Notes from the Head of School

Highlights in the Hilltop Weekly Newsletter from our Head of School
*Please Click on the Title to Read the Full Article

Reflections on Wednesday at the Capitol – January 8, 2021

After a year of troubling turmoil, 2021 started out with more. Our staff was in a staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon when the insurrection broke out at the capitol. Many of us had family or friends notifying us of what was happening. We have since talked, as program teams and as a full staff, about our own processing of the events, and about how to support students as they return to school next week…

Multi-Household Gathering Clarifications – December 4, 2020

We have come to the close of yet another ever-changing week in a year of constant change and adjustment. Once again we would like to thank you for your support, cooperation, and understanding. As things are constantly evolving here at Hilltop, they are evolving beyond as well. The Vermont Department of Education provided more clarifications and updates yesterday, in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health, in regards to multi-household gatherings, including child care pods…

Going Beyond Limits as a Community – October 30, 2020

This has been a year with an emphasis on health and safety and on the actions of the individual impacting the community. Our community has done an amazing job. As a staff, we have been so careful and we have been thrilled with how seriously and responsibly all of our families are taking the commitment to be safe to protect each other. Let’s keep it up…

Progress Report and Reminders – September 11, 2020

Dear Families, We are so grateful for the thoughtful cooperation with the health and safety procedures we have in place this year. Everyone has been so understanding and cooperative as we worked through the new drop-off procedures with the health checks and travel restrictions. You have also been keeping children home when they have even slight symptoms. We also trust that you have been behaving safely outside of school (see Jade Harmon’s illustration above!) Thank you! To make the mornings as efficient as possible accommodating these new procedures, here are a few reminders…

First Week of School – September 4, 2020

Welcome back to school! We were so happy to see so many of our students during this week of orientation. This week, and over the next few weeks, teachers will be focusing on building community and renewing relationships that have been challenged by the time of separation…

Orientation week Aug 31-Sept 4th, Start date Sept 8th – August 11, 2020

Our first day of school instruction has been mandated by the state to be Tuesday, September 8th. This new date has remained a requirement for independent schools. We will be moving some of the activities planned for August 27th and 28th and for the initial week of school into an orientation week August 31st – September 4th. This week will have conferences and visits, as well as optional practicing drop-off and pick-up, orientation activities (including mask wearing and physical distancing), teambuilding time outside, etc. You and your child will have activities scheduled during the week of August 31 – September 4th with the first day of school instruction being on September 8th. On August 18th you will receive an updated schedule for the week of August 31st for your child’s program…

Start Date Uncertain  – August 4, 2020

As you may have heard, the Governor issued an executive order last week stating that schools must delay their start until September 8th. As you know, we at Hilltop Montessori School have been working full speed ahead for an August 31st start date. In fact, there are envelopes with “Summer Letters” in the mail to you with the detailed schedule for an August 31st start, with visits and conferences happening the Thursday and Friday before…

Hilltop Re-Entry Updates July 28, 2020

SummerFun is wrapping up nicely! It has been so great to have at least a portion of our community together again in person, as well as a useful test run for new health and safety procedures to be implemented this fall. There is lots to do to prepare for this new way of schooling, which will be learning curve for us all. There are a few things we would like to highlight as we move closer to August and the start of school…

Re-Entry Plans: Fall 2020 – July 13, 2020

 I hope this letter finds you able to enjoy the summer, despite the uncertainty and ominous news from other parts of the country. We, as a school, have been working hard to develop our plan for Re-Entry in September. Here is Hilltop Montessori School’s Re-Entry Plan for the Fall of 2020. I have great appreciation for the staff, teachers, Board members, and parents who offered and helped to develop this plan. It is nimble and able to adjust to changing situations… 

Furthering the Work of the Peace Table – June 5, 2020

This has been a challenging week at the end of an unprecedentedly disrupted and difficult spring for our country and its people, and indeed around the world. The most recent incidents of racism and police brutality have made many of us anxious, pensive, heartbroken, and wanting to do more. At a predominantly white school in a predominantly white state, the negative impact of racial bias is not something that many of us are forced to deal with on a daily basis, while our parents, students, and staff people of color do…

Plans for Re-Opening and a Remote Learning Workgroup – May 29, 2020

As teachers are working to finish up the school year with students in remote learning, our school administration is working to plan for our in-person reopening in the fall. We have many pieces working simultaneously to prepare for being together next year…

Possibilities For SummerFun – May 15, 2020

Wednesday night the guidance for childcare centers opening in the summer came out from Governor Scott. We are making plans to be able to care for Toddlers and Children’s House students. There are many components to take into consideration:

