Charter school director named Educator of the Year

Heather Alterisio, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.
·3 min read

May 4—NEWBURYPORT — River Valley Charter School Director Jonnie Lyn Evans was recognized as Educator of the Year last week by the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but Evans said the honor should encompass a much larger group of people.

"While I was recognized as the Educator of the Year, I humbly recognize that I received it as captain of a really large team," she said. "There are many, many constituents who made River Valley's success possible, including students, parents, board members and staff."

The award is a tribute to students who "demonstrated incredible perseverance in the face of the pandemic," Evans said, noting their cooperation with wearing masks, handwashing and social distancing.

Since September, the school has worked to maximize in-person learning while adhering to local, state and federal health and safety guidelines. Students in kindergarten through third grade utilized half days, while seventh- and eighth-graders relied on a hybrid model.

Students in fourth through six grades were divided into eight cohorts. Each week, four cohorts met at an outdoor education site, while the other four met inside the school.

The outdoor sites included Maple Crest Farm in West Newbury, Beech Hill Farm in Amesbury, Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury and Plum Island's Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and PITA Hall.

Faculty and staff focused on the social and emotional well-being of students, despite changes to the classroom setting. About 75% of students had teachers they knew prior to this year, so they were able to maintain some sense of normalcy, Evans explained.

The school director also credited parents and caregivers for being "flexible and support" with the ideas proposed, especially with half-day schedules. She was especially grateful to the parents of students in Grades 4-6, who arranged their schedules to transport children to and from off-site locations and provided them with appropriate clothing depending on the weather.

Evans noted that the board of trustees, an all-volunteer group of parents and community members, met more frequently this year and assisted with important aspects of the reopening plan.

Finally, Evans thanked the staff, who she said should be renamed "the Herculean Squad" for their dedication.

"Every one of them demonstrated an unrelenting commitment to their students, the school and each other," Evans said. "They worked harder than they have ever worked, supported each other and demonstrated such stamina.

"A moment doesn't go by that I don't recognize that it is the strength of the RVCS community as a whole that allowed us, not me, to be presented as Education of the Year, not Educator of the Year," she said.

Evans received the award at the Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at Blue Ocean Event Center in Salisbury.

Prior to taking over as director in 2019, Evans served in a number of roles, including assistant director, elementary co-teacher and project manager. She is also a co-founder of the charter school, the state's first public Montessori charter school.

Assistant Director Dan Bouchard also credited the staff, parents and school community for their flexibility over the past year, but said Evans' leadership kept the school on track.

"She's so detailed," he said. "She's able to see all of the possibilities, take in all of that information, do the research and do the work."

Bouchard called Evans "fearless," saying, "I cannot imagine a leader being able to take in what's happened this past year and switch on a dime as things changed."