The Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union (FNWSU), with offices in Swanton, Vermont, serves the school districts of Franklin, Highgate, Sheldon and Swanton and the five schools in these communities: Franklin Central School (K-6), Highgate Elementary (K-6), Sheldon School (K-8), Swanton School (K-6), and the Missisquoi Valley Union Middle School and High School (7-8 and 9-12). FNWSU also provides Early Education (pre-Kindergarten) services (FCECP-a partnership with FCSU), After-School, and Indian Education programs, and the Franklin – Grand Isle Bookmobile.
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An Opinion Piece on Testing by Secretary Rebecca Holcombe
Testing is once again in the news. NAEP test results were released across the nation; President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education have supported reductions in testing; and states have been releasing local assessment results. Yet the storyline remains the same: too much testing, not enough student achievement.
In Vermont, we think the story should be more about what we are doing with these test results, and a little less about the tests themselves.
Over the last decade or so, federal policy has used student achievement data to judge and sanction schools, teachers and principals. Furthermore, many states have defined teacher and educator quality narrowly in terms of test scores.
While we believe the intent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is laudable, and we agree that we must commit to ensuring every student has the best quality education we can provide, the blunt tools in NCLB threaten faith in public institutions and undermine our ability to serve our children well.
NCLB assumes that employees in our schools need motivation before they will provide for their students. Most of the “motivation” comes in the form of sanctions that, at best, introduce elements of fear and coercion to our educational system.
High-stakes testing also creates perverse incentives for teachers to teach in ways that are antithetical to our vision for equity. Most states are using these test scores to shape employment decisions, and as a result, encourage educators to teach narrowly to the test, so as to boost those scores as much as possible.
High stakes can also penalize good teachers who work with some of our most vulnerable students. If a teacher agrees to teach students whose performance is so far below grade level that their learning can never be captured on the grade level tests, their efforts, no matter how Herculean, will never be evident in test-based performance measures.
These NCLB accountability measures have led educators to question the test and its purposes, and to challenge what they see as unfair measures of their performance.
Unlike most states, Vermont has consistently chosen to not use scores to evaluate, hire and fire teachers. Our teachers express professional pride in improving student performance, but not fear that if they don’t inflate those scores by teaching in narrow, test-focused ways, that they might lose their jobs. However, the federal sanctions on our schools and districts remain, and we worry that this inappropriate use of tests is both eroding their utility as measures of progress and perhaps discouraging some of the learning and innovative thinking we most want to support.
As the student representative on the State Board of Education, Rainbow Chen, recently noted, every year we use the tests to tell students, especially English language learners and children growing up in the face of deep adversity, that they are “not proficient” or “not on track for college and careers.” Instead, we could be helping them mark how much progress they have made and encouraging them to strive higher.
Vermont still has educational dilemmas and challenges to resolve. We still have achievement gaps, particularly for students living in poverty. Our schools continue to search for solutions to support students as increasing opiate addiction afflicts some of our communities. We are struggling to figure out how to encourage some of our rural students to see postsecondary education as a step towards a stronger future for both themselves and their communities. We know that our ultimate job is not to prepare students for tests, but to prepare them for a future when humans do what computers can’t do well: creative, innovative work that demands self-direction and judgment.
What we have learned, however, is that we are more likely to solve this problem by working together, rather than looking to blame, sanction, or label one another. As a state, we have chosen to pursue a more measured, thoughtful and balanced approach to accountability that is focused on building the professional capabilities of our educators, so they in turn can take better care of our children. And, we need a more measured and supportive approach to student achievement that is focused on improving progress and accomplishment, rather than blaming and shaming.
Students and families deserve schools that serve them and their communities well. Our schools and educators deserve policies that respect their contributions and support them in getting better at the most important work in the world: preparing ALL our children to create a strong future for themselves, the state and the nation.
Rebecca Holcombe is the Vermont Secretary of Education.
