It’s been 20 years since David Wolk sat in his old job and his return will bring some changes to schools and to the district, including moving Rutland Middle School Principal Deb Hathaway to the administrative building for a support staff role and moving math teacher Pati Beaumont into the principal’s office.
Hathaway has accepted a position as grant writer and project manager at the district, as which Wolk said she’ll be instrumental in analyzing data and exploring new opportunities for programs, funding and project development.
“(She has) served as principal in two elementary and middle schools for a total of more than 15 years,” Wolk said of Beaumont in a letter sent home to parents Friday. “Her background in leading for academic excellence, in a team problem-solving format, will benefit Rutland Middle School.”
And now, Wolk is settling into his once and future role, getting to know the systems, learn the ropes and understand the challenges facing youth in Rutland.
“At first, my heart said yes and my head said no,” Wolk said of accepting the position. “But it was hard to resist the temptation to come back and try to make a difference. ... The challenges, which turn in opportunities, are greater than they were 20 years ago.” Former superintendent, commissioner of Education, senator, teacher, principal and president of Castleton University, Wolk said coming back to his old job and meeting all of the new educators was a warm return to a profession his heart never left: education.
“One of the teachers at the middle school said, ‘I remember you from high school, right?” That was 40 years ago. … One of the benefits of doing this for 45 years is, one has the opportunity for educating not only the children, but grandchildren of former students. That really warms my heart.”
Wolk said in all his years of experience guiding the students of Rutland County and at Castleton, he came to understand that the health and well-being of the student body — their creativity, their educational successes and failures, and their ability to grow past some of the most difficult years of their life with hope for the future, often provided a mirror into the greater population that the schools serve. Rutland has a history of deriving hope from its strong academic structures, scoring high district-wise when compared to the state, but Wolk said now, at the helm of the ship, he can more clearly see the road ahead for Rutland’s students and teachers.
“Children might be in poverty and affected by parents or those around them who are using and abusing drugs,” Wolk said. “I think there’s an element as a result of that, an element of behavior challenges that are there now that weren’t pronounced 20 years ago. The key is to help children as they are.” As a result, many educators then become surrogate parents while at school, a shift he said is happening all across the state and region, he said.
But forcing a child to adhere to learning systems when they’re undergoing stressors and situations that render them unable to adjust to certain methods and succeed in their education is, therefore, not a path Wolk said he plans to take.
“You have to meet their needs,” Wolk said. “Some children may do better with hands-on learning, small group learning, and some have psychological needs that deserve to be addressed by the school. At the same time, you need an education that’s stimulating in the schools, and teachers that are passionate and dedicated.”
Fortunately, Rutland is well-stocked with passionate and well-rounded staff and educators, Wolk said, and in the last month of going around to visit every teacher, custodian, educator and staff member, became continuously more inspired by their well-rounded methods and empathy.
“When you’re a teacher, you change lives,” Wolk said. “You become an educator because you want to be transformational.”
Wolk said he planned to secure a safe, orderly, disciplinary environment, as he knows disrespectful and disruptive behavior has no place in the classroom or the school. He plans to take an empathetic approach to understanding the internal needs of those students. “Children who act like that often don’t mean to be that way,” Wolk said. “It’s often a reflection of other aspects of their lives.”
To remedy some of the issues plaguing today’s youth, Wolk argued for the implementation of alternative programs to serve students who aren’t thriving in a traditional school environment. “We’re expanding the Allen Street Campus,” Wolk said. “We’re going to start looking at more hands-on learning, outdoor programs, project adventure — and off-campus programs that will meet their needs.”
Wolk said they’re hoping to collaborate with the MINT Makerspace during daylight hours and the possible transition of Stafford Tech students who may thrive in that type of environment, still working toward their diploma with the help of the shop.
Already, Wolk said they’re working on assigning and reassigning extra help where it’s needed, and have moved several students to the Allen Street Campus, and coming up with more nontraditional settings for the district’s students.
But one of his favorite places to be, Wolk said, is the new campus at 77 Grove St., as some of the staff members there have familiar faces, including educator TJ Moran, one of his former students.