  • Can our facilities and staff meet the requirements laid out?
  • How many families might want to send their children into this group situation?
  • What group size is most appropriate and protective of individuals and of our community? (guidelines have said 10 previously, but the new ones say up to 25 including teachers)
  • What scenarios should we plan for and be able to meet?
  • What should be the cost to the school or our community for this service?…

Balance – May 1, 2020

Balancing – Our current situation has brought “balance” to the forefront in several areas at our school:

Social/emotional connection and support balanced with academic needs –  Teachers and staff have been giving lots of thought to the importance of supporting the emotional and social needs of our students and families during this time. Helping us all get through this with the least amount of trauma is clearly a priority. Yet, we do have attendance requirements (state mandated), academic obligations, and need to track and measure how students are doing. We are sending an envelope of assessment material (by US Postal Service) to Elementary and Middle School families. Please read through it and let us know if you have any questions… 

Support for the HMS Community During COVID-19 – April 17, 2020

The Hilltop Montessori School Administration and Board of Trustees have been working through many considerations to support families, staff, and students for the current crisis and for the long-term sustainability of the school. With so many unknowns regarding the COVID-19 crisis and how it will play out in the weeks, months, and years ahead, we want to communicate clearly and directly with families about where things stand… 

Remote Learning Updates and Goals – April 10, 2020

In the first few weeks of remote learning, we focussed on: Reaching out to students and families to support learning at home as quickly and thoroughly as we could; balancing staff roles and responsibilities to distribute the immense new online workload and the diminished onsite workload, and keep all staff employed; strategizing for managing the school and supporting families during this health and economic crisis; providing care for children of essential persons; and much more . . . 

HMS Learning from Home Handbook– April 3, 2020

We have been able to document what we are doing as a school and what each program is doing in our HMS: Learning from Home Handbook. This is available on the HMS Website and will also be provided in hard copy to every HMS family next week. We are working to translate both the sense of community that Hilltop provides, along with the academic and “whole child” offerings that are regularly given by our school.
Have our individual and collective lives ever changed so much in two weeks? And we are here for the long haul. As most of you have probably heard, we will not be allowed to meet in person with students and families for the rest of the school year (with the exception of providing care to children of “essential persons”).
It is so strange for all of us to be working from home and not visit in person with you, each other on staff, and of course spend the days with your children. This has been a transition for us all, some more than others. . . I’ve been astounded by the work of the teachers and by what I’ve seen and heard from your homes. 
As soon as we have a plan for one scenario, we are dealing with the reality of another. As you heard, schools in our area are closed as of Monday, March 16, and all Vermont schools must be closed by Wednesday. The soonest we will be back is April 6th, and that is not definite at this point. Not much is definite, other than we need to feel in community and support each other, as we isolate. Quite a juxtaposition…
Montessori at the State House – February 14, 2020

We are proud of our participation in Vermont’s state programs that have enabled us to be a part of public-private education partnerships. These programs enable us to support more families in attending Hilltop.

Middle School Curriculum– January 31, 2020

This year the Middle School has been transforming their curriculum to have a focus on Climate Change, the challenging and critical topic of our times. There are many youth leaders across the globe and we are working to teach and learn information with an eye to action, while also supporting our students in developing all the competencies that have always been a part of our “skills based” program.


Grant Application Awards – December 13, 2019
Every year, we participate in state programs and apply for grants that help to support our school activities. We’ve gotten notice of three successful grant application awards!
Professional DevelopmentOctober 18, 2019 
As a staff, we continue to do “professional development” as one of our ways to grow further and to always improve as teachers and administrators. We invite you to further develop as a parent/caregiver by taking advantage of one of the outstanding workshop opportunities that we have arranged to offer at Hilltop this fall. None of us have a degree in parenting and all of our children would benefit from us being more intentional and thoughtful in our interactions. Please join us!
Hilltop becomes AMS Accredited – September 27, 2019
We are proud to announce that Hilltop Montessori School is now fully accredited by the American Montessori Society (AMS). We are the first Montessori school in VT to become Montessori accredited. Only 15% of the Montessori schools in the country are accredited by AMS. Being accredited is an official certification and confirmation that we have the qualified teachers, child-centered facilities, and solid management that enable us to implement the Montessori pedagogy authentically! 

Summer Faculty Training – August 30, 2019

The summer is a time for teachers to rest and rejuvenate. It is also often a time for thoughtful professional development, feeling less rushed than during the school year. Many of our teachers and staff were involved in different trainings and Professional Development over the summer. Below are a few highlights of information learned that will be brought back to school.

