Rutland High School has a new leader who is a familiar face taking the school in an unfamiliar direction as administrators, faculty and staff prepare to resume in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year.
Greg Schillinger, who had been an assistant principal at Rutland High School (RHS) since 2014, became the school’s new principal as of July 1.
The position was open after Bill Olsen, who had been principal for more then 10 years, was hired as superintendent for Rutland City Public Schools, after Dave Wolk finished a one-year interim term.
Asked how he sees the local high school aside from changes required by the pandemic, Schillinger said “Rutland High School is in a really good position.”
“We are a really strong school that is offering opportunities to students that are really some outstanding opportunities,” he said.
Schillinger described the school’s position as having “the right people on the bus” when describing the educators at the school. Also, he noted the students at the school were leaders for social justice causes who pursued those interests beyond just the Rutland High School campus.
In the future, Schillinger said he would like to expand on ways to “incorporate more student voices.” He said he believed students could have a greater influence on the life of the school.
“It has long been the case that we have encouraged our students to take action. ‘Do your homework. Understand the topic. If there’s a change you want to see, work for that change,’” he said.
Schillinger said he would like to give students more opportunities to “personalize” their education at the high school. He pointed to existing programs at the high school such as global studies and the STEM concentration, along with the senior capstone project, so juniors and seniors have something that is similar to a college major in allowing a student to pursue education according to his or her interests and goals.
Before taking a position at Rutland, Schillinger was a principal at Woodstock which allowed him to become a “very accomplished leader,” according to Olsen.
“His years at Rutland High School added great value to the growth of the school. Certainly, a good deal of the success of that learning community is directly attributable to Greg’s contributions,” he said.
Olsen pointed out as well that Schillinger has four children of his own who went through RHS. He said Schillinger had become “fully engaged” with the community and especially its students.
“He is one of those school leaders who serves and who simply enjoys young people. We in Rutland are fortunate to be able to work with such a devoted educator,” Olsen added.
But Schillinger must now use that experience to lead students, staff and families back to school. After a declaration of a state of emergency in Vermont in March, Gov. Phil Scott ordered students out of schools and directed educators to provide remote learning in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Many states are trying to develop school reopening plans or decide whether the change can be made safely but in Vermont, where COVID seems to be under control, the state and public schools continue to plan for a Sept. 8 opening.
Asked what he would tell families in Rutland about trusting their children to the high school, Schillinger said he and many people at the high school were also parents who understood the concern.
“We’re all feeling exactly the same way. We want out students to be here. What we want more than that is, we want our students to be safe,” he said.
Schillinger said the effort was “humbling” but “also exciting.”
“The community of Rutland, and I think this is embodied in the high school and all of the Rutland City Schools, our attitude is, ‘Whatever that challenge is … we’ll figure it out.’ There’s no sense of panic. There’s no sense of wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s a tough one. … Let’s get to work,’” he said.
Schillinger said he had not seen any signs that teachers or staff were planning to leave the high school out of fear of exposure to the virus.
The current plan is to give families some options about remote and face-to-face instruction. Some classes will meet in-person some days and remotely on others. A tent, similar to those used to host outdoor weddings, has been purchased for the high school as a way of expanding the space available for classes in a way that would allow for sufficient social distancing space.
Schillinger said on any given day, there would be 40% to 50% fewer students in the building.
Meetings with faculty are taking place every two weeks and on the other weeks, Schillinger meets with the leaders of the various school departments so plans for safe reopening can be made.
“Even though it’s the summer, we’ve really tried to keep those lines of communication wide open,” he said.
Schillinger pointed out that in-person education was also important because it would serve the developmental, social and emotional needs of young students who are coming into the high school experience for the first time.
Schillinger takes the position as principal after getting some recognition for his work at RHS. Last year, he was named assistant principal for the year in Vermont by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and one of three finalists for the national award.
In 2018, he was chosen as the Vermont Assistant Principal of the Year by the Vermont Principals’ Association.