September 24, 2014

Schools ready for emergencies, police say

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston public schools are well prepared for emergencies requiring the buildings to be secured, according to Williston police.

“I’m very impressed with the amount of preparation that they’ve done here,” Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain said after a “secure the building” drill at Allen Brook School last Thursday. “I’m confident that they’re fully prepared right now.”

Last week’s drill was the first of its kind for Allen Brook, an elementary school serving pre-school through fourth graders. Though the school regularly conducts evacuation drills to prepare for emergencies, “secure the building” drills, also known as “lockdown” drills, require students and staff to be locked inside school.

In the wing of the building housing the Esprit team, when the signal was given to lock down the building last week, students lined up single file and quietly went to their secure location. In less than one minute, the hallway was empty of children and there was silence – save the whispering voice of one teacher telling the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to children who might have been scared by the dark.

Williston Police Dispatcher Scott Morris, who has a background in school safety issues, said the children in the wing of the school he was monitoring also responded well.

“The kids were quiet, orderly, right to their assigned position,” Morris said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

Last month Allen Brook School staff conducted the drill without students to determine flaws in the system, said John Terko, the school’s principal. That practice was valuable, he said.

Terko said the lead-up to last week’s drill was extensive as it was a first for the young students. Two letters went out to parents letting them know in advance about the drill. He and guidance counselors spoke with each class in advance of the drill to tell them what to expect and what to do.

“Most of the questions were ‘why would you do an inside drill instead of an outside drill?’” Terko said.

Their explanations focused on situations like a tractor-trailer spill on Talcott Road, Terko said, or an airplane crash in the school’s field.

When asked by a student, staff acknowledged it would also be used if there were an intruder, but said that wasn’t likely to happen.

Students also asked what they were supposed to do if they were in the nurse’s office, out at recess or in the cafeteria, Terko said.

“ ‘Every single teacher in this building knows what to do and where to go,’” Terko said they’d emphasized to the children. “ ‘No matter where you are, (when you hear the signal), stop, look, listen.’”

Terko said he is appreciative of the involvement of the Williston Police Department, with whom he and other members of a school crisis team have been meeting every two weeks. Their ideas have been helpful, Terko said.

Sgt. Chamberlain said the school crisis team also involves Williston Central School, and he said he thought that school also is fully prepared for a situation requiring the building to be secured.

“I think (parents) can rest confident that any precaution that can be taken, has been taken,” Chamberlain said.

Allen Brook School likely will have two more such drills this year, Terko said. Williston Central School will also hold a lockdown drill, but the date has not been set, according to principal Jacqueline Parks. She said teachers have conducted a drill without students in preparation. Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Sean McMannon said CVU also has completed one such drill so far this year.

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Town to investigate community center options

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Williston took a step toward creating a town community center at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. The board created a Community Center Task Force, whose purpose is to “assess the need for a community center, analyze potential locations, develop preliminary cost estimates and evaluate the potential for private contributions.”

The task force will be made up of a member of the Selectboard, three community members and one member of the Recreation Committee. While creating the task force, the board also decided to appoint Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig to the task force, as well as Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell and Carroll and Joanne Lawes. The Lawes’ had previously approached Town Manager Rick McGuire, saying they were interested in trying to raise funds for the center.

The task force will report back to the Selecboard in June with its findings.

LANDFILL UPDATE

McGuire said town representatives had met Monday morning with the Chittenden Solid Waste District to discuss a possible buyout of the 1992 host town agreement between Williston and the District. The agreement requires the town to support the District’s proposal for a regional landfill off Redmond Road. The landfill, which has not yet been officially proposed, has sparked opposition by residents, who say it will create health and economic hazards.

McGuire said at the meeting, he and Selectwoman Judy Sassorossi asked the District several questions including the town’s liability for trash dumped in the Coventry landfill, and for the existing, closed landfills in Williston. Three closed landfills are located in Williston, two of which are unlined. The town also asked about flow control and importing trash from out of state.

McGuire said the District was reviewing their questions and they would be discussed at a second meeting Dec. 4.

