New leadership in Arlington schools

ARLINGTON - A new leadership team is in place at the Arlington School District, which hopes to build on old strengths while rising to meet new challenges.

Christopher Barnes was named as the new principal of the Arlington Memorial Middle/High School earlier this year, replacing the long serving Kerry Csizmesia, who retired last June after 18 years as principal and many more as a teacher and basketball coach. Before he came to Arlington, Barnes was an assistant principal at Mt. Greylock Regional high School in Williamstown, Mass.

Karen Galese is a relatively new school superintendent of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which serves the towns of Arlington and Sandgate and operates Fisher elementary School as well as the middle school and high school. She was hired as a part-time superintendent last year. About 430 students attend one of the schools, evenly divided between the pre-kindergarten through 5th grade taught at Fisher, and the other half at the middle and high schools.

Deanne Lacoste is entering her seventh year as principal of Fisher Elementary, where she has been since 2007.

A mall, close-knit school which enjoyed strong support from the local community led Barnes to say yes to an offer from the school district's board of directors to take over the reins after Csizmesia's departure, he said.

"The school had a strong sense of academics and a strong sense of community," he said. "(It's) a small, beautiful school with strong leadership and good systems and programs in place."

For a small school, Arlington boasts of an unusually large number of Advanced Placement (AP) classes - eight all told, to go with more than 100 courses that feature unusual ones like Chinese and journalism and honors course. There is also an accelerated program available for students who want to pursue a more academically rigorous program, Barnes said.

This week at Arlington students were back in the throes of the first round of NECAP testing, the state assessment tests required as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The tests are used to determine the proficiency at which students are learning and mastering subject matter in reading, writing, mathematics and science. Reading and math are assessed in grades 3 - 8 and 11th grades, writing in grades 5, 8 and 11, and science in grades 4, 8 and 11.

This week the tests are being given for reading, writing and math; the science tests are administered in the spring.

Vermont, along with Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, will be transitioning to a new round of tests starting next year, known as the SBAC's, or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. These assessment tests are part of a new set of standards known as the "Common Core" and are being pushed by the federal government and have been adopted by nearly all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

In Vermont, a pilot program involving 27 schools is underway this year to road test the SBAC's, which are widely viewed as more academically challenging than the NECAP tests they will be replacing and will require more intensive use of technology an computers. The Common Core is designed to test critical thinking skills more than rote memorization, and is intended to set a level playing field nationally rather than the state-by-state variations that were the case before, according to the SBAC website.

"The way we've begun to prepare (for the SBAC's) is to have school leaders meet and develop a game plan for this year, so that by the end of the year we're really rolling on the Common Core and standards, and we come into next year with our feet on the ground," he said.

The SBAC's will be given in Arlington during the spring of 2015, he added.

Preparing for the arrival of the Common Core, maintaining the strong sense of community involvement and connection, and pushing on reading and writing instruction are among his top goals, he said.

If there is one problematic issue that faces small schools, it's scheduling. Many courses can only be offered once a day which makes it hard to accommodate all the students who may want to take a certain course, but can't because of other conflicts in their schedule, he said.

"Because you have those limitations you're also trying to figure out how to add courses or ad instructional opportunities," he said. "That's one of the areas I'd like to see us move forward on."

Karen Galese stepped into the Superintendent's post last year, replacing Tom Gallagher who had been hired as an interim after the departure of Charles Sweetman.

The Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, formed in the mid-1980s after successfully detaching from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, is the smallest supervisory union in Vermont. In recent years, it has been the subject of merger and consolidation talks, encouraged by the state education commissioner, now Secretary, Armando Vilaseca.

Vilaseca will be stepping down from that post by next January, to make way for a new appointee, Rebecca Holcomb, who is currently the director of the Dartmouth College Teacher Education Program.

However, the state board of education voted last month to close out that discussion and let the BVSU remain in its present form, settling the issue for the foreseeable future. That's a big relief, Galese said, because it allows the school districts of Arlington and Sandgate to plan ahead without wondering if they will be merged into a larger educational entity, she said.

"I was pleased with the outcome," Galese said. "The majority of communities wanted to stay put."

Galese has held numerous teaching and educational administrative positions over the course of her career. She has worked both in schools around her native Boston, as well as Drury High School in North Adams, Mass., and was the principal for several year at the small Clarksburg, Mass. Elementary School.

A resident of Pownal, she also served as a school director for that town and also taught at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, following an early retirement. Gallagher then encouraged her to apply for the superintendent job in Arlington, which she took when offered.

"I really like the benefits of a smaller school system - I like that the needs of the children are better met," she said. "I find that you are better able to move forward in areas like the Common Core. I feel confident the school is headed in the right direction."


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