Meet the candidates for board of the Green Mountain Unified School District

Three candidates are vying for two three-year positions on the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District: Incumbent Rick Alexander; Patty Davenport and Jeannie Wade. Marilyn Mahusky decided not to seek re-election this year, leaving that position open.

Three weeks ago, The Chester Telegraph sent the candidates a series of questions for them to answer. We have gathered their responses and put them in random order below the questions.

Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.


Give us a short autobiography of yourself. (What do you want voters to know about you? What skills, experience and ideas do you bring to the board?)

RICK ALEXANDER: Conservative individual trying to help keep our town tax rates low and affordable to encourage outside potential people who would like to move to our area be able to afford homes and businesses in our town. I feel we need to be involved in our town and the direction of our town with respect to businesses and make the right decisions with proper growth of industry and tourism.

I have been a facilities manager for Okemo Mountain resort for approximately 20 years. In my varied positions at Okemo, I have had to be a part of many committees and contributed much knowledge and skills to help build teams to help facilitate those teams’ goals to achieve success in keeping costs very low while achieving great success at Okemo.

I am a collaborative thinker and feel that I can bring knowledge, skills and abilities to the GMUSD board. There are many areas in the schools that we can save monies so that those monies can be then spent on the curriculum for the children of the town to better their education.

PATTY DAVENPORT: I have worked in the education field for the past 13 years. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in childhood education, I taught for two years before obtaining my master’s degree in school counseling and beginning my work in that field. I am currently in my seventh year working as the Multiple Pathways coordinator at Springfield High School and my eighth year working as an adjunct professor for the Community College of Vermont.

Over the past several years, I have maintained a high level of involvement with the Green Mountain School Board, Chester-Andover Elementary School and the Chester community by attending meetings, volunteering regularly at the school and in the community, being active on the Parent-Teacher Group, coaching recreational sports teams, asking questions, sharing thoughts, and advocating for the direct needs of our students. As a school board member, I intend to continue this involvement with the school board, the individual schools, and the community.

JEANNIE WADE: I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Education, and am  attending Antioch University, New England, pursuing a master’s degree in Nature/Place-based education. … I have experience working with at-risk children and youth. I founded a non-profit, The R.O.O.T.s Foundation, which models and initiates a system-thinking framework in community building, implements place-based practices and provides children and families with opportunities to interact with the natural world.

I have nine cousins who graduated from our school district, and five of my own children are attending our schools now. I hope to bring transparency, sustainability, and fiscal responsibility to the GM school board. I do not believe in the band-aid approach to solving problems nor do I place my head in the sand.  I face problems head-on, looking for causes and solutions that make the most sense. As a GM school board member, I will think critically moving forward. I will put our children, their families, and our community first. Collaboration is a key piece to a successful board and school district. I believe in establishing a cohesive vision, working toward achieving that vision, while remaining focused and goal-oriented.

What prompted you to decide to run for the Green Mountain School board and what do you think is its most important function?

JEANNIE WADE: I decided to run for the GM school board because I would like to be a voice for our community. Children need to be included as members of our community. Children offer perspective, a voice, and need to be listened to by those on the board and in leadership positions. The board’s most important function is to act as a supportive bridge between our schools, children, families and overall community in order to execute good decision making,establish strategies and create a positive impact for a resilient future. We need to set achievable, measurable goals and remain focused as a team. A cohesive vision must be established and people, including myself, need to be held accountable. Members of the board need to be operating with fiscal responsibility, a strong moral compass and quality listening skills.

PATTY DAVENPORT: I am running for the Green Mountain School Board because I want to be part of advancing the district to the next level of our educational vision. I believe that my background in education and resulting knowledge and understanding of the Vermont education initiatives will help guide my contributions to the school board. I am deeply passionate about this work, not only because I am directly invested by my own personal and career interests, but also because I want the best possible education for my three young boys, who all are or will soon be in our district schools. I believe that school board members should have direct knowledge of – and involvement in – our schools and the community, experiencing the academic environments first hand, and listening to all stakeholders as to what is working while also hearing about and observing those areas that may need improvement.

RICK ALEXANDER: With the combination of all of the schools in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, I felt that I could contribute to the combining of the schools and help with efficiencies and help our board in those processes and steps to help ultimately for the town to make things more efficient.

 

What issues or initiatives do you see as important for the upcoming year and what do you hope to accomplish?

PATTY DAVENPORT: The district is entering an exciting time, a fork in the road where important decisions will impact the future of our schools and children’s education. The board will be working with new district leadership to continue in its efforts to maximize direct student instruction and resources. While I recognize the challenges that come with merging our schools into one district as the result of Act 46, I believe that we have made some great strides with the merger and also with maintaining our focus on these initiatives. I believe that it is necessary that this work continues.

