Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury, is the new board chair for the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board and Torrey Smith, Duxbury, is the new vice chair.
The HUUSD elected a new board chair and vice chair to accompany the new town representatives around the board table on March 13. Hollister replaces Christine Sullivan of Waitsfield and Smith replaces Hollister who previously served as vice chair.
At the school board meeting, board members and community members expressed their opinion on who should fill the chair and vice chair role and why. Hollister was elected unanimously and Smith was elected over Sullivan by an 8-6 vote.
Fayston representative Theresa Membrino made a motion before the voting process that the board change its voting process, using a “gentlemen’s rule” where a majority vote of eight board members would result in a win, disregarding weighted voting.
Membrino's reasoning was that a person with six weighted votes could potentially win the position instead of having a majority. Membrino was concerned that if that were to happen it would be a tenuous year ahead.
In opposition to the motion, Waterbury representative Alex Thomsen said she felt that wouldn't be respectful to board members and questioned if it was even legal with the weighted voting totals for each town.
Outgoing board chair Christine Sullivan reminded the board that the weighted voting was warned in the pre-meeting agenda.
The motion failed as only Membrino and Moretown representatives Gabe Gilman and Kristen Rodgers voted for it. Duxbury representative Torrey Smith abstained.
Thomsen nominated Waterbury representative Caitlin Hollister for board chair. Hollister was the only individual nominated for chair.
During the discussion other board members took time to thank Sullivan for her time as board chair. Warren representative Rosemarie White thanked Sullivan for her service and recognized the personal dedication Sullivan had shown to the board as well as the personal attacks she endured. Thomsen also expressed her thanks to Sullivan and her leadership of the board.
Brian Fleisher, Waitsfield, welcomed new board members to the table. Fleisher said that with new members the board would bring new energy and seek different options around the middle school. Fleisher said he felt that Superintendent Brigid Nease had a personal agenda and reminded her that the school board does not work for her, that she works for them.
Neil Nussbaum, Moretown, thanked Sullivan for her time as board chair and apologized for any disrespectfulness that he might have expressed during her time as chair.
There were two nominations for vice chair on the board, Duxbury representative Torrey Smith and Waitsfield representative Christine Sullivan.
Waterbury representative Maureen McCracken nominated Smith and said that Smith has been a calm and reasoning voice on the board and asks questions to better understand the issues.
Moretown representative Kristen Rodgers said that the public would like to feel heard and trust the board again, and that she would like to see a change of leadership that involves full transparency with the public.
Duxbury representative Garret MacCurtain said that there is heavy lifting to be done in the future, and under stressful times Sullivan handled herself well.
White echoed those comments, adding that Sullivan offered knowledge in a leadership role and would play a supporting role alongside Hollister.
Membrino said that changing board leadership is healthy and helps cultivate the next generation of leaders. Membrino said that it’s important that Hollister supports herself and learns her new role by spreading her own wings without having Sullivan in the vice chair role.
Membrino said that Smith has pushed others, including her, outside of their thinking box and said she admired Smith’s character for the co-chair position. In response, Smith said she looks forward to collaboration and finding solutions.
Fleisher again spoke regarding the vote for vice chair and said he would like a change in leadership and that he supported Smith. Fleisher concurred that Smith would bring new direction to the board.
Laura Schaller, Moretown, voiced her support for Smith and said switching the previous roles of chair and vice chair would not be enough of a change.
Sullivan received the following weighted votes for vice chair: Thomsen, 9.85 percent; Sullivan, 6.70 percent; MacCurtain, 5.20 percent; White 6.70, percent; and Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield, 6.70 percent.
In the two-way race for vice chair, Smith received the following weighted votes: Hollister, 9.85 percent; Gilman, 6.45 percent; Jonathan Clough, Warren, 6.70 percent; Rodgers, 6.45 percent; McCracken, 9.85 percent; Membrino, 5.25 percent; Tim Jones, Fayston, 5.25 percent; and Smith, 5.20 percent.
Waterbury representative James Grace, with 9.85 percent of the weighted vote, abstained.