New ANWSD board starts process of unification

VERGENNES — The recently unified Addison Northwest School District held its first official meeting last week at the Vergennes Union High School in the form of a four-hour training session and retreat. 
ANWSD board members representing public schools in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham were elected March 1, and the unified school district and board became official in April after no one filed a petition to reconsider the vote.  
During the July 26 meeting, new board members discussed roles, responsibilities and shared beliefs that will allow them to formulate a working vision for the school district in the coming weeks. 
“We had 12 new board members,” said JoAn Canning, superintendent of schools, “and what we determined is that at least half of them have never been on a school board before, and the other half have had some experience on a school board but only within a couple of years.”
Canning said the retreat was focused on training, which was led by Vermont School Boards Association Executive Director Nicole Mace. Mace briefed board members on several example scenarios, then reinforced the role of a school board, defined in the meeting’s minutes as the following: 
“The school board acts as trustees on behalf of the community to provide oversight of public education, assuring high quality education for every student; the public gets good return on its investment; and the system operates efficiently, effectively and ethically.”
By the end of the meeting, the board had elected three officers: Laurie Childers of Addison as chair of the board, Sue Rakowski of Vergennes as vice chair, and Kristina MacKulin of Ferrisburgh as clerk.  
Three committees were also created. A negotiations committee is tasked with negotiating with the teachers and support staff, as their contracts will expire on June 30, 2017. A community engagement committee will work with the superintendent to develop a community engagement plan, which will help the board establish a community vision. This committee will align decisions related to budget and resources to ensure students are making progress.
A policy committee will review all of the policies currently in place at the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union and establish those policies for the new school district.
The board’s next retreat will take place next Monday, Aug. 8, at the VUHS library. Canning said that meeting will focus specifically on a work plan that the board will carry out in the coming year. In the next 90 days, the board will establish a chain of commands and adopt a code of ethics. 
Canning said her most significant hurdle will be balancing the daily needs of each school while keeping in mind the ANWSD board’s forward motion. 
“The challenge for me is going to be managing both boards — a board that needs to be thinking futuristically and five other boards who are tasked with handling things for the current year,” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out how that’s all going to work so that there aren’t a gazillion night meetings and people are doing the job that they’re tasked to do, and that we’re actually accomplishing something.”

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