Letter to the editor: A community, not buildings, makes a school

What makes a school?
That question, in various forms, has been asked by many of us over the past weeks. It calls into question our notions of education and the infrastructure in which education is provided.
When I reflect on my children’s experiences at Ferrisburgh Central School, I think of the people. My daughter’s second-grade teacher who finally figured out that she had ADHD and wasn’t just a kid who couldn’t behave. Her third-grade teacher who pushed me outside my comfort zone in order to advocate for her placement in a combined 3/4 classroom. The emails and phone calls I received when my kids were veering off course. All the teachers and staff who supported us through my husband’s two deployments to Afghanistan.
The welcome I was given, when I volunteered in the classrooms every year.
I do not think about the school itself — the actual building and grounds.
When we first moved to North Ferrisburgh in 2001, we didn’t pay much attention to the health of the schools. Our daughter was only one, and school seemed so very far in our future. As our family grew, we had some concerns about the high school and began to give serious consideration to private high school. That was a hard pill to swallow, since we already were paying high taxes for the public school; it was painful to think we might be paying tuition on top of taxes. However, over time the high school made visible gains in the education it provided, and with positive feedback from other parents, we decided to have the kids stay put. We do not regret our decision, though the past few budget cycles have been difficult. The high school budget is the easy target for cost reductions, and I worry that we will regress back to a level of education that causes parents to think twice about sending their children there.
Do we want to ensure that all elementary school children have access to equal learning opportunities? Do we want to ensure that they have the best possible middle school and high school waiting for them? If we save at the elementary school level but cut at the high school level, how will that attract new residents? There are no easy answers, and the individual school boards (before unification) and the unified school board have been grappling with these questions since my children were at Ferrisburgh.
The arc of this storyline is long, and it does not end when our children leave elementary school. We need to look at our educational expectations that continue to exist beyond the building in our town. But really….what makes a school? The community. You. Me. Us.
Lou McLaren
North Ferrisburgh 

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