VT Digger Article
By Lola Duffort
At least four towns across Vermont will vote in the coming weeks on whether to secede from their unified school districts, a first wave of district breakups that could herald more.
For David Major, the former Westminster School Board chair who helped organize a petition for his town to vote Jan. 5 on secession, it is fundamentally a question of local control. Westminster has already collaborated with its neighboring towns on such services as food service and special education, Major said, and has seen no added benefit to being forced to combine school boards with Athens and Grafton under Act 46....
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I appreciated the way Patrick Reen introduced his recommendation with a charge to be innovative, and to honor and value students’ voices and their relationships with teachers and community members. The video he shared insisted upon these things and that we apply what we have learned from the past year under conditions that required flexibility and the opportunity to try new things. At LCS some of the things (new and old) that we have learned the value of include:
-integrating cool diagnostic technology for individualized skill development
-the importance of community and relationships
I believe that LCS is uniquely sized and located to meet the important charges he made via the video.
Our size allows for kids to be part of a close community of learners who share school wide values publicly in tangible and meaningful ways. Examples include interactive assemblies where all students perform / present as individuals, multiage interdisciplinary cultural studies that allow students to select and pursue an area of interest, a casual environment that is palpably welcoming, kind and respectful to all, where kids can develop a strong sense of agency, social skills and independence. I believe it would be much more challenging to achieve this in a school with more than 120 students.
Our location allows us to easily access and learn from all of Lincoln’s natural and human resources:
-the adjacent river, woods, fields trails and structures
-actively engaged community experts, volunteers, mentors, coaches...
Thanks to our physical location and the amazing outdoor learning spaces at LCS students now spend much more of their learning time outdoors. This is is feasible, again because of our location and size. Being outdoors has been a vital anecdote to our students’ digital reality. Outdoors, students learn more by doing and interacting with the real world and benefit, of course, from the piece of mind we all feel from being active outdoors.
As for human resources, community members feel well connected and are well-woven into LCS. They are regularly involved with students. The school enhances the community and the community enhances the school. This is invaluable and also relates to our location within our community.
I recognize that we have falling student enrollment and that changes are inevitable. As decisions are made let’s not prohibit the very conditions that favor the innovative, student-centered learning that Patrick Reen is calling for.
Let’s find a way to bring more students to LCS!
Let’s keep elementary kids in small, relationship-rich, place-based schools where they can more naturally be seen and shine!
Patrick Reen made a recommendation that was not one of the four scenarios laid out during the community engagement process; I believe this opens the door for more creative problem solving like he demonstrated. I strongly encourage the school board and select board to refuse Phase I of Patrick Reen’s proposal and pursue other creative solutions that meet economic needs and preserve small, rural schools. If consolidation needs to happen to amass more students, let’s do it on small rural campuses.
- Lincoln resident
*Originally posted on Front Porch Forum
Thoughts on Closing Local Community Schools
No matter how you say it, when the elementary school of a town shuts its doors on its students and sends them to another community, that school is closed. Changing the name of the local school building or its purpose doesn't change that fact.
I am working hard at not being cynical about the intent of the proposed "innovation sites." There's enough cynicism in our country without my adding to it. Besides that, it doesn't feel good. However, accepting the stated intent of the proposed innovation sites presents a heck of a challenge.
The teachers I know in our district are very capable of innovative teaching and of creating and gathering innovative materials for their kids. What they need to be more innovative is support in the form of time and funding. While I am delighted to hear that our district supports innovation, I can't believe that establishing distant outposts to which students are occasionally bussed is a viable solution.
I haven't heard anything about what the innovation priorities are except that they might include hands-on experiences. Hands-on teaching and learning need to occur every day, especially for younger students who are making the transition from the concrete to the abstract. (Perhaps we all are.)
Gerald Masterson speaks to the taxes that he and the rest of us must pay and he states that he is moving from Lincoln as a result. He makes an eloquent case for the value of local schools and their heritage. I hope that he changes his mind about moving away from Lincoln. Whatever I pay in taxes to various authorities, I know that the local portion is the best-spent. The Lincoln Community School is truly an outstanding school by any measure and I am proud to support it. Our school has a gifted staff who care deeply about our students and our students flourish. In no way will their experience be replicated in another out of town school building. That doesn't mean that other schools don't serve their own students well but even transplanting trees has mixed results.
The pandemic has brought the Zoom medium to the mainstream. It has helped to keep some institutions functioning albeit with substantial limitations. In no way do transactions on Zoom have the same quality as people being together in the same room. To make a decision as momentous as closing local schools via input from Zoom, emails, polls and letters is a really poor idea. There's absolutely no doubt that the Town of Lincoln will be forever changed if the Lincoln Community School closes. I urge the Mount Abraham Unified School District Board to postpone any decision to close any school until everyone concerned with this issue is able to meet in person, review all of the pertinent data together and thoroughly discuss the many ramifications of closing local schools.
* Originally posted on Front Porch Forum
I have deep concerns about the process being used to make the decisions on the future, or lack thereof, of schools in our district.
My concern is that the information the Board and the residents of the district are using is vastly incomplete, and coming almost entirely through the Superintendent's office, which clearly has an intention of driving a particular decision.
