By Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
Every year, the Snelling Center for Government offers professional development to school administrators through the Vermont School Leadership Project. This year, Charlotte Central School’s middle school co-principal Jen Roth is one of the participants.
Roth said the project has a dual focus on self and systems. She described the first part as a way to help participants bring their own priorities to their administrative roles. The second is taking information from many sources and using it to create strong, resilient systems. Participants meet for three-day intervals at Lake Morey, listening to presenters and attending workshops. In between sessions, they are given packets of information to review. Roth and her partner at the project, April Wortmann, an administrator at Addison Northeast School District, have been taking walks together to share the ways that they are using the information they’ve received through their training.
“I’ve been told I should be journaling through the process,” Roth said. “At the start of the journey, we talked about a goal of having 10 percent growth, but it’s hard to quantify that. There are days when I feel like I’ve lost 20 percent, and then the next day I might gain 30 percent. Journaling helps me capture the ‘aha’ moments.” Roth said she was looking forward to an upcoming session on identity, which would also cover diversity, equity and inclusion. “It’s about recognizing each individual for who they are and what they can contribute,” she said.
After Roth graduated from Trinity College in Burlington with a B.A. in Elementary Education and Teaching, she headed to the Midwest where she had relatives. “I had a young family and it was nice having that village to support the kids,” she said. Roth spent three years teaching at an Illinois school with a diverse, low socio-economic student body. “I just loved it,” she said. “Every single day you could see what a difference we were making in their lives.”
While teaching in Illinois, Roth got her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at Northern Illinois University. “I realized Vermont would also be a nice place to raise a family,” she said, “so we came back here.” Roth taught in Bristol and then Hinesburg, getting her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at St. Michael’s College and her administrator’s license.
This is Roth’s fifth year as co-principal in Charlotte. She shares the role with Stephanie Sumner. “We have a yin/yang partnership,” Roth said. “Being co-principals has so many advantages. It’s great to have someone to talk to and reflect with on how things play out.” Roth noted that since both women have children at home, they understand that family comes first and fill in for one another when needed.
When Roth was hired at the middle school, it was the only age group she had had no direct experience with. “My teaching experience was with at-risk youth K through 2, high school special education, and elementary school,” she said. “Middle school is something I’d never done before. When I started, I told (the students) that I was there to learn from them. I have climate and cultural awareness of how to bring a school together and a strong belief in students and building that efficacy together. Sometimes it’s nice to show up and not know everything.”
Two of Roth’s four children are adopted. “They have unique needs,” she said, “and they’ve given me a lot of knowledge about how we, as a school, need to think about each individual student and keep them engaged and empowered with flexible pathways.” As part of her goal to expand these pathways, Roth would like to tap into community expertise. “I have students who want to learn hands-on from experts, and Charlotte is rich in people and knowledge,” she said. “That holds a lot of the keys to how we can provide for our students.” Roth gave the example of a parent with technical expertise whose assistance to the teacher who runs the Lego robotics program has allowed the program to expand from eight students to 20.
A self-described “lazy gardener,” Roth loves to relax by the water or go out on the family’s boat, but her priorities are her children, including a daughter who just got engaged. A new puppy named Benson is also occupying her time, and she has found that the students at Charlotte Central School love reading to him. Roth’s office includes a shelf of sweets for those who visit. “I want people to come in and self-care,” she said. “I want my office to be a place where they can pause, reset and be present.”