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Schools we love came from consolidation

In 1921, according to my copy of the “Lincoln Quadrangle” section of a state of Vermont map produced by George H. Perkins, Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston included the following 12 schools: Brown School, South Hill School, South Olive School, Warren Road School, Robinson School, No. 7 School, No. 5 School in Warren, South School and East School in Waitsfield and No. 1, No. 6 and No. 2 School in Fayston. I am sorry that I don’t have the companion map that includes the other three towns of our united district.

I imagine that each of the 12 tiny schools had offerings and traditions that made it special. I also imagine that some of the parents of children who went to those schools had fears and concerns when those schools closed due to consolidation, just as some parents do today. I am sure that consolidation involved hard work and it may have happened in a series of steps, but eventually out of consolidation came the schools that we came to love. I am confident that out of this round of consolidation will come schools that we will also love.

If visionary community members hadn’t worked so hard to create the HU middle and high school during the 1960s, imagine where we’d be now. What if the “Old High School” on Main Street in Waitsfield were still the high school? I certainly would not have moved here for the same reasons I would not live in Craftsbury or Proctor. I think we would all agree that 15 kids in a grade is too small for high school; I think it is too small for elementary school too.

LITTLE SHARED HISTORY

Our family loved the Waitsfield Elementary School (WES). The only downside I saw to my kids’ years at WES was how few kids there were in each classroom, including a kindergarten classroom with only eight students. Sometimes in multi-grade classrooms, there were as few as four students in my child’s grade in their class. The tiny number of kids might not have been that bad if the students had moved onto a bigger school after fourth or fifth grade as is typical at many American schools, but to finish elementary school as a sixth-grader with only a dozen or maybe 20 kids in your grade is a circle so small that most kids have outgrown it, especially when the gender mix is off balance. Once they reached HUMS and then finally HUHS, they had a chance to make most of the friendships that will carry them through the years. When my 21-year-old got together with her HU friends over their winter break, they were telling stories from their school days. They realized how little shared history they had because the 20-plus kids gathered had gone to five separate elementary schools. As you would expect the Waterbury and Duxbury kids had a much greater number of friends with whom they shared early childhood memories at the gathering than The Valley kids did.

Some people have asked me why I care so much about this issue, being that my younger child will graduate this spring. This is my final year, after 17 years of having a child in what is now the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD). I served in many volunteer capacities throughout those years, in Waitsfield, Thatcher Brook and Harwood, including serving as a member of the final HUMS/HS Board. I have put a lot of thought into this over many years. I want every kid in the HUUSD to have all the opportunities my kids did and then some. Without consolidation that is simply not possible. We all know that Vermont state government will no longer prop up our tiny schools. The small school grants are a thing of the past and the pressure to increase class size and school size to something reasonable, but still smaller than most states, is great.

We may not find the perfect plan, but doing nothing would be the worst possible plan. I would like my tax dollars to go toward innovative teaching, not toward heating half-empty buildings. I would much rather cut a building or two than cut world language, art, music or after-school activities. Our students deserve to move forward, not backward. This is hard work, but I know we can work together toward a brighter more enriching future for all our children.

Caffry lives in Waitsfield.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971