Faculty and Board of Directors
Jessica Howard founded Hiland Hall School in 1991. After almost fifty years of teaching and more than twenty years of leading the school and its programs, it was time to plan for a shift in Jessica’s responsibilities. Although formally retiring in 2012, Jessica continues at the Hiland Hall School as supervising teacher while Lead Teacher, Alida Salins, oversees classroom and curriculum and Director, Meg Cottam, oversees operational concerns.
The teaching staff of the Hiland Hall School is made of highly qualified and dedicated people who set the direction and establish the framework for classroom activities; they organize and execute the programs and curriculum. It is a matter of school policy that the teachers are generally available to make appointed meetings with parents to discuss curriculum, classroom programs and activities, and individual areas of concern. The teachers issue detailed individual student evaluations twice a year, and expect to meet and discuss them with parents.
Meg Cottam- Director
After the closing of the Prospect School, where I worked as assistant to the director, I was invited to sit on Hiland Hall School’s first board of directors. A few years later, as my children became school aged, I enrolled them as students. This was the beginning of a long participation in the Hiland Hall School community – greater and lesser as children grew and moved to other schools. During this time I worked locally and nationally as an artist and educator. More recently, I have offered independent services to individuals and organizations in office management, grant writing and long range planning.
Organizational structures, non-profit management, sustainable systems and working with groups are an enduring interest. The core values and assumptions that attracted me to the Hiland Hall School remain vital. In my current role as director, I strive to support and help implement basic tenets of the school while working with staff, families, children and the community at large.
I hold a BA from Bennington College, completed mediation training at Woodbury College and serve on the Executive Committee of the Bennington County Regional Commission. I feel very fortunate to have lived with my family in Glastenbury, Vermont for thirty years and continue to advocate passionately for the arts, children, schools, independent media and the environment.
Jessica Howard – Founding Teacher
I was born in 1942 in Los Angeles, California, and brought up there by my mother and grandmother – after whom I was named. As a child I made up lots of plays, read a lot, and made ‘hide-outs’ with my friends. I decided to be a teacher when I was eleven years old. I spent my adolescent years reading and looking after very young children. I came to Bennington College after high school. I loved New England, and only later discovered that my father’s family came from New England. I instantly – as a first month freshman – I identified Philosophy as a major. (I also continued to know I would teach.) My other major was history, but I did a lot of math. During the off campus work periods I programmed for computers, worked in a hospital, worked for a sociologist on a psychiatric ward, and worked in a department store. I worked as a camp counselor for six years. After I graduated, I went to Bank Street College of Education, became certified to teach, and taught, first in New York City and then in North Bennington at the then beginning Prospect School. I was associated with the Prospect School from 1966 to 1991. It would take too long to put into words what I learned there – essentially to be who I am, to say nothing of teaching. I left Prospect briefly in 1969 to teach for a year in New Hampshire, and then to study at the University of Connecticut, earning a Master’s degree in Learning Disabilities. I have one son, Asa Keefe. I have lived in my current home in Shaftsbury, VT for 25 years where I discovered my other vocation – gardening. Anybody who wants to talk gardens, just come on by. When Prospect closed in June of 1991, a group of interested parents and teachers joined to begin the Hiland Hall School. Starting and carrying on the school has been a wonderful experience. It’s fun to see how what one has learned can really be put to use.
Why do I teach? I find the way children think, talk, make and do to be endlessly interesting. I love the sense of relationship and discovery; I love participating in the sense of importance and meaning that children bring to their lives. I just love them.
Alida Salins- Elementary Teacher
I grew up in Melville, a suburban town in the middle of Long Island, NY. My parents are both ethnically Latvian (the last name Salins means “little island” in Latvian), and as member of a small expatriate community, I attended Latvian-speaking Sunday schools, as well as a summer camp in the beautiful Catkskill mountains, where I have been a counselor throughout my adolescence, and a program director for the last four. My love of that environment kept pulling me back to rural mountain landscapes and the deep fulfillment I felt creating engaging and challenging experiences for the children is what convinced me to pursue a career in education.
