Posted in Colchester Middle School, Employee Spotlight, General

Introducing Dawn Gruss, CMS’s New Interim Principal

As we recently announced, the school board has appointed Dawn Gruss as Colchester Middle School’s interim principal for the 2011–2012 school year.

A number of people in the community participated in the open forum on July 19 and heard Dawn speak to her professional experience and qualifications, so here we will introduce her more conversationally ahead of the start of the school year. Grab a cup of coffee and meet Dawn!

Asked why she pursued the position, Dawn said that she has always had an acute interest in education at the middle school level because it is such an amazing time for students of that age. She said that she considers it an honor and an energizing challenge to serve as principal. She is excited to get to know the students, parents, faculty, and staff and to develop meaningful and authentic relationships with them. She feels strongly that all of the work educators do hinges upon these meaningful relationships.

Dawn plans to align her administrative goals with the themes outlined by the superintendent in his recommendations for Colchester Middle School as was reported here on June 28—namely, leadership, climate, instruction, time, and strategy. She believes that forward movement in these areas will ultimately allow us to begin to close achievement gaps and take the necessary steps toward meeting adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

Dawn’s expectations are high. Knowing that we have a capable student body, faculty, and staff, she will look for deep levels of student engagement and a sense of belonging at CMS. In addition, she wants CMS’s learning opportunities to extend beyond competency in the core subjects to include themes of financial, entrepreneurial, civic, health, and environmental literacy and also of global awareness, and she feels strongly that the rise of the Common Core State Standards Initiative will be a powerful force in realizing this vision.

Asked how the community can best support her in her role at CMS, Dawn says that she is most receptive to the support of others when it is offered in a way that focuses upon the positive—whether it is a conversation about how something could be done more effectively in the future or just in letting the staff at CMS know when things are going well.

Asked about her plans to foster community collaboration and involvement and the ways in which she plans to assimilate into the CSD community, Dawn said that she wants to maintain an open-door policy with the community and that she will actively work to create an environment in which people are free to offer their input—particularly about ways in which we can maximize our resources. She feels that cultivating a collaborative learning environment with community involvement—both face-to-face and online—is critical in ensuring student mastery of twenty-first-century skills.

Lastly, Dawn wishes the community to know that she is passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of children, understanding that we owe our students nothing less than a high-quality education. Taking inspiration from Gandhi’s quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” she is committed to focusing upon the positive as she assumes the helm at CMS.

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Posted in General, Primer Series

Primer Series: An Introduction to PowerSchool—Part II

Recently, we talked a bit about Colchester School District’s PowerSchool data management system—specifically a bit about the type of information it manages and a bit about the Parent Portal component. (See Part I of the PowerSchool primer here.)

As a continuation of that article, let’s talk a bit about the costs associated with PowerSchool and the security measures in place to protect all of that data, as well as how it integrates with another important system we use at CSD.

PowerSchool came with an upfront purchase price of $31,000. In addition, Colchester School District pays $10,000 annually for ongoing maintenance and licensing agreements, part of which includes security upgrades that are engineered and deployed by the software company that developed it. As with most data, it is important to carefully guard it. The information stored and tracked within PowerSchool is protected by multiple layers of security measures. Password-protected, person-level permissions and security groups—all of which have different levels of security associated with them—are employed. Additionally, different user groupings (for example, parents, teachers, and administrators) are allowed access to different parts of the system for additional security, and a number of other measures are also employed to ensure that the information is safeguarded.

The district’s PowerSchool and AlertNow! applications have been programmed to synchronize nightly so that any information updated in AlertNow!—which is one of the district’s notification systems—will automatically update PowerSchool’s matching records within a twenty-four-hour period, effectively removing the duplication of effort and ensuring consistency of the data.

Want to know more about PowerSchool? Visit

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Posted in General

Announcing Our New Facebook Page!

