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2013 Fellows

2013 Fellows

Jason Cushner, Big Picture/South Burlington High School

I will be developing and implementing innovative professional and community development structures that put teachers and students in the lead for creating curriculum that engages, enriches, and prepares students for success in the 21st century. I will create opportunities for dialogue among stakeholders that asks the question, "What do our graduates need to succeed?", as well as the opportunity to examine schools that are already undergoing successful transformation. Based on the ideas and energy generated from these conversations, I will work with the SBHS community to create school innovation that works!

Students and educators will experience a culture of inspiration, innovation, excitement, and collaboration. O.W. Holmes said, "A mind stretched by a new idea never regains its old dimensions." While the projects will be generated by conversations with staff and students, here are some ideas of possible projects to create that culture:

  1. Utilizing Big Picture South Burlington as a lab school: As a lab school, BPSB would be explicit about our desire to continually innovate and learn, giving SBHS faculty an opportunity to be critical friends to our work and test out new ideas of their own, all in partnership with local colleges (we have a teacher whose passion is cycling and he could teach an interdisciplinary term around cycling.).
  2. Setting up Innovation Tours: intensive trips for faculty, students, parents, board, and community members to see other innovative schools and have time to reflect on how that can affect SBHS (This would look like taking three days to visit four schools in New York City or Vermont and then intense debriefs in between each site visit. These have proven highly effective for reform with the Institute for Democratic Education in America - IDEA).
  3. Setting up school-wide professional development structures (like Japan's lesson study process where groups of teachers develop an innovative lesson or strategy together, observe each other implementing


My fellowship has been incredible as many of my projects came to fruition. It was amazing to see the shift both in the structures and in the culture around innovation at SBHS. Some of the projects that came through this semester are:
  • Neighborhood Learning Conversations that rallied the community around new graduation requirements
  • South Burlington High School Creating Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR)
  • Connecting Eagle Rock School and SBHS for assets based Professional Development Plan that is continuing
  • PBGR Grad course for teachers to teach them and give them credit for the work they've done
  • Communications Planning Around School Reform so SBHS can message well
  • Innovation Tour to NYC and School visits (Colchester, Mt. Abe, CVU...) for the teachers that went to NYC and did local visits there was a significant shift in thinking

In February 2014, South Burlington High School took 30 teachers, students, administrators, school board members, and community members to New York City to visit innovative schools. The trip was a great catalyst for conversation about the innovations we want to bring to SBHS, focusing specifically on graduation by proficiency, and every participant spoke of the experience as transformational. The group had two major takeaways from the trip. The first was a great sense of appreciation for the community, culture, and innovation that we already have at South Burlington High School, and the second was a better understanding of the value of bringing difference constituencies together to talk about school innovation. We found that constituencies were more aligned than individuals had previously thought. After the trip, the group broke into small groups to create projects. By the end of the school year, five of the seven projects came into fruition.

I was also struck by the incredible impact of the Community Learning Conversations. Community members engaged in thoughtful discussions about school change and expressed appreciation for being invited to play a role in developing graduation requirements, rather than merely being notified of change without a sense of buy-in or understanding. Most people walked away from these conversations feeling excited and supportive of the changes happening at South Burlington.

Creating a graduate course for math teachers to receive credit for developing proficiencies helped me to gain a better understanding of where people were at in terms of individual understanding, while also giving credit to teachers for the hard work they are doing.

Based on my experience this year, it is clear to me that one of the key leverage points to having the process go well is focusing on assets, what we are already doing well. Then, as Pat Burke, our principal, likes to say, focus on what is the next logical step. We came up with some useful indicators of proficiency:

  • Schools are explicit about the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students need and to make sure they have them.
  • Students progress when they can demonstrate what they've learned.
  • Excellence is the constant. Time is the variable.
  • All students can achieve at high levels with the appropriate mindset and conditions.
  • When we are very clear about our goals/expectations, then we can allow flexibility and personalization in the means.
  • Proficiencies must be chosen to meet the demands of the future in our ever-changing world.
  • There is substantial evidence that this type of learning works well for all students.

While circumstances have moved me out of Vermont physically, I have Rowland in my blood. In spirit and in action, I plan to remain involved in my Rowland Work, SBHS work, and education transformation in Vermont. I will be working with Eagle Rock Professional Development Center to create and run South Burlington's Professional Development program.

