WHITINGHAM- School board members met at Whitingham Elementary/Twin Valley Middle School Tuesday evening for what may be the last time. For the rest of the summer, at least, all regular school board meetings will be held at Twin Valley High School in Wilmington. By the time meetings resume at the Whitingham facility in the fall, Twin Valley Elementary School will be completed, and the Whitingham building will house only middle school classes.
Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd told board members that the school had all of the required permits in hand for construction of a middle/high school facility at the Whitingham location, and the Vermont Department of Education had given the district the go-ahead to begin construction. Whitingham School Board Chair Dwight Williams signed a construction contract with DEW Construction, the same company currently working at Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington. Board members expect to hold an official groundbreaking ceremony at the Whitingham facility sometime next week.
Boyd said the budget for the project, so far, looks as though it will be sufficient. “There are no budget red flags,” he said. “But this is a big project; there are lots of arms and legs to it. We have a lot of ‘add/alts’ in this, different pieces of the project we can pull out if we need to.”
Boyd said work on the elementary school was on schedule, “maybe even ahead of schedule,” and remains under budget. Current work includes reconfiguration of the parking area. Boyd said the number of parking spots is being increased, and the layout is changing to better accommodate pickup and drop-off of students. “The new configuration separates the buses from cars,” he said. “We’re trying to maximize the space we have there.”
Boyd said there may be some confusion at the beginning of the year, as parents attempt to drop off their children in the bus zone, but after the proper pattern is established, things should run smoothly and safely.
Boyd said the elementary school pods at the Whitingham building are being painted and spruced up this summer, in preparation for next year’s middle school classes. “That way the middle school students don’t have to have rainbows, butterflies, and bumblebees in their classrooms,” Boyd said, referring to murals on the walls in the elementary classrooms.
In other matters, Boyd told board members that the supervisory union board has hired Richard McClements to serve as interim superintendent. McClements will be moving to southern Vermont from Wyoming, where he was serving as a school district superintendent. Boyd said one of the reasons the supervisory union was eager to hire him was his extensive previous experience. “He was our top candidate,” Boyd said. “He has a significant amount of experience, about 20 years as a superintendent. With his experience, we think he can hit the ground running.”
The superintendent’s position at Windham Southwest Supervisory Union is “interim” because the district is participating in two state-sanctioned studies that could result in recommendations to merge with another supervisory union or reconfigure the supervisory union boundaries.
McClements will begin work at WSSU on July 29. In the meantime, Boyd said, the supervisory union has hired Joe Silver, a retired superintendent from Springfield, as a temporary superintendent to work three days per week. Nancy Talbott, who served as interim superintendent since the resignation of superintendent Jack Rizzo, left WSSU when her contract expired at the end of June.
Board member Kathy Larsen, who was on the superintendent search committee, said it was time to formulate a list of expectations for the new superintendent. “I heard a lot of things from the interviews, directions people wanted and didn’t want to go in. If our board can start thinking about that, we can make sure we set the direction we want.”
Boyd agreed that the supervisory union board would set goals as soon as possible, and noted that it had been recommended that they review McClements’ progress as soon as October.
What started last year as a pilot program to collect information regarding student achievement as related to individual teachers, appears to have become another “unfunded” federal mandate. Twin Valley High School Principal Bob Morse said he was going to need funding for reporting “student education course transcript (SECT) data” this summer, and that it should probably be added to the annual budget from now on. He estimated that it would cost about $2,500 per school, for a total of $7,500 for this year.
The clerical work can take anywhere from 80 to 110 hours. Twin Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion said the work includes entering data under a strict set of formatting rules. Inevitable errors must be reconciled. Although the information is readily accessible through the school’s PowerSchool program, the process can’t be automated. “There’s no funding for it,” said Morse, “but if you don’t do it, you can get fined $25,000.
Larsen asked if the results yielded anything that is useful for administrators. “No,” said Fillion. She explained that the information was mandated under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act. “They want to match student performance with which teachers they have,” she said.
“Wouldn’t that be useful to us?” asked Boyd.
“It’s not relevant to the way we teach at the elementary level,” said Fillion.
“Someone in Congress decided this is a way to divvy it up,” concluded Doty.
In transportation matters, board members voted not to bid on a Searsburg bus route. According to business manager Karen Atwood, Searsburg students can take a bus to the high school, and another to Halifax School.
Board member Adam Grinold questioned the wisdom of the situation. “Why are we using our school as an intermodal facility?” he asked. “Kindergarteners will be dropped off at the high school? It seems problematic to me.”
Fillion, Larsen, and board member Aimee Bemis voiced their agreement. “Wow,” quipped Grinold. “It doesn’t happen often that three women at once agree with me.”
Board members also approved a driver’s education proposal under which the instructor duties will be shared by two Twin Valley High School teachers. “It’s a workable solution and it looks like it will save us a little money,” noted board member John Doty. “It’s nice to have two endorsed driver’s ed instructors on staff.”