VPA Visit: 10/4/22
Update: The Bond Vote Passed on 11/8/22. Congrats Burlington!!
Principal: Lauren McBride & Admin Team: Melanee Alexander (Assistant Principal), Francesca Dupuis (Assistant Principal), Dr. Kate Paxton (Assistant Principal), LeVar Barrino (Dean of Students), Quaron Pinckney (Athletic Director), Joe Faitak (Instructional Coach), Brooke Hoyt (Executive Administrative Assistant)
VPA Visitors: Jay Nichols & Mike McRaith
School: Burlington High School
Remembering the Context: The School in the Mall
In March of 2020, the world changed as each of us experienced a global pandemic in ways we never expected. In Vermont, our pk-12 schools adjusted on the fly to begin teaching remotely, delivering food to families, and adapting in ways previously unheard of. After a busy summer of ambiguity and stress, the following school year, 2020-21, started with significant schedule adjustments, patterns of behavior, and mitigation strategies. Schools around the state faced significant challenges, and perhaps no school had more challenges to contend with than Burlington High School.
In what has become a national news story, the Burlington High School building closed almost immediately in the 2020-21 school year due to PCBs. From there, students returned to a remote learning environment until Burlington’s Downtown Mall could be renovated to host the students and become the school in the mall.
The headline version of the story has been well covered and the news of Vermont’s largest city shifting their entire high school to a mall location is well known. Yet, with COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout the 2020-21 and most of the 2021-22 school year, very few people outside of the staff and students at Burlington High School have actually visited and seen the challenges and successes first-hand.
VPA Visit, 10-4-22
Jay and I were warmly welcomed by Principal Lauren McBride and Athletic Director and Co-Chair of the VPA/VSADA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Activities Committee, Quaron (Q) Pinckney. Lauren and Q were able to show us around the school, introduce us to many staff and students, and share with us about how the school community has worked together to make the best of a difficult situation.
We were struck by the positive energy in the building. Students and staff alike were buzzing with positivity in the adhoc hallways and common spaces. Lauren and Q guided us through the renovated Macy’s department store, introducing us to the incredibly dedicated adults that have made the school in the mall actually feasible for the time being. While enrollment was down initially in the location shift, the number of students at BHS this year is actually increasing, serving well over 900 students now. The fact is that every space in the repurposed mall is make-shift. With that in mind, the disruption has led to some “let’s keep” innovations, some “making-do for now” solutions, and some elements that are ”undoable”.
“Let’s Keep” Ideas
The academic support center is in a high-traffic area of the school and is an example of a “let’s keep” idea. Academic support centers are more typically tucked away and out-of-sight, yet in this case, Principal McBride shared that having academic support literally at the center of the school has helped with access, reducing stigma, and normalizing academic support as part of everyday school life. Another example in the “let’s keep” category is the freshness and vibrancy of what is on the schools’ temporary walls. Starting from scratch allowed the school to consciously display art, images, and student-work that is inspiring, inclusive, and reflective of the student body. While there are more examples of the disruption being a door to innovation, the central theme felt throughout the visit was the resilience of “making do for now”.
“Making Do For Now”
From our visitor’s vantage point, the staff and students have done a fantastic job in putting much of the situation in the “making-do for now” category. Some of the examples are, physical education is using a smaller space with fitness focused movement, “classrooms” have had modifications to help with noise levels between the temporary-styled walls, the school library was helped by custom-built shelving, and when the escalator isn’t working, students and staff have learned to find their way to the available utility stairways. Essentially, at every turn in the building–the resilience of the students and staff is visible in “making-do for now,” while some elements have proved to be “undoable” altogether.
Some examples of the things that are “undoable” include the challenge of getting running water to classrooms, especially science labs. While the community has set up jug water stations, it is not the same as having regular flowing water throughout the building. Another example is the lack of a gym, not only for routine physical education, but also for whole school assemblies and after-school activities like volleyball and basketball. In fact, Athletic Director Pinckney shared that he is actively triaging practice and game schedules for this upcoming basketball season, relying on other high schools and area universities to share gym space. This contributes to access issues, travel costs, and means players and fans will lack the fun and consistency of a home-court. There is also no full-scale school kitchen, dedicated school parking lot, on-site outdoor seating or fields of any kind, no auditorium space, no dedicated building for the Tech Center and its programs, no easy access of administrative and school counseling offices, and the list goes on.
