Williamstown educators map route to revolution
WILLIAMSTOWN — The principal, three teachers and the learning coordinator at Williamstown Middle/High School will all be absent today, but they have a pretty good excuse. The delegation will be at an education conference in Massachusetts outlining how they’ve started to do things differently and why it seems to be working.
Principal Scott Lang said Williamstown was one of three Vermont school districts invited to speak at the conference — called “High School Redesign in Action” — sponsored by the New England Secondary School Consortium. Burlington and Essex were also invited.
Lang was accompanied to the conference by teachers Dennis Delena, Sandy FitzMorris and Lisa Paige, and by Alicia Rominger, the school’s learning coordinator.
According to Lang, it was Rominger who suggested the school pursue the $45,000 grant that allowed it to take part in the consortium’s League of Innovative Schools.
Through its participation, the district has advanced ideas that are changing everything from the way education is provided at the school to graduation requirements.
Rather than awarding credit based solely on “seat time” in core classes, Lang said, the school has adopted a more student-centered approach to learning — one that has made the most of partnerships with the Community College of Vermont, the Randolph Technical and Career Center and other community partners.
“It’s really about preparing kids for their future and not teaching them about our past,” he said, suggesting the school and its faculty have embraced a “radically different way of thinking about how you prepare students for graduation.”
“Competence is still the goal … we’re just giving students a broader way to demonstrate that,” he said.
Some do it by taking courses at CCV or enrolling in courses online; others do it in a traditional classroom setting, and still others through independent projects and even work experience.
By creating “flexible pathways” to meet graduation requirements, Lang said the school is producing students who are college- and career-ready even if their transcripts don’t necessarily look like everyone else’s.
It is working, according to Lang, who said the school has managed to engage marginal students — including some who would have likely dropped out — by adopting a more personalized approach to their education.
The school has also started focusing on the educational needs of freshmen in a coordinated way, arranging interventions and supports where appropriate early on, and engaging them in the development of personalized learning plans.
Today the local educators will be telling their peers from all over New England what they’ve been up to, while sharing their success stories and the mistakes they made along the way.
According to Lang, without some out-of-the-box thinking, the overarching goal of heightened student performance would have been difficult for a school that had chronically struggled to make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests.
“We couldn’t keep doing things the same way and expecting those things to change,” he said.
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