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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Let's reframe the issues


By Sherry Ziemke

As we ponder and vote on school board elections and school budgets, I'd like to ask community members to reframe their thinking. Much of the conversation and decision making I hear at school board meetings is based on dollars and cents -- limiting costs and the impact on local property taxes. Of course limited resources are a reality that must be seriously taken into account. And of course we must develop and manage responsible budgets. But is that the end goal of our budget or the best starting point for building it? Not in my opinion. A school budget is meant to support education, not the other way around.

I prefer to start with "What are our educational goals? What do we want to achieve educationally for children?" If, as school board conversations might lead one to believe, the goal is achieving a certain teacher-student ratio or a maximum percentage budget increase or a federally mandated standardized test score, then perhaps the Waterbury Duxbury School District board is on track.

But those are certainly not the goals that over 100 community members helped outline in the district's new strategic plan. In this plan, the community speaks of developing the whole child, of all students achieving their full potential, of students who will be engaged, independent learners, critical and creative thinkers, and courageous citizens. (See www.wdsdvt.org/ for the full plan.) That's a whole different issue than dollars and cents, and it might require a whole different way of thinking about staffing, student time, programs, instruction and staff development.
We should insist that before talking about cutting teacher positions because of declining enrollment, we first discuss creative ways to continuously improve student learning and accomplish the goals set out in the strategic plan -- and then discuss what resources are needed to achieve that. Is it best achieved by adding to a position here, or reducing a position there? Are there other options and priorities? Do they require money or can we find creative teaching strategies or community partnerships to help us achieve our goals?

I firmly believe this needs to be the starting point and where the truly hard conversations and decisions need to happen. We made a great start last year when so many people came together with their thoughts for our strategic plan.  It was clear that our community wants to keep our schools strong to ensure that every child develops to his or her potential and is prepared to succeed in the world. Let's continue to move forward in that direction.   

Sherry Ziemke is a member of the Waterbury-Duxbury School Board and is not up for re-election this year. She has written this article as a personal opinion and is not representing the school board as a whole.

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