GM vision panel weighs planning vs. acting Act 46 'opportunities' seem out of reach for next school year

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC


Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito leads the discussion after the breakout session Photos by Shawn Cunningham

For the second time in a week, the group charged by the Green Mountain Union School District Board with examining a vision for its three schools to see what added educational opportunities could be included in the next school year was instead ankle deep in paper provided by the supervisory union.

“I’m going to take a fairly long chunk of time until you tell me to stop,” Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito told Vision Committee chair Marilyn Mahusky, presenting an 81-page packet but mercifully noting that he would only be discussing the last 15 pages.

He then explained the meaning of each page and invited the board members and administrators at the table to look for and underline the verbs in one of the handouts and then pointed out that words like analyze, evaluate and model come up over and over.

Board member Erin Lamson, left, Cavendish resident Sara Stowell and CTES Principal George Thomson work together in the breakout.

Eppolito then asked pairs of board members and administrators to break out and analyze some of the “transferable skills” every student should take out into the world after graduation and a few of the audience joined in. After 20 minutes, while other audience members chatted among themselves, the board worked on its assignment and returned to report out their findings while Eppolito filled six easel pad pages.

Some audience members left.

Once again, as in the previous meeting, the discussion was a struggle between what can be done to fulfill some of the educational opportunities promised in the Act 46 merger of Green Mountain High and Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementary schools into GMUSD and a more academic exploration of what the vision of the school system should be and how that would inform curriculum decisions.

One of the sheets with observations made by the committee.

The defeat of the GMUSD budget by voters in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester on Town Meeting Day sent the district’s board back to square one, looking for explanations. Among those considered was the lack of new educational opportunities that the merger law was intended to spur.

Instead, the supervisory union had proposed a budget that made the principal position in Cavendish temporary, added a “teaching dean” (at $72,659) who would handle “student issues” at CAES and made the high school Spanish full time instead if 83 percent to give her one period a day to plan an elementary school program.

Cavendish resident Sara Stowell remarked that “the thing that irked” her was “when Meg (Superintendent Powden) said we couldn’t afford the things in Act 46.”

While committee member Doug McBride has recently advocated for foreign language immersion – creating a bilingual school – the Act 46 study committee only pointed toward basic foreign language instruction in elementary schools.  Nevertheless, fellow board members and administrators spoke specifically against McBride’s suggestion as if it were on the table and never mentioning the full-time Spanish teaching position that had been.

Cavendish resident Sara Stowell said she was “irked” to hear that district could not afford the things promised in the Act 46 merger

Chester-Andover Elementary School Principal Katherine Fogg said she loved the idea of getting something — any opportunity even a .17 full-time Spanish teacher. Fogg said that CAES teachers are excited about having such a teacher in the budget. This would amount to three hours a week per elementary school, not including driving time.

“My worry” said Mahusky, “is that we’ll get the .17  Spanish teacher, piecemeal it and do it again next year.”

“Why total immersion, what are the benefits?” asked outgoing Cavendish Town Elementary School Principal George Thomson, saying that it was “knee-jerk response to get something done.”

Thomson suggested planning for the next year as well as for five years asking about STEM and agriculture curriculum as possibilities. “I don’t think we have a clue,” said Thomson. “We’re shooting darts.”

While no one disputed the value of the exercise and many felt it should be ongoing, several members of the audience felt there should be new educational opportunities to show for 18 months of work on a merger that had been overseen by the supervisory union.

“We were told during Act 46 that we could have this,” said Stowell. “Vote for this merger and we’ll build a castle you can live in and it will all be fantastic.”

“I do have a concern that we’re not heading in a direction that will give us promised Act 46 improvements in this budget cycle. I hope there’s still a way to get them,” McBride told The Telegraph, “The voters told us to do something: The iron will never be hotter than it is today.”

The next meeting of the Vision Committee (held with the Finance Committee to begin to put together a budget to put before voters in May) will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday April 9 in the Library at Chester-Andover Elementary.

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