Around and about the Windham County schools

Around and about the Windham County schools

As students prepare to begin another school year in the next few days, we bring you a roundup of what’s new in our local classrooms

Here's a look at what's coming up for the new school year in school districts around Windham County. We attempted to contact every single public school in the county, and we are able to bring you some brief updates from most of them this week.

Brattleboro Union High School

• Due to a number of retirements last year, Brattleboro Union High School has hired three math teachers, a French teacher, and two social-studies teachers.

• Ace (Academic Challenge and Excellence) period, previously two days a week, is now five days a week. The 42-minute slot will provide students with time to make up missed work, ask questions, and work in small groups.

• The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Academy, launched last year, will offer two new biomedical courses.

• Ninth and tenth graders will now make personal learning plans as mandated by the state.

• The school is working on the auditorium this year, repairing the roof and improving lighting.

• A more energy-efficient wood-chip boiler has been installed.

• “We are working on proficiency-based instruction and giving a grade based on skill as well as challenge,” said Principal Steve Perrin.

Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School (Townshend)

• Leland & Gray will introduce two new math classes this fall: probability and statistics, which will be for college credit in partnership with Community College of Vermont, and core math, which will be for students below grade level.

• The school will offer new electives in social studies and English, also for college credit through Community College of Vermont.

• Leland & Gray will offer more internship opportunities and career training classes in its after-school program Help Empower Youth (HEY!).

• Beginning this year, 40 hours of community service will be required for graduation as a part of the new Personalized Learning Plans for students in grades seven through nine.

• All middle-school students will participate in technology training to encourage responsible use of technology and social media for educational purposes. They will all be provided a Chromebook, so students will not need to bring their own devices to school.

• The school has hired a nurse (Jen Burke) and a driver's education teacher (Karren Meyer).

• Back-to-school materials have been mailed to families and are available from links to the home page of the school's website.

• “I think it's going to be a great school year,” Principal Dorrine Dorfman said. “I think Leland & Gray is a very caring school climate. The students really benefit from being educated in this whole-child philosophy.”

Twin Valley Middle-High School (Wilmington)

• Twin Valley has purchased more technology to get close to its goal of having one device for each student.

• In the fall, the school will focus on adding state-mandated personal learning plans for seventh-graders.

• All administrators are being trained in proficiency-based learning outlined in the 2013 legislation covering the Flexible Pathways Initiative and Dual Enrollment.

• Teachers will be given online safety training based on the acronym Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate (ALICE).

• The school will hire a new head of maintenance and a new director of curriculum technology integration. Twin Valley has hired a new art teacher, and the middle school has a new language arts teacher.

• Some classes for college credit are being prepared for the second semester.

• The school has eliminated the study-hall period, but students will still have advisory time in the morning.

• Principal Tom Fitzgerald noted that on the first day of school, students will focus on overcoming obstacles in what he described as “a sort of in-service day for our kids.”

Speaking to the students will be Brad Hurtig, who lost both his hands in an accident his junior year of high school in Ohio, yet managed to play football during his senior year.

The day will also include a barbecue lunch with breakout groups to discuss goal setting and how to be successful in high school.

Fitzgerald hopes this program will be “more uplifting than just going over the rules in the classroom” and wants to “kick off the year with something inspiring.”

• “Last year was our first year in the renovated building,” Fitzgerald said. “I am excited about opening school with everything intact and opening on time.”

“We did a really good job last year setting expectations in the new building for our kids,” the principal added. “Everyone is coming back knowing what our expectations are.”

• For all schools in the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, “we are looking at how to integrate technology into the curriculum and professional development,” Superintendent Chris Pratt said.

Bellows Falls Middle School

• Bellows Falls Middle School welcomes Karen Bukowski as principal, coming to Vermont from Chicago. New faculty members include a seventh-grade science teacher, a sixth-grade math teacher, and a special educator.

“I'm excited about this school year,” Bukowski said. “I've been a middle-school principal for 13 years in a suburb of Chicago, and it's been really exciting meeting people and learning about the differences between the two education systems.”

• “A lot of things we're working towards have come about through state and federal changes, and we're going to ease in and make sure we do what's right by our students,” Bukowski said.

• The school is transitioning to standards-based report cards, which will require staff training and parent education because it involves deeper understanding than traditional A-B-C-D-F grading.

• The new Eureka math program is being implemented and next-generation science standards have come out, so the curriculum is being reworked. The physical education program is also evolving because of new standards.

• The gym floor has been stripped and re-striped, and the mascot has been repainted.

• Bukowski hopes to add an intramural sports program as the year goes on.

