The first crisp leaves are beginning to fall, but there’s an excitement in the air as city schools prepare for students to return on Aug. 27. From new safety features and programming to welcoming new staff, administrators from each of the South Burlington School District schools gave The Other Paper a rundown on updates for the coming academic year.
New doors, positive reinforcement
At Chamberlin, Orchard and Rick Marcotte Central elementary schools, crews have been working on the front entrances adding a double set of doors for security. Each of the elementary schools will have a greeter on duty to sign visitors into the school. It’s a change that brings the elementary schools to a similar security model as the high school, which has had locked entrances and a greeter for over a decade.
Also at the elementary schools is an emphasis on positive behavior reinforcement as well as restorative practices. These models approach discipline not by reprimanding students for their shortcomings, but by reinforcing good behavior and strengthening communication skills. Last year, South Burlington Community Justice Center Coordinator Lisa Bedinger trained staff at all three elementary schools in restorative practices.
According to Chamberlin principal Holly Rouelle, restorative practices traditionally begin after an individual has done something wrong. But by incorporating restorative practices into elementary education, students are provided communication tools that may spare them the need for correction later in life.
“The hope is by creating these stronger connections with students and giving them communication skills and chances to have a voice, the payoff will be down the road,” she said. “It’ll lessen, in the community, restorative justice.”
That’s why Chamberlin students and staff will have a new program this year called “Wolf Pack Time.” According to Rouelle, Wolf Pack Time will employ restorative practices by gathering multi-age students in an advisory period once per month. Small groups of students and a faculty advisor will work on mindfulness and social-emotional learning during that time.
“It gives students here another caring adult that they can really identify with,” Rouelle said. “[It’s] another way to build relationships and school community.”
At Rick Marcotte, staff will continue using the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program, which they hope to expand next year, according to principal Brent Coon.
Tuttle Middle School has a new student support center in store, which aims to achieve a similar goal as programs in the elementary schools. The center will offer middle schoolers aid through counselors and social workers.
“It’s for students to regulate, to have a place to go to get adult support but also sometimes just to de-escalate,” principal Karsten Schlenter said, adding, “to just receive additional support in a non-punitive manner.”
Orchard school will continue its Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program called the “Core Program at Orchard,” according to principal Mark Trifilio. Orchard is adding restorative practices and other behavioral measures to its program. And in the educational sphere, the school hopes to have intervention blocks in math and literacy to focus on meeting students’ individual needs.
New infrastructure, new teachers
At Chamberlin, routine painting took place this summer and carpet tiles were added to several rooms, Rouelle said.
Rick Marcotte has had general cleaning and maintenance work completed this summer, for which Coon is grateful.
“Paul Kolbenson and his crew have done an incredible job pulling things together,” he said.
Coon is happy to say new paving along Market Street near the school entrance will make for a smoother start. He’s excited for further collaboration with neighbors like the Allard Square Senior Center. Last year, fifth graders sang to residents there and third graders read to seniors.
Coon hopes that new approaches to the mathematics period will help students. District math coaches received professional development training around mathematics lesson planning last year. Likewise, he hopes updates to the phonics program will take root. Over the course of the year he’d also like to see intervention block – a period to work with students using an individualized learning approach – will begin and be ready in earnest for the next academic year.
At the Orchard School, a large incoming kindergarten cohort called for teacher reassignments. There wasn’t money in the budget for an additional full-time kindergarten teacher or space for an additional classroom, principal Mark Trifilio said. Administrators will utilize strategic planning as the group moves forward in the coming years, he added. In addition to a classroom teacher and an English Language Learner teacher to replace two retiring faculty members, Orchard welcomes one special educator per grade, and two new special education teachers.
On hold for proposed new building
Tuttle received minor repairs for efficiencies and safety, but no major work was done to the building, Schlenter said. Administration there is waiting to see what happens with a proposed new middle/high school building likely headed for the Town Meeting Day ballot.
It’s an exciting opportunity, Schlenter said, especially for a 50-year-old building that doesn’t quite suit modern team-teaching models and learning styles.
“We make it work, and I think we do a good job, but I think we increasingly will not be able to meet the needs of the students, which are collaboration, active engagement, those kinds of things,” he said.
There were no big infrastructure changes at the high school this summer, according to principal Patrick Burke. Administrators there, too, are being cognizant of the potential new middle/high school building, but on the student front they are prepping to graduate what’s likely the largest senior class South Burlington has ever had, Burke said. Two-hundred-fifty-eight seniors are set to walk the stage this spring. While the school hasn’t hired additional teachers specifically for the large cohort, its existing staff have rotated teaching additional sections of freshman, sophomore, junior and now senior level classes as the group moved up the ranks.
As for new staff, the high school will welcome seven new teachers to replace three retirees and several teachers who left the district. It’s a low turnover from last year to this year, Burke said.
Burke was excited to add that the high school has a new full-time counselor, which helps lower the student to counselor ratio. That’s helpful with the amount of social and emotional support students are seeking these days, he said.
At Tuttle, Schlenter said that administrators hope to see more project-based learning incorporated into Tuttle’s classrooms. There will also be an emphasis on proficiency-based learning, which relies less on traditional letter grades and more on criteria that point to exact areas where students excel or could use improvement.
Schlenter said he’s excited to see students return, as well as to welcome the new staff members.
““We’re excited to do a lot of good work,” Schlenter said. “I think everybody is excited to make meaningful contributions to the youth.”