Study panel floats ideas to boost ACSU schools

MIDDLEBURY — The path to long-term sustainability of the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s seven elementary schools hinges in part on sharing more resources, enhancing programs and curriculum, and exploring potential collaborations with Middlebury College.
Those were three among several recommendations developed by local education officials at a special summit meeting held at Middlebury Union High School on June 13. At the summit, convened by the ACSU Study Committee, representatives of the Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham, Ripton and Weybridge elementary schools discussed ways to strengthen their schools amid declining enrollment.
The more-than-60 participants at the meeting shared ideas that will be passed on to the ACSU board this Wednesday, June 20. The ACSU has been weighing consolidations in school governance and resources, and the state is promoting such efficiencies through financial incentives outlined in Act 153. The Vermont Department of Education is encouraging communities with smaller schools to consider mergers — physical and/or administrative — in light of current population trends. Those trends show  an increasingly older population and fewer students to fill community school classrooms.
Rick Scott is chairman of the ACSU Study Committee. He said he was pleased with a process that has seen all seven towns hold forums and register their fellow residents’ feelings on how best to maintain their current local school or possibly join in a regional education district, or RED, with another town or towns.
Based on feedback at the June 13 meeting, the ACSU communities appear committed to keeping their local schools open. But they realize their towns will need to take some steps to make that logistically and financially possible. Some ways of accomplishing that, according to the study committee, include:
•  Considering more opportunities for shared personnel within multiple ACSU schools, including nurses; art, music and second-language teachers; custodial staff; paraprofessionals; and librarians.
•  Coordinating programs such as food service, buying groups and cooperatives.
•  Exploring coordinated curriculum among multiple schools.
•  Examining elementary school choice within the ACSU.
•  Eliminating redundancy, increasing collaboration.
•  Using technology to replace face-to-face meetings and trainings
•  Looking at transportation creatively by combining districts and perhaps adopting a more uniform school calendar and length of school day.
•  Increasing community involvement in the schools.
The ACSU board will be asked to weigh in on the study committee’s report and findings. The committee will then work on a final report and convene another summit this fall that could lead to some specific action items for towns at their respective town meetings next March.
More information on the ACSU study committee’s efforts can be found at www.acsustudycommittee.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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