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Opinion: Developing a direction for education

Perspective and place are tightly intertwined in Vermont. We care deeply about our communities and our schools, and our engagement is drawn from a visceral expression of place. This care and stewardship of our schools has brought forth strong investment in education, from all sectors and all community levels. It has fostered a commitment to education that has had an impact on all aspects of students’ experiences of school, and has been borne out both qualitatively and quantitatively. Vermont is consistently ranked in the top tier of states across the country on national assessments, and the quality of services and opportunities for our students is considerably more developed in comparison with many other states.
This wonted view of Vermont, however, lies in stark contrast to the reality playing out at the state and local levels regarding central issues to our educational systems. The educational landscape is rifted with chasms on significant educational issues, and we don’t seem to be closing those gaps.
I believe we are at a significant turning point in Vermont right now, in 2014, as we look forward and consider the systems we have in place and the needs of our students in a rapidly shifting global world. The impacts of financing public education have brought forward critical analyses of our schools, our governance structures, and our trajectory as a small state with a declining student population. Clearly, we have not reached consensus, as we found in our last legislative session. We moved through discussions on consolidation, funding changes, and program overhauls but found it difficult to come to agreement on a basis for moving forward. It appeared to me, as a first-year Vermonter, that there was considerable positioning on issues, with little movement towards shared understanding.
Who should lead these conversations and how can we step into a middle ground to engage these issues thoughtfully and coherently? I believe these are important considerations that need to be addressed as we move into our next legislative session, and there are no easy answers.
Ultimately, everyone should be a part of deciding how we educate our students, but there needs to be some leadership to get all Vermonters on solid ground, to look at data and best practices, and engage in meaningful dialogue that leads to action that focuses on the well-being of our students. We need to see this leadership in our districts and at the state level, in order to move towards a shared vision for how we plan to confront and overcome the challenges facing us today. We need to bridge the gap between our polarities to find common understanding.
If we can figure out how to unite our voices and work together, we’ll move more quickly to solutions that meet the needs of our students and our communities.
Peter Burrows, D.Ed., is superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union and has more than two decades of experience in education.

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