We are pleased to announce the creation of an enhanced Facebook page—one that is more fully integrated and complementary with CSD Spotlight.

The new page replaces the former one, so please visit it at

CSD Spotlight remains the primary source for news and information about Colchester School District, but the new Facebook page, which will be updated with content from CSD Spotlight, will provide yet another avenue for those who wish to stay connected to the events and initiatives taking place in our schools. Thanks for being a part of our community!

Posted in Colchester High School, Colchester Middle School, General, Malletts Bay School, Porters Point School, Primer Series, Union Memorial School

Primer Series: An Introduction to PowerSchool—Part I

Ever wonder how Colchester School District manages its student-related data? Did you know that parents of some students can now view their children’s grades online?

PowerSchool, a student data management software system, was purchased and implemented last summer. It is designed to function as a collaborative environment for teachers, students, and parents. In addition to the state census and other required data stored in PowerSchool—as well as the reports and letters that can be generated from within it—it also tracks such data as scholastic records, attendance, health records, demographics, scheduling, disciplinary records, transportation information, and much, much more.

Perhaps most importantly for parents, there is a component called Parent Portal that enables parents to log in and view their children’s real-time grades for any subject at any time. Parents can also use Parent Portal to register to receive alert notifications, review daily comments from teachers, track their children’s homework assignments, and so on.

Colchester High School launched the Parent Portal component at the start of the third quarter of the 2010–2011 school year; it is available directly through CHS’s website and by visiting Colchester Middle School also recently launched the Parent Portal component; parents can log in through a link on CMS’s website or by visiting

Because Union Memorial School, Porters Point School, and Malletts Bay School employ a different format for grading than that used by PowerSchool, there are no immediate plans to roll out the Parent Portal component for them. It is, however, a goal for the future.

Stay tuned for more information about PowerSchool coming up soon—including its costs and information about how the data stored within the system is protected.

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Posted in General

Friendly Reminder: Subscribe to CSD Spotlight!

Hundreds in our community subscribe to CSD Spotlight and have new articles automatically delivered to them by e-mail. It is a convenient way to get the latest news and information about Colchester School District.

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Posted in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Porters Point School, Primer Series, Programs, Union Memorial School

Primer Series: Emergent Literacy

Earlier this year, we wrote an article about Union Memorial School’s Readers’ Teas to celebrate successes with their emergent reading program. In that article, we described briefly what emergent reading is; here, as part of our Primer Series, let’s delve a bit further into what emergent reading is and why it is important.

Simply put, research in the areas of child development, psychology, education, and linguistics indicates that children begin acquiring language skills from birth—and they begin acquiring reading and writing skills well before they are able to read and write in the conventional sense. In essence, children gradually develop literacy starting from the very beginnings of their lives rather than later on as was previously believed—and this research serves to challenge assumptions about reading and writing and also the methods by which children have been taught to read and write in the past.

An important concept in emergent literacy is that all parts of language—speaking, listening, reading, writing, and viewing—are interrelated. As such, reading and writing skills develop concurrently—and that development is a process through which children travel in different stages and at different ages.

As a simple example, an emergent reader may begin by learning to enjoy story time with his or her caregivers and by learning to differentiate between books and toys. From there, he or she will learn to turn pages or move parts of the books, responding to the story and pictures by pointing and vocalizing. As his or her comprehension increases, the emergent reader begins to develop concepts about the words using clues from the pictures. From there, he or she begins to focus upon reading words by drawing upon knowledge of phonics and repetitive word recognition. It is through this type of gradual process that many children learn about reading and writing.

Emergent reading is important because children who find reading enjoyable will pursue it even if the material is challenging to them. Furthermore, frequent readers tend to develop richer vocabularies. Since studies have demonstrated that vocabulary largely predicts reading comprehension and overall academic achievement, children with such vocabularies are typically shown to be at a significant educational advantage.

