Letter to the editor: Keep Bridport, not Cornwall
I am writing to request that you consider, as our Cornwall representative to the ACSD board, a different mix of schools than the one you supported at the Nov. 23 ACSD board meeting. At that meeting, you voiced your support for further exploring a four-school model that included Mary Hogan, Salisbury, Shoreham, and Cornwall. This path was chosen for further study over a mix that would have included Mary Hogan, Salisbury, Shoreham, and Bridport, and Cornwall. Both options up for consideration included Cornwall School, which had not previously been in the mix of schools that were under study for remaining open.
At the Nov. 23 meeting, former board vice chair and current board member Lorraine Morse stated her opposition to either option presented, expressing support instead for a mix that would include Mary Hogan, Salisbury, Shoreham, and Bridport, an option that would not include Cornwall School. Her stated reason for supporting her proposed option was to promote equity across the district, a key principle of the Facilities Master Plan.
I have served as co-chair of Friends of Cornwall School (FOCS) since the fall of 2019. In my time as co-chair, I have vigorously advocated on behalf of our school while leading and engaging in countless activities to bolster our Cornwall School community. Yet in all of that time, I have never gone so far as to advocate that Cornwall remain open at the expense of closing a neighboring school, particularly one in a community with significant economic challenges.
My wife and I lived in Bridport when we first moved to Vermont, and our son lived there for the first year of his life. We so happened to rent one side of a duplex owned and occupied at the time by a teacher at Shoreham Elementary School. A Bridport resident and compassionate educator, she advised us to look elsewhere as we sought to purchase a home because of the challenges faced by the local school. She also frequently told us about the challenges faced in the Shoreham school community.
Eventually, we found and purchased a home in Cornwall, where we looked forward to sending our children to a school with a stellar reputation. As we were preparing to leave, our next-door neighbor in Bridport, a retired resident with no children, asked us what he and his wife could do to get us to stay. I only half-jokingly said, “Give the school a million dollars.”
As you know, this fall I drafted a petition to withdraw Cornwall from ACSD, which I never submitted to our selectboard. I did so because I felt that while the ACSD Board had heard countless times the numerous concerns that we and residents of other towns had raised about the path we were on, the board had not adequately sought to respond to those concerns. Instead, it felt that the train had left the station, and we had few options left. At the same time, I was aware of the risk that the state legislature might foreclose the withdrawal process through a change in legislation in the upcoming session, so if we were considering withdrawal, we needed to start the process right away.
I have since had enough conversations with various legislators and others that I am somewhat less concerned about the timing issue, though it is still a concern. I have chosen therefore not to submit the petition for now, though I support other towns that feel they need to pursue this process for the same reasons that I embarked on it.
Instead, I expect to run for the Cornwall seat on the ACSD board, an at-large position, to help ensure that other towns and residents truly feel heard as members of the community engaged in the planning process to address the challenges we face as a district. I personally believe that current efforts in two towns to withdraw from ACSD indicate that we need a more open and honest conversation about the full range of options available to us.
In the meantime, however, I am aware that the Facilities Committee of the board will be recommending a timeline that would include a vote on school closures prior to the upcoming board elections. I am also aware that the option that was chosen at the Nov. 23 board meeting was a four-school option that took Bridport out of the mix of schools that was previously being considered and put Cornwall in. For that reason, I ask that if the current board is committed to voting on school closures prior to board elections, and is set on a four-school model, that you strongly consider advocating to place Bridport back in the mix, even if it means taking Cornwall School out.
All of our closest personal friends right now are fellow Cornwall School parents. Cornwall School families have looked to me as I have sent out periodic updates with my perspective on the Facilities Master Planning process. I am genuinely putting personal and school relationships at risk by taking this position and have already received opposition from some of the few I have shared it with. But in the end, given the path and timeline the board is already on, I feel it is important to speak out. My viewpoint is my own, and not that of Friends of Cornwall School. Thank you for considering it.
Note: this letter was originally written to ACSD board member Peter Conlon.
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