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.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March Arts and Champlain’s Spring Concert - School-day Pilot

March Arts
By Ms. Betsy Greene, Music Teacher, and Dr. Dorinne Dorfman, Principal

In March, five extraordinary arts events take place at Champlain. The vision of our music and art teachers, Ms. Betsy Greene and Ms. Sonny Sammut, bring these invaluable learning and performance opportunities to our students. Months ago we began planning over email. Dr. Dorfman’s enthusiasm bubbled over when she wrote:

By the way, I will never stop appreciating or thanking you for the real music education you provide our students. This is because I never had such a teacher in elementary or middle school, and just like I didn't have Chemistry in high school, as a result, am disadvantaged as an adult. I never bothered with music in high school, so resistant I had become, despite the fact that my friends told me the chorus teacher was fabulous. This is a fascinating example to me about the "window" of time we have to reach kids. For some things, the arts especially, high school may be too late to draw them in.

Ms. Greene replied to the message:

Thank you for the incredible words of appreciation. Elementary school is the only time we are able to reach 100% of the school population for music education. You are right, if during this time, students not only grow musically, but have meaningful musical experiences, they will seek them out as adults and be more likely to use music in their everyday lives, like singing a lullaby to their children, dancing at weddings, going to music events, etc. Just being able to function socially with music and with their families creates community and bonding between individuals and groups. We may take for granted or sometimes forget the real importance of music education. And if we do not have people who are able to do music (sing, keep the beat, sense the emotion), we will not be able to use music to enrich our lives in these time-honored ways.

The first March event is the Burlington School District Strings Concert for grades 4-12 on Thursday, March 9 at 7pm, taking place in the high school auditorium.

The second March event is the Elementary Choral Festival organized by the Vermont Music Educators Association for fourth and fifth graders on March 10. The festival will be held at Mount Mansfield High School, and nearly one hundred students from all over Vermont will come together to rehearse, participate in a world drumming workshop, and present a concert at 5:30PM. The concert is open to the public. The cost is $5 for students/seniors; $7 for adults; and $15 per family. Fourteen Champlain Elementary Chorus students will participate in the new and exciting opportunity: Hawa Awayle, Rukiya Awayle, Mimi Dion, Devon Ellicock, Gillian Fairfax, Trudy Farrell, Ruby Hall, Oscar Jacobsen, Ceci Luce, Grace Maley, Anyier Manyok, Madison Palmer-Osborne, Abbot Terkel, and Annika Redmond. We are very proud of these fourteen students and all their hard work preparing for this event! Come join us for this surely remarkable concert!

The Annual Burlington City Arts Children’s Art Exhibition is this month’s third event. The show will hang in Burlington City Hall’s Metropolitan Gallery from March 8 to March 30. This annual art show celebrates the talent and dedicated work of elementary students from Burlington’s six schools. The Gallery is open from 8:30-4:30 each day, with an opening event on Wednesday, March 13 at 5-7pm. Artwork from the following students below have been work selected to be in the show this year: August Bauer, Sammy Berman, Evan Bretton, Eamon Brown, Rowan Clark, Tommy Colman, Ayanna Dayes,
Mae Dery, Amelia Dion, Serafina Erdogan, Lucia Esckilsen, Gillain Fairfax, Trudy Farrell, Layla Fisher, Dashiell Fleury-Bachman, Helen Franklin, William Haslam, Iris Hathaway, Miles Kenny, Morgan Kenny, Joe LaMonde, Greta Larson, Cora Lea, Amos Lilly, John Minor, Oliver Nichols, Brianna Partlow, Celia Rutter, Aven Smith, Emma Stearns, Marcel Vacariu-McLaughlin, Nora Vota, Geneva Walker, and Aleekeah Williams.

