Deb Byers

Position: Third Grade Teacher

School: Underhill ID School

School District: Mount Mansfield Modified Union School District/CESU

City, State: Jericho, Vermont

About the Nominee: Deb Byers was nominated by her principal, David Wells. For over 30 years, Mrs. Byers has put the students, families, and staff members first at Underhill ID School. She followed her mother, who she saw as her hero, into the field of education. Mrs. Byers started at Underhill ID School when it was a tiny five room school. At that time, it was her and the teaching principal who kept the school running without a secretary or any other help. Mrs. Byers is the kind of teacher who never stops learning. She spends her summers reviewing new curriculum and planning lessons for the upcoming school year. She has made a mark on the entire school district as a member of many professional committees, including literacy, math and health/wellness. Mrs. Byers shows strong leadership skills by organizing meetings, sharing knowledge and attending workshops to promote professional growth. She cares deeply about her colleagues and is the one to plan end of year events and acknowledge staff members who are leaving. She always has a personal story to share to let colleagues know how they make a difference at her school. Mrs. Byers always takes the time to help substitute teachers and new teachers. She will take extra recess or lunch duties to help others. She truly cares for her students and has attended many of their events, including wrestling matches, hockey games, 4th grade parties and birthday parties. Mrs. Byers takes the time to get to know all of her students; her favorite quote is: “they won't care to know until they know you care.” When former students come to bring their own children to Underhill ID, they always have fond memories to share with Mrs. Byers. She is retiring this year and is already talking about ways to volunteer at her school to stay connected with the community. Mrs. Byers has been an inspiration to the children of Underhill and Jericho since 1985. She has made a difference in their lives and continues to bring positive energy to the school community, each and every day. She is truly a LifeChanger!

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Amanda DeBisschop

Position: English Teacher

School: Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School

School District: Windham Central Supervisory Union

City, State: Townshend, Vermont

About the Nominee: Amanda DeBisschop was nominated by a colleague, Sarah Birgé. Ms. DeBisschop is one of those teachers who every student loves. She is committed to social justice, equality and creating a fair and rigorous classroom environment. Ms. DeBisschop makes sure that every student in her class knows that they matter and that they can rely on her for support. She brings modern and challenging texts into the classroom, revitalizing the 11th grade curriculum. She also teaches a co-curricular unit with a social studies teacher. Ms. DeBisschop is so beloved by the students that they dedicated last year's yearbook to her, a honor generally reserved for retiring or much older teachers.

In addition, Ms. DeBisschop is a leader among the other teachers in her school and community. She founded the Gay-Straight Alliance, which is the most well-attended club at her school. She is also the note-taker for the Community Council, a school decision-making body. Ms. DeBisschop consistently contributes to events and programs with a positive spirit. In short, her student-centered approach, care for everyone in the building and efforts to support other teachers make her a true LifeChanger.

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Jamie Kinnarney

Position: Principal School: Williamstown Elementary School

School District: Orange North Supervisory Union

City, State: Williamstown, Vermont

About the Nominee: Jamie Kinnarney was nominated by Sarah Launderville, the parent of several students.

Mr. Kinnarney is what every mom and dad dreams the principal of their child’s school will be: kind, smart, empathetic, energetic and understanding. He looks for opportunities that will benefit and challenge the students, staff and community. He has transformed the Williamstown Elementary School (WES) community in his four years as principal. One can see it in everything from the Blue Devil students' pride to their improving test scores.

As a principal, he is very responsive. He has given parents of the WES community the opportunity to be fully engaged in the school's culture. He is humble and probably does not consider himself as a LifeChanger, but anyone in the community will tell you, he is.

Mr. Kinnarney's nominator, Sarah Launderville, had her first conversation with him as she was signing up her twin daughters for Kindergarten and her son headed into Preschool. She had questions about some of the changes that he was implementing at WES. She listened to his vision of the school and felt more at ease about the changes. His transparency and dialogue allows for parents to be more engaged in their children's lives at school.

Over the years, Mr. Kinnarney has continued this transparency by reporting on test scores, putting out a monthly newsletter and working hand in hand with the PTA to offer monthly community nights for parents and a Community Resource Fair at the first open house of the school year annually.

Some accomplishments his leadership has brought to the school include: -WES being named a Vermont Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (VTPBiS) “Exemplar School.” VTPBiS is a framework for preventing and responding to problem behavior within a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS). -Implementing mindfulness approaches in the classroom -Leadership of engaging the 5th Grade Capstone Project which engages 5th graders in their community. -Monthly "Cafeteria Throw Down" competitions between Mr. Kinnarney and former WES Chef Anne Finegan. The students get to try a dish and vote on whose they like better. These competitions have been featured on WCAX, and the winner receives the "Golden Spoon" for the month. -Rising test scores and specific interventions for students to excel -After-school and summer programming such as an “academic booster camp” -A before-school athletics/activities program

He has embraced social media as a form of reaching out to the community about activities at WES. As a parent who works outside the home, Ms. Launderville is able to check out what is happening at school and stay connected to her children during the day. Her mother, who lives far away from the rest of the family, is also able to access this information and is able to stay connected to her grandchildren. She always says that she is impressed with how engaged Mr. Kinnarney is with the students.

Finally, it is important to highlight that students and families in the Williamstown community have faced their share of challenges. These challenges include experiencing trauma at an early age and financial difficulties at home. Mr. Kinnarney understands how these issues effect learning, retaining information and participation. He is a leader in the effort to make WES more accessible to all by holding events that allow for diverse engagement in the community. He understands and has worked to create policies, procedures and activities that are more inclusive and understanding of the needs of all community members.

Mr. Kinnarney alone has not made all of this happen; the entire WES team makes all of these amazing things possible, and it is an incredible team. His ability to make things happen, however, by encouraging the leadership and participation skills of those around him is one of the many qualities of a LifeChanger that he possesses

The children at WES learn to have pride in their school and community through the “blue devil way” of being respectful, responsible and safe learners. Through Mr. Kinnarney’s leadership, students at WES are a shining example that give members of the community, including Ms. Launderville, pride to see what they are able to accomplish now and excitement to see what they accomplish in the future.

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Jody Emerson

Position: Assistant Principal School: U-32 Middle & High School

School District: Washington Central Supervisory Union

City, State: Montpelier, Vermont

About the Nominee: Jody Emerson was nominated by the parent of a student, Stephanie Croteau.

Jody Emerson is everything that a middle and high school assistant principal should be! She has the right balance of love, understanding and toughness that it takes to work with such a wide range of ages and personalities. Her nominator, Stephanie Croteau, had a positive experience with Principal Emerson when her oldest child was struggling with school at the end of their junior year. From day one, Principal Emerson was on top of the situation; she met and communicated with Mrs. Croteau and her husband several times. Principal Emerson acted quickly and helped Mrs. Croteau's family through an extremely difficult time, especially with getting her child back on track. Mrs. Croteau says that without Principal Emerson, this success story could have had a much different ending. At U-32, she was the rock for this family. Principal Emerson can take a difficult situation for a family, break it down so that it doesn't seem so overwhelming and be there with them every step of the way. She is a fantastic principal who has not only helped Mrs. Croteau's family, but many other families, through happy and difficult times alike!

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