RICK ALEXANDER: This next few years I hope to work toward the goals that we set out last year with the facilities committee, to work closely with EEI and Control Technologies with helping each of the schools in the GMUSD to become more efficient and save money for the schools. Ultimately those goals would be to give a better experience for the children and the teachers in each of their schools while saving energy and providing a better environment for the children to learn in.

JEANNIE WADE: I think it is vitally important to create a budget that addresses preventative measures with cost-effective strategies. We also need to begin to build solid, working relationships with community members. Residents need to know and feel that their voices matter.  If elected, I hope to create an open dialogue with members of the community in order to listen to them so that I may better serve in this position. I plan on creating a platform with the establishment of a community center in Chester so that I may more effectively accomplish this goal. In the upcoming year, I hope to build a good rapport and establish trust with other school board members so that we may work together harmoniously, diligently and respectfully.

List your Top 3 priorities that you would like to see for the GM school board, with A. being the most important. Then explain why for each.

RICK ALEXANDER: A. Budget accountability, for each of the schools I feel that we need to work as a board to understand and make sure that we are budgeting accurately and that’s why we as a board this last year voted for all board members to be involved in the process of budgeting for our GMUSD. That way we can listen to the principals and teachers to understand where we have successes and failures and be able to adjust her budgets to help make her budgets better.

B. Making sure lines of communication are open between administration and board and collaboratively communicating on an ongoing basis daily, weekly, monthly. When challenges arise, having good dialogue immediately for the board to help the administration with guidance.

C. As a board working on ways to increase our child population, working with the administration on ways to help grow our schools and make sure that we are giving our children good curriculum and supporting our superintendents and principles.

PATTY DAVENPORT: A. United Efforts: With the recent district merger, there are three distinct boards serving the district representing many stakeholders. It is essential for these boards and subcommittees to have a united front and work together to advance the educational opportunities for our students.

B. Proficiency-Based Education & Personalized Learning: The elementary schools and high school have made tremendous progress toward proficiency-based education and personalized learning for all students. I strongly support these two initiatives, as they work together to create capable and engaged student learners.

C. Equal Access to Educational Programming: Ensuring equal access and opportunity is also a centralized initiative which I plan to continue supporting. While it is evident that we need support systems and direct services already in place for our struggling students, it is also vital that we provide sufficient resources to ensure enrichment opportunities that will continue to challenge and support our gifted students.

JEANNIE WADE: A. Solid and Concrete Budget Planning that Begins Earlier than Usual: The school board should be actively thinking about a budget earlier than usual so that we may provide ourselves with enough time to include the perspectives of community members.  We should utilize this information when faced with fiscal decisions. As time is money, we should not waste either one. We need to get to the point and target what matters the most for the future of our towns, schools, children, and their families. … We should be addressing needs first, focusing on wants only after specific needs are met.

B. Haste Makes Waste: School board members need to be thinking critically about what the needs are that should be addressed.  There should be no assumptions or fear-based decision making. Those in leadership positions within our schools should be held accountable in providing the board with correct and timely information in order to ensure a consistent path of success. It is imperative that this occurs to ensure equitable practice and justice for our children, school, and community, as well as to create a set action plan moving forward. When possible, we need to hire from within the local community.  We should be utilizing the skills and talents of our local businesses and residents because it fuels the local economy, stimulates growth, provides opportunities for families, and provides good working models for our student population.  We need to evaluate if a created paid position is necessary and consistent with the overall plan. We need to focus in on a “need to hire” mentality rather than a “want to hire” mentality to maintain our goals and reach our targets. In addition, we as a board, need to be fully aware and conscious of the fact that when we close a paid position within the district, someone is losing his or her job.  If this is necessary to secure a better future for our school district, so be it. However, we should not take this decision lightly. We need to have the public understand, that we understand the needs that occur within the home and that we are considerate to those needs.  We need to work toward reducing stress for families, from the inside out, so that collectively, we are all on the same team.

C. Resourcefulness: I would like to see our board think more creatively.  We need to be thinking about solutions that are resourceful, not wasteful.  We need to look at other school districts and other townships. Many school districts in Vermont are doing some amazing things that do not cost them everything. … We also need to be more data-driven. When moving forward with a major fiscal decision, the board should establish a data system of precise measurements to track changes and progress. This data system will allow the board to observe any changes to the overall school system as we address specific needs or problems. When something isn’t working as expected, we need to revisit those decisions and problem-solve again. This is why the board should allow ample time for budget planning. The board should also inform the public about the data-driven results so that residents are aware of what is going on behind closed doors.  The public should be given the opportunity to respond accordingly, offering their perspectives. The board should be thinking about strategies that will help foster our future leaders of tomorrow.  How are we preparing our students to go to college, gain work experience, start businesses? Are we really doing what we need to do for our children?

