In addition to the new superintendent, Mike Leichliter, who begins work on July 1, 2022, the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will also be going through changes this year. Board chair Torrey Smith, Duxbury, and vice chair Tim Jones, Fayston, will not seek reelection. No one will be vying for those two seats. Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield, is also not seeking reelection. Bobbi Rood is running for the Waitsfield seat. Cindy Senning, appointed to fill the balance of an open Duxbury seat last summer, is seeking election to the remaining two years for that seat, while Victoria Taravella is seeking a three-year term for the Waterbury seat vacated by Caitlin Hollister. Scott Culver, Waterbury, is not seeking reelection and write-in candidate Jacqueline Kelleher is running for that seat. Jonathan Clough, Warren, is not seeking reelection and write-in candidate Ellen Kucera is running for his seat.
The Valley Reporter reached out to the candidates, seeking their responses to a few questions in advance of Town Meeting next month.
VR: What, in your opinion, is the role of an effective school board member?
Bobbi Rood, Waitsfield: Being an effective school board member is about helping lead schools in the community toward the best possible outcome for students; as well as representing the community interests by being a good listener and communicator, standing up for important changes that benefit all; and being actively involved on the board in alignment with Vermont statutes.
Cindy Senning, Duxbury: An effective school board member represents the community by listening to all stakeholders, bringing their interests and concerns to the table and participating in the development of policies and supporting the programs essential to providing the best educational experience for all students in the district. That includes supporting staff, overseeing the work of the superintendent and leadership team, assuring we have a safe and adequate facility and being attentive to the budget and costs to taxpayers.
Victoria Taravella, Waterbury: I think an effective school board member listens to the community and takes all perspectives into consideration. Each of us are working to make the district a better place for our students and family members. While that can be difficult at times, I think the most important part is to consider all perspectives before making an informed decision.
Kucera: I believe the role of an effective board member is to listen to the community, including parents, teachers and support staff, students and other community members, and use what they learn to help shape the policies and educational environment of the schools. Being an effective board member means being involved in the school community and working towards the best possible outcomes for all our students and teachers. An effective board member must be willing to make difficult decisions with careful deliberation and clear communication.
VR: What traits and/or experience do you think are important for a school board member to have? What has prepared you for this position?
Rood: It’s important for a school board member to be a good listener and have deep concern and commitment to the well-being of students. My experience as a psychotherapist, day care director and school counselor taught me listening skills and patience. During my career as a school counselor, I’ve worked as a high school counselor at Lake Region Union High School, an elementary counselor at the Northfield Schools, Washington Village School, Union Elementary School and elementary schools in Fayston, Duxbury and Warren. I started the Warren After School Program when I saw a need for this type of program as a working parent.
Senning: Most important is caring for students and a commitment to a great educational system. I’ve lived in Duxbury for 48 years, was the school nurse/health educator at Harwood from 1982-1986, and principal at Duxbury Primary School for six years. I was on the school board that combined Duxbury and Waterbury and built Crossett Brook Middle School. I have a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies; I have two sons who went through the Duxbury/Harwood system. I have four grandchildren in the system. My background and experience make me a reasonable candidate for the board and have prepared me for this role at this time.
Taravella: A school board member needs to be able to look at a problem or question objectively and come up with an unbiased but valuable opinion on the matter. These traits can come from many different experiences which adds to the value of the school board. With a variety of experiences, we can all bring a different perspective into consideration and work together towards a better HUUSD for everyone. In my work as an attorney, I strive to understand all aspects of a problem before forming an opinion or plan. I think this practice can be valuable while discussing the future of our HUUSD community.
Kucera: I think a good school board member needs to understand how our schools operate and to be a good listener and communicator as well as be willing to look at situations from many different angles. I’m a parent and have spent considerable time at Warren School as a volunteer, two years as a paraeducator and currently serve as a substitute teacher. These experiences have given me insight to the challenges schools face from a variety of angles.
VR: What issues in your town and/or the HUUSD community are most important to you? How do you plan to address them?
Rood: In the bond vote I became sensitized to the need to bring community together about the best way to help ensure all students in this district receive a sound and valuable education, whether through curriculum changes or facility improvements. The forces that affect this community -- economic factors, changing demographics and developing a capable workforce -- guide my thinking. I’d reach out to educate our community about the school needs and economic strategies to support them. I want to strengthen a dialogue with community by continuing community surveys, publicly warned meetings and whatever it takes to get conversations flowing about critical issues in the schools.