As visitors, we left in admiration of the staff and students, who have turned a bad situation into a functional and thriving, if not temporary, learning space. We also left with a clear understanding that Burlington needs a new high school for its increasing student population. Burlington, the state’s largest city, the Queen City, with the state’s primary airport and a central economic engine cannot rely on the good effort and can-do attitude of the current staff and students to permanently resolve the issue. Burlington voters will have the chance to step toward the future and provide a legacy of support for generations to come as the new school is on the ballot this upcoming November election day. We encourage anyone and everyone in the municipality to vote “YES” and make the “school in the mall” only a short chapter of resilience and strength to draw upon for a bright future in a new school building where all are welcome.
Update: The Bond Vote Passed on 11/8/22. Congrats Burlington!!
VPA VISIT: 9/26/22
PRINCIPAL: Rebecca Fillion
VPA VISITOR: Erica McLaughlin
School: Twin Valley Elementary School
It was with great pleasure that I visited Twin Valley Elementary School. Rebecca Fillion, entering her 14th year as the talented, veteran Principal of Twin Valley Elementary, was the Vermont Principals’ Association 2016 Henry R. Giauque Vermont Elementary School Principal of the Year, and my gracious host for this visit! In getting to know Rebecca, it does not take long to see that she leads by example and loves the community she serves.
Relationships: Rebecca is quick to say her school is her heart and to know Rebecca is to know her school. As any good leader would say and leadership research supports, relationships first, trust, and learning will follow. That was evident to me as I walked around her school and saw Rebecca’s influence throughout the building. It was seen from the teachers’ interactions with students to the positive messages that were everywhere you looked. Messages reminding her students and staff of their greatness and value. Rebecca shared with me important values she holds, which is that everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging, to be safe physically and emotionally and to learn while at Twin Valley Elementary School. Rebecca knows the importance for children and adults to feel emotionally and physically safe in order for ALL students and staff to thrive.
Better Together: The benefit of relationships are not only modeled at the student level, but an expectation from the district level as well. Rebecca has been instrumental in bringing her school staff and the district staff together for their collective genius to be unleashed. Every Wednesday, 2 hours is dedicated for building-based collaboration, planning and student data review. An additional hour is used for district collaboration. Most recently, the district has come together to establish the vision and mission which drives the work of their schools. Of particular interest to me as I reviewed the district’s “Portrait of Student Success” and vision and mission is the emphasis on life skills that our workforce is desperate for. It states, “The Windham Southwest Supervisory Union creates pathways for our students to become powerful communicators, critical thinkers, and collaborators who use empathy and take responsibility for relationships, lifelong learning and adaptability in our changing world.” These words are displayed on the image above with each school’s mascot incorporated and displayed beautifully, demonstrating a unified effort on this path forward. The book Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, by Tom Vander Ark and Emily Lietag would support this work and makes the argument that these are the skills students need for success and argues schools should be reinforcing and measuring these skills for a more meaningful look at student achievement through real life project based learning experiences.
Embracing change: In 2019, Rebecca and her staff decided to implement a model of teaching where the teachers would become content specialists at the elementary level. Her teachers would either teach humanities- literacy and social studies or math and science and their students would rotate between two or three teachers for the learning of that content. Rebecca explained that this allows her teachers to become content specialists where they can intervene early and with expertise for the benefit of her students. They have seen this model work very well for their students. Rebecca shared having her students meet with different teachers throughout their day gives her students more adult assets to lean on and build relationships with. When they shifted to this model they also moved to a looping model so teachers and students would have two years of relationship building and learning together, which helps to build solid relationships and ultimately supports learning.
Another change came from a desire to increase student voice and leadership, so Rebecca developed a Student Leadership Team. With representatives from 3rd grade and up they are using their student voices to lift up the school in new ways. Rebecca shared how satisfying it was for her to hear her students’ ideas and to see them put into action. She has seen how much more school spirit it has created for all to benefit from already. She looks forward to what possibilities lie ahead for the student leadership team in the future.
