Teacher 2nd in New England voting; VUHS awarded $10,000

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School teacher Kristine Kirkaldy did not win a September online vote that would have netted her a New England education leadership award and her school $100,000, but the award sponsor announced on Sept. 30 that Kirkaldy and four other nominees would receive $10,000 to advance their work.
Kirkaldy finished second in voting for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s third annual Lawrence O’Toole Award, which is named after the 16-year-old Quincy, Mass., foundation’s founder and first CEO.
The Nellie Mae Foundation picked Kirkaldy as the Vermont nominee for the award, and she was up against nominees from each of the other, larger, New England states. The winner was Principal Derek Pierce of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, a city of about 66,000.
Kirkaldy said she was gratified by the strong backing her nomination received from the greater Vergennes community and from around Vermont and for the many good wishes she has heard from residents.
“As a representative of all the hard work we have done at VUHS to establish personalized, student-centered learning, I felt honored to receive so much support,” Kirkaldy said. “It has been a great experience.”
According to Nellie Mae, the Lawrence O’Toole Award is given annually to a school, community organization or district to advance student-centered approaches to learning for all students. Student-centered learning enables pupils to gain academic knowledge as well as master the critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills they need to thrive.
The foundation noted 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 proficiency-based graduation requirements, also known as PBGRs.
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.
The foundation said 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.
Over the years, Kirkaldy has now won or been involved in bringing more than $300,000 of fellowships and grants to VUHS to support the PBGR effort.
The Rowland Foundation awarded her a $100,000 Fellowship in 2010, she authored or co-authored Nellie Mae grants in 2011 and 2012 totaling almost $200,000, and she was one of several authors of a grant that recently won VUHS three days of coaching support and $6,000. VUHS is a finalist to receive more support from that last award, from the New England Secondary Schools Consortium.
VUHS has been moving to implement proficiency-based graduation requirements for several years, adding components of the new system piece by piece, with Kirkaldy and other VUHS staff training teachers and managing implementation of the program. This year’s 7th-grade class will be the first that will have to fulfill all nine VUHS PBGRs in order to graduate.

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