Community conversations

When I first moved to Brattleboro, I drove up and down Western Avenue nearly daily -- and never once realized Academy School was tucked behind the lovely white church. I lived on Oak Grove, and never really thought about Green Street School, either. I paid taxes for educating the towns' children, but that was pretty much the extent of my thoughts about education in Brattleboro.

Of course, when I had children of my own, this changed. I started to wonder what went on in those schools dotted around town. What was emphasized? Are they "good" schools? How do the students do? The older my kids got, the more I watched and questioned. Like everyone else, I had some predetermined biases about what I thought education should include. (How many times do we catch ourselves saying, "Well, when I was kid, we didn't ... ?")

These last three years, as a School Board member, I've listened carefully to the presentations about the work that goes on in all three of town's elementary schools, and our local Early Head Start and Head Start programs at Early Education Services. I don't mind telling you that the more I hear, the more impressed I am.

Last year's historic, marathon Brattleboro Town Meeting proved that there are strong feelings in our community about education, too. I walked away from this all-day, all-evening, into-the-early-night hours Town Meeting long very determined: the representatives clearly had legitimate questions. No one -- and yes, I'm quite sure of this -- no one in Brattleboro would like to just cut back on our kids' education. We all want "world class education." We have pride in our town's schools, and we want to believe that we are offering them the best opportunities possible.

The questions that the representatives asked so pointedly last year were simple: Are we giving our kids the best we can afford? Where does the money go? And should my tax dollars be spent this way?

This past fall has brought more questions to the forefront. What we are teaching the children? Are teachers encouraged to utilize their professional skills, or are we blindly following someone else's proscribed actions? (We ask, of course, because Brattleboro is also a most unique town, and far be it from any of us to want to be seen as just sheep being led blindly along a path.)

On Wednesday, March 19, at 5.30 p.m., the town Representatives have been invited to convene at Academy School for information on the Brattleboro Town Schools' budget. For the last few years, administrators have typically led them through the NECAP test results, facilities, highlights from the past year ... and the money that should come in, and go out, for the next fiscal year. School Board members and administrators are on hand to answer any questions that come up.

This year, we have asked some children to be a part of this evening, too. We School Board members thought it would be easier to understand a school program if you see it, instead of just reading about it as a budget line item. Plans are still being finalized. Still, we hope to hear singing , listen to instrument playing, see digitalized music some kids are developing, watch videos of drama club, appreciate art work on the walls, get a taste of student writing, learn about incentives like composting food waste.

This is the second "community conversation" the School Board is sponsoring. For all those who commented that they would like to understand the budget better and to know where we are spending our tax payer funds, venture out on an early spring night. Hear answers to those questions!

Truly, there are great things happening in our towns' schools. Come and see!

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.