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OVUHS earns recognition as innovative school

MONTPELIER — The best practices and unique enrichment programs created at Otter Valley Union High School have earned OV an induction into the Vermont League of Innovative Schools, the Agency of Education announced this week.
OV was one of four Vermont schools recently inducted into the League, joined by Harwood Union Middle/High School, Lake Region Union High School and Twinfield Union School.
Vermont’s League of Innovative Schools is comprised of schools from across the state, and is affiliated with the New England Secondary School Consortium that included Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. According to a press release issued by the Agency of Education, “The goal of the League is to encourage innovative strategies, establish a network of best practices that is directly linked to 21st century learning, and to promote greater educational equity and opportunities for all students.”
“It’s important for our schools to continuously think about ways to engage students in their learning,” said Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca. “When kids get excited about what they are learning and see that education is relevant, they take ownership of it – that’s what we want, students who see purpose and feel successful in school.”
Otter Valley is developing new Flexible Pathways programming to complement existing programs designed for student engagement, ownership and post-secondary readiness. Currently, students can participate in the Moosalamoo Center wilderness education program, extended learning opportunities, internships, work-based learning opportunities and online learning.
OV has also implemented YATST class (Youth and Adult Transforming Schools Together), a way of encouraging and developing student’s voices and be more involved in school climate and programming.
OV Co-Principal Jim Avery said in a phone interview Monday that the YATST class is based on faculty and student survey results that allows the school to examine perceptions and expectations from both teachers and students.
“It generates a conversation about what’s happening at school,” he said. “I think it’s a healthy environment to listen to kids about what works for them in school, and what doesn’t. We’re looking at it as a way to generate the next question to ask.”
Avery said OV is used to collaborating with other schools using best practices, having already developed a working relationship with Mill River High School and Leland & Gray High School, using the YATST self-evaluation tool to assess what’s working in the schools. He said OV plans to take full advantage of the professional learning network that the League and the Consortium have to offer.
 “We just felt we, as a school, were ready to make that commitment to the work that is required as a member of the League,” he said.
“Being a part of League allows us to talk and learn and share with other schools what is working. We’re excited about the camaraderie that’s there with these other schools.”
There are currently sixteen members in Vermont’s League of Innovative Schools:
Brattleboro Union High School, Burlington High School, Cabot School, Champlain Valley Union High School, Essex High School, Harwood Union Middle/High School, Lake Region Union High School, Montpelier High School, Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School, Otter Valley Union High School, Rochester School, South Burlington High School, Twinfield Union School, U-32, Vergennes Union High School and Williamstown Middle/High School.
Avery wrote the following in the League application after outlining the programs and initiatives OV currently has in place:
“Otter Valley Union High School is at a crossroads in its history and a number of recent developments foretell a promising future … (these programs) are all focused on student engagement, ownership, and voice. We are poised to push forward our efforts in school transformation, and our collaboration with the League of Innovative Schools will act as the catalyst to ignite that movement…
“Currently, there are successful initiatives of educational change at Otter Valley Union High School. We are proud of these accomplishments…
“For school change to be successful it must be systemic. It must be a departure from the practice of isolated programs on the peripherals of the traditional system. Ultimately, this change is a consequence of a school’s culture and not program implementation. During the past two years, we have focused a significant amount of our faculty’s personal learning on the development of project based learning with each teacher developing lessons and units of study based on the tenets of project based learning. This has had a school-wide impact upon each and every student within the school.
“We believe that our membership in the League of Innovative Schools will assist us as we continue to promote a cultural and systemic transformation of Otter Valley. We feel that our membership in the League of Innovative Schools arrives at a critical time as Otter Valley continues to develop and move from ‘excellent to exceptional.’”

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