Making Bathrooms Safer Spaces –  May 31, 2019

As you may have read about or heard, the Equity & Anti- Bias Workgroup is underway! They have had several meetings with parents, staff, and Middle School students participating in the discussions. I was thrilled to hear that the Taskforce’s first recommendation is something we’ve wanted to address for some time, and that their proposal is an easy one to roll out for next school year: although the Arts Barn is the newest building, it is the only building with gendered bathroom design and signage.

2019 Parent Survey ResultsApril 26, 2019

A huge thank you to all of you who took the time to respond to our survey! In order to be responsive to the needs of our families and consider future plans, we sent the annual surveys via email a few weeks ago. We were thrilled with the response rate and responses from our families. We received feedback from almost half of the families (46) and there was a nice distribution across programs.

Curriculum Morning and Anti-Bias Resources –February 15, 2019

We greatly appreciate the strong turnout of parents for the curriculum morning on Saturday…We were thrilled with all the support and interest from parents. While much of the discussion focused on race, we are also doing work in the areas of anti-bias regarding economic status, class, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, learning differences, ableism, etc. Many parents were interested in how they could further their own learning in the area of anti-bias generally and “white privilege” specifically. We have several initiatives ongoing and just starting that are open to parents.

Futhering Our Anti-Bias Work– December 7, 2018

In fulfillment of the priorities set out in the Strategic Plan, we as a school are furthering our work in the areas of diversity and equity. We are applying an “anti-bias” lens to our curriculum and practices as we work to support all members of our current and future community. We have been doing this work as a staff and will soon be more directly involving parents in more of these conversations.

Hilltop’s AMS Accreditation Self-Study Approved!– November 20, 2018

It was very gratifying to hear back from the AMS Accreditation Department that our 200 pages self-study was approved with flying colors! They gave specific comments on many aspects of our program and of how we presented our material, concluding with:

Executive Function at School and Home – October 19, 2018

This year Hilltop will be offering a special presentation on November 15 at 6:30pm:  “Executive Function at School and Home: What is it and Why does it matter?” with speaker Debbie Tracht, a Learning Specialist with expertise in Literacy, ADHD and the emerging field of Mind, Brain and Education.

American Montessori Society Accreditation Self-Study Report – September 21, 2018

We submitted our American Montessori Society Accreditation Self-Study report this morning!!!

Fair Isn’t Always Equal September 7, 2018

One piece of our anti-bias work comes up regularly and has been a focus in some programs at the start of school: we all have differences, and we work to own, acknowledge, and embrace those differences.

Our Anti-Bias Work – August 27, 2018

One of the Professional Development areas that we had identified for all staff to work more on is related to Anti-Bias work as part of our diversity/equity goals. 

Bead Ceremony – June 15, 2018

The Bead Ceremony recognizes each group of children who are rising from one program to the next. 

A Reflection on “Practice – April 6, 2018

Within the process of re-evaluation of our Mission Statement the word “practice” was enthusiastically embraced as a satisfying way to describe the way we engage in Responsible Independence.

The “Spicy Announcement” Big Reveal! – March 30, 2018

The Board, Roselle Garro (Development Director), and I shared the news of an amazing gift to the school that has helped to secure further financial stability to support the families, faculty, and facilities that make up our school currently and into the future.

Emergency Preparedness – March 2, 2018  

The event in Florida on Feb 14th reminds us, yet again, of how precious our children are, and how important their safety is. Since moving up to this campus on the hill, we have continued to improve our emergency planning and our drills.

Montessori Curriculum Morning – February 9, 2018  

Hilltop has had a strong and meaningful mission statement for the past 15 years. We all have loved that it has “responsible independence” at its core and that most students, parents, and certainly teachers, have it guide our daily activities.

Montessori Cultural Curriculum – January 26, 2018. 

In a Montessori world the “Cultural Curriculum” includes science and much more, in a beautifully integrated way.

Hilltop’s Early Childhood Program Receives 5 Stars, Again! – January 19, 2018  

We are thrilled to announce that Hilltop Montessori School has been recognized once again by the State of Vermont’s Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS).

New & Improved Mission Statement – January 12, 2018
Hilltop Montessori School’s mission is for students to practice responsible independence in a caring community of curious critical learners and thoughtful citizens.

Winter Sports – December 1, 2017

“Practical Life” is a classic part of the Montessori curriculum. Students like doing real work that accomplishes something in real life and teaches practical skills. In every program we have lessons and activities in Practical Life – and in Southern Vermont, “Winter Sports” is a part of our Practical Life curriculum.

Emergency Drills – November 10, 2017
We are required to practice emergency drills. We do these for the whole school and explain it in an age appropriate way to each level. You may hear your children talk about these events, and we wanted to share a bit about what we do.