The Board is being asked to make a life changing decision for the hundreds of families across the entire district without seeing a written proposal, or independent financial information. The Board cannot give informed consent without information!
I am asking the district Board to inform the Superintendent's office that it will not consider voting on anything until they have seen and discussed with their constituents, a formal, written proposal with independently sourced, and verifiable financial information, including complete costs of facilities and transportation incurred by these proposals, with comparisons to current expenditures.
We also need to know, in great detail, and with long term projections what "repurposing" means, other than avoiding a vote on closing schools.
I am also voicing my objections to the bizarre timing of breaking all this out during this time of unprecedented pressure and distraction on the people in the district . How can we be expected to make a clear decision about the entire future of our towns at this time? It is hard not to think of it as deliberately making it difficult for the community to engage, and looks just as faulty as the rest of this process.
The survey the district is using to measure community opinion is not a survey at all. It is a classic push poll, designed to drive responses to predetermined outcomes and should be discarded along with any 'results'.
One has to look no further than the completely anti democratic process by which it only takes one town to veto the votes of every other town in the district to see that Act 46 is custom designed to remove the voices of voters and towns in order to achieve predetermined goals.
The legislature completely ducked the hard questions about how to properly finance the education system and is forcing towns into impossible decisions.
We need to pressure our legislators and be willing to replace them if they won't address this problem at the state level this session.
Until these concerns can be addressed , I implore the Board to refuse a vote.
Article from the Addison Independent:
Lincoln mulls legal action against the Mt. Abe school district
LINCOLN — The town of Lincoln says it may pursue legal action against the Mount Abraham Unified School District, which is now weighing the possibility of discontinuing elementary education at the Lincoln Community School. At a special meeting Friday night the Lincoln selectboard voted unanimously to hire an attorney to represent the town “in our legal case against the school district.” At issue is MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen’s recent proposal to consolidate the district’s five elementary schools into two — Bristol Elementary and Monkton Central. If that plan is approved by the school...
Article from the Addison Independent:
MAUSD withholds school consolidation financial information
BRISTOL — This fall, as a subcommittee of the Mount Abraham Unified School District board discussed which school-closure and other cost-saving options it should recommend to Superintendent Patrick Reen, Starksboro resident Herb Olson showed up to meeting after meeting, expressing the same concern. In September Olson told the MAUSD Facilities Feasibility Study Subcommittee (FFSS) he thought there was a lack of financial information in their proceedings. In October he asked about projected savings for closing elementary schools and suggested the committee needed to work with cost information,...
Article in the Addison Independent:
MAUSD faces major cuts in staffing
BRISTOL — If the Mount Abraham Unified School District consolidates its five elementary schools into two, then merges with the Addison Northwest School District, it could save enough money to preserve programming and keep property taxes from skyrocketing, according to Superintendent Patrick Reen. Those savings would come almost exclusively through staffing cuts. In his Dec. 7 presentation to the MAUSD board, Reen estimated that the MAUSD would need to eliminate 75 to 91 positions over the next five years if, contrary to his recommendation, the district continued operating its elementary...
*Originally posted on Front Porch Forum
In anticipation of the community forum tonight I'm sharing the letter I wrote to the MAUSD board from my perspective as a future LCS parent, a Vermont transplant, and a teacher. Hope to see many of you at the meeting tonight.
Dear MAUSD Board,
I'm writing to add my voice to the growing number of people concerned about the Superintendent's school consolidation proposal. As a Lincoln resident, a father of two future LCSers, and a teacher I believe that consolidating the schools as proposed would lead to worse educational outcomes and experiences for our students, and be ruinous to small towns already struggling to attract and keep new residents. Furthermore, to close these schools via the trojan horse of "innovation academies'' is disingenuous and undemocratic.
One example Superintendent Reen offered in support of closing schools during his proposal has been bothering me since the meeting, and I think it's a microcosm of the larger issues surrounding school closures. At one point he cited reading and math interventionists being able to work with three students at a time instead of one as a benefit to consolidating schools. There would be no detriment to the students receiving help, and it would offer cost savings for the district. In a vacuum, this is true. However, when those same students head back to their core classrooms, where they spend a majority of their time, they will be heading back to classes of 19 or 20, not 12 or 13 as they currently do.
This increased student-teacher ratio leaves less time for the core teacher to continue working on learning strategies one-on-one with that student, less time to coordinate with the interventionist, less time to give meaningful feedback on assignments, and less time to build a relationship with that struggling student- all of which are research-based strategies that improve learning outcomes. While it's true that the time with an interventionist will be equally valuable in both scenarios, we also must remember that larger class sizes disproportionately impact our students who need the most attention.
I share my neighbors' concerns about what closing schools will mean for our community's ability to attract and keep new residents, for the property values in our town, and for the relationship my children will have with the place they are growing up. I am frustrated that the MAUSD administration seemingly put little to no energy into solving the systemic issues that created this problem. Has there been an effort to lobby Vermont Congress to raise the equalized-per-pupil spending ceiling, or remove employee healthcare costs from the equation? Each meeting regarding schools I've attended the problems have been clearly laid out, and the only solution presented was school closure. This is simply not the case.
