Board wants “guardrails” on new school district
by Lauren Harkawik
Feb 23, 2018 | 1737 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER - At its meeting Monday evening, the River Valleys Unified School District board adopted a vision statement for the work it will do as it forms the policies and procedures for, and eventually operates, a new Act 46-compliant school district comprising Dover and Wardsboro. The board went on to discuss its “guardrails,” or parameters it will establish for the district.

The vision statement, as adopted, reads:

“The River Valleys School District provides high quality instruction and engaged learning, which results in all students demonstrating academic proficiency.  The board works with the community to ensure sufficient resources are available for the administration to do the work needed to meet the district’s goals for all students, value for its taxpayers, and a climate and culture that is appreciated by parents and community.  All students within the district shall have access to equitable resources and opportunities.”

The vision statement is intended to be a more specific version of the board’s mission statement, which was adopted in the fall. It reads:

“Our mission is to educate our students to become inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring global citizens through challenging academic programs. We will provide a safe and supportive environment that will connect our students, their families, and the community while respecting and celebrating each town’s local identity.”

After adopting the vision statement, the board went on to discuss its “guardrails.” Chair Rich Werner described the guardrails as “yeas or nays” that the board would give to the district’s administrators as they work to take the board’s charges and figure out the logistics of how the district will operate educationally. Essentially, the guardrails will act as rules that must be adhered to in the forming of the educational standards for the district.

“A good guardrail would be a second language available to all students,” said Werner. “An inappropriate one would be we want to see Greek or Spanish offered to all students. Because maybe the administration for whatever reason doesn’t feel that’s the appropriate language to offer.”

Werner asked each board member to name a guardrail that was important to him or her. Of those members present, all picked something to add to the list. Werner said he felt a foreign language offering was important; Dwight Boerem said he wants to make sure arts are available; Rick Thorpe said a strong science program was a priority; and Barry Pearson said extended learning opportunities such as after-school programs were important to him.

Laura Sibilia said she wanted to maintain high expectations of students and academic rigor in classes. “My philosophy in life is that you get what you expect,” said Sibilia, “and we need to have strong expectations.” Werner said he wasn’t sure either was tangible enough to consider it a guardrail.

Matt Martyn, principal of the Dover School, said he felt rigor and engagement are observable. “You can walk into a room and see if something rigorous is going on or if it’s laid back and easy,” said Martyn.

Sibilia said she would give more thought to how to define what she wanted to see, but that she wants the students of the district to lead the region.

Members of the public who were present also chimed in.

Peter Barus, who was taking minutes, said that, speaking as a member of the public, he would like to see civics and social studies prioritized. Josh Cohen said he hoped accessing virtual learning would be a tenet of the school’s educational philosophy.

Marc Schauber said he would like to see the International Baccalaureate program continued at the Dover School. At recent meetings, the board has indicated that it needs to consider if and how IB fits into a district shared by Dover and Wardsboro, which does not have the IB program.

Werner said he’d like a guardrail pertaining to IB to be considered.

“There are two things that are going on that maybe we should allow them to run their course,” said Werner. “One is the IB program.”

Werner explained that Wardsboro had recently been accepted to a new program as well, though no members present were sure of its name.

On Tuesday, Wardsboro principal Tammy Bates confirmed that the school has been selected to participate in a Networked Improvement Community.

“The primary teachers at Wardsboro,  grades pre-K-two, will be participating in an 18-month action research study through the Council of Chief State School Officers,” said Bates. “Four states, including Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Vermont, will be participating in the study. Teachers, administrators, and supervisory union leaders in those states will collaboratively engage in improvement research to test potential solutions of common problems of teaching practices. The NIC provides us with the opportunity to build collective knowledge with colleagues from other states, as well as with researchers, subject matter experts, and other partners.”

Of IB and NIC, Werner said he thought it was possible a guardrail needed to be established to allow time to tell whether the programs are successful.

“I think an important guardrail would be to let them run for three years, and then be evaluated by the board and the community with where we go with them,” said Werner.

The board will continue to discuss its guardrails at its next meeting,

Monday, March 19, at 7 pm at the Dover School.
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