The fourth event features a performance by three Vermont Symphony Orchestra musicians for all Champlain students on Thursday, March 17. VSO musicians combine their concert with an educational workshop, “Drumshtick,” to enhance our students’ understanding of orchestral music. The show, “Percussion Means the World to Us,” “explores a culturally diverse repertoire and includes demonstrations of non-Western instruments. Through their sometimes zany humor they introduce children both to general musical concepts and to the family of percussion instruments,” (VSO Press Release, 2017).

Champlain’s Spring Concert performance, our final event, takes place on Friday, March 24 in our gym. Grades Kindergarten through second perform at 8:30am. At 9:15am, grades three, four, and five perform.

Champlain’s Spring Concert - School-day Pilot  
For several years, Champlain educators have considered moving the annual student music performance from the evening to the daytime. Among the Burlington elementary schools, not all have a spring concert, and only one hosts an evening event for upper grades. The decision to pilot the music performance during the school day was not the result of adults’ preferences, but based on best practices for students.
Smith holds holiday and spring concerts during the school day. Integrated Arts Academy has no spring concert, but gives many performances during their “Town Meeting” on Fridays at 2:15pm. Edmunds has no concert, but hosts a “Fine Arts Night” over two evenings. Sustainability Academy hosts their spring concert at 9am. This is the second year that Flynn will host a daytime concert for grades K-1 and an evening concert for grades 2-5.
Only during the day can we guarantee that every student can fulfill the expectation to participate in a school concert. Students who miss an evening performance tend to be those most disadvantaged, due to family circumstances beyond their control. Missing their class performance can produce feelings of embarrassment, disconnect, or shame.
Champlain is improving its music program by shifting the purpose of performance from a show for parents to an educational experience for students. Already our  Ms. Greene emphasizes that this is an “informance,” during which she explains their music lessons. With music twice a week, students have only 45 instructional hours of music curriculum in a year. We do not want to reduce this limited content by devoting classes to concert practice. Rehearsal time outside of music takes away from other subjects, which we already do for two weeks before the informance.
Students’ developmental differences cause reconsideration of the performances altogether. Specifically, music education in grades K-2 raises music aptitude. Emphasizing performance over development interrupts and diminishes this important process. A grade 3-5 concert would be more appropriate. As part of a vibrant music education program, every upper-elementary student needs to experience being a music performer and contributing to their class in a performance. In fact, self-selected fourth and fifth graders in the BSD strings program (March 9) and CES chorus (March 10) are performing this month during the evening, specifically so families can attend.
Champlain students are very fortunate that Ms. Greene is president-elect of the Feierabend Association for Music Education, a national organization for music educators. Her professor, Dr. Feierabend, has researched and written extensively on early childhood and music education, with a birth through adulthood approach to teaching and learning. For more information about this philosophy and practice, please visit the organization’s webpages: or
Our family-school partnership committee is discussing creative ways to include parents in our school community. We have planned a Champlain community dinner on Friday, April 14th at 5:30-7pm in the gym, and hope families will sing and dance together at the event.
Regarding Step Up Day for fifth graders, this had been scheduled for the evening of Friday, June 9th in the gym. Stay tuned (no pun intended)!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Teaching and Learning in K-2

Recently I had the privilege of observing teachers’ instruction in grades K-2 as part of Burlington supervision and evaluation program. In previous years observing in middle and high school classrooms, students noticed me with the telltale clipboard, but appeared uninterrupted from the task at hand. The older the class at Champlain, the more students seemed to understand my role. While kindergarteners saw another pair of hands, shouted hellos, showed their work, and asked for help, the second graders ignored my now-recognizable drill of sitting in a chair nearby or walking around to look at their progress, scrawling unintelligibly.

In one class, kindergarteners focused on three-letter “CVC words” (consonant, vowel, consonant, such as cat, dog, run, etc.), choosing crayons and pencils in rainbow colors. They sat in preselected groups at tables named for shapes. When their teacher announced, “1-2-3 eyes on me,” they stopped immediately to reply, “1-2 eyes on you” and listened for directions. Then they began an assessment: to try their best to write and draw in response to the “I like ______” statement.

