Burlington and Winooski unite to align their educational systems with the demands of 21st century life

To help build a strong and dynamic future for Winooski and Burlington, the two school districts are joining hands in “remodeling” aspects of the educational system to better prepare all students for a rapidly-changing, global society.

The Partnership for Change, the bridging entity that is helping to lead this effort, has brought together a broad base of school and community leaders to accomplish this mission. Together, they will design and implement a set of “student-centered” approaches to learning that draw on new understandings from neuroscience about how people learn, and best practices that are emerging from state-of-the-art schools across the country.

The Partnership will hold a press conference Saturday, September 8, at noon, at the North Beach Pavilion to announce the members of the Partnership’s Steering Committee and to outline the vision and goals of this work. The press conference will be followed by lunch, which is free of charge and open to the entire community.

“When you remodel a house, you start by identifying what works and, building upon that foundation, creating a vision for what else is needed and possible,” said Hal Colston, Executive Director of SerVermont and co-chair of the Partnership’s Steering Committee, along with Martha Maksym, Executive Director of the United Way of Chittenden County. “The same thing is true for our educational system. Our system has parts that work but, like most school systems in this country, it’s time that our teaching and learning reflect 21st century science and best practice.”

To jumpstart the work, the Partnership for Change received a three-year, multi-million dollar grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest charitable foundation in New England dedicated exclusively to education.

Over the spring and summer, the Partnership has been assembling a team of school and community leaders to serve on the Steering Committee. “Like an orchestra, getting the best educational results for our children and youth requires many groups of players,” said Maksym. “The orchestra sounds best when each musician can add their talent and they work together towards the common goal of playing the best music. In that spirit, the Partnership realizes we must bring the players in our communities together to ensure the success of this effort.”

Other members of the Steering Committee include: Students: Aminah Mallim, Kristen Vincent, Wesley Mead, Ethan Pepin, LC Hines; Educators: Tom Obaggy, Ingeborg White, Lynn Kennedy; Family Members: Rich Nadworny, Fexhrije Sulejmani, Robert DiMasi; Community Partners: Ali Amir, Puspa Luitel, Mary Alice McKenzie; Administrative Reps: Amy Mellencamp, Leon Wheeler; School Board Reps: Amy Booher, Kathy Chasan; City Officials: Katherine “Deac” Decarreau, Jessica Nordhaus; Union Reps: Kerry Bechtloff; Brent Litterer; DOE rep: Frank Gerdeman; Lead Community Partner: Carlen Finn; Implementation Team Chairs: Jeetan Khadka, Lisa DeNatale, Signe Daly, Kathy Mathis, Bob Correll.

Some of the features of “student-centered learning” that will soon be visible in the high schools include visible blocks of time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and instructional strategies, which research shows makes a big difference in student learning. Other features include extensive technology upgrades and vastly increased collaboration with the larger community in the education of its young people. “Student-centered learning recognizes that each student learns differently, and that learning happens all the time and everywhere,” said Mary Martineau, Winooski Superintendent, along with Jeanne Collins, Burlington Superintendent. “In most sectors of life—whether it’s utilizing technology or ordering a cup of coffee, we expect a certain level of customization. It’s time for our educational systems to move beyond the outdated one-size-fits-all model toward one that keeps pace with what our young people will need in order to thrive in this century and beyond.”

We hope that the community will help us celebrate the launch of this effort with a Free Lunch, this Saturday, September 8, from noon until 3 pm at the North Beach Pavilion in Burlington. For more information, please call (802) 363-2342, or email partnershipforchangevt@gmail.com. All are welcome!