VPA Visits features members of the VPA staff visiting schools around the state to listen, learn, and celebrate all that is happening in our Vermont schools. Do you have a school leader and/or school you’d like the VPA to visit? The primary contact for VPA visits is firstname.lastname@example.org
VPA VISIT: 1/17/20
PRINCIPAL: Bianca McKeen
VPA VISITOR: Mike McRaith
School: Barstow Memorial School
It was a pleasure to arrive at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, Vermont. The winter sun was shining in through large, beautiful, historic windows and the school was buzzing with happy, productive chatter from students and teachers. Barstow Memorial School, a PK-8 school of 215 students in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union is long recognized as being dedicated to academic excellence and has a particularly strong connection to its community. Built in the 1930s by the Barstow family, the school is a memorial to their son, Frederic. The school originally served as a high school for the region and has always been connected to the town library and meeting hall. The school features all sorts of interesting historical artifacts and paintings, many of which are managed and cataloged by the Chittenden Historical Society. Barstow Memorial School is led by 2nd year principal, Bianca McKeen (@BiancaMcKeen). Bianca grew up in nearby Rutland, where she also taught middle school and high school science. During her teaching career, she was named a UVM Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and was a 2016 Rowland Fellow.
We had a great tour of the building and were able to learn more about what Bianca and the team at Barstow Memorial have been working on lately. Here are few highlights:
- Choose Kind: The Barstow Bobcats choose kind. Central to the equity-conscious PBIS program that the school has developed is treating one another with kindness. That work is supported and celebrated in many ways, including a monthly community assembly. At each assembly, a community member is invited to join and speak as a guardian of a given character trait. Sample traits include, courage, citizenship, and respect. The assemblies are run by 7th and 8th grade students and all students sit with mixed age groups from buddy classrooms. At each assembly, chosen students are honored with a Bobcat Award. Nominations for the Bobcat award can be made by anyone in the school community with a dropbox available in the office for nominations.
- Beauty & Art: Barstow is a school that features historical beauty and art, and features student work and art as well. Student art is framed and hung in the main office, in the principal’s office, and graduating 8th graders complete murals throughout the hallways. The mix of history, classical style paintings, and young artists’ work makes for a fun and beautiful experience in all parts of the building.
- Getting Out & About: The school embraces the outdoors and off-site learning. Each Friday, kindergarteners and 1st graders spend half of their day in the outdoor classroom for Forrest Friday. The school also supports all students in having the chance to attend some long distance field trips and more localized off-site learning together as well. Whether it is getting student leaders to the Global Issues Network Conference, having 5th graders visit Cape Cod, or taking the whole school rock-climbing, the school values the community building and learning opportunities that can happen outside of the building.
- Supporting Sensory Learning: Barstow Memorial has taken many steps to create a fairly comprehensive strategy in supporting students with their sensory learning and self-regulation. They have a sensory hallway for all students which features floor maps for certain steps, a place to trace fingers on the wall, and more. They also have safe, caring, and proactive green, yellow, and red spaces available for students to spend time with the Zones of Regulation framework. The red room is called the “quiet room”, and each room is appropriately staffed, is expertly designed, (e.g. sensory canoe, tent), and has tools to support all students. Many of the classrooms that we visited also had multiple versions of flexible seating for all students to access as needed or desired. One teacher uses fairly traditional school furniture, but arranged in creative new ways, adjusted to varying heights, and groupings.
Thank you to Bianca and the Barstow team for allowing us the chance to visit! To view some of the pictures of the school, art, seating, and more–visit our VPA Instagram Account.
VPA VISIT: 12/13/19
Principal: Jamie Kinnarney &
CVSU Co-Director of School Transformation: Michaela Martin
VPA VISITOR: Mike McRaith
Special Note: Jamie and Michaela will be offering their 2 day workshop: 10 Non-Negotiables of MTSS on March 31 & April 1, 2020 with opportunities for on-site coaching in the 2020-21 school year. To view more details and register, click here.
Hopefully you have heard Williamstown’s school story before now, but despite our small state, chances are that many of you have not heard what a powerful example of a dedicated vision, leadership, teamwork, and commitment that Williamstown has become for the state. We had the chance to visit the Middle & High School in person. Within minutes of arrival we saw an incredibly high percentage of students engaged (on a Friday in December nonetheless), students and teachers focused and upbeat, and everyone seemingly knowing where they were going and how to get there. Cliche as it might sound, it was evident that the school is a well-oiled machine, making the Williamstown community proud.
Did you know?
- The Williamstown graduation rate went from 68% in 2009 to 93% in 2018.
- In 2009, Williamstown Elementary was performing in the lowest 1% in statewide testing measures. In 2018, three cohorts in grades 3-5 were all at or above the state average.
