Unifying the unified school board

  • Published in MyView

By the Harwood Union Middle/High School Board of Directors

At its meeting on June 21, the school board of Harwood Union Middle/High School (HUHS) gave a unanimous vote of confidence to the Harwood administration, Superintendent Brigid Nease and her central office staff and the teachers and students of Harwood. A similar unanimous vote of confidence was taken by the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board at their meeting the previous week.

The HUHS Board took this action following the resignation of Harwood Co-Principal Amy Rex. Amy is a bright, passionate and visionary educational leader with whom we have worked closely over the past five years and with whom our school looked forward to continue working. We are proud of the fact that Amy and Harwood Co-Principal Lisa Atwood were recently honored as the 2017 Vermont High School Principals of the Year from the Vermont Principals’ Association. We are saddened to see Amy leave.

With the loss of our co-principal, Harwood Union High School is paying a high price for the polarization on the year-old HUUSD Board. The Harwood Union High School Board, which includes representatives from each of our six towns, has more than 50 years of experience working together across town lines. The HUUSD Board – which we strongly support – will assume all responsibilities for Harwood and six other schools on July 1, and the HUHS Board will officially end its run later this year.

Before we go, the HUHS Board wanted to offer our perspective on the challenges facing the new unified board and on solutions.

The high quality of the teachers and the educational experience offered at Harwood Union Middle and High School are cited by many people as a reason that they want to live in our communities. Harwood is recognized throughout our state as an innovative leader in education. We want to make it clear to our administrators, staff and students at our excellent high school how much our community believes in them.

Amy Rex stated in her letter of resignation that she is leaving due to the “existing dynamics of the HUUSD Board ... that is counterproductive to this appreciation for community and, thus, to the well-being of the school.” She cited a lengthy memo sent to the board by HUUSD Fayston representatives Heidi Spear and Jill Ellis in which they accused fellow board members of being “captives ... dismissive ... hostile ... abusive ... hypocritical,” among other characterizations.

These are strong – and we believe unwarranted – charges to level at your neighbors. Personal attacks of this nature are a sure way to alienate your colleagues and paralyze a board.

Our HUHS Board has had many impassioned debates. Hot topics in recent years have included whether to install surveillance cameras in the school, staffing cuts, the future of honors classes, and more budget challenges. Each of us has experience being on the losing side and the winning side of these votes.

But here’s the key to successfully working together: After we vote – it’s over. As HUHS Fayston rep Susi MacLean Daley said wisely at our June meeting, “We may split 4-3 on a vote in this room, but when we reach the front door, it’s 7-0. We’re united as a board, supporting the school.”

Boards work by majority rule. Being in the minority on a vote does not mean you are being disrespected or unheard. It simply means that your colleagues have a different point of view. It’s not personal. And no one should make it so, in meetings or in subsequent op-eds and letters to the editor.

As HUHS Waterbury rep and board chair David Goodman said in our discussion, “Being a member of a community board is not for everyone. It requires compromise. Civility. Good listening skills. Trust. Graciously accepting that your colleagues may not share your view – for legitimate reasons. Disagreeing, without being disagreeable. Everyone can participate. No one can impose. This isn’t just about being polite (though that helps). It’s about being effective. People who can’t play by these rules should consider whether their neighbors’ concerns would be more effectively represented by another community member.”

Last June, 94 percent of Waterbury voters, 81 percent of voters in Fayston and similar majorities in other Mad River Valley towns gave an unequivocal mandate to form the single HUUSD Board – and for that board to function effectively.

As our Harwood Union High School Board passes the torch, we extend our vote of confidence to the HUUSD Board. We believe that our communities voted wisely and that the unified board will serve just as our Harwood high school board has done for the last half century: acting as one board for one community that is Harwood Strong.

The Harwood Union Middle/High School Board of Directors: David Goodman, Waterbury, chair; Laura Caffry, Waitsfield, vice chair/clerk; Susan MacLean Daley, Fayston; Deb Hunter, Moretown; Garett MacCurtain, Duxbury; Maureen McCracken, Waterbury; Rosemarie White, Warren.

Tagged under Harwood HUUSD