BRATTLEBORO -- Over the past year Academy School has been visited by both Gov. Peter Shumlin and Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca.
Both men visited the West Brattleboro school to recognize the work Principal Andy Paciulli and his staff have done to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their classmates.
After the Shumlin visit, Paciulli joked that the next person he wanted to talk education policy with is President Barack Obama, and it looks like Academy's success might actually allow him to do that.
Paciulli has been named the 2013 Vermont Elementary Principal of the Year by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
As part of the honor Paciulli will travel to Washington D.C. in October to meet with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and, if scheduling allows, President Obama.
"It's very exciting. It's an honor," Paciulli said Wednesday while taking a few minutes from his busy day running Brattleboro's largest elementary school. "I am going to be the state spokesperson for elementary education in Vermont."
Paciulli will receive his state award from the Vermont Principals' Association in July and then travel to Washington with 49 other elementary school principals in the fall to meet with national education leaders.
He also will be entered in a nationwide run for elementary principal of the year
Academy School has been recognized as one of the top Vermont schools which has been able to consistently raise the standardized test scores of students from low socio-economic households.
Statewide schools have a hard time closing that gap, and there remains a stubborn disparity between how those children do on the tests and how their classmates perform on the annual assessments.
Vermont Principals' Association Executive Director Ken Page said Paciulli was the unanimous choice for this year's award from among a crowded field of elementary school principals.
Page said Academy School's ability to improve the test scores of low-income students, even as many other schools struggle, caught the attention of the 20 or so judges made up of the VPA Executive Council as well as some of last year's principal of the year winners.
"Andy is a great leader," Page said. "He really represents the kind of school leader we want to be working with our kids out there."
Paciulli received support from Agency of Education School Improvement Program Manager Ken Remsen, who said in his nomination letter that Paciulli was a turnaround principal.
"He saw the need and worked with teachers and staff in a collaborative manner to make sure that everyone understood the mission and what it was going to take to make it happen," Remsen wrote. "He was a cheerleader for success and he helped students understand their role in making the school better."
Paciulli grew up in Lynn, Mass., and attended community college before going on to the University of Massachusetts.
He got his first teaching job at The Stowe School, a private boarding school in Stowe, Vt., and worked for about four years in special education in the Boston public school system.
He got his first job as an assistant principal in New Hampshire and then worked his first principal job in Winchendon, Mass.
He moved to Brattleboro in 1990 to become the assistant principal at Brattleboro Junior High School, before it became Brattleboro Area Middle School.
He was hired as the Academy School Principal in 2006.
Paciulli says if he gets time with lawmakers in Washington he will discuss the budget cuts that are forcing him to slice away at programs at Academy.
It has not been easy, or cheap, for schools like Academy to make a difference in the lives of low-income students.
After-school programs, educational support and professional development are all crucial, he says, and they all cost money.
Paciulli says he understands how hard it is for taxpayers, but education is the only way out of poverty and he says it would be the wrong move to reduce the investment in education now just as schools like Academy are making a difference.
"I love what I do and I can't imagine not doing it right now," he said. "I feel like I am getting better at it every year, and there's more to do."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.