Opening Day 2016: Most Likely to Succeed at RNESU

Exciting day! Convocation for faculty and administration in the Otter Valley Unified and Barstow Unified School Districts. After recognizing several faculty and staff for exemplary performance (more on that later) and a Dance Off to get to know one another, we settled into a viewing of Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary about what schools need to be for the sake of the future of our students. Settled in might be a misnomer. The ideas raised both make sense and challenge the traditional educational world we live in now.

Did you know our current system of education: ability, age and subject grouping was designed by a Committee of 10 who wanted a school system that would feed into a more productive industrial society? Even the subjects were chosen by this committee- in 1893!! Deviation by creativity was not permitted!


Flash forward to today- entrepreneurship, Think Different (Apple) and creativity are all valued traits in our work world. Technology is replacing our need for memorization and one can complete an entire MIT course sequence on I-tunes for free, if they choose. No one has phone books (ask Suri); homework help is with Khan Academy. What are we doing to prepare our kids for this world?

This was the message sent this morning with the viewing of this documentary. The movie can only be seen in intentional showings, but the trailer is here. RNESU plans to show the movie for the community later this month. I hope you come and join the conversation.


Midsummer News

Greetings! It has been awhile since I wrote and I want to get back in the habit. It is a great way to share news and thoughts as things change in the district!

As of July 1, RNESU now has only 2 districts in place: Barstow Unified Union School District serving Chittenden and Mendon; and Otter Valley Unified Union School District serving Goshen, Brandon, Leicester, Pittsford, Sudbury and Whiting. The first official board meetings of both districts took place last night, July 20, and both boards are doing intensive work learning their new roles.

For OVUUSD, it means the board is now responsible for 5 schools, not just 1, and that takes some new thinking! The board is interested in learning about each school, what they offer, who they serve. One way to do this is to hold board meetings in different schools, moving around the district, throughout the school year. The agenda that is posted will always say where they are meeting, so be sure to check it before heading to a meeting.

Barstow UU is looking at governance from a slightly different place. Not much is different than the Joint Agreement. However, this board is interested in defining its role from a policy governance lens. You will hear more about that as the year goes along.

My office this summer has been focused on transferring finances and land from the old to the new districts. This can be complicated, but our business office has been working hard to make it as simple as possible. We are nearly done, with a few outstanding issues still to complete.

We also are overseeing two major and several minor construction projects this summer. OVUHS and Neshobe both have large energy efficiency projects being done over the summer, which are going along very well. Other schools are working on floors, painting, even an upgraded multi purpose room at Leicester. This is the time of year when we can focus on facilities, to keep them looking fresh and welcoming for when students return.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for me? Go to and click on Let’s Talk. This tool allows me to get your message quickly and therefore respond quickly as well. I love hearing what students are doing in the summer- share some stories!

Personalized Learning Plans in RNESU

In a recent article in School Guide, Vermont is lauded for its work on Personal Learning Plans. Tom Alderman, from the Vermont Agency of Education, defines personal learning plans as a “mechanism designed to engage educators, parents, as well as the students in partnership to develop the student’s unique flexible pathway to graduation….the primary aim of this technique is to put the student at the center of construction of their learning experience….result in greater relevance and engagement and excellent outcomes.” The law, which took effect in 2013, is designed to be phased in over the next few years, starting with current 7th and 9th graders and adding classes until all 7th through 12th grade students have a personalized plan.

What does personalizing mean? How can we personalize and make sure students get the required knowledge? This means moving toward proficiencies rather than Carnegie Units in our construction of classes and grades. Think of a web page. Today, there are many tools out there for people to create their own web pages to capture their passions. Websites all look different, with different ways of highlighting important information or sharing a message. Yet the backbone of each webpage is the same, the code that is written must exist in every page and the basic structure is the same. In personalized learning plans, proficiencies help us to be clear about the basic structure of what students need to know. They may not need to memorize when the War of 1812 was (that was a joke), but they do need to know how to find the information and be able to critically think and interact with it. Communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills are among the proficiencies to be met but can be met in a variety of ways, ways that lend to supporting the personal learning interests of the student.

