Saturday, May 20, 2017

Moving Conversations

At Champlain we listen and talk all day. The whole of teaching and learning from each other stands on the  relationships we build, mainly by talking. School begins with Morning Meeting, when teachers and students greet one another, discuss day’s activities, and address matters affecting their class. Sometimes a whole grade level meets for Town Meeting to celebrate their community or learn about special topics, or the whole school meets to watch student and adult presentations. These activities from the Responsive Classroom and Positive Behavior Intervention System models teach Champlain students Common Core speaking and listening standards:

SL.1.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups. Third grade adds this component: building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Moving conversations along to get to the heart of the matter is necessary for addressing concerns about student behavior. Children know right from wrong, though sometimes we need a few conversational rounds before recognizing their role in a conflict. When we engage in moving conversations, children often express their shock, embarrassment, and regret. If their behavior is repeated, we create plans to support better choices in the future, and involve Mr. Greg Kriger, Champlain’s school counselor. In the principal’s office, usually a parent, teacher, guardian, peer mediator, friend, or frenemy join us.

Hearing right from wrong from a parent/guardian is among the most moving conversations that happen. The deep bond between parent and child stands on a foundation of faith and trust of which every educator dreams. In our conversations, the opposite poles of “should-have vs. shouldn’t have” melt into the complexity of a school’s social-emotional environment, set against the backdrop of our society. We are not only ourselves, but products and representatives of our history. We adults remind children not to get overwhelmed, but to remember that the only actions we can control are our own. Every day in elementary school, we have the chance to make things better than before. To be continued next week...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Letter to Parents/Guardians of Incoming First through Fifth Graders

Dear Parents and Guardians,
As we continue to create balanced classes for the 2017-18 school year, we ask you all for the trust and flexibility necessary to meet the needs of all our students. Our grade-level teams spend an extensive amount of time, from April to August, to assess the strengths and needs of each child and create optimal, balanced classes.
We believe that it will be very helpful for your child’s teacher next year to learn more about him or her in advance. For this reason, we have created a brief questionnaire for you to share the what you would like the teacher to know, of which she or he may otherwise not be aware.
Please return your responses to the questions below to Janet Breen in the main office by Friday, May 26. If you prefer email, please contact:
Thank you for your participation and support of our students’ success in 2017-18!
Sincerely yours,

Dorinne Dorfman, Ed. D., Principal
Your Child’s Name ___________________ 2017-18 Grade ______
1. What do you feel are your child’s strengths and learning styles?

2. What do you feel are your child’s challenges?

3. Has there been recent changes in your child’s life? This could include changing family dynamics, moving, the passing of a loved one, or other logistical or emotional changes.

4. Has your child experienced a new physical or mental health condition or learning difficulty?
If yes, please explain:

5. What else would you like to share about your child with his/her 2017-18 teacher?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Young Composers, School Safety, Lyme Disease Prevention & Burlington Kids

Champlain’s Young Composers’ Club Celebrates Another Year
By Ms. Betsy Greene, Champlain Music Teacher

The Young Composers' Club is coming to an end for the 2016-2017 school year. This year's members are Cassie Beste, Ezra Case, Tommy Coleman, Devon Ellicock, Trudy Farrell, David Francis Lutz, Vivian Halladay, Reid Hathaway, Morgan Kenny, Max Rectenwald, Miles Romm, Macie Steiner, James Strouse, Abbot Terkel, and Daniel Wick. We are all proud of their music compositions and participation in the Young Composers' Club.

Additionally, ten members submitted work to be considered for live performance by professional musicians (Opus 32) through Music-COMP, an online mentoring community where professional composers and other project participants critique student compositions in-progress on a password protected website and make suggestions about possible changes and improvements. There were over one hundred student compositions submitted elementary through high school. A total of twenty-six compositions were chosen to be performed and three were from Champlain Elementary School with a total of eight from the Burlington School District! The Champlain students chosen for Opus 32 are Cassie Beste with Rise, Macie Steiner with Gallaxy, and Daniel Wick with European Village. Additional students chosen from Burlington are Anna Halladay (BHS/Champlain alumna), Alex Wick (Edmunds
Middle/Champlain alumnus), Nancy McNichols (Edmunds Middle), Isaac Dunkiel (Edmunds Elementary), and Emily McNichols (Edmunds Middle). Their pieces will be performed at the Opus 32 Concert on Monday, May 15, at 6:30 PM in Colchester at the Elley-Long Music Center. The concert is free and open to the public. Again, congratulations to all the young composers here at Champlain School and we hope you may be able to join us at the Opus 32 Concert!

