“I’ve learned a ton” : Jody Emerson on her first year at Barre Tech

This article was written my Evie Moore, a senior at U-32 who has been a huge part of our school Chronicle. Thank you.


Jody Emerson’s day at her new job begins as it used to at U32. She stands at the door of the Central Vermont Career Center in Barre and welcomes everyone as they come into the building. She has fewer students here, so the greetings feel personal.


In her new role as the Director of CVCC, she visits classrooms like before, but now she gets to visit workshops and salons, and even judges food competitions. She stands with the food staff and greets these same students as they take their break in the cafeteria. 


Emerson’s time at U-32 is celebrated for many reasons, one being that she brought restorative practices to the school. She has only continued to broaden her horizon over at CVCC, where she works with a new group of students to help them build careers.



How does your new job differ from your old job at U-32?


My primary responsibility was making sure that students were meeting expectations, and if they weren’t, sort of the disciplinarian role, which also involves restorative practices. Transitioning the model, from punishment to ‘how do we make sure that everyone here feels safe?’


Second to that, there was the observing of classrooms and supervising teachers. And then I was able to do a lot of curriculum work across the district, and help with professional development for teachers.


Now I still get to supervise teachers. In fact, I supervise all of my staff. It’s all the 13 program teachers plus my office staff, plus the assistant director, who is basically an assistant principal.


I get to observe instructors who are leading kids in different career paths… I get to go in and see a social studies lesson, or a discussion in English or something like that. Now I get to go see what they’re building in building trades, and what they’re cooking in culinary arts, and sometimes I get to actually judge those competitions. 


So it’s so different, but there are similarities. I’ve used some of the same format to respond. I’ve taught the staff here about restorative practices, so I get to plan all my professional development, even though I’m part of the Barre District, their curriculum coordinator did not plan anything for my staff. They really didn’t know how we fit in and then they also left the job mid-year. So that gave me huge freedom to be able to work with my staff the way that I wanted to, which was awesome. 



One of the things in this job is I have to write grants because some of our funding comes from Perkins. Part of the Perkins funding is every two years. You’ve got to go through a comprehensive local needs assessment. Which means you have to get a ton of data about your programming and kind of analyze it with your teachers, but also with outside groups like the community economic development partners and colleges, try to figure out, “Okay, what are we doing well? Where do we have some gaps? And how can we move this forward?” 


I also am in charge of the budget and signing every purchase order that ever was, and those are things that I didn’t do a lot. I could do that purchase order signing and check signing at U-32 when Steven wasn’t there but that was primarily the principal’s role.


On Monday night I was appointed Superintendent of that new school district.  I’ll still be doing the director job but also the superintendent job. And so making sure that the board is apprised of what’s going on and getting contracts out, and making sure that I have the staff in the office to get everyone paid and things that I haven’t had to do before in that way.


Can you describe what a day in your working life looks like now? What does a typical day look like for you at your new job?


This spring has not been what I hoped it to be because I’ve spent way too much time in this office and not getting out, because the grants are due in two weeks. Pulling all the information that we gathered together into something that’s a final report and making the request for what we need the money for is consuming a lot of my time. As did creating board agendas and all the pieces for the board meetings. We had the organizational meeting last week and then our first board meeting this week. 


In the fall, I was able to visit every program probably twice a week, just walking through and checking in. I greeted folks at the door when they were arriving. When kids arrived at the door every morning, I was there.  At 10 o’clock we have a break and I was up with the food service folks, greeting people when they came out for break and just kind of getting to know my staff and my students, and what the programs were like and that sort of thing. 


I’ve definitely transitioned into getting all the paperwork done, to make sure that we get funding for next year and that we can afford everything we want to do throughout the year, doing that comprehensive local needs assessment. I don’t know if it’s fortunate or unfortunate that it happened in my first year but it was a really good eye-opening experience.


Do you have a specific moment from this year that stands out to you? Something that happened that really captures what your new job is like?


On any given day I could be doing something very similar to my old job because I can look out into the office and if a student has been sent down and Dr. Griggs, (Assistant Director) is busy with another student and not here, then I still deal with the student management pieces. 


I can be involved in re-entry processes and something that’s different here is that students apply and are accepted. So if they’re being unsafe, we can remove them, which is not something you can do in a public school. 


They don’t want to remove students. But safety is huge. If you’ve got a car on a lift, and you’re doing something unsafe, that car can fall on someone. So huge differences there in liability, and it’s a little scary knowing that you could get really hurt or die if somebody does something really stupid. 


I don’t know if there’s a moment that I can think of that defines all of it. It’s just been an incredible journey. And I’ve learned a ton.


What are your most important goals for the tech program? Specific plans you have for reaching those goals or progress you’ve made?


One was becoming our own district. We get kids from six surrounding schools, Montpelier, U-32, Cabot, Twinfield, and Spaulding and only Barretown in Barre City had any say over us in the past, so wanting to shift that to be more regional to allow for more voice and to potentially allow us to make sure that we’re serving our communities better. 


My big thing this year was that I wanted to start a stone arts program back up, in conjunction with the Fremont Granite Museum and Arts University, something they reached out about and something I was really excited to do. And we just got the approval today. So super excited that that program is going to be up and running in the fall. 