 

PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDINGS

The board also received an update from the Public Safety Building Committee. Lucas Jensen, committee chairman, said the project was moving forward smoothly, and there is even some “contingency money” left that the committee was considering spending. Jensen said the money could be spent on items that were removed from the original plans to make the buildings come in under budget. The original $6.8 million allotted for the project in 2004 turned out to be not enough due to increased construction costs. The town went back to voters in June and won approval for an additional $1.2 million for the new police and fire stations. Lucas said of that money, the committee is expecting to have as much as $200,000 left over.

“It’s an opportunity for us to add back in what we cut out,” Jensen said.

Possible items to add back include a $5,600 flagpole installation, and furnishings for both buildings.

Selectman Ted Kenney expressed some disbelief that a flagpole would cost $5,600, but Jensen explained that the installation would provide the base for three flagpoles, which were originally designed into the station’s plans, and also included a light at the top of the pole.

Jensen asked the board if the committee should come back to them for approval of any contingency funds that might be spent.

“Is it ours to spend, or do you want us to come to you with these discretionary things?” Jensen asked.

Macaig said the committee should use its judgment and run smaller expenditures such as the flagpole by McGuire, but should come back to the board with requests for any major expenses, such as the furnishings, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

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Local woman wins Emmy Award

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Jennifer Mitchell was asleep in her home in Williston when her father called with the news: They’d won.

“Smart choices, safe kids: A Child Lures Prevention town hall meeting,” for which Mitchell was a co-producer, won an Emmy at the Nov. 19 awards banquet for the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her father Ken Wooden of Shelburne, founder of the nonprofit Child Lures Prevention, was executive producer; her sister Rosemary Webb of Hinesburg also co-produced.

The one-hour news special was one of 16 nominated in the category of outstanding achievement for a public affairs informational one-time program. The telecast, which took several months to produce, focused on the mission of Child Lures Prevention: preventing child abduction and sexual abuse.

Mitchell said it was the statewide reach that made the program “fairly unprecedented.”

NBC Channel 5 (WMAQ) of Chicago, whose staff comprised most of the 19-member production team, aired the telecast last fall and then made the program available to seven other Illinois media markets – even those that were not NBC affiliates. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed to put Child Lures Prevention program training programs – which will include the “Smart choices, safe kids” video – into all 3,000 of the state’s elementary and middle schools.

“That’s why I’m so proud of this Emmy,” said Mitchell, who’s worked on these issues with her father for more than 20 years. “We’ll just continue to educate kids for a long time with the show.”

The eight-year resident of Williston and mother of two said she isn’t yet sure where she’ll put the award, but is considering displaying it in her living room.

Mitchell leans forward, her blue eyes lit up, as she explains that to her the Emmy Award means that more children and parents will learn how predators lure children into dangerous situations. Learning about those tactics will help parents talk to children so the danger can be avoided.

“If you think it’s difficult to talk to kids about this topic, or these issues, you have no idea how difficult it is to deal with the aftermath of not talking about it,” she said.

Tears well in Mitchell’s eyes as she talks about going to the Florida home of Jimmy Ryce, meeting his parents and seeing where he got off the school bus one day more than 10 years ago. What should have been a one-block walk home that day ended in the kidnap, rape and murder of the nearly 10-year-old boy. The Florida case of Carlie Brucia, 12, Mitchell said, was an example of how easily children are lured by strangers. After a sleepover, Carlie told the host parents she had permission to walk home. A security camera outside a car wash showed that a stranger approached her and she went with him willingly; she was raped and murdered.

“Those moments,” Mitchell said, rubbing her hands over her face and eyes, “just make you stop everything you’re doing and say ‘we’ve got to do more.’”

Though criminal abductions get the most media attention, Mitchell said it is daily sexual molestation that affects more children, giving them a “life sentence” of emotional struggles. Those problems translate into trouble at school, trouble with alcohol and other drugs, or worse.

Vermont has not put Child Lures Prevention training into all Vermont schools as Illinois did, Mitchell said, because the state in the past has said it lacks the financial resources. When she began this work with her father more than 20 years ago, Mitchell said many people told her money couldn’t go into prevention work when there were so many sexual abuse victims who needed help.

“We’ve been triaging for years and years and years,” Mitchell said.

Williston parents should know that in Vermont, Mitchell said, many molesters are children younger than 18.

“Parents need not only look out for the neighbor who their gut instincts say there’s something not right about, but also older kids playing with younger kids,” she said. Listening to your gut as a parent – and teaching your children to listen to their instincts – is critical in these situations, she said.

