A visit with UVEI alum, author, and school principal, Ken Cadow
Above photo: student project viewed while visiting STREAM lab at Oxbow High School.
Educators understand that the demands on our time are great and often unrealistic. So what happens when a school principal also becomes an acclaimed author? Ken Cadow, graduate of UVEI’s principal preparation program is a co-principal at Oxbow HS in Bradford, VT, and his YA novel “Gather” was a finalist for the National Book Awards. As Seven Days’ Allison Novak puts it in a recent piece about Ken, “Though Cadow has had time to digest the news…he remains focused on managing the down-to-earth realities of a school filled with teenagers.”
Because Ken is a UVEI alum and also a long-time former colleague of mine, I recently visited him at Oxbow for a tour, to see what his day to day work looks like.
Interdisciplinary Deeper Learning
When we stepped out of his office, students passed us in the hallways and teachers were standing at their doors welcoming them to class. We stopped to chat. A teacher said to me, when Ken had turned to talk to a student, “He’s one of the best things to happen to this school in a long time.”
We opened a door across the hall decorated with the word STREAM in large and colorful letters. I knew what that stood for from my past work with Ken: “Science Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.” Modeling and supporting interdisciplinary thinking, teaching and learning is always a priority for Ken. Inside was a classroom in transition, a room full of new equipment, including laser cutters and digital printers. The school’s director of technology was getting them up and running. Next year, Ken and his colleagues envision expanding the space into the adjacent library, where the new STREAM Lab will bring interdisciplinary, hands-on learning into action and into view.
As we walked through the library Ken chatted with students and with the teacher behind the circulation desk, who is filling the vacancy for one year, with hopes of staffing the new STREAM Lab next year. He was another colleague who greeted Ken with sincere enthusiasm and a smile, the kind of interactions that you get in your second year when you’ve laid a foundation of strong relationships and trust.
Ken earns people’s trust not only through his kindness and transparency, but also through connecting word and deed. When he and others co-create a vision, sooner or later it comes to life.
Interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Hands-on science connected to the community. Applied learning. All underpinned by relationships.
Upstairs we stopped into another room in transition, where a new concrete floor held a variety of flexible shelving units, two shiny new sinks and other science lab tools and materials. One of several major renovations that are new or upcoming at the school, the center of this room featured a brand new stream table, used to simulate erosion and other processes that are characteristic of our waterways and watersheds.
At an inservice session later in the week, the science teachers across grades 7-12 are spending time together to begin planning a scope and sequence of activities that will make use of this new laboratory. Ken told me that science teachers aren’t the only ones likely to use it. As always, interdisciplinary, project-based learning is a priority. Ken described a humanities project in which students would design a river and floodplain and then place houses around the landscape. Students would each pick a building and then the class would use the stream table to simulate a one-hundred year flood. They would watch what happens to the buildings and then write a story imagining the world of the people attached to those homes. Connecting curriculum to students’ personal lives and communities can be challenging, however, as Ken himself stated in the Seven Days piece, “I don’t like when we talk about ‘school’ and we talk about ‘the real world,’…Schools are the real world.”
We walked outside of Oxbow and over to the River Bend Career and Technical Center, which Ken says he visits at least four of every five days each week. The teachers at River Bend seemed as familiar with Ken as those on the other half of the campus. (Ken invited the instructor who teaches students to operate heavy machinery to come check out the new stream table in the high school. He said he would.) Building bridges between applied learning and traditional academics is core to Ken’s vision of learning that is responsive to the needs of young people and their communities.
Interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Hands-on science connected to the community. Applied learning. All underpinned by relationships. These are just a few highlights of my visit. We also visited a humanities class collaboratively co-taught by a special educator and ELA teacher, and we chatted with a Spanish teacher working in the former home-economics kitchen classroom which is now a flexible cooking space accessible to all.
Trust and Transparency
The next time I visit I hope to connect with other UVEI alums who are working at Oxbow and River Bend, including Sarah Wellman, SEL Coordinator; and Brian Emerson, RBCTC Director. Reading September’s Principal’s Report to the School Board, it’s clear that Ken and co-principal Ashley Youngheim and other school leaders like Sarah are setting high expectations for their work. The co-principals write about holding “those in leadership positions to high standards.” They go on to say, “We are working hard to inform our leadership through honest faculty input and to establish a sense of trust and transparency with OHS staff. We try to manage this by walking around, visiting classrooms, and being present in the halls as often as possible.”
It is not difficult to connect what one sees touring the school with Ken to UVEI’s frameworks for school leadership and school improvement. Leading the conversation, distributing leadership, and developing the professional capacity of teachers are clear priorities. Ken told me as I was leaving that he’d love to have UVEI Teacher Interns and Principal Interns placed at the school. We have had interns there in the past, and we will certainly try to make it happen again!
Elijah Hawkes is the Director for School Leadership Programs at UVEI. He was the principal (and colleague of Ken) at Randolph Union High School prior to coming to UVEI.