Making the best of Act 46
Editor of the Reformer:
In the next few weeks we will be hearing a lot about how our local elementary schools are failing to provide equitable educational opportunities for all our children. We will be told the problem comes from a lack of programs in the town elementary schools surrounding Brattleboro. We will be told that if all schools have the same programming as Brattleboro they will all perform at the same high level. We will be assured that we must give up our local school boards and town meetings and adopt a single mega-district to govern our schools or the State will do it for us. Some of this is sort of true.
What is fully true is that, by valid measures, two of our elementary schools are performing well above the state average. One is in Brattleboro and one is in a surrounding town. It is also true that two of our elementary schools are not showing high performance. Again, one is in Brattleboro and one in a surrounding town. Given this, and the fact of broad variation in performance across the three Brattleboro schools, the different levels of success cannot be explained by lack of similar program opportunities.
Over the past several years, when I and other school board members have noted a successful program and asked why it is not duplicated in other schools, we have been told that schools have unique cultures and have to be approached in different ways. This is true. The best schools offer an environment where teachers, students, and parents see themselves as part of a community, and deal with issues of learning, diversity, governance, and community building on an intimate level. Staff are respected, supported, given resources and technology, professional independence, and time to collaborate, share, and support each other. This is the culture you find in the high-performing schools. Students feel welcome, cared for. They are continually assured of their ability to learn, and regularly shown evidence of their progress. It's about relationships, not programs.
We have a high functioning, efficient supervisory union. Act 46 has provided an opportunity for our communities to work together and discover ways to improve the learning opportunities for all our children. Rather than giving up town boards and town meetings in order to create a large, ineffective bureaucracy in a rush to follow a legislative prescription intended to help inefficient, unsustainable school districts, we should talking with our communities about what we want for our children- what to change and what we must preserve. We could be building on the successes and efficiencies our town schools already demonstrate instead of engaging in a struggle that is splitting our school boards and communities by trying to fit Montpelier's model . All of the educational opportunities being described as possible under Act 46 can be achieved under our current structures. All we have to do is take the time to get it right.
David Schoales Brattleboro, April 20
David Schoales is a member of the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Brattleboro Select B oard and is a Windham County Representative on the board of the Vermont School Boards Association. He is an independent candidate for State Senate from Windham County . His opinion s are his own.