To that end I am asking three things of the board:
1. Reject the Superintendent's proposal
2. Refocus efforts into lobbying the state to raise the equalized per-pupil spending ceiling
3. Refuse to pass a proposal that would leave any town without a school to send an elementary-aged student to for 175 days a year without the approval of the voters in said town.
I appreciate all your hard work. Thank you for hearing my concerns.
*Originally posted on Front Porch Forum
Hello Fellow Vermonters,
I haven't been able to write that for very long. My wife and I moved up to this beautiful and welcoming state from Boston just two years ago. We relocated here to raise our future children. We love the idea of our children growing up in a place where they can truly gain an appreciation for nature while being part of a tight knit small town community. A crucial element to the later part of this aspiration is our community elementary school, which is the reason I'm writing this message today.
We've heard the thorough explanation for the necessity to change/close LCS from our superintendent, and while we appreciate the transparency, we would like to hear the other side of this decision from our leaders in the VT government and education system: why should my wife and I raise our children in this community if LCS is no longer an elementary school?
Based on the demographic statistics and publicly communicated priorities coming out of our state government over the past couple years, I believe my wife and I are the types of people VT is trying to attract as new residents. We're both in our early thirties and looking to contribute to the next generation of young Vermonters. We both work remotely for jobs based in New York City and Atlanta, and distribute our income throughout the community as we strive to eat, shop, and entertain ourselves locally. While we love this town, there are a number of challenges that come with rural living (access to wifi, cell reception, proximity to healthcare, etc). The crucial differentiator that drove us to choose VT and Lincoln over other, more convenient, locations, was the community school and the enormous benefit it would provide to our future family.
We've heard the justifications for closing this community school which include rising operational costs and a dwindling young population. We've also heard the argument that school consolidation is a national trend, and our area will be following suit by doing so. My issue with this notion is that it does not recognize the important role our schools play in differentiating our community from others. If my wife and I wanted to live in an area with a consolidated school system, why should we not move to MA, NY, Southern NH, or Southern ME where we would be much closer to our offices and have much more convenient access to major cities? Currently, the answer to this question for us is that our future children will attend a community school within minutes of our home, with educators we know and a locally inspired curriculum. But, if LCS closes, then what compelling reason remains to raise children here instead of another state?
We are alarmed that the superintendent's proposal goes a step further to propose an even more consolidated school system that combines MAUSD and Addison Northwest School District. As proposed, this plan includes sending our future children to Vergennes for middle school. We understand the importance of the unified high school in Bristol that serves our current five town area, as it's nearly impossible to field a sports team or establish a theater program with students from only one of our small towns, and moved here knowing that our future children would be attending Mount Abe after sixth grade. However; the thought of our future middle school students spending hours every day on a bus to be shipped three towns away for school is enough to make our thoughts of moving somewhere else a reality. Again, I understand the reasoning behind this proposal for consolidation, but I do not understand what our leaders think will remain to promote prosperity and population growth within our small towns. Unless, of course, the answer to that is that we're giving up on that dream, which I hope is not the case.
If you made it here, thank you for reading. I appreciate your time in hearing my thoughts regarding our small town VT schools. I truly look forward to raising my future children in this community and contributing to our shared success as much as I possibly can, and I strongly believe that other young professionals (the exact type of folks this state is trying so hard to attract as new residents) share my thoughts on this issue regarding our schools. So, now that my wife and I are here, I'd like to know why we should stay and raise a family if our local community school were to close, because I have yet to hear a compelling argument on this.
I hope to be convinced to think about the proposed school consolidation as anything other than a move in the wrong direction. However, if the school closure can only be explained by pointing at rising costs and cannot be framed as a benefit to our community, then I urge lawmakers and government officials to find a better way. Otherwise, I believe that VT's small communities will fail to attract future generations of citizens and continue to feel the economic strains of an aging and dwindling population.
* Originally posted on Front Porch Forum
Suppose our local community wanted to cohere and to prosper?
What would we do?
I think our community would always come together to determine what the key ingredients of our healthy home place are and figure out how to protect and to celebrate them.
In Lincoln, our common wealth includes one of the best trout fisheries in the state.
Our common wealth includes a local government that is thoughtful, compassionate, and prudent.
Our common wealth includes a diversity of people.
Our common wealth includes businesses like the Lincoln Store, Atkins Auto, and Chuck Norton.
Our common wealth includes many different faiths and beliefs.
Our common wealth includes clean water, diverse wildlife, and healthy forests.
Our common wealth includes people like Jeremy Perfect and Michael Rainville who know how to do great and lasting things with their open minds and skilled hands.
Our common wealth includes an ability to invest in our place.
Our common wealth includes valuing neighborly, mutually-beneficial, acts of kindness.
A gem, a keystone, a fertile community ground, an essential place where our common wealth is imagined, honored, cultivated, and developed is the Lincoln Community School.
As Wendell Berry wrote, suppose we wanted to protect what we value as a community: "We would ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?"
Closing the Lincoln Community School and re-purposing the building is a step in the wrong direction.
We can and we must take another approach.