Classes at Twin Valley Elementary School began on Thursday, August 28. On Tuesday, TVES Principal Becca Fillion said her staff was bristling with anticipation. “Everyone is really excited that this is the first ‘official’ year of TVES, the first real start,” she said, referring to last year’s school opening during the final phases of construction. “We’re focusing on the positives in our school this year, positive behavior supports, positive culture, talking with kids about making great choices. There’s so much positive energy, I can’t tell you how great it is.”
Fillion compared the chaos of last year’s start of classes at TVES with that of Twin Valley Middle/High School this year and offered sympathy for TVMHS principal Tom Fitzgerald. “I’m suffering a little PTSD watching what Tom is going through.”
The start of classes at TVMHS has been postponed until Wednesday, September 3, to give the new school administration and teachers time to organize and acclimate, but it’s also allowing finish work on the new building to proceed. On Tuesday, moving crews were carrying in desks and equipment, and teachers were busy unpacking books and supplies, and arranging their classrooms.
Fitzgerald said he and vice principal Leanne Monroe have already started the process of community building with a plan to solicit input from teachers. “(Monroe) came up with a needs assessment survey so teachers can respond anonymously and tell us what they think our priorities should be over the first year,” Fitzgerald said. “One thing I’ve heard from several people is that we need to get away from thinking of the middle and high school separately and build one school. We have seven years with kids to do what’s developmentally appropriate for our kids.”
Fitzgerald thanked the office staff and custodial staff for working to get the school up and running in its first few days. He singled out Mark Hayes, recently hired as a night custodian, for his dedication. “We would be dead in the water if not for him,” Fitzgerald said. “He works so hard, even the construction guys have remarked about it. He just doesn’t stop.”
The board also discussed the security and use of the old school building in Wilmington. Superintendent Chris Pratt said he recently discovered that some annual safety checks hadn’t been performed for the last couple of years, including an inspection of the sprinkler system. He said the checks and certifications were an annual requirement, and since the building may be used temporarily by Twin Valley while the gymnasium at the Whitingham facility is still under construction, the inspections must be carried out this year. Pratt said he went through the building with the local fire marshal to determine what is up-to-date and what is not. “It’s spotty,” Pratt said. “For the most part, the only thing that has been checked the last couple of years has been the fire extinguishers. There’s a huge list of checks administrators have to go through, and it wasn’t kept on top of, or at least it was done very minimally last year.”
Pratt said inspection and maintenance of the sprinkler system “shouldn’t be a huge fix.”
Taylor said he hoped to go through the building before winter and shut down and drain some of the plumbing. “We’d like to keep the building at 55 degrees while no one is in there, and we’ve had a lot of frozen pipes in the past,” he noted.
Board members discussed the ongoing use of the building’s sports facilities, prompting board member Kathy Larsen to ask “Who pays for Valley Youth Sports’ use of the building? Do we have to find a way to charge for use?”
“I think there’s an expectation that when the town pays user fees, it includes services like that,” said Taylor. But he agreed that the allocation of user fees, and the impact on the education tax should the allocation be shifted should be examined. “At the end of the day, it has to be a wash for Wilmington residents. Using the building for a community center is going to mean less user fees to the school. There’s a dance with the state that we have to do.”
“A the same time, we don’t want the state to think we still have three buildings,” said board member Dwight Williams.