The coronavirus won’t stop us from learning growing sharing

As the coordinators of the New England Secondary School Consortium and the annual School Redesign in Action conference, it broke our hearts to cancel our largest gathering of educators from around the U.S. due to the coronavirus.

However, we are here today to share some of what would have been at that conference. Our goals are simple. First, we want to announce and recognize the 2020 Championsa group of noteworthy individuals and organizations from around New England who have had profound impacts over the last year.

We also want to share some of the exciting information, learning, and tools our senior associates and school coaches would’ve shared at the conference in the form of presentations. Why are we providing these sessions in digital form? Because it is thus preserved, and accessible when you’re ready for it; times now are busy and stressful, so we wanted to provide a venue of learning that is and will continue to be available at your convenience.

Thank you to all who registered for the School Redesign in Action conference. We were sorry not to see you in person, but are excited to share our knowledge, our resources, and our passion for educational equity.

Hello. My name is David Ruff and I’m the executive director at the Great Schools Partnership. One of our roles is to coordinate the New England Secondary School Consortium. And I’m proud to announce our 2020 Champions. In this time of great difficulty, we could easily be recognizing a great number of teachers, students, and parents and guardians who have embarked on new learning journeys using a variety of digital means. The transformation in learning across our country has been profound. I’m inspired by the many, many learning stories we are hearing across New England. And know that we will not only continue this work, but figure out ways to thrive. This reality underscores the incredible work of the 2020 Champions.

2020 NESSC

The Regional 2020 NESSC Champion is the Task Force on Diversifying the Educator Workforce.

Image of Jess DeCarolis

In October 2019, the New England Secondary Schools Consortium convened 40 classroom, school, district, university, community, professional organization, and state leaders from all six New England states to identify possible strategies and options our region needs to consider to ensure our students’ race and ethnicity is reflected in our teaching and administrator workforce. Over the course of six months, this group met virtually and in-person. They shared their deeply personal stories and perspectives, reviewed research, explored best practices, and developed an organizational framework and grounding principles outlined in a forthcoming report. Their recommendations call on leaders at all levels to engage in open conversations about race, acknowledge the harms our past action (and inaction) have caused, and create the conditions that will lead to a more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse educator workforce.

Image of Ventura Rodriguez


Accepting this award on behalf of the task force are its two co-chairs: Jess DeCarolis, Division Director at the Vermont Agency of Education, and Ventura Rodriguez, Senior Associate Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Jess and Ventura provided constant and steady leadership, ensured the task force’s work was enriched by the experiences and perspectives of its diverse members, and worked to create a safe space for members to speak their truth.

The Connecticut 2020 NESSC Champion is Caroline Gordon Messenger.

Image of Caroline Gordon Messenger

Caroline loves reading, learning, and believing in impossible things. She taught English and language arts for grades 6-12 for nearly 15 years before becoming the director of curriculum for Naugatuck Public Schools. She holds degrees in English from the University of Michigan, oral traditions from The Graduate Institute, and the sociology of education from Lancaster University in Lancaster, U.K. She also has completed coursework at Southern Connecticut State University and the University of Bridgeport. She is passionate about equity and providing learning experiences that all students can connect to on the deepest of levels. Lead by Caroline, her district has embraced competency-based learning, and has published their work with grade-level competencies, scoring guides, and report cards online to help educators across Connecticut, New England, and the country.

Image of Jariel Vergne

The Massachusetts 2020 NESSC Champion is Jariel Vergne.

Jariel, the wraparound manager with New Bedford Public Schools since August 2014, brings more than 14 years of experience working in urban educational communities through a “Whole Child, Family, and Community Framework.” Jariel has been a leader at both the school and district level throughout his career working previously as a school adjustment counselor with Brockton Public Schools and an assistant principal at Normandin Middle School in New Bedford. Since 2015, Jariel has led New Bedford’s family and community engagement work, and their Safe and Supportive School work including a multitude of wraparound initiatives.

Jariel has a practice of sharing what he has learned having been a presenter at the 2018 and 2019 School Redesign in Action Conference and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 2nd Annual Leading with Access and Equity Convening; he has also led work and trainings on cultural competency, equity, and systemic approaches in developing safe and supportive school initiatives with a community and historical contextual understanding.

The New Hampshire 2020 NESSC Champion is Machester Proud.

Machester ProudManchester Proud began as an ad-hoc gathering of local business and education leaders who wanted to better understand Manchester’s public schools and how they might partner with others to create opportunities for school improvement.

Today, Manchester Proud has become a community movement, united by their pride in Manchester and their shared commitment to the success of every student, and therefore, the entire community. Manchester Proud’s community-based approach brings together families, students, educators, and community members to shape and define priorities for student and family success and build in the accountability needed for effective implementation. This work includes partnering with the Manchester School District, its board, administration, principals, teachers, and staff in the development and implementation of a clear, comprehensive, and compelling plan for the future of their

The Rhode Island 2020 NESSC Champion is Simona Simpson-Thomas.

Image of Simona Simpson-Thomas

Simona Simpson-Thomas is the director of multiple pathways for the Providence Public School District. She is an invested, passionate, and innovative leader who believes that all children can learn and succeed. Her experiences as a classroom practitioner to a district-leader has allowed her to be an advocate for educational equity. She strongly believes in the power of student voice and remains a champion for providing personalized pathways to close opportunity gaps. Her efforts have allowed urban students to have increased access to dual enrollment, work-based learning and college and career opportunities. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Howard University and her master’s degree in teaching from Brown University. She is a wife and mother to her two sons, Liam and Eli Thomas.

The Vermont 2020 NESSC Champion is the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education.

Sue GeeThe Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE), founded in 1987, is the professional membership organization for schools that teach early adolescents, ages 10-15. The primary goal is the promotion of research-based, developmentally appropriate programs and practices. Board members are teachers, principals, and higher education faculty, dedicated to supporting middle level education.

Student-educator teams from schools across Vermont participate in the annual VAMLE conference, “Beyond Bullying: Creating a Culture of Respect in Learning Communities.” Partners in this endeavor include Special Olympics Vermont and A World of Difference Institute. Workshops, co-facilitated by students, are focused on strategies that schools can implement to prevent bullying and discrimination; and thereby, create a school that is welcoming to all students. Held at Champlain College, students from rural Vermont experience what it is like to go to college.

Michelle McEnernyMiddle School Is Not a Building, produced by stakeholders in 2009, identifies 10 goals for middle level programs and is now being updated with a digital, interactive format. As schools merge, mandated by the Legislature, the document provides essential guidance to teachers for assessing and maintaining middle level programs and practices, no matter where grades 5-8 are housed. Personalized learning, embedded in the updated edition, is a key element in guiding students in their goals beyond middle and high school.

VAMLE acknowledges and celebrates the leadership of Sue Gee, the executive director. Monica McEnerny, board president, will be accepting the Vermont State Champion Award on behalf of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education.

GSP Sessions from SRIA 2020

Below you will find blogs and tools from GSP presentations on data and equity, community engagement, the intersection between personalized- and proficiency-based learning, grading, and the inequities inherent in tracking our students. We know you’re all busy taking care of your students; that’s how it should be. This content will be here when you’re ready for it.

Wednesday, January 27

Discovery Session—
Elements of Effective Instruction: Fostering Student Engagement in Remote and Hybrid Learning

  • 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
  • Online Zoom Meeting

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