Vonnie Fiore, PPW of the Year, dedicates life to working with Carroll students
On any given day, Vonnie Fiore’s routine differs.
She may be meeting with school leaders to brainstorm strategies to assist students, or may sit with a kid one-on-one to create a plan for success or may even go on home visits to talk to both students and their families to offer support and resources.
Fiore has a county car, and often provides transportation to students to doctors appointments and other places.
“That’s probably something I do not quite on a daily basis but a few times a week,” she said.
As one of 10 pupil personnel workers in Carroll County Public Schools, Fiore is constantly working to keep students who need help the most from slipping through the cracks.
“As a pupil personnel worker, we’re involved in many different aspects. Our goal is to help students achieve academically, and in order to do that, we need to help erase the barriers to learning that some students face,” Fiore said. “Those barriers can include not having appropriate clothing; they might need additional food; there might be financial hardships in the family; there certainly can be mental health needs. A variety of things that can impact student learning and student achievement.”
But one of the best parts of the job, she said, is the fact that “every day can look very different.”
This year, Fiore was named Pupil Personnel Worker of the Year by the Maryland Association of Pupil Personnel. This award recognized a PPW who “demonstrates outstanding leadership in the role of a pupil personnel worker, including an original and effective approach to the delivery of pupil personnel services and competence as a pupil personnel worker,” according to a news release from the school system.
Being named PPW of the Year is something Fiore didn’t expect.
“I was incredibly surprised, very humbled and very honored,” she added.
It’s a position she’s held for five years, the last two of which have been spent covering Taneytown Elementary, Northwest Middle and Francis Scott Key high schools. For the three years before that, she covered North Carroll High; Shiloh Middle; and Hampstead, Sandymount and Spring Garden elementary schools.
And prior to that, she held the counselor’s role at Runnymede Elementary School.
Fiore was born and raised in Carroll County, having graduated from Westminster High School before attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her plan was to study criminology, but after graduation from college, Fiore took at job at Bowling Brook Preparatory School where she began dating her now husband, who also worked at the school.
From there, she went to Granite House Inc., which was a residential rehabilitation program for adults with mental illness, where she spent more than 12 years.
Fiore took some time off of work to stay home with her son, and then had a second son. During that time, she got her master’s degree in counseling at the former Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, and started working at Robert Moton Elementary School part-time as a character education teacher, which was a program funded through a grant, she said.
She then was a permanent substitute at the school for two years before getting the counselor’s job at Runnymede, where she spent nine years. Fiore was encouraged to get her PPW certification, and since she already had her master’s in counseling, she only needed to take a few classes.
“I love being able to help students and their families, and to be able to connect students and families to community resources if they need that,” Fiore said.
Sometimes, helping a student means getting them into an alternative program like Gateway High School or Crossroads Middle so they can be in a settling that allows them to be more successful, she said.
A lot of what she does is similar to that of social work, she said, because there’s case management and working with both students and their families, as well as that collaboration with staff and community resources.
And her background as a school counselor has helped immensely, she said.
Dana Falls, director of student services, said Fiore is able to make strong connections with families and get them the resources they need. Falls said he’s thrilled Fiore was named PPW of the Year, and that it was well-deserved.
“Vonnie is an incredibly gifted PPW. Her greatest strengths are her passion and energy for kids, particularly at-risk students,” he said, later adding, “She really is a gem.”
Katt Ritchie was named a 2018 Newman Civic Fellow, which according to its website, “recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.”
Fiore puts in countless hours outside of her job’s expectations to support families and their kids, Falls said.
“She goes well above and beyond what you would normally expect,” he added.
Kim Muniz, supervisor of student services and special programs, echoed Falls.
“I really feel like there is nothing she won’t do to help a kid be successful,” Muniz added.
Not every day is easy.
Fiore said it can be challenging when she works with students who are capable, but are not interested in putting in the work that is needed to be successful. Sometimes, she said, students want to do the minimum amount of work they can to get by.
“I think [of] where some of these students could be, and students who could do very well in class, but they’re just not wanting to. ... That’s frustrating for me to see,” she said.
Despite some of the struggles, for Fiore, every bit of work is worth it.
It’s so rewarding to see students succeed academically, and become emotionally and mentally stable, she said. She gets to watch students learn they can cope with challenging situations, and control behavior problems.