Head’s Corner

School choice is another way of saying a community is committed to improving the lives of our students, cultivating compelling content, coaching expert pedagogy, and making our teachers the stars. The commitments course through every kind of schooling opportunity, including but not limited to our public schools, town academies, charter schools – and independent schools.

School choice is another way of saying we are dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and genuine mobility.  When a state’s population can choose which school to send a child, equitable education opportunity acquires real meaning.

School choice is another way of saying that learning is more than studying for a test and more than absorbing facts.  Education stokes personal and social growth – and great teachers ignite those fires.  There is reward in struggling and honor in being vulnerable.  Critical thinking, learning how to think, starts with thinking.

School choice is another way of saying distinct benefits arise when students invest in their human capital. School can be a laboratory of ideas and competencies – and the agency within choice can launch an informed journey and reflective practice.

School choice is another way of saying that the adults in a school community matter.  The most dependable pedagogical power is in the one-on-one relationship between teacher and student.  As the American Psychological Association states, “interpersonal relationships and communication are critical to both the teaching-learning process and the social-emotional development of students.”[1] We animatedly partner with the parents who choose us to raise and educate our children together.

School choice is another way of saying that we are committed to education based upon research and not political whims. For example, we recognize that students’ beliefs about mindset and grit influence their cognitive functioning and learning.  We appreciate that long-term knowledge depends on practice.  We know how to foster creativity.  We understand students learn more when they are intrinsically motivated.[2]  When students choose to be with us, we can, in turn, set high expectations that propel students’ opportunities, motivation, and learning outcomes.

School choice is another way of saying that we offer integrative advising and are committed to fostering a holistic student experience where every student belongs.  You elected to join us, and we fully invest in you.  We will not rest until we have done everything for everyone in our community to flourish.

School choice is another way of saying that as a collective universe of Vermont schools, we will not write off any child. At Long Trail School, we employ two full-time special services professionals, welcome students with IEPs and 504s, and become home for a wide range of students.

School choice is another way of saying you can learn values, love values, and live values.  Learning expands through service to the community writ large.  At Long Trail School, our IB Diploma students all develop, shepherd and present Creativity, Action, and Service, or CAS projects as part of the Diploma Programme.[3] This ethos runs throughout our school, from Grade 6 onward.

School choice is another way of saying that a rising tide lifts all ships. In higher education, intense competition has birthed an ecosystem of colleges, of different kinds, emphases, and selectivity, which attracts students the world over.  School choice brings that economic wisdom to K-12 education. The country that put a man on the moon fifty years ago ought to be able to motivate all actors – including our companion public schools – to move to the most compelling teaching and learning. Real accountability arises from a relationship, the provider’s responsibility to provide a service or meet goals, assessment of performance, and consequences.  In Vermont, because of school choice, LTS is accountable to that market for great schools. If we do not deliver on our promises and continuously improve, we would lose students. Market accountability prompts us as educators to morph from manager to entrepreneur. This dynamic forces us within a school to allocate and leverage our resources creatively.[4]

Today is not about specific legislation.  We leave that to all Vermonters and our elected representatives. Instead, today we celebrate freedom and unity in the state that lives by that motto.

Do you remember “The Lady, or the Tiger?” a much-anthologized short story by Frank Stockton, which our Long Trail School 9th graders analyze?[5]  Published in 1882, it is the quintessential literary example of an indefinite resolution. It remains up to the reader to determine which door is opened at the story’s end. The story’s narrator indeed redirects the reader’s attention to the characters of the story, not their outcomes. This is like the Vermont school choice model, which empowers the student to select the outcome, which door is opened.

One point of emphasis at Long Trail School shows how freedom and unity – and accountability – coalesce.  While this is not an official statistic, at LTS we likely devote more attention per capita to college guidance than any similarly situated school.  Our dedicated resources include an accomplished full-time college guidance counselor.  When students and families choose Long Trail School, the family is making a profound statement about college.

