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From the Desk of the Superintendent

"From the Desk of the Superintendent" is a monthly newsletter, written by Amy Rex and published in the Milton Independent.

This article is the second in a series to provide the Milton community with an understanding of ‘The What’, ‘The Why’ and ‘The How’ for the MTSD implementation of Restorative Practices.


Last year, MTSD staff, students, board and community members came together as a committee called SOAR. They collected data to inform a new MTSD Vision of Learning; the foundation of a district strategic plan which is in the process of being drafted. A summary of the SOAR results, include:

 “Creating a more supportive and consistent approach to social emotional learning and responses to behavior, resulting in a safer and more secure environment for all students. This includes addressing issues of equity to ensure that all feel safe, supported and have a sense of belonging. Exploring a whole school restorative approach was an identified strategy to proactively ground climate efforts. Greater individualization to meet the needs of students was a noted area of growth, as was the need to augment student voice and ownership.” 


The SOAR Report and this statement in particular is strong evidence that a safe, supportive, and nurturing school climate where all individuals feel a sense of belonging in the Milton school community is highly desirable. To this end, our district is systematically designing programs and adopting approaches that intentionally foster this type of climate.  Restorative practice is just one example of the approaches the MTSD schools are using to develop a stronger sense of community and positive school experience for all.


Traditionally schools have relied on seclusion, detention and suspension as a means to address student misbehavior. Few systems included components to either understand the misbehavior and/or teach prosocial skills. The research is clear; punitive isolation does not work. In fact, every school suspension weakens students’ connection to school and increases their odds of engaging in higher level misbehavior and even criminal activity. We know from our own school discipline data that students who are suspended do not learn from or change their behavior as a result of the suspension.


Punitive discipline often promotes resentment, anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety. When students are suspended, their isolation begins to sever connections with adults and peers. They may begin to be treated differently - both at home and at school. Isolated from their school groups, students who are suspended begin to seek out other circles of belonging. They form friendship ties with other socially isolated, unaccepted, and delinquent youth.


Restorative practices creates a space for building community and a sense of belonging for all students. It  intentionally teaches skills in active listening, empathy, self awareness and awareness of others. It provides tools and options for students who do misbehave that keep them connected and engaged with their community, and this contributes to a safer school environment conducive to learning. 

 

If you are interested in learning more about ‘the what’ of RP, an excellent resource is The Whole-School Restorative Approach Resource Guide located on the Vermont Agency of Education website - education.vermont.gov

If you have a child in school, then you may know about Morning Meeting or Teacher Advisory (TA).  These practices are designed to build community, promote positive relationships, and support student achievement; they are essential to a school culture and climate that is equitable, safe and inclusive. More recently, you may have heard about Restorative Practice (RP) and you may be wondering what this is and why, as a district, we are blending it into our programming.  This article is the first in a series to provide the Milton community with an understanding of ‘The What’, ‘The Why’ and the ‘MTSD Implementation of Restorative Practice’.  

 

Restorative Practice (RP): A Belief, a Practice, and A Response

RP is an approach that begins with a mindset; the belief that if we are intentional about dedicating time and creating space to foster a community where members know and understand one another, then there will be a greater level of trust, empathy and positive interaction.  It is the belief that if we build a community where all members have a voice in developing and being part of it in a meaningful way, then this will promote active responsibility. Finally, it is the belief that when mistakes are made or rules are broken then responses that engage individuals in taking personal responsibility and repairing the harm are more productive and contribute to strengthening the community.

 

RP is a practice that has multiple levels and each level has a unique set of responses to meet the needs of students.  The foundational practice - or Tier I, is for all students. It is designed to build a community by fostering social, emotional and academic skill development.  These skills may include: active listening and speaking, problem-solving, and awareness of self and others - empathy and respect. This is often done through circles that may range from check-in and check-outs, celebrations, and community building to learning and reflecting on academic content. The next level of practice is called Tier II and this is used when ‘low’ level harm has been done. Responses at this level may include conferencing or mediation by a trained facilitator who can guide the individual in identifying what happened, the actions necessary to make things better, and what should be done differently in the future.  The last level of practice is Tier III or reintegration. This is only for students who need intensive support in order to feel a sense of belonging in their community. This is necessary when a student has been out of the classroom or school for a ‘high’ level harm or if special circumstances like a medical condition or a move has isolated the student from the community for a long period of time. The response is a wider circle, inclusive of family, external partners and experts is required in order to collaboratively create a plan to adequately support the needs of the student. 