In reflecting on where my fellowship and South Burlington High School are at the completion of this year, and in talking with the administration, we've decided the following are the key projects that will move the initiative forward:
  • YES Term
    Year End Studies (YES) Term is a great way to build community and create high interest, deep learning. These two week non-traditional, project-based, and experiential courses are designed to apply and expand what students have learned during the school year using students' and teachers' own interests and passions. Each learning course includes opportunities to learn outside the school walls with community partners, and to use writing as a tool to reflect on what and how students learn. YES courses mix students from all grades and backgrounds to enhance enthusiasm for learning and to strengthen relationships within SBHS and the larger community.

  • Affinity Based Advisory or
    Single Period Project / Big Picture

    Both SBHS and Big Picture would benefit greatly from a more symbiotic relationship. After visiting schools and talking with many folks, I have identified two ways to create that symbiotic relationship. Affinity based advisory would invite teachers outside of Big Picture to run in depth interdisciplinary blocks around a specific theme. Examples might be a government block that spends every other day in Montpelier getting Social Studies, English, and Math Credit or a Tech Block based in My Web Grocer that studies engineering, science, math, and programming. The single block advisory would allow students to complete interest-based projects and/or internships without spending their entire high school career in Big Picture.

  • Neighborhood Learning Conversation (NLC) Continuation
    Neighborhood Learning Conversations are where a group of 4-12 people convene (they can be in a home, coffee shop, school) to talk about the future of South Burlington education. These conversations culminated in one large Community Learning Conversation, at which the data collected from individual conversations was presented. Over 300 people ranging from 10 years old to 93 participated, generating great enthusiasm and buy in from the community. Participants appreciated being asked for their thoughts on the future of South Burlington schools, instead of being sold a structure. Our future plan is to have a 1-2 rounds of these a year, which will be focused on PLP plans and continuing to define our PBGR's.

  • Structure for Continuing Site Visits
    Seeing successful, innovative models at work is one of the most powerful ways to move people forward in a common direction. Taking time to travel and learn together builds relationships across constituencies, and those relationships form the critical foundation for shared work here in our own communities. In addition to visiting schools in NYC, we also brought groups to visit BHS, CVU, Colchester, Mt. Abe. These local visits prompted real movement in our initiatives and forged great connections. Ideally, these local visits will continue.

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Shaun Noonan
Carrie Felice and Shaun Noonan, Peoples Academy

We are thrilled to be collaborating on an essential and exciting transformation of our grade level expectations and graduation requirements at Peoples Academy Middle Level and High School.

We talk with students everyday about what they need to hand in to pass, what classes they need to pass to graduate, what grade they need to earn to raise their GPA's, and what GPA they need to reach in order to make their dream school a viable option. It's almost as if the handing in, the showing up, the earning the grade become the goal—the proficiency we're requiring. It would be an honest assumption.

This conversation needs to change. We need to talk more about essential understandings and how they connect to what it takes to be successful in our rapidly changing society. As Tony Wagner writes in his book, The Global Achievement Gap "In light of the fundamental changes that have taken place in our society in the last 25 years, what does it mean to be an educated adult in the 21st century? What do we think all high school graduates need to know and be able to do to be well prepared for college, careers, and citizenship? And since we can't teach everything, what is most important?" The answers to these questions may shift the paradigm and help inform what it takes to move through and ultimately graduate from Peoples Academy. These answers should become our proficiencies, and what we discuss with students.

We can do this within our school community by clearly articulating and creating a proficiency-based digital portfolio system with students, parents and teachers to determine what students need to know, learn, and demonstrate what they can do. A system like this can help students to expand beyond mainstream learning opportunities while respecting, recognizing and cultivating their interests and strengths. What we get in return is a higher level of engagement among students, as well as students who rather than achieving a grade, work towards mastery or excellence by choosing a pathway that speaks to them. They will learn early in their high school career what specific skills they need to show proficiency, and we will be able to detect early the important skills and concepts that individuals struggle with or excel at. We can then create the appropriate interventions or accelerated learning opportunities needed to help that student reach their full potential.

We are looking forward to getting started and are confident that positive changes lie ahead!


Carrie and Shaun are back in their respective roles and are excited about the changes taking place at both the high school and middle level. During the 2014-2015 school year, the high school went 1:1 with Chromebooks, and proficiency-based learning and grading with fidelity became much more of a focus. This did not come without frustrations. It was a busy, busy, exhausting year, but we made strides--big ones. With help from educational consultant Bill Rich and the Tarrant Institute of Innovative Education (TIIE) we are well on our way to making the shift to a PBGR model. Our teachers designed and shared learning scales for greater use.