List your Top 3 education priorities for students at Chester-Andover Elementary, Cavendish Town Elementary and Green Mountain High. Then explain why for each.

PATTY DAVENPORT: A. Proficiency-Based Education: Research has shown that when students see their progress over time, as is the case with proficiency-based learning, they heighten their achievement levels and engage in their learning at a deeper level. With the school board’s continued support in this initiative, the schools can continue with professional development and growth in this area.

B. Personalized Learning: Act 77, Flexible Pathways, has opened the door for Vermont students to access a wide array of personalized learning experiences. It is my goal, as a board member, to support this initiative throughout all district schools and support students in obtaining their education through pathways that will best support their interests and learning styles.

C. Equal Access to Educational Programming: I support the implementation of direct services offered to struggling students, as well as enrichment programs directed toward gifted students. Students, no matter what their learning trajectory, must be encouraged and challenged to continue along their path.

JEANNIE WADE: A. Early Intervention: We need to provide children with intervention strategies and tools at the early childhood level.  From the ground up, we should address emotional and academic needs early to properly serve our children, while cutting the cost later with less remediation and support. We need to be teaching to the whole child, individually, and as a collective school community.

B. More Opportunities for Early Literacy Skills and Math to be Fostered at the Early Childhood Level: This is vital for our students’ life-long learning patterns. This effort not only fosters more academically ready children, but it also helps children to be more confident and prepared as they become older and demands become more intense.

C. Place-based practices, which include outdoor learning opportunities, service learning projects, community-driven learning, job skills, civics and the natural sciences, ACROSS the grade levels. Place-based practices are very much connected with an overall sense of self, others, the community, the world around us, and what it means to create positive impact individually, and as a collective whole.  Place-based initiatives drives the local economy, stimulates positive emergent behaviors, and encourages local pride.

RICK ALEXANDER: A. As a board member, learning more about the IEP learning system and seeing if the system works as it should. Learning more from the principals on this system and finding ways to help make it better.

B. Learning more from the principals in what areas we can assist them with forecasting to help with tools and personnel to increase student-achievement scores.

C. Working with the boards, administration and principals to heighten security of our children. Working with the administration on security measures for all of the GMUSD and TRSU.

For the GM school board, the past year was tumultuous on the one hand and a breakthrough on the other. What could the GM school board have done better?

JEANNIE WADE: The board did an excellent job considering that members may not have had all the information available to them. I especially liked how members found their voices while standing up for justice. This past year was a learning year for all involved.  It is important to look at the past in order to move toward the future. There is always room for improvement and everyone is ALWAYS learning.

Serving with an honest heart and intelligent mind, I hope to bring a fresh perspective and insight to this board, while being mindful of my role and responsibility to our children, school district and community.

PATTY DAVENPORT: This past year, the school board began putting great efforts into analyzing district spending, minimizing spending in areas that do not directly support student learning, and maximizing those areas that do support direct instruction and student programming. In recent budgeting months, this board has asked questions of the central office and the TRSU Board and requested additional information prior to making decisions that impact the district’s budget and future. Current and accurate data is essential for all stakeholders to have and it is my hope that the practice of making data-driven decisions continues.

RICK ALEXANDER: As a GMUSD board member – with the deck of cards that were given to us – we as a group listened, learned, had much deliberation on many varied topics and tried to stay true to our course of being a good guiding force to the administration and principals.  I would like to have better communication with the administration and explanations on situations so that we can give better feedback to help stay away from issues that arise.  That in turn will help the GMUSD become  a better board to help support the children, teachers and administration.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Budgeting and spending are two different things.
    We published articles which showed that the schools
    underspent lines in the FY19 budget by $1.1 million
    and overspent others – and even some lines that
    didn’t exist by $1.3 million. On June 20 2019, with
    10 days left in the fiscal year, the board was told
    that things were going to come out ok and that there
    might be “a little bit of a surplus.” That’s what
    information the board was working with.

  2. Brett Mastrangelo says:

    As the incumbent who is hyper-focused on budgeting, how did Rick allow for a deficit to occur?

  3. Jeannie Wade says:

    I would like to note that when I mentioned data-driven results, I did not mean more standardized testing of our children. School districts are able to measure effectiveness of fiscal decisions without being a test-drive system for students.