- From 2016-2018, there were only 3 referrals for special education evaluations in grades K-2.
Jamie and Michaela have identified 10 Non-Negotiables of MTSS that they use to help guide their own leadership in Williamstown/CVSU, in their work presenting, and in their work coaching in other districts around the state. Here are a few of the aspects of their work that stood out during our visit on December 13th.
- High Expectations & Accountability: One of the first things you are likely to hear when you learn about the work that Jamie has done in Williamstown is the high expectations he keeps for all of the staff members and himself. Using a planned and purposeful distributive leadership model, he sets the bar high for administrative leadership, instruction, and student achievement levels. Using data, He also ensures accountability in the system and performances throughout all levels of the work. Both Jamie and Michaela often comment how important teamwork is within the school and in conjunction with district level goals and leadership.
- Out of the Box Job Roles: Williamstown has not been afraid to change and adapt roles based on student and system needs. They have many examples of this including their decision to blend 8th and 9th graders more than typical. This has helped smooth the common challenges of transition between 8th and 9th grade and improved support for this critical development stage. Williamstown has redefined the work of assistant principals, school counselors, social workers, and district administrators to target student and system needs based on data and important trends. Check out some of the job titles at the district level.
- Wrap-Around Programming/Intervention: The Williamstown/CVSU MTSS model has taken strong steps to ensure that first instruction, opportunities, and interventions are done through an equity lens with whole-child framing. They have developed a close relationship with their area mental health support (Washington County Mental Health), contracted counselors and social workers at full-time schedules, developed in-house outdoor education programming, out-and-about programming for identified students to get a chance to do enriching activities in the community. They also provide professional learning for all teachers and staff regarding methods and strategies for improving executive function and mood regulation so that all students have more agency and access to instruction. In other words, they systematically attend to reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors: Maslow before/with Bloom.
- Data & Culture of Learning: Leadership has been particularly dedicated to using data to drive decisions. Intervention meetings start with reviewing data and avoid bringing in student names whenever possible. For example, during a student support meeting, the team reviews referral data from the days of the week, month, grade level, demographics, and time of day. In this manner they are able to identify trends in the system and concentrate on adult and system efforts rather than lamenting the challenges of a particular student. Paired with the emphasis on data collection and review is a strong culture of celebrating learning–both for adults and students. The team celebrates the small victories and the desire to continuously improve, grow, and learn is modeled from the top.
Thank you to Jamie, Michaela, and all of the staff and students at Williamstown for hosting the VPA on a busy Friday morning. We are looking forward to our continued learning and collaboration together on March 31 & April 1st.
VPA VISIT: 12/6/19
Principal: Jodie Stewart-Ruck (@ruckjodie)
VPA VISITOR: Mike McRaith
School: Shrewsbury Mountain School
Arriving to the Shrewsbury Mountain School with fluffy flakes of snow slowly drifting down around the school was like arriving in a beautiful little snow-globe. Nestled among the woods, this school is filled with community, a caring staff, and a focus on the outdoors & sustainability. We had the chance to catch up with Principal Jodie Stewart-Ruck and hear about some of the things that the Shrewsbury Mountain School has been up to.
Shrewsbury Mountain School is one of four elementary schools within the Mill River Unified School District. As part of the district’s Trailhead Initiative, each of the four schools has its own theme: Shrewsbury-sustainability, Clarendon-project based learning, Wallingford-proficiency based learning multi-age groupings, and Tinmouth-wilderness. Here are a few of the many highlights from our visit:
- Community Luncheons: By reaching out to the community in simple ways (e.g. Front Porch Forum), the students at Shrewsbury have guest speakers on a regular basis while they eat lunch. Jodie shared that community members are happy to come and share some of their expertise, and the students get the chance to learn about all sorts of things while they eat. A simple, cost-effective, and powerful idea!
- Sustainability Theme: Nearly half of the full-time teaching staff are certified for solo wilderness medical training. This is an indication of the strong focus that the school has for outdoor education, which includes a year-round outdoor classroom, a large (and soon to be even larger) community garden, and curriculum connections to sustainability throughout the school. Shrewsbury has worked with Shelburne Farms and SAGE (Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education) to partner in their work on sustainability. Students celebrated the harvest season and nutrition with their community themed Harvest Celebration this past October. To view more of the pictures, check out our Shrewsbury visit photos on the VPA instagram feed.
- Pre-K & Daycare: 7:45am to 5:30pm. Like so many small rural communities in Vermont, Shrewsbury Mountain School is helping to fill a void in childcare. Shrewsbury offers services to parents until 5:30pm, with a $10 daily max, and a sliding scale based on income. Jodie shared that this has been a popular and practical function of the school, and one that she thinks is doable for many of our Vermont schools.
