News & updates

News & updates


Heather LawlerBraintree Welcomes Heather Lawler as New Principal

Braintree Elementary School welcomed Heather Lawler as its new principal July first. Heather replaces Pat Miller, who retired at the end of the most recent school year after serving as principal for the past nine years.

Heather brings more than twenty years’ teaching and administration experience to the role, having served most recently as Principal at Reading Elementary School in the Windsor Central School District. Prior to stepping into that role she was the associate principal at the Woodstock Union High and Middle School.

Originally from Western Massachusetts, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Southern New Hampshire University. From there she went immediately into teaching. She went on to earn a Masters degree in Education Technology from New Jersey City University; and another Masters in Educational Leadership from Montclair State University before moving into school leadership.

“My first position as an educator was at Immaculate Conception,” Heather said, “teaching ninth grade girls to love reading. The next year I moved to the Bergen County Academies, where I taught English and oversaw the Career Exploration program. The Bergen County Academies is a special place, and I felt especially fortunate to be part of a program that helped students think about what and who they want to be in life; and then connected them with programs, mentors, and resources to pursue those career interests. I also taught creative writing to fifth graders every summer which helped students build their skills as creative thinkers.”

Heather’s husband was in the Navy, so their early years were spent living in a variety of places from Bremerton, Washington to Groton, Connecticut. “But once we had a family” she said, “we decided to put down roots so they could remain in the same school system and grow up with friends. Our son graduated about four years ago, and that’s when we decided to move to Vermont.”

According to Heather, Vermont was attractive not only for its rural feel and friendliness, but also because of its focus on education. “Vermont is so far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of skills based learning and students truly understanding what they’ve been taught,” she said.

Last year, as an administrator with Windsor Central, Heather served on an Integrated Field Review committee, which reviewed the Orange Southwest School District. “I absolutely loved what I saw going on here,” she said, “and I learned a lot from my interactions with Pat (Miller), Erica (McLaughlin) and Superintendent Layne Millington. So when I saw the job opening here at Braintree I got really excited. I can’t tell you how sparked I was when I was offered the job.”

As Principal, she plans to focus on what she calls the “science of reading” - how young people learn to read - and retain what they read - in such a way that the words just flow from the pages to their brains. “I want fluency for every reader,” she said. “To be successful in middle school, in high school, in college, and in life, you first have to know how to read. That means instruction in both phonics and phonemic awareness so every student can decipher new words they come across rather than guessing words based on the pictures on the page. I saw many students who arrived at middle school without the ability to read fluently and they struggled. By that age, students who cannot read well have developed ways to fake it to get by, because for them, reading is not easy. Once a student can read any word they come across because they have learned to decode letters into sounds without needing pictures, reading becomes fun. Not knowing how to read well not only slows future learning, but it can lead to self-esteem issues as well. Elementary school is the ideal place to teach students both how to read, and how to enjoy reading.”

When she’s not in school, Heather enjoys kayaking on Silver Lake, hiking in the hills, cycling, and helping on her family’s small farm. “That means I like to tend the gardens and feed the chickens,” she said laughing. “The rest of the summer I’ll be preparing to welcome back our teachers and students. I’m so excited about the year ahead.”

Randolph Elem. Team Awarded For Work with Blind Student

Three-Member Team Recognized For Efforts

By Zoë Newmarco - Courtesy of The Herald, June 3, 2021

Like many preschool students, 4-year-old Wyatt Hallock loves reading, counting, and singing—but unlike most preschoolers, Wyatt can’t see, and so the efforts of school staff to support him are different than supporting many other students.

Those efforts, by the Randolph Elementary School staff and faculty who work most closely with Wyatt were recognized this spring, when a trio of educators were honored for their “outstanding visual support to a student with visual impairment” with an award from VABVI (the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired).

Named in the award were Hallock’s case manager Susan Lancy, his preschool teacher Abby McFadyen, and paraeducator Nate Schwartz.