The middle school community worked tirelessly last year to roll-out and implement our digital portfolio system in grades 5-8. Teachers designed and taught portfolio components. Students went through the challenging process of outlining academic and personal goals, and, armed with their evidence, they reflected on those goals throughout the school year. Parents, guardians and other valued stakeholders attended and supported student-led "goal setting" meetings in the fall and "goal reflection" meetings in the spring. This year, the middle school staff is working with TIIE to incrementally implement proficiency-based learning model. Peoples Academy Middle Level and High School are picking up they left off with the goal of building a student-centered community of learners with the courage to grow.

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Sarah Ibson and Ellen Berrings, Harwood Union High School

Our initiative to transform Harwood Union Middle/High School is to create a system that supports student-centered proficiency based graduation (PBGR). An essential part of our initiative will be building a structure and system to support our 9th grade team model and the Teacher Advisory program. These two programs are integral to the success of a PBGR system via the creation of personal learning plans and the development of a student portfolio system. Creating personalized learning plans puts students in charge of their education so they can begin to see a rationale for all that they do in school. The digital portfolio process will show growth in learning and proficiency in content standards, Common Core State Standards and the Harwood Graduate Expectations as a means of graduating. Moving towards proficiency based graduation opens the door for students to think more intently about the skills, knowledge and dispositions they need to succeed and the path they choose to get there.


It has been wonderful seeing the progress that HUMS and HUHS have undergone in the past two years. During our sabbatical year we had a multitude of experiences that enabled us to develop a composite of models of advisory and teaming approaches from which to begin to create a plan for Harwood. Following a year of collective planning with many colleagues, we are beginning to bring the changes to a reality for our school. These changes include:

Last year Harwood formed a focus group comprised of educators from all disciplines and grades to design an advisory process for Harwood. We served as the facilitators for this team. We were able to share our research information and strategies to guide our work. The goal was to create a model that would fit the Harwood community, while representing the essential components of an effective advisory. Our team worked throughout the year to develop a design, while constantly tuning the work with the full faculty. The result was a purpose statement that guided a model to implement this year. The administration created a halftime Advisory/Personal Learning Plan Coordinator position. Ellen was hired for this position. This year, all grades are embarking on this redesigned process. The work included an intensive professional development process for ninth grade advisory teachers to support transitioning students. We are also collaborating with the ninth grade team to develop processes that connect with the goals of the teachers delivering ninth grade curriculum. Time is also being allotted for ongoing professional development for advisors for all of the grades. Challenges have been encountered with students in the upper grades due to the changes in expectations. However, we are working to help these students adjust to the new model and realize the potential of a meaningful advisory process. For students in grades 7-10, we have received positive feedback both from students and teachers.

Personal Learning Plans (PLPS)
A major portion of our work in advisory has been focused on creating a process to support the development of Personal Learning Plans. Harwood piloted PLPs last year. We had teachers in grades 7-9 pilot the process we had developed in the previous year through the efforts of a supervisory union-wide work group. Sarah served as one of the pilot teachers. Ellen's role was to support the pilot group and to develop strategies based on the experience of the teachers for implementation this year. Unique to this process was our ability to work with Crossett Brook, the other middle school in our supervisory union. The goal is to create a process that is similar for all students entering from both schools into the ninth grade. This year we are rolling out PLPs at Harwood in grades 7 through 10 and at Crossett Brook in grade 5 through 8 (Crossett Brook is a 5-8 school). In ninth grade students are creating the bulk of the PLP through the Personal and Future Exploration class. Parallel activities will be implemented in advisory in order to transfer full support for PLPs to the advisory from 10th grade on. Students in the middle school will be developing PLPs through advisory. This is certainly a learning year for us as we will be assessing the process and refining based on the data we collect.

Leadership Team and PBGR
Harwood created a shared leadership model last year that included 5 teachers, 5 students and 5 administrators who are tasked to lead Professional Learning Communities comprised of all educators in the school. Sarah was selected to serve as a member of this team. The goals of the learning communities are to develop PBGR tools as we shift to a proficiency based model as well as to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Teams will be employing protocols as a tool to insure full inclusion of all ideas.

Of note: Harwood was selected to receive the Next Generation Learning grant through the League of Innovative Schools; one of only three Vermont schools to receive this award. (Of additional note: the two other schools, Twinfield and Cabot, are Rowland schools!)

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Colin McKaig, Black River Middle and High School

In schools everywhere, students carry with them enormous computing power in their phones. It has an astonishing influence over them. My project, and our challenge, begins here: study the ways today's students are digitally connected, and more broadly, how this generation of learners is different from those who preceded them. I suspect brains are changing as a result of this technological shift. My students know nothing but a digital world. Their lives are wired with an access to information and communication not dreamed of even a short time ago. This has changed how they think in ways that we're only beginning to understand.

