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Why does education matter? Ask Elaine Collins.

News in pursuit of truth 

The North Country Supervisory Union superintendent moved lawmakers this week with her story grounded in personal experience. She urged them to consider Vermont’s most vulnerable children.

By Ethan Weinstein    March 17, 2024, 8:58 am 

Elaine Collins, the superintendent of North Country Supervisory Union, sat down before the Vermont House Education Committee on Thursday morning and apologized to those in the room.

“I wrote this testimony at 4 a.m,” she said, adding that she was “too tired” to go off script.

Collins had a story of resilience to tell — her own story — which clearly moved the lawmakers who were listening.

It was a story of how school can save a student, maximize their potential. A story of how growing up poor and as a survivor of childhood trauma, she relied on school, worked her way over three decades from paraeducator to superintendent, from being a foster kid herself to fostering more than 50 children. A story of the value of public education.

Around her sat superintendents, school board chairs and lawmakers, all present to discuss the cost of education and what to do about the 30% of school budgets that voters rejected on Town Meeting Day.

Collins was one of about a dozen school and school board leaders testifying before House Education in a joint hearing with the House Ways and Means Committee, the two panels wrestling with an education finance system in crisis.

How, Collins asked, can school leaders draft budgets that meet students’ needs and garner community support? How can the Legislature make Vermont affordable?

“I don’t have the answers for how to do that,” Collins admitted. “But I do have a story to tell. And in the telling, I hope to convey why continuing to grapple with these immense problems, and coming up with a solution for them, is so important.”

So Collins told a tale of finding the potential and possibility in all students.

She was born in Irasburg, a rural Northeast Kingdom hamlet of about 1,000. 

“My parents were extremely poor. I was the youngest child of three. We often didn’t have enough to eat. We had one or two changes of clothes if we were lucky,” Collins said. “I lived in a 1950s trailer. If you left water out the night before, it froze in the winter time.”

And her family, Collins said, had a secret. A family member was abusive.

“My first childhood memory is being cold, standing up, and crying in my crib with a wet diaper,” Collins said. The family member, she said, “slapped me silly, and yelled at me to go back to sleep. I remember laying back down and quietly, very quietly, crying myself to sleep.”

When she began school in the 1970s, few if any teachers had received trauma-informed training. Mental health was not a topic of conversation, Collins said, and students — herself included — sat quietly in class, ready to learn. 

“I applied myself to learning with a zest,” Collins said, and teachers probably assumed she was “well-adjusted” with a “pretty predictable life.”

“That assumption could not have been further from the truth,” she said. “I didn’t really understand until I was (an) adult what trauma was and how it might affect a young child and how it affected me.”

While her immediate family was dysfunctional, Collins recalled a broader family network of support. Her grandparents, aunts and uncles — dairy farmers — looked after her, and an aunt and uncle eventually became her foster parents. 

School, Collins said, was a “saving grace.”

Her extended family and her natural know-how “worked in my favor,” she recalled, “and I was able to learn to be resilient.”

Today, the science of trauma and the science of resilience are the work of schools, Collins told lawmakers. To build resilience is to counteract trauma, and all children benefit from resilience. Schools foster positive relationships, offer predictability and safety.

“We have positive outlets for channeling big feelings,” Collins said.

“The difference we see in today’s children is that trauma is often multi-generational,” she noted. “The effects of untreated mental illness, the unpredictability of family systems, the harmful effects of drug addiction, home insecurities, food insecurities, all of that play a part in our current context.”

School, then, is the “only normalized experience,” Collins said, and schools have more to contend with than they did in the 1970s. Schools clothe kids, help them do their laundry, provide showers, drive them to doctors appointments — work North Country supports through its Community Schools Act grant.

Or take, for example, Collins’ experience as principal of Newport City Elementary School. There were six principals in five years prior to her arrival, according to Collins. There were 320 students and a poverty rate reaching nearly 80%. 

In her first year in charge, Collins said the school had 890 restraints, seclusions and escorts — incidents in which staff physically control students who may be acting out. Six years later, the number dropped below 50.

“It is very clearly the right work to do, but it comes at a high cost, and if we don’t do it, the cost is potential and possibilities,” she said.

In a post-Covid world, teachers report that students show up with new and greater needs. Limited social-emotional skills and language skills and “very low tolerance for things that are frustrating,” as Collins put it. 

And perhaps, she suggested, the schools with the greatest needs are least financially able to meet those needs — a conundrum lawmakers attempted to address with the state’s recent education funding changes.