These theories surrounding literacy skills acquisition have significantly altered the old-school methods of teaching reading, which therefore impacts the overall educational process. If you are interested in learning more about CSD’s emergent reading programs, please contact Union Memorial School or Porters Point School.

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Posted in Colchester Middle School, General

School Board Appoints Interim CMS Principal

We are pleased to announce that the Colchester School District school board has selected Dawn Gruss as the interim principal at Colchester Middle School for the 2011–2012 school year.

Ms. Gruss most recently held the position of Chittenden Central Supervisory Union’s Coordinator for Student Support Services for pre-K through grade 8 in Essex Junction. She has extensive experience in Special Education, Section 504, and educational support systems. She has also created school-wide professional development opportunities on co-teaching and behavioral interventions.

As part of the search process, Dawn interviewed with the CMS Principal Search Committee and central office administration. She then interviewed in an open forum with the community and parents and finally with the school board.

She will officially begin her position at CMS on August 1. Please stay tuned for an upcoming feature article about Dawn—coming soon!

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Posted in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Primer Series

Primer Series: No Child Left Behind Act—Part II

Yesterday, we introduced the first installment of a primer about the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Let’s continue with that discussion in this installment by analyzing some of NCLB’s pros and cons.

Because schools in states receiving federal funding for education are required to administer standardized tests on an annual basis, the results of which are then analyzed to determine academic achievement, proponents of NCLB point to enhanced accountability for schools and teachers. They support the perceived increased transparency of the education system under NCLB, since school districts are now required to provide parents with detailed information explaining adequate yearly progress (AYP). AYP is the measurement defined by the NCLB Act used to determine schools’ academic performance based upon the standardized tests. Furthermore, parents and taxpayers can now access school performance data more readily and have measurable, quantifiable data through which they can assess their school’s performance compared to others locally and nationally. Proponents also feel that the law provides resources to schools regardless of wealth, ethnicities and/or disabilities of students, or other similar factors. They believe that it also helps to close the gaps between disadvantaged subgroups and the mainstream student population.

In spite of all of these potentially positive outcomes, opponents of NCLB point to a host of problems with the law. For starters, although NCLB was significantly underfunded at the state level when it was first signed into law, states nevertheless risked punitive action if they were unable to comply with all of its provisions. While NCLB did not really force the huge budget cuts we so often hear about, it did prioritize where districts put dollars. It also resulted in some districts adding additional positions, such as reading and math specialists. These resulting different priorities as a result of NCLB have become contributing factors in education budgeting concerns.

Opponents also point out that NCLB creates a focus upon students merely scoring well on standardized testing rather than upon meaningful, long-term learning. In order to meet the provisions under the law, many teachers nationwide end up narrowing their scope of instruction. And because the states are charged with developing their own standardized tests as a means of assessment, they have the incentive to institute low standards and create easier tests in order to disguise poor performance if they so choose. Because the law’s response can include imposing punitive measures on the school if the school fails to make AYP, the incentives are to set expectations lower rather than higher and to manipulate test results. This, of course, would serve to lower the overall academic standards for the nation’s students rather than raising them. There have even been a multitude of documented cases in which schools have cheated on standardized tests in order to raise scores—most recently in the states of Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, while NCLB focuses upon reading, writing, and mathematics, it ignores other subjects like history, arts, and foreign language. In a similar vein, many opponents argue that students with disabilities or limited proficiency in English are at an unfair disadvantage with the standardized tests, which in turn can adversely affect the standing of the entire school. Moreover, using standardized testing as the sole measure of performance means that schools demonstrating significant progress but not achieving an acceptable level of proficiency are still labeled as substandard.

There is a provision in NCLB that is designed to recognize schools making significant progress in student achievement even if they are not making AYP. This provision is called Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor can be achieved through acceptable attendance and graduation rates and if less than 15 percent of students’ test results are in the lowest proficiency level—which, in CSD’s case, means scoring a Level 1 on NECAP tests—in every subgroup. There must also be at least 10 percent growth in the subgroups not making the annual measurable objective (AMO). On a similar note, because each AMO is a target number with a confidence band—which is essentially the standard deviation range—schools within that confidence band can make AYP.

