By Mal Boright
In the world of television, they might call it, “Moving On Up.”
For Jeff Evans, leaving the Champlain Valley Union High principal’s office is another step along a career in education that began when he became boys varsity basketball coach in 1991.
Evans is starting his new position with the Chittenden South Supervisory Union as director of student learning.
This comes following two years as CVU principal, and two previous years as house director. Prior to the move into administration, there were 18 years of teaching English, plus various positions coaching sports.
“I already miss the classroom,” he said during an interview last week. “It is that which I love the most.”
He added that the new position is “work that can have a huge impact on the lives of students.”
The education of the future coach-teacher administrator had an interesting early turn. After his sophomore year at the University of Vermont (his grandfather Fuzzy Evans was UVM basketball coach through the 50s and 60s), Jeff Evans left college and became a professional baseball umpire, rising through the lower leagues to the Triple A level, one rung below the majors. He was a man in blue for 10 years.
Umpiring was an education in itself. “It gave me an appreciation of things to value and appreciate,” Evans said of his years as an on-the-field arbiter. “You learn how to deal with people who are not happy.”
He said he met a lot of characters in the minor leagues, many of whom did not last long.
Evans returned to the state and finished his degree at Norwich University in Northfield where he did some baseball coaching. In 1991 he took the boys basketball job at CVU and two years later completed his teaching certification and became an English instructor at the union high school.
In his two years as house director, Evans performed similar functions of a vice principal—student discipline, student-parent-school relationships. As principal he has been a key figure in the transformation of teaching methods when they were first instituted two years ago September.
He described the changed emphasis as helping students adapt and learn better through more creative thinking, and also by becoming great collaborators. It is no secret that these are the types of skills being sought by large companies as they recruit new employees.
The new approach, Evans said, has some links to Common Core “in the way some strategies are being implemented on a larger scale.” Common Core, controversial in parts of the nation, is aimed primarily at mathematics and reading.
“We keep the best interests of the student at the center of what we do,” Evans added.
Vermont’s state government has mandated some of the changes that CVU has been adopting for the past two years which gives the school a leg up on the processes.
“Our faculty has been wonderful in approaching this work,” he said.
Evans said the changes at CVU were encouraged rather than force-fed to the faculty.
Asking people to shift their mindsets and what they have experienced does take time, he said.
His evolution as a teacher and administrator has also been influenced by his coaching experiences, which include girls basketball, soccer, softball and golf along with boys basketball.
“In the classroom you want to get to know the students as well as you can,” he said. “Once you throw competition (interscholastic and intra-squad) into it, the dynamic changes.” He pointed out that coaching requires management of personalities and role modeling.
And so, considering his many roles in education, what does Evans consider essential in good teaching?
Acknowledging that for students and parents an answer might likely be based on individual experience, Evans said a good teacher has to “be dedicated to meeting the needs of all students.”
He went further, saying the teacher “must believe in developing relationships, be resourceful, knowledgeable and have a growth mindset.”
As for the big picture, Evans said that education is not evolving as fast as business, but change is coming, just very slowly.
At CVU, they are staying ahead of the changes and reforms.