Monday, February 20, 2017

Week  5 Update

The Experiential Education Design team has been busy developing goals and a timeline as well as conducting site visits to model programs. Their focus is on enhancing student learning by "using real world situations and resources." They have identified what will be needed in order to launch the Rochester School of Discovery in September 2018 and have a clear set of expected results for students. Along with the other two Design Teams, the experiential group will meet for a final work session on Thursday, February 23rd in Bethel.

The High School Design Team has developed core values and expected benefits of consolidation. During their work in Week 5, this group discussed possible course offerings and scheduling in greater detail. The Team believes that expanding course options and adding flexibility to the schedule are among the greatest benefits of consolidation and they are working to identify different classes and schedules to improve student learning opportunities.  

After reviewing their site visit to Rutland, Middle School Design Team members focused their work this week on identifying core values of the new middle school program. These values grow from themes discussed throughout the design process and components team members deemed essential for the new middle school. Work will continue between meetings, with 7 team members slated for a visit to Crossett Brook Middle School on Monday and online work translating the Team's efforts into a clear, simple matrix introducing the new middle school to our communities.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week 4 Update:
High School Team Overview

From the three school mission statements, we can see some common, closely-held, principles.
     We value a 21ST-CENTURY EDUCATION where students see their connection to others around the globe and develop skills to thrive in a complex world
     We see the value of WHOLE-CHILD EDUCATION where the diverse (academic, intellectual, emotional, physical, etc.) needs of a student are tended to with care and thoughtfulness.
     We value HIGHER-ORDER THINKING where students are challenged to demonstrate that their learning goes beyond mere memorization and rote responses to situations.
     We value COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS where students contribute to, and benefit from, their surrounding towns and neighborhoods in both institutional and personal ways.


A consolidated high school would take three very small schools and create one, medium-sized high school of 250 +/- 30 students. Grade levels would consist of 55-75 students.

Even with a low-end estimate of 220 students and a target of no more than 20 students per section, a schedule that provided for 8 sections of instruction (perhaps over a 2-day period if longer block scheduling is adopted), would create 88 sections of instruction. Increasing the student population estimates or lowering the number of students per section would drive the number of instructional blocks upward. Staffing and building capacity could ultimately impact the exact number of course offerings.

This is, however, a good faith approximation of the number of instructional blocks available and represents a significant increase in the number of instructional blocks currently available at any of the three small schools. South Royalton, as the largest of the schools, currently offers 72 instructional blocks. The consolidated school, therefore, would offer 22% more instructional blocks for those students and a much larger percentage increase for students from Whitcomb and Rochester.

This is important and will result in three immediate and clearly desirable advantages:

1) A reliable set of course offerings available every year: No longer will students have to anticipate when (or if) certain courses will run - key courses will be offered every year. As an example, in some schools currently, Physics and Chemistry run in alternate years.

2) A richer set of course offerings available to all students: The consolidated school will be able to offer a greater number of AP and elective courses. Currently-available AP courses will see enrollment increases that will provide a more stimulating classroom environment.

3) A more flexible set of course offerings with multiple sections available for key, core courses: Students in small school settings often have to choose between core, required courses and interest-driven electives. With multiple sections available for the core courses, such choices between courses can be reduced - students will more frequently be able to enroll in both.

It must be said that, even as a larger consolidated high school, the new school will still be constrained by educational and economic realities. For example, the more the schedule is driven by flexibility (#3 above), the less likely it will be able to feature richness (#2 above). Such compromises are inherent in any school schedule. On the whole, however, the educational benefits of a consolidated school are significant and relate well to the Four Core Principles that the three small schools already espouse. A summary of how the consolidated school would promote these principles is provided below:

      We value a 21st-CENTURY EDUCATION where students see their connection to others around the globe and develop skills to thrive in a complex world
      A reliable curriculum where core courses in all areas are offered every year (for example, Physics and Chemistry will no longer alternate)
      A rich curriculum where AP courses are more fully attended and electives (Computer Programming, Journalism, Theatre Arts are possibilities) are more varied and easier to sustain.
      Greater ability to support foreign language programs (Spanish, French, etc.)
      More sections of core courses (English, Algebra I, US History, for example) will allow students to flexibly schedule around their interests - taking Algebra AND Band instead of having to choose
      We see the value of WHOLE-CHILD EDUCATION where the diverse (academic, intellectual, emotional, physical, etc.) needs of a student are tended to with care and thoughtfulness.

