*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.