BY MAT CLOUSER
RUTLAND — The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many problems to Vermonters, Americans, and the world. Beyond the tragic deaths of nearly 6.5 million people and the medical professionals who’ve faced that reality every day, there is perhaps no segment of the population that has suffered more than the children who have seen the brightness of their childhoods darkened by the specter of disease, uncertainty, and the real-time fissuring of a society in which many have been taught to trust implicitly.
Theirs is a collective trauma that we cannot yet begin to understand. As for society, of course, it stands no chance without healthy children who are inspired and invested in its future—a future that can sometimes seem terrifying even to the most stoic adults, regardless of their feelings about why.
New Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union (RNESU) Superintendent Dr. Kristin Hubert knows this all too well but remains steadfast in her and RNESU’s ability to adapt and overcome. “There have been a lot of negatives regarding the pandemic—we don’t want to do long-term school closures ever again,” she said in a recent conversation with The Reporter.
“That being said, we definitely—as a school system, a state, and a profession—learned a lot,” she continued. “There are some promising practices that [we] got good at because of remote learning and long-term closures. For instance, we can have meetings [with all teachers] once a month without requiring anyone to travel because we’ve gotten much better at virtual meetings.”
Dr. Hubert, who took over officially from Jeanné Collins on July 1, has worked as RNESU’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for the past three years. She has an extensive career as an administrator and educator, including as an elementary principal for 13 years in Rutland and Arlington and as an elementary teacher in Fair Haven—and was named the National Distinguished Elementary Principal in 2016.
Teaching remains a passion for Dr. Hubert, who has maintained a part-time position at Castleton University in the principal–prep program. In addition to her local school work, she has served on several state-level committees, including the Vermont Principal Association, the Vermont Equity Practitioners Network, the Vermont Equity Advisory Group, and the Vermont Curriculum Leaders Advisory Board.
Additionally, Dr. Hubert has a bachelor of arts degree in English and elementary education from the University of Vermont, a masters of art degree in educational leadership from Castleton University, and an educational doctorate in curriculum, teaching, learning, and leading from Northeastern University.
“We are very excited that Kristin will be our next superintendent. She has done a phenomenal job of leading our curriculum and assessment program for the past three years, particularly during COVID and the switch to remote learning. She is familiar with our communities and our staff and students and will bring continued stability to our district as we continue to evolve in our focus on student achievement,” said RNESU Board Chair Laurie Bertrand in a March RNESU.org post officially recognizing Dr. Hubert’s promotion in March.
As part of that evolution, Hubert knows there will be challenges. Among them, she lists staffing shortages as one of the biggest hurdles—a hurdle she points out that affects schools and businesses nationwide. “When you have shortages like that, there’s this domino effect,” she said.
“We’re really hopeful for this school year,” she continued, “but we know that people are going to get sick. Even if [teachers and staff] aren’t sick, their kids might be sick… they might need to be home to care for their own kid. Substitute coverage and staffing continue to be a focus and a need for most school systems….”
Hubert also listed high turnover rates as a major issue to contend with. “We have a lot of new teachers and non-licensed staff,” she said. “That means we have to focus on mentoring and making sure that people are acclimated to our school community—making sure that people feel supported and want to stay.”
According to Hubert, the state is taking new measures to address the need for new teachers. “The Agency of Education is trying to figure out non-traditional ways to licensure, she said. They’re doing everything they can to get teachers in front of kids.
But teachers aren’t the only ones having a problem sticking around. “Rutland county had the highest truancy numbers in the state last year,” said Hubert. “We want to prioritize wellness and student health, but we also want to prioritize getting kids back in school. That’s part of why we’re focusing on personalization and engagement—we want kids in school.”
“When we think about wellness and organizational wellness, we focus on academic achievement and safe and healthy schools—which is our physical safety and physical wellness, but it’s also our social and emotional wellness,” she continued, discussing part of her plan to address student engagement.”
“We’re really hoping to give students voice and agency,” she continued, “helping them lead the way because a lot of times there are well-intentioned adults who don’t necessarily understand the student experience.”
A part of that involves RNESU’s focus on equity, which Hubert describes as a supervisory focus that predates her involvement with the union by a wide margin. “Equity and the experiences that we provide for our students—long before I started at RNESU— has been a value of the school system.”
Hubert described equity by means of an analogy. “All kids have shoes but do all kids have shoes that fit them?” she said. “[It’s not] do all students have the same thing but do all students have what they need to be successful?”
According to Hubert, the pandemic has exacerbated problems for the historically disadvantaged, such as children with disabilities or those living in poverty. “This year, we’re really going to work to address some of those things, but also, it’s about awareness and a common language for all of our staff,” she said.
Hubert says the union employs equity coaches and has an equity committee that’s made up of students, teachers, administrators, and people from the community at large, and that the future equity work will be less at the supervisory level and more of a “groundswell” from the individual schools so that the student perspectives can be more specific to each building’s needs. “Student groups there can work with the equity coach and the principals to be driving a lot of the work,” she said.
“I’m new to the superintendence, but I’m not new to the system,” said Hubert. “I’m certainly not new to Vermont schools. I think this year, we’re doing a lot of reflecting so that we can move forward. We have a lot of new administrators and a lot of new teachers.”
“It’s not about disparaging or scrapping what happened in the last couple of years or even in the last decade,” she continued. “It’s how do we, as a profession, reflect on what’s worked and what our challenges are so that we can keep moving forward… that’s the theme in a lot of Vermont schools.”
“[In the past] no one went to school to learn how to teach kids and lead them through a pandemic,” she added. “So, the last couple years have been tough, not just on students and families but also on educators… Collective efficacy is critical to what we do—that belief that we don’t do it alone.”