By Sue Moore
Next to the roles of superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools in Vicksburg in shaping the student culture is the person who has the job of district Curriculum and Instruction director.
For many years that was John O’Toole, who retired at the end of the 2014/15 school year. His replacement is Gail VanDaff, well known to the teachers of special education in Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Portage because of her work through KRESA, the intermediate school district. In fact, she has been immersed in special education work since before college when she read a book about a child with cerebral palsy. “I wanted to be able to help him and any other children with special needs,” VanDaff said. “It wasn’t much career thinking, because I knew immediately what my life work would be.”
After 30 years as a teacher and administrator in Battle Creek public schools, Union City, Lakeview, Calhoun Intermediate School District, and KRESA Southern Service Area, she has accepted a very new challenge in the Vicksburg Community Schools. Teachers who worked with her before exclaim about how highly organized she is and how dedicated to the students who receive her services. Faculty she has worked with praise her unstintingly.
“I’m looking forward to being closer to teaching and learning in my new role,” VanDaff said. “I want to support our teachers to make things happen by creating conditions for them to be successful. It’s important to break down any barriers for them and their students so they can all reach their potential.”
“My mission is to provide direction and guidance in the area of curriculum, instruction, and assessment that supports the attainment of the vision and mission of this fine school system. We want our graduates to have the skills they need to be successful in college and careers.”
VanDaff believes in establishing priority standards, to know what is essential for all students to master and to create conditions where all students have access to resources. “We are developing a multi-tiered system of support that guides us in identifying what we expect our students to learn, knowing when they have learned it, responding when they haven’t learned as well as when they already know it. It is our job to make sure all the pieces fit together and are working.”
Gail and her husband of 23 years met at a Special Olympics track meet. He is the facilities manager for the Sherman Lake YMCA and they live in a house on the back side of the camp near Galesburg. That continues her involvement with youth in all aspects of her life, she said.