Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Noble is running for ACSD board

To members of the Addison Central School District community: I am writing to announce my candidacy for a position on the ACSD board. I am a resident of Middlebury and a parent of two students in the district. I am a writer and former environmental regulator, and have volunteered my time with several organizations to support our community, including the Better Middlebury Partnership, the Middlebury Elementary School Association (MESA), Girls on the Run, WomenSafe and ACSD.
As a writer, I hope to offer my abilities to strengthen the communication between the ACSD Board and the public. And as a former public servant, I am committed to insisting on an open and transparent public process as the board finalizes the Facilities Master Plan and its vision for the District’s educational structure. These conversations will continue to be difficult, and compromises will need to be made to fulfill our responsibilities to ACSD students over the entire course of their K-12 education. But these conversations are the key ingredient for our success as a learning community, the key ingredient in strengthening the connections across our town lines.
In 2018, I served on the Steering Committee for the ACSD’s Facilities Master Planning process and had a firsthand look at the challenges facing the board and our community as we envision a future for our schools. As a Steering Committee member, I worked with ACSD administrators and board members to 1) gather data and communicate what the board had learned to the public, and 2) compile community feedback for the board’s consideration. I know how frustrating the process can be as a community member, but I also experienced firsthand the painstaking process for those involved in the Facilities Master Planning process — those who researched the academic, demographic, financial, physical, geographic, political and socioeconomic factors that are contributing to the ACSD’s current financial instability.
The pressures facing ACSD are the very same pressures facing other school districts across Vermont. To move forward, we need board members who are able to reconcile the tension between Vermont’s shrinking K-12 student population and the value of our town-based elementary school traditions. We need leaders who can facilitate honest conversations about the value of keeping partially filled elementary schools open, when doing so prevents all of our schools — both elementary and secondary — from getting the full support they need.
The board has shared its findings so far: The current configuration is not sustainable. The ACSD’s instructional footprint is too large for the number of students it serves. During this process, I have come to view our district’s challenge (and those of other Vermont school districts) as a sort of allegory to the climate crisis. Both are complex, widespread problems resulting from an array of interconnected factors — some within our control, some beyond. And as with climate change, the undesirable impacts (e.g., unstable school staffing in the face of constant budget cuts, unequal/reduced access to important student services, decreased opportunities for enrichment activities) are disproportionately felt across our student body, and most acutely felt by our vulnerable populations: students with special needs and students living in poverty.
What is being asked of some communities in our district in the face of this pressing issue is also acutely painful. Potential school closure threatens traditional, tight-knit, small-town identities. Indeed, the idea of losing an elementary school can be as hard as returning to a charred building after a climate change-induced forest fire, as hard as an eroded shoreline surrendering a beloved home, as hard as a flood swallowing a centuries-old town treasure. This issue is hard. It doesn’t seem fair. The pain is real.
But as difficult as it is, failing to move forward with some kind of school consolidation plan is akin to ignoring or denying a fact-based problem. The data are clear: Our current configuration is unsustainable. The long-term solution will require real structural changes achieved through partnership and cooperation. Recently, it seems the conversations within our learning community have been moving further and further away from solutions to our large-scale issues and have instead been focused on tradition and grades K-6. But what we need to be talking about is a holistic investment in our children’s future. We need to build a school system that serves all of its students equally, prepares them for 21st century learning, and supports them for the entire duration of their K-12 education.
Like every parent in this district, I bring my own beliefs about the best possible paths forward for the district. And as a parent who has years of experience navigating the special education process, I have a particular soft spot for children with special needs and others often omitted from the equation. I believe that ALL students within our learning community deserve an excellent education, and delivering what they deserve requires financial stability. We cannot continue to postpone investment in our necessary facilities. We cannot continue to withhold resources from secondary schools to pay for redundancies across underutilized elementary schools. We cannot continue to erode teacher morale by inconsistently providing the resources they need to do their jobs, nor can we trigger the possibility of layoffs with every proposed school budget because our spending exceeds the state threshold. This issue demands our attention or we risk losing our best educators and failing our youth. This urgency is precisely the reason I have decided to run for a position on the ACSD Board now.
But more importantly, I am running for ACSD Board because of the resilience and strength of the people within this district. I have witnessed our broader community pull together during the challenges of the pandemic. I have seen how pride in our places has compelled us to continue our traditions in new and creative ways — to both maintain our celebration of who we are, while adjusting to the reality at hand. We are capable of necessary change. We can do hard things. I am running to be in service of this difficult work. I hope I can earn your support.
Mary Heather Noble
ACSD Board candidate
Middlebury

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