Celebration of Public Education Sept 2019

I had the pleasure this past week of speaking to colleagues, policy makers and business leaders at a Celebration of Public Education event in Williston, VT. I believe deeply in public education as a civil right and want to share my comments here, in case they ring a bell for you.

Schools throughout Vermont play a tremendous role in preparing our students in our communities to be productive adults. We need educators, local business and community leaders, parents and the media throughout our community to help lead, shape and grow the broad dialogue to support public education.

I believe in public school education. I believe in its messiness, its democracy. I believe in how teaching is a calling and we serve every child regardless of race, wealth, background, color of hair or number of toes. I believe our state and country is stronger because we accept every child and offer rich opportunities and support in reaching their potential. 

I am excited about the future of public education in VT because of our commitment to the future of our state and our innovation! Public school education in Vermont focuses on more than academic achievement. We want to provide arts opportunities (resulting in the students here today sharing their talents with you), student voice opportunities (such as our 2 CVU co-presidents will provide), personalized learning opportunities. We teach to student passions and listen to student solutions, such as in the current Burlington class that uses Lake Champlain as a classroom or Otter Valley Union High School’s outdoor education program on the Mooselamoo land. All over our state, we offer rich opportunities and access to our students, we work with our state and federal legislators and policy makers to ensure our education system is as strong as it can be. We are fortunate; our kids are fortunate. 

It is my vision that VT remains a leader in education, committed to our students and our future. I envision a system that educates for the future, not the past; a system that ensure all students have access to a rich curriculum no matter their zipcode; a system that works with partners such as early childhood and the business community to ensure all kids can follow their passion and learn in authentic settings, building our business community and ensuring we have a workforce that supports the future of Vermont. 

 

Have you thanked a teacher today?

20180829_104424-e1557240872363.jpgA teacher affects eternity; he can never tell when his influence stops. ~ Henry Adams
I love this quote as it speaks to everything you do every day. No matter what you teach, or if your job title is even teacher, working in Rutland Northeast schools allows you the opportunity to affect every child you come in contact with on a daily basis. Every smile you give, the instruction you impart, constructive feedback and hello impacts the child you are interacting with.
Teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, nurses, paras, bus drivers, custodians, admin assistants, tech staff, administrators and all who work in our schools make a tremendous difference in the lives of our children and their families. As the quote says, you affect eternity.
Thank you, for your commitment and love for children and your willingness to support and teach them every single day.

Reflections from the National Conference on Education

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” ~Albert Einstein

How do we keep from doing the same thing over and over? We learn, we grow, we ask.

Our schools need different results. Our education system has been approaching students the same way for over 100 years. We work within a credit system that uses seat time and is designed to “sort” students into industrial jobs that no longer exist. We require every student to learn the same thing, even though we lose some along the way. We continue to accept “average” or “mediocre”, telling ourselves we are doing well because of a few top students who make us look good. Change is hard to come in public schools. Yet public schools remain the best opportunity for our society to improve, for each child to reach their potential.

This was a major theme I took away from my time at AASA’s National Conference on Education this week. Sessions on educational equity (kudos to North Clackamas, OR Schools and Supt Matthew Utterback for the great work leading the way), keynote speakers such as Todd Rose (The End of Average) and Doris Kearns Goodwin (Leadership Lessons from the White House) ignite reflection.

Professional Development opportunities such as this conference and the ability to network with colleagues facing the same challenges as I push me to reflect more, innovate, and refresh. How do I bring this information back to my district? How do ensure our faculty is also refreshed and reflective, in order to assure we are providing an inclusive, equity based learning environment for all students? Professional development, whether individual, district based, collegiate or national, is a powerful way to ignite excitement, innovation, different ways of thinking.

In RNESU schools we have been studying the brain based model of learning. We have focused a great deal of time on mental models. Professional development opportunities is how we offer different mental models, how we can consider how things might be different and how we might get there. It can be hard to step off the tracks for a moment and be open to learning something new. But unless we do so periodically, we are doomed to insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

 

Snow Days Ahead

Greetings allschoolbus in snow
The weather is changing, and we are at the stage of not knowing what to wear to get through the day. From 45 degrees to nearly 80 in just a few days can be quite confusing! But the changing weather is also a reminder that the snow is just around the corner.
Last year, RNESU schools had seven snow days. That is quite a lot. We don’t know what this year’s weather will bring, but I would like to take a moment to talk about how snow day decisions are made and how parents are notified.
In most situations, we are watching the storm develop and following communications from NOAA as to where the storm will hit, when and with what intensity. In the wee hours of the morning, our transportation coordinator is in communication with our town road crews getting updates on conditions of roads and anticipated problems.
The transportation coordinator and I talk usually around 5 am. I try to make the decision, based on information from the road crews, the transportation coordinator, and the NOAA weather information. If roads are icy or unpassable, and road crews cannot keep up, causing unsafe transportation to school, I likely will cancel. However, as this is Vermont, where we expect snow, this is not an easy decision to make. Timing of the storm is important. Sometimes the storm arrives about 5 am and we have to rely on the information shared with us as well (as well as a crystal ball).
It is our preference not to have snow days; however we also transport most of our 1400 students and need to make decisions around safety as well. This year, to reduce the potential of snow days, we may at times offer paved road only pickups. When that happens, if a family feels they cannot get their child to the bus safely, please call the school and keep your child home.
Occasionally, we are aware the night before that the blizzard is so bad that road crews cannot keep up and we close the night before. If that happens, I make a robocall by 9pm. In the mornings, I make the robocall usually between 6 and 7. Notification to all families come through the robocall, as well as tweeting the information, putting it on our website, and calling it into the broadcast system for TV and radio notification. If you do not get a robocall, please look at these other sources and then notify your school to check if the number we have for you is accurate.
Snow days are not popular decisions to make, either way. I am always happy to hear your thoughts on them. Please contact me through Let’s Talk on the school or district websites and let me know your thoughts.

