Dr. Mike Leichliter marching in the 2022 Warren Fourth of July Parade. Photo: Jeff Knight

This is the second half of a two-part story introducing new superintendent Mike Leichliter to the community.

 

Regarding the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion in HUUSD schools, he said, “I've already been asked to meet with some of the people in the Waterbury Anti-Racist Coalition. I want to get an understanding of what programs are in place. My experience is you first need to understand [what] is impacting the various communities. I think that we can actually come up with a plan that we start moving the needle on areas as needed. Number two is the specific two or three goals of areas that we want to see more inclusivity, more positivity, more opportunity for both students and staff from underrepresented groups to have greater influence, greater performance and the ability to engage.”

PRONE RESTRAINT AND SECLUSION

Recently, the HUUSD Board has heard from educators, parents and school board members who are concerned with the district’s policy on prone restraint and seclusion. According to the Vermont Agency of Education, “Prone physical restraint means holding a student face down on his or her stomach using physical force for the purpose of controlling the student's movement. Seclusion means the confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is prevented or reasonably believes he or she will be prevented from leaving. Seclusion does not include time-out where a student is not left alone and is under adult supervision.”

In the most recent reporting period, Brookside Primary School (formerly Thatcher Brook Primary School) had 281 instances of physical restraints, which is more than any other school in Vermont. Leichliter comes from Pennsylvania, where such practices are banned.

“I have had multiple conversations on this already,” he said. “It is an area of concern for me. I need to have a better understanding of some of the data. One of the things I'm trying to learn is what are those other strategies that we're working on? What are the processes that we already have in place? And then that interface with some of the local agencies, Washington County Mental Health and behavioral systems. I've talked about it with board members individually, but really want to complete my review first and have a comprehensive conversation with the board.”

 

SCHOOL REPAIRS

Last year, a $59.5 million bond for school repairs and improvements in the HUUSD failed handily. There are still building repairs to be done, including replacing the roof on the Harwood building. Leichliter has experience leading schools through construction projects. “School construction is one of the strengths and one of the reasons that were interested in me as a candidate,” he said. “I've gone through four full school actions -- the construction of a new elementary school and construction of a high school, a three-year period of construction, $100 million dollar project, and it takes a lot of work and energy, but most importantly it takes the community. Looking back at the bond, I think that's going to give us some lessons learned moving forward.”

ENROLLMENT

HUUSD enrollment has declined in recent years. “That's been a topic of conversation I've had with some school board members who are taking a deep dive into that topic,” Leichliter said. “I've learned so far is it's a multifaceted issue . . . [Some] parents don't feel the academics are rigorous. That's certainly an area that that I have a lot of questions about, something that I'm going to continue to explore next year. I've had conversations with some teachers about that. There are tremendous opportunities but there's always room for improvement. One of the challenges in the school is there is a limitation of standards. There is an economy of scale as you get larger with classes you can offer. You have to find ways to meet the needs of students, collectively give them the skills that they need and want in a cost-effective way. I want to make sure that I'm supporting our teachers and giving them the tools they need, as they are on the frontlines with our students.”

MEET AND GREETS

The HUUSD Board has planned three meet and greet events with Superintendent Leichliter in July, August and September. The first occurred at the Waterbury Farmers Market on July 14. The next will take place at the Warren Town Hall on August 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. “I'm excited to have the three meet and greets,” he said. “I'm excited with the community.”