By Rachel Gill
Longtime Williston Central School educators Julie Longchamp and Bob Mitchell will both step down this month, leaving behind an impressive track record of educational impacts.
Mitchell served as an administrator and paraeducator for a total of 43 years. Longchamp will move on after 25 years at Williston Central School and 30 years in education.
Longchamp has accepted a new position as director of professional programs at the Vermont National Education Association.
“I have had the best career anyone could have asked for,” Longchamp said. “I am only 52. That is too young to retire, so I am excited about this next move.”
In her new role, Longchamp will support teachers while coordinating with colleges and local professional development units.
“I will be able to be connected to 1,000 or more teachers and educators, which will provide a much broader view of education as my view now is in the classroom,” Longchamp said.
The transition came as Longchamp pursued her doctoral degree from the University of Vermont in educational leadership and policy studies, which she plans to complete by next spring.
Longchamp began teaching in 1982, running special education in a one-room schoolhouse in Belvidere until 1984.
“It was such a blast,” Longchamp said. “There were 18 students total and we had six computers total, very high-tech for a tiny school.”
In 1985, Longchamp earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University, then returned to Vermont to teach at Waterbury Elementary School.
Longchamp started at Williston Central School in 1988 and now teaches fifth through eighth grades. Along with teachers Bernie Caron, Al Myers and Gary Howard, Longchamp helped implement the middle school model that became Swift House during the 1991-1992 school year.
“Students in these grades are a population with unique needs,” she said. “They are increasing their independence, they are in need of a strong personal connection with their teachers and need more project-based and hands-on learning.”
Although Longchamp is moving on, she doesn’t plan to cut all ties to Williston Central.
She will continue to produce the school musical, which she has done for the last 11 years.
“I am not going to be a stranger,” Longchamp said. “When you see these performances you wouldn’t think they are a middle school performance. We are very lucky to have incredible resources.”
Seeing the final performance is something Longchamp just can’t live without.
“It is really great when you have high expectations for kids and you see them achieve and exceed those expectations inside and outside classroom,” Longchamp said. “That is one of the greatest rewards of working with students, to see them being empowered.”
Longchamp also plans to start a virtual book club with Swift House team students, starting with “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne.
“It will allow me to build connections with kids in a different way.”
Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said Longchamp’s work in the district is unmatched.
“(Longchamp is) a champion of each and every student, all day, every day,” Pinckney said. “Julie was instrumental in maintaining the student-centered traditions, the active family involvement, and the close collaborative relationships among all the players in the Swift House family.”
As her last year comes to a close, Longchamp has mixed emotions.
“The first week after my announcement, there were a lot of tears, so it’s not going to be easy,” she said. “But I think I am ready, and it helps to know my team (Swift House) is going to thrive. They really understand middle level education.”
Although Longchamp will maintain some connections, she said she will miss her students.
They are really great and they keep me young,” she said. “Watching kids grow during that huge transformation from fifth to eighth grade, what a privilege…I have been the luckiest person in the world in terms of my career in this really special school.”
Mitchell began at Williston Central School in 1970 as a gym teacher. Since then, his roles have included assistant principal, co-principal, associate principal, principal and, for the last 10 years, paraeducator.
Mitchell declined an interview with the Observer, but those who worked with him had much to say about his years of service to Williston Central School.
First to offer praise was Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks.
“His relationships with students are amazing and he has motivated more students than we could count, in so many ways,” Parks wrote in an email to the Observer. “What a gem and a gift he has been to Williston.”
Pinckney added her regards.
“Bob Mitchell is a fixture in the Williston School District. For Bob, it was, and is, always about the students, “Pinckney said. “As an administrator, Bob made every decision based on the whole child. Today as a paraeducator, he brings that very same caring, nurturing, and focused attention to the students he works with.”