MGI Staff

The Middle Grades Institute faculty is comprised of dedicated middle grades teachers, university professors, and professional development experts, all of whom have first-hand experience teaching young adolescents. Their wide range of expertise includes school change, project-based learning, service learning, equity and diversity, technology, social justice, sustainability, and much more. Scroll below to get to know them!

Co-Directors

MGI Staff
Penny Bishop

Penny is Co-Director of the Middle Grades Collaborative and Professor of Middle Level Education at the University of Vermont, where she teaches future middle grades educators and conducts research on schooling for young adolescents. She has taught at the Institute since 1998. Penny has served as Principal Investigator on numerous grants, bringing over $13 million dollars to Vermont schools to improve the learning and lives of middle grades students. A former middle level English and Social Studies teacher, Penny was appointed to the National Middle School Association's Research Advisory Board and was President of the American Educational Research Association's Middle Level Education Research Group. She is co-author of six books on effective middle grades practice. Penny previously served as advisor to the New Zealand Ministry of Education, researching effective schooling policies for middle years students. Outside of work, she spends time with her family, enjoys kayaking in Vermont and Maine, and loves to travel internationally.

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James Nagle

James is Co-Director of the Middle Grades Collaborative and Professor of Education at Saint Michael's College. He has been teaching at the Middle Grades Institute since 2004. Prior to coming to Vermont, James was a middle and high school science teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area where he earned his doctorate in educational policy and organization from the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, James teaches courses in middle grades organization, environmental education, and educational policy and research. He works extensively with Vermont teachers on personalized learning as a pedagogy for teaching social justice and sustainability. His research investigates the intersection of school reform initiatives and teacher implementation of those reforms in middle and high schools. James also serves as co-editor of the Middle Grades Review. When James is not involved in education, he enjoys hiking, backcountry skiing, and tending to his small organic farm.


Faculty

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Tricia Brown

Tricia is a faculty member at the University of Vermont in the Middle and Secondary Teacher Education programs. Tricia teaches courses in middle grades organization, curriculum, and science methods as well as supervises student teachers in the field. Tricia is working to model the three pillars of personalized learning in a higher education setting, incorporating a proficiency-based grading system, personalized learning projects, and flexible pathways into her courses. Before coming to the University of Vermont, Tricia spent time as a science department chair and as a district Innovative Learning Resource Teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools. While in Baltimore, she also earned her Master of Science degree in Technology Integration from Johns Hopkins University. Tricia is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education at the University of Vermont.

MGI Staff
Dana Cummings

After 17 years teaching middle school math and science, Dana Cummings is currently exploring a new role as a math intervention teacher at Essex Middle School. His new role requires his involvement in his school district’s math and Multi-Tiered Support System committees. Previously, he participated in committees focused on literacy in content areas, the use of protocols in professional learning, changes to discipline systems, and development of math expertise among teachers. Dana’s ongoing involvement with the Middle Grades Institute is driven by his appreciation for--and learning from--others when expertise, experience, commitment, passion, struggle, and growth richly intersect the last week of June every year. Dana and his family live in Huntington. They like to camp and kayak in the summer and winters find them on slopes, Nordic trails, sledding hills, and in the woods.

MGI Staff
Lucie deLaBruere

Lucie brings 30 years of experience in educational technology working with Vermont students and educators in K-12 and higher education. After more than 2 decades of classroom teaching, Lucie is now a freelance educator advancing digital equity and promoting creativity and innovation. Lucie is affiliated with the University of Vermont’s Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education and College of Education and Social Services. Several years ago, she gave up her apartment and moved into a 1983 vintage bus and now travels around the United States in search of creative convergences, bringing back the best of what she discovers to Vermont schools to support teachers in implementing best practices in maker-centered learning, design thinking, and more equitable learning opportunities. She looks forward to providing space for creating and making at this summer's Middle Grades Institute.