Before COVID even happened, Twin Valley Elementary School embraced the benefits of an outdoor learning environment. Thunder Alley, one of their outdoor learning spaces is a treasured place for children to learn together, explore together and play together. It was a familiar experience for the students and staff to use that learning environment before COVID and was certainly a place of calm and comfort during the uncertain times of COVID. Rebecca shared how beneficial this learning space is for her students and staff and feels fortunate to have this beautiful space available to them.
After my visit at Twin Valley Elementary, I felt such admiration for Rebecca and her staff for the kind, supportive, and rigorous learning environment they have created. They are engaged in important work for the benefit of our Vermont students. A passionate, driven, principal like Rebecca is a gift to education. She has much to offer not only her school community, but to others in leadership roles. The values of her school community that she has helped to establish and foster is a microcosm of what the rest of the world can strive for as well. For this reason, I encourage principals to look beyond their own school walls and connect with other principals like Rebecca. We know we are better together, so let’s get together! While I can attest that the principalship can be one of the most rewarding positions to have the privilege of serving in, it is also difficult and isolating at times. This does not have to be the case. So I challenge you to reach out to other principals to connect with, learn from and support one another. We will all be better for doing so and so will the teachers and students we serve.
The VPA is happy to support you in this effort. We have drop in sessions for all members to join each week, we have learning opportunities like our upcoming Winter Symposium where we have deliberately built in opportunities for connection and opportunities to learn together. I end this write up with one last message from an image I saw in the office of Twin Valley Elementary School:
Thank you Rebecca for sharing your school with me. I look forward to seeing what amazing things are in store for your school community under your leadership.
VPA VISIT: 9/22/22
DIRECTOR: Melissa Connor
SCHOOL: Stafford Technical Center
A visit at Stafford Technical Center in Rutland was the bright spot of my day on a rainy Thursday morning. Stafford is a treasure for the students attending the center and for its community. I had the privilege of touring Stafford with Director Melissa Connor. In August, Melissa was awarded Technical Director of the Year at the Vermont Principals’ Association’s Leadership Academy. During Melissa’s speech she encouraged all attendees at the awards banquet to visit their nearby technical schools to see the amazing learning that takes place. Melissa emphasized how technical centers were the epitome of learning with a purpose. I happen to live near Stafford Technical Center school so I took Melissa up on her invitation. It would be an understatement if I said I was impressed with the program, the students, the staff, and the overall contributions Stafford Technical Center has to offer. Listening to the students talk about their learning and their programs was inspiring and, no doubt, a display of learning with a purpose and passion.
I started my tour in Engineering where students were putting their tech skills to use, designing and creating, using 3D printers for a variety of projects. Some of which were for their schools use and some for the benefit of the community. The students were so proud to show how their skills have been put to use and will easily transfer to their aspirations for the future. Kenzie, a student in the engineering program, walked into the program after attending her core class with a smile looking forward to working on her project. She was not only happy to be engaged in her work at Stafford, she was also so proud to share her ambitions of putting her Stafford skills to use in the military upon graduation.
The Culinary Arts students were busy in the kitchen when I stopped by. They were making an Italian wedding soup, a salad, and were baking bread that smelled amazing! Samantha shared how much she loves spending her learning time in the kitchen learning about food safety, equipment safety, and of course enjoying the fruits of their labor, trying the different recipes. She exuded a pride in the services they provide, catering for local events like weddings and meetings. They even have a cafe that will be open to the public. I know I will be looking for details for when they will be serving food in their cafe!
Just a few steps away we walked into Power Mechanics and Welding another amazing space for students to learn with purpose. Here, I found students welding and others working with steel refurbishing an old trailer. This program has plans to one day build their own trailers to sell. Yet again, learning with purpose was observed! Students in Stafford even make their own equipment when there is a need. This lift was built by students to use when needing to move and lift heavy items they are working on!
As Director Melissa Connor took me into the next room to show me the next amazing program, Health Careers, I once again felt a positive energy where the first-year health career students were fully engaged in learning CPR. In the next room, second-year health career students, Cadence and Evan were studying together to help Cadence prepare for the EMT assessment. As we interrupted their studying both students were all too happy to share their experiences learning at Stafford and sharing how grateful they were to have opportunities to put their skills to work during and after school hours. Cadence was particularly excited to share her experience going on calls with a local EMT crew. She can see how this experience is going to enhance her skills toward her ultimate goal of becoming an emergency department registered nurse. Evan was eager to share that he was interviewing for a co-op placement later that day at a pharmacy to gain exposure to the pharmaceutical career path he is interested in exploring. While Evan is not sure pharmaceuticals will be his ultimate path, he was clear with me that the Stafford program is good for students to explore different avenues within the programs they are engaged in. This allows them to take the time to explore different options before going too far down a path that is not meant for them. While for now it seems both students have different aspirations, they each were able to explore those possibilities as a part of the Health Career program.