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year!

Welcome back to school!
It has been very exciting to visit the schools this week and see teachers and students back together again. In visiting classrooms, I saw old friends and new. Otter Valley Unified started elementary school choice as an option this year, and 20 students (18 families) have chosen to attend a different school in the district. This is a great opportunity that our Act 46 merger allowed. In addition, we were able to retain more teachers and allow for voluntary teacher transfer, even as the budget reduced positions. All of this makes RNESU and Otter Valley Unified Union the place to be!
Another benefit of the merger this year was the ability to create more opportunity for elementary summer programs and include more students. Leicester Alive opened its doors to students from Sudbury and Whiting this summer. Both Leicester Alive and Neshobe Soar partnered with Brandon Recreation to create full day enrichment opportunities for over 80 elementary students, including the Lothrop program and were able to serve 1312 breakfasts and 1255 lunches over the 5 week programs. I am very excited about these opportunities for students and families!
 
Otter Valley Unified has spent the summer focusing on a new framework for behavioral expectations. Positive Behavior Supports (PBIS) is a nationally researched approach that helps to set clear expectations for student behavior, explicitly teaches these expectations and consistently responds to behavior issues. Data is collected and used for system improvement. Lothrop Elementary has been using PBIS for the past few years. 
 
Otter Valley is also opening this year with a new middle school model. Geoff Lawrence, OV Associate Principal, is overseeing this model. Watch for more information coming out and for opportunities to celebrate student learning throughout the year.
 
We have two new principals this year. Thom Fleury and Rod Driscoll are co-principals of our small schools, Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury. Also, Whiting and Sudbury have merged into one school, 2 campuses with a new name: Learning Academy at Whiting and Sudbury. Whiting will serve grades PreK to 2 and Sudbury serves grades 3-6.
 
The climate survey last spring was a great success and we generated some wonderful feedback. In future articles, I will delve into those topics and share along the way.
 
There is so much more to share but for now, I will pause. I do want to remind you all that you can learn more about our schools by watching Spotlight on RNESU on PEG TV (link on school websites). We tape this show monthly to highlight different aspects of our schools. Please tune in or watch a podcast!
 
For now, I just say, “Welcome back. We are glad you are here.”

Last Day of School & a Thank You!

Greetings everyone!
The snowstorm a couple of weeks ago that led to a 2 day shutdown across the state was quite late and unexpected! The result is that RNESU has had 7 snow days this year, an unusual number indeed. So when is the last day of school?
For students, the last day of school will be Wednesday, June 21. This date still keeps us one day beyond the state mandated school year, though it is two fewer days than our usual year. This date was chosen both to meet mandates as well as to acknowledge the heat in the schools at that time of year and family plans that have already started to take shape. Staff will still make up the other 2 days through a variety of means. Individual schools will indicate how this last day plays out in their schedule and parents will be notified of that by their children’s schools. The last day of school does not change the Otter Valley graduation date of June 10.
Thank you! I want to take a moment to thank all residents of Otter Valley’s 6 towns for supporting the OVUU budget. There were difficult decisions that were made this year and I feel the Board developed a thoughtful, sustainable, student focused budget. We were able to take advantage of our Act 46 merger in a few ways, such as opening up elementary school choice, reconfiguring our small schools to increase peer groups and save small school grants, and transferring teachers who might have lost a position in one school when an opening was available in another school, saving hiring and training dollars.

The Importance of Professional Development

I was honored this year to be asked once again to blog for the AASA National Conference on Education #NCE17. This excellent conference is the one I make sure I get to year after year. With its rich content, keynote speakers who are relevant to my needs, and colleagueship, I could not find a more fitting setting for my own professional development.

This year’s conference was titled: Leadership- Personalized, Accountable, Visionary. We had keynote speakers such as Ravi ,James Carville and Mary Matalin, and Jamie Vollmer. There were dozens of sessions for me to focus my own learning (I chose to focus on support for principals for a high achieving district). There were opportunities for colleagueship (Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Hampshire, California, Oregon were all places with superintendents I talked with).

The next step, of course, is to sift through all the nuggets of information I received these past two days and determine what will improve my own practice as a leader of learning. This is always the goal of professional development- how will it improve my own practice. In RNESU, we have been working to reconstruct how we provide PD to our faculty, with more choice and more voice while still focusing on how we will help all children achieve in the SU schools.

The key? Show up, absorb, reflect and then do!