MIDDLE SCHOOL MERGER
The school board is getting into middle school merger planning mode once again. At a Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board meeting on Wednesday, March 24, the board started preliminary discussions about what it would take to get all Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) students enrolled in Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) by fall of 2022.
However, the conversation stayed surface level, as board members took turns pondering hypothetical merger-related situations, rather than diving into logistical specifics, which was the plan all along. As board chair Torrey Smith said, “This is just the warm up.” The board will dive into more specific details in future meetings.
Warren representative Jonathan Young suggested that the board critically reexamine the idea of merging middle schools at all. “Lots of things have changed since two or three years ago. We don’t know what things are going to look like next year. Is this really still a good idea?” asked Young, emphasizing that the board needs to reevaluate past decisions. “We are in a different world than we were five, four, three, two years ago,” said Young.
Moretown representative Lisa Mason had more specific concerns about the merger. “Is the parking lot big enough?” she asked. “I would be interested in seeing what it would take to have a parking lot that would fit the school, if we’re going to have all the kids there.”
Mason also advocated for staff involvement in merger planning. She suggested that the board invite HUUSD middle school principals Duane Pierson and Tom Drake to a board meeting to discuss the changes to facilities and programming that might result from the merger.
Fayston representative Theresa Membrino emphasized that in order to have a successful merger the board not only needs to solicit input from staff but from the community as a whole. She argued that the board must show strong community engagement and seek to understand if the community even approves of the idea of a merger. “If not, we need to figure out where the weaknesses are in the idea and fix those or change the idea,” said Membrino.
Kristen Rogers, Moretown, suggested that the board dive into an analysis of the tax benefits of a merger. “I would like to see some concrete numbers put out about cost savings and how this will affect people’s taxes. I know people are expecting, if the merger goes through, some cost savings,” said Rogers. “I would like the community to be very aware of what that might look like on a $200,000 house or a $300,000 house.”
RENAMING THATCHER BROOK
After the merger discussion ended, the Thatcher Brook Primary School (TBPS) renaming conversation began.
Board member Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury, explained what the next steps in the TBPS renaming process would look like. “The bulk of the work could be grounded by students at the school level,” said Hollister.
The plan is to let students and staff lead the renaming process with regular feedback and input from a committee of board members tasked with overseeing the process. Specifically, the board’s TBPS renaming committee will be tasked with creating renaming criteria with which to guide the students. “It’s a bit of a layered process,” said Hollister.
The renaming criteria will involve a set of rules determined by the board’s renaming committee. “Can we say names of people are an option or are we taking that off the table? Can we say names of towns are an option? Or are we taking that off the table?” asked Hollister, citing examples of what criteria the board might consider.
Ultimately, the school board will not choose the name or deliberate on proposed names. However, board members are allowed to suggest names. “The board stays at a higher level and doesn’t get into the details as much,” said Hollister. “Staff and students are doing the work, but they’re continually reporting back to us.”
Membrino, Fayston, wondered how the board can ensure that people who don’t have kids in the school system can participate. To this inquiry, Hollister assured Membrino that there would be many opportunities for general public input.
“Soliciting input will happen from April 29 to May14,” said Hollister, who said the renaming process will be widely advertised on Facebook and Front Porch Forum. “We’re doing as many call outs as we can for folks to suggest names,” said Hollister.
The board has even added extra public comment time to the June 9 board meeting. The board hopes to decide on a new name for TBPS before the end of June, 2021.