In RNESU, we have begun tackling personal learning plans and proficiencies. This year, elementary report cards report on achievement of proficiencies. The high school is having discussions about grading practices, which leads to discussions about assessments and curriculum as well. We are in the early process along this continuum and likely we will “fail forward” as we learn and develop in this way of thinking and teaching. Our Wow Wednesdays, designed to give teachers (K-8 currently) opportunity to talk with each other about student learning, is a way for us to develop these skills. Our professional development plan for teachers for the next few years is on Brain Based Learning, a way of learning (and teaching) that moves toward proficiencies as well, helping the teacher structure classroom work with student ownership and engagement in mind.

Stay tuned as we continue to learn and move toward personalized learning and proficiencies. If you have specific questions, email us at Let’s Talk, our interactive communication tool, and join the conversation!

Act 46 Update Oct. 25, 2015

As the RNESU Act 46 Study Committee moves along, it is important to be transparent with our work and decisions being made. Our web page at has a tab called Act 46: Future of RNESU. This page has several links to meetings and their minutes, resources on the law, and most importantly, Frequently Asked Questions. As we have begun community forums on Act 46, this is a place to go to when you want to get up to speed. We have now had 4 meetings of the study committee and are working on articles for two districts in a side by side model: an OV district for the 6 towns of Whiting, Sudbury, Leicester, Goshen, Brandon and Pittsford and a Barstow district for Chittenden and Mendon. Here is a sample FAQ:

School district, union district, supervisory union? Which one are we, and what is the difference?

All three models exist in Rutland Northeast SU. Each of our towns have an elementary school, and  is its own “school district” with its own school board. Sometimes the term “town-school district” is used.

6 towns (Brandon, Goshen, Leicester, Sudbury, Whiting and Pittsford)  are members of Otter Valley Union Middle and High schools. OV Union also has its own 10 member school board with proportional representation from all the sending towns; this board oversees OV Middle and High. Two of our towns, Chittenden and Mendon, participate in a joint contract (with East Pittsford as a non active partner) that results in sharing Barstow Memorial School.  The school districts and OV Union  and the Barstow Joint Agreement make up the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, which has its own board made up of representatives from each of the town school district boards. RNESU oversees the shared  services for all districts, such as the superintendent, special education, K-12 curriculum development, business services, food services, transportation services,  and technology support.

Come learn more at one of the upcoming community forums:

Nov 4 @ Cafe Provence 6:00 pm
Nov 7 @ Goshen Town Hall 7:00 pm (Potluck Dinner at 5:30 pm)

Act 46 Update Oct 11, 2015

Last week, Chittenden and Mendon Town Boards opted not to leave the RNESU Act 46 study committee to join the RCSU study committee and form a district with Rutland Town. Chittenden and Mendon run the Barstow Memorial School and as part of the RNESU  voted to join the RNESU study committee in June. By not taking action to leave, they confirmed that  they will remain within RNESU and we can now shift our focus to a Side by Side model of governance.

What does this mean, exactly? Act 46 has 4 preferred models of governance that it wishes to have every district consider. In our SU, we now have 2 models co-existing. The Otter Valley towns of Whiting, Sudbury, Leicester, Goshen, Brandon and Pittsford make up a Prek-12 model of governance. Chittenden and Mendon have a Prek-8 model with school choice at 9-12.

Act 156, which predates Act 46 by a few years, allows SUs with two different models of governance, as we have, to create 2 districts (OV and Barstow) side by side within the same SU. This is what the study committee is busy exploring: what are the benefits and challenges of 2 merged districts (OV and Barstow) side by side within the same SU.

It would mean we would remain an SU, though going from 8 towns and 11 districts to 8 towns and 3 districts (OV, Barstow and the SU). We would receive the Phase 2 tax incentives of a decrease in taxes (up to the 5% limit) of .08, .06, .04, and .02 over 4 years); we would keep our small schools grants indefinitely, continuing to help keep our taxes down. If a positive vote by the towns occurs in the spring of 2016, we would be eligible for a merger transition grant of over $100,000 to help thoughtfully plan a 2017 opening.

