B y Derek Liebig
Elizabeth Legault will unveil her vision this week for the Whitehall School Central District and increasing student achievement is near the top of her list.
Legault, who became the district’s newest superintendent in December, said her goal isn’t only to have more students complete high school, but to do so with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and their careers.
“We are going to set the bar at a high level,” said Legault, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field of education. “We need to raise student achievement and we need to increase our graduation rate. I want every student that starts here to finish here.”
To achieve those goals, Legault said she wants to foster an environment that results in a “student centered, teacher focused district,” in which teachers have the support and programs in place that allow students to excel.
A piece of that is developing a curriculum that encompasses the more rigorous Common Core standards.
Legault she is developing a new faculty schedule that allows teachers to collaborate and work with each other to develop a viable curriculum.
“We need to make sure the teachers have the proper support and professional development and tools they need to help students excel,” Legault said.
She also wants to develop a high school curriculum steeped in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“We need to produce students that are ready for the 21st century and have 21st century skills.”
Legault, who implemented a STEM program at a previous school she worked at in Rhode Island, conceded the infrastructure may not be in place for such a program at present, but the potential is there.
“We have the capacity to build it, we just need the scaffold to come together,” she said.
Despite popular perception, Legault said there were several positive indicators that students in the district have already begun making progress academically. Approximately 62 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of seventh graders in the district are reading at or above their expected level. And according to attendance records, students aren’t missing school. The attendance rate at the high school is just under 95 percent and that figure is even higher at the elementary school.
Even so, Legault said the district is taking strides to increase those numbers even further and has installed an automated phone messaging system that informs parents if a child doesn’t show up at school.
And once the students are at school, Legault intends to keep them there.
“We need to decrease our suspension rate,” she said, adding that it doesn’t do the students any good to miss school.
The district plans to hire three behavioral specialists—one at the elementary school and two at the high school—that will work with students who are having discipline problems.
“We don’t want to be heavy handed, we want to be a helping hand,” Legault said. “We all make mistakes. But when we fall off the bike, we have to get back and keep riding. You keep working so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Students who misbehave will be removed from class and the behavior specialists will work with students to correct the problem before they return to class.
The specialists, which are part of a pilot program, are expected to be in place sometime next month.
Legault, who has met personally with a number of high school students and discussed their expectations for the district, and visited each of the classrooms in the elementary school last week, will meet with the entire faculty this week and discuss her vision for the district.
Using an analogy of a railroad, Legault said “We’re at the end of the line here in Whitehall. We’re looking at Fort Ann and Hudson Falls; we’re the caboose and we’re being pulled. It’s time we turned the train around and were in the lead.”