Thank you very much to Jodie, the staff, and all of the friendly students for the fun and beautiful visit to the Shrewsbury Mountain School. It was great to visit the picturesque Vermont snow-globe school of the day!
Visit 11/15/19: Fletcher Elementary School
Principal: Chris Dodge (@FletcherFalcon) & VPA Visitor, Mike McRaith
On November 15th, we had the pleasure of visiting Principal Chris Dodge and Fletcher Elementary in Fletcher, Vermont, part of the Franklin West Supervisory Union. Leading a small school in Vermont means taking on all kinds of different roles and responsibilities. During our visit, Chris was filling in as the school nurse. Chris spends several hours per week dedicated to subbing and/or adjusting staffing in one way or another. This is just one of the challenges that Chris takes in stride as he continues to work closely with the staff to help the Fletcher Falcons soar. To view more pictures from our visit, view the VPA instagram feed.
As a member school of the Franklin West Supervisory Union, Fletcher has been very active in sharing their story with their local community and beyond. Chris is a regular contributor to the district’s “Our Story” blog and thus has developed a great resource for colleagues to explore and learn together. The links below are related to some of the highlights that stood out during our visit.
PBIS EXEMPLAR SCHOOL
- Fletcher Elementary is a two-time PBIS Exemplar School. You can read more about putting the expectations of being “Respectful * Responsible * Safe * Caring” at the center of their work in this blog post. Chris and his team also contribute to the district’s PBIS learning and growing together by presenting during their district’s professional learning days.
- Chris explained how he has been having students lead in hiring new staff over the past several years. While many schools may have a student on the committee, Fletcher students write the job description, call back candidates, conduct interviews, and make a recommendation to the superintendent. Chris explained the many tangible and intangible benefits to helping students learn these skills, honoring their voice, respecting their abilities/insight, and build ownership of school culture. You can read Chris’ blog post about student led searches and check out this NAESP article that featured Fletcher and their student led hiring practices.
PHYSICAL HEALTH & MOVEMENT
- With guidance and support from RiseVT, Fletcher Elementary is leading the way in building health and wellness into daily life for their students and staff. Brain-breaks, MindYeti, and GoNoodle, are all part of classroom routines, but it doesn’t stop there. Fletcher has asked the question, why not incorporate movement systematically into all that we do? For example–pairing particular yoga moves to key vocabulary words when working on reading fluency. Read more in this blogpost about their work and awards for building a healthy lifestyle culture.
UNITED NATIONS: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
- What elementary school is complete without incorporating goals from the United Nations? You can find the UN’s The Sustainable Development Goals on posters, on the floor, and incorporated throughout the learning at all levels in Fletcher Elementary. Read more about the details in Chris’ blogpost from April 2019.
- Like many schools around the state, Fletcher has taken action on incorporating healthy food systems into their learning and culture. Fletcher recognizes that connecting with local food producers provides great learning and community building opportunities. And concentrating on healthy food for all means clearer minds with more access to the prefrontal cortex for executive function and optimal learning readiness. Chris’ posts on good health and community food systems & harvesting new learning in the cafeteria.
NATIONAL CRAYOLA GRANT WINNER
- This year (2019-2020), Fletcher was one of twenty schools in the nation awarded a NAESP Crayola Creative Grant. Their project is called: Personalized Global Projects and features the essential question in student art projects “How can I make the world better?” Students will design their own projects that are art-integrated and address a big idea that is personally important to them. The projects will fit within one of the four school proposed themes, health and well-being, reducing inequity, quality education, and justice within institutions.
In our visit, Chris also proposed another idea that the VPA’s Professional Learning and Support committee will be pursuing. He asked if the VPA might simply open the VPA conference room in Montpelier sometime this winter around the topic “Leading Small Schools”. We plan to select a date and pull this together, so watch for that announcement in VPA-LEADs. Thanks Chris!
Visit 11/5/19: Green Mountain Technology & Career Center
Director: Erik Remmers & VPA Visitor, Mike McRaith
On a cool and overcast November day, we had the chance to visit Director, Erik Remmers of the Green Mountain Technology & Career Center (GMTCC). The center is located in Hyde Park and is on the same campus as Lamoille Union High School. GMTCC also has two off-site locations, Forestry-Land Management in Hardwick, and Sustainable Agriculture/Food Systems at the nearby Robtoy Farm in Jeffersonville. The facilities, programming, and people that we met during our visit were excellent. The campus in Hyde Park is connected to the High School and is a modern, state-of-the-art facility with well equipped and thirteen (11 at the Hyde Park campus) expertly led programs. We strongly recommend looking through their program list to see just how comprehensive their programming and facilitates are. Just a few of the many things that were impressive on our visit included, national winners in Electric Technology, Culinary Arts with both front of the house and full kitchen lab, and a Computer Networking program with dedicated time and curriculum to cyber-security. Again, we recommend checking out all of their programs! Erik is in his first year at GMTCC, but was right at home giving a tour of the Hyde Park campus and a quick visit to the Robtoy Farm as well. At the farm we were able to see their new barn, chickens in the yard, large garden learning spaces, and a few goats too. To view more pictures from our visit to GMTCC, head to the VPA instagram feed.
