LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Dennis Hill

Position: Director
School: Laraway School
School District: Laraway School
City, State: Johnson, VT

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Dennis Hill was nominated by a family member, Jennifer Luck-Hill.

Mr. Hill is a Vermonter who has dedicated his life’s work to helping mold Vermont’s future. He has worked in public education for 25 years. During this time, he has served as a public school administrator at all grade levels. He leads with kindness, compassion, and empathy for every student or adult he engages with. During the course of his career, he has led school systems through triumphant and turbulent times. Regardless of the situation, he always puts the students first. It's rare to walk past his office and not see a student there for advice or a friendly check-in. Years later, and time and again, students who have worked with Mr. Hill will take the time to call or write to him to say hello or tell him what an incredible impact he has made on their lives.

Mr. Hill is relentlessly optimistic. His ability to see situations from many perspectives allows him to reach beyond the surface issues to truly discover the real obstacles that students are facing. His life's passion is to see the young adults he works with transform into confident, successful, contributing community members. Mr. Hill is unique in his ability to bring adolescents out of their developmental shells to share their fears, passions, and dreams with him. Students see Mr. Hill as an adult who listens and cares about each of them. This incredible ability makes him the go-to for every kid in every school he has ever worked in. It's amazing to witness, and yet it happens in every school he is in.

"The role of a school administrator often conjures up visions of invisible and unapproachable adults, but Mr. Hill destroys that stereotype," said Luck-Hill. "His visibility, honest approach, endless optimism, and genuine care have helped him be a LifeChanger for literally thousands of Vermont's students. He has tutored, mentored, and cared for Vermont's most precious entities without ever putting himself first. Mr. Hill continues to be a LifeChanger today, but more importantly, he has made Vermont a better place to be through the indelible mark he has left on every student who has ever been lucky enough to be a part of his life."

Below is a college application essay from a student, provided as a testament to Mr. Hill's impact.

A time traveler gives you a remote with two buttons: pause and rewind. Which would you prefer to use on your own life, and why?

A time traveler confronts me while I am currently waiting for cheerleading practice to start. This time traveler states, “You have one chance, one chance to completely change the way you view your life. I am giving you the chance to travel back through your life and revisit any of your memories.” I sit here to consider my options, of which there are many. After about ten minutes, I finally settle on one memory. I tell the time traveler, “I would like to jump back a week, during lunch, when Mr. Hill was playing his guitar.” My vision blurs as the time traveler throws me backwards in time.

I wake up during my lunch break, some day during the week of September 1st, 2019. I look around and immediately recognize the familiar scenery of Mr. Hill’s office. My eyes find Mr. Hill as he searches around for his guitar pick. 

Mr. Hill is my assistant principal, my favorite assistant principal. We've bonded through our mutual hate for our migraines and, just recently, the passing of a parent due to cancer. Mr. Hill bonds with students like no other. He recognizes that students are only mini-adults and should be treated as such. We have built a connection throughout the past three years that he has been working for Essex High School, and I show that through my daily visits to his office. 

I focus back on Mr. Hill’s desperate search for a pick as he digs around in a little pocket on the inside of his guitar case. After he sighs in relief for finding his pick, he takes a seat across the room from me. He strums his guitar and laughs as he tells me he’s only warming up, and that it’ll get a little bit better. I sit there in silence for a few minutes as he plays folk songs that I have never heard, hitting the wrong chord every few minutes. We sit in this peaceful state until he feels that he has stretched his fingers well enough to tell me, “OK, I am done warming up.” I am in a state of shock as Mr. Hill opens his mouth to start singing. His scratchy voice serenades the entire office and draws people to peek in and see where the music is coming from. 

The room whirls around me as I am pulled back to this day, September 17th, only a week and a half after that short memory. I smile in relief at the bliss I feel from that experience. I tie my cheer shoes, and start stretching, all while I keep thinking about how happy I was only a few minutes before.

Faculty and staff love to work with Mr. Hill, as well. His guidance, leadership, and support have made an impact and changed the lives of hundreds of adults. He's calm, caring, and thoughtful with his staff, and they are always appreciative of his support and constant presence throughout the building.

Below is an email sent to Mr. Hill from one of his colleagues in March 2020.

Mr. Hill, 

Thank you for all your help and support in times like these. I know a lot of people who are extremely nervous about this, and I want you to know that your emails and talks are really helpful to them and to myself. 

Again, I say, thank you for always greeting us with a smile and good attitude. I know it must be hard, especially with everything that goes on in the news. You are appreciated, and you really do make a difference at EHS. 

Whether it's popping into a classroom and cracking a joke, performing with some musicians, traveling to the hospital with me when I fainted in class, or just holding the door open for people in the morning, your acts of kindness go such a long way, and they mean so much to me and a lot of other people at school. 

Thank you, again, for everything you do. It truly means so much. 

"Dennis has made a tremendous impact on so many people for so many years," said Luck-Hill. "He is humble, kind, nurturing, caring, and most of all, a positive beacon in all of the lives he touches. He literally changes people’s lives for the better and leaves a positive imprint that lasts forever. Dennis is an educator beyond comparison. He has improved the school climate in numerous schools with his compassionate leadership. He is always seeking to understand and respond more effectively to the needs of all of the members of his school community, and he learns from and celebrates the diverse perspectives. As an educator and administrator, Dennis strives to ensure the positive development and achievement of his students, is supportive and involved in the lives and work of his teachers, and works tirelessly toward improving the school as a whole. Dennis is a LifeChanger."