As The Valley Reporter goes to press on January 3, the Harwood Union Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board’s community engagement committee is meeting with two very important items on the agenda.

The first is a discussion of community engagement around the issue of proficiency-based learning and grading. The second is a discussion about community engagement and district redesign.

Proficiency-based learning is mandated by the state and has engendered a great deal of concern from parents about how the new grading system will impact students’ college options. Those concerns are legitimate and it is critically important that parents and students have a way to have their concerns heard and understood.

The issue of district redesign is another issue entirely. Superintendent Brigid Nease’s white paper, a special report, released last month outlines a redesign proposal that is going to be met with strong reactions, both pro and con, from the six towns in the district.

The white paper calls for sending all fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook and all seventh- and eighth-graders to Harwood Union Middle School. All Thatcher Brook fourth-graders would be sent to Crossett Brook and two of The Valley’s four elementary schools would be closed.

This is a huge change, fraught with its own logistical issues of transporting and feeding students. Any effort to deviate from our current model of small, local elementary schools is going to require an enormous uplift and, very specifically, buy-in from the community.

This process cannot be forced through hastily; it needs adequate time and analysis and it needs community voices. And community engagement on this issue can’t be cursory or limited to three or four meetings. It has to be steady and ongoing and multilayered.

This type of engagement requires parent voices, student voices, teacher voices, select board voices, taxpayer voices, legislator voices and all of our voices.

We need to know exactly how this process will occur. We need to understand how our elected school board officials will proceed. We need to know how we will be brought into this process and how our input will be considered.

Open, respectful communication as well as complete transparency on the part of the school board has never been more important.