Mitchell said neither she nor her colleagues want to scare kids or parents.

“We constantly reinforce throughout the program most people are good people,” she said. Still, she said kids should know that precautions must be taken, just like in really bad snowstorms.

“By learning information like this we take precautions against bad weather people.”

For more information about Child Lures Prevention, including parent guides, visit Web site: www.childluresprevention.com

 

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Mavis Tremblay to retire

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School receptionist says goodbye after 37 years

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston Central School receptionist Mavis Tremblay was not at her post Monday morning as children streamed into school from Thanksgiving vacation.

Still, the front office was hopping.

The phone rang. The bus radio chirped. A parent asked what to do with a check for an after-school program.

Administrative assistant Cid Gause, filling in, had to ask the parent to wait a moment.

“You’ve got the amateur on duty here,” Gause said with a smile. “I’m not as fast as Mavis.”

Though “Mavis” – as she is called by adults and children alike – returned to school later Monday, she will not return next fall. After a 37-year career at Williston Central School, Tremblay – who turns 68 on Saturday – will retire in June.

“One of the hardest things that I’m doing is to walk away from something I love so much,” Tremblay said Tuesday at her desk, starting to cry. “I love my job so much; it’s never a chore to go. I wish I’d quit crying.”

It might be hard to see how Tremblay would miss what can appear to an outsider as organized chaos.

Tuesday morning a car seat and canned goods for the food drive are dropped off. Multiple students bring in permission slips for the activity bus. The phone rings. It rings again.

Over the bus radio comes a voice: “I’m dropping off, Mavis.”

“Thank you,” she radios back.

Eight students stream in for late passes; Tremblay tells the first half they can make it on time if they go straight to class.

“We’re going to be in really big trouble when you go,” bus driver Christine Palin says to her, noting Tremblay is called the “bus mom.”

“She’s our life line,” bus driver Bob Lemons adds. “Whenever we get in trouble, we call Mavis. She gets it straightened out.”

Tremblay’s long relationship with Williston Central School began in 1969, just months after moving from Alabama. Volunteering at the polls the month after arriving in town, Tremblay always talked to the kids, she said. Ward Johnson, who also was working the polls, asked her if she’d ever considered working in a school.

By January, she was working in the cafeteria. Later she became a teacher’s assistant and helped in the office. She’s helped in various capacities – volunteer and paid – ever since. Tremblay isn’t sure exactly how long she’s been the main receptionist, but knows it’s been at least 15 years.

The school has changed enormously in the time she’s worked there. She started when enrollment was about 450 students, she said; now 1,180 students fill two schools. She’s watched kindergarteners become eighth graders and then watched them graduate from high school. She’s attended some of their college graduations. Some of the children she’s watched grow up now have children of their own.

One of her hardest moments on the job, she said, was learning that a boy she’d known since kindergarten committed suicide in high school. Her best moments have been watching struggling kids turn around and do well.

“I always wanted to be a teacher; that’s one thing I always regretted I didn’t do,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay lived on her own starting at 15 after her parents divorced, she said. She had to work, and didn’t finish high school immediately, though she eventually got her diploma. She married and had five kids, who now range from 36 to 45. She was a bookkeeper for a time (“numbers stay with me,” she says) before working in school.

She loves sports, and was an avid volleyball and softball player; she played shortstop in high school and, later in life, outfield on a traveling semi-professional team in Florida. Her semi-pro team went to the world tournament three years in a row, finishing second every year. Though she loves to read, she said she hasn’t had much time.

Soon she will. After retiring, she and her husband plan to spend part of the year in her home state of Alabama, and part of the year in Vermont. She plans to volunteer with kids. And she plans to spend quality time with her husband, who she said is her most prized possession.

A friend of theirs used to kid Tremblay that she’d have to be removed from the school on a stretcher because she is so dedicated to her job; he told her she should leave while she was young and could still do things, Tremblay said. That friend died in May. That was when Tremblay decided he was right.

Parents should know, Tremblay said, how much she has “loved being part of their kids lives.” Many parents and staff alike have become dear friends, she said.

She’ll miss moments with the students, too. As students knock on the giant windows separating her office from the hallway, they smile and wave. Some come into the office.