In Service Days – November 4, 2017
One day a year, we use our In-Service Day to visit other schools to get ideas for and gain perspective on our teaching and community.

Peace Presentation for Grandparents & Special Friends Day – October 6, 2017
The national political rhetoric, climate, and actions of the past year have been disturbing to me. I could have been thrown into a deep depression, finding it hard to get out of bed each day, were it not for what we are doing here at Hilltop Montessori School.

Supporting Middle School Micro-Economies – September 29, 2017
Throughout the year the middle school takes on the daunting task of raising around ten thousand dollars for our odysseys! This year we are raising money for our River of Spirit Odyssey to Boston, a comparative world religion and science of water study, connecting with many different faith communities and cultures.

Peace Day – September 22, 2017
Peace Buddies are an important and wonderful part of the Hilltop community. Each year, on or near International Peace Day, students are paired with another in a different program. This results in disparate height friends walking through the halls together, singing at All School Gathering, and developing lovely relationships across programs and ages.

Free Play – September 15, 2017
If you travel to Hilltop Montessori School around noon on a weekday, you might be surprised to hear chatter and laughter coming from the forest adjacent to the parking lot…

Montessori Tenets: “Work” – September 8, 2017
It is only week two and the classrooms are already settling in and getting “normalized”.

Hilltop Graduates on the Board of the Putney School! – April 7, 2017
We are proud to share that two of our 2015 graduates, Emmanuel Keppel and Greta Wolfe, have recently been elected to the Board of Trustees of The Putney School, a position of great responsibility and honor.

School State Re-Approval Granted – March 24, 2017
On March 21st, the Vermont State Education Board voted to renew our school’s general independent school approval!

Proud to have a Learning Specialist at Hilltop – February 17, 2017
We are thrilled that having a learning specialist has enabled us to expand the continuum of learners that we serve at Hilltop.

Building Confidence – February 10, 2017
How can we, as parents and caregivers, support our children as they grow into self-sufficient, resilient people?

State Funding Helps Hilltop Increase Equity and Accessibility – January 27, 2017
There is much discussion, both nationally and in Vermont, about how to best support our education system. As conscientious educators who want to “make the world a better place” many of us at Hilltop think about these issues regularly.

Alumni Night – October 28, 2016
Alumni Night, as we call it, has become a wonderful tradition at Hilltop. Hearing our graduates speak on topics related to how Hilltop prepared them for high school is a testament to the exceptional education they received here.

Teaching Consent at All Ages – October 28, 2016
For the youngest children, we teach them about each other’s personal space, and how to ask permission for a hug, and their right to say “No, Thank you.” For the Elementary ages, this progresses to ensuring that everyone is comfortable with an activity or discussion, and addressing potential appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the larger context of “consent”.

Emergency Preparedness – October 21, 2016
We have several types of emergency drills as part of our school safety and emergency preparedness program. You may hear your children talk about these events, and we wanted to share a bit about what we do.

Professional Development for Children’s House Teachers – January 22, 2016
Three of our teachers dedicated last Saturday to professional development and attended the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts annual conference. This year’s keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Steve Hughes.

Montessori Principles Revisited – January 15, 2016
Yet again there have been articles noting wonderful new trends in education that are what Montessori has been doing for 100 years, and Hilltop Montessori School for more than 40 years!

Professional Development for Staff – January 8, 2016
We held an All Staff Meeting which included an activity offered by Dan Filler, Director of Elementary. As some of you may know, in addition to his teaching, administration, and art contributions to Hilltop, Dan also uses his Montessori teaching expertise for the Montessori Elementary Teacher Training Collaborative, a teacher training program based in Lexington, Massachusetts. He shared one of their activities with our staff.

Notes from the Board – December 11, 2015
Many members of the Hilltop community believe expanding our level of diversity at the school is an important goal in our developing strategic plan. We put a request for interested participants in the weekly newsletter back in October and formed the Equity Task Force.

Supporting Children Who Hear Scary News – November 20, 2015
As we hear both local and international news of tragedy, we need to process the information, and help our children process the information in age appropriate ways.

The Strategic Planning Process Continues! – October 16, 2015
As some of you may recall, last Spring we began the process of developing a new Strategic Plan for the school. The last 5-year Strategic Plan was done in 2010 (Strategic Plan 2010) and we have achieved, or made progress towards achieving, all of the goals laid out at that time.

Notes from the Board – September 11, 2015
It’s been a real privilege for me to serve on the Hilltop Board of Trustees the last six years. Hilltop has transformed itself in so many exciting ways during this time, from the creation of our beautiful new campus to the formation of a marvelously effective administrative team.

