Saturday September 29, 2012

WILMINGTON -- Students in the Deerfield Valley are shaping how and what they will be taught for decades to come.

As part of the consolidation of the three area schools, expected to be rolled out over the next two years, students from Twin Valley High School in Wilmington, Twin Valley Middle School in Whitingham and the Deerfield Valley Elementary School in Wilmington are being asked what they think is the most important aspects of learning.

With questions like, "What should all students be able to master after 12 years in school?" parents and students are helping to create a unified vision of education, said Twin Valley School Board Chairman Phil Taylor.

"This is the most exciting stuff for me," Taylor said. "It’s why you do this job. What motivates me most is knowing I serve that most fundamental urge of each parent, to give their kids the best education possible."

Online surveys are available to all residents in Wilmington and Whitingham, regardless if they’re parents, Taylor said, because it’s important to hear ideas from everyone.

"We want to redefine how we’re going to deliver education," he said. "We need to understand what we value most."

The only way to accomplish such a feat, Taylor said, is to have and create clear educational governing documents that explain the school’s purpose and vision.

"It needs to be one line so that every parent and every student knows what we’re doing," he said. "It needs to bring focus, purpose and priorities to education."

The transformation of classroom instruction is the next big step in the area’s school consolidation, which will send all elementary-aged students to the Deerfield Valley Elementary School in Wilmington and all middle and high school-aged students to the Twin Valley Middle and High School in Whitingham.

Renovation of the elementary school is already under way as crews from Williston-based DEW Construction beginning work on the building’s exterior before tackling its interior next summer.

Taylor said there’s a possibility the school year may be cut short a few days to start construction as soon as possible to ensure the revamped elementary school is able to handle all the children from the two towns next fall.

There’s also talk of having all the middle and high school students attend Twin Valley High School for one final year while the building in Whitingham is remodeled.

The idea would be to maximize the consolidation savings by finishing both projects as soon as possible, Taylor said. However there’s also other costs associated with both ideas, including portable classrooms, potential construction delays and heating costs, he added.

Board members are also looking into options on how best to use the leftover building in Wilmington after students have been moved to their new schools.

Some businesses, such as the Deerfield Valley Health Center, have already shown interest in utilizing some of the space and Taylor said funding may also be available from the Community Block Development Grant.

He said the building would provide low-cost rental space for commercial, non-profit and community projects.

Several groups have expressed interest in using part of the building to host various sporting events like martial arts competitions, dog shows and an indoor soccer training facility.

Taylor said there’s also a possibility of having municipal services such as police, fire, town offices and a public transfer station for the Moover bus system in the building.

At this point though the focus remains on building the best possible education for the students, he said.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.