VVS board member looks back on 20 years of public education


About 20 years in the past, Thomas Moats – a 37-year resident of the Mohawk Valley – had simply began working as a know-how coordinator for Madison Oneida BOCES after doing comparable work for Syracuse University, the place he additionally earned his Masters diploma. He and his spouse, a Mohawk Valley native who “brought him home” from Pennsylvania to her hometown of Westmoreland, have been elevating their three daughters within the pastoral village of Vernon. At the time, he barely knew what a Board of Education was.

“I was very impressed with the elementary school my daughters attended,” stated Moats. “So, one year, after the Christmas concert, I was talking to the principal and I said, ‘Tony, if there’s ever anything I can do for the district, you let me know!”

And so it started …

“He immediately replied, ‘Tom, why don’t you run for the school board?”

Moats remembered having attended precisely one VVS faculty board assembly at the moment.

“The parents were upset about a program at the high school, so they were yelling and screaming. The teachers hadn’t signed their contract yet, so they were yelling and screaming,” recalled Moats. “I said to the principal, ‘Tony, are you crazy???”

The principal appealed to Moats to provide it yet one more assembly? Moats agreed.

“It was far more civilized,” laughed Moats, “as were every meeting I have attended or presided over ever since.” 

Moats ran for a seat on the Vernon Verona Sherrill Board of Education and was seated for his first time period in July of 2002. He presently serves as President of the VVS Board of Education in his 20th yr of service to the neighborhood as one of its 9 members.

Moats considers one of his best accomplishments to be collaborating with 20 completely different VVS Boards, 9 members every, the place every Board had a special mixture of members, so every Board had its personal character.

“I’ve had the privilege and honor to work with a lot of good people,” stated Moats, “who, like me, truly had the best interests of the students at heart.”

Rookie Year”

Moats remembers getting into into his first yr of volunteering as a member of the VVS Board of Education with what he now is aware of to be a standard level of view held by new Board member.

“I thought my role was to FIX things,” Moats shared as he mirrored on that “rookie year,” “Sports agendas, extracurricular activities, et cetera; lots of things I disagreed with? I was going to come in and fix the things that I thought were wrong.”

Moats pauses to smile on the reminiscence, in a position to giggle to himself at his naivete’ from his vantage level as now essentially the most veteran Board member.

From his now a long time of expertise, Moats shares {that a} good faculty board supplies management and leaves the execution as much as the district’s administration.

“There’s management and there’s leadership, and those are very different things,” distinguished Moats. “The Board is leadership.”

Moats sees a very powerful duty of a college board member to be representing the pursuits of the neighborhood they serve.

“We’ve been very lucky that our voters have elected members from different parts of our community – geography, profession, et cetera – and each member brings the views of their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the Board table. This is a public school,” stated Moats. “After we all discuss the different views, we vote to represent the best interests of the ENTIRE community. That’s a good healthy board.”

Moats concedes that there are “plenty of disagreements,” however that, ultimately, he believes the Board of Education has to do what’s finest for the neighborhood and its children.

“The most important resource of any community is its children,” stated Moats, “so, I understand and respect the passion with which people come to us.”

Vernon Verona Sherrill School District – “Then and Now”

Moats recollects that, in his early years as a member, the varsity board was very involved about what college students wanted to KNOW to achieve success. He presents the instance of understanding that quite a bit of college students hoped to enter the medical career, so the Board put a highschool Latin course in place to assist them higher perceive the terminology.

“20 years ago,” mirrored Moats, “when I walked into a classroom, I expected the students to be orderly, with the majority of content coming from the teacher and no discipline problems.”

20 years later, Moats has developed with the district, its leaders and its neighborhood from objectives round WHAT college students wanted to KNOW to objectives round WHO college students wanted to BE.

“What the students are going to know is still important,” Moats clarified. “But, we now prioritize how we can help students become problem-solvers, critical thinkers, be perseverant … what VVS calls GRIT.”

Moat is “a huge proponent” of extracurricular actions because of this. He believes that giving college students a selection helps their motivation. 

“Whether it be sports or music or art, it is where students are often taught that there is positive relationship between effort and achievement,” stated Moats. “The more you work at trying to kick the ball the better you become at it. The more you work on the piece of music the better you become at it. It is a very important life skill.”

In line with that considering VVS is transitioning to extra project-based studying. Robotics, for instance, are actually built-in into the classroom. Project-based studying is being equally integrated into quite a bit of completely different disciplines.