Visit 11/1/19: Champlain Valley Union High School
Principal: Adam Bunting, & VPA Visitor: Mike McRaith
In a short visit to Vermont’s largest school (by student population), we had a chance to catch up a bit with CVU Principal Adam Bunting. In the visit Adam underscored the importance of the longstanding and ongoing work of proficiency based learning at CVU, the importance of their new RISE program, and much more. Adam and his team have recently developed a student climate survey that has helped the staff identify students self-reported levels of feeling connected to community and a sense of belonging. That work was in part inspired by the work of author Johann Hari: Lost Connections. To view a few pictures from the our time at CVU, visit our VPA instagram feed.
What’s Adam Reading? Lost Connections
Visit 10/25/19: North Country Union High School , Coventry Village School, Brighton Elementary
Principals: Chris Young (NCUHS), Todd Rohlen (Coventry), April Lane (Brighton), & VPA Visitor: Mike McRaith
The VPA had a chance to head north to visit three principals and their schools, each from the North Country Supervisory Union. North Country Union High School (Chris), Coventry Village School (Todd), and Brighton Elementary (April) are three of the twelve schools in the Supervisory Union. It was great to be welcomed into these caring, hard-working schools and to catch up with their thoughtful and hard-working principals! Some of the themes that emerged on this trip matched themes that are surfacing in many areas of our work. Those themes include, but are not limited to, the complexity of the job, the need for full-day preschool, the importance of quality food/snacks, student voice, universal design for learning, broad school-wide training for supporting students with dis-regulation and trauma across settings, and the importance of strong school community connections. Check out more photos and learn more about just a few of the things happening in these busy, full, and vibrant schools on VPA Twitter and/or VPA Instagram.
A Few Materials and Resources that Chris, Todd, and April are Using and Recommend:
Visit 9/20/19: Randolph Elementary
Principal: Erica McLaughlin, & VPA Visitor: Mike McRaith
When walking into Randolph Elementary School, you can feel a special combination of educator expertise and positive energy right away. The building was built in the year 2000. It is beautiful, well designed, and well maintained. And best of all, it is filled with a team of educators working closely together to support, inspire, and educate all of their lucky students. Erica McLaughlin, started as an assistant principal there 15 years ago and has been a principal for the school for the past 11 years. Erica’s good humor, dedication, and highly skilled leadership reverberates throughout the school. I learned all sorts of things from Erica, the students, staff, and teachers at Randolph Elementary. Here are a few highlights:
- Emotional Stability: There is a clear focus on emotional regulation as the foundation for academic success. This is illustrated in a multitude of ways some of which are:
- accessible and well used PBIS
- before-school programming that includes yoga, mindfulness, reading, board games, and outside play
- school-wide common language and practices for talking with and helping students regulate their bodies and emotions
- Dedicated teacher mindfulness space
- Healthy and well-timed snacks for students
- Trained and available adults in well planned locations to support and guide students as they develop their own skills
- Monthly professional learning for the faculty with Joelle Van Lent (trauma informed schools expert consultant)
- Teachers self-selecting into a book club (with Administrative support to buy the books) to read and discuss Happy Teachers Change the World.
- RISE Program: Resilience, Independence, Success with friends & academics and Engagement in life. This program, housed at Randolph Elementary, was launched just this year for each of the districts’ three elementary schools to access. The program features a dedicated classroom with a social worker and mental health clinician working together for a caseload of students and families. They work to coordinate 360 services for their students throughout the day and beyond. Students are given expertly coached prevention skills, concentrated effort on their total environment, and caring and trained intervention as need arises.
- Teamwork: Several times Erica emphasized to me how much she values the team she works with and the importance of their collective efforts. The focus on teamwork came up in the way in which the district elementary schools (Principals Pat Miller & David Roller) work closely together for matched programming and their comprehensive continuous improvement plans. Erica shared that both Pat and David were teachers at Randolph elementary before becoming principals at the other district elementary schools Braintree, and Brookfield. The three have worked closely together on the vision and growth for the system. The teamwork also was illustrated in the time that teacher teams are given as a priority to work on their WIGs (Wildly Important Goals), assessment data, and co-planning time, and was evident in the manner in which members of the staff interacted throughout my visit.
I’m grateful to Erica and Randolph Elementary for their warm welcome and willingness to share a Friday morning together. Thank you!
What’s Erica Reading?
Videos that Erica Used to Help Begin this School-Year with the Staff: