TOWNSHEND — Leland & Gray Union High School was nationally recognized as one of the Gold Schools of Opportunity through the Schools of Opportunity project.
Twenty schools from Vermont to California are acknowledged as 2016 "Schools of Opportunity." The project – based at the University of Colorado Boulder, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) – identifies and recognizes excellent public high schools that actively strive to close opportunity gaps – the differences in opportunities and resources that drive the well-known achievement gaps.
"In times likes this with all the challenges schools face with funding and public scrutiny, it's nice to be recognized nationwide, that's incredible we were picked to represent that," said Leland & Gray Principal Bob Thibault.
Those evaluating Leland & Gray looked at school practices around maintaining healthy school culture; broadening and enriching school curriculum; using a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs; and supporting teachers as professionals. L&G met these requirements after going through four levels of screening, including rubric-based ratings and in-person evaluator visits.
"Leland & Gray illustrates how a school can combine a very challenging curriculum for all students with strong supports for those students and their teachers," said NEPC Director and CU Boulder Professor Kevin Welner, co-director for the project. "We were all so impressed by what this small, rural school is doing, and we hope educators around the country will learn from the Leland & Gray example."
Former principal Dorinne Dorfman initiated the work for the recognition last school year and when current principal Thibault came into this school year, he was notified that L&G had been selected. Thibault notes it was a "cool" way to start off the new position.
"The schools are more about programs, they're about the people. You can have all the programming in the world, but at small schools it is important to have good people who care about kids, that are passionate about what they do, and are compassionate toward the kids they take care of," said Thibault.
While there is no cash prize for this recognition, Thibault notes that this honor tells the community and the country, "the things we do here (at Leland & Gray) are really cool."
"I think it gives faith to the people in this community that pay taxes that we are doing a good job," Thibault added.
Last year was the pilot of the project in just Colorado and New York, but in 2016 schools from coast to coast were honored. The review team – comprised of 40 researchers, teachers, policymakers and administrators – based the "gold" and "silver" recognitions on specific principles identified in the book, "Closing the Opportunity Gap," which was co-edited by Welner.
"The project offers an alternative way of assessing school quality – one that rejects the idea that test scores identify the nation's best schools," said Carol Burris, co-director of the project. "Schools of Opportunity use research-based practices to support all students and their teachers, thereby creating engaged and successful learning environments."
Eight schools were selected as Gold Schools of Opportunity and 12 high schools earned a Silver Schools of Opportunity designation in 2016.
"Children learn when they have opportunities to learn," said Welner. "When those opportunities are denied, they fall behind."
Thibault notes that since the award, L&G has expanded its course offerings by adding more access for students to take online classes.
"We're a school that always hopes to push the envelopes to create more creative and unique learning opportunities," said Thibault.
At the program's website, it highlights Leland & Gray for its efforts in increasing academic expectations over the past six years by adding Advanced Placement courses and support classes beginning in seventh grade. The school also was noted for its focus on other factors that impede academic progress.
"In addition to expanding the role of the school social worker, the school partnered with mental health clinicians in order to reach all struggling students. These professionals provide services to 30 percent of the student body over the course of the school year," stated the program's website under the listed 2016 recipients.
To learn more about the schools, including descriptions for each, and the project, visit opportunitygap.org.
The call for nominations for the 2017 Schools of Opportunity recognitions will launch in November 2016 and evaluations will take place in the spring. Nomination material will be available at opportunitygap.org.
"They're looking for schools that are basically trying to close the opportunity gap for students and by allowing kids to all different programs, such as providing support programs for kids who need an extra boost or mental health supports, this gives students the opportunity to do things they may not otherwise be able to," Thibault said.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275