The VVS simply accomplished a broad constructing undertaking, the place it redesigned the educational areas to be extra versatile. Now, a science instructor can work with an english instructor to show science rules, then talk to college students how these rules apply to problem-solving; to evaluation.

“When I walk into a classroom now,” stated Moats, “I expect it to be loud; I expect students to be out of their seats, engaging with each other and with the teacher; and I expect the teacher to be informing and supporting that engagement.” 

Moats acknowledged the shift of efficient public education from a “teacher-centric environment” to a “student centric-environment.” 

Observed Moats, “It is not enough anymore to sit in a seat, pass the test and move on.”

Moats acknowledges that there’s threat and problem concerned in effecting sweeping change. On behalf of the Board, he understands that lecturers from conventional lecturers packages have been taught a primarily a teacher-centric view – they have been rewarded for sustaining classroom order. So, to advertise what can look like coordinated chaos can really feel counter-intuitive for them.

“But not every student learns sitting in a row; some students need to get up and move,” stated Moats. “We have to be aware of that.”

Moats shared that the management and administration are dedicated to serving to the VVS college Now – “make this leap” collectively to this student-centered setting.

“It’s tough, we know, but we’re in progress on this,” stated Moats, “absolutely in process.”

The VVS district as we speak

VVS presently adopts a “three-prong” strategy to educating its college students. “Prong #1” – SUPPORT – informs one the district’s two main objectives – to offer coaching and assist. This prong calls for a lot of extra helps – education, emotional, and profession – to be supplied to college students. 

“Students don’t always know how to ask for help,” stated Moats, “so we’ve given the teachers training in how to approach the kids. Relationships are what it’s all about.”

“Prong #2 is ACCELERATION. Moats shared that the first reaction educators often have upon identifying that a student is “behind” is that they want REMEDIATION. VVS acknowledges that this phrase carries a unfavorable connotation for youths and their households. So they focus on the idea of “moving forward.” They give the scholars a extra lively, optimistic key phrase to wrap themselves round – ACCELERATION – and the children “move forward” collectively, whereas further assist is supplied to the scholars who want it in an effort to sustain. 

Moats shares a enjoyable reality to display {that a} conventional manner of doing issues might have been designed for causes that are actually outdated.

“I was on a panel back in the late 1900s where I stood up and said, ‘I’m pretty certain that by 2000, current computer keyboards will be obsolete,” stated Moats.

While he was mistaken about after they would grow to be out of date, his prediction was sound in his data that the normal keyboard was designed to “slow people down.”

“Where most typing was performed then by women, it was discovered that women have better digital dexterity than men,” stated Moats.

Typewriters have been designed and examined by males, however ladies typed considerably quicker as a result of of that superior dexterity and their velocity was jamming the typewriter keys. So, the “home row” was designed to be positioned centrally and comprised of lesser-used keys, resembling F, J and Okay, in an effort to gradual typing velocity in an effort to forestall disabling the machines.

It makes one surprise, now that keyboards are not guide and males now spend a major quantity of time keyboarding, why Moats was off in his prediction and that design has not additionally modified?

“Prong #3” is ENGAGEMENT .

“To me,” stated Moats, as he reminded of what he now expects when he walks right into a VVS classroom, “the most critical thing is to concentrate much more on ENGAGEMENT.” 

Moats sees engagement as serving to with acceleration. The extra engaged college students are, the much less challenged they’re by social points. He sees the district’s position as inspiring that motivation in its college students to have interaction with curriculum. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The rising dedication on the half of organizations nationwide – together with faculties – to foster a tradition of variety, fairness and inclusion (DEI) is usually boiled down within the understanding of it to focus primarily on race. While the precise efforts are far broader, that understanding can render DEI to be an odd endeavor for a district the place all three communities that convene to comprise it are inherently 98% white. Yet, whereas the development towards DEI has confirmed difficult for some and uncomfortable for a lot of, Moats takes on the subject on behalf of the district’s Board. 

“Diversity is extremely important for the 21st Century Worker,” stated Moats. “However, the importance of diversity lies in the ways that different people THINK about things.” 

Moats argued that there’s a nice deal of variety within the VVS neighborhood when you think about its variety of expertise and perspective and he believes that instance can work to offer VVS college students with wholesome view and abilities for navigating a various world in and equitable and inclusive manner.

