The value of independence
We have nearly completed our first year as an independent town academy. As we near our anniversary and prepare for year two, the Village School of North Bennington continues to be deeply appreciative of the support we have received from the community we serve.
It has been an exciting journey: Much has happened since our First Day Celebration in September. We are pleased to share that for our children, school seems pretty much the same. The rhythm that is school for the children attending VSNB has continued on. Behind the scenes it has been much different, and it is in these differences that I have come to understand the real value in the decisions made for our children, teachers and community. I understand now the wisdom in the decisions our community made, independence. Like trying to describe the majestic beauty of Vermont’s mountains in the fall season, you can only understand it when you experience it for yourself. Such is the case with understanding independence. For those of us that have worked inside the public school establishment for many years, the understanding of independence and its impact on a school community comes slowly.
It is important to clarify independence when considering its benefits to a school community. Independence does not mean license, or unrestricted and irresponsible institutional practices. To the contrary, our independence has created a new, deeper and more profound responsibility. This independent school is now responsible to the community we serve.
In the summer months, we discussed the transition to an independent school. In these deliberations, we drew on the values of our community and the exceptional professionals who staff our school and have come to embody these values. We soon agreed that children were at the heart of all that we do here at the Village School, for this community would expect nothing less from us. We agreed that decisions made in the months ahead would place children first.
AT VSNB, children will always come first. Our independence made us responsible to this mission and provided us with a governance structure to fulfill it. As an institution, this basic commitment to our children would guide and govern all that we do from staffing to the school calendar, from schedules to report cards, from assessments to policies. It is at this point that the value of independence began to take hold. We discovered that not only could we establish this guiding principle, but we could ensure that it was reflected in every decision we make and every act we take. We have learned that VSNB can set its own educational standards and build our own curricula being responsible to our mission and community.
Our staff can emphasize performance-based assessment to measure and assist in planning to meet the changing needs of our children free from the corporate influences of standardized testing. Independence permits us to establish an educational direction responsible to our community’s values, teachers’ strengths and students’ needs.
Independence enables our exceptional educators to make real decisions in their classrooms where the outcomes truly matter. They are empowered to do what they believe is best for our children and community, and in this freedom provide exemplary service. In the mission-driven independent governance structure, strategic planning has replaced management. This process has empowered VSNB to institute a foreign language program with our area college, establish a 1:1 computer initiative, expand our string program, broaden our community partnerships, seek NEASC accreditation, welcome pre-k children this fall, and provide our community with wrap-around services for our children. This has all occurred in our first year thanks to the support of our community, under the leadership of an exceptional staff, and with the guidance of a Board of Trustees that reflect the very best this community has to offer.
Independence, we have affirmed, is not about elitism and exclusivity. VSNB will never be about the privileged becoming more privileged. We are extremely proud of our unyielding commitment to serve every child from the North Bennington Graded School District. Independence allows us to live our mission, care deeply about all of our children, educate each of them to be of good character, intellectually ambitious, responsible citizens, and lifelong learners. The real wisdom in our community’s decision will emerge as we chart the future course of our village school and its important role in the community.
The independent governance structure will enable VSNB to expand on the concept of our community as a campus, thereby becoming a conduit for educational innovation and economic development for our entire community.
We will be forever grateful to our community for providing us with the independence that has made all of this possible in our first year, and as important, ensures a bright future for our children and the community of North Bennington.
Tom Martin is Head of School The Village School of North Bennington.
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