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Mediator tells embattled ANeSU to go for training

BRISTOL — A federal mediator has recommended that the superintendent of the Bristol-area schools and the teachers in those schools take part in training to warm up the cool relationship between the parties.
The Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Executive Committee and the Addison Northeast Education Association teachers union (ANEDA) posted a joint statement and the recommendations of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS) mediator on the ANeSU website this past Thursday.
“At this point we’re glad that the recommendations are back, and we’re looking forward to working collaboratively with all management — the supervisory union, board members and administrators — to get things back on track and create a better environment for our students to learn in,” said ANEDA president Mikaela Frank.
The ANEDA last spring passed a resolution expressing no confidence in ANeSU Superintendent David Adams.
ANeSU Executive Committee Chair Dawn Griswold similarly supported the goal of improving communications.
“We have begun training to improve our skills and knowledge of policy governance and are committed to continuing that work,” said Griswold, who was available to answer questions only by email.
In the statement, both school board and teachers representatives agreed that “the goal of the recommendations from the federal mediator is to establish effective communication and collaborative working relationships that support the ANeSU mission and the Ends (the ANeSU educational outcomes). Both the Executive Committee and ANEDA are in agreement that we should secure and schedule training to accomplish this goal.”
Superintendent Adams was on vacation this week and not available to comment for this story.
The mediator’s top recommendation was for both parties to participate in a “Relationship by Objectives” program. Relationship by Objective is an approach to conflict resolution often used in labor-management disputes. The RBO program is designed to help negotiating parties to rebuild trust and improve communication by finding common goals and common ground.
Federal mediators build and design each RBO program to meet the specific needs and challenges of the disputing parties, so there’s no one size fits all. According to FMCS spokesman John Arnold the process can take many forms and is custom designed for each situation. Typically, however, an RBO program might involve one to three days of intensive work, often off site, at a place and time agreed upon by all parties, at which the mediator works with the individual parties to improve skills and communication and to take steps towards constructive action.
“RBO training is a commonly used and very successful approach for parties wishing to improve their labor-management relationship,” said Arnold. “It is customized training designed to help individual parties in a negotiation to build a more positive and collaborative relationship by identifying mutual interests and areas of mutual concern and by improving their communications skills and developing an atmosphere of mutual respect.”
The federal mediator’s report states that the RBO program “is only recommended by FMCS in cases where deep-rooted relationship concerns exist that impact the organization, union, community and/or services provided.”
DEEP-ROOTED CONCERNS
The ANeSU Executive Committee called in federal mediator Cynthia Jeffries after a series of events last spring demonstrated deep rifts in teacher and parent confidence in ANeSU Superintendent David Adams and deep rifts community-wide over budget and communication issues.
In March, ANEDA presented the ANeSU board and Adams with the results of a survey about the workplace climate within ANeSU schools and the results of an ANEDA-wide no confidence vote. The ANEDA-conducted confidential survey asked for respondents’ assessment of Adams in regard to Vermont Agency of Education criteria for licensed administrators. Survey results showed that an overwhelming majority of respondents had significant concerns about Adams in terms of leadership and communication, creating a safe and effective learning environment, effective collaboration and professionalism. The survey was conducted early in March.
On March 23 ANEDA members voted 163 to 1 that they had no confidence in Adams’ leadership of the five-town school system.
At an ANeSU meeting on March 24, a Starksboro resident submitted a petition with more than 500 signatures to the ANeSU board, which asked the board to fire Adams.
In response, Adams supporters started a social media campaign called Friends of David Adams and the ANeSU.
Additionally, last spring voters in the five town area rejected spending initial proposals for Mount Abraham Union High School, Bristol Elementary School and Robinson Elementary in Starksboro, which some attributed to budget issues only, others to confidence in leadership and still others to a combination of both.
Educator and support staff contract negotiations, which began in February, are still under way. At the last negotiation meeting both parties agreed to move to mediation. Contracts expired this past June.
Jeffries, the federal mediator, conducted interviews and received comments by phone, postal mail and email throughout the month of June, listening to teachers, support staff, administrators and board members. Her recommendations are the result of that listening and investigative process.
NEXT STEPS
The ANeSU Executive Committee will discuss the mediator’s recommendations at an upcoming meeting (most likely on Sept. 15) and then present its recommendations for next steps to the full ANeSU board, which is scheduled to meet Sept. 22.
“Participating in training recommendations from the mediator will be important,” said Griswold, in her emailed statement. “The mediator outlined the training recommendation options as Plan A) Participate in the Relationship by Objective Program conducted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or Plan B) Other training sessions described in the outline. Plan A is a more intense training that would happen jointly with ANeSU and ANEDA members. Plan B is training at a slower, less-intense pace. Once the Executive Committee has a discussion about which option they will recommend, we will convene the full supervisory union board and share the recommendation and ask for them to support moving forward in the process.”
The joint Executive Committee–ANEDA statement and the FMCS mediator’s recommendations for both ANeSU and for ANEDA can be found with this story below.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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