My next goal is to do a full day, so to have academics here and keep students all day instead of sending them back [to U-32]. It really impacts the schedule at U-32. For example, if you have kids coming back at 1:00 and/or 1:30 and they all need US history, it tracks students without intentionally tracking them, and gums up the schedule. So wanting to move to full-day [for] the fall of 23. 


Then the bigger five-to-eight-year plan is to build a brand new career center that has more programs and is a little more centrally located. Give our students more and also provide more adult opportunities.


Jody with community partners at Central Vermont Career Center


You mentioned the rock arts program, can you tell me a little bit more about what that entails?


So design and fabrication is a two-year program for us. It’s really exciting because it gives students an opportunity to learn 2d and 3d CNC fabrication and machining. It also will teach them the basics of sculpting granite and of stone masonry. So two different stone arts. 


They’ll have the opportunity to potentially go into advanced manufacturing with the fabrication piece or into stone masonry or the granite industry and those industries start at like $24 an hour. Right out of high school, you could have kids in this program, if they did the two years they could have credits from seven different college courses, tons of industry-recognized credentials, and a job right out of high school. 


They can continue on at Norwich University in their design arts program and get that four-year degree…Norwich is providing three of the four instructors and I will be providing one, and I just think it’s going to be great to see that collaboration and to move forward with that. 


What are the biggest challenges so far with your new job and how are you addressing them?


…So if you are teaching in a regular high school, you get a teaching degree, you get a teaching license, and you go into the content area of your interest. If you’re a teacher here at CTE, you don’t have a teaching degree. Usually, you come straight in from industry. My building trades instructor comes straight in from construction. My electrical technology teacher was an electrician. 


They must have an associate’s degree, and five years or more experience, and then while they’re teaching as brand new teachers. They have to do the apprenticeship programs at VTC to get a teaching license. It’s double the work. 


You’re brand new, trying to figure out, “how do I teach kids?” after coming in from working with adults, and they’re also trying to do college classes. 


I found that there were some difficulties or barriers between different groups of teachers here. There were sort of “high school cliques” and so trying to overcome that has been a little bit of a challenge early on. I think we’ve done a great job. 


Then the other piece is grants and different things that we need to work with the agency, the specific language I don’t have yet. Knowing exactly what they want me to respond with to get what I need. Learning the hoops that I need to jump through and jumping through them in the right way has been a challenge. 


How has COVID impacted your job? What challenges did it create and how have you tackled them?


I would say that the biggest challenge has been people getting sick. Throughout the entire year and how to count out those attendance pieces. Here you need seat time. If you’re in cosmetology you need 1000 hours in the classroom before you can take your exams. So if a student has gotten sick multiple times they might not have the hours they need to try to navigate that piece of it. 


Also when staff get sick it’s challenging because when you’re out with COVID, you have to be out for a certain number of days… So having a sub in a program that’s hands-on is challenging.


Then having enough people to staff. I mean we were supposed to have three permanent subs. I think it was maybe a month where we actually had three, the rest of the time we’ve had one or two.


Are there any specific moments from U-32 that you won’t forget?


All of them. There’s something special about U-32 when you walk into it, it just feels different. It doesn’t feel like an institution. It’s a beautiful place and people are genuinely kind and caring and I miss that atmosphere. It’s hard to build sometimes in places that aren’t structured like U-32. 


…I miss everybody there and I’m glad I can still get to work with U-32 students and still interact with some of the staff.  I was at a football game this year to help. I got called in and recruited, I was happy to do it.



What are you most proud of from your work at U-32? What do you feel your most important accomplishments were?


I think it was helping move to restorative practices, moving forward and shifting away from detention to “community”. Strengthening student leadership in that capacity and training students in restorative practices is probably the biggest thing and shifting the language of the handbook. I really made a lot of big shifts in the language and then every year kept shifting that language. I’m proud that that piece still exists.


If you could have changed one thing about U-32 to help the school grow or improve what would it have been?


Helping students more to see the perspectives or situations of others. To recognize that someone’s behavior is more a need being expressed than what it feels like, or what the words are. 


And trying to make people feel safer and understanding each other. There’s still more that could be done and I wish I could have done more.


Do you have a message to pass on to this year’s graduating class for both your students and U-32 students?


I’ve been really drawn to another country song, Til You Can’t, by Cody Johnson. The chorus of it says: “If you got a dream, chase it, because a dream won’t chase you back.” 


That’s the thing that I want the seniors to know. Go out there. If you want to do something, work hard for it. Chase that dream because now more than ever, you have the opportunity to get it. Don’t give up and don’t discount yourself as possibly achieving the thing that you want. You Only Live Once. You don’t know how long it’s going to be. You should go after your dreams.


I’m watching my son do that now. As an almost-21-year-old he’s always wanted to be in auto racing. This year, he had the opportunity to intern with an Arca race team. He’s traveled all over the United States, on the pit crew for this team on weekends. 


And there was pushback from other people, like ‘why is he doing this?’ This is his dream, this is his opportunity. If he’s gonna get a career here. This might be the opening for that. 


If you have something that you want to go for, go for it.


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