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Koller wins statewide award for school volunteerism

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June 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

SHOREHAM — Citizens serving on public school boards in Vermont toil many hours for little reward, other than the occasional pat on the back and the knowledge that they are helping local kids get a good education.

But every once in a while a school board member really gets noticed.

Such was the case last week for Bridport Central School board member Sharon Koller, who received a statewide award from the Vermont Board of Education for her many contributions to her district.

“I was overwhelmed,” Koller, 42, said of her reaction to receiving the Martha H. O’Connor Award, presented at a special ceremony in Essex on June 19. The Vermont Board of Education presents the award annually to a citizen who has shown exemplary dedication, leadership and made “extraordinary contributions” to public school students.

“It was very flattering,” Koller added. “I was incredibly honored and humbled that folks I respect so much for their work with kids would think of me for this award.”

Koller, an Essex native, began volunteering on the local education scene soon after she and her family moved to Bridport in 1998. She immediately began volunteering at the Middlebury Cooperative Nursery School, then attended by her four-year-old daughter Christina.

She joined the Bridport school board the following year when her daughter entered kindergarten. She has served there ever since, a tenure that has included more than three years as chairwoman.

“It was a way of contributing,” Koller said of her decision to join the board. “I saw that there was an opportunity, and it seemed to be an important role for people in the community to have — and I have enjoyed it. It has been very rewarding.”

With the rewards have come some hurdles. Koller cited planning the annual school budget and transitioning Bridport’s seventh- and eighth-graders to Middlebury Union Middle School four years ago as being among the biggest challenges.

“It was a very contentious time to be on the board,” Koller recalled of the debate surrounding sending local middle-schoolers to MUMS. “But it felt rewarding to be able to manage meetings in a way where people walked away thinking they were able to come to understandings, even if they didn’t come to agreements.”

Koller’s contributions have extended beyond the school board.

Among other things, she has:

• Served as the school liaison for the Foundation for Excellent Schools.

• Acted as a music composition mentor for local students.

• Planned a re-enactment of the 1775 capture of Fort Ticonderoga with Bridport’s third- and fourth-graders.

• Volunteered on numerous occasions for programs at MUMS and the Addison Central Supervisory Union district.

In addition, she has been an active member of the local Parent-Teacher Organization, set up a “volunteer bank” of community members interested in helping within the school, and started a school board newsletter to keep the community informed about goings-on at Bridport Central.

“Sharon’s dedication, coupled with consistent, quiet energy, has provided the enduring successful support that has been positive in all aspects, productive in all areas and enduringly essential in so many of the programs that form our school’s educational foundation,” reads a statement from the group of Bridport educators and administrators who nominated Koller for the award.

Koller has no plans to stop being a school volunteer, though her focus may shift more to MUMS next year. Her son, William, will begin middle school this coming fall. Her current term on the Bridport school board is set to expire next March.

She holds a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Vermont, but has put her career on hold to be a school volunteer. She is considering re-entering the job market, though she keeps very busy with her current schedule.

“It’s grown and grown to the point where it almost feels like a full-time job, but a very enjoyable and diverse one,” Koller said. “In a public school there are so many opportunities to support good programs, and I think schools do better when there are more people involved and willing to give their time and lend a hand.”

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