Budgeting gives insight into new principal

BRISTOL — This is the first year that Jessica Barewicz has built a budget for Mount Abraham Union High School (see related story). She started as principal last summer.
Barewicz’s approach to crafting the FY2018 budget gives the community a window into the new principal’s approach to school leadership.
Barewicz was hired last spring after a nationwide search that brought in 31 applicants. She comes to Mount Abe from U-32 High School in Montpelier, where she was an assistant principal.
Her budgeting process, Barewicz said, has emphasized “really making sure I knew the budget in and out and engaged with all faculty to understand where the priorities were.”
Barewicz continued, “The budget really reflects that kind of pause button for this year. It can be disrespectful for a leader to come in and make too many assumptions about the state of the school, what the needs of the students are, what the community will support. So let’s make sure we understand the whole picture before we start rearranging the smaller pieces.”
But alongside this deep listening, Barewicz brings a big vision for Mount Abe and has established collaborative work groups to take on big picture changes affecting academics and school culture.
Notably, behavior problem referrals this year are down 46 percent over 2015-2016. Whereas last year saw repeated staff turnover in the school’s Planning Room (the place kids go to chill out and “make a plan” to change destructive behaviors), this year Barewicz created/reinstated a dean of students position (part of the administrative line up under previous principal Andy Kepes). Leading discipline efforts as the new dean is long-time math teacher Justin Bouvier. As a small but significant part of this shift, administration and teachers are now on hand welcoming and greeting students as they begin each school day.
Work is also under way to implement proficiency-based graduation requirements (mandated at the state level) and to create a call-back system that creates time during the school day rather than after school to give kids extra academic support (employed for some years at Vergennes Union High School). She’s also begun work to create a “Learning Commons” around the school library.
Given the turnover in the head office in recent years, Barewicz emphasized that she is committed to Mount Abe and the five-town communities over the long haul.
“The reason why I really wanted to be here and chose to be here is that I believe this is a really vibrant five-town community,” she said. “The community is incredibly engaged, we have a very strong faculty and our student body is really amazing.
“I take this position with great responsibility, and would not have chosen to be here if I would not make good on the promise to really stick it out. Right now we’re doing the strategic planning, the visioning process. The fun work comes later when you actually get to implement and make the strongest possible system for this community.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]

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