What else might it mean beyond finances? Act 46 speaks to the goal of equitable opportunity. In our SU, individual town boards must make decisions currently for their school. Thus, whether or not you get a foreign language or a 1:1 is a local decision based upon your zip code. With a single district, resources can be shared and decisions can be made for equity across all districts. For example, it is often the case that a board will increase the amount of time a teacher works in order to attract quality faculty, even if the numbers do not show the need. Even though we have a single master contract in RNESU, we hire by town (except special ed and a few federal grant positions). In a single district, we can maximize the use of staff in order to attract high quality faculty and share that resource across several schools (such as Monday at Leicester, Tuesday at Pittsford, etc).

Last week’s meeting had the study committee begin to look at our plan which will include a side by side arrangement. We are starting to discuss articles of governance, decide things like board representation, debts and assets, etc.

Several public forums have been set up to help keep the community informed and to give input. Upcoming forums include

Oct 15 @ Pittsford Town Hall at 6:30 pm

Oct 21 @ Sudbury Meeting House at 6 pm

Oct. 27 @ Leicester School at 7 pm

I hope you consider attending a forum or sharing your thoughts on Let’s Talk. Minutes of all meetings are posted on our website at RNESU. FAQs are listed on the website and new ones are put up as the questions are asked. Stay informed- this is your future also!


Act 46 Update Oct 4, 2015

Last week, the Act 46 study committee met and reviewed a communications plan and reviewed program, equity and finance information for the current configuration in the supervisory union. The presentation materials are posted on the Act 46 web page of RNESU here.

     The committee meets again this coming week, on Oct 6. All meetings are open, start at 6pm and occur at Otter Valley.  Work will begin on the plan for an OV and a Barstow district, depending on the decisions made by the Barstow study committee on Monday night.
     The towns of Chittenden and Mendon, as you may know from the media, are being courted to join the Rutland Central SU study committee to join the choice town of Rutland Town. The decision on leaving our SU study committee to joining theirs will be made by the Barstow Act 46 study committee. Their decision will not change the direction or incentives for the OV district; thus the decision is completely theirs.
     There is some confusion in the media about the recent state board of ed decision regarding school choice. The decision clarified that a single district cannot have both a high school and high school choice. However, choice cannot be taken away from any town that has it unless the residents vote to remove it. This means that in our supervisory union, if Barstow remains with us, we would continue as a supervisory union, in a Side by Side arrangement with an OV district and a Barstow district.
     There are number of Frequently Asked Questions about this process on our website. Check them out or ask new ones with the Let’s Talk app on the school and RNESU websites. Minutes from the meetings and all presentations are also posted there.

Act 46 Update to Faculty and Staff

     As we get deeper and deeper into our daily routine in the schools, I thought it was important to bring information directly to faculty and staff about the Act 46 conversations which are occurring around the future of RNESU.
     Act 46 is the Vermont law that requires all districts to explore their governance structure and determine if there is opportunity to merge into the lowest number of operating units.
     In RNESU we have 8 towns, 11 boards, and 44 board members. Six of those towns are members of the Otter Valley Union district; two of those towns offer high school choice and are not part of the OV district. This means the lowest number of operating units that RNESU has is 3: an OV district, a Barstow district and the resulting SU to oversee both, if that is where we land. Yes, it is possible under the law to have a Side by Side model of a high school district and a choice district under a single SU.
     RNESU has developed a 28 member study committee to begin to explore our options. That committee consists of at least one board member from each town and a total of 18 members representing all towns, with both board and community representation. The committee met for the first time on Sept 15 at Otter Valley. With the help of a facilitator, the committee reviewed the educational quality standards along with the charge of the committee.
     The committee will meet again on Sept 29, then again on Oct 6. As of the Oct 6 date, they will move to 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month through Dec.  The timeline for the work of this committee is set up to culminate in a vote in the spring of 2016, though that timeline may be extended if needed. All Act 46 committee meetings are open to the public.
     Community engagement in the study is crucial and forums will be scheduled for late fall/early winter. A web page at has been set up to capture all meeting agendas and minutes, presentations, and provide resources and background for the public to review.
     I will provide you with updates after each committee meeting and will also send you common FAQs so you can help explain what is happening to others. Questions, suggestions and comments may be made through public comment at each meeting, through community forums when scheduled, and through the app, Let’s Talk, found on each school’s web page.