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Residents weigh MAUSD issues

BRISTOL — A collection of 5 Town residents broke into groups of eight at Mount Abraham Union High School last Wednesday and discussed the educational values they shared and the future of the district.
The 165 people, who had gathered for a public forum organized by the Mount Abraham Unified School District’s Community Engagement Committee, talked about shared values including producing “socially and emotionally healthy kids,” the importance of teachers, academic excellence, varied and flexible programming, equity for all students, community connections with schools, student-led personalized learning, and the importance of town schools.
The exercise came amid falling enrollment in the district, increasing costs to taxpayers and possible school closures.
At one table in the Mount Abe cafeteria, six residents and facilitator Kim Callahan mixed hope and skepticism about what they heard.
Julie, a New Haven resident with several young children, and others wondered about the school-closure estimate.
“Does it account for transportation as well?” Julie said.
Diane from Bristol pointed to the overwhelming vote against school closures in the Addison Northwest School District. 
 “Closing a school in this district, it would be the same outcome,” Diane said. “Reducing costs, I think, is a more logical approach.”
Jeff from Bristol didn’t think MAUSD’s numbers-based approach would convince many residents.
“We all don’t know as much as the board and the administrators,” Jeff said. “(But) I’m not sure this quantitative technique will get us to where we want to go.”
Margaret from New Haven said she had learned from the community meetings to respect the feelings of those who wanted to retain their town schools.
“I’ve realized having a school in a community is more important,” she said.
She and district schoolteacher Katie were intrigued by the magnet school idea, although Katie said she was concerned about which schools might be chosen.
“I was surprised the magnet schools came out high for me. I think it would take a lot of training,” she said, although she and Julie also wondered if students could travel between them if they were interested in both art and science.
Travel time was also a reconfiguration issue: Margaret suggested, to wide agreement, that the board remember “the length of time a kid is on a bus.”
Several wondered why the Mount Abe facility’s expensive needs were not being included in the reconfiguration discussion.
“It’s not being addressed in here at all what it will cost to fix this facility,” said Erica, a Bristol mother of two.
Diane said a regional high school in tandem with Addison Northwest could be considered, and that the board must do more to reach out to low-income and elderly residents who do not attend the meetings. Those at the table suggested giving college or high school students the task of seeking out those residents for their input.
Leasing school space drew questions about security, but the table appreciated Katie’s idea of early childcare as a logical rental use “if we want young families to move into our area.”
Most agreed with the presentation that private-public partnerships could only go so far, and that note highlighted for some a frustrating element in the discussion.
“It’s all about the money,” Margaret said. 
Julie didn’t rule out supporting reconfiguration, but said she didn’t want her and other children to lose what they had at Beeman Elementary. 
“We absolutely love it,” Julie said. “I just want that community feeling no matter what happens. Community schools does not mean keeping five schools open. Community schools means feeling good.”
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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