Mallory McGuiness follows sister as West Rutland’s valedictorian

By GABRIEL SCHWARTZ

WEST RUTLAND — “It takes a village to raise a child,” Maddison McGuiness said in her valedictorian speech to the West Rutland High School class of 2018.

Three years later, her sister has also earned the valedictorian title at Westside, but under very different circumstances.

On Feb. 9, 2021, Maddison’s sister Mallory McGuiness waited for everyone to receive their honors for the second quarter. At the end of it all, she would find out who was going to be valedictorian of her graduating class. Her mother, sister and grandparents waited eagerly on Zoom to see whose name would be called.

After tense moments waiting, Mallory’s name was finally called  and her family cheered on the other side of the screen.


Sisters,Maddison, left, and Mallory McGuiness. Both girls earned the title of valedictorian in their respective graduating classes at West Rutland. The only difference was grades versus proficiency.
 
Photo provided

The sisters were each president of their respective classes, as well as members of the National Honor Society. Maddison held a 4.0 GPA through her four years at West Rutland.

However, in 2018, West Rutland began to follow the new trend that was spreading across Vermont: proficiency-based learning. Since 2014, Vermont public schools have been making the transition from grade point averages to a new idea that doesn’t involve grades, but rather personal growth and mastery of knowledge and skills.

“You have to have the highest overall ‘exceeds proficiency’ and be in the NHS,” Mallory said, explaining the ideals of proficiency-based learning and becoming valedictorian. “We are the first class to graduate with all proficiency.”

The school had begun talks of transitioning to proficiency-based learning after Maddison’s junior year and retiring the long-standing tradition of valedictorian and salutatorian.

Dissatisfied with these discussions, Maddison decided to try to persuade the committee to keep the honors based on academic performance — and she succeeded.

“I wanted people to be recognized for their hard work and accomplishments over their four years,” she said. “To lose out on those opportunities would be heartbreaking.”

She was the final valedictorian who earned the award strictly based on grades rather than proficiencies. After that, grades progressively played a lesser and lesser role until this year, when they were completely out of the equation.

“The transition was confusing,” Mallory said. “Even now there are many unanswered questions, but if you are a motivated student, then it will be fine.”

Despite the changes, Mallory worked hard, exceeded expectations, and became valedictorian.

“They wanted to be clear on what was expected of them as well as what they should expect from their teachers,” said Joe Harrington, the assistant principal at West Rutland for more than 20 years. “I think initially, them asking those questions and advocating for themselves paid great dividends for each (student) moving forward.”

Becoming a little emotional at the news, Maddison McGuiness said she is proud of her little sister for following in her footsteps, even if it wasn’t precisely in the same way. Mallory’s motivation, on the other hand, was very much based on surpassing her sister.

“I did get into NHS my sophomore year when Maddison got it her junior year,” Mallory bragged jokingly. “So even though I didn’t technically win, I won.”

Mallory plans to attend Castleton University next year, while Maddison plans to graduate from the University of Vermont in 2022.

Their mother, Kristen Caliguiri, is currently the principal at Poultney Elementary School and their grandfather was a science teacher at West Rutland for over 40 years. There is a long line of educators in the family, and both mother and grandfather watched the announcement of the honor.

“I’m so proud of my girls,” Caliguiri said. “It’s been a stressful year and this has certainly helped relieve a lot of it.”

Gabriel Schwartz is a journalism intern studying at Castleton University.