And what of other challenges faced by public schools that directly affect academic achievement but are not a result of deficiencies in education? Many areas of the country, particularly those in remote, rural areas or in inner-city regions, have significant teacher shortages. Factors like students facing hunger and homelessness and/or a lack of access to health care, as well as an array of cultural and behavior considerations, can also adversely affect student performance. Class size and the physical environments of the schools themselves can also detract from the quality of education that teachers can provide. Issues such as these can adversely impact standardized test scores, and they are not issues that even highly qualified teachers can rectify.

With this sampling of the pros and cons surrounding NCLB, it is clear that while the act has far-reaching implications for education, the overall benefits of it are far from certain.

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Posted in Colchester High School, Colchester Middle School, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, General, Malletts Bay School, Porters Point School, Primer Series, Union Memorial School

Primer Series: No Child Left Behind Act—Part I

As promised in an earlier post, we’re introducing various education-related topics as a series of primers. In this one, let’s talk about No Child Left Behind.

The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which was proposed and eventually signed into law by President George W. Bush, has dramatically impacted numerous facets of the educational system—including those here in Colchester School District. As such, it is worthy of a primer series in order to help clarify and explain what NCLB is and how it has changed the way we educate our students.

NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002, was designed with the belief that public education could be improved through setting higher standards and by establishing observable and quantifiable results. While NCLB does not determine or enforce a national achievement standard, it requires each state to establish such standards and to develop basic skills assessments in order to receive federal funding. In Vermont—and thus here at CSD—we use the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests, which are also administered in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. (We have already published articles that touch on NECAP during our discussions about each school’s contribution to the 2011 Annual Report that was presented to the school board. For a recap of that information and/or about each school’s contribution to the annual report, please visit here for CHS, here for CMS, here for MBS, here for PPS, and here for UMS.)

The various provisions and requirements of NCLB are somewhat complicated, but as a simple summary, any state receiving federal funding for public schools must assess all students using the same standardized test for all public schools within that state. The schools’ test results are used to determine the quality of education the students received.

If a school’s performance is determined to be unsatisfactory as the result of these standardized tests, a number of consequences ranging in severity come into play depending upon the amount of time the performance has been deemed in need of improvement. These consequences range from the development of two-year improvement plans to mandatory free tutoring. Further action against schools identified as underperforming might even include such things as the complete replacement of its staff, lengthening of the school year, or instituting a brand-new curriculum. In other cases, a school may even be closed or taken over by a private or state agency.

NCLB has been highly controversial since its enactment, mostly because, while everyone agrees that education is important, the means by which improvement in the educational system is achieved are highly complex and multifaceted, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the numerous challenges that educators face.

So that is a bit of background about what the No Child Left Behind Act is and what it requires. Because this is a complex topic, it will require more than just this article to discuss it even in summary form. As such, please stay tuned for the next installment continuing our conversation about NCLB, including supporters’ and opponents’ positions and some of the act’s impacts upon public education.

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Posted in Colchester Middle School, Community, General

Reminder: Meet the CMS Interim Principal Candidates on July 19

As a reminder to the community, please attend the school board meeting on Tuesday, July 19, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., to meet the final Colchester Middle School interim principal candidates in Colchester High School’s Library/Media Center.

Pose questions to the candidates concerning their professional experiences and ideas about middle-level education and complete a short feedback form to the school board regarding your thoughts about the candidates.

At approximately 7:00 p.m., the board will interview the candidates in a panel format in an open forum, and following these interviews, the board will convene in executive session to further discuss and review the candidates’ qualifications and abilities to meet the needs of Colchester Middle School.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the Colchester community to participate in an interim principal selection process. We want to hear from you. Please join us!

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