MGI Staff
Jessica DeMink-Carthew

Jessica is Assistant Professor of Middle Level Education at the University of Vermont, where she also coordinates the Middle Level Education undergraduate and graduate programs. Her research centers on supporting middle school teachers in advocating for and creating developmentally responsive learning environments for all young adolescents. Her current research and teaching projects are focused  on social justice education, personalized learning, and proficiency-based learning as liberatory practices that can promote equity in the middle grades. In partnership with middle school teachers, Jessica has been co-developing a “hands-joined learning” framework for personalizing project-based learning as well as a social justice curriculum for 6th grade Humanities. She has taught in Michigan, Maryland, France, and Hawaii and tries to maintain the aloha life by playing the ukulele every chance she gets.

MGI Staff
Nancy Doda

Nancy began her career teaching in a middle school where she launched her advocacy work on behalf of Middle Grades education, working extensively with the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) and its state affiliates. In addition, Nancy has served as a Professor in the Graduate School of Education in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in Curriculum & Instruction at National-Louis University’s DC campus. Her advocacy work evolved into an active international career as an author, professional development coach, speaker and workshop leader. In that capacity, Nancy worked with hundreds of schools and organizations in 48 states, Canada, Europe, Australia and the Far East. In the past decade she has been immersed in long-term, school-based coaching work with middle grades schools across the US and Canada. Most recently, Nancy has settled in Vermont where she is now working with the Middle Grades Collaborative and local schools in various middle grades improvement efforts.

MGI Staff
John Downes

John is the Director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. He spent his career developing and researching 1:1 laptop initiatives to re-engage middle level learners for equitable learning and successful postsecondary access. His earlier work included supporting teachers to design and facilitate curriculum reform in Vermont middle schools, focusing on technology integration, student-led curriculum, and middle grades philosophy and practice. John has been involved with the Middle Grades Institute almost two decades, first as a student, and since as an educator and researcher. His current research interests include the role of student voice in school change and how technology can promote equitable learning for young adolescents. John also enjoys traveling, paddling on Lake Champlain, biking in Vermont’s mountains and valleys, and risking life and limb trying to keep up with his son on the snowy slopes of the Greens and the Rockies.

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Katy Farber

Katy is back as a a fifth grade teacher at Stowe Elementary. Prior to teaching at Stowe Katy was a professional development coordinator at the University of Vermont, Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education where she conducted research about adolescent education and partners with schools to help them personalize learning, engage students, and participate in action research. She is the author of four books about education including most recently: Real and relevant: A guide to service and project-based learning (2017), and is a co-author of Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades (2019) as well as several chapters and articles. Katy was a classroom teacher for 17 years and regularly presents at state and national conferences. She is passionate about promoting student and teacher voice, engaging early adolescent students, sharing the power of service learning, and creating inclusive communities where joy, courageous conversations and kindness are the norm. She lives in central Vermont with her husband and two daughters and loves being outside with family and friends, listening to music, and jumping into Vermont ponds and lakes.

MGI Staff
Susan Hennessey

Susan brings with her years of experience exploring the intersection between educational technology and student-centered pedagogies. She has been a Professional Development Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education for the last 10 years. In addition she teaches courses in the University of Vermont's Educational Technology sequence and serves as the Digital Learning Lever Group Leader for Vermont Learning for the Future. Before becoming part of the Tarrant team, Susan was the Library Media Specialist and former English teacher and English Department Chair at Harwood Union Middle High School. There she frequently collaborated with fellow teachers facilitating professional development opportunities including workshops and summer graduate courses focused on innovative technologies. In 2007, she received the Milken Educator Award.

MGI Staff
Emily Hoyler

Emily is a Professional Development Coordinator at the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education after nearly two decades working as an educator, including five years as a sixth grade teacher, and three years as the Curriculum Specialist at Shelburne Farms. While at Shelburne Farms, Emily co-wrote Cultivating Joy & Wonder, an early childhood curriculum guide on sustainability. Emily’s current interests include designing concept-based interdisciplinary curriculum, mindfulness in the classroom, and creating rejuvenating professional development experiences for fellow educators. Emily is a national certified facilitator for The Origins Program’s Developmental Designs workshops, and served as a Visiting Lecturer in Education Studies at Middlebury College where she taught community-connected courses on elementary methods and Education for Sustainability. Emily lives at the top of a mountain in Ripton, Vermont, with her husband and many Wild Things, including three children, three chickens, a dog, a cat, and various other untamed critters.

