Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca meets kinder­garten students at Academy School in West Brattleboro, Wednesday morning. (Zachary P.
Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca meets kinder­garten students at Academy School in West Brattleboro, Wednesday morning. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday October 25, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Improvements in test scores and special education needs at Academy School earned students and staff a visit from Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca Wednesday morning.

"The process is moving in the right direction," said Vilaseca to Principal Andrew Paciulli and other members of the administration, about improving education at the Academy School. "I sure am happy to be here today."

Decorative banners welcoming the commissioner adorned the entrance doors.

Students Jack Price and Olivia Reil, from the sixth grade, gave Vilaseca a tour of the building, visiting a class from every grade.

"It was great to have both the commissioner and the superintendent here. Our students just love the fact that both of them came. It made them excited and proud," Paciulli said after the visit. "Our teachers were really excited to get the recognition for their hard work and their unparalleled success."

The commissioner's message was clear: To continue helping children with special needs, and at the same time address how students would continue to progress through their K-6 elementary school experience at Academy School. Improving special education instruction and early prevention of learning disabilities were items of interest on Vilaseca's list.

Students at the school, if they are falling behind or show signs of needing extra attention, receive interventions of extended learning, which entail sessions that occur in the morning before school, in the afternoon during recess and after school.


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The commissioner said the model puts focus on making no excuses and making sure all students could read by the time they are in third grade.

One tour stop included the special education room where the STEP program takes place. In use for three to four years, STEP is a behavioral intervention program that helps keep special-ed students in the mainstream classroom, Paziulli said. These are children who may have been in specialized programs outside the school or not been able to stay in the regular, mainstream classroom if the program didn't exist.

Special-ed teachers follow up on behavioral issues, by consultations, helping out in situations and acting as a resource for other teachers.

"One of the reasons the commissioner came is because the student achievement in special-ed has been pretty amazing -- pretty dramatic," said Paziulli. "It's one of the things that has been getting attention in the state of Vermont. Our goal is to give special-ed students the same education as all of our other students."

Vilaseca pointed out that, from the board's perspective, NECAP results show proof that the Academy School's programs are working, while adding that relationships with students are important.

Vilaseca said he was impressed by the hopes and dreams posted by second-graders on the hallway walls. These projects made clear educational goals that each student had set for the school year.

The commissioner also played Feed the Monkey with some kindergarten students, a game aimed at teaching them to count. Vilaseca gave students high-fives to acknowledge their good work.

As the tour passed by the cafeteria, Vilaseca asked his student guides if they enjoyed their lunch. As the commissioner of education, one of his main goals has been to make sure students could make healthy, nutritional decisions at their school.

"Most of the time," they responded.

Besides Paciulli, Superintendent Ron Stahley and Assistant Principal Jenn O'Neill also took the tour. Afterward, Vilaseca met with parent groups to discuss what's been going on in the school.

With NECAP testing, Academy School has been working hard to ensure its students get a good education.

"In the last five or six years, we've made dramatic improvements in the school. One of the ways they're measured is through NECAP testing," said Paciulli. "The whole school culture has changed. Over this six year period, the student growth has been pretty remarkable."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com.