Now, the question starting to be asked by many is “what next?”
While it’s extremely early to say what exactly the next step should be, there are a few things that we feel should be considered.
There’s still a big question mark over the Twin Valley High School facility. That issue has to be resolved. But that doesn’t mean the high school building issue has to be settled before anything else can be discussed.
In fact, in many ways other concepts have to be included in the high school solution. Wilmington and Whitingham have taken some steps in that direction, by considering closing the current high school and consolidating schools at Whitingham and Deerfield Valley Elementary. That’s merely one option, and in the end it may not be the right one, but the school boards are right to consider it as part of an overall strategy.
We feel now is the time for a broader perspective. We urge the Wilmington, Whitingham, and Twin Valley school boards to look beyond the borders of the community, and to look at different segments of the community.
What do we mean by that statement? Let’s take the last part first. By looking at different segments of the community, we would first and foremost urge those school boards to ride the coattails of the economic development efforts that are under way in the valley. Wilmington, Dover, and Whitingham are partnered in the Tri-town Economic Development Committee. That group has just announced the hiring of a development specialist to help them develop long-term strategies for economic development. Dover also has just hired a development specialist to work with the Dover Economic Development Committee. Education has long been considered a critical component of economic development, and needs to have a seat at the table, particularly with the tri-town long-term planning. Quality schools have always been a draw, and there is no reason that tried and true development strategy would not work here as well.
What makes a good school is the rub, of course, and that’s where the first part of our statement above comes into play. Look beyond the borders of Wilmington and Whitingham. Halifax, Dover, Marlboro, Readsboro, Stamford, Wardsboro, and Stratton are area towns that are not aligned with any particular high school. That means literally hundreds of students who have the potential to attend Twin Valley High School. Dover alone has approximately 80 high school students scattered at a variety of schools, including Twin Valley.
As Twin Valley goes through the process of solving the high school issues, one question that should be asked is “What can be done to make Twin Valley a magnet school?” In a pure business perspective, there is a huge market available to Twin Valley. We urge the Twin Valley board to get outside the two towns and talk to school boards in surrounding towns.
We also urge some market research. Conduct surveys or focus groups of families who have a choice. Find out what they are looking for in a school, and then plan some of those features as part of a new Twin Valley High School, wherever that school ends up.
In short, use a business development model to build the next Twin Valley High School. And use the resources that are already being mustered for economic development as part of that model.
One final idea: How about an “Economic/Education Summit” with school and select boards from Dover, Whitingham, and Wilmington at the table. The framework is already there through the tri-town committee to talk about long-term strategies for education and business development jointly. From there, reach out to other communities and involve them in the process. Sure, it’s a different concept, and some will be out of their comfort zone considering such a summit, but we have always felt towns and schools need to have better dialogue.
The time is right to think creatively, in terms of the future of Twin Valley and our collective communities. Let’s not miss the opportunity.