VUHS honored for innovation

VERGENNES — An education website has named Vergennes Union High School as one of its annual choices for the “41 Most Innovative K–12 Schools in America.”

Noodle.com, which describes itself as “an education website helping parents and students make better decisions about learning,” cited VUHS — one of only 17 public schools it recognized — for its alternative education program, the Walden Project, and four other “building-wide initiatives”:

• The school’s morning meeting system, in which students gather daily with one teacher for the two middle school years, and then a different teacher during their four high school years.

• The daily callback period, during which students can be called back to meet with teachers “to work on classwork that the learner may not have fully understood.”

• The school’s multi-year effort to establish proficiency-based graduation requirements, or PBGRs, “for which students must create and maintain portfolios that document their individual ‘skills, knowledge, and enduring understanding as an autonomous, lifelong learner.’”

• The VUHS emphasis on habits of work (HoW) standards that students should meet “above and beyond content knowledge.” According to Noodle, “The school provides students with a HoW rubric, and takes students’ HoW grades seriously: These form the basis for decisions about academic eligibility for athletics and co-curriculars. Even if students have sufficient content grades, they may be asked to sit out if they don’t meet the institution’s stringent HoW standards.”

Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning said Noodle is acknowledging that VUHS is ahead of the curve in personalized learning, something the Vermont Agency of Education is phasing in as a mandate for state schools.

“What they are recognizing is the multiple ways we are personalizing learning for kids,” Canning said. “We offer multiple pathways.”

VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor said the recognition, which will include a Plexiglas trophy that VUHS will display, belongs to the entire school.

“Vergennes Union High School is proud to be honored for the hard work of our educators and the achievements of our students,” Taylor said. “Each student deserves every opportunity to succeed, and we have designed a curriculum with progressive scheduling that is centered on environmental, community and personal awareness. We are thrilled that the leaders at Noodle recognize the impact that Vergennes Union High School is making on educational experiences and outcomes.”

Noodle’s editor-in-chief, Suzanne Podhurst, said all 41 chosen institutions “exemplify new ways” of encouraging students to succeed.

“All of the featured schools are making a demonstrable impact on the students they serve,” Podhurst said. “At Noodle, we are shining a spotlight on the schools that are redefining education and creating exciting opportunities for their students.”

According to Noodle, “the list of honored institutions features 41 top public, private and charter K–12 schools that are inspiring students to love learning, and empowering teachers and administrators to create unparalleled educational opportunities.”

Noodle praised the Walden Project because it “affords students the opportunity to examine the world and discover how they can contribute to it ‘from a developed sense of social, environmental and personal awareness.’ To supplement the curriculum and enhance students’ community perspective, the school also brings in scientists, writers, artists and others as guest speakers.”

Noodle also pointed to the school’s work “to ensure that high school students achieve financial literacy prior to graduation,” and noted that VUHS “requires that students adhere to five guidelines for success: presence, integrity, respect, kindness and self-challenge.”

Noodle’s announcement of the award also states that VUHS students are “present, in all senses of the word — and there are stats to prove it. In the 2013–2014 school year, the schoolwide attendance rate was nearly 97 percent. The four-year graduation rate is 91 percent, five-year rate 96 percent, and six-year rate 97 percent.

“In terms of standardized test performance, VUHS students perform on par with students across the state of Vermont. That said, what they get out of their education — the opportunity to cultivate a deep appreciation for the world around them — cannot be measured solely in test scores.”

In selecting schools, Noodle researchers “pored over state- and school-reported data; analyzed years of news coverage; examined academic studies on the efficacy of various teaching methods; and listened to the perspectives of students, parents, alumni, teachers, and administrators.”

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