This week Caitlin Hollister and Torrey Smith, the chair and vice chair of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board, along with district Superintendent Brigid Nease and district CFO Michelle Baker met with The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Record for an hour to discuss district redesign and other issues. Hollister asked both local newspapers if space could be provided for board members to discuss their approach to making a decision on district redesign. Six board members answered this week. The balance is due to answer next week.
Their answers to the question “How are you approaching the decision ahead on the district's preK-12 plan?” follow in alphabetical order:
Jonathan Clough, Warren
I am trying to understand each of the scenarios in terms of costs and benefits for all people in the school district. This is a time-consuming and fluid process and I’m not trying to pretend that I know what is best at any given moment. There is so much to balance including the quantity and quality of programs, the quality of life and education for students and parents, impacts on tax rates and impacts on towns. Community voice is an important part of this decision. I am also trying to ensure that the unique interests of Warren residents are given a voice as we work through this. Overall, this remains a process in progress, and we are just now getting the information that we need to try to put this all together.
James Grace, Waterbury
I believe that when our community voted overwhelmingly to merge and form the Harwood Unified Union School District, they did so with the expectation that the merger would save money. I also believe that our community expects the elected members of the school board to do the hard work and make the hard decisions required to ensure that both our school facilities and the education provided inside them are excellent. From my point of view, our current preK-12 district design activity provides us with an opportunity to deliver on both of those expectations. I am approaching our upcoming decision looking for a balanced way forward that funds the necessary renovations and improvements throughout our district while substantially offsetting those costs with reasonable and thoughtful changes that bring operational savings.
Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury
We all joined the board knowing we’d face difficult conversations and decisions. I’m committed to facilitating a process where we have these conversations, make these decisions and present our constituents a sustainable, long-term plan for our district. This means fulfilling our commitment to examine all possible cost savings as we ask our communities to invest in our high school. We had unanimous agreement on our timeline last April and I’m proud to see the board continue to deliver on what we promised our community. I’m continuously weighing what our district will need next year and asking how we can set our students and educators up for long-term success? What new opportunities can we offer our students with any potential change? I’m keenly aware of the needs of our high school – not only the physical facility but the need to innovate with a variety of rigorous and creative opportunities for all of our students in the future.
Torrey Smith, Duxbury
We’ve worked hard over the last months to ask good questions so that we – the board and the community – can base today’s discussions on accurate and in-depth understanding of the dynamics at play in our large and interrelated system. Now that we have projections to look at, I’m trying to soak up as much information as I can – the data in the scenarios as well as thoughts people have about the pros and cons of what we are considering. A lot of our conversation right now is about the elementary and middle schools, but I actually think that the high school may be one of the areas in our district that needs the greatest investment. I hope to find ways to allocate more resources to our high school without eroding opportunities for our younger students.
Christine Sullivan, Waitsfield
My intention is to honor the process we agreed to and make a decision based on the criteria the board adopted. I also have to consider the historic challenges facing the district. HUUSD enrollment has dropped over 20 percent in 20 years, while per pupil expenditure and taxes climb. I continue to listen to the many voices in our community. However, my primary responsibility is to the interests of all the children in the district, pre-K through 12, Warren to Waterbury. Especially given the need for renovations at Harwood, we should be mindful of what all local taxpayers and voters can and are willing to continue to support. Without their approval of budgets, we cannot fund desired programming and opportunities for our children. I understand that change can be hard, but it’s important to consider whether it can also bring educational, social and emotional benefits to our students.
Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield
I am looking foremost for district redesign that provides for increased program offerings for the students and families at either end of the school-age experience. Specifically, I support models that account for programs like MECA and anticipate the expansion of similar programs into other spaces within our district. That said, I cannot support models that threaten the existence of MECA; rather, I hope to see increased appetite for expansion here, and I would ask to receive more information from the administration that considers how expansion of these programs fits into models which the board moves forward. I recognize the importance of the bond process to bring our high school into the 21st century by improving facilities, increasing access to varied learning and extracurricular experiences, and generating potential revenue streams for the district. I support efforts to find savings through potential school closure to offset the cost of this project.
Rosemarie White, Warren
I am carefully considering what makes our schools special while also considering rising per pupil costs and affordability. We as parents have an obligation to provide our students with a robust educational experience while also preparing them for life in the real world. I know each of our elementary schools provides our children with a strong foundation; however, I feel we can do better for our students at Harwood. We have great educators at our high school, but they would be able to do so much more if we increased the resources available to them. I know this will come at a significant cost. I am focused on finding the balance between providing this robust educational experience to all the children in our district while also being mindful of the affordability to the taxpayers we are asking to pay for that experience.