Safety Protocols in the Burlington School District and at Champlain Elementary School
By Dr. Dorinne Dorfman, Principal

On Wednesday this week, Essex schools experienced a “Secure the School-Lockdown” command in response to a possible threat to safety on its campuses. Staff and students followed strict protocols that required silence and confinement to rooms. Fortunately, everyone is now safe and school has returned to normal. All Vermont schools are required to adhere to strict safety protocols, taking every precaution to ensure safety at all times. Vermont also requires practicing Secure the School and Evacuate the Building procedures at least once a month. Typically every school maintains an Incident Command or Safety Team to prepare for and practice all commands. At Champlain we adhere to the Incident Command System, which is defined as:
a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure. ICS is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, Intelligence & Investigations, finance and administration. (FEMA, Incident Command System Resources,

The members of Champlain’s Incident Command Team include Janet Breen (Acting Incident Commander) Ashley Francke (Communications Officer), Kendre Guinane, Greg Kriger, Carl Terry, Nancy Pruitt, Lindsay Wilcox, Jessica Villani, and Billy Boos. As principal, I am the Incident Commander; Ms. Breen fills this role if I am not on campus.

The Burlington Schools are extremely fortunate to have a quick, effective emergency response system. Most of Vermont requires many miles of travel for emergency services to reach the scene. BSD’s central office staff maintains safety protocols that have been distributed under the leadership of Rich Amato, a former Hunt administrator who continues as the district safety coordinator. This month he has arranged for Robert Evans, Vermont’s safety consultant, to visit every school building to meet with each administrator and safety team. Joining our meeting at Champlain was Marty Spaulding, director of property services. In early May Mr. Evans will submit a safety assessment report to our superintendent.

Health Room Update- Lyme Disease
Lyme disease, caused by infected deer ticks, is becoming increasing common in Vermont. There have been a number of cases reported in Chittenden County. The ticks infected are usually in the nymph stage and are quite small, about the size of the tip of a pencil lead. The best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to prevent tick bites. For more information go to or contact your doctor.
While outdoors:
*Avoid high grass and bushy area as much as possible.
*Wear long pants and long sleeves to minimize exposure to ticks.
*Tuck pants into socks to keep ticks out.
*Wear light colored clothing in order to see tics.
*Check for ticks could look like a speck of dirt, remove right away.
While indoors:
*Check your body and check your children, pay special attention to armpits, head, and folds of skin.
*Showering within a few hours of being outside may be helpful
What to do if you get a tick bite?
*Remove the tick with a fine tipped tweezers as soon as possible. It can take up to 36 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes the disease.
*Wash your hands with soap and water, and wash the tick bite with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Watch for symptoms of Lyme Disease:
*Symptoms may include fatigue, chills, fever, joint pain, headache. Often there is red rash around bite, this rash sometimes gives the appearance of bull’s eye.
*Call your doctor immediately if symptoms are present. Appropriate treatment of Lyme disease with antibiotics almost always results in full cure.

Burlington Kids Afterschool Registration for 2017-2018 school year is now open!

The Burlington Kids Afterschool Program is a collaboration between the City of Burlington, Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department and the Burlington School District! We offer after-school programming every school day after students are dismissed at either 1:50pm (Wednesdays) or 2:50pm until 5:30pm. To register, please fill out a registration packet located in the main office. Registration is first-come, first-served, and space is limited.

A New Look for Champlain Elementary School & An Announcement from Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization

A New Look for Champlain Elementary School
The Champlain community benefits from the talents and contributions from our parent and local community in so many ways, both visible and hard-to-see. This new look for our newsletter and letterhead is the result of a lengthy dialogue between artist and CES parent Glynnis Fawkes. Over the past two months, we have discussed ways of striking the right image for Champ. First we had to figure out just what distinguished a lovable sea creature from those angry or some other creature entirely. The faculty viewed drafts until we found just the right fit, closely resembling our creature in the learning center hallway. Ms. Fawkes also crafted the original font of “Champlain Elementary School” seen above, and created a color Champ as well.