 

If you are interested in learning more about ‘the what’ of RP, an excellent resource is The Whole-School Restorative Approach Resource Guide located on the Vermont Agency of Education website - education.vermont.gov

 

 

This Mission Committee meets on Thursday May 2, 2019. As a reminder, we will draft a communique to explain the ‘why’ for a new mission and vision. We will also develop a process for evaluating and updating, as necessary, our existing core values - they are approximately 10 years old.

In a learning organization, a vision is a set of tools to guide the organization. It includes:

  • The vision statement – the goal; what we hope to achieve in the future
  • The mission statement – overview of what we provide; how we will achieve our vision.
  • Core beliefs and values – the guiding principles or values we rely on when we are at our best in terms of teaching, learning, relationships and partnerships.
  • Learning expectations – the signature attributes we wish our graduates to share and how we measure our progress annually

Herrick Avenue Project Update:

Construction has begun...

Phase II-Update

  • Space Allocation
    • Principal Provost met with key stakeholders and then prior to April Break, he, Director of Student Services, Tim Dunn and I roughed out space allocation on a large map.
    • We will review assignments again this week and finalize. The next step is to draft an implementation plan.
    • It is our hope to be able to formally communicate space allocation along with an implementation plan by May 15th.
    • Please note, that any ideas shared with you and/or information you may receive regarding space allocation prior to this point, is subject to change.

Safety Updates

Since December, members of the MTSD have been meeting with the Milton Emergency Planning commission. The focus has been twofold: first, to collectively think about and discuss preparing for and responding to potential threats to the school and second, collectively identifying gaps in the district’s safety preparations and problem solving how to improve.

  1. Opportunities
    1. Debrief of our response to a student threat in December
    2. Lockdown observation and feedback in January
    3. Multi-emergency responders drill at MHS in February
    4. K-9 Walkthrough in March
  2. Improvement Projects
    1. Updating all the school maps
    2. Re-numbering all the rooms and ensuring room numbers are visible internally and externally
    3. Labeling hallways
    4. Rekeying the HS

Welcome the New Milton Elementary School Leadership Team

Principal, Anissa Seguin


Anissa has been an elementary and middle school classroom teacher and a middle school and high school special educator.  For the last nine years has been an administrator in the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union; she served 5 years as the Assistant Director for Student Services and the last 4 as the Bakersfield K-8 Principal.


Anissa lives in Fairfield with her husband of 30 years. She has 4 grown children and soon to be 4 grandchildren(coming May 2019)! When not at work Anissa loves to travel, read, work in her flower gardens, hang out at the beach, and spend time with family!


Working and sharing ideas with others inspires her. New challenges give her the opportunity to keep energized and enthusiastic about education. Anissa looks forward to working in the Milton School District!

Early Childhood Coordinator, Justin Lee


Justin has been a speech-language pathologist in the Milton School District since 2000. She attained her Master’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Vermont and is completing the Certificate of Advance Graduate Studies program in Special Education Leadership at St. Michael’s College.


Justin is a lifelong Vermonter currently living in Shelburne. She is an avid gardener who also enjoys many other outdoor activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and walking with her dog. The Milton Community is near and dear to Justin’s heart and she is excited about being part of the new leadership team at the Milton Elementary School.

Assistant Principal, Fieh Chan


Fieh Chan, a native Washingtonian, has called Vermont home for the past 15 years. After many years of teaching high school mathematics, Fieh pursued his passion of working with young adults into a variety of educational settings. Since transitioning out of the classroom he has been fortunate to have worked in one of Vermont’s regional technical centers designing and implementing new programming, performed outreach in Rutland County as a STEM coordinator, and most recently worked in the Burlington School District with middle school students in the role of assistant principal.


