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School reform takes shape in Vermont

Susan Notes:

Otter Valley Union High
School, definitely not a one-size-fits-all
outfit, offers students over 30 ways to earn a
high school diploma. And what do you suppose
will happen when the Standardistos get their
way and we have a national curriculum?

Sarah Ashworth

--Brandon, VT

Classroom at the Moosalamoo Center in Brandon
(Host) During President Barack Obama's
presidential address to Congress Tuesday night,
he brought up the need for school reform, and
pushed the idea that schools need to do a
better job of preparing students for jobs in a
globalized world.

Here in Vermont, that's an idea that's already
getting traction. VPR's Sarah Ashworth

(Ashworth) Walk into Otter Valley Union High
School's Moosalamoo Center in Brandon, and you
quickly realize this doesn't look like any
classroom you've seen before. There are rough
cut wood floors, a climbing wall, and two
canoes hanging from the ceiling. The setting
and some of the classroom assignments may be
different, teacher Jason Finley says the core
academics are the same.

(Finley) "We provide an education that's in no
way different than the traditional high school,
what's different is our assessments are very
authentic, students take what they learn in the
classroom and they take it out into the real
world and actually use it, see how what they
read in a book, take in a test, really is
applicable in life."

(Ashworth) Students at this satellite campus
share an interest in the environment. They
read essays by Rachel Carson, go on three day
camping trips, and are tested on wilderness
first aid skills. Senior Andrew Lajeunesse
says the program works for him.

(Lajeunesse) "It's way better for me because I
just hate the whole, traditional teaching
style, it's not for me, I can't concentrate,
it's boring, too much kids and distractions,
and when you're here, you're actually getting
involved in a study you love and are passionate
about. It makes you want to learn."
(Ashworth) Vermont's Education Commissioner,
Armando Vilaseca, says what's going on at the
Moosalamoo Center should be happening all over
the state.

(Vilaseca) "Look at society today, look at
technology, look at everything that's going on,
society's moving so fast, schools do not look
any differently than they did."

(Ashworth) Vilaseca and the state board of
education first proposed the idea of a
"Transformation in Education" in the fall of
2007. Last week Vilaseca presented their ideas
to members of the House and Senate Education
committees. Those ideas include changing class
schedules and tearing down classroom walls.
But in a year when the governor has called for
a spending freeze on education, Vilaseca says
budget concerns shouldn't overshadow the

(Vilaseca) It will be a challenge for schools,
at the same time it's a point in time, this
will pass, and to not look at the future, to
not look at doing what's right for kids, what's
right for our state, what's right for our
country, it should not be stopped because
there's a roadblock or there's a bump in the
road, and actually I believe these budget
challenges will provide an incentive for us to
do things differently.

(Ashworth) The Department of Education has
formed a transformation committee to look into
what laws or state board rules may stand in the
way of changes to the system. And by next
year, Vilaseca says he'll have concrete
recommendations for lawmakers.

— Sarah Ashworth
Vermont Public Radio


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