Letter to the editor: Our district, our schools
To the Addison Central School District School Board, Superintendent Burrows, editor of the Addison Independent and fellow residents of ACSD,
Since I last wrote to the Addison Independent in May 2019, it seems that the emotions surrounding changes and decisions facing our school community have intensified, yet we still seem to be far from reaching any conclusions or definitive course of action. Our district faces many challenges: We must put taxation issues aside and engage with the future of ACSD.
The first problem is that, financially speaking, we cannot continue as we are. We have a limited budget for seven elementary schools, MUMS, and MUHS. While some may argue that education should not be driven by finances, our current situation as a district is not economically sustainable over the long-term for a variety of reasons. The message of financial distress is being driven by the facilities reports and needs for repairs, but this is just the most pressing issue of the moment. It isn’t anyone or any town’s fault; it is just a reality that is facing school districts all over Vermont. The obvious solution is to “raise taxes,” but that’s a solution nobody wants.
Connected to this issue is the growth of obvious inequities within our district. At the basic level lies a vast discrepancy in enrollments in our seven elementary schools, but this includes variation in resources, staffing, and beyond. We can all do the research here to read the details but it is clear that elementary students across the ACSD are receiving a wide variety of educational experiences.
This doesn’t mean that one school is superior to another, and stating that I have been impressed with one school is not intended to denigrate any other school. It simply means that we have a situation that may require redress and is related to our financial challenges as a district. I am not arguing for identical experiences among all elementary students, but rather equitable experiences: we want all students to be sufficiently prepared for middle and high school, which they will attend together after 5th grade. We owe it to our children and to each other to ensure that they are ALL able to receive the best education made possible by our district and budget as opposed to an education predicated on which town they happen to reside in.
So what are the solutions? We are looking to our leaders to provide them, but it is increasingly likely there isn’t a solution that will please everyone. But could there be one that is universally beneficial? I believe that if we set aside our emotional responses and our fears of the unknown, such a solution is indeed possible. Perhaps if we apply some creativity and open-mindedness, this process could feel less threatening.
Instead of viewing the upcoming transitions as “school closures” and “school board overreach,” what if we accepted that we will all be facing change? What if we believed that we could all see improvements if we worked together? Along with financial considerations, we should look at our schools and identify the strengths that we must absolutely preserve. Likewise, we should identify the troubles and challenges we could do away with. Let us ask ourselves: what is great about us as a district, not just by individual town?
We can look to the middle school and high school for examples and ideas of how to be a united district and how to create a district-wide culture that can make us proud to belong to the ACSD, not just Weybridge, Shoreham or Cornwall. Let us begin by learning more about each other and our schools. The more we know, the less threatening the transitions that are coming will feel.
Could elementary schools around the district have some form of exchange or communication among students? Could we have district-wide field trips for a given grade, or pen pals between different elementary schools? These are small steps in building unity and breaking down existing tensions, but if we are able to shift our perspectives from “my town, my school” to “our district, our schools,” this process could be a lot more positive and less emotionally charged.
I am extremely grateful to our school board members for volunteering their time and energy to lead our schools. I urge our board along with Superintendent Burrows to begin proposing clear, specific, and concrete actions that the district will take to move forward. Many people feel that parents and families are being left in the dark and this is fueling frustration and fear. It is time to provide a vision and a path forward that promotes our unity as a district, rather than the current state of uncertainty, which gives too much room for speculation.
Dr. Burrows, we are ready for your 14-point plan, your 20-point plan, whatever you have to throw at us. Please, give us something concrete so that we can provide our feedback on something specific. I believe that whatever the path forward, we need to highlight our strengths and unity, as we will need each other more and more as the population shrinks and modern life continues to get more complex. And if you are short on ideas, call me. I have plenty.
Claire M. Groby
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