Observations of the Vermont Education System, Fall 2018
by Dan French, Secretary of Education
Since becoming Secretary of Education just over a month ago, I have made an effort to travel around the state of Vermont, visiting communities and schools. I have met with district and SU leaders, with curriculum directors, with school principals, with teachers and with students. I have also met with school boards, community members and parents during my visits. Finally, I have also had a chance to meet with many of our Vermont education stakeholder groups including the VSA, VSBA, leaders in higher education, independent schools, policy makers, and with education advocacy nonprofits.
This has been an opportunity for me to reintroduce myself and reconnect with old colleagues, friends and students, as well as meet new and emerging leaders in the #vted community. It has been great to learn about all of the local ideas, initiatives, and challenges. But with each of my visits, I had one aim: to find out where people are at as we begin the work of designing a modern education system with seamless transitions from cradle to career for all our students.
Based on these visits, I have formed some initial conclusions about our education system:
- Many of our school systems are suffering from “initiative fatigue”.
- I have observed that part of the antidote for initiative fatigue is building systems and structures that allow us to better identify and share best practices more rapidly from school to school.
- Another useful tool for resolving the complexity of competing demands on our system is seeking coherence. Many of our school systems have developed graphical representations of their work to bring clarity of purpose to the changes they are implementing.
- Reinventing the wheel in each district when it comes to curriculum and professional development is too inefficient and ineffective in an era of open education resources (OER) and rapidly expanding learning opportunities for students. Working in isolation is part of the cause of the fatigue.
- Governance consolidation is a means to an end but not the end itself. We need to identify and scale opportunities that come through governance consolidation.
- Governance consolidation allows us to focus on the quality of school district governance itself. The quality of local school board governance is critical to the success of our system. We need to do a better job of sharing effective school board governance practices such as regularly monitoring for student outcomes and evaluating superintendents for organizational performance.
- The AOE has a significant responsibility to provide leadership during this time of transition, for convening conversations of expertise across the state, and for ensuring quality and equity across the entire system.
These are just some of the things I have observed as I have traveled around and met with many of you. I’ll be continuing to visit schools and districts in the coming months to get to know even more people and learn new lessons that can inform our work. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. [If you would like to share anything with me, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danfrench using the hashtag #vted. Thank you for sharing your input as we work together to build a strong education system that can provide a world class education to each Vermont student.