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RNESU learning COVID lessons

“(Equity is not) do all students have the same thing, but do all students have what they need to be successful?”
— Superintendent Kristin Hubert

BRANDON — During the COVID-19 pandemic, youngsters have seen the brightness of their childhoods darkened by the specter of disease, uncertainty and the real-time fissuring of a society in which many have been taught to trust implicitly.

New Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Kristin Hubert knows this all too well but remains steadfast in her and RNESU’s ability to adapt and overcome.

“There have been a lot of negatives regarding the pandemic — we don’t want to do long-term school closures ever again,” she said in a recent conversation with The Reporter.

“That being said, we definitely — as a school system, a state and a profession — learned a lot,” she continued. “There are some promising practices that (we) got good at because of remote learning and long-term closures. For instance, we can have meetings (with all teachers) once a month without requiring anyone to travel because we’ve gotten much better at virtual meetings.”

Hubert, who took over officially from Jeanné Collins on July 1, has worked as RNESU’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the past three years. She has an extensive career as an administrator and educator, including as an elementary principal for 13 years in Rutland and Arlington and as an elementary teacher in Fair Haven — and was named the National Distinguished Elementary Principal in 2016.

As Brandon-area schools begin the academic year, Hubert lists staffing shortages as one of the biggest hurdles the district faces — a hurdle, she points out, that affects schools and businesses nationwide.

“When you have shortages like that, there’s this domino effect,” she said.

“We’re really hopeful for this school year,” she continued, “but we know that people are going to get sick. Even if (teachers and staff) aren’t sick, their kids might be sick… they might need to be home to care for their own kid. Substitute coverage and staffing continue to be a focus and a need for most school systems.”

KRISTIN HUBERT

Hubert also sees too much employee turnover.

“We have a lot of new teachers and non-licensed staff,” she said. “That means we have to focus on mentoring and making sure that people are acclimated to our school community — making sure that people feel supported and want to stay.”

She said the state is taking new measures to address the need for new teachers.

“The Agency of Education is trying to figure out non-traditional ways to licensure,” she said. “They’re doing everything they can to get teachers in front of kids.”

But teachers aren’t the only ones having a problem sticking around.

“Rutland County had the highest truancy numbers in the state last year,” Hubert said. “We want to prioritize wellness and student health, but we also want to prioritize getting kids back in school. That’s part of why we’re focusing on personalization and engagement — we want kids in school.

“When we think about wellness and organizational wellness, we focus on academic achievement and safe and healthy schools, which is our physical safety and physical wellness, but it’s also our social and emotional wellness,” she continued.

“We’re really hoping to give students voice and agency, helping them lead the way, because a lot of times there are well-intentioned adults who don’t necessarily understand the student experience.”

A part of that involves RNESU’s focus on equity, which Hubert pointed out is a long-standing focus in the district.

“Equity and the experiences that we provide for our students — long before I started at RNESU — has been a value of the school system.”

Hubert described what equity means with an analogy.

“All kids have shoes but do all kids have shoes that fit them?” she said. “(Equity is not) do all students have the same thing, but do all students have what they need to be successful?”

According to Hubert, the pandemic has exacerbated problems for the historically disadvantaged, such as children with disabilities or those living in poverty.

“This year, we’re really going to work to address some of those things, but also, it’s about awareness and a common language for all of our staff,” she said.

Hubert said the union employs equity coaches and has an equity committee that’s made up of students, teachers, administrators and people from the community at large, and that the future equity work will be less at the supervisory level and more of a “groundswell” from the individual schools so that the student perspectives can be more specific to each building’s needs.

“Student groups there can work with the equity coach and the principals to be driving a lot of the work,” she said.

Hubert said that this year RNESU is doing a lot of reflecting so that it can move forward.

“It’s not about disparaging or scrapping what happened in the last couple of years or even in the last decade,” she said. “It’s how do we, as a profession, reflect on what’s worked and what our challenges are so that we can keep moving forward… that’s the theme in a lot of Vermont schools.

“(In the past) no one went to school to learn how to teach kids and lead them through a pandemic,” she added. “So, the last couple years have been tough, not just on students and families but also on educators… Collective efficacy is critical to what we do — that belief that we don’t do it alone.”

Mat Clouser is the news editor of The Reporter, our sister newspaper in Brandon.

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