MAUSD offers free workshop to foster trust

BRISTOL — On Saturday, March 16, the Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) will host a free six-hour workshop at Bristol Elementary School — its first major step, post-unification, toward fostering better communication within the 5-Towns community.
“What’s at the heart of this is building trust and relationships,” said MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen. “The board and the administration are hearing, in various ways, that that trust isn’t there. We want to build that, and this is a step in doing so.”
Residents from the five towns that make up the MAUSD — Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro — are encouraged to attend.
Those who are not able to attend — especially those who have specific or urgent concerns — should know that they will have plenty of opportunities in the future to make their voices heard, said Krista Siringo, chair of the school board’s Community Engagement Committee.
And when the time comes to air specific concerns about the schools, the MAUSD believes people and the institution will be better prepared.
“This may not be the best place for someone who really wants to share a particular issue, but if that person is interested in finding ways to gain traction around that issue and to ensure that that vision is really encompassing of lots of different views and priorities, this is a great opportunity,” Siringo explained.
The district has hired professional mediator Sue McCormack to facilitate not only the March 16 workshop but also future conversations over the next six to nine months.
“During the workshop we’re going to talk about some principals of effective engagement and share some examples from around the country — around the world, actually,” said McCormack. “At the same time we’re going to have an opportunity for people in the room to talk about, ‘Well, what does this mean here for us, for our community?’”
To those in the community who want to be heard on specific issues right away, McCormack suggests that this planning ahead of time will pay off.
We want to “make sure that there are processes in place so that what people have to say is connected with decision-making, and that does take some planning,” McCormack. “Without that, engagement can be very frustrating for people, right? There’s nothing worse than coming to something, speaking your mind and then never hearing from anyone again.”
According to the event announcement, “Participants can decide how involved they want to stay with this work, and our goal is to create a framework that will bring forth as much input as possible to the school board and administration, before they contemplate big decisions about education in our district.”
The Community Engagement Committee hopes that attendees will help spread the word and put their new skills to use in future conversations.
“The people that do come and want to start the conversation will help us build that conversation out among people that don’t come,” said Siringo.
In addition to declining enrollment and increased expenses, which have steadily raised the cost of education per equalized pupil, the current administration and unified board have faced additional challenges posed by a lack of trust in the district, which goes back many years, and which came to a head when a previous superintendent was fired in 2015.
Last month, citing a lack of budget detail, voters at the MAUSD’s sparsely attended annual meeting rejected the school district’s fiscal year report.
Bristol resident Sally Burrell, a community member who has been engaging with the Community Engagement Committee since the MAUSD unified the district’s school boards last year, has seen and heard plenty of her 5-Town neighbors’ frustrations.
“The administration and the school board really get it, and they want to change that,” Burrell said. “That’s what this is about.”
The Saturday workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the cafeteria of Bristol Elementary School. Lunch and childcare will be provided. So that the workshop can start on time, attendees are encouraged to come a little bit early.
To RSVP, contact Krista Siringo at [email protected].
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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