Twin Valley's Fillion named Vermont Elementary Principal of the Year

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WILMINGTON >> Walking around Twin Valley Elementary School, Principal Rebecca Fillion might be seen giving high-fives to students or having lunch with them.

Fillion even slept on top of the school's roof and took a pie to the face after kids reached certain goals.

"She's really fun. She makes things engaging," said Karen Chase, a kindergarten and first grade math and literacy coach who has worked at the school for 17 years. "It helps our climate be really positive."

Fillion will be receiving the Henry R. Giaguque Vermont Elementary Principal of the Year Award during the Vermont Principals' Association Leadership Academy awards banquet on Aug. 3 at Killington's Grand Hotel.

Fillion, who began teaching at Deerfield Valley Elementary in Wilmington during the 2008-2009 school year before it turned into Twin Valley Elementary, said she was "quite shocked" by the news of her award.

"It was not something I was expecting at all. I feel humbled," she said. "I think it's significant in just that the staff would be so thoughtful to put the time that they did into the nomination. And to be honored among peers is something to be valued."

Collaboration is important at the school. Fillion said she thinks it's "very much embedded" in the culture there.

"We like to have fun together. We like to work hard together," she said. "We have high expectations for each other and the students. I don't know that it's different from other elementary schools. I just happen to be recognized in this one moment."

Fillion started her career teaching sixth grade at Green Street School in Brattleboro. She moved to Vermont with her family at the age of 12.

"The entire Windham Southwest Supervisory Union is very proud of her and would like to extend our sincere congratulations on receiving this honor," said Superintendent Chris Pratt in a statement. "The selection criteria mirrored the Wallace Foundation's criteria for effective school leaders asking nominators to comment about how Mrs. Fillion has shaped a vision of academic success for all students, created a climate hospitable for education, cultivated leadership in others, improved instruction, and managed people, data and processes to foster school improvement."

Fillion has a vision and the ability to carry it out, according to Chase.

"We have continuity in our school that we hadn't had in the past, which is pretty important," said Chase, who was part of the school's leadership team which had facilitated the nominating of Fillion for the award.

Angie Trudeau, a second and third grade math and literacy coach who worked at the school for 18 years, said the team oversees the vision of the school and the multi-tiered system of support for its students. She is part of the team.

Thought had been given to nominating Fillion for the award before, Trudeau told the Reformer. This year, her team made it happen.

"We said, 'You know what? It's about time we do this,'" Trudeau said. "(Fillion) built such a positive climate in our building. That's been a huge piece for us. It just seems like we're always improving and we're always moving forward, setting goals for ourselves."

Fillion oversaw the consolidation of Whitingham and Deerfield Valley elementary schools into Twin Valley Elementary. Chase pointed out the effort was not only about the building but bringing together two student and family populations in "a very thoughtful way." The towns voted to unify schools in 2011.

Consolidation could have been "really challenging," but Fillion was thinking about in for a year in advance, said Chase. Meetings were held in which relationships were built.

"I think very quickly people felt comfortable coming together as our staff," said Chase.

Even though there are a lot of unknowns with Vermont's new education law, Act 46, which mandates districts to consolidate by 2019, Chase and Trudeau are not too worried with Fillion at the helm.

"(Fillion) always puts her students first," Trudeau said. "She will have a strategic thoughtful plan. She works very closely with the (Twin Valley) Academic Committee and the School Board to make sure things go smoothly for us. She's really good about communicating things that come about and making sure we're a part of all that and the decision making."

Since the two schools have already consolidated, Fillion doesn't see so much of a concern. Unsure how the law will affect the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, she said she has confidence in the Twin Valley School Board.

"We're on the other side of it with a whole lot of success," said Fillion, adding that the positives far outweighed the negatives. "I think it's complex and I think the take people have on Act 46 is specific to their community."

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


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