Op-ed: As new unified school district gets under way, board needs to listen closely to parents, families and teachers

Editor’s note: Chester resident Sue Willis wrote this open letter to the new Green Mountain Unified School District Board.

By Sue Willis
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After sitting through the meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School District Board last Tuesday evening, I was compelled to write a letter to all members regarding some of the issues that were brought up.

The message I heard from the board was that you want to make our schools more appealing by adding programs so students and families will want to move into our communities. You want to do it cost efficiently.

I heard that you want to be able to go back to the towns with a budget and vision that the voters can buy into. I believe, as the board does, all taxpayers and parents want our taxes to stay as low as possible. I know that this can happen. I feel that the key to this happening is the board sitting down and listening not only to administration, but talking to the teachers, parents and students to see where we, as a community, want the direction of the school to go.

As a parent and a taxpayer I walked out of Tuesday’s meeting shaking my head. A large number of people voiced their concerns about removing RNs from the schools. There were faculty members, community members and parents present, voicing their wishes, and NEED to have this position remain in the school(s). We were met with, “we have decided to keep it the way it is for now.”

When I heard that, I got the feeling in the pit of my stomach what was really being said is “OK,
we are meeting with opposition on this issue so we will put it on the back burner until we think
no one is paying attention, and then do what we want anyway.”

If you are truly wanting to build a school that is going to attract families, you need to start listening to what those families want and need, whether or not it’s what you as a board want.

This is no longer just a service, it is a necessity for a growing number of our students who have major health issues.

I heard a number of “visions” thrown out by board members stating what they would like to see.
As they were being listed, I thought, “Wow, we are already doing these things,” maybe in
small doses, but we are doing them.

If you are truly wanting to build a school that is going to attract families, you need to start listening to what those families want and need, whether or not it’s what you as a board want.

A majority of the time, when asked if we can expand these services, we are met with “we don’t have the funding.” I think if the board would really sit down and listen to the teachers and students, go into classrooms to actually see what is happening there, you would be surprised. Education is changing, the students are changing, students medical and mental needs are also changing.

I am curious to know whether any of the board members have actually taken the time to spend a day in a classroom to see what is really happening. I imagine that eyes would be opened wide to see how much change there has been in both the social and educational climate. I’m sure it has changed since your last visit to a classroom.

We also need to take a look at the resources that are in the school and use them more
efficiently. Personal example: When my daughter was out with medical issues, we tried to set it
up so she could Skype classes. After two weeks of meetings, planning, troubleshooting and tech
support, the day it was supposed to happen I was told that it can’t happen because the
computer that was being designated for that had been purchased with General Education funds and
she was a special education student. I was floored! The computer that had been designated had
been sitting in the library not being used for an extended amount of time.

Next I was told that she could use the computer and the Special Education Department could purchase one from its budget to replace the one she was using. This does not make any sense to me as a parent, taxpayer or educator. Taxpayers are paying for these resources regardless of where it appears on a line item.  All are taxpayer funded.

If there is a resource in the school that can be used effectively to solve a problem and it is not taking services away from a special education student, but is helping a general education student, or vice versa why wouldn’t we do that? Why does there have to be a line between the two? The bottom line is, we are here to educate ALL students and need to give them each what they need to succeed.

If you want to make our school system the best it can be, I would encourage you to reach out
and connect with the parents and educators and become viewed as a supporter not an

If you want to make our schools the best they can be, I would encourage you all to spend time
in classrooms and see first-hand what is actually happening. When the the students feel
supported by the teachers, the teachers feel supported by the administration and the
administration feels supported by the school board, all of our schools benefit and excel.

If you want to make our school system the best it can be, I would encourage you to reach out and connect with the parents and educators and become viewed as a supporter not an adversary.

That change has to start at the top, and the top is you.

If you want to make our schools the best they can be I encourage you to not only listen to what
is being said, but HEAR what is being said and respond to those NEEDS. We can be one of
those schools that everyone wants to go to, if we work together as a united force. There is
strength in numbers, let’s be a team to achieve OUR goal, “to be the best we can be.”

Sue Willis is the mother of five, three of whom have graduated from Green Mountain Union High School. Of her younger children, one is a sophomore at Green Mountain and the other is a 5th grader at Chester-Andover Elementary School.  Two of her children are special needs kids. She is also a paraprofessional at Green Mountain’s Opportunities in Learning Program.  She says she is passionate about helping students meet their potential as productive students and citizens and working with them to overcome their individual challenges and obstacles. 

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  1. Linda carroll says:

    This is a well written and informative letter. There needs to be a voice of the people active and willing to address the board. Thank you, Sue.

  2. Stuart Lindberg says:

    Informative letter. Thank you Sue.

    Vermont’s public school boards follow the directives of the Superintendent. The Superintendent follows the directives of the Vermont Agency of Education. On occasion the voters will elect a school board member or two that will ask the hard questions and vote No on the wrongheaded state mandates being enforced by the Superintendents. These board members will be outvoted and marginalized as being anti-education. I speak from experience.

    If parents want the best public education for their children they need to be fierce advocates. If you get tired of fighting the good fight for your kids homeschooling, small private schools and independent schools may be a viable option. Your kids only get one shot at a quality education.

  3. Greg Hart says:

    Well said Sue! I think some on the board are out of touch with the reality of education today, especially those without kids in the schools. I also think they forget that they are supposed to represent US-the parents, students, teachers and staff and not just their personal opinions.

  4. Marcia Petronino says:

    The article is extremely well written….

    It is true that a lot of resources are WASTED because of where on the line item it is placed!

    As always, the people at the top (and usually the ones in charge) have no clue what it’s like teaching every day and dealing with issues not related to school work, but, surprise surprise, those ‘non-school issues’ directly influence their school work.

    The school committee, administrators and state feel the most important goal for schools is to attain the highest TEST SCORES. That task alone wastes more teachers’ teaching time and accomplishes absolutely nothing for the students.

    Finally, teachers deserve more say in how the school budget is allocated … Another administrator will do no more than to create more red tape.

  5. Laurie Birmingham says:

    Nicely written, Sue! I agree with you 100%!