I took this vote very seriously. I believe all of our schools are special and, no matter which elementary school our children attend, they will receive an excellent education. However, while I know our middle schools also provide an excellent education, time and again our administrators have communicated the need to bring our middle school students together at an earlier age. They describe the emotional and social issues experienced when students from Crossett Brook migrate into Harwood. Further, the inconsistencies between educational experiences at the two middle schools result in students being at different levels of preparedness when they enter ninth grade. When my son was in seventh grade, I asked him, keeping in mind he already spent 50 minutes plus on the bus getting to Harwood, what he thought about merging the two middle schools into Crossett Brook, he rolled his eyes and said, “Why do we have two middle schools anyway?” It was a non-issue for him, which reaffirmed to me our children tend to be more resilient than we parents.
As we know, the Harwood facilities need a lot of work. To bring the 1965 building to code, which doesn’t provide anything new for our students, will cost us at least $19 million. Then, if we only spend this $19 million, we will have a 1965 building which is up to code, but does not accommodate a 21st-century learning environment. Current pedagogy is different than 50-plus years ago. If we want to compete with other school districts who have invested in their high school, we must renovate Harwood so it can provide our teachers with a better and more current venue for delivering a current educational experience.
We are fortunate enough to have some great teachers in our district – not just great, but enthusiastic and excited about teaching. We need to support them and provide them with the tools to educate our children -- including a facility which allows them to prepare our students for life after high school. The final cost to upgrade Harwood alone may be $30 million. Annual debt service on the bond may be $2 million-plus which equates to about 10 cents or more on the tax rate. I feel strongly that we cannot in good conscience ask our taxpayers to pay substantially more in taxes for these improvements, without using our existing facilities more efficiently to offset some of this tax increase.
I know Fayston is a lovely school. I’ve been there, have friends who work there, have spoken with parents who are for and against closing the school and also spoken to a few teachers, current and retired. I certainly wish there was a robust enrollment at all of our schools. But, the fact is Fayston’s enrollment has been declining for years – even before we merged under Act 46. Several years ago, the Fayston School Board put in a beautiful makerspace hoping to attract families with young children. This did not happen. Unfortunately, the demographics in both Fayston and Warren have been changing. Our populations are getting older and the price of real estate increasing – making it harder and harder for young families to relocate here. Warren has Wheeler Brook as well as Alpine Village which offer opportunities for young families who may be starting out to move there. This is not the case in Fayston which contributes to their declining enrollment.
NO TOWN CENTER
I appreciate the value of each town having its own school and its importance to the community. However, I disagree that Fayston fits that model. Fayston does not have a town center, its center is Waitsfield. Many of the students who attend Fayston live closer to Waitsfield and even Moretown Elementary. I do not want to discount the emotional attachment to an elementary school, but all of the elementary schools in our district provide an excellent educational experience for our children. Much of the emotion stems from fear of change and grieving at the thought of losing the elementary school which I am sure holds many dear memories. But, there is such a thing as too small. I had one Fayston parent tell me her child showed up for school and was one of two children in class, because the others were out sick. This parent said her children were not receiving a robust and diversified classroom experience. I had another tell me when they moved to Fayston a few years ago, their children did not fit in socially and were miserable because they felt excluded from their cohort. Teachers acknowledged to me how sad it is enrollment has declined so at Fayston, and reluctantly admitted it was time to close the school.
Our high school students deserve a current learning environment, one which prepares them for life after high school. Not all students will attend college, some may go to a trade school, directly enter the workplace, or choose to start a family. We need to provide them with the resources and skill set to be successful in whatever direction they choose. We do our best, but we can do better. To do this we need to improve the facilities at the high school.
I take my role as trustee for our students in our district very seriously. People may not agree with me, but hopefully will understand my sincerity and efforts to do what is right for our students.
White lives in Warren, Vermont and serves as one of the town’s representatives to the Harwood Unified Union School District Board. Her views are her own.