Heller describes himself as detail-oriented, a mind set he developed while serving in the US Marine Corps, and one he used to turn around schools in Philadelphia that were not reaching required yearly progress standards. Some of these schools were old, run-down facilities four stories high that, according to Heller, took up $100,000 in budget per year just to keep clean.
Heller served as a middle school administrator at these schools as well as a math teacher. “We got to see a whole lot of changes there, and we let them (the students) see the rewards of addressing their behavioral issues.”
A large portion of Heller’s work was changing behavioral problems in students, a self-proclaimed strength of his, and one he hopes to bring to a school that has had recent issues with bullying. “There are measures you can take to stop bullying,” Heller explains. “I look at bullying through my own set of binoculars, taking a look at the student, the situation, and the totality. I address it in the immediacy, but there has got to be a rehabilitative element; there has to be accountability. Its not just sending the bully out, there has to be a whole reflective piece to it, and you also can’t give the opportunity to bully.”
It has been Heller’s experience that bullying is the result of unstructured use of time. “There was (often) a big chunk of unstructured time, I’m very data driven and a lot of bullying I have dealt with in the past often happened in a specific place or time, so what kind of preventive measure can we put in place at that time and location?”
A newly installed philosophy of community and accountability is turning heads and re-energizing the school already. There is no down time under Heller’s watch. Even the cafeteria has been turned into a place for students to learn with a new morning program, “Breakfast for the Brain” in which each grade receives a brainteaser, with two or three winners from each class chosen on Fridays. The first of these focused on math.
Coming to Readsboro with expertise in teaching math, Heller is taking issue with the school’s recent lag in math scores, with a big push in common core math, as well as employing a math coach. “We made it in reading last year, we really have to focus on math this year.” Heller believes his students are up to the challenge and has replaced dodgeball in the morning with opportunities to work on weak points.
Originally from Jericho, Heller now calls Dover home. The day after graduating from high school, Heller was shipped off to boot camp for the USMC. and served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. After his four-year enlistment ended, Heller focused on his education, attending Alvernia University in Reading, PA, and earning his masters degree in education from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. He began teaching in Woodsville, NH, before spending three years in the Renaissance school initiative of the Young Scholars program, commuting to Philadelphia, and coming home to Vermont on weekends.
At Readsboro, Heller has noticed students are already enjoying school as much as they enjoy dismissal. “We have a dynamic group of students that are really buying into this; there’s a different feeling in the hallway. You can sense it, it’s a different type of energy.”
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Readsboro had a population of 763, and as the man in charge of the education of a town’s youth, Heller believes parents are an essential element to ensuring education is done right. His own accessibility is key, “I want parents to feel that they can come and talk to me at any time, but I also want to feel I can talk to them any time as well.”
Heller took time during the first week of school to personally call each parent to invite them to the school’s open house on Monday. “Not only do I want them to see the school reaching out to them, I want to see them reaching out to the school.”
Readsboro Central School is making a point to introduce more technology into the classrooms this year introducing Powerschool to enable teachers, parents, and students to track progress and grades online. The program even comes with an app for phones to help the tracking process. More notebook computers can be found in classrooms, as well as smartboards, interactive whiteboards that use touch interaction much like an Ipad, and can be used as projectors.
Heller’s mission of creating a school community of accountability is something he believes the whole town can get behind. “Parents can expect me to give them everything I’ve got. I want to create a whole new perception of this school. I know the school has had some challenges in the past. I’m going to work to rebuild this school, and if they want to see this school go to the next level they’ve got to get involved.” Heller explained, “I want a very strong PTG, and I’m not going to be able to do it myself, but they need to grab the line and help tow.”