David Younce Shares His Secrets of Success

David Younce Shares His Secrets of Success

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, allowing him 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 were able to connect with David Younce to learn about his success as a school superintendent during particularly challenging times and advice on how to maximize productivity and reduce stress.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I tend not to focus on trends too much. I prefer things that are solid and hold up over time. I lean more toward retro or classic concepts in that regard. I might even have an aversion to following trends too closely because they are destined to change by nature.

That said, I do like and appreciate that our world, as dysfunctional as it is, is creating more space for people to talk openly about mental health and trauma. So many people have hidden or not been able to seek to understand their past experiences and the impacts of those experiences on their day-to-day living. Our world is starting to create more space for that, and it is incredibly important.

How do you handle difficult clients or coworkers?

This is part of my everyday job. I listen well and provide them with evidence that I am doing so. I work hard to not be defensive and try to find the motivation behind their frustration. I treat them as a person and try to put myself in their shoes. I am very transparent with them about what I can and cannot do to assist them and work to manage expectations and make the next steps clear.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work a good amount of time. Most people just want to feel heard, even if you can’t give them what they are asking for.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My job can be a 24/7 role at times. Although, I have managed to limit that through experience and strategy. No two days are exactly alike, but there are some consistent patterns.

I typically spend the first part of the day in the office to manage communication.

I’m required to make ongoing decisions in regards to managing the Human Resources side of our operation as we are a small employer with about 200 employees.

I have daily meetings with regional or statewide colleagues to calibrate responses to situations and provide feedback to each other. I also consult with members of our leadership team to ensure that systems are moving in the designed directions and working effectively.

I’ll have another three to five in-person meetings throughout any standard day. Additionally, I’ll take part in three to five virtual meetings on any number of topics. These involve people who are at a distance, so we can limit travel.

Then, two to three nights per week I attend school board meetings or school board committee meetings. These involve my support of the board’s work as my role positions me as the district’s CEO.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I am a huge supporter of Tottenham Hotspur, an English football (soccer) club. I follow soccer as an adult even though I never played it growing up. It’s been an enjoyable learning experience for me.

There is a team in Amsterdam called Ajax that just released a new jersey that is designed around the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds.” Marley was a huge Tottenham Hotspur supporter, but Ajax adopted that song as an anthem.

I ordered the jersey for myself about 2 weeks ago and I cannot wait until it arrives. That was right at $100 and worth every penny.

What advice would you give your younger self?

  1. Manage your expectations and play the long game.
  2. Trust people and your instincts until either proves that you shouldn’t.
  3. Always speak your truth even when it is difficult.
  4. Watch out for your pride and confidence, as they can be dangerous if not controlled.
  5. Listen more than you speak.