Before I start writing about schools for Seven days, Alison Novak worked there. Postgraduate, she spent a year teaching English to kindergartens in Thailand. She liked him enough to get a master’s degree in education in the United States, thanks to a program that placed her in a classroom in the Bronx. Teaching third and fourth graders in an underfunded and underperforming urban public school was “eye-opening,” says Alison.
After three and a half years, she and her husband, Jeff, moved to Vermont, where education jobs were scarce in 2004. Alison worked for a year as a subpermanent at JJ Flynn Elementary School in Burlington before that a job opened up at what is now the Lawrence Barnes Academy of Sustainability. She was two years old, teaching fourth and fifth graders, when she had her first child.
By this time, Jeff had also become a public school teacher. Inspired by his wife’s work, he quit a career in advertising, earned a certification at the University of Vermont, and took a job teaching language arts to middle school students in Sheldon. He commuted for four years until a position opened up closer to home, at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington. The Novaks had a second child, and in 2012 Alison quit working in schools to raise their children, now aged 12 and 14.
All of these experiences fuel her reporting on education, which began as a part-time job as a calendar editor at VT children, our parent publication; two years later, she became its editor-in-chief. During the pandemic, she moved to a full-time gig on the Seven days news team, covering schools in Vermont.
The timing was perfect. Prior to March 2020, we struggled as a journal to write about K-12 education in a way that readers could relate to. Simply breaking through bureaucracy and jargon takes passion and perseverance; the same goes for explaining to childless readers why they should care.
A lot has changed in the past two years. Vermont’s disrupted schools offer the clearest evidence of the pandemic’s toll and, in some cases, have become zones of cultural conflict. Quietly and competently, Alison began documenting everything, finding and writing stories about the impacts of the coronavirus – the changing protocols, the challenges of remote learning, the struggling childcare programs, the shortages. of personnel – as well as racial tensions on the playing field and in the virtual. teachers’ lounge.
His cover story this week examines the growing divisions within Vermont’s once civilian, nonpartisan school boards. An alarming number of them are vying for school mascots, critical race theory and flags. People who have never cared about local schools are vying for places.
You can tell from the thoroughness of the story and the depth of the reporting that Alison is doing her homework, a lesson she learned a long time ago. One she picked up on more recently: in interviews with people, “sometimes I slip into the fact that I was a teacher, my husband is a teacher, and…that gives me a little edge in terms of is about people’s willingness to talk to me,” she said. “They know I understand.”
Official statements from superiors are not the end of the story for this educator-turned-journalist. For her, “it’s really important to talk to the people who are on the ground, who do the work”.