This letter was read to the Harwood Unified Union School District Board at its February 2 meeting. I graduated from both Moretown Elementary School and Harwood Union High School. I have a B.A. in developmental psychology and a doctorate in preventative pediatrics. My two daughters are ninth-generation Waitsfielders. My professional expertise is in resilience and health.

I ask you to please shift your leadership style and your decision-making process away from a money-based process to a value and heart-based process. A money-based process is narrow, only exploring options from one perspective, missing the value and creativity of all stakeholders. A heart-based process involves making decisions by listening, engaging multiple perspectives, examining research and seeking diverse expertise. It is about doing what is actually best for students and teachers, not only what is best for the budget or the current political climate.

We must be careful when our minds are masquerading as our hearts. An example of this is the rationale that larger classes, more programing and better facilities will be better for students. The evidence indicates that larger class sizes, school closings and consolidation all negatively impact both student and teacher outcomes and in many circumstances do not save money. Also, more programing is not always linked to more achievement.

I am writing to ask you the board to do four heart-based things:

  1. Make a commitment to the teachers and students in this district to engage their perspectives in the decisions that directly impact them. Listening with open minds and hearts.
  1. Read and consult multiple credible sources/experts when making decisions, looking beyond the political push for consolidation.
  1. Make a commitment to the community that regardless of what occurs with closing schools or moving students, no class size in our district will be greater than 18 students. Research consistently demonstrates that class sizes over 15 negatively impact both student and teacher outcomes.
  1. Instead of adding more programming, aim for quality over quantity. There is strong evidence indicating that less programing allows more space for deep learning, teaching students how to learn, how to persevere, and also how to be resilient.

True leadership is value-based. It is about how you do what you do. If the process is heart-based the outcomes will be also. I think we can all agree that the current decision-making process if flawed. If we continue with this flawed process, we will end up with something that may look better on paper but will not meet the true needs of our communities. I am asking you to spend less time attempting to solve budgeting problems and more of your time listening to our teachers and students, visiting our schools, engaging diverse expertise and reading the academic research. Your viewpoints would be expanded. You would find creative financial and student-centered solutions that you are currently overlooking. There are heart-based answers out there already; you just have to look for them in the right places.

Girard-diCarlo lives in Waitsfield.