I attended Bennington College for undergraduate study and explored my interests in variety of subjects including: comparative literature, creative writing, ecology, political science, painting and drawing, and Spanish, to name a few! I was also working part-time at the Early Childhood Center, and I began to spend Bennington’s winter term of experiential learning in schools ranging from a private day school in Manhattan to a struggling public school outside of Boston. When it came time to focus my interests, I decided to enter the college’s master’s program for a degree in Elementary Education. I spent the year student teaching at Shaftsbury Elementary School, as well as continuously reflecting on my teaching philosophy, methods and experiences in a Qualifying Portfolio. I’m certified in both Vermont and New York State.
I feel immensely privileged to work in a school places such trust in the student’s ability and desire to learn, both as an individual and as a member of a community. They get to know themselves as learners, creators and community members in a way that will benefit them long into the future. Every day at school here continues to a learning experience, not just for the students, but for me as well.
Ani Schaeffer – Middle School Teacher
I am am originally from Marlboro, Vermont, and am a graduate of The Prospect School (from which Hiland Hall emerged). I hold a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, and a Masters degree in architecture for Pratt Institute. During the thirteen years I worked as a conceptual choreographer, yoga teacher, licensed massage therapist, and architect, I felt an increasing need to be of more direct service to others. This led me to pursue a Masters degree in education from Bank Street College. During that time, I met my husband, moved to The Catskills, and had two children. Vermont has always flowed strongly in my blood, so once I finished my degree, we moved back.
I have found that my time at Prospect has been one of the most definitive threads of my life. While at Bank Street, it became clear to me that I would need to teach at such a school. I am passionately committed to providing children with the space, time, and respect they need in order to truly know themselves, and to deeply engage, experience, and know the world around them. I also really enjoy being with them as all of this unfolds – one never quite knows where it will lead! I am incredibly happy to be teaching at Hiland Hall, and honored to have this opportunity to learn (again, after so many years), from Jessica.
Nancy Nardone- Elementary Teacher
When I was in first grade at Bala Cynwyd Elementary School outside of Philadelphia where I was born and raised, I wrote that I wanted to be a baby-sitter when I grew up. Throughout my childhood, I organized “art class” and games for my much younger sister and her friends, and in my teens and through college I worked with kids at camps or in summer recreation programs. My volunteer work in college was at the campus daycare center. I have always been drawn to working with children.
I graduated from Marlboro College in Vermont with an emphasis in Cultural Anthropology. After college I worked for two years as a teacher at a daycare center, and lived at poverty level. That inspired me to attend Antioch New England Graduate School for my Masters in Education. I have since held a Vermont Professional Educator’s License with an elementary endorsement for the past 24 years.
I am a part-time teacher at Hiland Hall and have other part-time work when I am not at the school. I am a clay artist and make hand-built botanically inspired stoneware. I also teach from my studio and run Clay Play Studio Art Camp each summer. Every year a group from Hiland Hall comes to the studio to do a clay project that integrates with work they are doing in the classroom. I am also a Hebrew School teacher at Congregation Beth El in Bennington and enjoy teaching Israeli folk dance to my students.
I first got involved with Hiland Hall as a parent and as a classroom volunteer. Both of my daughters attended Hiland Hall through their elementary and middle school years, and neither one ever wanted to miss a minute of school. The girls transitioned with ease and great success into public high school, and they have only the fondest feelings about their foundation years at Hiland Hall. My husband, Ken, who also spent eleven years as a parent of students at the school, was very enriched by the experience as well.
When I am not at work my hobbies include: spending time with my family, working in the garden growing and preserving vegetables or tending flowers, walking my beloved dog in the woods, cooking and baking delicious food for my family, dancing, swimming, and camping. My favorite places on earth are anywhere costal, especially if it is warm, and the family cottage that borders the White Mountain National Forest and has no internet, TV, cell service, or car access.
Our Board of Directors is largely composed of parents of both former and current students, as well as non-parent members of the community. They are responsible for long-range planning, establishing goals and policies, and legal and fiscal matters. The Board is a volunteer group. Board meetings are open to all interested persons in the school community.