Montessori Tenets: 3 Year Cycle – September 4, 2015
There is a reason we go from Olders back to Youngers in each cycle transition. Children grow in confidence spending three years in a program, feeling at home and in control. Then, they take that confidence to a new arena and use it to grow at the next level.

Professional Development – August 28, 2015
The teachers and staff of Hilltop Montessori School are spectacular! It has been wonderful for us all to be back together this week again preparing the school for your children, and engaging in Professional Development. In other years, we have had an expert from the outside come in to educate and inspire us in a new way. This year, we decided to capitalize on all the knowledge, skills, experience, and inspiration that we have right here amongst our staff.

Not So New To Us! – May 22, 2015
So often things that are reported as new “discoveries” or trends in education are things that Maria Montessori observed 100 years ago and incorporated into the time-tested, scientifically proven approach we use at Hilltop.

Notes from the Board – May 1, 2015
We are at a terrific moment in Hilltop’s story. Through much hard work over the past several years, Hilltop has achieved stability throughout the school, and we are thus in the enviable position of being able to proactively plan for the school’s future.

Classism in the Classroom – April 16. 2015
On Wednesday, Kerstin (Lower Elementary Teacher), Rebecca (Children’s House – Willow Room Assistant) and I attended a training at the Vermont Learning Collaborative on “Classism in the Classroom”. At Hilltop, we work consciously to address diversity and inclusion in many ways.

Montessori Tenets – April 10, 2015
One of the most important components of an authentic Montessori program is a long uninterrupted work cycle. The reason for this is to embrace and increase a child’s ability to concentrate.

A Note on Reading – April 3, 2015
To read, children must be able to hear distinct sounds, turn symbols (letters) into sounds, sounds into words, and words into meaning. Reading success is built upon a foundation of specific skills. These skills are: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each of these skills must be taught to guide children toward literacy.

Montessori Tenets: Smaller vs. Bigger Class Size – March 20, 2015
Attending the American Montessori Society conference last week was inspiring. It was a wonderful reminder of the benefits of the true Montessori programs we offer. One feature, imperative to implementation of the Montessori philosophy, is class size.

An Invitation to All – December 16, 2014
We realize and appreciate that you are trusting us to educate your child and to help her or him grow in a way that, for many of you, is very different from your schooling. We know that without grades and test scores, you are having to use other measures to know that your child is growing and thriving in this environment.

Starting the Day – November 21, 2014
The mornings in our classrooms have a lovely natural rhythm. For the Toddler and Children’s House programs to start off on the playground gives those energetic students an opportunity to play with friends and get exercise first thing in the morning, before coming inside and settling down to choosing their work.

Let’s Grow Kids – November 14, 2014
Time and time again, Dr. Maria Montessori’s ideas from 100 years ago are validated by modern science. Hilltop has been participating in the statewide campaign, Let’s Grow Kids, a public education campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of the early years in development.

Hilltop Investments Moved to Socially Responsible Funds – November 7, 2014
The Hilltop board is pleased to announce that we have recently moved our investments into a socially responsible portfolio that will be managed by the local firm Prentiss Smith and Company.

Annual Fund – October 17, 2014
I was recently reminded, by a parent, about how long Hilltop has dreamed of having a Learning Specialist on staff to assist teachers and students. Wendy’s involvement with the children working hard to learn to read has indeed been a dream come true.

The Importance of Blending the Three Years Within a Program – September 12, 2014
One of the critical components of an authentic Montessori program is mixed age groups, usually three years in the same classroom. Hilltop has always had three years together for Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary.

Summer Notes – August 6, 2014
Well, I thought things might slow down in the summer, but they haven’t . . . It has remained extremely busy and productive up here on top of the hill!

New Mailing Address for Hilltop – July 22, 2014
The Middle School house was built in 1905. It was known as the Stafford Family Farm. We have chosen “Stafford Farm Hill” as the new name for the driveway/road leading to the school.

Notes from the Board – May 2, 2014
The Board is excited to announce two new members.

Arts Integration – April 15, 2014
Time and again, important components of the Montessori approach, developed one hundred years ago, are proven to be beneficial in a modern context. One of these is the benefits of integrating arts into other components of the curriculum.

Montessori Tenets: Nothing New – April 11, 2014
Time and again, Montessori is shown to be spot on. Often a Montessori tenet will be touted as a “new” method, yet we know Dr. Montessori developed these 100 years ago.

Montessori Tenets: Prepared Environment – December 6, 2013
There are so many things to highlight and appreciate about how Hilltop Montessori School is a true Montessori school. One that came to mind this week is how wonderfully “prepared” the HMS environment is.