• The school is working on getting a Chromebook for each student.

Academy School (Brattleboro)

• Principal Andy Paciulli says that the Academy School is looking to analyze the results of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests, which students in grades 3 through 6 took this past spring. Paciulli said the results will help educators look at the “content, strengths, and weaknesses” of Academy's curriculum.

• The school has just fired up its brand-new biomass heating system.

“It's great!” Paciulli said, noting that the new system will be deployed immediately to heat the school's hot water. “It'll save the taxpayers money, and it'll emit less carbon into the air.”

• The school is looking at some turnover in its staff, including some paraprofessionals, a band teacher, a new Title I teacher, and a new speech and language pathologist.

• Assistant Principal Mary Ross will join the administrative team, coming to Vermont from East Lansing, Mich.

Oak Grove School (Brattleboro)

• Oak Grove welcomes a new principal, Jeri Curry, who is coming from Brattleboro Area Middle School. Other new hires include an instrumental music teacher shared with Green Street School and Academy School, a special educator, and a paraeducator.

“I'm not coming in to make any changes,” Curry said. “Oak Grove is in great shape. We have great staff who are a talented, creative group of professionals.”

• The school is continuing to purchase more Chromebooks for third graders. Oak Grove has already equipped fourth- and fifth-graders with the laptop computers.

Central Elementary School (Bellows Falls)

• Central Elementary School continues this year with “The Leader in Me,” a program based on Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a guide for student behavior.

The school has hired a fourth-grade teacher, a special educator, behavior specials, and a paraeducator.

• The school has been awarded a Year of the Book grant from the Children's Literacy Foundation, which will cover the costs of no fewer than 10 books throughout the year for every child and fees for authors to work with the students and meet with parents. Central Elementary has made bookcases for students to take home to hold the books.

• Principal Keith Nemlich said, “We're looking forward to a great year. We have excellent staff who are ready to go.”

Westminster Community Schools (West School and Center School)

• The schools have doubled the amount of art and physical education time for kids to twice a week.

• The West School now has kindergarten and has enrolled 10 to 12 new students.

• Three classroom teachers have been hired: a sixth-grade teacher, a fourth-grade teacher, and a kindergarten and first-grade teacher. A school nurse and two special-education teachers have also been hired.

• The schools have switched to a new cleaning system that uses no chemicals.

• “I'm just really excited to get kids back into school,” said Steve Tullar, principal of both schools. “Everything is ready; the buildings are shiny [and] just ready for the kids.”

The Dover School

• “This is my last year at Dover,” said Principal Will Anton. “I'm going to be the superintendent after this year. I'm looking forward to paying attention to all the little things that make this school so special.”

• The school is entering its second year in the International Baccalaureate program.

• The school has hired a new library media specialist, who has worked with the building supervisors to create a new technology nook in the library to incorporate interactive whiteboard technology.

• A 5-acre solar array will be installed to power all public buildings in town.

“We're happy that we're on the forefront of sustainable power and our kids will get an education in combatting climate change,” Anton said.

• The school hopes to get bids to repaint and re-carpet the school this fall.

• Each student in the first grade and above has access to a computing device.

• Three Dover School teachers will present at the Vermont Technology Conference from Nov. 4 to 6 in Killington to share how they implement technology in the classroom.

Saxtons River Elementary School

• Saxtons River Elementary has hired a first-grade teacher, a school counselor, an art educator, and a paraeducator.

• The student council for third and fourth graders will be in action for its second year.

• The school will emphasize writing this year using Lucy Calkins material in every classroom. Principal Nancy Erickson said, “Writing is one way students demonstrate their skill in reading.”

• Part of the school building has turned 100 years old, and the school plans to celebrate a “Century of Success.”

• Plans are afoot to build a sidewalk on School Street by the end of this calendar year. The sidewalk, approved before Tropical Storm Irene, had to be delayed as state funding was reallocated.

• Erickson said, “We always have a school theme, and this year we are making the school great through sharing.”

Putney Central School

• Principal Herve Pelletier expects enrollment at Putney Central School to be between 175 and 180 students. The preschool will be fully enrolled with 16 four-year-old students, he said.

• The school has hired Hillary Keach as guidance counselor.

• After seven years of working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the school will be able to take advantage of grant money and install sidewalks and a curb leading to the school entrance. Two solar-powered sidewalk signs will also be installed.

• The school is piloting the Middlebury Interactive Languages program in third, fourth, and fifth grades. The online curriculum will focus on Spanish, but students can choose from seven languages.

• The school is also piloting a reading curriculum, Reading Street Common Core, in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

• The Farm-to-School program is becoming an “in-house operation.”

