Letter Box - Seeing red

Wednesday October 10, 2012

Editor of the Reformer:

After 12 months participation, the Windham School Board’s representative, along with the other board members, concluded they saw no opportunities that outweighed the negatives involved in the Regional Education District. They presented their reasons at a meeting on Sept. 9. Nancy Dyke and Ernie Friedli voiced concerns and others asked questions, but the majority of people attending were supportive of the board’s decision.

While respecting Nancy’s interest in education, I don’t believe the board’s decision reflects mere bias. They’re reluctant to see Windham’s autonomy risked for opportunities, or savings, currently very unclear. For 12 months they participated, and then withdrew, when to do otherwise would mean abandoning their primary responsibility: Windham. Some believe the board’s job was to bring to town’s voters an unbiased report. I believe it was to determine the value of regionalized education (for Windham) and act on their findings. After 12 months of participation, seeing no positives for Windham in the making, the decision to withdraw avoided a commitment that would have relinquished our town’s control over the school. Concerns regarding increasing school budgets and burdens on taxpayers are better directed to the state.

The Windham School Board did not just attend a meeting or two then withdrew. In reality, they fully, and responsibly, participated for 12 months. During the study, no one paid much attention. No one commented on reports regularly published by the RED Committee or the board. The board reached its decision at a public meeting, which was three weeks before the announcement on July 25. If people were concerned, why wasn’t that expressed when the vote was taken or in the weeks prior to the RED meeting?

Do we want Windham to be a retirement community? The school facility is in good condition, providing extraordinary educational opportunities for students with a highly personalized, well rounded learning experience rarely found in our increasingly cookie-cutter world. It functions as an extended family. As Windham students move on, the positive opportunities and strong sense of community students gained from Windham Elementary are evident in high performance and leadership at the middle and high school levels.

These children are our future. To grow into grounded adults they require nurturing by families and communities. Windham has no general store, no post office, no place where people gather and trade pleasantries while reinforcing community. We have two churches, one with a tiny senior membership, and Tater Hill for a short period of the year. The school provides an anchor to the sense of community: A place where all families who choose to can experience community. I believe we need to appreciate, support, promote and treasure it.

Kathy Scott,

Windham, Oct. 10 Editor of the Reformer:

I am writing regarding the article entitled "Tunnel Vision" in the Oct. 5 issue.

I found the article unbalanced and biased. It did not present a fair representation of the issues involved or of the discussions that took place at a Windham meeting on Sept. 10, during which the Windham School Board presented the reasons for withdrawing from the Regional Education District Study.

The Windham School Board clearly put in a great deal of time, thought, and effort in considering the RED with their primary focus on what would best serve the children of this town. They presented both the pros and cons of participating in the RED. In addition to their thoughtful consideration of the many aspects involved, educational, location, early education, financial, they stated very clearly several times the primary reason they decided to withdraw from the RED study. The Windham School Board was being asked to sign off on an article of agreement which violated a core principle agreed upon by the board at the beginning of the study. The board was adhering to the core principle that no authority other than the town of Windham could close the school.

Earlier in the RED Study, the Windham School Board had asked for the inclusion of an article in the RED agreement that only the residents of Windham could vote to close the school. This article was not included. The board withdrew from an agreement that would have allowed a regional board of 11 members (including only one from Windham) to close the school. If Windham had continued to participate in a Regional Education District, any town vote on the closing of the school would be advisory only.

The Windham School Board also presented other reasons why they felt continuing in the study would not be in the best interests of the children and families of this town. At the meeting on Sept. 10 regarding the RED, it was clear that the majority of Windham residents present supported the board and the decision to withdraw from the RED study. In any issue this complex, there are going to be differing opinions and points of view. In the past, I have witnessed the damage to the town, to individuals, and to the school including the students,when the atmosphere around important issues becomes judgmental and divisive.

I hope that in the future the Reformer will present more balanced reporting and not contribute to polarizing the community. The Windham School Board deserves the town’s support and respect as our elected representatives.

Betsey Huffman,

Windham, Oct. 8

Editor of the Reformer:

The Reformer recently reported on a couple of residents from the town of Windham who complained about our school board’s decision to withdraw from the group considering a Regional Education District ("Tunnel vision, Oct. 5"). The complainers claimed that our school board is biased and suffers from "tunnel vision.".

It seems to me that they are the pot calling the kettle black. They are a small minority who seem determined to change our school, even though our school works perfectly well as it is, garnering some of the highest student scores in the county. I do not understand this small minority’s motivation, although I believe they are sincere and well-intentioned.

What I do know is that on Sept. 10, a meeting was held in Windham, which I attended along with about 60 other residents. Antje Ruppert from our school board presented a thorough overview of the past year’s meetings concerning possible unification. She explained that our board had entered into the RED meetings with two guiding principles -- that unification should improve our students’ opportunities and that the decision to close our school should be made by our town. When our board was required to sign articles of agreement that violated those principles, they withdrew from the process.

In general, our board also felt there were many apparent reasons to continue our successful school as it is, and they and others in attendance expressed several specific concerns about giving up our school -- which is in many ways the heart of our town -- for a school many miles away over which we’d have little control. It was very clear at the Sept. 10 meeting that the vast majority in attendance wanted to continue our school as it is.

Our school board has actively pursued the question of consolidation, and in their judgment it was wise to withdraw from the process. Our board consists of good and intelligent people, elected to serve our town, especially our young children. We chose them to do a job, and they do it well. The Windham Elementary School is a great little school. Those few who feel it should be changed should examine their own biases.

Mary McCoy,

Windham, Oct. 8

Editor of the Reformer:

I want to thank the Windham School Board for taking a considerable amount of time to carefully consider and reject participating in plans for a Regional Education District.

Whatever the pros and cons of a RED might be, there can be no question that the voters of Windham would be giving up control of the Windham School, now run by a hard-working board of three Windham residents. The hiring of our school staff, in fact the very existence of our town’s school, would be in the hands of a regional board where we would have but one vote out of a dozen.

If you think that less local control of our elementary school is beneficial to the town or the kids, I guess a RED makes sense. Having sent three kids to Windham School, I have to say I really appreciate the excellent education they have received there. I truly believe one of the reasons their education was so good was that there was very rapid feedback -- things that happen in the school are often heard over dinner directly from student to parent to school board member. As a resident of the town and a parent, I served on hiring committees for staff many times, giving me a say as to who is educating my children.

Our school is an asset to our community, and its success is attested to by the test scores of our kids and the number of families with young children who have settled here. Our school is one of the few in the district whose enrollment is projected to increase. Why would we want to turn over complete control of our school to an outside entity where we would have but one vote?

Howie Ires,

Windham, Oct. 8


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