Senning: I think it is important that we have excellent educational leadership in the system; that we have facilities that are conducive to an excellent system; and that we manage this with as reasonable a budget as is possible. I believe the board has to keep on top of what is going on in the system. We need to build on our successes and find the solutions to our problems. We do this by collaborating with the leadership team, attending meetings, participating in planning and maintaining a high level of communication with the community.
Taravella: I think we face an exciting time in our HUUSD community. With a new superintendent and board members we can start fresh. I look forward to the opportunity to work with all the new additions to the board and listen to the more experienced ones as we work through the issues facing our HUUSD community. I want to ensure that each family in our community feels their students are experiencing the best school environment possible while continuing to have exceptional teachers and staff that feel they are taken care of too.
Kucera: I think one of the biggest issues our district faces is the lack of trust and transparency that has hindered progress on many key issues such as the bond vote and configuration of schools. I hope to work with the new superintendent, the new CFO, and the new and veteran board members to create a community of trust and thoughtful discourse that will allow us to take action on school improvements and focus on educational policies and opportunities.
VR: What are your top priorities if elected to the HUUSD Board?
Rood: My top priorities, if elected, would be strengthening school ties to the community, helping all students have equal access to quality education, maintaining quality education across the district to reflect best practices as the local economy allows, as well as increasing opportunities for students through up-to-date technologies, pedagogy and career education.
Senning: 1. Support the new superintendent in building a strong leadership team. 2. Figuring out and presenting a bond vote that meets the needs of the system and the communities it serves. 3. Continue the process of building a cohesive school district that meets the needs of students from all six communities.
Taravella: If elected to the school board I hope to encourage and support an environment that students want to stay with as long as they are able to do so. I would like to offer them more than just the traditional school subjects by encouraging hands-on learning and extracurricular activities. I understand that supporting these programs comes at a cost, but it is important that we take the time and resources to invest in their future now, while they are still interested.
Kucera: I look forward to working with our new superintendent and helping guide him to understand the values, needs, and concerns of our communities while we strive to maintain and create the best educational opportunities for all learners. There were a lot of growing pains as the district consolidated and I see this as an opportunity to strengthen trust and build relationships between various stakeholders throughout our communities.
I would also like to work towards a bond vote that meets the needs of our schools and communities by communicating clearly with different stakeholders and working to improve facilities and educational opportunities.
VR: What do you think are the greatest strengths of the HUUSD? What do you see as areas for improvement?
Rood: One of the greatest strengths of our district is parental engagement and great staff. Being one district allows us to share resources and offer a rich experience within our means. I am especially appreciative of the handling of COVID and keeping our school communities’ staff safe and healthy. A unified district affords much opportunity and coupled with an aging population it has changed our perception of district needs. Increasing trust and a sense of ownership and community spirit throughout the district. Other areas of consideration include: facilities utilization and the related improvement and maintenance of aging buildings and reducing energy and transportation costs.
Senning: Its dedicated staff! I believe there is a good combination of academic, arts and athletic activities for students. I also think the support of the six communities is a plus. (For potential areas of improvement.) The facilities. Strengthening the relationship among the schools. Communication with the community -- especially those who do not have students in the system and may not have a good sense for the district and the educational opportunities it provides its students.
Taravella: The HUUSD community is filled with many caring and supportive families. Families that have children currently in the schools and others that may have already had their children graduate or leave the schools. Either way, the community as a whole wants the best for their students and that is the most inspiring and important strength. We are at an exciting crossroads with many new members joining the school board and system. I hope I am able to be a part of this new group and form an attentive and responsive school board going forward.
Kucera: I believe the HUUSD community is dedicated to quality academics and has amazing teachers and staff who go above and beyond to create interesting and engaging educational opportunities. Our district also has many passionate and supportive parents and community members. I appreciate the dedication to the arts and outdoor education as well as sports.
I understand there are improvements that can be made to facilities that will enhance the quality of experience and education. I believe we can improve by being a more cohesive and transparent district and this starts with improved communication.
Warren residents who wish to vote for Kucera for the HUUSD Board must write in her name (and spell it correctly) on the ballot on March 1, 2022.