“Mavis!” Sophie, a kindergartener, shouts Tuesday morning, running in to hug Tremblay.

“She does that every day,” Tremblay says after Sophie leaves, explaining she’s her husband’s cousin’s “little girl.”

When Sophie’s kindergarten classmates line up in the hallway to leave school every day, Tremblay adds, they all blow her a kiss.

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Rhodes less traveled

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Williston scholar hopes to reduce poverty

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship was easy for Genevieve Quist compared to her first teaching job.

Yes, the application and interview process for the prestigious international scholarship was tough: First she had to interview with her alma mater, Cornell University, to be endorsed; then there was the paperwork and a seven-month wait – along with 895 other candidates. Then came the interviews – including a “high stakes cocktail party” – to which only the top quarter made it. Ultimately, she was one of only 32 Americans to receive the award.

Still, teaching her first sixth grade English class was much harder, she said.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve done in my life,” Quist said last week, visiting home during her Thanksgiving break. “I was 21. I didn’t even consider myself an adult and all of a sudden I was responsible for 35 kids.”

Most of the students in her South Central Los Angeles middle school were learning English as a second language; half of the parents of her students didn’t speak any English.

It is in the halls of Charles R. Drew Middle School that Quist, now 22, is solidifying her frustration with poverty, and her commitment to doing something about it.
In a master’s program in comparative social policy at Oxford starting next year – paid for in full by the Rhodes Scholarship – Quist hopes to study the public policy differences between the United Kingdom and the U.S.

“Both had high poverty rates in the early ‘90s, but then took different approaches,” Quist said. “The U.K. has done quite well and the U.S. has gotten worse.”

Quist said part of the problem is that the U.S. does not emphasize training and education when working with people on welfare.

“It’s ‘welfare to McDonald’s,’” Quist said. “It doesn’t help people become economically self-sufficient, especially people who are trying to support families.”

Quist’s first exposure to extreme poverty came from a spring break trip to Lima, Peru, led by her history professor at Rice High School. She saw families crowded into huts and children’s skin discolored from malnutrition.

“There was a complete lack of resources that we take for granted every day,” Quist said. “It reinforced the idea that as human beings we have essential rights – shelter, food, basic health care – basic rights (that) shouldn’t be considered luxuries by governments.”

At Cornell University, where she studied in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, she got involved in a research project on rural poverty. Broken pipes and windows were common in the households in which she conducted interviews; in one home, newspapers were stacked along walls throughout the house to help retain heat. Sometimes, Quist said, she would get into her car after an interview and cry.

Joining Teach for America – a corps of recent college graduates teaching in underprivileged school districts – was Quist’s way of ensuring she could have some direct impact, as well as a better understanding of education and poverty systems.

The program is a good match for her; as someone often described as a “hard worker” and “very intense,” her persistence and passion are essential to navigate a system short on resources. For 2,600 students, for example, there is one school psychologist, Quist said. When a sixth grader confided to Quist she’d been sexually abused, the only free community resources available for help had a seven-month wait.

“I see my kids and some of them are so bright, just so intelligent, just as bright as Emma,” Quist said, referring to her 11-year-old sister. And yet she knows their chances of going to college are dramatically worse than her sister’s because of their backgrounds.

“To see that kind of potential that’s gone untapped and feel that responsibility, that it’s my job to bring it out, that’s overwhelming sometimes,” Quist said.

Still, there are moments that keep Quist going. A sixth grader gave her a note, handwritten with a marker, that Quist said she’ll keep forever: “Ms. Quist,” the note read, “thank you very much. I see you in my heart every day.”

When Quist finishes her studies at Oxford, she hopes to manage a nonprofit or design pilot research programs addressing poverty.

British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer Cecil Rhodes established the awards in 1902 in his will. Applicants are chosen based not only on high academic achievement and physical vigor, but a demonstration of “truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship.” Leadership instincts, a “moral force of character,” and interest in fellow human beings are also required.

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Town official cited with DUI

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston was cited Friday night in Shelburne for allegedly driving under the influence, according to Shelburne Police.

Shelburne Police Chief James Warden said Johnston allegedly was in the parking lot of The Furniture Place just before midnight at the time he was investigated.