Fieh and his wife have two young sons, ages six and nine, and enjoy every opportunity to get out and explore. Fieh is an assistant den leader for two cub scout packs and weekend activities often include kayaking, fishing, hiking, and biking. He is honored to be joining the MES leadership team and looks forward to getting to know the Milton community better in the coming year.

Assistant Principal, Kylene Flowers

Kylene grew up in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. After graduating high school, she attended Champlain College and received a Bachelor’s in Education in 2003. Kylene earned a Master’s degree in Education from SNHU in 2012. Over the past 16 years Kylene has taught third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Milton Elementary School. In addition to teaching, she served as the K-5 Math Coach for the 2018-2019 school year and continues to coordinate our MES summer L.E.A.P program.


She currently lives in Enosburg with her husband, Kyle. When Kylene is not teaching, she enjoys kayaking, camping, gardening, and spending time with family and friends. She is very excited to be joining the MES Leadership Team!


 

Dear Milton Community:


On behalf of the Milton Town School District, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I express my appreciation for the support you have demonstrated by voting in favor of our school budget. As a new superintendent, the process has been both exciting and stressful. This year, School Districts and Supervisory Unions across Vermont have been struggling to adjust to the new State census data software system along with the implementation of mandated school finance coding. These projects created delays at the State-level and a constant state of flux in the tax rate as the number for equalized pupils was being calculated and recalculated.


I came to the process wanting a budget that would assure all students receive a high quality education and taxpayers an excellent return on their investment. This is not always an easy balance to strike. Throughout the process, I received excellent guidance and support from my team, the Board of Trustees and members of the public who provided a much needed community perspective. Although I experienced bumps in road, in the end, not only did I learn a great deal, but I believe we drafted and presented a budget on April 16th designed to improve the learning environment, the delivery of services, and the academic outcomes of our students PreK-12.


We will be returning to school after the April vacation with a heightened appreciation for our community, inspired to forge ahead, and provide our students with the highest quality educational experience possible while being fiscally responsible. Instead of being focused on eliminating programs, reducing staffing, and deferring facility maintenance, we will able to exert our energy on what matters most – our children and teaching and learning.  We want the Milton Town School District to be the very best it can be. We want to make the community proud. We have an amazing faculty and staff, a vibrant and talented student body and an extremely supportive School Board; we are very fortunate.


Again, thank you for your support.


Sincerely, Amy Rex, Superintendent

Safe and supportive is the foundation of a school where every student develops the academic and social/emotional skills necessary to be successful in our global world. Beyond opportunities to learn, schools, must now be prepared to provide specialized medical, social and mental health services. This new order requires appropriate space, equipment and training. It requires a budget that adequately endorses our most notable needs.  More importantly, it requires the school and community to be collaborative partners; that is to collectively see and create a bright future. This article is the second in a series to provide the Milton Community with an inside look at the MTSD proposed budget and to understand the rationale for changes so that we may collectively serve our most precious asset, our children.

 

Part 2: Positions to Promote a New Era in Education

 

The MTSD building and district administrators engaged in a very robust budget development process from September - December. One goal was to identify needs for programming that would help us move the needle on our continuous improvement plan. The three areas of that plan are related to improving: student achievement, the social/emotional health of students, and school climate. Each of the positions below address one or more of these areas for improvement. They will help us achieve the vision of learning we have for all our students to be successful now and in the future.

 

English Language Learner Teacher (.50 FTE) - The recommended ratio of ELL Teacher to English Language Learner is 1:25. In the 2019-2020 school year we are projected to have approximately 60 ELL students in Pre-K-12.

 

MES/MMS Restorative Practices/Harassment and Bullying Coordinator (1.00) - Vermont Agency of Education is recommending Restorative Practices approach; a systems approach to harassment and bullying prevention and as a way to improve school climate. To ensure success, a targeted position that could provide prevention and intervention support, training and outreach is necessary. It would also minimize school counselors’ participation in investigations; a conflict of interest for them professionally.

 

MHS English Teacher (1.00) - A full time English teacher would fill the gap that exists in section numbers and also right size classes. At this time, there are sections with 28-30 students. We would also be able to offer more variety of classes especially for seniors as they prepare for College and Career Readiness.