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Life LeGeros

Life is a Professional Development Coordinator at the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. He has worked in various roles in K-12 education, including classroom teacher, assistant principal, math department head, state agency administrator, and school board teacher representative. As a middle and high school math teacher, and a Math Curriculum Director, he sought to help students become socially conscious quantitative thinkers. Life served as the Director of Statewide Mathematics Initiatives at the Massachusetts Department of Education for eight years, where he led a dedicated team that amplified and advocated for the equity-focused work of urban math educators. Life’s doctoral dissertation examined the association between teacher knowledge and student growth. He believes in distributed leadership, student empowerment, and actively disrupting anti-oppressive systems. Life enjoys wandering the woods, a friendly pick-up soccer game, or most especially, sticking close to home with family and friends.

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Rachel Mark

Rachel is a Professional Development Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. Prior to working with Tarrant, Rachel was a middle school literacy and social studies teacher at Manchester Elementary-Middle School. As a teacher, Rachel loved exploring new content and new methods with inquisitive young adolescents. She thinks middle schools are the most dynamic learning centers in the state. Rachel is passionate about supporting teachers and helping them overcome obstacles; it’s her mission to break down the barriers that teachers face in implementing change. She is interested in student reflection and portfolio based assessment. Rachel is curious about inquiry and project-based learning. When she is not reading, researching and supporting teachers, Rachel loves to play. She balances her life shuttling three busy children with yoga, exercise, and being outdoors.

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Monica McEnerny

Monica is Associate Professor of Education at Castleton University. She earned her Master's Degree in Education from Castleton and her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Vermont. A middle level educator for many years, she currently works with pre-service and practicing teachers in Castleton’s teaching licensure and leadership programs. Her research interests include best practices for young adolescents, international teacher education, equitable practices, educational technology, and positive, active engagement in leadership. Monica has been President of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education and Vice-President of Changing Perspectives New England. She lives in Brandon, Vermont, with her delightful family, and she enjoys yoga and the great outdoors.

MGI Staff
Meg O'Donnell

Meg teaches humanities to 7th and 8th grade students at Shelburne Community School in Shelburne, Vermont, where she has taught since 1994. Meg cherishes the opportunity to co-create meaningful learning experiences with students and colleagues, with a particular lens on opportunities that foster community and instill social justice and equity. Meg is passionate about middle level education, as demonstrated by her years in the practice, her commitment to partnering with students and colleagues, and her engagement in professional organizations that promote middle level practices. She is a long-time board member of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education, a participant and practitioner at the Middle Grades Institute, and a regular contributor to PLP Pathways. She holds her national board certification as a middle level generalist. Meg lives in Richmond, Vermont with her patient husband Mark, two active sons, Evan and Sam, and an adoring cat named Thea.

MGI Staff
Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie is a former (and always!) school librarian, a Professional Development Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, and host of the #vted Reads Podcast. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she loves collaborating with others to disrupt inequity, unearth assumptions, and get great stories into the hands of young people. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of southern Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

MGI Staff
Ken Reissig

Ken Reissig is on the faculty at the University of Vermont in the MIddle Level Teacher Education Program. He has an extensive background that includes middle level through college teaching, public education administration, and higher education program development and administration. He authored and developed Champlain College's new middle/secondary education major and has served on several state accreditation committees. His research and teaching interest include brain-based learning, social justice education, service learning and technology integration.

