Letter to the editor: ‘Community’ conflated with schools

I am responding to Bill McKibben’s letter to the Addison Independent published on May 6, 2019, with input I shared with the ACSD board directly.
I believe a clear solution will come when we seek to look at the bigger picture, and acknowledge the challenges we face with decreased student enrollment, number of school buildings with full time administrators, number of school buildings operating at 50 percent capacity, rising cost per pupil, an aging population throughout the state of Vermont, school buildings in need of repair, lack of affordable housing for families with young children and elders in need of care or companionship. I believe it is necessary that the ACSD board address these issues by developing a plan that includes some school closures and alternate school building use.
We have already demonstrated success in closing a school building and filling a community need at least once in my life time. East Middlebury didn’t stop growing or behaving as a community when the school became too expensive to maintain and students (myself included) were bused into Middlebury. East Middlebury school closed, and years later, hundreds of families have breathed a sigh of relief having found local high quality childcare/preschool near their work, at the East Middlebury Co-op School run by MJCC.
Where is data/evidence to support the claims that schools are the heart of the community? In the past five years, how many community events have taken place in each of the elementary schools that are non-school related? How many community members (not related to a student currently attending one of the smaller schools) have volunteered in their community school and for how many hours? There are very real needs in our small towns.
We are in crisis around places available to provide childcare to infants and young children. We need a place for seniors to spend time in a warm, safe environment. Surely we can meet the needs of those who feel each town requires a center area, by examining building use and community need.
Mr. McKibben, I am part of the history of our small community schools in ACSD. I attended and worked in many of them over the 40 plus years I served as an educator in the ACSD. I will not confuse the issues regarding changes in our culture, which are very real, with the need to make a plan for school building use that may involve some school closures and alternative school building use.
Kathleen Reynolds

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