Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Togetherness is the best policy

I would like to share my thoughts regarding Lincoln’s petition to withdraw from MAUSD. Although I am a Bristol rep to the MAUSD School Board, these are my own thoughts and opinions, and do not represent those of the Board.

I have admired the passion, commitment and efforts by the Save Community Schools (SCS) group to ensure that the Lincoln Community School is not closed (along with similar efforts in Starksboro). I believe that these efforts have helped to shape and improve the work of the Board and the future of our District in a number of ways:

  • As a result of Lincoln community members’ request to present an alternative to the plan offered by Superintendent Reen to address declining enrollment, the MAUSD Board invited all community members to be a part of creating solutions to this problem and we received six proposals.
  • The MAUSD Board hired a consultant, Nate Levenson, to ensure that all of the components of each proposal would be thoroughly evaluated, without bias, so the Board could determine which were most aligned with community values, financial stability and above all, the desire to provide the very best education our students deserve.
  • Because of the advocacy and involvement of SCS in this process, the work with Nate Levenson and the report that came out of this work was robust, inclusive of many important stakeholder voices, provides a number of options that allow us to phase in changes that will meet our stated goals.
  • In this report and in his presentation to the Board on Jan. 25, Mr. Levenson also clearly stated two key points: 1) school closure is incredibly difficult and usually unsuccessful, and 2) the Board should take a strong position on ensuring that towns retain the right to vote before a school is closed, even in the case of a merger with another district.
  • In his report, Mr. Levenson also suggested MAUSD utilize a “bounded autonomy” approach to increasing building principal decision-making over the budget and staffing, as well as to pursue cost-effective measures that would encourage growing leaders from within and to fill coaching roles and other positions as needs arose. I believe both of these suggestions will greatly improve District operations and also find significant savings.
  • Also in direct response to advocacy from SCS and folks in other towns, the Board resolved that “students’ elementary education will be provided and maintained at the school located in the town in which they reside until such time as the town votes to discontinue or change the scope of elementary education in its local school.” This resolution ensures towns have the right to vote before the school in their town is closed or significantly repurposed.

If you read the Levenson report, listen to Board discussion, and examine how this conversation has evolved over the past 12-18 months, I think you will see a process that has been thoughtful, inclusive, and open. I understand that when withdrawal efforts were initiated in Lincoln, school closure seemed imminent. However, I don’t think we are in that same place today. Instead, I believe we are at the beginning of an exciting new phase in envisioning the future of MAUSD.

The work of Save Community Schools demonstrates how important each of our towns is in ensuring the vibrancy and success of our District. There has been significant emphasis on the fact that if Lincoln successfully withdraws from MAUSD, we will not see great tax implications, therefore the remaining four towns have no stake in what happens. However, there has been little to no recognition about the fact that if Lincoln leaves MAUSD, we will certainly be losing a valuable member of our educational community. MAUSD’s most veteran building principal and many veteran staff will not be at the table to offer their perspectives on the best way forward. We will also feel the loss of knowledge, experience, passion and commitment of Lincoln community members who have the capacity to advocate for change that we might all benefit from, as the Save Community Schools group has demonstrated. It is harder to quantify these losses than it is to calculate tax rates, but I believe they are no less significant.

It is my hope that we find a way to recognize and celebrate that we are a community much larger and greater than our five town lines, and that we depend upon one another to be our very best selves.

Krista Siringo

Bristol

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