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Winooski High School principal Brown resigns

Ohanian Comment: I know nothing about the principal or his "skill set." I do know that the previous principal was forced out because of the federal 5% rule: 5% lowest schools must have a "turnaround." What the Feds don't acknowledge is what it actually would take to turn around 80% poverty, not to mention that there will be no quick fix for immigrant students for whom English is a second language.

We need to send out this message every day:
No matter how many 4th graders pass the test, it won't raise the minimum wage. --Richard Rothstein

Associated Press

WINOOSKI, Vt.âA Vermont high school principal hired to boost academic performance at Winooski High School is leaving before the end of his three-year contract.

Justin Brown submitted his resignation last month, effect June 30, the end of the second year of the three-year federal School Improvements Grants program.

Brown felt that his "skill set as an administrator is not the match for the challenges" facing Winooski High School."

In 2010 Winooski High school was identified as one of Vermont's 10 lowest-achieving schools.

Winooski has a high poverty rate and a significant number of students for whom English is not their first language. Last year about 80 percent of students in the Winooski school district received free or reduced lunches. The statewide average is 38 percent.

Burlington Free Press
by Molly Walsh

The principal who was hired to lead a three-year reform to boost academic performance at Winooski High School will not oversee the final year of the effort.

Justin Brown submitted a letter of resignation in November after 17 months on the job. His last day will be June 30, which would bring him through the second year of the three-year federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.

"After a great deal of personal and professional reflection I have come to the conclusion that my skill set as an administrator is not the match for the challenges that lay ahead for Winooski High School," Brown wrote in his letter of resignation.

He declined this week to elaborate on why he is leaving his $77,250-a-year job and referred questions to Winooski Superintendent of Schools Mary Martineau.

Some parents are sad to see Brown go.

He made difficult but necessary decisions at a school in need of drastic changes, according to a letter that longtime Winooski resident Cindy Robare read out loud to school board members after they accepted Brown's resignation at a Nov. 9 meeting.

"Did he push too hard at first? For some, obviously, as we saw many staff leave our district this past year," Robare said, according to footage of the meeting on the Regional Educational Technology Network. "But as he and many others knew, you were either going to be on board with what needed to occur or maybe this wasn't the right place for you."

She criticized school district leaders for not giving Brown the support he needed to bring about reforms that apparently unsettled some people at the school. "I realize change is hard, but when you're at the bottom of the barrel with no where else to go, wouldn't you be willing to try anything to climb back out and make these improvements?" Robare asked.

Brown's departure hurts consistency that is key to improvements, she said. "I never thought that I would say this, but I for one am feeling very relieved that my child only has one more year here at Winooski High School. Consistency, there's that word again. Just a thought, when Mr. Brown departs in June my daughter will be going into her senior year of high school with yet another principal, her third in four years. Hard to see the consistency there."

Robare did not return phone messages seeking comment this week.

Winooski schools face challenges, including a high poverty rate and a significant number of students who speak little English because they are recent refugees from Somalia, Sudan and other countries. About 80 percent of students in the Winooski school district last school year participated in the federal free or reduced lunch program for low income families, according to the Vermont Education Department. The state average was 38 percent.

Standardized test scores at Winooski High School are well below state averages. Results from the most recent New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests show 6 percent of Winooski High School juniors were at or above proficiency in science, compared with 31 percent of students statewide. In reading, the gap was also large, with 39 percent at Winooski in the proficiency zone compared with 72 percent statewide; and in math 10 percent were proficient or better compared with 38 percent statewide.

In 2010 Winooski High School was identified as one of the 10 lowest-achieving schools in Vermont under the School Improvement Grants program, a school turnaround program championed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama.

Identified schools were offered grant money in exchange for promised reforms and changes in leadership. In the wake of the identification, the longtime principal of Winooski High School, Steve Perkins, resigned. His departure came after School Board member Jim Ticehurst portrayed him as ineffective in an email that was meant just for board members but was accidentally sent district wide. Teachers defended Perkins and blasted the email as unfair.

The School Improvement Grants application that administrators wrote for Winooski high school outlined the challenges the new principal would face. It said students surveyed "overwhelmingly indicated the need for a more rigorous, consistent environment in the school. They believe teachers need to have higher expectations of them, hold them accountable, enforce deadlines and be consistent in all areas." The application cited other problems: an increasing drop-out rate and a significant number of chronically absent students.

Various changes have been ushered in: A mandatory recovery time from 3 to 4 p.m. for students who are behind with homework; more tutoring options for students; and new training for teachers, including a partnership with the Vermont Mathematics Institute (VMI). School leaders have also worked to increase parental engagement and community connections.

School district leaders offered little comment about Brown's departure.

"Justin did a fine job, to the best of my knowledge, but I don't really want to go too far into detail on anything," School Board President Robert Millar said.

He acknowledged that some parents are worried about turnover in the principal's office.

"I understand their concerns, but I can't really comment any further. I'm sure we will find a great replacement with so much time to look."

Martineau, superintendent of schools, responded via email to Robare's contention that the School Board did not provide enough support to Brown.

"The administrative team in Winooski works together very well. We do a lot of collaboration since we are all located on one campus. We meet weekly and plan as a group. People are more than willing to help when needed or asked."

She responded also to Robare's suggestion that reforms drove some staff out of the school. Martineau said five teachers left last school year for various reasons.

The school is making progress, she said. The district has adopted a new teacher evaluation system, completed curriculum maps for grades k-12, participated as a staff in trainings on brain research, literacy, math and science and adopted a new reading intervention.

mwalsh@burlingtonfreepress.com Follow Molly on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mokawa.

— Associated Press & Molly Walsh
Boston Globe & Burlington Free Press





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