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What Works to Improve Middle & High Schools

TASS School Stories – Part 1

On a snowy afternoon in February school administrators shared compelling stories relating their experiences in working toward improving their schools in partnership with TASS, Teaching All Secondary Students. TASS is the VT-HEC program that supports middle and high schools with a tailored array of coaching and learning opportunities. Each administrator in their own way confirmed the TASS belief in the Michael Fullan statement about school improvement:

“The main problem with educational systems and corresponding innovation and policy making is that they are, intrinsically, endemically, inevitably, overloaded and fragmented. Therefore, the main solutions have to be ones that contribute to coherence making and connectedness.” Michael Fullan

Peoples Academy – Otho Thompson
  • Otho Thompson who was principal of People Academy when TASS first worked with Peoples told a story of a school that had pockets of excellence, had started many initiatives but had not changed the center of the school.  He credited TASS with getting the content teachers on board and getting the whole school moving in the same direction.
  • Otho told of being stopped in the hallway by a student he was very familiar with because of his many visits to the office.  The student asked “Has there been some kind of meeting or something?  Every class I go into I hear the same story; what’s going on?”  What was going on was that the whole staff had been involved in an introduction to the principles of neuroscience, were being supported to apply them in their classrooms and 27 of the staff were in working in the TASS I Masters program being delivered right there in Peoples.
Danville & Harwood HS – Amy Rex
  • Amy Rex who has had experience with TASS as principal of both Danville and Harwood told about the dramatic differences between the two schools and the needs of the staff. The Danville staff had not had positive experiences with professional development or initiatives that had stuck.  They rarely worked together and were very hesitant about buying into a new effort.
  •   The initial presentations by Bill Rich and Chris Jernstedt began to change that right away as every staff member could relate to how the brain learns and what that meant to their own practice.   Meanwhile, the TASS leadership consultant, Dot Blake, worked to form a leadership team for the first time at the school.  By the time Amy left to go to Harwood that team was humming and teachers were working together with Bill to implement a school-wide writing rubric.
  • Amy characterized Harwood’s needs as very different as they had a lot of positive things going on already but had teachers that really needed the support of a coach that could help them improve their classroom practice.  With Bill Rich working with a cohort of teachers and Val Gardner working with the administrators to address system issues, Amy noted how effective TASS was in addressing the very different needs in the two schools.
  • Rather than having one program to sell regardless of the direction and status of the school, TASS was able to tailor the program to the needs and goals of each school in a comprehensive way, addressing the needs of the teachers, leaders and the system.



For more information about the TASS program, the services it can provide and the findings of its eight years of experience in Vermont schools, go to our web site at or contact Seth Marineau at [email protected]

Dennis has been the Director of the the VT-HEC since it was founded in 2000. He spent 16 years at the VT-DOE as Director of teams with various names that included: special education, Title I, health and wellness and other family and education support services. Prior to that Dennis worked at the Barre Town School (VT) starting as a special educator and serving many years as the Director of Student Support Services. He also spent 6 years as a classroom teacher grades 5-8 in NJ.

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