I have been observing closely the reports and possible solutions to the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) enrollment situation. My logical background as a science teacher kicks in.
Let’s define the problem:
School enrollment figures have decreased immensely in the last decade. Ironically school expenses have increased. When I started teaching at Harwood in 1977 there were over 900 students. Today there are less than 700. Ironically the administrative, staff and faculty numbers have more than doubled, but that is a subject for another time.
Possible solutions that are being considered by the Harwood Unified Union School District Board include the following:
Consolidate the middle schools.
Consolidate and close at least one or two of the elementary schools.
So, in other words, close schools, eliminate programs and cut expenses.
I find it interesting that Fayston Elementary School appears on many lists as a school to close. Fayston Elementary received one of the highest rankings (No. 6) in the state by School Digger.
Let’s explore another way to solve this problem:
Hypothesis: Increasing school enrollment and adding school revenue will allow all schools to remain open.
Good idea, but how do we increase enrollment and add revenue?
We market our school heritage and our beautiful environment. We advocate for the return of our honors programs and highly productive industrial arts program. We can also add vocational programs. Harwood vocational students currently ride a bus for 90 minutes daily on their round trip to Barre. Local taxpayers cover their transportation and tuition. Harwood families are leaving by the dozens because of the lack of these programs. Let’s bring them back!
The first step in our procedure should be to market the academic success of our alumni.
Do you know that Harwood graduates include the following people?
Paul Wennberg, Cal Tech scientist, world-renowned expert on the atmospheric chemistry of planets (yep, that includes CO2 emissions – the cause of global warming).
Bill Parker, MIT scientist, inventor of the plasma lamp. Bill was both a student and a teacher at Harwood Union High School.
Grace Potter, singer, songwriter, actress and multi-instrumental musician.
Caitlin Compton Gregg, 2010 Olympic Nordic skier (sixth place in team relay), bronze medalist in World Cup championships.
Other notable students that attended Harwood include Nolan Kasper, Olympic alpine racer, Whistler Olympics in 2010. Tied for second in World Cup slalom in 2011.
Ilari Melart, Finnish professional ice hockey player.
My dentist, medical doctors and nurses, lawyer and at least one of my college professors are Harwood graduates. So are my auto mechanics, plumbers, carpenters and electricians. Harwood graduates include successful engineers, veterinarians, artists, musicians, rocket scientists and other skill trades people. They are most of all successful parents that have decided to raise their children here.
Our second step should be to market the beauty of our unique geological area and the recreational opportunities it allows.
Our school district is geographically located on the divide between both the Winooski and Mad River Valleys. Because of this location we have wonderful recreational opportunities nearby: alpine and Nordic skiing, hiking on the Long Trail, bicycling, paddling (Mad River Canoe originated in Waitsfield), award-winning organic farms, sugar houses and breweries. Residents of our school district live within reasonable commuting distance to Vermont’s largest city and our state capital.
Our third step should be to make it easier for out-of-state families and international students to move here.
We have 186 acres of diverse and beautiful land. Six of these acres were a site for the DeLong homestead. This site would be ideal for dorms for international students or serve as a site for temporary housing for out-of-state families wishing to move to our area. Incentives can be given to local residents to take in international student boarders and others arriving from other parts of Vermont or from out of state.
Several Vermont schools are currently thriving during this era of decreasing enrollment and elimination of programs. Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy are two examples. Both accept tuition from international and out-of-state students.
We can compete with any school district in the country. We have talented award-winning teachers, small class sizes and a diverse curriculum that allows art and music expression and opportunities to receive college credit.
I urge our school board directors to put together an exploratory committee to determine how best to attract international, in-state and out-of-state students and families to our piece of paradise.
A larger diverse student body will help to enrich the lives and learning of our present students. But best of all it will allow our excellent schools to remain open.
Kerrigan lives in Duxbury and was a Harwood science teacher and coach from 1977 to 2015.