      More athletic teams at more age-appropriate levels
      Greater availability of a theater program for all students
      Greater ability to create interest-driven clubs (robotics, agriculture, etc.)
      Program could more easily support a “9th-grade transition” support course
      Easier to create and sustain academic support systems of all kinds, including possible remediation courses
      We value HIGHER-ORDER THINKING where students are challenged to demonstrate that their learning goes beyond mere memorization and rote responses to situations.

      A rich curriculum where AP courses are more fully attended and electives (Computer Programming, Journalism, Theatre Arts are possibilities) are more varied and easier to sustain.
      Easier to create and sustain academic support systems
      Easier to coordinate  teacher professional development toward a common set of educational outcomes - with rigor, relevance, and higher-order thinking as a common expectation of courses.
      We value COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS where students contribute to, and benefit from, their surrounding towns and neighborhoods in both institutional and personal ways.

      Greater sense of “community” - students are connected to peers and adults beyond their local communities and see them as allies and assets
      Broader base of community resources that students might benefit from
      Greater breadth of expertise to draw upon
      Easier to support non-traditional learning paths (internships, work options, etc.)

Week 4 Update:
Middle School Site Visit

Team meetings were somewhat sparse this week owing to bad weather. Below if a recap of a Middle School Team visit to Rutland City Middle School attended by Bethel teacher Karol Delia and Bethel students Anita Miller and Reid Penta.

Rutland City Middle School Visit
Rutland City Middle School is made up of 312 students in Grades 7 & 8.  There are 7 blocks daily, with teachers teaching 5 of them. Each block is 48 minutes long, with the exception of lunch/REAL time (Respect E-------  Acceptance Leadership), which are back to back each being 18 minutes. Each classroom has a cart with Chromebooks. Students are assigned a computer and take it upon entering if needed. This has decreased damage and loss to the electronics and ensures that they all have technology available.

Block 1- Extension
Students are assigned to this block by grade level. They are either in Math Extension (intervention), Language Extension (intervention) or World Culture (7th graders) or Foreign Language (8th graders). Historically there would be a Science Class option for each grade, but a teacher was cut so it has been modified.

Both the Math and Language Extension classes use Math 180 or Language 180; which are both skill recovery programs that utilize both a book and online. These programs are also accessible online at home.

We visited an 8th grade Math Extension class. All students enter and start with a lesson from the book. Once they have completed the lesson, they have the choice to go online with a Chromebook or to work and get help in his/her regular math class.  This teacher LOVES Math 180. She can monitor progress daily/weekly to find students activity. If students aren’t being as productive as they should, she conferences with them about going to the “other” traditional classroom that is book work as a class. They earn being in this class.

Block 2- E Block
This E Block is for Enrichment. Students either go to Band/Chorus/Orchestra or they follow a rotation through FACS, Technology, Social Skills, World Culture, PE.

ALL teachers have this block free for team meetings.

Block 3 - Core Class 1

Lunch/REAL time BLOCK
Each is 18 minutes. While 7th is at REAL, 8th is eating then it flips.  The Principal and Asst Principal do lunch duty.  The trade off is that ALL teachers are to be in the hallways during transitions to monitor behaviors.

REAL is a block where Tuesday - Thursday it is comprised of Academic Work/Help and Advising. There are special activities on Friendship Fridays and Mondays i.e. Special Olympics VT T-shirt contest or other menu options. This calendar and menu of choices is put together by the PBIS team. This is in lieu of TA; which they have tried in the past.