VABVI’s Stephanie Bissonette, the director of child services and a teacher of the visually impaired explained that each VABVI teacher works with about 25 students and their schools. Of those, each teacher gets to select one school’s staff and/or faculty to receive the award, she explained. It’s unusual that the full team at a school receives the award, she said. But, she emphasized, Randolph Elementary’s support of Hallock was so outstanding that she wanted to be sure Schwartz, McFadyen, and Lancey were all recognized.

“The three of them really did a phenomenal job working together to make it as accessible as possible,” said Bissonette. She added that the team at Randolph Elementary has been excellent about communicating and collaborating with VABVI to support Wyatt. For example, she said, as the students got ready to graduate from preschool this year, McFadyen, Wyatt’s teacher, made sure to send Bissonette a copy of the award each student gets at the end of the year, so that Bissonette could make a Braille version for Wyatt.

Lancey, the case manager, explained that although she’s worked with visually impaired students in the district before, Wyatt is the only student she’s ever worked with in the district who is unable to see at all. Part of the school’s efforts have been to support Wyatt as he learns how to use a cane as he walks, she said.

She noted that despite the pandemic, some students, such as Wyatt, were able to be in the school four days a week to make sure they were receiving the supports they need, that can’t be provided remotely.

Receiving the Award
Lancey explained that both she and McFadyen were under the impression that just Schwartz would get the award.

While Schwartz was kept entirely in the dark, Bissonette coordinated with Mc- Fadyen and Lancey to find a time when all three of them would be there for an award ceremony.

When the time came, all three were surprised to learn they’d receive the award. With a small ceremony at the elementary school, Lancey, McFadyen, and Schwartz were each presented with a certificate designating them as “outstanding educators.”

Schwartz emphasized that although they don’t do the job for recognition, receiving the award was very touching. He added that because of his experience working with Wyatt, he’s decided to pursue a master’s degree in working with blind and visually impaired students.

“It was a huge gamble for the family to take that risk,” of sending Wyatt to school, said Schwartz. “I’m so happy that it’s paid off and that they’re happy with the job we’re doing.”

Of all three of the Randolph Elementary team, Schwartz works most closely with Wyatt, providing one-on-one support. When Wyatt goes to kindergarten next fall, Schwartz will continue to work with him a few days a week.

“To be honest, Wyatt’s the real star in my opinion,” said Schwartz. “He shows up every day and … he’s smiling. You’d think he’d have a really hard time with [things] like a chair that was in a different place the day before—things we don’t think about— but he’s just the sweetest, best-natured kid.”

Although last year Wyatt had gone to school for some services a few times a week, this year was the first time he was a full-time student four days a week. The shift to sending him to school was a hard one, said his mom, Steffani Hallock.

“I’m so used to fighting for that boy,” she said. A Facebook group for parents of blind and visually impaired children had warned her of “horrifying” experiences working with schools to develop individualized education programs (IEP). But as soon as she met with the superintendent and special education director, she felt better. Since that initial meeting last year, the team at Randolph Elementary have continually amazed her with the support of her son, she said.

During the first IEP meeting for Wyatt last fall, Hallock was particularly impressed by Schwartz’s willingness to advocate for her son.

And she added, Wyatt adores school, and especially spending time with Schwartz.

“I don’t think any staff deserve it more than these three! Of course, I’m biased,” she acknowledged with a laugh.

Expanded PreSchool Offered at all Elementary Schools

All three elementary schools in the Orange Southwest School District (OSSD) will offer expanded options for preschoolers beginning fall of 2021. The move is in direct response to the loss of these services over the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We saw a real drop in preschool enrollment during the 2020-21 school year,” said Braintree School principal Pat Miller, “which, of course, was not completely unexpected. But to help mitigate that lost experience for preschool aged children and their families, we’ve made the decision to significantly expand preschool options this coming fall.”

