Each of them, Rosemary FitzSimons in Wardsboro and Bill Anton in Dover, was quick to share the recognition with their staff, students, school board and district, and the larger community. They’re right, of course, to share the limelight. It takes more than one person to develop great schools, it takes a team effort at every level. But, as in most organizations, it’s the person at the top who sets the tone, creates the culture, and carries the flag. In many ways, that leadership is what the recognition is rewarding.
We find it interesting that two of Vermont’s smallest schools have been recognized for their educational efforts. We hope there are folks in the Legislature in Montpelier who are paying attention to what a small school can do, given the right leadership and the autonomy to follow that direction.
We also find it interesting that there is considerable movement in the Statehouse right now to move away from Vermont’s system of small school districts. We have written extensively in the past few weeks about H.833, a bill that phases in school district consolidation during the next six years. We have yet to see the evidence that large districts will be more efficient in terms of teaching and educating, and more cost effective.
In fact, we have seen some recent evidence that points in the opposite direction. The Burlington School Board, which manages one of the largest districts in the state, announced this week they had found budgeting errors that accounted for more than $2 million in overspending. That under-budgeting had gone on for three years. In most small school districts, boards have closer scrutiny of their budgets, which would seem to make a three-year running deficit less likely to occur.
Granted, it’s only one example. And there can certainly be economies of scale with larger districts that can’t be achieved with a small one. But as Anton said, a small school administration can be more nimble and can make a sudden course correction faster than a large, more bureaucratic school district. A small school district is also closer to the money trail, and can pick up discrepancies more quickly.
Instead of the Legislature mandating change, perhaps it should come from within the educational community. As FitzSimons said, not all schools teach the same way. She was fortunate to have a mentor who showed her how to create a school that cared about education and its students. Shouldn’t that be the guiding force behind education, especially at the elementary level?
That, of course, would be much more difficult to do. It would require a new way of thinking, a bottom-up approach similar to what Rep. Ann Manwaring has been advocating. That way of thinking would require the political leaders to find a way to recognize good schools, good teachers, good administrators, and good boards. Sort of like the recognition Wardsboro and Dover have received.
Wouldn’t it make sense for legislators to find out what is working so well in those two schools, and others in Vermont, before they write and pass legislation that radically changes the structure of Vermont’s school system?