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State of Education: Martin on Investing in Teachers

04/16/10 5:55PM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) We wrap up this week's series of commentaries on education with some thoughts about investing in educators. Here's high school teacher, Mike Martin.

(Martin) Barry and Wendy Rowland live on a dairy farm in South Londonderry where the West River Creamery makes award-winning cheeses for restaurants and farmers' markets. Even though they still live part of the year in Massachusetts, the Rowlands are strongly connected to their local Vermont community and like to quietly help out their neighbors whenever they can. Barry has served on the Burr & Burton Academy Board of Trustees where the Rowlands have sponsored scholarships for students and greatly contributed to the school's media and technology capabilities. In fact, at last count, the Rowlands still hold the record for making the single biggest donation to a secondary school in the U.S.

And now through the Rowland Foundation, the Rowlands are making a difference for Vermont schools throughout the State. The Rowland Foundation is improving schools by investing directly in teachers. The Foundation awards fellowships to Vermont secondary school teachers who have ideas on how to improve their schools. The teachers develop proposals in coordination with their principals and receive a grant to design the project during a one-semester sabbatical. Then, during the second semester, they return to their regular teaching duties and start work immediately to implement their projects. In the following year, the Rowland Fellows work as mentors for the next class of Rowland Fellows.

I was fortunate enough to receive a Rowland Fellowship last year and it's been an incredible experience. The Rowland Foundation has been instrumental in helping my school take a new look at how we prepare students for the 21st Century, but the fellowship is also a vital investment in Vermont teachers in these turbulent times. Executive Director Charles Scranton told me that as a headmaster, many of the best ideas came to him from teachers. Now, through the Rowland Foundation he is providing a way to cultivate good teacher ideas statewide. Unlike many top-down initiatives in education, the Rowland Foundation works at the grassroots level by connecting directly with teachers.

At a time when teacher-bashing is all too common, the Rowland Foundation is a terrific vote of confidence for Vermont educators. The Fellowship challenges teachers to find solutions and then provides the means to create them.

In addition, the Rowland model creates a new network of teachers throughout the State who can share ideas. The 2009 Fellows have been using an online social network to share resources, plan school visits, and collaborate on our respective projects. And with each new incoming class of Rowland Fellows, this community of teachers will grow.

Commitment to community is strong in Vermont and we seem to especially value our school communities. It's important to note that, despite the tough economy, surprisingly few school budgets were voted down this spring. In the years to come, our schools will be undergoing some significant changes, but it's reassuring to know that our dedicated, innovative Vermont teachers are hard at work to make our schools even better

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