This month the Society of Illustrators awarded Ms. Fawkes a silver medal for her graphic nonfiction book, Greek Diary, at the Annual Comics Festival MoCCAMs. Last year she was awarded for her book, AllleEgo. A wonder to behold of serious and comical illustrations, her professional work can be viewed at

All over Champlain, one sees any variety of Champ representations. Although we have updated our school letterhead to represent our mascot, we are not rebranding. Every Champ has a place on a poster, t-shirt, flier, etc. to represent Champlain. The Fawkes Champ fills an important need for an easily reproducible, black-and-white graphic design and a clean, “conversable” stationary. Champlain friends are always welcome to draw their version of Champ.

An Announcement from Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization
Are you interested in joining a board to help serve your local community? Do you seek to have a voice in the elementary school experience of your child? Your local Champlain Elementary PTO Board is currently looking for a few members to join an active, organized board to help support the Champlain school community. Your ideas and energy are welcome, and you will be joining returning members who have institutional knowledge of board operations, and who have a sense of the PTO activities that align with the school calendar. Help strengthen the school experience for your child, and others, when you volunteer to help support PTO activities such as Harvest Fest, book fairs, Box Tops for Education, Trivia Night, Fun Run, Green Up Day Tire Round-up, meetings with school board commissioners, and many other events.

This can't happen without volunteer efforts, and board members play a critical role in helping to support the PTO mission.  Responsibilities for maintaining a vibrant PTO are shared by many, and we seek your wisdom, energy, and contributions at any level.  Whether you may be interested in volunteering for a singular event, or might have interest in being a board member, we welcome your interest in serving your community.  Please contact PTO President Michael Fisher at to learn more about volunteer opportunities.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

An Interview with a Very Special Champlain Teacher, Ms. Nancy Leon

DD: When did you first start teaching, and what did you teach?

NL: I spent a few years as a substitute in the Burlington District before I landed the first grade position at Champlain in 1987. With the exception of one year, I have been in first grade for my entire career!

DD: What is your favorite topic to teach?

NL: My favorite topic to teach is literacy. It's so important to every aspect of life. I personally love to read and want everyone to find that love of literature.

DD: In your view, what are the best things parents can do to support their children's success in school?

NL: Parents can talk to their children. Read with them, sing songs, make use of time in the car. Turn off those devices from time to time!

DD: Many teachers are baby boomers and are retiring quickly. Without their wealth of knowledge to benefit young teachers, what advice would you give them today?

NL: Pay attention to the small things the students say. Sometimes we let the little details go unnoticed and that's where we can pick up cues about what is going on with kiddos.

DD: What is one of your best memories of Champlain?

NL: I have so many memories from all my years at Champlain! There are hundreds of small moments, some with other teachers, some with parents, and of course many with students. There are too many hellos and goodbyes to mention. I have made some deep friendships and there have been many happy memories.

DD: What are your retirement plans?

NL: I'm not ready to completely leave the workforce, and hope to find a part time job in the area, but I plan to spend time traveling, reading, learning to knit, and volunteering.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Class Placement Process for the 2017-18 School Year

In spring 2016 Champlain’s teachers carried out a formal process for creating equitable class configurations for the 2016-17 school year. Fortunately a district coach met with me soon after I became principal to teach me the procedure. Months following, I consulted with other elementary principals and learned that each school followed nearly identical steps. Then in January, I presented these steps to Champlain’s faculty members, who gave me helpful feedback before finalization. At the March PTO meeting, I shared this information as well.

Typically high schools spend months creating a master schedule of class sections based on students’ requests, entered into a computer database and run through an algorithm that produces an efficient schedule. Hundreds of students multiplied by six to ten classes is the driving factor, though in schools committed to equity, students’ academic performance and demographic background factor prominently as well. School counselors or administrators will examine class enrollments for characteristics such as gender, race, eligibility for free meals, and eligibility for special education. Relying solely on software usually creates inequitable patterns. For example, students enrolled in Jazz Band may find themselves attending classes together much of the day. Or students enrolled in English Language class may be scheduled together for Algebra and World History. Students in Advanced Placement Biology might all be placed in the same PE or art class. Examining and rearranging individual students’ schedules by hand can break these patterns. In elementary schools, building heterogeneous (multi-level) classes starts with the students themselves, since they are together all day. Attending classes with kids outside their “homeroom” is the exception.

