On Friday, Drew Gradinger (President, Vermont Independent Schools Association) and CJ Spirito (Head of School, Rock Point School) joined the Senate Education Committee to talk about their organization. Spirito introduced himself and spoke about the needs and gifts of the students he serves. He spoke about the significant impact on lives, alumni and families from his small student body.
“These are bright creative curious people who want to know why they don’t march in a straight line, because that is what you do in high school… We take those students and hear their voices, see who they are. We hold a mirror up to who they are so they can see it to,” he said.
He emphasized that when they leave the school, “they are on the beginnings of a trajectory to being contributing citizens and leading meaningful lives.” He continued on to describe the spectrum of care and learning that he believes independent and therapeutic schools provide.
Rock Point current serves kids on IEP’s and some students from Grand Isle who are on school choice.
Gradinger followed, saying that their organization is all about equity, academic and social. He described equality as “everybody gets a tee shirt, but equity is everybody gets a tee shirt that fits.” They seek educational opportunity that fits.
Senator Gulick asked for them to expand on what they mean by the term “non-discrimination”, is this in their charters and faculty agreements?
Spirito applauded the question and answered that, yes, it applies to both students and faculty. They have a clear on non-discrimination policy for all protected categories (sexuality, religion, etc.).
Senator Weeks asked about school safety with the population that many therapeutic schools serve. Gradinger said stereotypes about mental health are actually contrary to their experiences, with low student ratios and very close interaction levels these are mostly safe environments.
Gulick pointedly asked them to criticize other general education independent schools who act as public schools for their communities, who do not comply with EQS and other equity standards. She called it a schism and mentioned a VTDigger article about ethnic studies.
Gradinger opined that he has not enough experience with EQS standards to offer anything helpful. However, he mentioned that Sharon Academy pursued the EQS standards (there was testimony on this last week in House Education).
Campion mentions the Headmaster from St. Johnsbury Academy may know the answer and they should reach out to her.
Gradinger mentioned that where he lives is a choice town (Westminster) and they have the Compass School, which is an approved independent school. They develop resources and skills to build student’s confidence. Their small class sizes are a great fit for many of the students he works with. He continued on to say that options like Compass (independent schools) provide a track for educational fit. “That is the dream for me” he said.