 

MHS Pathway Coordinator (1.00)- This position would ensure that personalized learning opportunities are available and accessible to all students on and off site. This person would be responsible for coordinating the state mandated Personalized Learning Plan process through the Teacher Advisory (TA) curriculum planning. They would also be the School to Career liaison - forging partnerships with local organizations for students to access job shadows, internships and school to work programs while earning credit for graduation. Milton is one of the few high schools that does not have a position dedication to Flexible Pathways and this is putting our students at a disadvantage.

  

 

Safe and supportive is the foundation of a school where every student develops the academic and social/emotional skills necessary to be successful in our global world. Beyond opportunities to learn, schools, must now be prepared to provide specialized medical, social and mental health services. This new order requires appropriate space, equipment and training. It requires a budget that adequately endorses our most notable needs.  More importantly, it requires the school and community to be collaborative partners; that is to collectively see and create a bright future. This article is the first in a series to provide the Milton Community with an inside look at the MTSD proposed budget and to understand the rationale for changes so that we may collectively serve our most precious asset, our children.

 

Part 1:  An Elementary Organizational Structure to Support a New Era in Education

 

Our student data - academic and discipline along with other measurements related to mental health, youth risk behavior, homelessness and food security show an increasing number of students who are struggling to access their learning in meaningful and productive ways. Despite the changing needs of our students, our organizational structures are exactly the same as they were in 1918 when compulsory education in the United States began to take hold.

 

If we want to ensure coherence in programming (including an array of wrap around academic, health and social services), transitions, family involvement, and community partnerships then we need a system that can effectively integrate all available resources and opportunities to target the development of the whole child. As a starting point, we are proposing a new organizational structure in the elementary school.

 

The new structure calls for one principal, PreK-5, and three developmental teams: PreK-K; 1-2 and 3-5. The PreK-K team would be facilitated by an Early Childhood Coordinator while the 1-2 and 3-5 teams would be facilitated by Assistant Principals. In addition, a Coordinator of Social Emotional Learning would be shared between the 1-2 and 3-5 teams. This new structure would eliminate the existing silos between early education and the elementary grades and provide continuity and flexibility for student transitions especially between Triple E/PreK, Kindergarten and First Grade. The model would also provide the infrastructure for teams to creatively and flexibly address increasing complex and diverse needs of students. These teams would improve the effectiveness of opportunities and services for all children by ensuring timely coordination and continuity across all stakeholders -  teachers, families and service providers. Other advantages of this new model include: clear lines of decision making and communication; a principal focused on instructional leadership; and two assistant principals to address behavior in both a more preventative and effective manner. An organizational structure more suited to addressing the needs of all learners would not only improve academic outcomes and social/emotional support for all students, it may in turn also minimize the number of students who must attend out of district placements.

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As members of a community, we naturally come together in response to critical incidents especially those that have an immediate impact on life, limb or livelihood. When misfortune is visible, people rally. Likewise, as intelligent beings, we are learning from the tragedies of our time. We are taking preventative measures that are tangible, technical in nature - key badges, smoke detectors, security cameras, specialized training and the like. This new order required a shift in our mindset.

 

Unfortunately, we are less likely to rally around conditions that we don’t observe or understand; even when they exist in our own community. It may be homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration, mental illness, domestic violence, resource insecurity or access to health care. These conditions of chronic stress and trauma often impede members of the community from leading productive lives. For children, these conditions adversely impact their readiness or availability to learn. These children are members of our community, attending our school and due to the changing social fabric, they are increasing in number.  

 

If we believe that every child deserves to be well educated, to be prepared for success in college, career, and a democratic society - to live happy and fulfilled lives, and productively contribute to safe, vibrant communities then collectively, a new mindset for safe and healthy schools that support the needs of all learners must happen.

