle with this because I felt a need to prove to myself and others that I would do anything that needed to be done. This changed over time as I matured in my leadership.
Now, my criteria comes down to the question of which individual is best positioned to carry out a given assignment or project in a way that will serve the organization well and be effective and efficient. When I consider that, the work ends up in the right hands more often than not.
How do you manage the stress of all the things you are not able to complete?
I don’t feel stress related to not completing things. I do feel stressed if I am not focused or am worried that I am not meeting my own or others’ expectations.
Time alone to think, stare out a window, or drive usually helps me to sort out my thinking and reorient myself. A couple of glasses of red wine at night doesn’t hurt either.
Can you share an example of a recent decision you made and the steps you took to reach your goal?
A year ago, in the midst of the pandemic, we were faced with the decisions that all school districts were facing: how to open schools safely, ensure that students are learning, and do what we could to limit illness and death. It was of course a tinderbox waiting to explode. The goal was to safely and successfully get through a school year.
In late July, I heard clearly from my leadership team that they were very concerned about opening the school year in person. I did not share the same overall concern but knew that their leadership was critical to being successful. I made a decision then to support my leaders’ needs as we moved forward and planned to open the school year remotely. I knew that I would be the target of any vitriol, as that is part of my position. It was important to protect the system and those in it through the act of me being on the front line of the decision and messaging.
The next step in that process was to inform and convince my board on the ways that we needed to proceed and to have them designate and understand that I possessed the authority to make the decision. Without that, things would be messier later in the process. I had engendered their trust and that went well.
Before communicating more broadly about that decision, logistics needed to be sorted out and details addressed. That was followed by communication to school district employees and families. Employees were generally very supportive. Families were very mixed with no middle ground, either incredibly grateful for the decision or incredibly angry about its impacts. That began the era that has continued in our society throughout the pandemic, wherein public leadership, no matter what decision you make, organized vitriol arrives and persists.
In the end, we opened our school year remotely. We returned students to schools in person in November. Compared to our neighbors, we kept cases in the schools very low and we did not lose a single life within the district due to COVID-19. The year was a success.