To The Editor and members of the HUUSD Board
I’m a Moretown resident and I attended both Moretown Elementary School and Harwood as a student. I moved back to Moretown to build a home and start a family, in part because I knew that any children I had would get a wonderful beginning at a nurturing school that’s the heart of our village. I believe in this community (Moretown and all of our towns here in the HUUSD), and I believe that we can have an even brighter future.
Together. Let me write that word one more time: Together.
You have an incredible opportunity to do for this community what has never really been done before: Bring us together.
When I was a student here, there was a rift of sorts between Waterbury and The Valley. When I moved back, I began hearing new versions of those same divides. Now, this board has given even more credence to that narrative. You’ve fought amongst yourselves, you’ve fought with the community and you’re building toward an event where you might ask townspeople in one place to vote to close a school in another place without the consent of the affected.
I think the main reason for this is that some of you are suffering from confirmation bias. If you don’t know the term, confirmation bias is when people only believe information that confirms their already-held beliefs. Once someone is rooted in their confirmed viewpoint, they reject or ignore information that casts doubt on it, no matter how factual and objective that information may be. Researchers have proven that biased people get genuine pleasure – a rush of dopamine – when processing information that supports their beliefs. They sift through information and find small similarities to their views to celebrate and share, creating an echo chamber.
When I visit your meetings, when I attend your events, when I read your editorials in the newspaper or watch your chair speaking on the news, when I read the responses some of you write back to thoughtful members of this community; this is what I hear and see: “We, the board, know better than you.”
And that makes me sad. The community is more than “emotional” or “provincial,” and our concerns are backed up by a wealth of research. Many have shared that information with you, but you don’t seem to want to acknowledge it, and it makes your confirmation bias glow red hot.
We aren’t making anything up. Studies really do point to negative impacts on children exposed to school closures. Data actually do show property value declines for towns exposed to school closures. Report after report and investigation after investigation clearly illustrate the sense of loss a community feels when their heart (school) is ripped out.
If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking that I (and others like me) also have confirmation bias; that we’re unable to see the benefits of the models you’ve decided to choose from.
In response, it’s not that we don’t recognize or understand that some money will be cut from the budget by closing a school. It’s that we value our community schools and the benefits they hold for our children and our towns much more than we value a minimal tax offset. You can’t simply ask the questions, “Do you want your taxes to go down, and do you want tax breaks?” The answer will almost always be yes. However, simple questions like these leave out the important relational details. The proverbial what’s the catch?
Instead, you should ask relational questions like, “Would you like to offset a Harwood bond by closing schools?” or “Which do you value more: enrollment and fiscal reports or enhanced educational programming and happy, healthy students?” or “Would you be willing to pay more money for schools if we tried to become a statewide leader in equity and creativity?”
I think you’d get very different answers from the community and I’d think you’d find that your views on closings and reconfigurations would need to change as a result.
So, I ask you, do you want to be known as the group that confirms your biases and makes the ever-present divides permanent or do you want to be the group who strives for unity? The group who decides to build something better, together?