Thursday February 25, 2016
There are two open seats on the South Burlington School Board. Bridget Burkhardt is on the ballot for the uncontested two-year seat. Martin LaLonde is running unopposed for another three-year term. The candidates were invited to share their thoughts in response to the following prompts: What are your top priorities as a school board member? What are the most urgent issues for the district, and what solutions or actions would you propose? What is your vision for the future of the community’s schools?
2 Year Seat
When my family and I moved to Vermont six years ago, we chose South Burlington primarily because of its schools. I am looking forward to contributing to the school board as it continues its mission to improve our schools while responsibly managing the resources provided by our community. My vision for our schools is that we create an environment in which every student 1) develops a love of learning, 2) builds enthusiasm for contributing their unique gifts and talents to their communities and the wider world, and 3) has the support and resources to develop to their fullest potential.
My top priority is master planning and visioning. The decision about whether or not to change the configuration of our school district through consolidation of the elementary schools will have an impact for decades. Many citizens, administrators, teachers, board members, and consultants have worked hard to try to determine how the district should be structured to best address challenges like projected declining enrollment, increasing costs of staff benefits and student support services, and issues related to the locations of our schools.
The work of the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force has provided a strong basis for the ongoing work needed to reach a final decision. Consultants White + Burke are developing detailed financial models for five school configuration scenarios, including the status quo. While the real estate work is important, I believe the driver of the process should be what goes on inside the classroom. The real estate strategy should support the long and short-term visions for the educational opportunities we want to provide our students. The board has asked the administration to work with teachers to take a deeper look at the educational advantages and disadvantages of consolidation.
The final piece of the process should be community input. The schools ultimately belong to the community. I will work hard to make sure that we provide members of the community as much information as possible and conduct a thorough process to gather and act upon their input. Finally, the process must be timely as well as thorough. It is unfair to current students to delay proposed projects and initiatives any longer than is absolutely necessary. Once we have the information and input we need, we owe it to the community to make decisions and move forward to execute the plan.
Beyond the master planning and visioning process, I will look for ways to raise community awareness and involvement in our schools. Abby Crocker and Monica Ostby have done the community a great service by developing the Facebook page SB VT Community Watch that provides a place for community members to gather and share information about school and city issues. The board and The Other Paper have also been working together to provide a regular column regarding school-related issues. I hope to find additional ways to get information to the public and encourage greater involvement in our schools.
Another priority is to continue to develop the culture of innovation that has already taken root in our schools. Innovation allows us to continually improve our schools and use our resources more efficiently. Proficiency-based graduation requirements and our laptop programs are steps in the right direction. I will encourage us to continue to look for ways that changes in technology, policies, and programs can help us deliver an even higher quality of education to our students.
As a new board member, I am trying to learn as much as I can about the full range of issues facing the school board.