“He was observed in front of the store, striking the building with something which turned out to be sales signs,” Warden said.

The signs advertising discount furniture sales of the Shelburne store were placed along main roads in various towns, including Williston, last weekend. The advertisements are illegal under Williston’s 23-page sign and outdoor advertising zoning ordinances; it is part of Johnston’s job to enforce those ordinances.

Chief Warden said it is not yet clear whether additional charges will be filed; police are still investigating, he said. Warden also said he could not release Johnston’s blood-alcohol content level until charges are officially filed in Chittenden County District Court.

At the Williston Planning and Zoning office Tuesday afternoon, Johnston said he has no comment at this time.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he learned of the incident Monday morning from Johnston’s direct supervisor, Town Planner Lee Nellis. McGuire said he could not comment on the situation because it involves a personnel matter.

When asked if, in general, events that happen during an employee’s personal time could have an impact on job status, McGuire declined to comment.

“It’s kind of hard for me to answer that without drawing a connection to this particular case,” McGuire said.

In general, when town officials learn of an event that could potentially lead to disciplinary action, McGuire said, it is investigated to decide if any action will be taken.

“That’s the process we’re going to be following,” McGuire said.

Johnston is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 14, according to Warden.

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Giant church raises big concerns

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Building would be larger than box stores

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Too big. Too much traffic. Just plain too much.

That was the reaction of some neighbors and Development Review Board members to a proposed 168,000-square-foot church on a busy stretch of Vermont 2A north of Taft Corners.

Essex Alliance Church has outgrown its current location on Old Stage Road in Essex. It wants to construct a new building large enough to house the church’s myriad programs and to seat 1,833 people for each Sunday service.

The Williston Development Review Board met on Tuesday night to consider conceptual plans for the church and to gather public input.

Some board members said the church would dwarf buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods and as configured would have a tough time winning approval.

“The scale is not appropriate for the area,” said Cathy O’Brien. “It’s way too big … this is just enormous. I don’t think I could vote for a project of this scale.”

Board member Scott Rieley likened the structure to a big-box store. “At first blush, it looks like a Wal-Mart,” he said “I think that’s going to come up. It’s a big building. It’s huge.”

The church would actually be almost 50 percent bigger than the Williston Wal-Mart, which is 114,000 square feet.

Board members suggested the building could be broken up into smaller structures in a campus-like arrangement.

Church representatives said one big building was the least expensive and most effective way to accommodate the church’s needs. They hinted that requiring more than one structure could scuttle the project.

“I think what’s important is this is the most cost-effective scenario,” said Jeff Kolok, chairman of the church’s building committee. “If the feedback from the town is that the scale is too big … we would have to consider the feasibility.”

The Rev. Scott Slocum, Essex Alliance’s senior pastor, said the church would benefit Williston. Plans include a recreational field, a gymnasium and space inside the building where community groups such as the Boy Scouts could meet. He said the facilities would be open to the general public.

Parking and traffic were the other major concerns. The proposal calls for 611 parking spaces. The town’s planning staff wants the church to build a parking garage. But church representatives said such a requirement might also make the plan too expensive.

About 15 residents attended the hearing, most from neighborhoods near the church, which would be located about halfway between Taft Corners and Industrial Avenue along Vermont 2A. Some people were annoyed because the hearing started at 9:50 p.m., well past its scheduled time of 9 p.m. “Time!” called out one man. “It’s a half an hour late,” said another.

A few of the neighbors spoke. Most mentioned the already clogged traffic on Vermont 2A and said the church would make the situation much worse.

“Already the traffic on 2A is pretty much impossible in terms of getting out of our neighborhood,” said LouAnn Chaffee, who lives in the Meadow Run subdivision.

Some people may have stayed home because the church was the last item on the agenda. John Adams, the town’s development review planner, said a couple of the roughly 10 residents who inquired about the project before the meeting told him they could not attend the session because it was too late.

Essex Alliance Church was formed 40 years ago, initially conducting services in a school before moving to its current site on Old Stage Road in Essex. It is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant denomination.

The board decided to continue its discussion of the church and did not vote on the plan, which would have to complete three rounds of review before anything is built.

The proposal will be considered again at the board’s Jan. 9 session. The hearing is scheduled for
7:30 p.m.

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