Pixie was the Executive Director of Vermont Adult Learning for 23 years. She first began at the organization in 1995 while it was still called the Vermont Institute for Self-Reliance (VISR), then changed the name to Vermont Adult Learning in 1996. The Department of Education contracted with four nonprofit organizations to provide adult education services statewide. VAL was contracted to serve 7 of the 14 counties and to oversee the Adult Diploma Program statewide. At that time, the majority of adult learners received instruction in their homes. Prior to 1995, VAL had also offered a correspondence GED course, as well as offering GED instruction through Vermont Interactive Television statewide.
Starting in 1995, VAL partnered with St. Michael’s College to develop center-based classes for English Language Learners (ELL) at our Burlington center. The following year, VAL partnered with the School of International Training to develop ELL classes at its Brattleboro site. ELL classes are now offered in all VAL learning centers.
Pixie described her first ten years as one full of changes in the field of adult education. Teaching transitioned from primarily a home-based model to center-based with growing interest in developing both nationally recognized standards and standardized assessments in adult education. Beginning in 1995 until her retirement in 2018, Pixie served on the Board of the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC), which is affiliated with World Education and includes four representatives from each of the six New England States. As a direct result of that affiliation, Vermont Adult Learning became a lead partner in Equipped for the Future, which was the organization leading the research to develop national standards and VAL also received a grant to participate in the national effort to develop standardized assessments.
Pixie worked closely with the Agency of Education, other providers, and legislators to establish a single statewide contract for the provision of adult education in 2000. Vermont Adult Learning won the statewide contract and formed Learning Works, which became the “umbrella” name for VAL and the other three nonprofits contracting with VAL to provide services. Pixie served on the Legislative Study Committee that developed the legislation that created the High School Completion Program approved in 2006. This program not only created an alternative pathway to a high school diploma for those 16 and older, who were either out of school or at-risk of dropping out, it also created a much needed additional source of revenue for the adult education system.
During her time as Executive Director, Pixie stated that her tasks changed a lot, but overall she worked on fundraising, developing new programs, supporting existing programs, overseeing and supporting regional managers, managing the budget, figuring out the best way to provide services, expanding the role of adult education, working with an excellent Board of Trustees, and reaching out and establishing partnerships. Pixie stated that, “no day was like any other day,” but that she found the job “tremendously fun and challenging.” One of the things she most enjoyed was working with adult learners to develop their voice. She organized adult learners to testify annually at the State House and took adult students to meet with members of the Vermont delegation and testify in Washington, D.C. on 6 different occasions.
Pixie attended Wellesley College, receiving an undergraduate degree in History. During her time at Wellesley, Pixie was the President of College Government and was involved in politics — she even spent her senior year interning for a political campaign. After graduation, she spent 5 months in Australia working with environmental leaders. When she returned to the United States, Pixie went to Washington D.C., working for the Council on Environmental Quality to develop policies in manpower training and environmental education. However, when the President of Wellesley College invited Pixie to come with her to Dartmouth College to be her assistant and help in Dartmouth’s transition to coeducation, Pixie accepted the role, thinking she would later return to D.C. She then got her MBA at Cornell University and afterward, decided to move to Vermont where she was hired by Johnson State (now Northern Vermont University) doing Public Relations and Development. After taking some time off to raise her children, Pixie took a job doing Development at Sterling College. From there, she ended up at Vermont Adult Learning — she never thought she would be involved in adult education before accepting her role at VAL.
When asked about what aspect of her work at VAL she particularly enjoyed, Pixie said there were lots of things, but she felt the most proud about passing the high school completion program after working closely on it with legislators. She also enjoyed the above-referenced trips to Washington, D.C. with adult learners. Pixie and the Vermont students met adult learners from all over the country and were particularly impressed at the impact that they had, despite most of them believing that their voice did not matter. Pixie said it was so gratifying seeing individuals blossom from being a “little wallflower” to someone that could stand up in front of a room and do a phenomenal job at organizing a presentation. She also added that she worked with amazing people and truly gifted teachers who are so committed to their work.
In her free time, Pixie is an outdoors person. She enjoys snowshoeing, hiking, and horseback riding — she even lives on a farm with horses and chickens. She also stated that she would love to do more with cooking and that, once the pandemic is over, would love opportunities to travel more. Pixie is also active on a number of Boards, and is particularly involved in health care reform.
When asked why VAL’s work matters, Pixie said that you never buy an item of clothing that is one-size-fits-all, so to assume education is one-size-fits-all makes no sense. She explained that VAL is there to fill in the gap of schools that cannot afford separate educational programs and that it breaks her heart to see young people disengaged from education, that do not believe they are smart or capable of learning when really what they need is a different learning environment. She emphasized that VAL is there to provide a new environment and its high school completion program permits students to design a program that works for them, based around their particular interests.
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This profile was written by Rebecca Shames, Development and Marketing Intern.