John Patrick Hartnett Named Interim Highgate Elementary School Principal
The Highgate School Board hired John “Patrick” Hartnett to replace Marcel Choquette as the interim Principal at Highgate Elementary School. Patrick or “JP”, as he is often addressed, earned his Master’s from the University of North Carolina, and undergraduate degree from UVM. He has served in Principal roles at Starksboro and Westford, and as an Assistant Principal at MVU Middle and Essex Union High Schools.
Patrick is married to Doctor Laura Bellstrom, a well-known Franklin County pediatrician.
The School Board and Superintendent were very pleased to hire such an experienced and highly respected Principal, especially so late in the summer.
Patrick was selected from a pool of 12 qualified candidates, in an expedited search process. The search began immediately following Marcel Choquette’s late-summer departure to become the Milton Middle School Principal.
The School Board will hold a “Meet and Greet” for Patrick Hartnett and all newly hired employees to be introduced to staff, parents, and community members at the August 13th School Board meeting. The Board meeting will begin at 6:15, at the Highgate Elementary School Library.
Swanton School Welcomes Justina Jennett
Swanton School is pleased to announce that Justina Jennett has been hired as the Assistant Principal for Swanton School, effective July 1, 2015. Justina previously served as the Educational Team Leader at Soar Learning Center, an AOE approved independent school located in Saint Albans, supported by Northwestern Counseling and Support Services. Prior to her administrative role at SLC, she taught English at the high school level for four years.
Justina has partnered with many schools within Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille and Chittenden County over the course of her 13 years at SLC while collaborating with numerous social service agencies in support of local youth. Originally from Barre, Justina relocated to Franklin County in 2009 and resides in West Swanton with her partner Shaun and daughter, Lucy.
Justina will be assisting Dena St. Amour, Swanton School Principal, due to the departure of Co-Principal Brent Coon, who is now the Principal at Rick Marcotte Central Elementary School in South Burlington.
Christie Martin to be Sheldon Principal
The Sheldon School Board is pleased to announce that Christie Martin has been hired as the new Sheldon Elementary principal, effective July 1, 2015. Christie currently serves as the Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning at Missisquoi Valley Union, after many years as an English teacher, teacher mentor, and administrator. In recent years, instructional coaches and administrators from throughout the five schools that comprise the Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union have come to know Christie’s talents and expertise. She has a strong reputation across the SU for leading and promoting effective teaching and learning.
Christie knows the needs of students, families, and staff, and the education and social service resources available in Franklin County, having grown up in the St. Albans area. She also has family roots in Sheldon community.
Christie succeeds Linda Keating, who led many school transformation initiatives at Sheldon over the past three years. We thank Linda for her exemplary work and wish her well in her new role as the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Franklin West Supervisory Union.
We welcome Christie Martin to the Sheldon community.
Schools Begin SBAC Assessments
Schools across the state, including here in Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union, are beginning to take the new Common Core standards-based assessments known as SBAC. AOE Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe issued a letter to parents and caregivers about the process. To see this document, click on Smarter Balanced Assessment: Another Measure of Learning.
School Budgets Pass on March 3rd
All five school budgets for Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union schools passed on March 3: Franklin Central School, Highgate Elementary, Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High Schools, Sheldon School and Swanton School.
Watch MVU Budget Show
Chanel 16 Northwest Access TV filmed an in-depth look at MVU and this year’s budget, which you can view at any time by clicking on the link MVU School Budget Show Filmed by the Channel 16 Public Access TV Station. (The show is 29 minutes long.)
Crossroads Students Get the Shutter Bug
Highgate Elementary student participants in the Highgate Crossroads After School Program eight week photography class learned the ropes from professional photographer Paula Yandow, covering topics such as framing and other ways to improve their images. Here are some samples of student work.
Vermont DOH Issues Ebola Information
The Vermont Department of Health has created a webpage with information on Ebola that includes downloadable documents–among them, a letter to parents of Vermont school children dated October 22. To visit the DOH webpage, click on Vermont DOH Ebola Information. Links for additional information are found on this page. To read the DOH October 22nd letter, click on DOH Letter to Parents and Guardians Concerning Ebola.
