[lg policy] Vermont: Burlington’s pick for superintendent of schools lands visa

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Aug 27 17:59:59 UTC 2015

Burlington’s pick for superintendent of schools lands visa
[image: New Burlington School District superintendent Yaw Obeng. Courtesy

New Burlington School District superintendent Yaw Obeng. Courtesy photo

The Burlington School District finally has its man.

After weeks of wrangling to secure a visa for its choice as superintendent,
the district last week circumvented obstacles to Yaw Obeng’s hiring by
landing him a job as an adjunct professor at the University of Vermont.

That allowed Obeng, a Canadian citizen, to obtain an H1-B visa, which are
awarded through a lottery system to a limited number of applicants each
year, but that limit does not apply to employees at higher learning
institutions, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration
Services regulations.

The Burlington School District sought employment at UVM for Obeng for the
purpose of avoiding that cap, school board chairman Mark Porter said at a
news conference Wednesday morning.

“We knew the college was not subject to the cap,” and the school board’s
immigration attorney had advised that a job through UVM’s College of
Education and Social Services would offer a relatively straightforward
route to an H1-B visa, Porter said.

USCIS representatives declined to comment on the circumstances through
which Obeng acquired a visa. An official who wished to remain unnamed wrote
in an email that she “can share that USCIS adjudicates all petitions and
applications for immigration benefits individually based on the evidence
provided and immigration law.”

The congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 H1-B visas per fiscal year was
met for fiscal year 2016 by April 7, 2015. More than 230,000 people
petitioned for the visas, according to USCIS documents.

Though UVM’s College of Education and Social Services hired Obeng after
being approached by the Burlington School District, the college’s interim
dean said her school would “absolutely” have hired Obeng without that

“This was great serendipity for us,” said Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, interim
dean of UVM’s College of Education and Social Services. “Mr. Obeng’s
knowledge about the needs of English language learners, and how to create a
positive learning culture for students that supports diversity, will be an
asset to our teacher education program as well as [to] Burlington and the

Obeng will teach a course at UVM entitled Language Policy Issues and Race
in Learning, Gerstl-Pepin said. The class is new to UVM, and was to be
taught by a former faculty member who departed suddenly in July for
personal reasons, Gerstl-Pepin said. The course will be offered in the fall
and spring semesters, Gerstl-Pepin said.

Obeng will work at UVM as a part-time, or adjunct, faculty member, she said.

The University of Vermont has no policy expressing preference for
Vermonters or for United States citizens, Gerstl-Pepin said.

“When we hire faculty members or staff members, we want the best person for
the job, and that’s the bottom line,” she said. “We don’t look at those
other factors.”

Porter said the Burlington School District likewise sought only the best
person for the job, regardless of nationality.

School district administrators knew at the outset of the selection process
that Obeng’s citizenship status represented a hurdle to his hiring, but
they were determined to obtain legal employment status for him once he was
chosen, Porter said after the press conference.

“We knew he was not a U.S. citizen, and that he would need to be able to
work legally in the U.S., and that’s why we hired an immigration lawyer,”
Porter said. “We were never given guarantees by our immigration attorney …
[but] they said they’d exhaust all options, and we were like, ‘That’s
great, because so will we.’”

The district spent approximately $16,000 beyond what was originally
allocated for the superintendent search to hire Obeng, Porter said. The
school district had originally set aside $40,000 for the search, he said.

The district will likely spend additional money to secure a different type
of visa that offers Obeng an easier path to citizenship, Porter said.

Obeng, who was superintendent of a school system in Ontario, stood out
among candidates for his past success in working with schools that had wide
income disparities, Porter said.

These are challenges Obeng will need to meet in his new role at Burlington
School District, Porter said.

Obeng’s salary is $153,000.


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