You may be concerned about rural, working-class students remaining stuck in a quagmire of no college degree and underemployment even after graduating from a top high school like ours.  Rural students undermatch at a higher rate than their national peers.[6] Undermatching occurs when a student does not go to a college as academically competitive as he or she is qualified to attend.  Students who undermatch are less likely to graduate college and will earn less afterward.[7] Beyond the benefits accruing to the individual, increased access by rural students to higher education is a public good:  this nation needs to invoke its full capacity of educated workers to remain competitive in a global economy.

A full-time college guidance counselor can become the locus of reducing undermatching.  The college guidance counselor provides information about which colleges match and fit.  Students whom the college guidance counselor steers to advanced science and math classes are more likely to go to a match college. The college guidance counselor can also render financial aid accessible.  Often, rural students and families look at the list price of a college and deem it out of reach, without appreciating the deep discounting that takes place.  A college counselor could explain the FAFSA financial aid forms and organize an event, at a time when working people can attend, in which a finance professional helps the families fill out the forms.

More generally, a counselor can empower the student and family by addressing their range of social, cultural, financial, and medical concerns.  One practical worry is what will happen if the student leaves the farm.  Or the student may be concerned about becoming Tom Wolfe’s Charlotte Simmons at DuPont University, overwhelmed by the social gulf on campus with wealthier, urban classmates.[8]  Creating a culture of college attainment is an intense retail process, family by family, and student by student. This past year, for example, to increase the exposure and visibility of college-going, we added on a college visit at all of our fall trips for all of our students, beginning in sixth grade.  Interspersed with the fun activities is some activity on a college campus.

The research shows that everyday time with a guidance counselor reduces undermatching.[9]  But in a typical school that serves rural students, the lone guidance professional spends most of his or her time with the social, emotional, and relationship issues that all high school students struggle with.  That does not happen at Long Trail School because of our investment in college guidance – and our students and families opt for that approach.

Kobe Bryant speaks to us today.  He once reflected as follows:

“When you make a choice and say, ‘Come hell or high water, I am going to be this,’ then you should not be surprised when you are that. It should not be something that is intoxicating or out of character because you have seen this moment for so long that … when that moment comes, of course it is here because it has been here the whole time, because it has been [in your mind] the whole time.”

Source: Kobe Bryant’s Muse (Showtime 2015)

Let’s articulate what school choice means – for the legislators here and anyone else who cares about how we learn and teach.  To address our current global challenges and to repair the world, we need to invoke everyone’s potential.  Your advocacy of school choice brings the promise of tomorrow closer.  Our Vermont students walk into our school every day, surrounded by social and financial barriers.  By empowering a student to make a living, make a life, and make a difference, you would be making a difference, too, in a virtuous cycle of meaning.

/s/ Seth Linfield

Head of School

[1] American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK–12 Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf

[2] American Psychological Association, supra.

[3] https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/creativity-activity-and-service/

[4] See Firestone, W. A., & Shipps, D. (2005). How do leaders interpret conflicting accountabilities to improve student learning? In W. A. Firestone & C. Riehl (Eds.), A new agenda for research in educational leadership (pp. 81–91). New York: Teachers College Press.

[5] Frank Stockton. The lady, or the tiger?: and other stories (HardPress 2012).

[6] See, e.g., Smith, J., Pender, M., & Howell, J. (2013). The full extent of student-college academic undermatch. Economics of Education Review, 32, 247-261.

[7] See, e.g., Ovink, S., Kalogrides, D., Nanney, M., & Delaney, P. (2018). College Match and Undermatch: Assessing Student Preferences, College Proximity, and Inequality in Post-College Outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 59(5), 553-590.

[8] Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

[9] Belasco, A., & Trivette, M. (2015). Aiming Low: Estimating the Scope and Predictors of Postsecondary Undermatch. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(2), 233-263. doi:10.1080/00221546.2015.11777363


Long Trail School

Dorset, Vermont

Long Trail School

Dorset, Vermont