Letter to the editor: VUHS educators put hard work into class schedule

To be transparent, I was responsible for developing the current VUHS schedule, but I hardly did that in isolation. I found early on in my 10-year tenure that I was gifted with a great many great educators, paraeducators, counselors, clinicians, and staff. As a result, I can only use the pronoun “we” to describe the genesis of what has been a strong schedule for the past 13 years. We found that we had a strong group of teacher-leaders who wanted to transform VUHS. We did so, ending up ranked in the top ten high schools in Vermont by “US News and World Report” during my last year as co-principal.
We began the change process with discussions on assessment. We did a lot of work in training on Authentic Assessment (Grant Wiggins, 1998), thus changing the focus from homework/quiz/multiple guess testing to more sustainable assessment to real-world standards. We would need a flexible schedule to do that.
We also needed to change our grading practices and build intervention time instead of handing out “zeroes” for missed assignments (Doug Reeves, 2004). We turned to building a “Call-Back” period, giving students the time to make up that work. But my experience was that I could get late-day Call Back to work in private schools, but Vergennes is formed by strong agricultural communities where students work after school and has a high athletic participation rate after school. So, we invented a Call-Back system paired with lunch and band. Why band? We all thought that band was our strongest program and that our music educators would police missed academic work well. That proved true.
Over the last ten years, we have encountered persuasive research that the arts are integral to students learning math, language, and to their executive functioning. Because we read that research, and believed it, we were never tempted to cut the arts in favor of “piling on” extra math and English classes (those darlings of the for-profit testing industries).
Soon, we discovered PBiS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports: “Implementation framework for maximizing the selection and use of evidence-based prevention and intervention practices along a multi-tiered continuum that supports the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral competence of all students.”) Because we all agreed that learning was a behavior, we began using the PBiS framework to evaluate all our student data. This combined with the anxiety to keep our students safe (Columbine happened in 1999, and the first research was trickling in: many high school students had no connections with adults in the building) and provide a safe learning space. So, we created advisory periods to begin each day. A year later, we would give the advisors the keys to the Call-Back System.
Following in Grant Wiggin’s footsteps, Vermont found the Flexible Pathways concept. I had liked to consider this “Performance-Based Graduation Requirements,” but I was largely outvoted by those devotees of “Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements.” The slight change in wording puts all the assessment role back to the teacher, in my opinion. The Requirements could be judged by juries of teachers, parents, and community members. But “Flexible Pathways” require a flexible schedule. So now we find VUHS pushing their Flexible Pathways in admirable ways. They have students out in the community, working on skills measured by real-world standards.
So why the anxiety?
Both present and future schedules are A/B.
AP classes have always been year-long A/B.
They have always had the flexibility for a full-year intervention for students who are falling behind.
As long as PBiS frameworks are in place, they can individualize schedules.
What will be the effect on band? On art? We frequently had students graduate with 6 art or 6 music credits (Grades 7-12).
How will we adjust to a possible 8 mid-term exams and final exams? Will we stay the course of Multiple Pathways?
Is this schedule driven by Common Core testing protocols?
Our theater offerings and public speech offerings were designed for one-semester A/B.
Why would one-semester at a time A/B not be made to match Mt. Abe A/B and Middlebury A/B? (In regards to Pre-Technical programs.)
Usually, when community anxiety expresses itself, there are hidden causes. I no longer have a clue to what those may be. But the present VUHS schedule was built by a team of outstanding educational leaders … mostly teachers. I hope that this letter helps to put focus on the hard work and heart of those teachers.
Ed Webbley
Former VUHS Principal

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