GMUSD ‘Vision Committee’ switches focus Administrators push board away from Act 46 promises

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

When the Green Mountain Unified School District board met on March 21, members pondered the reasons that voters in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester rejected its budget on Town Meeting Day and concluded that they needed to go back to the promises of greater educational opportunities for students in the Act 46 merger process.

Superintendent Meg Powden and five administrators attended the Vision Committee meeting nudging the discussion away from an education opportunities decision. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

A five-member board “Vision Committee” was set up and its first meeting was scheduled for March 26. It appeared that the committee would revisit those opportunities that the merger study committee had worked out over the 18-month Act 46 process and begin to plan how to roll them out.

But when Superintendent Meg Powden showed up with five other administrators and a stack of papers to be reviewed, it became clear that rather than a second bite at the apple of educational opportunity, it would be a bureaucratic exercise in why so much of what the board – with the guidance and support of the supervisory union – had promised in Act 46 was now too difficult or impossible to accomplish.

Administrators discount importance of foreign language

The group began with a review of the merger that created the Two Rivers Supervisory Union in 2013. That merger also promised to improve learning opportunities and, administrators said, it had. Outgoing Green Mountain Principal Tom Ferenc pointed to the coordination that resulted in being able to bus GM students to Black River High for Advance Placement history classes.

Outgoing Cavendish Elementary Principal George Thomson asks what would be lost in math and language arts if a foreign language was added to the elementary curriculum.

The group then turned to the Act 46 merger, noting that in those meetings, improving educational opportunities “was ranked by far the highest in considering the options,” according to the merger committee report to the state Board of Education.

But outgoing Cavendish Town Elementary Principal George Thomson said offering those opportunities was a process. “We need to be working toward them. We can’t get everything in the first year,” he said  adding this was putting “unrealistic pressure on your people and the principals.” He added that the new GM Principal Lauren Fierman should be a part of vision planning as well. Fierman does not start in her new job until July.

By way of example, Ferenc introduced the strategic plan of Conval High School in Peterborough, N.H. where he lives and was once a school board member. Ferenc said that Conval had brought in professional consultants to craft the plan over several years.

Ferenc also told board member Doug McBride that adding more Advanced Placement courses was “hard to do unless there are increases in staff to fit in more sections.”

GMUSD board chair Marilyn Mahusky questioned whether there could be a longer day or different scheduling.

“Are we having a scheduling meeting?” asked curriculum coordinator Michael Eppolito.

Committee member Doug McBride tells the group that the benefits of foreign language study are ‘more than just speaking Spanish.’

Discussion turned to priorities and whether foreign language was even a priority. Thomson questioned “What is foreign language taking away from math and language arts?”

McBride said that foreign language study doesn’t just teach a language, but also teaches culture and history and gives students a greater understanding of the world. He added, “It’s part of who they are as a world citizen. It’s more than just speaking Spanish.”

Mahusky’s thoughts about using flexible schedules for the teachers’ 40-hour workweek were answered by Chester-Andover Principal Katherine Fogg’s suggestion of “co-teaching” foreign language along with “specials” like physical education, music and art.

McBride suggested calling schools that are doing foreign language immersion to see how they are accomplishing it, but board member Kate Lamphere questioned whether foreign language is a top priority.

“We sold Act 46 on that,” said Mahusky.

Then Lauren Baker, director of Information Technology for the system,  dangled a new “college idea” in front of the board: A short “J-term” in January or June to have a concentrated study of topics. While several board members were intrigued, it was new and did not come from the many public meetings of the Act 46 process.

“Somewhere along the way we get to what kind of people do we want to graduate,” said Eppolito, who mused on the kinds of “programs and schedules to get to those kinds of kids.”

TRSU Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito pointed to a survey of students done during the Act 46 process.

Eppolito then spoke of a survey the school had done with students, saying that it had yielded really important results. However, none of the administrators could remember where the data was. After a search on his laptop, Eppolito located the results and Thomson printed out copies. There is no indication of how the survey was conducted, how many students took the survey, what grades were represented and what weight is put on each answer.  Students apparently expressed interest in foreign languages  listing French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Latin. And they also expressed interest in technology such as robotics and Computer Aided Design. And one question, What will keep you excited about coming to school? apparently elicited these answers: recess, naps, lunch and gym.

Powden told the group that the shift to Personalized Learning Plans would be helpful in developing course programming for the district.

“We need more guidance from the administration,” said Mahusky, “more direction.”

Lamphere agreed, asking Eppolito to make a presentation at the next meeting.

Eppolito asked the committee to come up with a list of priorities saying, “When I know what you want, it’s easier for me.”

“We are not the education experts,” said Mahusky. “We rely on you for that.”

“We can provide recommendations from the data,” said Powden, “…connect the dots – all the standards and input and best practices.”

Powden said she was worried about getting the budget done and wanted to connect the vision to the budget, but several of the committee members asked that the next meeting be the administration presentation and the third meeting be with the budget committee. The next meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 2 at Chester-Andover Elementary School, 72 Main St. in Chester.

“I’m surprised there isn’t more of the public here,” mused Thomson as the meeting drew to a close.

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  1. Stuart Lindberg says:

    It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong. Know-it-alls in the school system do not lose one dime or one hour’s sleep if their bright ideas turn out to be all wrong, or even disastrous, for the child. Thomas Sowell-Economist