“A 5th grader has a very different world view than a 40 year-old mechanic in our community,” supplied Moats. “If we can get that 5th grader and that mechanic to appreciate and consider each other’s world views, then we have led them to be inherently more equitable and inclusive.”

Moats believes that the district has to assist college students to know that they should hearken to what the opposite particular person is saying and attempt to perceive their level of view earlier than they’ll work collectively to resolve issues and face challenges.

“You help students to recognize the legitimacy of someone else’s perspective by helping them to understand that their perspective is based upon THEIR life experience,” stated Moats. “You have to consider and respect that.”


“Covid has really forced the hand of school districts,” acknowledged Moats, “but it has also created an opportunity to say, ‘we need to do things differently.’” 

Moats and Group lamented the distinctive problem distant studying introduced to the VVS district, which is basically rural, the place wifi entry is just not constant, and the place college students are already typically geographically remoted, relying on their faculty day for essential social engagement and connection to neighborhood.

Moats famous considerations round “social norming.”

“Kids figure out a specific set of standards by a certain age to define for them how they should be behaving,” stated Moats. “Covid eliminated social interaction and replaced it with social media.”

Moats concurs with many friends throughout districts that one of the best challenges they face as attempt to emerge, however proceed to face the challenges of the pandemic, is the socio-emotional harm it has accomplished to college students.

At a latest discussion board of space superintendents, Martha Group, Superintendent of VVS, shared some of the progressive ways in which VVS had confronted the challenges introduced by the pandemic, together with “driveway visits” to assist college students who had dropped of the radar throughout totally distant studying. To get rid of “screen fatigue” throughout that point, college students may spend “screen off” chips and have interaction with their lessons audio-only, which led to elevated attendance. The district carved “social hours” throughout every faculty day, devoted simply to college students just about socializing with one another in a casual manner and designated a “free block” on Wednesdays to permit college students to hunt wanted help from college or employees. 

While challenges stay, Moats joins Group in seeing the silver linings revealed by the Covid disaster. They be a part of leaders from neighboring districts in appreciating the assist and collaboration that emerged between them because of this of the pandemic. It has served as a basis for the second of the VVS district’s main objectives, constructing these relationships and enhancing that collaboration.

“Partnerships were forged” and the VVS district looks ahead to constructing on the independence and possession that developed in its college students and on the sound of “the student voices” that they wish to hear.

The future of the VVS district

VVS has been a giant proponent of STEAM education – Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture/Arts and Mathematics. STEAM packages had already been built-in into the highschool and had expanded into the center faculty. The district was simply rolling out an elementary degree introduction to STEAM when COVID halted that progress. 

At that very same gathering of space superintendents engaged in by VVS’s Martha Group, Dr. Kevin Levatino, Superintendent of the Little Falls district, participated. Levatino, whose district is erecting two state-of-the-art STEAM facilities on its campuses, known as out VVS for his or her preeminent space chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA), which operates a profitable sugar mill and maple merchandise enterprise. Levatino, whose small metropolis district serves over 1000 college students, floated throughout the discussion board to the VVS district, which mixes three rural communities to kind a blended district serving slightly below 1600 college students, the thought of becoming a member of forces to offer extra choices to all of their college students, the place VVS college students who might wish to take a deeper dive into STEAM would possibly take benefit of packages at Little Falls, whereas Little Falls college students with a ardour for agricultural disciplines may take part in packages at VVS.

The thought additional manifests the VVS district’s aim to construct these relationships between neighbor faculty districts. 

While Moats conceded that native districts haven’t historically accomplished a lot of that sort of collaboration – as a substitute leaving such merging of their college students to BOCES packages – he sees a shift rising.

“I think there’s a trend toward it,” stated Moats. “More schools are going to explore regional partnerships to provide more opportunities for their students.” 

Where Moats recollects supporting college students by including a Latin course to reinforce their understanding of medical phrases, he acknowledged that, as we speak, there are jobs within the healthcare sector that the Board 20 years in the past couldn’t ever have imagined.

Moats shared the VVS district’s consciousness of an rising sector known as “agri-tourism,” which he credit as evolving into an important element of the native economic system within the VVS district.

“It is a big industry in our area,” stated Moats, “pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms – we are now tasking farmers not only with farming, but now with educating and entertaining the public.”

Moats’ wheels are handing over phrases of the right way to interact VVS college students in that rising hybrid of agriculture.

“When students are engaged in something they enjoy doing, whatever that may be,” stated Moats, “they are motivated so much more.”