In first grade, students learned all about penguins through multiple means. Their teacher engaged them in all learning modalities (whole-group, paired, and individual activities) and nearly every multiple-intelligence method (visual, interpersonal, intrapersonal, mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, and musical) while discovering the exciting world of penguins. Last Friday first graders presented their learning at an all-school assembly, complete with jokes and a dance that even the fifth graders joined!

The name of each of second graders’ table was a continent. On the rug together they craned their necks and raised their hands eagerly to answer their teacher’s questions based on the map of the world. Next she shared the names of countries from nearly every continent, from which students of the Burlington School District hail. Distinguishing between continents and countries was a key concept, and students colored specific countries on each page of an atlas booklet. Every student appeared hungry to learn all they could about our world.

In each of these three classes, student dug deep in areas that most adults pay little attention. How does a child’s brain learn to write, understand nature, and map our planet? These observations, a snapshot of dozens conducted since September, show that Champlain students learn their subjects in a thoughtful sequence, each lesson, unit, and year at a time. The facts and skills build up and spiral back, connecting between and across to ultimately establish a strong foundation. This foundation retains the upsurge of facts (such as U.S. History) and amassment of skills (like solving quadratic equations) in grades 6-12 and beyond.

Building Renovations Proposed for Summer 2017

Last summer’s renovation of the first floor at Champlain Elementary School served three purposes: (1) install new windows in four classrooms, (2) create a main office area that improves building security and brings health, counseling, and administration together, and (3) upgrade ventilation and other infrastructural systems. Starting in June, I began meeting with Burlington Schools Property Services, architects, and contractors to coordinate the improvements.

Our meetings continued through this winter to plan for Phase II and future projects proposed in the BSD’s ten-year capital plan. Property Services Director Marty Spaulding and I have met multiple times with the architects of Colin Lindberg to consider our building’s most pressing needs. This has included redesigning the floor plan and installing windows on the second story, building a separate cafeteria, and constructing a safe car drop-off site in front of the building. With multiple school sites needing repair and renovation across our school district, Champlain’s plan was expanded over a multiyear period.

Based on staff feedback, we identified that educational service facilities needed improvement. Currently these services, provided to one-third of our students, are located on all three floors of our building based on space availability rather than best practices or our students’ needs. Burlington Schools provide many educational services to children who qualify for special education or English language services, and also many other children in need of speech therapy, physical and occupational therapy, psychological supports, and/or math and literacy interventions. Given the increasing number of students with high needs, not only in Burlington but across the state and country, designing confidential, yet accessible learning spaces became a high priority for Champlain. This week, our faculty reviewed the latest plans.

The architects at Colin Lindberg have proposed redesigning the first and second floors at Champlain during summer 2017 as follows:

First floor:
  • Relocate first graders to a classroom with windows. (Note: Due to classroom size requirements, kindergarten cannot be relocated to another classroom.)
  • Redesign the floor plan of the library/learning center (LC). This will involve:
    • Eliminating the computer lab: Desktop computers will move to classrooms, and students will have greater access to Chromebook and ipad carts.
    • Removing the storage of non-LC materials out of the newly-designed LC.
    • Reshape the LC to the size of two combined classrooms, and distinguish areas for instruction (complete with SmartBoard and worktables) and for bookshelves and bins. The bookshelves will create a perimeter around the LC.
    • In the remaining eastside LC space, build four small classrooms to serve 5-10 students, individual student workspaces, and LC storage.
  • Redesign two rooms in the current educational services area (formerly the main office) to address students’ needs, such as an instructional room devoted to gross and fine motor development and another for Howard Inclusion services.
  • Repurpose the first-grade classroom for mathematics instruction and intervention.
Second floor:
  • Install multiple windows in all classrooms based on the same design as the new windows on the first floor.
  • Redesign two small rooms (currently special education) into a new classroom. This new room will bring all second graders to the second floor, allowing for more collaborative learning between teachers and students.
  • Relocate all special education and math intervention services to the first floor services facility.
If the renovation moves forward this summer, no educational programs will be offered at Champlain and renovations would begin immediately after the last day of school. Previously considered renovations, specifically, the car drop-off site, separate cafeteria, and redesigned upstairs floor plan, are included in the district’s ten-year capital plan.