“When schools are poor, rural and sparsely populated, it makes it more difficult and more expensive to educate our children,” Collins said. “But our spending is well below average, and it is often in the bottom tier of spending per child.”

North Country also lost access to $750,000 per year in funding due to Vermont’s recent switch in how it pays for special education, according to Collins. 

Despite the region’s poverty, 14 of North Country’s 15 school budgets passed on Town Meeting Day. 

“It was a minor miracle — or a major miracle,” Collins said. “It demonstrated that even though we are poor, our communities have great trust in our schools and recognize the importance of finding and realizing potential and possibilities.

“I’m worried, though, that this was a one-time gift of trust.”

If, Collins asked, communities can no longer afford to support schools, what would be lost?

“I was fortunate to develop and learn resilience, and I have a moral obligation to do it for the students that are in my community and in our schools,” she said. “We don’t know the potential and the possibilities of the students in our schools. But it would be an unacceptable cost to take away the same opportunity to flourish and grow to the next generation of Vermonters.

“Education is a huge investment, but it is the great equalizer for our children who are less fortunate,” Collins said, “and the potential and the possibilities are worth it.”

With that, she ceded the witness chair to the next superintendent.

North Country Supervisory Union Welcomes Jennifer Nye as Assistant Superintendent

The Full Board of the North Country Supervisory Union (NCSU) is pleased to announce the appointment of Jennifer Nye of Albany, VT, as the Assistant Superintendent, effective July 1, 2024.

Bringing with her over two decades of invaluable experience in both private and public-school settings, Jennifer Nye joins NCSU from her current role as co-principal at the Barre Town Middle and Elementary School in Barre, VT, a PreK-8 school with more than 885 students and 150 staff. Throughout her career, Ms. Nye has exemplified exceptional leadership qualities, garnering a reputation as a dedicated, collaborative, detail-oriented professional who places the utmost importance on the well-being of staff, students, and families.

In her role as Assistant Superintendent, Ms. Nye will support the superintendent in providing vision,

leadership, and coordination around the operational and financial services of the North Country

Supervisory Union. She will work closely with NCSU administrators in planning, overseeing, and directing Consolidated Federal Program grants, state and local assessments, facilities maintenance, safety and security of district buildings and grounds, construction management, and all other operational divisions of the North Country Supervisory Union. Additionally, she will collaborate on business and financial affairs and child nutrition services. Jennifer’s appointment comes at a crucial time for NCSU as the supervisory union continues to prioritize innovation and excellence in education, while advancing the NCSU Commitments of Character, Competence, Creativity, and Community.

 

Ms. Nye has earned a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) from Saint Michael’s College, as well as degrees from Johnson State College and Lesley College. She is currently enrolled in the CSML (Certificate in School Management and Leadership) program at Harvard University.  Jennifer holds Vermont certifications for Principal, Grades PK-12; Elementary Education, Grades K-6; and a Level II Professional Educator License. Her areas of expertise include budget and finances, school leadership, interpersonal skills, time management, supervision and evaluation of staff, communication skills, and problem solving.

Ms. Nye says, “I try to create a family culture in all that I do: connecting with each individual I meet, making sure people are included, transparent, open, and solution oriented.”

Please join us in extending a warm welcome to Jennifer Nye as she assumes her new role as Assistant Superintendent of the North Country Supervisory Union.

The Lowell School Board has hired Rhoda Maclure as principal of Lowell Graded School.

Ms. McLure has been in education for 24 years, most recently serving as principal of Bakersfield Elementary School (BEMS). She has worked as a Director of Instruction, Assessment and Grants, as a lead teacher for both Assessment and Literacy, and as a Title I teacher.

Ms. McLure describes herself as,  “An ambitious and dedicated professional with experience working as a principal in Vermont for the last five years, and who is eager to be a part of a collaborative team seeking to meet the needs of all students and improve learning outcomes… I have been an avid supporter of developing the whole child and helping all students to believe in themselves and reach their highest potential.

North Country Union High School Principal Chris Young 

Named 2024 NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year

Newport, VT, March 14, 2024 – The North Country Supervisory Union proudly announces that Chris Young, principal of North Country Union High School, has been honored with the title of 2024 NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year. This esteemed award, presented annually by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), recognizes a school leader who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to advancing the voice and influence of school leaders in policy decisions at the federal, state, and local levels. The announcement was made recently at the National School Leaders Advocacy Conference, where nearly 400 school leaders came together in Washington, D.C. to ask Congress for the resources and policies needed to take on the mental health and educator shortage crises.