“Beginning this August,” Miller said, “any district student who is four years old by September 1 can attend preschool four days a week for a full school day - free of charge; and any three year old can attend for a half day, also free of charge. Families of three year olds can choose either the morning or afternoon session.”

According to Miller, all three elementary schools will be offering the same programming for the same hours.
“We are really excited to be able to offer this opportunity to families in our community,” Miller said. “Full day programming for four year olds has long been a goal of ours.”

There are currently openings at all three schools for both three and four year olds. Parents who are interested in enrolling their children in one of these programs are encouraged to contact Stephanie Reyes at Randolph Elementary School for registration paperwork. Stephanie can be reached at sreyes@orangesouthwest.org or 728-9555. 

Braintree Students Talk, Write About Earth Day

Four students from Braintree Elementary have written about Earth Day, and their essays are now posted on the website of VT Attorney General TJ Donovan.

Take a moment and read their thoughts on protecting our world and our beautiful state. Follow this link to the essays:  VT Attorney General Web Site

S'mitten With Reading a Success at Brookfield

Our annual reading challenge, ‘S’mitten With Reading’ was a success. On Monday, we had a whole school celebration with our first community circle outdoors since late fall.  Each teacher shared highlights from their classrooms. It was great to learn how our students expanded their knowledge, widened their areas of interest and broadened their reading choices to include nonfiction, poetry, series, and chapter books.

Afterwards, students enjoyed traveling through six different activity stations organized by Mr. Keenhold and Miss Aubrie.

The Brookfield School Club is once again providing the funds for each of our students to have a $6 ‘coupon’ towards the purchase of a personal book to keep for their very own.  Media Specialist Christine Gilbert shared copies of the Scholastic Books flyers appropriate for your child(ren) through the LMC Google Classrooms linked to the Learning Hub. 

In some cases, a student has expressed an interest in a book that is a little more than six dollars.  If that is the case for your child and you approve their selection, please send in the additional monies needed through your child’s “Home to School” folder.  Classroom teachers will collect the funds and then hand them over to me.  

All book choices will be finalized by April 15th so that the books will be here the week after our April school break. If you have any questions, please contact Christine at 276-3153.

Braintree Students Learn About - and In - the Great Outdoorspicture of an outdoor shelter

Outdoor learning is nothing new for students at Braintree School. They’ve been studying and working in outdoor classrooms for years. So when COVID-19 came along and schools throughout Vermont began moving classroom activities outside, Braintree Elementary was way ahead of the curve.

“There are so many exciting things happening at Braintree right now,” said Principal Pat Miller. “We have two completely different - permanent - outdoor classrooms being built, which will enhance our outdoor learning in so many ways. Thanks to a very generous grant of $15,000 which was written for us by The Arts Bus and donated by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous; and the efforts of two local people who have deep ties to the school, outdoor learning at Braintree will take a huge leap forward this fall.”

“Bethel musician and longtime volunteer Spencer Lewis is working with us to develop and build a classroom area made out of stone,” she said. “And Josh Axelrod, husband of Misse Axelrod, our Farm to School Coordinator, will be building a structure made out of trees from their farm with a metal roof and a fire pit in the center. He built one of these on his own farm and when I saw it, I thought ‘it’s beautiful - we have to have one at Braintree.’”

According to Miller, one of the two classrooms (Josh’s) is under construction now, with the other (Spencer’s) scheduled to get started soon.


Miller also noted that between the grant from the individual who wants to remain anonymous, Braintree’s Farm to School Grant, a small grant from Vermont Rise, and a grant from the Vermont Principals' Association, the two outdoor classrooms will be fully funded through grants. What’s more, she said, a number of teachers have developed their own areas outside this year and are using these spaces for instruction.

“We have at least four areas with stumps for children to sit on and some even have a fire pit so we can stay warm on chilly days,” she said. “It’s so gratifying to see the many ways our teachers make use of our beautiful surroundings to enhance learning for their students.”