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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Incoming Burlington Schools Chief Yaw Obeng Gets a Visa

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2015 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Burlington School Board chair Mark Porter and UVM interim dean of education and social services Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin. - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Burlington School Board chair Mark Porter and UVM interim dean of education and social services Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin.
Burlington School Board chair Mark Porter was all smiles Wednesday when he announced that the city's pick for school superintendent has cleared visa hurdles that threatened to derail his appointment.

Canadian citizen Yaw Obeng has obtained a visa and will begin his $153,000-a-year job as Burlington schools superintendent within the next few weeks. He'll also start a second, part-time job as a University of Vermont adjunct professor. That position was critical to securing Obeng an H-1B visa allowing him to collect a U.S. paycheck. 

"This is wonderful news for the community of Burlington and its children,"  Porter said during a press conference at school district headquarters on Colchester Avenue.  

The school district's immigration lawyers floated the idea of pursuing a visa through UVM after Obeng struck out in two previous visa applications, forcing school officials to delay his July 1 start date.

click to enlarge Yaw Obeng - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Yaw Obeng
The school board approached UVM, and administrators said they had a vacancy. Obeng applied and won a part-time faculty job at UVM. 

He was then able to secure a visa to work at UVM, and, in piggy-back process, a visa to work for the Burlington school district, according to the scenario Porter outlined at the press conference. 

The school district has spent around $55,000 on the superintendent search and legal bills for the visa applications. Critics questioned why the district could not find a U.S. citizen to do the job. Porter said Obeng is highly qualified, and became a favorite in the interview process with teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders.

It was worth it to go through the visa challenges to hire Obeng, Porter said.  

"I would have had no problem going further for the right candidate," Porter said, adding that Obeng's Canadian citizenship was not important in his view. "It doesn't matter. We don't live in a world that has those kind of boundaries any more. Boundaries are simply political." 

The school district will continue to seek an O-1 Visa, which was denied earlier this summer. Obeng has said he wants to be a permanent U.S. resident and the O-1 is the true path for that, Porter said. 


Correction 8/26/15: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Obeng was born in Ghana. He is of Ghanian heritage but was born in Germany. 


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Molly Walsh

Molly Walsh

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Molly Walsh is a Seven Days staff writer.

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