Mr. Young's commitment to empowering principals to shape policies that directly impact their students and educators has distinguished him as a true leader in educational advocacy. Leveraging his extensive experience and influential platforms, including his role as the 2023 Vermont Principal of the Year, NASSP Vermont State Coordinator, and President-Elect of the Vermont Principals’ Association, Young has tirelessly championed initiatives to address critical issues such as student mental health, substance abuse, and the educator pipeline.

In numerous interviews and op-eds featured in national media outlets, Mr. Young has fervently advocated for policies aimed at fostering safer, more inclusive learning environments for all students. His dedication to the well-being of his students, staff, and fellow educators led him to the nation's capital, where he engaged directly with representatives to urge support for policies that prioritize mental health and student welfare.

Upon receiving news of his selection for the NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year Award, Principal Chris Young expressed his determination to amplify the voices of those affected by the pressing issues facing schools today. In preparation for his advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., Young shared a poignant message that he plans to deliver to Congress:

“If you see us wearing these bracelets, they are ‘NorahBeads.’ Started by her mother, they honor a student at my school who died by suicide. All of Vermont’s delegates speaking to Congress will be wearing these, and our representatives are going to get a bracelet. I don’t think they can ignore her story. Not only are they going to see that bracelet on our wrists, they’ll have it on their desks as they deliberate mental health policy.”

The NorahBeads serve as a poignant reminder of the human impact behind the policies advocated for by Mr. Young and his colleagues. Through his unwavering dedication and compassionate advocacy, Principal Chris Young continues to inspire positive change and drive progress in education.


Eclipse and School Closing Information for Families

Come one, come all! 

Community members of all ages are welcome to join us for our new Van-Go Community Art Night series, brought to you by NCSU Community Schools. 

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Vermont's Education Funding Formula has Changed


This document addresses Act 127 in easy-to-understand language and answers many questions about 

how the formula will affect school budgets.

 "Act 127 (2022) made noteworthy changes to pupil weights that may significantly impact local taxes [sic] rates. Because of these upcoming changes and their relevance to local school budgets and property tax rates, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) compiled this issue brief to address frequently asked questions regarding pupil weights." 

Work and Learning Plan

MCKINNEY-VENTO

EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE

IN ANY LANGUAGE, WE CAN HELP!

IS YOUR FAMILY...

If so, you have a right to...

AND MORE.


CONTACT

YOUR LOCAL NCSU LIAISON:
SAMANTHA STEVENS
802-334-0947

YOUR STATE AGENCY OF ED COORDINATOR:
KATY PRESTON
802-848-1468

¿ESTÁ SU FAMILIA...

SI ES ASÍ, USTED TIENE DERECHO A:

Y MÁS.

COMUNÍQUESE
CON SU ENLACE LOCAL:
SAMANTHA STEVENS
802-334-0947

SU COORDINADORA DE LA AGENCIA DE EDUCACIÓN ESTATAL:
KATY PRESTON
802-848-1468


VOTRE FAMILLE...

DANS L’AFFIRMATIVE, VOUS DISPOSEZ DU DROIT:

ET PLUS.

CONTACT
VOTRE PERSONNE DE CONTACT NCSU LOCALE:
SAMANTHA STEVENS
802-334-0947
VOTRE COORDONNATEUR  DE L’AGENCE
NATIONALE D’ÉDUCATION:
KATY PRESTON
802-848-1468

ВАША СЕМЬЯ...

В ТАКОМ СЛУЧАЕ ВЫ ИМЕЕТЕ ПРАВО НА:

И МНОГОЕ ДРУГОЕ.

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802-334-0947
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КЭТИ ПРЕСТОН
802-848-1468

ANG IMONG PAMILYA...

KUNG MAO, IKAW ADUNAY KATUNGOD SA:

UG DUGANG PA.

KONTAKA ANG

IMONG LOCAL NCSU LIAISON:
SAMANTHA STEVENS
802-334-0947
ANG IMONG ESTADONG AHENSYA SA ED COORDINATOR:
KATY PRESTON
802-848-1468

JE, FAMILIA YAKO...

IKIWA NI HIVYO, UNA HAKI YA:

NA MENGI ZAIDI.

WASILIANA NA WAKALA WAKO WA 

NCSU ALIYE KATIKA ENEO LAKO:
SAMANTHA STEVENS
802-334-0947
WAKALA WAKO WA JIMBO WA
MRATIBU WA ED: KATY PRESTON
802-848-1468

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