At MAUSD forums, residents shared visions, concerns for their schools
BRISTOL — Common themes and question emerged during forums held in each Mount Abraham Unified School District town in October by the MAUSD board’s Community Engagement Committee.
In meeting summaries the committees released, residents expressed appreciation for teachers; said students should learn social, communication and problem-solving skills; pointed to their elementary schools’ community connections; and said they appreciated strong relationships among students, teachers and administrators.
An overall summary of the five meetings the committee sent out on Monday drew a few conclusions:
• “Participants are deeply connected to their communities and are passionate about their town schools.”
• “Participants’ education values are closely aligned with MAUSD’s four strategic goals.”
• “Participants across the entire 5 Town community agree about what students should know and be able to do.”
Reaction to governance merger was mixed: The individual Bristol wrap-up noted, “Participants had different views about trade-offs and benefits of consolidation.”
The committee met with residents in each MAUSD town at elementary schools between Oct. 1 and 17, with attendance ranging from 26 in New Haven to 46 in Bristol.
The committee also hosted a Tuesday meeting in Bristol’s Holley Hall (see story) to discuss the results of its efforts to gather feedback, which began this spring with a half-day community engagement forum in March. That forum was designed to help the committee determine how best to run this fall’s feedback process. The committee and volunteers this spring also conducted more than 100 interviews and sent out a survey to which 135 residents responded.
Next up will be a Nov. 20 meeting in Holley Hall to discuss the district’s future, which could range from the status quo to school closures, according to the committee agenda.
Agendas at the October forums in each town included four questions developed based on the committee’s spring research, according to board member and committee chairwoman Krista Siringo.
The questions were and responses detailed in committee summaries included:
• What do our students need to know and be able to do to succeed in our changing world?
Residents found significant common ground on this question. They cited communication/social skills, the intelligent and responsible use of technology, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, cultural sensitivity, open mindedness, creativity, the ability to handle adversity, and a love for learning.
• What is Our Vision For the Future: Round Robin Based on MAUSD Strategic Goals?
Residents in all the towns spoke of strong connections between communities and their schools.
They cited flexible scheduling that allowed for exploration of off-campus learning opportunities, more community connections, and even out-of-district opportunities, including with area colleges.
The idea that academic excellence means more than college-style learning came up, as did support for personalized learning and “flexible pathways.”
• Given Our Vision, What Strength Does Our School Bring To The District?
Strong praise for teachers came up with references to “superstar staff’ and a note that staff “know students and families on a personal level,” as did praise for community involvement, such as volunteering and mentoring.
Schools were also praised for producing “well adjusted,” “responsible, well mannered,” and empowered students.
The schools’ outdoor education efforts found unanimous backing.
The larger Bristol school drew praise for band and art programs.
• What Changes Have We Noticed Since Merger/What Questions Do we have?
This final question drew diverse responses.
Comments were selected from and printed as is from the meeting summaries:
“Schedule has changed and this has created a challenging puzzle for teachers to solve.”
“Now sharing staff across schools.”
“Working to create equitable outcomes for all students in the district.”
“Less autonomy for the school.”
“People want to know more about the impact of these shifts on outcomes and cost.”
“Concern about moving from a town-based system to a centralized system. This system won’t have the same flexibility to be there for students, especially students who may fall through the cracks.”
“Sharing resources can be beneficial (example of shared football team with Mt. Abe and Vergennes). This requires having an open mind.”
“With financial issues and declining enrollment would like to see Mt. Abe become a center of innovation, possibly a magnet school.”
“Mt. Abe does need to be renovated, but the most important thing is having good teachers.”
“Participants wondered how to help bring other people into these conversations.”
“Fear that community is going to be surprised about the significant funding gap … coming.”
“The strategic goals are good, but the system itself needs to change to be able to meet them.”
“Board members who were present explained that according to the articles of agreement that were created during the merger process, a decision to close a school would be put forward by the board and need to be approved by the voters of the town that the school is in. Other decisions about reconfiguring what happens in each school could be made by school board.”
“Discussed the fact that as enrollment declines the district is getting to a place where per pupil spending is getting close to being over the state’s limit which would result in a significant financial penalty.”
“Have experienced staff turnover, and sharing staff has led to more turnover which is really disruptive to kids.”
“Concerns about the impact of busing students if things change.”
“There are people in the community that have had multiple generations of family members attend Beeman and they won’t be pleased if that changes.”
“There are other community members who aren’t here who can’t afford to support the school. They may have different views from the group gathered for this conversation.”
“Participants are appreciative that the board is taking time to listen to the community.”
“Want leaders to think outside the box. For example, could empty classrooms be an artist studio or business office or serve some other community function?”
“Discussion about the implications of aging facilities at Mount Abe and direct negative impact this has had on students.”
“Some participants talked about the need to invest in facilities so community continues to be an attractive choice for people to come to. This will have a positive impact on property taxes and home values.”
The committee’s Monday summary also touched on the staff and student meetings. According to that document:
• “Staff participants were particularly concerned about the need to support students who are experiencing poverty and low incomes. Though this issue was also raised in several town conversations, MAUSD staff see this as a significant factor that needs to be addressed in order for the district to achieve its strategic goals.”
• “Students described a range of daily stressors they are navigating, including challenges related to the facilities at Mt. Abe and scheduling. Some examples include a lack of adequate time for lunch, the need for more flexible instructional time, and the need for more time to navigate between classes and between the career center and Mt Abe.”
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