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Profile                                                                Page 47

 

Invested in Community Connectedness

 

BY SARAH E. CARR

 ProfilePinckney
Elaine Pinckney

When Elaine Pinckney took over as superintendent of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, the school system lacked a sense of unity. Its five schools, spread across five different towns in northwestern Vermont, had different needs and demographics. Some enrolled enough low-income students to qualify for Title 1, while others served communities with the highest per-capita income in the state.

On the governance level, six distinct boards oversaw the five schools, rarely contributing to collaboration, even though their students ultimately landed at a common high school that is part of Pinckney’s district. “Everybody was so independent — almost competitive,” Pinckney says. She set about to change that.

Seven years into her superintendency, one of Pinckney’s greatest accomplishments has been to bring greater cohesion to the 4,300-student system. She encouraged the multiple boards to meet on a common day and at a common place each month for joint planning. She organized systemwide professional development programs for elementary school teachers, and she helped the schools develop a joint mission statement.

Such efforts are transforming the school system, says Corinna Hussey, a teacher at the Champlain Valley Union High School and president of the local teachers’ union. As a result of the joint professional development for teachers, students arrive at the high school with more comparable skills.

“She has set up systems that reinforced the sense that the schools aren’t islands or pillars unto themselves,” says Molly McClaskey, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Pinckney grew up in Canaan, Vt., a remote town of about 1,000 people in the state’s northeast corner, where her father ran a large logging operation. The oldest of six children, she was the first in her family to graduate from college. She majored in history at the University of Vermont and intended to work at a ski resort. But there was a small amount of snow the winter after graduation, so Pinckney took a job as a school substitute in her hometown, where she discovered she loved teaching.

Over the next decade, Pinckney worked her way up to a principalship at an elementary school in Morristown, Vt. When she had her first child in 1984, she returned to classroom teaching. While educators often point to the value of teaching before becoming an administrator, Pinckney believes the opposite also has merit.

“As a principal, you observe lots of good and bad teaching,” says Pinckney, the reigning Vermont Superintendent of the Year.

Having spent her entire life and career in Vermont, Pinckney says she fully appreciates the community connectedness in the state’s uniformly small towns. “I have always chosen to live in the community in which I work,” she says. “Many of my colleagues find that intrusive on their personal lives. I readily shop, eat, attend events at the very same venues as the people for whom I work.”

Pinckney connects easily to people from all walks of life, a distinct advantage in a socioeconomically diverse district where many residents abhor pretension. That personal quality has enabled the superintendent to accomplish what some thought impossible — bringing together a fractured school system.

“Her inherent understanding of the people she grew up with in rural Vermont has served her and the students well,” says McClaskey.

Sarah Carr is a New Orleans-based freelance writer and author of Hope Against Hope. E-mail: sarahelizcarr@gmail.com. Twitter: @sarah_e_carr

 

BIO STATS: ELAINE PINCKNEY

Currently: superintendent, Chittenden South Supervisory Union, Shelburne, Vt.

Previously: deputy commissioner of education, Vermont Agency of Education

Age: 65

Greatest influence on career: As an unemployed college graduate, I heard two college professors discuss what’s now known as proficiency-based learning. I was so stimulated with the progressive concepts, I decided then to pursue a career in education.

Best professional day: The first day of each school year. I do a walkabout in each school, spreading good cheer, wishing everyone an exceptionally good year.

Books at bedside: Leaders of Learning by Robert J. Marzano and Richard DuFour; Journey of the Universe by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker

Biggest blooper: In my first principalship, I organized a schoolwide “dress as your favorite book character” day. I dressed as Little Bo Peep, with dotted Swiss dress and big bow, blond, curly-haired wig and little black shoes. During the day, an incident required an emergency meeting with several parents. Imagine how foolish I felt in my little costume as I’m discussing serious matters.

Why I’m an AASA member: I see AASA as my national professional learning community. I depend on AASA for just-in-time information, in-depth looks at current topics and advocacy for public education.

 

 

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