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Burlington Superintendent Granted Visa

Burlington School District

Burlington School officials announced Wednesday morning that superintendent Yaw Obeng, who lives in Canada and has had trouble securing a visa since he was chosen to lead the district, was awarded a visa this week and will be in Burlington for the coming school year.

Obeng’s previous job was in Ontario and the international move proved more challenging than officials expected. Obeng didn’t qualify for an O-1 visa when he applied earlier this year, and Burlington School officials reportedly planned to appeal that denial.

Mark Porter, the chair of the Burlington school board, said the board worked with the University of Vermont (UVM) to find a faculty position for Obeng there. The university faces fewer visa restrictions than the school district.

“The path to this visa started with the school board approaching UVM to inquire as to any need the university may have that Mr. Obeng’s extensive qualifications and experience may satisfy,” Porter said.

Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, the interim dean of the university’s College of Education, said at a news conference that a part-time faculty member suddenly left the college in July and left an opening Obeng was qualified for.

“We have this brand new English Language Learner endorsement that we’re trying to get off the ground and she [the departing faculty member] was going to teach both of these courses,” she Gerstl-Pepin said. “So we were actually left in the lurch with this faculty member leaving for personal reasons very quickly, and we needed someone to fill those two courses that are crucial to our program, and it’s very difficult to find someone with English Language Learning expertise in Vermont.”

Obeng has such experience, Gerstl-Pepin said, and is qualified for the UVM job independently of his connection to the Burlington School District.

  Through his job at the university, Porter said, Obeng was able to get a one-year visa. His contract with the Burlington School District is for three years, and Porter said the district plans to continue to work with an immigration lawyer to ensure Obeng can stay in the country.

Obeng is expected to come to Burlington in the next few weeks, Porter said, and will be caught up to lead the district through the school year.

The visa problems that delayed Obeng’s start in Burlington – initially scheduled for July – were worth it, Porter said, in order to bring Obeng to the district.

“We have a lot of changes taking on in Burlington and we have a lot of challenges, and getting the right leader to take that on, willing to consume change and welcome it and come out the other side and really prepare our most challenged students for their futures is really the most important thing right now,” Porter said.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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