This is a rebuttal to James Grace’s opinion piece published in the October 24, 2019, edition of The Valley Reporter.

When referring to the Harwood Unified Union School District’s (HUUSD) redesign plans, Waterbury board member James Grace urged his colleagues on the board “to base these discussions on facts rather than conjecture, rumor and innuendo.”

I agree.

Here are the facts:

  • Nearly 500 citizens, most of them Valley residents and taxpayers, have signed a letter to the board asking for a new and different process. Despite the claims in Mr. Grace’s message, this letter does not include anything about a “conspiracy operating inside the district.” What it does contain are requests for scenarios to be generated and evaluated based on future student well-being, concrete future programming descriptions, an evaluation of successful school initiatives (like the Moretown Education Center for All, like the Fayston-based school lunch program that was just featured in The Washington Post) in order to bring them to scale districtwide, a third-party financial analysis of the models under consideration, civic and social metrics for evaluating scenarios, an adjusted timeline that does not break the district’s Articles of Agreement, a separate bond process for Harwood High School renovations, more community engagement events that explicitly include teachers and students held in the affected towns and a research-based process that goes beyond the mind of our employee, the superintendent.
  • The board released the results from its own community survey in a recent board packet, and, out of 132 responses, there were only a few people who fully supported the board’s process. This is direct evidence of the board’s confirmation bias, for when the community asks questions, we are told we are the “emotional” few and that the majority of district citizens support the board. Why, then, was the positive-negative ratio in the board’s survey not reversed?
  • The teachers’ union sent the board a letter with three requests: Focus redesign efforts on grades seven through 12, pay more attention to noneconomic factors like student-teacher ratios and education quality, and slow the process down in order to build collective efficacy.

So, yes, I agree with Mr. Grace that the conversation between the board and community has been “difficult in that we can’t seem to agree on a set of facts on which to base our discussion and debate” because the majority of the board does not seem to value the above list.

Mr. Grace goes on to break his own request, speaking in subjective innuendos about our schools, citing no evidence. He contrasts Moretown with Crossett Brook and says he looks forward to “providing more robust opportunities for fifth- and sixth-graders” at Moretown, but he doesn’t say what those robust opportunities are, and he doesn’t reflect on the possibility that families might have specifically chosen Moretown because its school has a small community feel where 10- to 12-year-olds can become community leaders. Mr. Grace then attacks Fayston and the “general sense of emptiness” there, his comments only focused on building capacity and not the capacity building that happens between the wonderful teachers and students in Fayston each day.

The only research Mr. Grace mentions (out of context) is about a metric called School Proximity Index (factors that can be impacted by the presence of a school in rural towns), and while this concept has been used by citizens on both sides of the HUUSD redesign debate, it’s important to acknowledge that SPI was created for a specific study about rural New York towns and schools, and it has not been adopted as an official metric by the state of Vermont nor the HUUSD.

In summary, community members like me and hundreds of others have been asking thoughtful questions and expressing real concerns about the HUUSD Board’s redesign process for months. Some people have been engaged for years. Yet board members like Mr. Grace continue to dismiss us. Even when they hold an event, even when they send out a survey, even when they put themselves on the radio to collect our responses, they dismiss us.

Have you ever considered, Mr. Grace and the majority of the board, that it might be you and not us who just doesn’t like what you’re hearing “regardless of how much data we collect or how much engagement we do?”

Jesse Williams lives in Moretown, Vermont.