The Farm to School Committee has helped greatly expand the local food available to students, Pelletier said. The school has hired a new lead chef and food service director to expand the healthy foods program, which has been awarded grants for fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks.

The annual Lantern Supper on Friday, Sept. 11 will benefit the program.

“People in Putney have been absolutely awesome in their support of this school, and I know there is a lot of positive support for the food program,” Pelletier said.

Marlboro School

• With the support of a federal grant, Marlboro School will launch its after-school supper program, which will provide meals for students participating in after-school activities.

• The school has hired two special education assistants.

• A wellness policy that was drafted last year will be implemented early this fall, focusing on a strong commitment to healthy, active students.

• The kindergarten students will participate in “forest kindergarten,” during which the students spend time in the woods in the afternoon, a program that Principal Francie Marbury calls “an unstructured exploratory environment.”

“I think that in the recent years we have been pushed too far in the direction of test preparation, so I am delighted to be able to support this type of program,” Marbury said.

Townshend Elementary School

• The school has begun exploring the use of mindfulness practices in the classroom, intended to give students a way to be relaxed and help those who need help focusing.

• The Townshend Elementary School is the oldest continually functioning schoolhouse in Vermont, but its steps are brand new. The steps, built from pressure-treated materials, will be painted to match the building next year.

• Principal Deborah Leggott said, “Every year is very, very exciting in this business. You'd think after 20 years the excitement would be less, but I think it's more.”

“Nobody sleeps well the night before school because we're excited to see everyone,” she continued. “I have a staff that can't wait to see the kids again, so we're really really looking forward to the first day of school.

“I think that we've missed each other. It's going to be great to have [the students] all back, and a few new ones.”

Grafton Elementary School

• “My husband and I are truly enjoying getting to know this community and Vermont as a whole,” wrote Cela Dorr, Grafton Elementary School's new principal in a recent letter to new parents, who notes that she and her husband are learning the particular Vermont argot with words like “creemee,” “flatlander,” and “woodchuck.”

Dorr hails from the Boston-Cambridge area and most recently served as assistant principal of a school of 600 in Chelsea, Mass.

She holds a bachelor's degree in American history from Suffolk University and two master's degrees: one in special education from Boston College, and the other in school leadership from Harvard University.

• Joining the Grafton staff: Dennis Coffey (music and instrumental teacher), Sophia Stone (grade 1), and Jordan Lemay (grade 4).

• To give teachers more uninterrupted preparation time, the school now asks parents to schedule appointments with teachers. “Knowing when to expect families allows for us to adjust our prepping and planning to make it beneficial to all parties involved,” Dorr wrote.

• A daily Community Meeting will take place at 8:15 a.m., in the gym or outside if weather permits. Families are welcome to stay for the meeting.

• The school is exploring options for after-school programs.

Twin Valley Elementary School (Wilmington)

• “We have worked hard to put in place a Common Core aligned literacy and math curriculum Pre-K-5th grade and develop a healthy school culture,” Principal Rebecca Fillion recently wrote to parents. “This year we continue that work and begin to dig deeper into making the Twin Valley mission to 'grow innovators who will change the world' a reality.”

• Fillion says the Twin Valley staff will continue with teaching expected behaviors, and the school plans whole school events such as super hero day, hat day, and beach day.

“We also look forward to encouraging the attributes of innovators, passionate learning, valued relationships and being responsible through our Shining Star awards,” she writes.

• New staff this year includes Amy Divis (art), Sue Maddern (music, pre-kindergarten through grade 3), and Karen Horton (music and band, grades 4 and 5), Laura Urquhart (grade 5), Lyndsay Rossi (pre-kindergarten), and Kristin Trudeau (full-time guidance counselor). Paul Hoak, the school's former behavior specialist, will work as the school's part-time guidance counselor.

Guilford Central School

• “We're just really excited,” said Principal John Gagnon, noting that with the loss of two grades in recent years, “we're grooving at being a K-6 school.”

• A “great team of teachers” represented the school this summer at the Farm to School Conference in Shelburne this year. The school plans to expand the program, which brings local food into the schools.

• The school will welcome a new first-grade teacher, along with new paraeducators.

• This will be Guilford's first year as a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) school, a framework of teaching kids positive social behaviors in the school environment.

• A consultant will assess the school property in the hopes of helping Guilford Central School expand its groundbreaking outdoor classroom program, currently serving the students in grade 6.

The program plays a prominent role in an episode of public radio's American RadioWorks. To listen to a podcast online:

Gagnon says the school hopes to “formalize time in the schedule” for students in other grades.

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