Reflection on 20 years – adjustments and challenges remaining


Moats views a very powerful change he’s seen throughout his tenure in serving the VVS district is a “much stronger connection between the schools and the community.”

“That first board meeting I went to, there was a view that the school district didn’t listen to the community. Older board members talked about the ‘bad old days’ – before the Board and Administration were not as welcoming to community input. It was a ‘we know what’s best’ culture,” mirrored Moats. “We now recognize that having a strong community connection is in the best interest of the children.”

The VVS Vision Statement reads: “The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill School District aspires to be valued as a district of distinction by our community.”

Moats boasts that VVS has been acknowledged nationally as a “district to watch.” The VVS music program ranks among the many prime 5% nationwide and the famend VVS chapter of Future Farmers of America has earned nationwide chapter standing. But he’s fast to substantiate that this isn’t their goal as they aspire to be a “district of distinction.” 

(*20*) stated Moats.

Examples that manifest that VVS imaginative and prescient embody a program known as “Thought Exchange” which invitations any member of the neighborhood to pay attention, be taught and have interaction in regardless of the focus of a given assembly or dialog may be … “to contribute.”

Moats famous that over 70% of the residents within the mixed communities of Vernon, Verona and Sherrill wouldn’t have college students attending faculty within the district.

“But they pay taxes,” reminded Moats, “so we want their input.”

Another initiative meant to strengthen that connection is the a requirement of VVS High School seniors to carry out neighborhood service inside the district’s boundaries.

“We now recognize that having a strong community connection is in the best interest of our children,” stated Moats, “and that’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen … a change I’m proud of.”


When requested if there was an issue Moats hoped to resolve that but stays a problem difficult the VVS district as we speak, he didn’t hesitate in his reply – “Student Safety.”

“I never imagined that we would need to approve the presence of safety officers in our schools,” stated Moats, the place the VVS district now employs 4 of them. 

Moats additionally famous Bullying as “something we’re concerned about.” He shared that VVS has needed to shut its faculties down a number of instances in response to social media threats. 

“And there is certainly the national news,” stated Moats. “Our kids hear that.”

Moats reminisced in regards to the days when his personal daughters have been college students within the district.

“I would ask my kids’ friends if they felt safe in the schools,” recalled Moats, “and they didn’t even understand the question?”

Moats acknowledged that, sadly, we now have far too many college students who do really feel anxious. Fearful. 

“When kids are anxious; when kids are fearful,” stated Moats, “It doesn’t matter how good the curriculum is…”

After a poignant pause, Moats concluded, “It’s just vitally important to deal with safety issues.”

Moats was additionally discouraged that, 20 years later, he doesn’t consider that the VVS district will get “a fair shake” from the state. 

“Some districts are able to offer far more resources than we are able to offer, despite the needs of our students,” stated Moats. “It’s unfortunate that the quality of your education is too often determined by your zip code.” 

But Moats doesn’t linger lengthy on components he can not management, as a substitute selecting to focus on the change he and the Board can work to impact. 

“The district is almost always asking for an increase in the assessment to fund the school budget, but we try to keep it as low as we possibly can. We try to be very very respectful of the community,” stated Moats. “But, we’re a board of education, not a board of taxation, and our primary job is to provide the best education for our students that we think our community can support.”

Moats reminds of the precedence the Board locations on the neighborhood perceiving its faculty district as one of distinction, however is evident that district’s job – his job – is to “give our children the best education we can give them.”


As Moats displays on that decision to motion superior by his daughters’ elementary faculty principal 20 years in the past – a name he gladly answered – he expresses his disappointment that extra members of his neighborhood don’t “step up” to be members of the Board of Education.

“There have been years I’ve run unopposed – not because I’m Tom Moats – but because no one wanted to step up,” recalled Moats.

He estimates that the dedication averages about 10 to fifteen hours every week. It can typically be a thankless job, however is at all times an essential one.

“I say we don’t get paid – and we don’t,” stated Moats, “but I love graduations. To see those kids and hear their accomplishments and know you were a small part of that … it just makes you feel really good.”

Does Moats get pleasure from being a college board member? 

“Honest to goodness, I don’t enjoy being a Board member,” confessed Moats, providing that it’s a lot of work, “but it is so fulfilling.”

Moats counts himself “very very fortunate” to work in a district the place there are such a lot of gifted lecturers and directors that work so extremely laborious and – like him – simply CARE a lot in regards to the children. 

Concludes Moats, “That’s what it’s really all about.”