Club Football Agreement (MOU) Detailed
Detailed conditions of agreement have been set between the Missisquoi Valley Union School District and the Club Football Team, working through the MVU School Board. This agreement, or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), can be viewed in its entirety by clicking on this download: MVU Football Memorandum of Understanding.
School Leaders Rally Around SWIFT Initiative
The final “Best of Franklin Northwest” televised program for the 2013-14 school year brings together the principals of three FNWSU elementary schools with Former Superintendent Jack McCarthy to talk about their schools’ participation in a federally funded program known as SWIFT (School-Wide Integrated Framework for Transformation). The program offers an excellent overview of the goals for SWIFT in general, and from the perspective of each participating school: Sheldon School, Swanton School and Highgate Elementary. Click this link– The Best of Franklin Northwest: SWIFT Schools –to view the program at any time, or tune into Northwest Access TV for scheduled airings.
“SWIFT is a conversation about the possibilities for schools. What does an ideal school look like for kids, for parents and communities, as well as for staff? … The greatest challenge we have is that SWIFT is asking us to stand in the future and act from vision and predict what our kids’ needs are going to be in three years, four years, five years.”
“Everyone is really coming together, looking through the lens of SWIFT, looking at the whole child. … I feel that there’s a wraparound of supports. The academics are not going to be lost—we know how important that is—but we know the social, emotional well-being of our children is vital as well.”
“Our staff is excited about taking all of our supports and putting them together in a meaningful way. … It’s about what are the approaches that you need to ensure are part of every child’s experience, learning life at the school?… To assure that students are always moving forward in their achievement, no matter what area it is. … How are you making sure that everyone is implementing those approaches with fidelity?”
“The next step for (Swanton School) is ‘How do we continue to engage the community at large and continue to increase that engagement of community?’ “
New FNWSU Curriculum Guidelines Rolled Out
Curriculum Director Libby Bonesteel has created a new Curriculum area Goggle site for FNWSU which reveals learning goals for our students that will mesh with the new Common Core (SBAC) standards and assessments that will be implemented starting with the 2014-15 school term. Use the FNWSU Curriculum Link in our right-hand side-bar menu, or click on https://sites.google.com/a/
New WIKI Available for VCAT Users
A support WIKI on the new front end features of the Vermont Comprehensive Assessment Tool (VCAT) was taken live on the web on January 31. Users can learn all about the new features–referred to as VCAT2–by going to the wiki at http://wiki2.vcat.us/ and clicking on the Basic Skills menu item. Revisit often, as the support team at VCAT will be continuously updating and adding to this wiki. And when you are in VCAT2, be sure to check out the tool’s ability to show you NECAP questions and how your students answered for learning insights!
Northwest Access TV Segments Highlight FNWSU
The latest show in “The Best of Franklin Northwest” series on Northwest Access TV Channel 15 features Missisquoi Middle School, with guests Dan Palmer, MVU-MS Principal; Stephanie Hodgeman, MVU-MS Guidance Counselor; and Rachel Dumeny, MVU-MS Student. Superintendent Dr. John McCarthy moderates. Shows air the first two weeks of each month: Mondays at 8:30pm; Wednesdays at 1:30am and Thursdays at 1:30pm. You can also watch each show segment at any time by clicking on the links below:
Abenaki Flag Flies at MVU
“As long as the sun rises and the water flows and the grass is green, we shall remain.”
This is the message of the flag that represents Missisquoi’s band of the four tribes of the Abenaki in Vermont–the St. Francis/Sokoki–as explained by Brenda Gagne, Circle of Courage coordinator. The bright colors of the Abenkai flag are officially on display at Missisquoi Valley Middle and High School. The flag was raised November 21, 2013, in a ceremony that included a performance by the Circle of Courage student drummers. For more information about education programs for American Indian students, tune in to The Best of Franklin Northwest: Native American Circle of Courage Program featured on Northwest Access Television, or visit the link in the right-hand menu for Indian Education.