Interview with David Younce – School Superintendent in Vermont

David Younce

David Younce is an experienced school superintendent with a demonstrated history of successfully leading in the primary/secondary education industry.  He is skilled in public speaking, mentoring, public policy analysis, strategic planning, and change management.  He is a strong educational leader with comprehensive suburban and rural experience and well-liked and respected by his peers and professional colleagues.

David Younce 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 David Younce worked tirelessly to meet the needs of school districts, through both direct and political efforts.

David Younce 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 Younce 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 had the opportunity to interview David Younce and learn a little more about his career.

How did you get started? 

I’ll attempt to make a long story as short as possible. I went away to college at 18 convinced I’d become a Civil Engineer. A few difficult classes and a few internships I didn’t enjoy at all convinced me otherwise. A late-night Discovery Channel program found me fascinated with the pyramids, and an impulsive late-night decision resulted in changing my major to become a history teacher. I’d always loved school and was generally good at it. The concept of teaching something fun and coaching sports was very appealing to me at the time.

Fast forward a few years – the only way to progress on the pay scale as a teacher tends to be to pursue graduate coursework. I decided that, in case I didn’t want to be a teacher forever, pursuing administrative licensure could potentially pay off in other fields. I hopped into a program and learned that I had a knack for seeing the bigger picture and the systems behind good decisions. I also had the ability to anticipate human behavior and understand why people did the things they did. I became an assistant principal in the same school where I was a teacher, which was no easy task. After three years of that I moved on to become an elementary school principal, a role I held for nine years. I absolutely loved that role for a number of reasons.

My family moved from IL to VT in 2014, and I embraced the opportunity to move into a superintendency. After a couple years of finding my footing I began to attempt to expand my impact and scope of influence. I enjoy the big picture and the political levers that I am able to impact and access with what I do now. That said, being a school superintendent in today’s health/political/media context is incredibly difficult work.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

The most difficult decision was to determine the mindset and health expectations that my school system would open with this school year, given that we are dealing with less coordinated COVID leadership from the state level and significant local angst and blowback around matters related to COVID as well as race and educational equity dynamics in the community.

What do you think it is that makes you successful? 

I learned early on to take my work and leadership seriously but not to take myself too seriously. I am driven to achieve and lead for the sake of getting good work done for others rather than for my own pursuits. I am able to support those who work with and around me and communicate skillfully. I engender healthy loyalty, am approachable, and willing to listen to others and change my mind when necessary.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business? 

Facilitating a complicated school district merger to occur and forming a new organization from the ground up was incredibly rewarding. Seeing my school board recognized as the outstanding board in the state that year was icing on the cake. 

In the years following, being recognized by my peers through appointment to positions and awards was incredibly meaningful. Finally, being able to read the names of each of my two sons out loud as they walked across the graduation stage and then give them a hug and their diplomas in front of their entire school community was an absolute blessing.

What does the future hold for your business? 

Complex question with a complex answer. The field of education has to change. The pandemic revealed that there are other ways that learning can occur, but homeostasis kicks in and people instinctively revert back to old ways of doing things when given the window to do so. Funding strategies utilized for public education create inequities and tax implications that have to be resolved. 

Public education often views private, independent, and charter-based education as a threat. I don’t believe that it has to be. I see the last phase of my career focused on supporting school leaders in all settings as we navigate those treacherous waters of funding, governance, and control to try to ensure that students in the US have access to the best options they can find, without limitation, but with appropriate oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively. 

If there is not a collaborative effort to solve that, the solution will become a competitive one, which ultimately will limit the variety of offerings that are available to a large majority of our kids.

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