Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board members raised concerns about how community members were notified of a state police investigation into what was reported as threatening behavior.
On Friday, August 31, parents in the district received a letter from Principal Lisa Atwood explaining the circumstances of a police blog spot report from August 30 about threatening behavior on Harwood grounds. Atwood’s letter clarified that the police report referenced two community members arguing following a community engagement forum.
An August 31 email from the district, sent at 4:25 p.m. stated, “Please note that on 8/30/18, at 2:53 p,m,, the Vermont State Police publicly reported that they received a threat at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, Vermont. The report they received was based on a previous evening’s incident (8/29/18) involving interaction between two adults at a community event.”
At the most recent board meeting on September 12, board members questioned the email from Atwood and asked how a better protocol for crisis management communication could be developed.
“The letter seems to imply that there was a real impact on our organization and our staff, and so I think it would be worthwhile, regardless of the other pieces of the letter, to understand what happened there, and why it happened, and what your decision-making processes were for escalating things to those levels,” said Waterbury representative Maureen McCracken.
Superintendent Brigid Nease made it clear that the administrative team of Atwood, Harwood Union Middle School Principal Duane Pierce and high school Assistant Principal Sam Krotinger co-wrote the email that went out. Nease said she would ask the board for a proper email procedure to follow in case of another incident similar for the administrative team to follow.
“When it was brought to my attention about the incident that occurred between two adults and it was now in the VSP blog, given the tenor of the environment we live in, given a most recent previous incident we had not too long ago with threatening posts, we felt it was important to send a communication out and get out in front of it so when community members and parents saw that, and they did -- they weren’t going to panic, get nervous and get worried or be fearful that something happened here because of the way it came out on VSP,” said Atwood.
Some members of the school board were upset with the lack of information given in the initial email as well as its accuracy. Other board members stood up for the team.
“There was a clear indication that there was a lot time spent on the administrators’ part to write the email they did and to handle the phone calls, and so I think it might be worth hearing about what the process was,” said McCracken.
“The important message for me was for the board to understand the impact it had on our work day on Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning. That was the initial intent of the letter, number one; secondly, it’s the sense of responsibility that I have 24/7 for this building and the people in it when they’re in it,” said Atwood.
Atwood said that Warren representative Alycia Biondo’s email in reply was offensive to all administrators in the district. Biondo said that content in her email might have been a slight to administration but she didn’t think it was disrespectful.
Fayston representative Jill Ellis was upset with how the content was written and the message it communicated to the community.
Waterbury representative Alex Thomsen suggested viewing documents such as Atwood’s email in the board packet and said there are too many intra-board emails between board members that tread on the line of violating the Open Meeting Law.
The Harwood Union Unified School District Board tried out its new consent agenda at the September 12 meeting and discussed future community participation.
At the HUUSD annual retreat last month, retreat leader Val Gardner introduced a new model for agendas where regular agenda items would be replaced with a consent agenda. The board’s current practice is to discuss and vote on each bulleted item. Agenda items would all be approved together under one motion without discussion, unless the board pulled one item out for specific discussion.
The board uses a large majority of its time discussing points where individual board members offer ideas. Gardner suggested that board members should seriously consider when to talk, and if it’s urgent or necessary.
The board approved the consent agenda including meeting minutes, board warrants and the financial report. The board also approved four concept areas to guide the work plan for the new fiscal year which included: district vision, developing a process for monitoring progress, district assessment management and budget development.
As The Valley Reporter goes to press on September 19, the board is reviewing four middle school renovation options with architects TruexCullins. The executive committee held a public presentation in the Harwood High School auditorium on September 5 and reached out for community members’ thoughts, questions and concerns as well as handed out surveys about the options.
At the September 12 board meeting, the school board received comments about its structure, mainly the chair’s role in debates during the public comment portion of the meeting. Moretown resident and former board member Peter Langella said it was the chair’s duty to remain impartial during debates unless he or she chose to step down periodically to participate.
Langella commented that chair Christine Sullivan breaks “Robert’s Rules of Order,” claiming she breaks her impartial role.
“Chair Sullivan regularly enters debate as a partisan without relinquishing the chair, the board is not compliant with ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ which means the board is not compliant with Vermont law. I call on chair Sullivan to step down immediately. If she does not, I call on the board to remove her. If neither of the options happens I would like a written response explaining why,” said Langella before exiting the meeting.
Waterbury community member Steve Odefey spoke on behalf of the work the board is doing with the community, supporting its’ efforts. Odefey said the boards’ work needs to progress, specifically including an analysis of redesign.
“I’ve never withdrawn my support when the school district has asked for my help, but I need to know, when you come with your hand out, and my friends and neighbors in Waterbury need to know that you’re looking at all the districts’ assets and you’re doing your level best to ensure that those assets are deployed in the most efficient way possible. It is what is required of you by us, and it is also at the very center of what Act 46 has in mind,” said Odefey.