Letter to the editor: Democratic, open process is best for schools
Writing helps me process life, and, because I am a slow processor, I tend to find myself putting words down in order to gain clarity and empathy for other people’s viewpoints.
Last Wednesday, in the conference room at the Middlebury Town Offices, I sat among a diverse group of 25 — friends; strangers; parents with kids in Middlebury, Bridport, Cornwall, Weybridge and Ripton elementary schools; and community members without school-aged kids — all presented a variety of viewpoints and clarifications regarding school consolidation in our Addison Central School District (ACSD). This meeting, put on by Save Our Schools (SOS) — now with members in all towns across our district — was intended to engage the community and hear other voices.
Of course, everyone came to the SOS meeting with their own ideas about how to move forward. Luckily, the conversation did not get waylaid by “right and wrong” arguments. Instead, the time was spent listening to each other and finding common ground. (I will say that at many points throughout the meeting, I realized how this hopeful process mirrored some of what the ACSD board has gone through, so there was yet another level of empathy that I was able to access.)
What I started to understand, partly, is that there are misconceptions around SOS’s intentions, and, as I tried to in the meeting, I would like to clarify them.
The two petitions we circulated (and successfully gained 800-plus signatures across all towns in our district) isn’t about digging in our heels, putting up blinders against the middle school and high school needs, and taking a rigid stand against closing schools. It’s about urging participation and bringing attention to a necessary democratic process. Without that, I fear the result is going to be long-lasting divisiveness and resentment. I wonder how productive an outcome can be if a community, because of its lost voice, is forced into doing something. (In fact, most Articles of Agreements across the state include a public vote.)
We need to focus on the importance of building trust and communication among ourselves, and also with board members, so that consensus can be reached, and, if it comes to pass, we all understand how closure is the choice with the greatest advantage. We desperately need evidence-based studies regarding best practice, for all students, and a close look at projected educational and financial outcomes and how likely they are to occur. (I would urge looking to other districts in our state that have gone through the school-closure process and also considering of the multiple studies that show the effects of poverty on a child’s education.)
Without this meeting, I wouldn’t have been able to clearly understand the general misconceptions, and for that I am grateful. When I was asked the question, what happens when a town never votes to close their school? I started to understand how many people might see these petitions as a way to delay the inevitable and hinder the board from doing the right thing by our kids. That is just not the case! These petitions will simply allow for a less defensive and more honest conversation about the future of our children. I don’t have blinders on, in fact, thanks in part to the Middlebury voices at the meeting, I am seeing the whole picture more clearly than ever before.
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