Renovations at Champlain and other Burlington schools are contingent upon voter approval of the proposed 2017-18 budget. Additional challenges may lay ahead with new executive leadership in Montpelier and Washington. If parents/guardians have any questions, please contact me. Thank you for all your support of our school!

Professional Learning Communities at Champlain and Burlington’s Strategic Plan

Every Wednesday afternoon, all six Burlington district elementary schools end an hour early to provide ninety minutes of faculty time devoted to Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Yet those who don’t work in schools may ask, What is a PLC, and why is time set aside for this every week?

Every district chooses one or more best practices that affect the school schedule. Where I previously served as principal, the incoming seventh graders began each school year a day earlier than the upper grades, so they’d have classrooms and halls all to themselves. Another school provided a monthly half-day for professional training. In addition, every Vermont school schedules in-service days at useful times during the school year, such as for a high school transition day or a district calibration day.

In Burlington we have committed to Professional Learning Communities. Researchers attribute PLC’s origins to Peter Senge’s two books, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990) and Schools That Learn (2000). The Annenberg Institute of Bloomington, IN, which provides opportunities for educational research and programs, trained teachers all over the country in Senge’s model. A PLC involves teachers meeting in small groups to reflect, analyze, discuss, and plan to improve student performance. Hundreds of “protocols” have been developed by organizations such as the New School Reform Faculty and the School Reform Initiative to provide processes for teachers to look at student work, lesson plans, and achievement on assessments. Unlike other trends that soon fizzle, PLCs have strengthened over time and spread to schools around the world. Two factors keep PLCs growing: one, evidence shows that teachers improve their teaching as a result of PLCs, and two, teachers themselves find PLCs an excellent use of their precious time. A positive faculty climate also emerges from PLCs, eliminating the barriers that keep teachers isolated due to scarce time and opportunity. Best of all, gone are the days of teacher training distant or disconnected from the realities of the classroom. The purpose of every PLC is to improve student learning.  

Superintendent Yaw Obeng visited BSD schools during January inservice days to provide an update and request feedback on Burlington’s Strategic Plan. Two of the plan’s “Big Rocks” involve PLCs: “Equitable Climate and Culture” and “Inclusive Teaching and Learning.” On the next page is a chart of the rocks and pebbles of each focus area. The BSD’s support of the PLC professional development model increases after-school meetings from once to twice a week. Typically districts require teachers to attend one faculty meeting for an hour. By reducing teaching time by one hour weekly, and contracted to remain an additional thirty minutes, every teacher now participates in a generous weekly PLC time to concentrate entirely on what matters most.

In addition, two BSD instructional coaches, Karyn Vogel and Colleen Cowell, presented student performance data to Champlain teachers at last week’s inservice. They provided a framework for grade-level teachers to intentionally select the same lesson plan and assessment for students to complete within a two-week period. Then in their PLCs, they will analyze students’ work in order to measure students’ understanding and skills, and to reflect on their instructional practices that led to the results. True to Peter Senge’s model, Champlain teachers will engage “in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning. This process, in turn, leads to higher levels of student achievement” (Dufour, 2004).

Burlington School District. (2017). Strategic Plan.
Dufour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61 (8), 6-11.

