Opinion: ACSU merger offers flexibility for all types of learners

Recently, I have been working alongside fellow school board members, administrators and members of our community to wrestle with all of the various aspects of unifying the governance of our elementary schools. This work has been grueling, challenging, invigorating and tedious. But it also represents an exciting opportunity to re-envision how we educate our kids. Some of you, who may remain unconvinced that this is the right path, the right moment, the right place, may already be skeptical of what I have to say. Please, stay with me. Because, really, I hear you.
In each of the towns that make up our supervisory union, there are passionate folks who have worked tirelessly to create wonderful learning environments for our children. Each community cherishes its school. And, each community has to tackle the increasingly difficult task of figuring out how to pay for the schooling we want for our kids. At each elementary school, you can see how the community expresses its own priorities, values and pride through its school. Some of you might say, “Wouldn’t it be tragic for that identity to be lost by moving to one board?” Or, “We love our small schools, we don’t want them to close!”
I hear you. I grew up in a small, central Vermont mountain town, in a school with fewer than 100 students. It was the idyllic small, community school. I know what a small school means for its students and the community that supports it.
More than that, I love the sentiment behind that concern. It’s an expression of deep commitment to great education. Except that it’s the wrong concern. Here’s why …
The real tragedy, the one that is already impacting our kids, is our persistent inability, working alone, to deliver the kind of education we really want for our children. Our schools work hard to provide the best education they can for our students. But with the limited resources each community has, that still means compromises every hour of every day. Our small communities may have great schools, but even the most generously funded still has to apply small community resources to teach each of its students. For some students, the compromises we make might work really well. For others, it may be the least effective learning environment. What then, for those students? Is private school the best and only option?
It’s time to think bigger, and better. Together, we can leverage our shared resources to creatively re-imagine how we deliver education to our kids. We can have the flexibility not only to keep all our schools operating, but to provide a true system of education that can support excellence for every type of learner. Some children may thrive in a 20-student classroom. Some may need more experiential learning. Some might be yearning to develop a particular talent.
In our current system of loosely connected, separately funded schools, we do what we can with what we have and that means those options are limited or nonexistent. Instead of spending so much time, energy and money figuring out how to make each student fit into the boxes we can afford separately, we can, together, offer opportunities that work for different learners. This is not to say that we will no longer have to compromise, or that our resources will be unlimited. But working together will surely make us stronger.
Do I have concerns? Of course I do.Making this kind of bold change actually work will require energy, leadership, dedication and thoughtfulness. I’ve had the good fortune of working with the current slate of community leaders who are stepping up to this task, and I am comforted that the leadership is there, ready and willing.
Is this the moment we might have chosen, on our own, absent the push from Montpelier? I don’t know. But it’s the moment we have. We can choose to use it to aspire to something better, or we can watch it pass us by and continue to struggle through an increasingly difficult fiscal environment.
On Town Meeting Day, you will decide what path you think is best. For me, that choice is for opportunity. I hope you can join me.
Jason Duquette-Hoffman
ID-4 (Mary Hogan School) Board

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