VUHS teacher seeks online votes to win $100,000 prize for school

VERGENNES — A Vergennes Union High School Spanish teacher has been chosen to represent Vermont in the running for a prestigious regional award that would bring with it a $100,000 award for her school. To win the award she must receive the most votes in an online poll that is open to all members of the public.
Teacher Kristine Kirkaldy has been nominated for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Lawrence O’Toole Award, a $100,000 prize awarded annually to a school, community organization or district to advance student-centered approaches to learning for all students. Student-centered learning prepares students to master both the academic knowledge and the critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills they need to thrive.
This year, for the first time, the public can vote for the winner online and the candidate with the most votes at the end of the voting period (Sept. 9-30) will win the prize. Those interested in voting for Kirkaldy and VUHS may do so online at www.nmefoundation.org/grants/larry-o-toole-award.
Kirkaldy, a Middlebury resident, has been the driving force behind VUHS’s shift to a competency-based education system. She has led the challenging transition from traditional report cards and Carnegie units to a system that includes performance-based graduation requirements. Under those requirements, VUHS students will have to maintain portfolios in which they track and demonstrate their mastery of subject matter in order to earn diplomas; they cannot graduate simply by sitting in classes and passing courses.
As an advocate for students’ dreams and aspirations, Kirkaldy facilitates the school-wide committee to revise graduation requirements for performance-based assessment, and also leads in-service professional development around performance-based graduation requirements. 
“I was exhilarated to hear about my nomination for this award because it recognizes not only me, but also the many people here at Vergennes Union High School who have worked so hard on behalf of our students,” Kirkaldy said. “This nomination is about our school-wide effort to transform how we teach our students, and how we help them invest in their own education, mastering the skills they will need to be successful. Winning this award will mean even more support for my colleagues, our students, and our community as we continue to work toward personalized, proficiency-based learning — and that would be truly exciting.”
The Larry W. O’Toole Leadership award was established in 2011 to honor O’Toole and his success in laying the groundwork and establishing the Foundation in 1998. O’Toole was the former president and CEO of Nellie Mae Corp. In 1999, an acquisition by Sallie Mae enabled the creation of what is now the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
“This award is a reminder of Larry’s legacy and his efforts to use the foundation’s resources in the best ways possible to achieve its mission,” said Nicholas Donohue, president of the Foundation. “At the same time, it is meant to recognize and further the great work by local champions of student-centered learning.”
This year, six candidates have been nominated for the award (one from each of the New England states). The winner of the contest will receive a $100,000 grant toward their school or organization, which will be presented at a ceremony this winter. Voting is open to the public on the foundation’s website from Sept. 9-30. To learn more about each of the six nominees and vote, click www.nmefoundation.org/grants/larry-o-toole-award.

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