 

Mindset Shift - System’s Shift

The statistics are staggering. The CDC et al. report that 90% of children will experience some form of trauma, 1 in 5 children live in poverty, 10% are impacted by chronic toxic stress, and anxiety and depression affect 1 in 7 children between the ages of 6 and 17. Additionally, the infiltration of technology continues to alter our behavior and impacts development in ways we have yet to fully understand. To that end, no longer can we settle for schools designed to teach reading, writing and math. No longer can we settle for schools that solely support the social development of neurotypical, middle income children who attend school ready to learn.  No longer can we believe that the children who have problematic behaviors just need to be punished and/or removed from class. Experience - discipline data, proficiency data, and longitudinal data associated with the ills of our society clearly demonstrates that this approach does not serve our children or our long term goal for safe and vibrant communities.

 

The new mindset must take into consideration and be responsive to the root causes of why some children are not ready to learn. It must support the development of systems with a range of interventions that can alter the typical downward spiral of our most vulnerable youth. Just as the shift in mindset for equipping our schools with the hardware necessary to be safe so must we shift our mindset for designing and funding systems of education that truly support the needs of all learners.

 

I just finished listening to the VPR Podcast, Jolted: The story of a school shooting that didn’t happen. Initially, I was conflicted about VPR exposing Jack Sawyer’s story and illness in this way. In the end, upon reflection, I did appreciate the co-producers purpose; that is to raise awareness of the deep interconnections between school, community and the State as it relates to health, safety, policy and practice. Once again, I am reminded that schools can’t effectively address the diverse and complex needs of children and families in isolation. Our work depends on support from political leaders, healthcare and social service providers, and the community.

 

Linda Darling-Hammond, a well known education researcher highlights four area as the focus for safe and healthy schools: environmental design; a social/emotional curriculum; resources and training for staff, and an explicit mission dedicated to social/emotional learning as well as academic. Although I agree, I also believe a fifth element is critical. Within today’s new social order, we must braid the strands of education, extended school day and school year opportunities, healthcare and human services together. Only in this way can we expect to achieve a vision of learning in which all students graduate from high school prepared for success in college, career and in a democratic society.

 

Ambitious - undoubtedly, but not impossible. It takes a vision and a commitment - not just within the school, but within the community. Then tiny edges, including a new mindset, new conceptions of the future in the school and more importantly, in the community, and a new design of the system both internally and externally.  

 

Although tiny edges have been taking place inside the walls of the MTSD schools, the occurrences are in pockets that are often not coordinated PreK-12 or across whole child needs like learning, nutrition, mental or physical health or after school care. To that end, MTSD is beginning to take steps toward creating and enacting a vision of education that better addresses the whole child.  

 

The Formative Years: PreK-2

As we know, early childhood development has a direct effect on overall engagement and growth and on the student and adult they will become. Investing in a comprehensive program that addresses the needs of the whole child during this period is a priority.

 

Currently, the MTSD is examining its Prek-2 system and beginning the design work to ensure coherence in programming (including an array of health and social services), transitions, family involvement, and community partnerships. A system like this that is an integration of all resources and opportunities that enable the development of the whole child begins with a new organizational structure. A structure that has the ability to break free from isolationism, identify the values and ideas to guide mutually beneficial systems integration, and then has the capacity to implement the strategies necessary to institutionalize a whole child design.

 

Safe and supportive is the foundation of a school where every student develops the academic and social/emotional skills necessary to be successful in our global world.  The social fabric of our Nation has altered. Beyond opportunities to learn, schools, must now be prepared to provide specialized medical, social and mental health services. In addition, they must be equipped to protect children from the possibilities of violent intrusions.  This new order requires appropriate space, equipment and training. More importantly, it requires the school and community to be collaborative partners; that is to collectively see and create a bright future.  This article is the first in a series to provide the Milton Community with an inside look at the progress the MTSD is making within these areas in order to strengthen our partnership on behalf of our most precious asset, our children.

 

Part I - A Safe and Secure Facility

It is not necessary to recap the stories or statistics that have compelled schools to prioritize safe and secure facilities. Tragically, it is our reality. Therefore, our focus is twofold: first, create a secure facility while maintaining a welcoming, community oriented environment.  Second, prepare all stakeholders - in and outside the building, to respond in the most effective way possible.