Blocks 4-6 Core Classes 2-5

Block 7 Unified Arts
All Specials happen during the last block. Students travel by grade level groups as a cohort to a Special that will meet 5 days per week for 5 weeks before rotating.  These Unified Arts are: PE, FACS, Art, Health (7th grade), Music (8th grade)

Other Notes:
  • There is a Team Leader meeting every Wednesday after school with Administration. The team consists of 2 teachers per grade and 1 Unified Arts teacher. They act as a liaison between teachers and administration to discuss issues.
  • When speaking with the Team Leaders at our visit, they all thought 48 minutes was too short. It turns out to be 45 productive minutes for class which can pass quickly. They thought 90 minutes was too long. 2 thought 80 minutes would be great. (1 is a Social Studies teacher who has centers). They all agreed 55-60 would be perfect.
  • The configuration is currently without “‘looping”. In the past, they didn’t have the loops, then decided they wanted to in order to get to know the students better. They looped for about 6 years until they decided it didn’t work as well as they had hoped. They got to know only about ¼ of the students really well. Many felt it also undermined what they intended for the culture of the school. They discontinued looping and the teachers now get to know all of the students. They feel they get to know them well because they see them 5 days a week.
  • During the last 2 weeks of school, ALL faculty and staff participate in ESP - Enriched Special Program. All staff members offer a course as an individual or as part of a team. The courses are about anything the teachers are passionate about.  Courses can be ½ or full days. Course that have been offered in the past were: hiking, arts/crafts, tennis and even shark dissection. Students get a flyer with all of the courses and pick multiple choices.  The 8th graders get 1st pick, the 7th graders get 2nd pick.
  • Rutland City has a Makerspace. It has both Industrial Arts as well Technology.  Teachers sign up for the space with the Technology Director and bring their class there for projects (i.e. a Social Studies class researched Colonial artifacts then had to recreate them). They currently have cameras and lighting with a green screen for video production, a plotter for large posters, Google Expedition - these are goggles that are put on and programmed for places such as the Sahara Desert. You remain stationary, but see images in 3D, 360 degrees. Also there are computers as well as hand tools and come power tools.
  • Student Council is made up of anyone who wants to join with a President and Vice President, who are elected by the general population. The elected officials must campaign. They have made videos which have been shown in classes. Each grade runs the school store during their lunch blocks.  
  • Through PBIS, students are awarded Bucks; which may be redeemed immediately at the school store for small items (erasers, pencil grips, etc) or save them to be put in the weekly drawing for larger items (t-shirt, hat, etc).
  • Students are allowed to nominate Students of the Month or Faculty Staff of the month by writing a small blurb as to why they should be awarded the title. The write ups are then read by the PBIS team.
  • Students may award other students with Bucks by giving them one of their own.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Model Design Teams
Week 3 Update

The three Model Design Teams reconvened in Bethel on February 2nd and began with a large group re-cap of our work thus far. Amelia Lincoln, the Student Assistance Professional in Bethel and Rochester, shared information about developmental assets. According to the Search Institute, which works to improve the lives of children, developmental assets are “40 research-based, positive experiences and qualities that influence young people’s development, helping them become caring, responsible, and productive adults” ( Amelia encouraged the design teams to consider developmental assets in our planning and posed the questions, “how do we make happier, healthier kids?” and, “how do we help everyone feel welcome and connected at school?”

Each Team worked separately for the bulk of our meeting time then shared highlights of their work with the larger group. The High School Design Team focused on issues related to schedules and created a list of scheduling “must haves.” Their priorities include: time for students to take 8 courses, opportunities for extra support, teacher collaboration and planning time, enough time to complete AP curricula, and small class sizes. Noting that they are aiming for a balance between structure and flexibility, the Team also wants to ensure time for band and music, personal learning plans, community projects, extra-curriculars during the day, student-directed projects, and longer lunches.

The Experiential Team shared a vision for their program serving almost like a semester abroad for high school students. They see the Rochester-based program offering applied learning, allowing students to develop and explore “driving questions” and gain proficiencies while faculty members act as guides and mentors. The group also discussed a weeklong middle school program and believes it would be ideal to make time at the experiential program a requirement for high school students. Members from this team will be on site visits next week and plan to re-join the other Teams on February 16th.