The energy of the staff and students walking through Stafford is something you can’t help but notice. It was also striking to me how much it felt as though as I walked through the next program door it was like walking through a portal. I walked out of one room that very much resembled a hospital room and into a salon where students were learning about Cosmetology. I had to pause at the intention of how each program created an environment that was authentic to a real-world-setting that the students may experience in the workforce. The cosmetology students were all busy either coloring a community member’s hair, cutting a mannequin’s hair, or mixing color for another client. No matter the task all the students were fully engaged.
Through the next two portal doors we went into Auto Body Repair and Automotive Technology!
Students were hard at work either refurbishing a model T, detailing a car for a community member, practicing their car painting skills or taking an engine out of a community donated car! They will have the exciting task of taking the engine apart and rebuilding it! I am not even sure students ever looked up from their focused work!
It was inspiring to see such focus, dedication and determination for the task at hand. I had the pleasure of talking with John, a third year student in automotive technology. He was sharing all of the automotive certifications he had earned, 12 to be exact! He shared how his learning from Stafford afforded him the opportunity to work with Subaru in Rutland. He loves his work at Stafford and Subaru. As a 17 year old he was very articulate about his passion for working on cars and was clear that Stafford has helped shape his future. He told me without this opportunity he would likely have dropped out of school. He said the traditional classroom setting was not for him and his way of learning, so he feels grateful for the opportunities he has had at Stafford.
As I continued my visit, I watched students put their plumbing skills to the test in the Electrical and Plumbing program. These students practice their skills in the Stafford lab, but have the ultimate experience and opportunity along with other students in various Stafford programs to bring their skills together to build a house for a lucky community member to one day enjoy.
As my visit neared the end I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Kysar, Digital Arts teacher. She spoke of the authentic ways the Digital Arts students have of putting their skills to use for the community. Students have created logos, stickers, fliers, and posters for local businesses. Ms. Kysar was all too proud to share the different awards and accomplishments her students have earned for their amazing work and dedication to their craft. They were inspiring, and I certainly will not hesitate to reach out to Ms. Kysar’s students if I am looking for some digital art work!
One of my last stops on my tour of Stafford was the Video Communications program. Lucas, a first-year Video Communications student, was sharing the work he and others in his program were engaged in. He was making a script that would be used by the local hospital to share out about marijuana usage. He explained that people need to know about the pros and cons of marijuana usage. His script will lead to a video interview that he will edit and then share out to the public regarding marijuana safety.
At every turn and through every program door/learning portal students were engaged in purposeful learning. There was no doubt they were learning about something that was of high interest to them and they felt like they were a part of something that was bigger than themselves.
I am thankful to Melissa Connor, Director of Stafford Technical Center for inviting me and others into her Center to share the wonderful things that Stafford offers so many students in central Vermont. I appreciate her tenacity for sharing her passion and support for career technical education as it is a gift for her students and the community. All students should feel as passionate about their learning as I witnessed from so many of the Stafford students during my visit. I recommend, as Melissa did for those of you reading this, to ask to visit your local Technical Center so you too can be wowed by the learning that is happening and the purposeful learning that is taking place.
-Erica McLaughlin, Assistant Executive Director
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:
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
School: Williamstown Middle & High School
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?
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.
Thank you to Jamie, Michaela, and all of the staff and students at Williamstown for hosting the VPA on a busy Friday morning.
VPA VISIT: 12/6/19
Principal: Jodie Stewart-Ruck (@ruckjodie)
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:
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!
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
PHYSICAL HEALTH & MOVEMENT
UNITED NATIONS: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
NATIONAL CRAYOLA GRANT WINNER
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!
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.
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.
CVU RISE Program
What’s Adam Reading? Lost Connections
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.
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:
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?
Dare to Lead
The 4 Disciplines of Execution
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog