Letter to the editor: ACSD board must be creative
I want to encourage the ACSD officials, board members, and anyone else involved in the current stage of master planning to think outside the box. A recent article in this paper mentioned the likelihood of four elementary schools eventually being closed. It then went on to mention a suggested distribution of students. It also mentioned that they are still looking into a few different options. I know this is just the current stage in a much longer discussion that has been happening since the district consolidated. The following are thoughts I have been meaning to share both before and after reading this article.
I know there has been a lot of contention throughout this process and it has taken much longer than district officials originally planned. I want to thank them for continuing to keep the lines of communication open for everyone. At the same time, I know it cannot continue forever, and we are getting ever closer to final decisions. I do not expect everyone to be happy with the end results. I do expect it to add to what will already have been a chaotic few years. I have seen and heard much of the debate about equality, equity and everything else through this process, all while trying to keep an open mind.
Three and a half years ago my family of five was preparing to move from Middlebury to Cornwall in the middle of the school year. At this point all three of our children have experienced both elementary schools on some level. There are some significant differences between the two size schools. In our case, Cornwall has felt like the better fit as it teaches them in ways that we very much value.
While I would very much like to see Cornwall elementary (and all the schools for that matter) survive, I know that our current dynamics do not allow for this. So we search for the best possible outcome for all. Saving three to four schools sounds reasonable to me. I will not attempt to say which schools I think should stay, but I was not surprised by which ones were being promoted as the keepers, and which should be lost. I will say that I think there may be some major push back about folding the student bodies of the two smallest schools in the district into that of the largest.
I have a couple suggestions. The first is to maybe allow family choice (within reason) of which remaining district school they would like their child(ren) to attend. Obviously there would be some logistics to work out for that option.
To me a larger concern, which I had even before that article, is to stop looking at our district by town borders. We are one district now and we should be starting to take on that mindset. However, we should be looking at potential natural barriers. To me the most obvious such barrier is the Otter Creek. It literally bisects our district and only has a handful of crossings.
This causes me to have concerns about the proposal for Cornwall students to go to Salisbury school. I can see this being an obvious choice with the two towns being right next to each other and Salisbury essentially having enough room for K-5 students from both towns. However, the primary route between the two schools includes traveling along Swamp Road in Cornwall, crossing a temporary one-lane bridge that has replaced the covered bridge that burned down several years ago, and continuing on a series of roads on the Salisbury side.
The main issue I know about is that Swamp Road floods fairly regularly. I personally know of it happening three out of the last four spring seasons. This can be the case for weeks and even months at a time, often during a good stretch of the school year. Secondly, I expect that at some point a new, permanent bridge will be built at that crossing.
During either of those situations, the Cornwall buses will need to travel farther to alternative crossings in Whiting (which can also flood) or Middlebury. A recent trip to Google Maps tells me that the direct 8.5-mile trip between Cornwall and Salisbury takes 14 minutes. In comparison, to go through Middlebury adds nearly four miles travel each way and takes 18 minutes. I would be more than willing to bet that trip would take much more than 18 minutes during the high traffic times that Middlebury sees when school is starting and ending. Unless the district, town of Cornwall, and other affected parties wanted to work out a plan to raise the elevation of Swamp Road (and maybe Creek Road on the Salisbury side), this could lead to approximately an extra half-hour round-trip travel time for Cornwall elementary students on an already lengthened travel/school day.
One could also consider some students from one part of a town going to one school, while students from another part of that town go to another school. I could see such an option working well for Weybridge and Cornwall in particular.
I am not trying to tell the ACSD officials exactly how to divvy up the student body. My goal is to just encourage a broader thought process while they deliberate. I would also hope that they give some time for the 6th grade move to MUMS to take effect before starting the process of actually consolidating elementary schools. That time could also be used to perform the backlog of maintenance and required upgrades for the schools that will remain to be able to fully accommodate the higher numbers on day one of the change. I also hope that discussion is starting about what can be done with the schools that don’t make the cut.
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