Letter to the editor: Mt. Abe board hears residents

Dear Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro community members,
I am writing this letter to provide some clarity about our Mount Abraham Unified School District Board meetings and the Public Comment periods. Over the past few months, community members have attended our board meetings and spoke during the Public Comment periods. As board chair, my job is to ensure the board stays on task and completes its planned work outlined on the published agenda, and follows the board policies in place. Our meetings are held in public session and VT Open Meeting Laws must be followed. During our monthly “business meetings” we complete the necessary business of the district. We typically have two opportunities for “Public Comment” at these meetings. Sometimes, during the comment period, community members share positive comments, ask questions about something they have heard about in town, and other times we hear from community members with complaints.
When an issue is brought up during public comment, the board cannot discuss and vote on it if it is not part of the publicly warned meeting agenda. We have a set agenda for the meeting, we post it and notify community members what work we will be doing at our meeting. It would be unfair to everyone to have the board take action based on a public comment without letting the community know we will discuss the issue. The board also needs time to prepare to discuss an issue, so we can’t discuss issues from public comment at the same meeting.
We do not comment on any personnel or student issues in public session. When there are concerns about such matters, it is important the concerns be heard by the right people. As board chair, when a concern is brought to me, the first thing I recommend is working up the chain of command. For instance, if a parent has a problem with a teacher, the parent should first address it with the teacher and, if the issue is not resolved, the parent should turn to the principal or supervisor, and then the superintendent. The school board should be the “court of last resort.” Many times, community members can get answers to their questions simply by talking with the appropriate person in the school district. This process allows the person closest to the problem the opportunity to work towards a solution. Our staff is always willing to listen to concerns and help find a solution.
Please know that while we will not engage in a discussion or debate based on your comments, we are eager to hear your thoughts and hope you will continue to attend our meetings in order to understand the board’s oversight of our schools.
You may be wondering how the board uses the Public Comment period? We use this period as a chance to listen to our community. We value communication that will help us serve our communities and the students in our schools. We appreciate respectful, civil comments that express the values you hold as community members.
As a board, we have renewed our commitment to engaging the community. We are focusing on increasing community engagement events (outside of “regular business” meetings). Please consider attending a Community Engagement Event in the near future. These events will focus on conversations with our community; conversations that engage families with students, community members without students, community interest groups, as well as people who don’t typically attend community gatherings or meetings. It is our goal to improve communication and create conversations with our whole community. This work will keep us connected to our community’s values. Those important values inform our work, our Ends policies, and the mission and vision of our schools.
Dawn Griswold
Mount Abraham Unified School District Chair

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