Praise for principal, students past and present
By Josh O’Gorman
STAFF WRITER | April 15,2013
Here comes the part of my job when I get to thoroughly embarrass someone, not for doing something wrong but for doing something right.
Kristen Caliguiri has been named the Elementary Principal of the Year by the Vermont Principals’ Association. For the past six years, Kristen has been the principal out at Poultney Elementary School, and when I first met her Wednesday, her caginess tricked my journalist radar into thinking there might be a scandal here.
No scandal, just a very shy and humble person who went out of her way to share the credit with her teachers and fellow staff. So, if you see Kristen, be sure to congratulate her, but do it gently. And Kristen, take a breath and a bow. This is your moment in the sun; they come few and far between, so enjoy it.
Now that most school districts — sorry, Middletown Springs, Rutland Town and Springfield — have approved their budgets, school board meetings are typically less newsworthy than they are November through February. The Rutland City School Board offers slick, infomercial-ready presentations on such topics as the importance of physical education, presentations that usually leave me wishing I was playing team trivia at the Center Street Alley.
Usually, but not this past Tuesday, when teachers, staff and a past student gave a presentation on the Howe Center Campus, an alternative education program that’s part of Rutland High School. Since its formation in 1989, 500 students have graduated high school through this program, which offers greater structure but also a more customized education plan than mainstream students receive.
“I struggled through school. I always felt like I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” said Rutland resident Josh Knapp, who graduated from the program in 1999. Josh cited a number of hurdles to his education: learning disabilities, a speech impediment and the shyness and introversion that can result from such struggles.
“It was the last step for me. I would have dropped out otherwise,” Josh said of the Howe Center program. “Right off the bat, I was responsible for myself. My greatest fear was being sent back to the main campus, because I knew I would drop out if I went back.”
Knapp received individualized help and became the first member of his family to go to college. He graduated with an A.A. in liberal arts from Community College of Vermont. Today he is a successful salesman for a beverage distributor.
I wanted to highlight’s Josh’s story for a couple of reasons. First, I spent 2011 and 2012 working in a program in Northern California that taught high school to emotionally disturbed teens. Like Josh, for many of my students, this program was the last stop before expulsion and last chance at an education. We had around 10 students and I saw three of them graduate, with another two expected to graduate in May.
These students received high school diplomas. Not a certificate of attendance or a GED, but a diploma, the same diploma given to students who had not been part of this rigorously structured program. All of our students had undergone horrific trauma, usually at the hands of their families or foster parents, but one of the program’s themes was the idea that your past doesn’t have to rule your present. When these kids receive their diplomas, they are starting their adult lives with a clean slate. Their prospective employers, college admissions panels and military recruiters will not know they once had profound anger issues or experienced alcoholism and drug addiction. The diploma gives them a chance to shake off their mostly self-imposed stigma of dysfunction and failure.
I’m not saying that’s Josh’s story at all. I don’t know his story, and that’s kind of the point. Programs like the one at the Howe Center give students another chance, which is what some of them need and what every student deserves.
I also want to give Josh credit for being willing to talk to the board. For some people, fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death, and I think Josh is one of those people. But, he stepped up and did it anyway. Great job, Josh. You make your alma mater proud.
Going for the gold
I want you to cut out this next section and carry it around with you, so you have it on hand the next time someone complains about lazy and apathetic teenagers.
Six students at the Stafford Technical Center received top honors during the Presidential Volunteer Service Awards. To receive an award, students needed to log 100 hours of volunteer service in 2012 to receive a bronze medal; 175 hours gets the silver and 250 hours wins the gold.
All of the gold-level winners are enrolled in the Public Safety Services or the Forestry and Natural Resources programs. Nate Decker, a Poultney High School student, earned his gold medal through service to the Pawlet Fire Department and the Granville Rescue Squad in Granville, N.Y. Poultney High School students Tyler Manning and John Blanchard, and Mill River Union High School’s Roger Brown, spent many hours volunteering with the Middletown Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Rutland High School’s Justin Franklin, a member of the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department, also volunteered with the Rutland Recreation Department’s lacrosse program. Trisha Bush, a student from Mill River Union High School, is an active member of the Danby-Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department who has also volunteered through SADD and Upward Bound.
Now who was saying something negative about teenagers?
I’m a twit
I have joined the world of Twitter. Thursday, I tweeted the new proposed Rutland Town school budget before it appeared anywhere else, and that’s the sort of thing I’ll be doing during board meetings or when encountering anything that catches my interest. You can follow me @joshogormanrh. If you don’t know what Twitter is, Google it. If you don’t know what Google is, send me an email at email@example.com. If you don’t know what email is, come by the Herald office at 27 Wales St.