As school populations within the Lynden district grow there’s simply not enough principal to go around to help every student at every moment. The new part-time position of dean of students helps fill that gap.
“Principals are more and more leading the learning in schools, beyond simply managing or operating the organization,” says Patrick McClure, principal at Isom Elementary. “And the counselor is certainly there to respond to needs and be proactive as well, but with 530 students it is vital to have a dean as an intermediary to respond to kids when the principal may be working with teachers or in classrooms.”
At Isom, Jen Vachon fills that need, using her position to help with everything from behavioral instruction to school safety.
While it looks slightly different across all the schools—Megan Herwenden serves in the role at Fisher Elementary, Joelle Dodd at Bernice Vossbeck and Newt Klusmire at Lynden High School—Vachon says with principals needing to be in classrooms (new state requirements add even more observation time of teachers onto the principals’ already busy schedule) and planning instruction, that gives the dean increased day-to-day interaction with students. For her, she sees her main job as creating a positive culture within Isom.
One key role for her is behavioral support, everything from prevention to supervision to intervention. “I watch the crosswalks, go into lunches and recesses to get to know the students and I check in with students who need support in in the morning to get their day going,” she says. “And I create and manage some behavior plans. I might help in the classroom, talk discipline with students, send notes home or call parents.”
Already she’s seen an improvement in behavior across the school and part of that is simply having someone with the time to talk to students and create plans and structure.
“It might be reading a story with them and drawing a picture, it might mean writing an apology letter or sometimes it is missing recess or going out to recess with them and showing the appropriate skills,” she says. “Having somebody visible to work with students who are having a difficult time at any point in the school is a big piece.”
Along the same lines, Vachon wants to work in a preventative way, creating a school wide expectation of behavior, such as with the HERO acronym—Helpful, Empathetic, Respectful and Obedient—they devised as a theme for the school year. She created a booklet of what that looks like in different areas of the school and teachers have gone over it in the classroom and parents have read it. A recent spirit assembly further reiterated the message.
But Vachon’s role doesn’t stop there, as she also works with McClure on school safety and emergency response and then supports and trains paraeducators throughout the building, whether adapting schedules as needed or meeting regularly to see how she can best assist them.
“The value of the dean of students is immense,” McClure says. “She brings another layer of support for kids behaviorally, academically, socially — whatever is needed. She can respond to kids’ needs as well as create preventative measures to help kids learn strategies to be successful.”
The role of Dean of Students may be new in Lynden, but it isn’t new to Vachon. While only her second year in Lynden Schools—she taught fourth grade at Isom last year—she has been a teacher since 1993 and served as a dean of students at a different district previously.
“The dean job is a natural thing for me,” she says. “It is a busy job as you have to get to know all the kids in the school and we are just getting it up and running, but it is something I love to do and I am super excited about it.”
McClure says having “another friendly, caring adult visible and available for kids to connect to” puts the role of dean of students as a hugely important one at Isom, just as it is across all Lynden Schools.