This week representatives from The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Record were invited to meet with Harwood Unified Union School District Board chair Caitlin Hollister, vice chair Torrey Smith, school district Superintendent Brigid Nease and district financial officer Michelle Baker at the central office in Waitsfield.

This was noteworthy for several reasons. It was an opportunity for an hour of unstructured questions for the local journalists on topics that ranged from school district redesign to the Harwood Union bond to the Waitsfield Elementary School septic system. This hasn’t happened in recent memory.

Opportunities for the local media to engage directly with the administration team have been very limited and have required emailing questions and awaiting answers. Opportunities to meet with or question board leaders have been easier to achieve. Regardless, getting those leaders around a table for an hour was incredibly helpful.

Beyond exchanging information, the meeting went a long way toward assuaging relationships between local media and the HUUSD that might be described as acrimonious and lacking in trust. Nothing defangs the other guys as much as sitting around a table with them making eye contact.

And that was really important. The work that is underway on school district redesign, and a Harwood Union bond of $20 million to $30 million is complicated enough without a press-school district relationship that is fraught with tension.

The meeting was also incredibly informative. Allowing the conversation to move at its own organic pace from topic to topic led to some interesting details that our staff wouldn’t have known to ask about. For instance, if students from a Valley elementary school that closes are to be split between the two closest neighbor schools, the school district can create a sub-district within the larger district, drawing geographic lines to split kids up based on proximity and geography.

We appreciate the invitation and the opportunity that this week’s meeting provided and we look forward to more such opportunities in the future. The work ahead for the school board and administration is not going to get easier as the board works with the community on critical upgrades to Harwood Union and trying to find the best solution for school district redesign.