The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board changed course on the decision to freeze intradistrict choice (IDC), the policy that allows students to attend a school outside their town. As The Valley Reporter goes to press on the evening of Wednesday, December 11, the board is revisiting the possibility of merging seventh- and eighth-graders from Harwood Union and Crossett Brook Middle Schools for the 2020-21 school year.
While the school board voted to freeze IDC and keep middle school students in separate schools without a choice to change at their November 20 meeting, the vote was unwarned, requiring the board to hold a revote on December 4. By the December 4 meeting, the board had changed its tone on the issue.
“I would prefer at this point that we unfreeze IDC. We aren’t adding a sustainability and STEM teacher over at Harwood. At Harwood, my first child had a choice between STEM or band and chorus. At Crossett, you don’t have to choose. Long term, the only way we’re going to fix the equity issue is to bring the kids together. What we need to do is put the kids first, get them in healthy peer groups, healthy social settings and give them a high-quality education,” said board member Christine Sullivan at the December 4 meeting.
Sullivan’s comments reflected one potential reason behind the board’s retraction of the initial vote to freeze IDC: Board members want to reconsider merging middle schools. According to Superintendent Brigid Nease, merging all middle school students at Crossett Brook would be the most cost-effective way to provide educational equity to all students. Right now, Harwood Union Middle School needs new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and sustainability teachers, while Crossett Brook has both.
Currently, Harwood Union Middle School makes students choose between music and STEM, while Crossett Brook lets students take both. Knowing that the public would be concerned about the need for temporary modular classrooms with the merger, Nease reminded the board that modular classrooms would be attached to the building, assuring that students wouldn’t need to put on winter coats to walk to class, and that foreign languages would be placed in the modular classrooms so every student would spend an equal amount time in the school classrooms and in the pop-up classrooms.
NOT ALL AGREED
However, not all board members agreed that merging the middle schools would be the best course of action. “When we talk about choice, living in Vermont with the cultural values that we have around here, choice is important,” said James Grace, a Waterbury HUUSD board member.
Ultimately board members voted not to freeze IDC and decided to table the issue of merging middle schools until this week’s meeting. Board vice chair Torrey Smith left the board with some big picture thoughts to consider, for those worried about the costs associated with the merger: “I would like to urge everyone to consider that if we let this choice we need to keep schools as healthy as they can be. We aren’t in an ideal situation. But we may need to increase costs in the short term until we execute our long-term plan.”