Middle School Design Team members spent the evening in a wide-ranging discussion with John Downs from the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM. The Institute partners with middle schools throughout Vermont, helping them move forward and emphasizing fundamental middle school practices, technology, and professional development. John shared different options for teams that could involve teachers “looping” with students for three years or could cluster students in multi-age groups. The Design Team expressed interest in preserving some grade-level time as well as opportunities for students of different ages to interact. A similar blended approach was considered for scheduling classes--group members feel that dedicated time in each core subject is important but the schedule should also allow for interdisciplinary projects on a regular basis. Students serving on the Middle School Design Team emphasized their desire for more hands-on learning as well as increased social opportunities. Members of the group will continue to meet each Thursday and hope to visit several middle schools during the next two weeks.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Week 2 Design Team Update

Model Design Teams
Week 2 Update

During the week of January 22nd, the Experiential Education Team focused on research and site visits to other experiential programs. This group did not hold an in-person meeting but will reconvene on Thursday, February 2nd in Bethel to share what they have learned and continue their planning process.

The High School Design Team worked individually and online this week, reviewing course catalogues from several other high schools and identifying areas for further exploration. The Team agreed to focus on several key areas,that include creating teacher/student advisories and designing a schedule that increases student opportunities and provides time for student support as well as teacher collaboration. The group also plans to discuss types of schedules, guidance programs, and transitioning freshman to high school in future meetings. High School Design Team members will also meet in person on February 2nd.

Middle School Design Team members devoted their meeting time to diving deeply into the essential components of a middle-level program that they had identified previously. Discussion focused on building a strong advisory program that will include dedicated meeting times at the beginning and end of every school day. Team members also agreed that a positive school climate--one that fosters belonging, efficacy, and ownership among students--should be developed through regular community building activities. Ideas considered included service learning, public speaking, and projects about local, State, and national history for different grade levels. The group held a lengthy discussion about crafting a schedule that allows for interdisciplinary work as well as significant teacher collaboration time. Moving forward, the Team plans to meet with a representative from the Tarrant Foundation and to conduct site visits to exceptional middle school programs.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Model Design Teams Begin Work on Consolidated Programs

Representatives from Bethel, Rochester, and Royalton began the next stage in the Act 46 process last week when they came together in “design teams” to begin laying out what a consolidated middle school, high school, and experiential education program will look like in our communities. The three teams consist of teachers, administrators, parents, and students from across our towns and are led by the school principals. Each team will spend the next six weeks designing new programs, consulting with experts, and visiting model schools.

Superintendent Bruce Labs encouraged the teams to be creative and think outside the box while drawing from WRVSU’s Strategic Plan and the State’s Education Quality Standards. Rochester principal Danielle Stamm likened the process to creating the trailer for a movie: the work currently being undertaken is not the full show by any means but it will provide voters with a helpful preview that will enable them to make an informed decision when the new Act 46 structures are voted on in April.

During Thursday evening’s meeting, the Middle School Design Team discussed the components they believe are essential for a robust, rigorous middle school program. The team agreed that our new program should include a strong advisory system, a safe and positive school culture, connections with the broader community and world, more hands-on learning, developmentally appropriate activities, and a gradual increase in student choice and responsibility during the middle school years. Group members also reviewed the 14 characteristics of effective middle schools from the National Middle School Association. Moving forward, the middle school team plans to work with UVM’s Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education.

During their discussion, the High School Design Team considered a series of questions, including,   
What is missing now? What would a new high school look like? What makes up a typical day? And How will we know we got it right?  The group spent considerable time discussing what we felt was missing in high school design today and brainstormed what a new high school might look like going forward. We talked about time for both teachers and students to do more collaboration, the importance of a strong guidance and counselling program, how to get students outside of the building to learn, how we get a higher rate of engagement in students, how the school day may look different. Next week, the committee will begin looking at course offerings and program changes that may be helpful.

The Experiential Design Team  was led by Rochester principal Dani Stamm and consultant Todd Finn, principal of Mill River High School in North Clarendon, both of whom have begun and worked in experiential schools. The team’s task was to describe in more detail how the experiential school would operate, who would participate, and what the curriculum would include. Group members shared their visions for the program and many common themes emerged, including a desire for a full day program, an emphasis on student presentations and real-world applications, and the use of teachers as advisors, resources, and facilitators. All agreed that starting small would better ensure excellence, rigor and quality in the programming given the short time available before it will be put in place. Team members left tasked with visiting, researching or connecting with schools, people or sources of funding.

The model design teams plan to meet each Thursday evening the next five weeks. Full minutes from the meeting are available online at For more information, please contact your school principal.