Bringing students together from many backgrounds develops the skills necessary to succeed in a diverse, democratic society. This is the promise and practice of public education, and a source of great pride in Burlington. I hear BSD parents praise our multicultural school community all the time.

In April, our teachers will begin the process of creating equitable classes for the 2017-18 school year. Each teacher will create a profile for each of her/his current students based on this information:
    1. Free/reduced meals eligibility
    2. Gender
    3. Race/ethnicity
    4. English Learner
    5. Special Education, 504, or Educational Support Plan
    6. Reading Proficiency Average
    7. Math Proficiency Average
    8. Special Services Score
    9. Social, Behavioral, Personal Development
    10. Behavior referrals
    11. Teacher Summary

Most of the criteria include a rating scale 1-4. The score is based on individual students’ learning and behavioral needs. The goal is for every class to arrive at the same total number. Grade-level teams build the classes by dividing each criterion equally. If the number of students in an area, say, English Language Learners, cannot be evenly divided, then teachers look to the other criteria to even out the total score. For example, this may mean adding one or two more students with lower reading scores. Most grade levels have three sections, each labeled as A, B, or C instead of teachers’ names. In 2017-18, due to the number of students enrolled, Champlain will have three sections of multi-age 4/5 classes and one section of fourth grade only. In summer parents will receive a letter from their child’s new teacher, welcoming him/her to the class.

An equitable strategy for developing new classes is best practice for an elementary school. Imbalanced classes result in reduced learning and increased misbehavior, which negatively affect individual students, personnel, and the whole class. Only by adhering to this procedure can we ensure equitable classes that provide the most learning opportunities to all students. For this reason, Champlain’s procedure will not include requests from parents/guardians for specific teachers or students in the class. The procedure will not consider older siblings’ placements, since this factor can also lead to imbalanced classes. As a result of Burlington’s teacher supervision and evaluation process, parents can be assured that their children will receive an excellent education no matter which teacher is assigned to the class. Champlain does not have theme-based classes; all follow a common philosophy and curriculum of student-centered and project-based learning based on shared high standards. To see Burlington’s curriculum in each subject area, visit:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Data-based Decision Making in the Burlington School District and Champlain Elementary

During last week’s inservice day and continuing through the month of March, elementary school homeroom (non-unified arts) teachers devote their professional meeting time to reviewing and analyzing their own students’ academic performance results. Together they sit with their grade-level team and compare scores in mathematics and reading from fall to winter assessments.

At each elementary school, the math and literacy interventionists play key roles in sharing this data. Supported by BSD coaches, they create a confidential “data wall” for teachers to easily review each student’s performance. Much of the data indicates specific skills, such as multiplication, division, and place value.

In kindergarten, teachers administer brief “screeners” for grade-level comprehension. In grades 1-5, the Fountas & Pinnell system assesses students in literacy three times a year, in which classroom teachers and their students work one-on-one to observe and document progress in reading and writing. Students performing on or above grade level have participated in a reading assessment from Teachers College of Columbia University. The Eureka math program adopted by the district also provides grade-level assessments on which students demonstrate their conceptual understanding and skills. During our meeting time, third-grade teacher Mr. Roger Klinger, literacy interventionist and special educator Ms. Terry Ryan, and math interventionist and fifth-grade math teacher Ms. Regina Miller have led a dialogue process for grade-level teams to identify new learning targets. From these plans, each teacher designs differentiated instruction to target students’ weaknesses, especially on key standards, and to challenge students who have achieved standards.

This data-based decision making allows teachers to teach with precise intentionality during the last trimester of the school year. Typically the last months fill up with field trips and special projects. Yet each student’s performance in math and literacy matters more than ever, and students participating in activities that address underlying gaps and advanced concepts take top priority through our last days in June.