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Joe Rivers

Joe is a social studies teacher at Brattleboro Area Middle School. He is a member of a four-person teaching team. During a two year loop the team focuses on providing project oriented, place-based learning experiences for its students. Joe received his undergraduate degree from Saint Michael’s College and his graduate degree from Castleton State College. Joe is active in the Brattleboro Historical Society and serves on the editorial board of the professional journal, Middle Grades Review. He works with his students to produce a weekly radio show based on local history for WTSA FM. The shows are archived as podcasts on the Brattleboro Historical Society Soundcloud channel. Joe also collaborates with students and historical society board members to create a weekly local history articles for the Brattleboro Reformer. He lives with his family in West Brattleboro, Vermont.

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Erika Saunders

Erika - the Learning Maximizer - is the founding Special Education Teacher at Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. SLAMS is an inquiry-driven, project-based public school where Erika teaches 7th and 8th grade students how to “maximize their learning”. Born and raised in Ocean City, New Jersey, Erika has been teaching in Philadelphia since 2001. Teaching and learning are her passions! And she comes to it honestly: it runs in her family. While at MGI in the summer 2018 with her SLAMS team, Erika connected with like-minded teachers and the beautiful Vermont countryside! She is thrilled to be returning as a faculty member. When she’s not teaching - or learning about teaching … or reading about teaching … or working with teachers … you get the idea! - Erika enjoys reading, the beauty of the outdoors, and taking in a good movie.

MGI Staff
Mary Jackman Sullivan

Mary has been involved with the Middle Grades Institute for 25 years. From her first year as a participant, to faculty, director, and faculty again, she continues to share her passion for middle level students and their education. Mary taught middle school students at Mount Abraham for 20 years as well as many years teaching undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Vermont. Although she continues to stay involved in middle level education in various ways, you will also find her traveling and spending quality time with 5 special grandchildren in Idaho and Vermont. She feels blessed to have worked with wonderful students and colleagues over her 40-year career. Mary enjoys volunteer work with several organizations in Addison County, and directs a folk group at her church. Another passion is music, so be sure to bring your musical instruments and voices to the Institute - - her guitar will be strumming!

MGI Staff
Don Taylor

Don is a humanities educator in his 16th year at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier, Vermont. Don is working hard to create an innovative, integrated, and dynamic learning environment for all students. His attempts to make education relevant include the development of curriculum tied to sustainability, social justice, integrated literacy, and technology. In addition to his classroom duties he is a co-director of PLP Pathways, adjunct instructor at Saint Michael's College, and a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. When not working on his craft, Don can be found spending time with his family enjoying Vermont's outdoor, cultural, and community offerings. He is an avid angler, reader, and runner who believes that, "It's not where you start, it's where you finish."

MGI Staff
Scott Thompson

Scott is a Professional Development Coordinator at the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, bringing an enthusiasm for systematic change in educational settings leveraged by the use of technology in learning. Before joining the Tarrant team, Scott was a middle school math and science teacher, assistant principal and principal. Scott believes the use of technology in the class room for integrative learning no only enhances the experience and learning quality for the students, but allows teachers to have access to the tools necessary for broadening educational opportunities for all students of all abilities. Scott originally worked with the Tarrant Foundation helping to create the iLeap program. When Scott is not teambuilding, working on outreach, and networking, he is busy at home with his family and friends or throwing toys off the deck for his chocolate lab Maple. Scott spends time skiing and mountain biking with his family and when the rivers are running, white water kayaking with his friends here and in Canada.

MGI Staff
Maura Kelly Weiler

Maura is the Proficiency-Based Learning and Technology Integration Coach at Lamoille South Unified Union. She works at the district level to support teachers and administrators K-12 in developing curriculum anchored in personalized and proficiency-based learning. Prior to this role, she co-taught Humanities at Peoples Academy Middle Level, where she worked closely with her team to integrate common themes across the curriculum and engage students in personalized project-based learning. She has a passion supporting teachers who work with young adolescents and believes in the power of strong middle level programing in supporting students to critically examine the world around them. Maura graduated from the University of Vermont’s Middle Level Education program and went on to receive her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Maura lives in Morrisville, Vermont with her husband, their two dogs, a handful of chickens and a couple hives full of bees.