I have several other questions too. Should we consider restructuring the school day? Are traditional Carnegie Units still necessary? Might we rethink the ways students meet graduation requirements? How might these mobile devices affect the ways we use our school buildings? And lastly, addiction research. I see students who seem incapable of turning off their phones. Being asked to unplug and focus on other academic tasks is difficult, perhaps impossible. The connectivity is irresistible. Studying this, and drawing implications for teaching and learning, is central to my goals as a Rowland Fellow.


It's hard to believe that two years have passed since my fellowship award. The learning has been phenomenal and so has getting to know the many incredible people associated with the foundation.

Black River High School is a very different place now than it was just a few years ago. Students have extraordinary access to mobile technology and are using these tools to produce amazing work. In front of all students are chromebooks, lightweight laptops powered by the Google Apps For Education suite of tools. Teachers use various learning management systems to send, receive and assess student work, and these are all able to help personalize students' educations.

Beyond the chromebooks, other initiatives are also transforming the school as well. We now have a makerspace where students can create video productions, build microcomputers, drones and robots, and participate in other student centered projects. Last year we had independent studies in mobile technology. Both the science fair and the art show integrated technology using innovative presentation programs and virtual reality applications. The high school will have a coding class this year, and the middle school has inserted a tech explorations course into the traditional cluster sequence.

I'm excited for the upcoming school year, mostly to watch the ways in which the school transforms, moving forward towards innovation, powered by the Rowland Foundation.

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Mike McRaith, Enosburg Falls High School

As the old saying goes, "It's not how many times you fall off the horse; it's how many times you get back on." This little motto is at the root of what I will be studying next year as a 2013 Rowland Fellow. Recent research confirms that while IQ cannot be taught, perseverance is a skill that can be taught. The good news is, perseverance seems to be far more important than traditional IQ for achievement in school and beyond. People with high levels of perseverance related skills such as curiosity, self-control, frustration-tolerance, and social-fluidity have more success in school, have higher earning power, are happier in their jobs, and have lower divorce rates as adults. This research puts perseverance skills as the key skills for all young people to develop in order to improve their lives and create more opportunities for themselves.

As a 2013 Rowland fellow, I will be traveling around the country visiting schools that are implementing perseverance programs. I will be researching the ways to make perseverance skills core pieces our learning expectations and school culture at Enosburg Falls High School. We all face adversity and challenges in our lives. In partnership with our community and staff, I will be working hard to help develop teachable, measurable, and learnable ways to improve our students' perseverance abilities to "get back on that horse," overcome that adversity, and close achievement gaps.


In the fall of 2012, a focus on social emotional learning as a crucial aspect to academic rigor was not a particularly hot topic. Over the past three years this conversation has picked up in both speed and intensity. The spark that the Rowland Foundation provided in this field of study has been very meaningful in creating positive change and growth in the Enosburg Falls learning community and beyond. Enosburg Falls middle school adopted a school motto of "Be Nice. Work Hard." that provided a focus for a myriad of academic and school culture strategies. The goal has been to build the critical achievement skills of perseverance, integrity, kindness, optimism, and self-control. In 2014, the work was featured on VPR on two occasions. Additionally, the 2014 Annual Rowland Conference featured keynote speaker, Angela Duckworth, who was invited through my work with her at UPENN, made possible by the Rowland Fellowship. The Enosburg community also collaborated with the research of University of Pennsylvania Grit Lab.

Furthermore, Enosburg developed a community-wide focus on growth-mindset. The work and interest in the topic spread quickly with projects across Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union and some collaboration with the Johnson State College and the University of Vermont as well. Enosburg Falls High School embraced the work and created a new motto: "Encourage Effort, Honor Growth". The high school's work with growth mindset has led to a number of professional learning opportunities within the scope of the work, including two co-taught (Mike McRaith and 2015 Rowland Fellow-Gabrielle Marquette) Castleton University graduate courses: Increasing Student Achievement through Social Emotional Learning and Structures and Systems of Personalized Learning. These two courses have deeply enhanced the conversation in the Enosburg learning community as well pushing the conversation forward around the state as around 100 Vermont educators have taken the courses in the past year.

In 2015, I accepted the Montpelier High School Principal position. I am excited that Montpelier shares a strong interest in the value of social emotional learning and places an emphasis on school-wide learning expectations, or as the state refers to them, transferable skills. I look forward to continuing this work and collaborating with the Rowland Foundation for years to come.

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