Education Op/Ed

Editorial: Elementary school is not what most of us once knew


In last week’s Addison Independent, reporter John Flowers wrote two insightful stories revealing student behavioral problems within the Addison Central School District, most of which occurred in the elementary schools, with Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury citing the most problems and most urgent need for additional help. 

In today’s issue, Independent reporter Marin Howell picks up that thread by taking a look at behavioral problems within the MAUSD and ANWSD schools, (Bristol and Vergennes, respectively). The upshot is similar: our area school districts need the extra help they have budgeted for. Yes, that means school budgets are up, and taxes will follow. 

But it doesn’t mean those budgets are up without cause. 

In an astute move to understand student unrest throughout its district, leaders at ACSD purchased new software ahead of the current school year to track such incidents. What they found is as alarming to outsiders as it is vexing for school administrators, staff and faculty who are trying to address the problems. 

In a report to the ACSD community two weeks ago, school officials said they had documented 1,172 minor or major behavior incidents within the district for the first seven months of this school year. And that number could well be low as teachers and aides don’t always document the incidents. The major incidents were broken down into 17 categories, such as fighting/aggression (168 incidents), dangerous acts (64 incidents), threatening (18) and making false threats (14). Other categories included verbal abuse, bullying, harassment, weapons-related offenses and theft.

The minor behavior incidents were broken into 14 categories, such as disruptive behavior, skipping classes, showing disrespect, refusing a request, using bad language, cell phone use, academic dishonesty, leaving school grounds and dress-code violations. If you do the math, that’s about 42 incidents per week. (Read the full report here.)


At Beeman Elementary in the MAUSD, parents are frustrated there’s not enough faculty and staff help to address daily problems in the classroom, but they’re not necessarily blaming the school, individual teachers or even the MAUSD administration. They understand the school district can’t just suddenly hire several more aids or teachers per classroom or approve an extra two or three million in the school budget. But that doesn’t diminish their frustration.

Sarah Louer’s six-year-old son has been struggling at Beeman and after detailing her efforts to get help from the school, she’s at a loss of what to do. 

“I just want someone to tell me what to do for my son,” she told the Independent. “Does this mean alternative education? Does this mean going to the school board? Somebody help me figure out what I need for this kiddo.” 

The process for navigating special education services and options for additional support, Howell continued in her compelling story, is “arduous and confusing.”

“If you’ve got a kid that goes right through the world, you’re fine,” Louer said, “but if you’ve got any little issue, it’s exhausting as a parent. I have put hours and hours into this with no results.”

These are but snippets of the issues our local schools — and parents — are facing. We encourage every county resident to read through these stories (all the way to the end) to help gain a fuller understanding of what the school systems are facing and why the budget demands are high. 

The quick take-away is today’s local schools, particularly in the younger elementary grades, are not what many of us once knew. The very idea that elementary schools like Beeman or Mary Hogan could have a disruptive incident two or three days a week that would cause teachers to evacuate the classroom (leaving the disruptive student to work it out with aides) is mind-blowing. In 28 weeks of classes, the notion there could be 168 incidents of fighting or aggression, 64 dangerous acts and 18 threatening, just seems other-worldly.

To that end, voters must look anew at the issues our schools are facing and help them meet the need. And one thing we shouldn’t be doing is dumping societal problems on our schools (many of the behavioral problems apparently stem from heavy social media use within the home or outside of class) and expecting them to solve those issues without extra help. We’re all in this together: schools and teachers want to educate our children; most children want to learn; parents want their kids to grow up smart and capable; taxpayers want a reasonable cost to provide this generation of students what we’ve all benefited from previously.

The first step in getting there is for all of us to better understand the problems schools face; then be willing to help address those issues head-on in the most cost-effective way. But we can’t do that by choosing to ignore the very real, and different, problems schools face today.

Angelo Lynn

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