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Letter to the editor: Orwell board is ignoring voters

Editor’s note: The Independent was copied on this letter to the Vermont State Board of Education. The writer said she was very concerned that the Orwell Village School Board may be misrepresenting the voters regarding Act 46.
Dear Vermont State Board of Education,
I would like to thank you for your attention to this important matter which impacts the future of my community and my family. I was fortunate to become a part of the Orwell community seven years ago. As young dairy farmers, my husband and I searched the state of Vermont for a farm to call our own. We chose our farm and home for many different reasons, but our deciding factor was the vibrant, kind, passionate community of Orwell and the wonderful village school.
Orwell in its simplicity and grandeur manages to have such a dynamic community while maintaining a desirable country lifestyle. Our downtown is small and unassuming, but it is alive and thriving. The insurmountable support that our community has for our village school is evident throughout the year. We have active supportive participation in local fundraisers such as: 8th grade bingo, various car washes, annual golf tournament and art auction. Intergenerational community members come out to support and interact with the students in their concerts, assemblies and performances.
I am a very active member of the Orwell Village School, as a parent and community member. I am passionate about the quality of education, the offerings and cultural exposure, the athletic programs, the adoption of a school-wide ethics and kindness initiatives, emphasis on community service and the development of well rounded students. In a recent conversation with one of the dedicated teachers of Orwell Village School, I was humbled by the teacher’s commitment to the school, the administration, the parents and the students. This teacher thanked me for the support and involvement of all the amazing parents and community members at school. The community involvement and support in the classroom and during extracurricular activities were the reasons this teacher maintained a strong commitment to the school and continues to be an active member of the community.
From my experiences as an active member of the Orwell Village School, I was very disappointed at the negative representation provided by two of our five-member school board during the March 20 meeting with former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe. I would like to address some of the comments raised during this meeting.
Comment 1: Concern of “bad feelings” between merged towns (in the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union now known as Slate Valley Modified Unified Union School District) and Orwell. Orwell has a good working relationship with the other schools in ARSU. We previously, currently and plan in the future to play most of our sports with Benson Village School. Orwell participates in MEGABand and MEGAChorus with all of the ARSU schools. The Orwell Village School has a high level of respect, cooperation and teamwork with each of the other ARSU schools.
Comment 2: Orwell students are not prepared for high school. Although some students might face difficulty in their educational success, the Orwell Village School devotes extensive time, support and financial resources to any student that is struggling with their academic success. Our enrolment continues to rise, and our students continue to surpass expectations. It saddens me the one student who was referenced by the board was not identified earlier and given more support, however one student does not represent the whole student body. Orwell Village School alumni have continued to be successful in high school, college and their chosen careers.
Over the last two years, Act 46 has been a very highly discussed and debated topic in our town. I have been proud to be part of a town that is so passionate about their school, its students and the community. I appreciate diversity of opinion and a respectful dialogue of views. The town turned out in strong numbers to voice their opinions through voting on Act 46 on three separate times. Each time the town was asked if they wanted to merge into the Slate Valley Modified Unified School District the majority vote was NO.
I very deeply respect the democratic process that we participate in the United States. I am a 10-year veteran of the United States Army. I served a tour of duty in Iraq working in a Combat Support Hospital as an Intensive Care Nurse. I left my one-year-old daughter stateside to serve my country and have the honor to care for the soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, coalition forces who put their lives on the line for our freedom and right to vote. Voting is a privilege that we are blessed to have in this country. It is something so many men, women and children have died, bled and went missing to give to the citizens of the United States.
The passion and appreciation I have for the democratic process was devastated when I attended a meeting between the Orwell Village School Board and the previous Secretary of Education on March 20. The school board communicated at this meeting that even though the registered voters of Orwell voted not to merge in three separate official town elections, their recommendation is for the Orwell Village School to merge with the Slate Valley Modified Unified School District. During the meeting, I asked the previous Secretary of Education directly how is it legal for the Orwell Village School Board to go against the voters of the town of Orwell and not represent them as they voted. The previous secretary replied, “That is a good question for the Orwell Village School Board’s legal counsel.”
As a veteran, a voter and an American I am outraged that the Orwell Village School Board can go against the voters of the town and not represent them as they voted. I am kindly asking that you listen to the voice of the voters of the town of Orwell who spoke loudly in three legal official town elections to not merge with the Slate Valley Modified Unified School District while remaining cooperative with that district and continue to share resources through the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union. Please respect our right to vote, a right people died to give us. I am requesting that we be allowed to remain in our current alternative model that was previously approved by the state of Vermont.
Stefanie Wilbur
Orwell

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