Every year, nearly 90% of UVEI Principal Internship Program completers go on to leadership roles in schools in Vermont and New Hampshire, but this number only tells part of the story.  Job placement is only the beginning of a school leader’s journey toward helping schools be places of equity-centered deeper learning.  

To get a glimpse of the impact that these UVEI graduates are having on schools in the region, we visited two recent alumni, both currently leading schools in Addison County, Vermont.

“I love this school”

Jody Chamberlin enrolled in UVEI’s school leader certification program while she was the Co-Coordinator of Student Support at Williamstown Middle/High School.  By the end of the year, she had become the new principal of Vergennes Union Middle High School, where she now works with over 85 faculty and staff and 410 students in grades 7 – 12.  

Her career path has taken her in a positive direction. “I loved being in a classroom and being a teacher,” she says. “I never thought I’d do anything else.  And yet I love this even more. I love this school, this community and love this job.”

To visit Jody in her office is to step into a space with comfortable chairs and a big, round table ready for discussion and collaboration.  Her windows open onto views of the school yard and rolling farmland beyond, and one door of her office connects to her associate principal’s office, while the other connects to a conference room where student groups often meet.  She’s literally surrounded by colleagues and students in collaboration.  And she likes it that way.

“When the student leadership group meets next door, I give them their space.  It’s their voice that matters.  If they need me, they just knock and I help however I can!”

Doorway of a classroom, Vergennes Union Middle High School

Jody has prioritized support for student leadership in her first months at Vergennes, where she has felt warmly welcomed since the first moments of her interview last spring.  She speaks with enthusiasm and pride of the students’ efforts this year to lead assemblies and plan half-day schedules on early release days, and of the work that adults do to support them behind the scenes.

What happens in classrooms and Morning Meeting (aka “Advisory” at other schools) is also a focus for Jody, who recognizes the need for increased “universal supports” to foster a restorative school climate.  As we have seen in other schools around the state, many middle schoolers coming out of elementary school disrupted by the pandemic need special support.  Jody is working closely with her colleague – and 2022-23 Rowland Fellow, Rebecca Ebel, to plan at least one faculty meeting each month focused on how to create classroom cultures grounded in restorative values.  

Allocating this kind of time for faculty learning and collaboration is a high priority, and Jody credits her UVEI experience for her current disposition toward adult learning and development.  “Adults need support, training, and time,” Jody reflects.  “Working collaboratively with adults, and focusing on faculty learning – UVEI got me ready for that.”

“Connected to the work I’m doing now”

Just twenty minutes south of Vergennes, another recent UVEI graduate, Ben Weir, is now the Associate Principal position at Middlebury Union High School (MUHS), a 9 – 12 school that serves seven towns from Middlebury east towards Lake Champlain.  

For many months now, beginning in spring of the last school year, Ben and his principal have been engaging their faculty colleagues in a collaborative process to prioritize short term and longer-term, strategic improvements.  

“Faculty feedback in the spring informed several priorities for this fall,” says Ben.  “Teachers were not satisfied with the rules and culture around cell phones and personal electronics.  That was a change we could make to start the year.  We met as a faculty before students returned and got on the same page.  As long as rules are reasonable and the adults are working together, we can make improvements like this pretty quickly.”

Collaborating with teacher colleagues on other priorities will take more time, Ben notes. Restorative practice is also a need identified by teachers, and one that will take time to cultivate school-wide.  “I can take a restorative approach in my disciplinary interventions,” Ben notes, “but it will take deliberate work over time to develop supports for a restorative climate across the school.”

Academics and student behavior are both areas where meeting student needs is a priority Ben carries with him from his past work as a classroom teacher, and then as 504 coordinator.  Whether it’s differentiated instruction in the classroom, or developing flexible pathways toward graduation, providing for the diverse needs of the students he serves will be an area of ongoing focus for Ben and his colleagues.  Grade-level team meetings centered on instruction is one structure that could support this work – and it was the focus of Ben’s action research when at UVEI.  “The work I did at UVEI, it’s very connected to the work I’m doing now.” 

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For more about the UVEI Principal Internship Program, register on our website to attend an upcoming information session or send me a message at ehawkes@uvei.edu.