Community forum: Teachers lament lack of dialogue

Larry O’Connor is a special education case manager at Middlebury Union High School. He submitted this piece on behalf of the Addison Central Educators Association, which bills itself as ACEa.
Within the last week administrators at Addison Central School District (ACSD) schools informed their staffs of what the specific cuts made to area schools will be as a result of reductions at the central Addison County elementary schools, Middlebury Union Middle School, and Middlebury Union High School. Contrary to the collective bargaining agreement between the ACSD board and the Addison Central Educators Association (ACEa), no chance for input was offered before the board took formal action by moving the budget forward. Changes were presented to staff as being decided. Also, and probably of more concern to the public at large, there was no opportunity for public input, an oversight that flies directly in the face of the ACSD Strategic Plan, which specifically sets as a goal “strengthening communication between school, parents and students.”
These reductions have substantial impact. ACEa recognizes that cuts are inevitable in a time of declining enrollment, but it is essential that community stakeholders and educational professionals are given an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about these programs: designated and directed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education at the middle school, Alternative Education at the high school, math enrichment, library staffing, and others. The community deserves a place to ask: What programs are so essential that they are worth investing in? How can some be changed to reflect the needs of students in today’s world? Are there places where cuts can be made without removing essential and needed programming? We do our students a disservice if we do not give an opportunity to explore questions like these.
ACEa feels it is important to note that we do not believe any member of the board, or any school administrator, was intentionally looking to cause harm. We believe that this oversight was very likely the natural result of the incredible speed with which ACSD is attempting to implement the International Baccalaureate. There are very few IB districts that span all grades preK-12, and almost all of those that do exist did not take on such an ambitious goal in such a short period of time. The board may argue that program changes are a result of reduced enrollment, not IB, but it is the nature and demands of IB that point to these specific cuts, and the lack of communication was prompted by the speed of implementation that doesn’t allow us to really have needed meaningful conversations.
Meaningful opportunities for input have been far too few and far between amid the substantial changes occurring in ACSD. Generally, they have been artificial, with outcomes predetermined. ACEa leadership recently requested that ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows open up lines of communication with teachers about the process, opportunities and problems that come with balancing so many competing forces: state budget mandates, local board focus on belt-tightening, and the expectations of the International Baccalaureate program. Dr. Burrows has now promised a “listening tour” and has begun discussing dates. We hope that there will be opportunity for meaningful listening and honest reflection.
ACEa feels that the administrators and teachers of ACSD have the desire and capability to do a great job implementing IB, but need the time and opportunity to do so. The lack of transparency in this situation, and lack of seeking needed input, is just one example of what falls through the cracks as we try to squeeze in so many changes, all at once, so quickly.
Our suggestion: Up until March 22 (a date that is important in the contract) the board and Dr. Burrows should schedule a series of forums where the public, and educators, have a chance to come give input on the impact of programmatic changes. ACSD has over 20 teachers retiring this year. Even positions with early retirements that are being replaced save the district money. Goals of fiscal responsibility and restraint can be met even if some programs or courses are preserved. If nothing else, at least this way changes will get a chance to be discussed.
So, we respectfully ask for a chance for public and professional feedback, in a meaningful way, in a meaningful forum. 

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