 

The MTSD is in the process of many new facility upgrades to enhance school security. These include, the schools’ public announcement (PA) systems, door lock security, and cameras.  The funding for these items are being shared between a recently received Vermont Safe and Secure Schools grant and our MTSD capital fund. When completed, each of the school’s PA systems will have the capacity to be heard anywhere in the building. A new door security system will ensure scheduled door locks are reliable, that key codes are operational, and that we have the capacity to quickly and simultaneously lock all exterior doors. Camera upgrades will include additional external, higher quality resolution cameras for Herrick Street schools.

 

ALiCE is the nationally recognized prepare and response approach for schools in the event of a violent intrusion. Over the summer, administrators attended an ALiCE training. We learned about the response options - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, and how to train, communicate and drill the ALiCE approach with all stakeholders.

 

Currently, the schools conduct lockdown and evacuation drills with students.  These drills will continue. Meanwhile, we will extend staff training to include all elements of ALiCE. In order to do this as quickly as possible, we have purchased the ALiCE online training module. After staff complete the module this fall, we will be positioned to conduct faculty/staff ONLY scenario drills. This will increase our confidence and competency for emergency preparedness. Additional steps regarding the ALiCE implementation especially as it relates to students and families will be outlined in our new Safety Action Plan which will be shared well in advance of any action being taken in the schools.

This is the first of many reports the MTSD Administration and Trustees of the School Board will circulate for the purpose of fostering community engagement, in order to:

  • Provide information and updates
  • Seek input and support
  • Promote dialogue and informed decision-making

 

On August 18, 2018, the MTSD Board and Superintendent held a full day retreat. This report is a summary outline of the retreat.  Foremost, the MTSD Board Trustees and Superintendent are very excited to be working together. It is our collective commitment to have a partnership defined by strong, mutual accountability to assure that all students receive a high-quality education and taxpayers receive an excellent return on their investment.

 

Our first order of business was to establish common agreements. These agreements center on Board Trustees and Superintendent roles and responsibilities, handling complaints, communication between meetings, and the role of committees.

 In addition to establishing common agreements for a positive and productive working relationship, we identified both short term and long-term goals for achieving our collective commitment.

 

 Short Term

  1. Utilize the MTSD Continuous Improvement Plan to guide and monitor district work. This plan focuses on the following areas:
  • High quality instructional practices,
  • Coordinated academic, social/emotional and behavioral supports for all students,
  • Culturally responsive practices, and
  • Communication and engagement strategies
  1. Continue the focus on space utilization and school safety.
  2. Utilize monitoring results to prioritize programming in order to create a budget that accurately reflects our needs.

 Long Term

  1. Engage the community in a visioning process that will guide the development of a 3-5 year strategic growth plan for the MTSD.
  2. Develop a systematic process for measuring, reporting and responding on the goals identified in the strategic plan.

I am an educational leader who is passionately committed to learning that encompasses equity and excellence for all students, the collective capacity of the professional staff, and my own growth and development as an educator.  I am also passionately committed to a shared model of leadership; one that includes teachers, the voices of students, and provides opportunities for each member to develop his/her own leadership skills in authentic and meaningful ways.  

I believe that a school district is a learning organization, and the educational system is built on the tenets of rigor, relevance, relationships, and shared responsibility.  Students are at the center and are empowered to take ownership of their learning and future while being supported by collaborative, symbiotic partnerships with all stakeholders.

I am also passionately committed to the cultural and physical landscape of Vermont which at times seems to be one of the same – formidable courage and perseverance, tranquil beauty, and stoic humor drawn together by a common experience and appreciation for community. It is the cornerstone of Vermont public education.

I continue to learn and be active professionally connecting and serving via regional and state networks like the Vermont Superintendents Association and the Vermont School Boards Association as well as New England and National organizations like the Nellie Mae Foundation, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and AASA - School Superintendents Association. I continue to learn everyday - from faculty/staff and students, community and through professional networks and relevant courses in the field of education, policy, and administration.

 

I am honored to be the new Milton Town School District superintendent. In my eyes, Milton reflects the values of Vermont to which I have grown so attached. My early visit highlighted a community of genuine, hard working and caring people; I felt very connected. I am excited to learn every day from my faculty and staff, students, parents and community. It feels like a natural fit, and I look forward to my service to Milton in the role of superintendent.