Big Rocks

Sustainable Finance and Facilities

Equitable Climate
and Culture

Inclusive Teaching and Learning

Financial Management

Equity in Education

Prof. Development Innovation

Capital and Renewal Projects

Mental Health

English Learners
Burlington School District
Strategic Plan

School Climate (Students & Staff)

Instructional Technology  

Restorative Practices

Achievement Gap


Champlain Promotes Diversity, Empathy, and Awareness

On Tuesday, January 17, Champlain’s faculty and students led an assembly to honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After our school song, music teacher Ms. Betsy Greene led students in “Martin,” later to be followed by “We Shall Overcome,” and “What One Little Person Can Do.” Ms. Tracey Bellavance’s kindergarteners read a poem together and presented their own writing about Dr. King. A group of third-grade girls and a kindergartener then explained and reenacted their experience with non-violent problem solving through peer mediation. Theirs was the first peer mediation session at Champlain this school year, with caring classmates jumping in to help anyway they could, not knowing their actions would bring about a new initiative that would involve dozens of students just a few weeks later.

Burlington’s elementary guidance curriculum covers a wide range of topics, always returning to its basis of educating for peace and social responsibility. Starting the week of January 23rd, all 4/5 classes will participate in a one-hour workshop in Vermont’s mandated policy for the Prevention of Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying (F29). This education is in response to students’ questions and concerns over the past months, coupled with the great interest among students when we covered this topic during peer mediation training.

In each class, school counselor Greg Kriger, student behavior coach Kendre Guinane, and I will team-teach with peer mediators to explain the policy and procedure, and provide examples and nonexamples of all three areas. We will also define the federally-identified categories protected from harassment. These include race, color, religion, creed, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, or disability. In the future, Champlain will teach this workshop at the start of each school year in grades 4/5.

On Monday, January 30, the educational theater group Puppets in Education will present to all grades throughout the school day on bullying prevention and cultural diversity. Using life-size puppets, Puppets in Education teaches children “to keep themselves safe and healthy and to appreciate each other’s physical and cultural differences.” Champlain is one of four schools selected to benefit from generous funding by Ronald McDonald House Charities to Puppets in Education.

Winter Assessments in the Burlington School District

Assessments demonstrate current levels of student performance to those interested in students’ academic growth. Midyear assessments, which occur in January and February annually, provide “progress monitoring” that informs teachers on their students’ strengths and weaknesses. In schools across Vermont and the country, elementary classes spend brief periods of time on quick assessments to avoid significant disruption to class instruction.

The Burlington Schools teach and assess with Fountas and Pinnell, a comprehensive elementary literacy program. Three times a year, classroom teachers work one-on-one with each student to observe and document their progress in reading and writing. The window for teachers to carry out these short assessments opens on January 17 and closes on February 15. At any point within this timeframe, all first graders participate as well as any students in gr. 2-5 who did not achieve proficiency last fall. Students who did perform on or above grade level will participate in a reading assessment from Columbia University. Each student meets with their teacher for a brief verbal and written check on their skill levels. For more information on Fountas and Pinnell, visit: For more information on the Columbia literacy assessment, see the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at  

In order to assess student performance in mathematics, Burlington schools administer the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) math interim assessment. Students in grades 3-5 participate in this national exam, which takes 40 to 60 minutes to complete. Champlain students take the SBAC interim test during the week of February 6. Unlike Fountas and Pinnell, students work on a computer to answer questions which vary based on each response, drawn from a huge databank tested by national experts. In May, gr. 5-8 and gr. 11 students participate in SBAC exams in both literacy and math, as required by the State of Vermont in adherence to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA replaced the law, No Child Left Behind, last year. For more information on SBAC, visit: and for ESSA, see:

This winter one more exam awaits fourth grade students around the country on February 2. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only national exam administered in every state to measure “what America's students know and can do in various subject areas” (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). While NAEP assesses students in grades 4, 8, and 12, this does not include every school in America every year. The scope of NAEP tests can encompass math, reading, writing, science, the arts, geography, economics, civics, economics, history, and technology. Individual student results are not published; instead each state earns scores comparable to other states. When determining the top states for educational achievement, NAEP is usually the chosen assessment. For example, Education Week magazine drew from NAEP and other indicators to rank the best states for education. In 2016, the top state was Massachusetts, followed by New Jersey, Vermont (#3), and Maryland (Education Week Resource Center). For more information about NAEP, visit: