May 24, 2019

Williston Olympian climbs North America

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Tony Palmer felt strong the first eight days ascending North America’s highest peak. Then his group learned that a few thousand feet up the mountain, a fall had just killed two climbers.

“I don’t think anybody admitted maybe how much of an impact that had,” Palmer, a 41-year-old software engineer, said this week.

It was mid-May. Palmer’s party was at 14,200 feet, at what is known among McKinley climbers as Camp 4. Having scaled 14,400-foot Mount Rainier last fall, Palmer knew he was comfortable at that altitude, and he was comfortable at higher altitudes in the days ahead.

So it wasn’t the altitude, Palmer said, that caused him to become so sick he lost all of the food he’d consumed that day, vital fuel for continuing on.

“News of the climbers dying was a lot to absorb,” the Williston father of three said. “That was the first point for me when I thought this was a big deal, a point for me when I felt a little bit vulnerable.”

About 1,300 people attempt to summit Alaska’s Mt. McKinley each year. At an elevation of 20,320 feet – the equivalent of more than five Camels Humps – the mountain is officially known in Alaska as Denali, meaning “the high one” in the Native American Athabaskan language. Extreme temperatures and weather, altitude changes and the sheer physical and mental stamina required to ascend the mountain translate into only a little more than 50 percent of climbers reaching the summit each year. Since the early 1930s when records began being kept, the mountain has claimed nearly 100 lives.

By Camp 4, Palmer’s guided group – which started with two guides and five climbers – already was one man smaller due to a hyper-extended knee in the first days of the expedition. By the time the group reached “high camp” at 17,200 feet, a second climber started to have fluid in his lungs and had to head down.

Palmer, however, who’d taken a rest day after losing all of his food, felt strong again, ready for the last stop after high camp – the summit.

But the weather didn’t cooperate. If it had only been cold – high temperatures at camp may have reached zero, Palmer said – they could have moved on. But the wind had picked up, forcing the five climbers to sit in their tents that day, just as they had for several days further down the mountain, waiting out a storm. A second full day at high camp was spent listening to 30 mile-per-hour winds and more snowfall. The third day, the weather started to look better.

For the final ascent each man carried a light load of survival gear, Palmer said, maybe 20 pounds.

“That felt great,” Palmer said. Until that point, Palmer had been carrying 50 to 70 pounds on any given day – more than the weight of his oldest daughter, Lauren, 9.

The group – tied together by climbing ropes – could see the first 1,000 feet ahead of them, until the wind picked up again. By the time they reached the ridge, a relatively narrow path, the wind was kicking up so much snow Palmer said he couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of him, or anything on either side of the ridge.

Suddenly, they were there. The top.

“I had all these grand pictures I wanted to take up there,” Palmer said. He had tucked in his jacket pocket a letter from his oldest daughter that had been signed by all of her classmates, hoping to get a picture of it at the summit. But the air was so thin, he said, “it took a lot of time to process things.”

“I’m really glad (the youngest guide) had the sense to say ‘doesn’t anyone want any pictures?’”

They took a few shots of the group standing in the 20-degree-below-zero (or colder) atmosphere, snow whirling around them, no clear view of anything but themselves. They ate a little and then began to head down.

Others had told Palmer that most climbing accidents happen on descent. Fatigue sets in. Some people let their guards down. For Palmer’s group, the weather began to worsen. Unbeknownst to Palmer until the next day, the goggles worn by the second to last climber in the group were fogging and freezing up. The guide behind him coiled the rope up between them and steered him. But when the group – still tied together – was supposed to head down the left side of the ridgeline, the climber could no longer see at all, and stepped off the right side. The guide tried to pull him back, but couldn’t. Palmer would later learn the pair had fallen about 40 feet.

“All I felt, I got jerked right into the side of the mountain,” he said. “I stuck in the ice pick and sat on it… I didn’t really know what was going on.”

With everyone completing a “self arrest” – ice picks into the mountain – there was no further falling. The fallen pair rejoined the group, and they made it back down to camp.

When Palmer called home to his wife, Esther, from 14,000 feet with a satellite phone, she said he didn’t sound the same as after his summit of Mount Rainier.

“After this one, he wasn’t bubbly,” she said. “It was a much more sobering experience.”

Esther had never worried for his safety, she said – her husband is cautious, responsible and was well prepared. A former Olympic athlete in cycling, the 6-foot, 4-inch Palmer is naturally athletic. His Mount Rainier guides last fall had said he was McKinley material. All winter he’d climbed Camels Hump with roughly 70-pound packs twice weekly.

Palmer said even when he was back down the mountain, he still felt more relief than excitement about the two-week journey.

“I think it took quite a while even after I got home to tap into even the ‘wow,’ the accomplishment, the excitement, rather than the ‘whew, I’m glad that turned out safe and sound.’”

Palmer will share pictures and more details of his journey in a presentation at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library: Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m.

[Read more…]

Williston little league goes international

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The baseball team from the Dominican Republic was ahead 5-0 at the bottom of the fourth inning last Thursday night.

In the preceding six days, the team had already played nine baseball games, winning seven. Their opponents Thursday, players from Williston Little League, had played only twice during that time.

“This is their passion,” Williston Little League Vice President Greg Bolger said of the visiting Dominican Republic team. “They’re all amazing athletes. Some of the plays…they’re like acrobats.”

While baseball may have been the medium, it wasn’t the end goal for Bolger or many of those gathered at Williston Community Park last Thursday night. The sixth day of the Vermont-Dominican Republic Baseball Cultural Exchange program, Williston was stop 10 for the team playing throughout Chittenden County in their one-week visit.

“I’m happy our kids are getting a chance to interact with kids of another nationality,” Bolger said.

The exchange program is a product of the Vermont Institute on the Caribbean that aims to connect communities and cultures between the two areas.

“We believe in the power of small groups of people making change,” VIC Executive Director Marisha Kazeniac said. Kazeniac said she feels there’s been an increasing level of fear of foreigners among Americans since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“I really think friendship disarms that fear,” she said. Friendship “lets them feel safe in another part of the world.”

During April vacation this year, 16 boys and 10 adults from Burlington American Little League traveled to the Dominican Republic for the first half of the baseball cultural exchange. While the initial hours were a little tense, by the time the week was up, some of the kids were crying because they didn’t want to leave, according to Oscar Rodriguez, the coordinator of the program in the Dominican Republic.

Language barriers didn’t appear to stop friendships from developing. Though many Burlington kids spoke little or no Spanish, and most of the Dominican kids spoke little to no English, relationships flourished nonetheless. After the game in Williston, the kids from both teams ate and hung around together at a barbecue.

Abelmariano Mendoza Placencia, 12, said he’s made “too much friends” since arriving in Vermont, a place he said is “very good.”

The climate is interesting, Abelmariano said, adding he thought it was “very cold” Thursday night. Wind whipped across the field and the temperature had dropped rapidly late afternoon. During the team’s visit, local daytime high temperatures have ranged from the 60s through the 90s; in the Dominican Republic the tropical temperatures are steady year-round.

Despite Abelmariano being the best English speaker among the children visiting, this was his first trip to the U.S. and his first time in an airplane.

“I am so exciting,” he said. “When I was in the airplane, I see down, I see all the houses they look so small.”

Williston Little League helped support the Dominican team with a donation of $1,000.

Dominican parent Rafael Lantigua said the hospitality shown by the people of Vermont is something Dominican kids will “keep in their hearts forever.”

He’s been thrilled, too, that in each community they have played, many spectators have turned out.

“I think all the people were waiting for us,” Lantigua said.

Prompted by his father to try out his halting English, Rafael Lantigua, Jr., 9, said he thinks Vermont is “good” and “beautiful” and that he likes the mountains. His favorite part of the trip through Thursday was ice-skating at Leddy Park; it was his first time.

Williston players were enthused about their rivals.

“Not many people get to play teams from other countries unless you’re in the Little League World Series,” Tucker Kohlasch, 12, said. “It’s nice that little old Vermont can play people from the Dominican.”

Before racing off to bat, Kirk Fontana shared his thoughts.

“They’re a really good team and they’re really respectful,” he said.

As the teams headed into the fifth inning, with the score still 5-0, seven-year-old Greg Bolger told his father not to worry about the score because “it’s an expedition game.”

Yes, his father replied, it is an exhibition game. The final score was 9-4.

[Read more…]

Town employee salaries set for new fiscal year

Consultant finds pay ranges “very competitive”

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Town employees will see a 3-to-5 percent salary increase this year. The town’s pay system, according to a town-hired consultant, does not require any major changes.

The Selectboard recently approved a 3 percent cost of living increase for non-union town employees, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire. (Police officers are union employees.) Some town employees also received an additional increase based on their performance. McGuire said merit increases this year ranged from nothing to 2 percent.

At the start of each fiscal year, which begins July 1, new salary schedules are set for government employees. Town positions are categorized in certain pay grades. Each grade has a minimum and maximum salary. The town manager, for example, has a salary range of $58,131 to $83,532.

Each year McGuire does his own analysis of how Williston salaries stack up against comparable positions in Vermont. A salary survey published by the Vermont League of Cities and Town is his guide.

“You want to be able to attract quality candidates when you have an opening and retain quality employees once you have them on board,” McGuire said.

Roughly every five years, the town hires an outside consultant to ensure McGuire’s analysis is on target, he said. The town paid $3,600 to Gallagher Flynn Human Resource Services LLC for such a review this year. The analysis found most positions “very competitive,” based on a review of data from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the New England Salary Survey, and a Vermont Department of Employment and Training survey.

“While the current pay ranges for many of the Town’s leadership positions appeared to be slightly less than absolutely comparable with their counterparts in their local towns in a first analysis, the pay for all of these positions is directly related to a town’s population,” the analysis says. “When this factor is considered, it is clear that their current pay ranges are very competitive.”

The consultant, Frank Sadowski, issued several recommendations. The finance director position, the consultant found, was not competitive with the overall accounting and finance market from which the towns might draw future candidates, particularly given additional responsibilities added to the position in recent years. The consultant therefore advised that the position’s pay grade increase from a grade nine ($44,963 to $64,592) to a grade 10 ($49,923 to $70,297). A similar concern was expressed about the town planner position. In response, both positions’ pay grades were upped, McGuire said.

The consultant also expressed concern about the ability to retain junior planners with a salary range of $32,014 to $46,032.

“Due to a relative shortage of Planner positions, it may be possible to hire a Planner into this grade with more experience, but it is also likely that they would leave for a position with a higher salary when one becomes available,” the consultant wrote. The town may want to consider creating a senior planner position at a higher grade level to help the town retain more experienced staff longer, the consultant wrote. No action has been taken on this recommendation at this time, McGuire said.

[Read more…]

Williston hosts first community forum on sustainability

Groups hope to conduct forums in other towns

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

A computer and monitor left on all the time produces more than 1,000 kilograms of harmful greenhouse gas emissions in just one year. An old toilet uses three gallons per flush, double the amount used by the newer, more efficient models.

These facts and others were presented to visitors at a Community Sustainability Forum held in Williston Town Hall on July 19. The forum was co-sponsored by Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD), Alliance for Climate Action (ACA), 10% Challenge, and Vermont Earth Institute (VEI). The District said this was the first of a series of forums to be held around the county, in order to raise awareness on sustainability.

Representatives from the organizations staffed booths filled with information about practices that people can employ if they want to be more environmentally responsible. The District encouraged using its ‘Local Color’ paint, which is re-blended from disposed paint collected at the CSWD Environmental Depot. By not having to barrel it and dispose of it as hazardous waste, the paint is better for the environment, and it is affordable due to the avoided disposal costs.

“I thought it would be a ‘you get what you pay for’ product, but that wasn’t the case,” said Williston resident Don Gaffney. “My son used it all through a new house he built in Starksboro. It’s very good paint, covers well, and looks great when it dries.”

Though the event was only moderately attended, the various representatives were positive. They explained that the event had already generated a lot of interest, and were trying to get people involved in the conversation of how to reduce one’s environmental impact.

“This is the first forum we’ve held here in our home town,” said Marge Keough, business outreach coordinator for CSWD. “And it’s the first step in our formal approach to go town by town and get the information out there. We’ve already gotten requests to hold the forum in Burlington, South Burlington, and Shelburne. We hope to hold these a couple times a year, per town.”

A District spokesperson said they hope people will take the advice to heart.

“We’re hoping that people will take home tools and ideas, and plug them in to how they make decisions,” offered CSWD Marketing and Communications Coordinator Clare Innes. “Everybody can benefit from this information, without feeling like they’re being forced to give up their lifestyles. What we’re hoping to do is help people see how simple it is. It doesn’t take more thinking; it just takes smarter thinking – a different kind of thinking. How can I take this area, and use it to reduce the amount of energy I expend?”

Innes referred to the idea of the carbon footprint, which is the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels as demanded by an individual as part of his or her daily life. For example, when you buy local goods, you decrease the amount of emissions resulting from the transportation of that item from production to the place of purchase.

Numerous other suggestions were presented, including:

When you purchase a product in a plastic container, think about if that container is recyclable, or bound for a landfill.

Reduce construction waste, which makes up a huge portion of the waste stream.

Buy locally. Transportation creates much of the pollution in Vermont.

Use non-toxic household cleaners, or make your own. Both are just as effective as harsher chemicals.

Consider paving your driveway with permeated concrete, which allows rainwater to absorb into the ground, instead of running into the stormwater drains, a process that tends to pick up oil and other pollutants, and carry them to the lake.

Of course, with so many possible ways of changing your habits, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For that reason, presenters went out of their way to remind people that a tiny lifestyle change can add up to a significant difference.

“Take one focus at a time,” Innes said. “When I purchase groceries, I can always bring my own bag. And composting is really easy because you don’t need a backyard to do it. You get the bucket, peel your vegetables into it, and then bring it to our drop off site. By doing that, you can keep 600 pounds of trash a year out of the landfills.”

[Read more…]

Town Hall to get new parking lot

Observer staff report

A new parking lot being constructed behind Williston Town Hall this month will double town-owned parking spaces.

“Our parking here is pretty limited,” Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said. “The Armory is taking space back now that they so graciously allowed us to use for all these years.”

The State of Vermont military department owns most of the land west of the town hall annex that houses the public works and recreation departments, Boyden said. For years the town has provided winter maintenance service to the armory in exchange for use of the Armory parking lot. It’s time, however, for the town to have its own parking lot, Boyden said.

Currently the town owns roughly 15 parking spaces; the new parking lot will add 21 spaces, about 9,360 square feet, Boyden said.

A land swap about two years ago laid the groundwork for the parking lot’s construction, Boyden said. The land on which the new parking lot will be constructed was previously owned by the state; the town owned about a half-acre behind the Armory. The switch enabled the Armory to construct a new vehicle and equipment compound in the last year to better secure their property.

“It seems like it was a win-win situation for the town and the state,” said Wendall Nolan, facilities manager for the State of Vermont Military Department.

The environment, too, will benefit. Stormwater runoff from the land behind town hall previously was untreated; with the new parking lot, all of the runoff will go through treatment.

Drainage work on the parking lot is underway this week; construction of the base will begin next week, according to Boyden. Paving is expected next month.

[Read more…]

St. George store to open soon

Simon’s will be town’s first convenience store

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Workers spread asphalt and stocked shelves last week, preparing to open St. George’s first convenience store.

Simon’s will give residents of the tiny town, population about 800, a place to shop without driving miles to Williston or Hinesburg. It will be the newest outlet in a regional chain of about a dozen stores owned by the Handy family doing business as Sisters and Brothers Investment Group LLP.

The 4,500-square-foot store on Vermont 2A will include four gas pumps and a Dunkin’ Donuts outlet, standard fare for other area convenience stores. But with a relatively generous amount of space, the store will cater to a town without a grocery store by also carrying some meat and produce.

“We’re not going to be a Hannaford or anything like that,” said Joe Handy, who likened the outlet to a country store. “But if there are (basic) items you need, we’ll have them.”

He expects the store to open within the next two weeks. The project has received most of its local and state permits. All that remains is final inspections and paving, landscaping and stocking the store.

The store generated controversy after it was proposed more than two years ago. The St. George Development Review Board approved the store but rejected a request to install a drive-up window for Dunkin’ Donuts.

The board was concerned about safety. St. George Villa, a mobile home park, is located across from the store, and the board was worried that a drive-up window would create more hazards for the many youths that will likely cross the thoroughfare to reach the store.

The Handy family appealed the decision, but later dropped the legal action amid concerns that it would create bad feelings among future customers and the town has a whole.

Dunkin’ Donuts “would like to have a drive-through in all their locations,” Handy said. “But at the end we had a contract with them.”

Jose Couto, who along with his partners owns the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise that will operate the outlet, was unpacking boxes on Friday at the store. He said the franchise still hopes to eventually convince the town to permit a drive-through window. But for the time being, he said the St. George location would do OK without it.

Though the formal review process started in March 2005, the store was originally contemplated years earlier. The late Salamin Handy bought land from the town for the store in the mid-1990s. The purchase agreement stated that the land could be used for a store or restaurant, according to former St. George zoning administrator Richard Ward.

Including Dunkin’ Donuts, the store will employ about 15 people, said Charles Handy, another one of the family members who are partners in Simon’s chain.

The St. George store was originally scheduled to open by Aug. 1. But frequent rain in recent weeks delayed paving, which in turn held up landscaping work, Joe Handy said. He now thinks the store will open between Aug. 7 and Aug. 10.

[Read more…]

Qimonda to move out of Williston

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Despite town and private efforts to keep it in Williston, the technology company Qimonda is moving its offices to South Burlington at the end of this year, according to a company spokesperson.

Qimonda will begin relocating to a newly constructed 70,000-square-foot office building in Technology Park – about three miles from its current location – at the end of 2007 and into early 2008, confirmed Tim McKenzie, Technology Park’s business development director.

Qimonda operates a research and development facility in Hillside East, a business park on Hurricane Lane. The company recently decided to grow and hire about 30 engineers this year – and possibly more next year – but there was no more room in the Williston location, the company said.

“We have an open requisition for 30 new employees at that site, and the current facility is just not going to hold them,” said Donna Wilson, director of communication for Qimonda North America.

Wilson said depending how the market goes, the company will likely hire about 30 more engineers next year after the move. Qimonda’s “ Burlington Design Center,” as it is known, designs Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) modules that are used in cell phones, mp3 players and GPS devices. Wilson said the market is hot and getting hotter.

“Given our business ramp we need to bring those people on board now,” she said.


Over the past year, Bill Dunn, owner of Hillside East, has worked with the town to try and expand the business park to keep Qimonda in Williston. Last year Dunn asked the town to rezone 55 acres of land that he owns just north of the park to accommodate a new facility for the company. The area was originally zoned as agricultural/rural, and could not be used for a commercial site. After a series of hearings, the town approved changes to the Comprehensive Plan that nudge the commercial zoning district northward to include a revised area of 12 acres, while requiring Dunn to permanently conserve the remaining 43 acres. But Dunn still had to draw up detailed site plans to present to the Development Review Board, and faced the daunting Act 250 permit process. Dunn said Qimonda simply could not hold out any longer.

“That’s a long, drawn-out process,” Dunn said in a telephone interview. “And Qimonda unfortunately just couldn’t wait.”

Dunn said the recent discovery of wetlands on his property is holding up the process further. But, he said he will continue with the permitting process, and hopes to construct a building on the new site in the near future – for a new client. Dunn said he is “talking to a couple of people” about moving into Qimonda’s space, but did not elaborate.

“I’m going to go ahead with the permitting of the site until I hit an obstacle I cannot overcome,” Dunn said. “I think it’s a terrific location.”

Qimonda, an offshoot of Infineon, has been in the Williston location for about seven years.

“I’ll be sorry to see them go,” Dunn said. “We did our best to keep them.”

Qimonda currently employs about 120 people. The company will occupy most of the new building in Technology Park, McKenzie said, but the park is still looking for another tenant to fill the remaining 8,000 square feet or so.

Qimonda is headquartered in Munich, Germany, and employs about 12,500 people worldwide, according to the company Web site. They specialize in DRAM computer memory chips, and had net sales of $5.2 billion in fiscal year 2006.

[Read more…]

And they called it puppet love

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Loran Stearns, 9, carefully traced a dress pattern on white fabric before her.

The fabric was to serve as the outfit for her puppet chef, which at this point Tuesday morning consisted of a head made of a Styrofoam ball and paper mache, painted, at the end of an 18-inch stick.

“It’s really fun,” Loran said of the puppet-making camp she’s attending through the Williston Recreation Department this week. “If we’re lucky, we get to do a puppet show at the end.”

Loran is one of 14 campers attending this week’s puppet-making session of Williston’s Summer Art Camp. Hairdryers buzzed Tuesday morning to dry just-painted puppet heads. Students traced and cut felt, silk and other material for puppet clothing or decoration. They tested fleece colors for hair. Puppets in progress included a tree, a leaf, a hatching chick, a rock climber, family dog and chocolate monster.

“Would anyone else like their head glued on before I unplug?” camp assistant Allison Demas, 22, called out, with glue gun in hand.

Summer Art Camp in Williston is in its fourth year, according to instructor Liz Demas. Demas, a teacher at Williston Central School for 18 years, created the Williston camp after directing and teaching the Shelburne Summer School Art Camp. The Williston version, coordinated through the Williston Recreation Department, serves students ages seven to 13. Each weeklong session runs three hours a day. Each session costs $120, though discounts for multiple sessions or multiple children from one family are granted.

Topics include jewelry making, clay whistles and tiles, mirror mosaics and paper making. A new session this year, multicultural arts celebration, drew four participants, including second-time arts camper Elizabeth Waller, 11.

As she worked on creating her puppet Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Elizabeth explained that in the multicultural arts session campers “visit” a different country each day. On Monday, she said, they’d visited Mexico and learned how bark paper is made from fig trees. Tuesday afternoon, China was on the schedule.

Demas said art camp is appealing for students because of the “luxury of time and materials.” Instead of a 40-minute art class typical for school, camp sessions are three hours each. Puppet-making in particular is appealing to campers, she said, which may explain why roughly half the group are second-time participants.

“There’s a lot of problem solving in this particular camp,” Demas said. If a camper wants their puppet’s arms to move, for example, campers and Demas must brainstorm how to get a wire into the right places to make that happen.

Also appealing is the fact that “there’s no right puppet,” Demas said. Though there is a basic puppet structure – beneath the head is a horizontal toilet paper cardboard roll to serve as shoulders – campers can be as creative or inventive as they want to be, Demas said.

Thomas Lang, 10, was one such inventor. Where many other campers had created a small head for their puppet, Thomas had selected a large cardboard mask to duct tape, paper mache and paint silver. He was in the process of selecting silver and gray felt as the “outfit” that would hide his hand during a puppet show. He sought out gray fleece for hair. He hoped his puppet might get to be a narrator in the puppet show campers would get to perform on Friday.

What was his puppet? A dustball.

[Read more…]

Williston resident named principal of the year

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Stephen Perkins could have become a school administrator nearly 15 years ago, after he finished his master’s degree in education.

“After I finished that degree, I said ‘who really needs that kind of aggravation?’” Perkins, 56, said this week. “Life was good, the ( Winooski School District) music program was going well. I had no great desire.”

And yet this year Perkins was named the 2007 Robert F. Pierce Vermont Secondary School Principal of the Year. The Vermont Principals’ Association administers the award.

Perkins, who has lived in Williston since 1977, was approached in 2003 to consider filling the principal’s vacancy at Winooski High School after successive turnover in the position led to mounting instability.

“The average life expectancy (of a Winooski High School principal) was 18 months,” Perkins said. “All of the research out says (that) to have any kind of effective change, you need to be in a place for four years.”

For 19 years, Perkins had taught instrumental music in Winooski, beginning a string program, piano lab and guitar class with grant funding. He’d been president of the teachers’ association. He had strong relationships both with staff and the community, he said; when he asked teachers to vote on whether he should become principal, the vote was a unanimous “yes.”

He told the School Board he’d try the position for two years, provided he could return to his teaching position if either he or the board were dissatisfied. Neither party was.

“Rumor has it I lived here the first year,” Perkins said. He organized staff potluck dinners and attended all student concerts, athletic games and other events. He made sure parents knew his door was open. He promised teachers they would set a small number of achievable goals, and would not move on to new ones until those goals were met.

Entering his fifth year as principal, the Winooski High School team has made notable progress. Disciplinary referrals decreased 60 percent his first year as principal, something Perkins attributes largely to his consistent responses to students with similar behavioral issues. The teaching staff re-wrote and made uniform the high school curriculum.

The school also needed to do a lot of work on issues of diversity and acceptance, Perkins said. About 18 percent of the high school’s students are learning English as a second language; 22 languages are spoken among the school’s 240 students. As a refugee resettlement area, Winooski schools have a significant influx of newcomers each year.

Perkins’ colleagues express a high regard for their leader.

“The staff as a whole was just thrilled to death for Steve when we heard he’d been given this award,” said Maida Townsend, who’s taught French at the school since 1989. “We really believe in him and were tickled to death that others recognized, him.”

Three teachers interviews used words like “respect,” “listens,” “collaborative,” “open door,” and “innovative” to describe Perkins’ approach to leadership.

“He’s been really good about classroom observations,” Townsend said, noting many principals don’t visit classrooms as often as they should. “He gives feedback to us and that’s really important to us.”

Business teacher Courtney Poquette, who just finished her first year as a teacher, not only cites Perkins “welcoming and warm” attitude, but his innovative approach for giving students more opportunities. Students this coming year are being offered dual enrollment in information processing, allowing them to get college credit while they earn high school credit. Perkins also initiated summer school on-line classes, partnering with a college, Poquette said, so that more subjects could be offered with fewer human resources.

Winooski had a bad rap for a long time, math teacher Sharon James said, but that is starting to change.

“It was his coinage of ‘best small school in the state,’” said James, who retired this year after 23 years at the school. “He’s really worked to put that (message) out.”

[Read more…]

Pizzeria dispute costs businesses lots of dough

Williston restaurant decides to change name

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A Williston pizzeria recently changed its name after a restaurant with a similar moniker threatened legal action.

Picasso’s is now called Today’s Gourmet. Brian Jordan, co-owner of the restaurant in Taft Corners Shopping Center, said the change was made about a month ago to avoid a courtroom showdown with Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge in Stowe.

“Instead of wasting money on a lawyer, we said ‘let’s change our name,’” Jordan said. “It was just a case of trying to pick your battles. We’d rather use the money to pay our employees right and for advertising.”

Piecasso owner Eduardo Rovetto said he learned of the sound-alike counterpart before it even opened last fall. His son noticed a sign for the new business while shopping in Williston.

“I said, that can’t be, the Secretary of State wouldn’t allow that,” Rovetto said. New businesses are required to register their trade names with the state, and statute forbids names that are “deceptively similar.”

Soon after Picasso’s opened, Rovetto said, customers were congratulating him on the new outlet and vendors were confusing his long-established restaurant with the one in Williston.

Rovetto said he contacted Picasso’s owners and asked them to reconsider the name. They refused.

“They knew I was there, but they still went ahead with it,” he said.

Jordan said he did not learn that there was a similar business name until just two days before Picasso’s opened. He said the business then consulted with both a lawyer and the Secretary of State’s office and were told the name would pass legal muster, so he and his partners decided to stick with Picasso’s.

So began a months-long dispute between the businesses. Rovetto eventually had a lawyer draw up a cease-and-desist order. Even after Picasso’s agreed to change its name, the businesses argued over how soon that would occur, finally settling on June.

“He just wanted us to do it overnight, and it was not possible, nor were we willing,” Jordan said. He noted that the business needed considerable time to alter signs, print new menus and notify vendors.

The businesses do agree that stricter scrutiny of business names by the Secretary of State’s office could have helped them avoid the dispute in the first place.

When he complained to the agency, Rovetto said he was told that his pizzeria’s “cutesy” name was the problem, making it possible for a new business to register a similar name with a more conventional spelling. Rovetto said he spent thousands on legal help to convince Picasso’s to change its name.

“It was unjustified that I had to pay for their mistake,” he said. “In this day and age, the Secretary of State should have a system like Google” that can turn up similar business names with a simple computer search.

Jordan thought registering the name with the state meant he was free to use it without repercussions. He said the dispute also cost him thousands to change names on his signs, menus and delivery vehicles.

“It’s a lesson learned,” he said. “Even if the state says it’s OK, do your own research.”

With 4,317 new “doing business as” names registered in 2006 and a small staff to record them, mistakes can happen, said Deputy Secretary of State Bill Dalton. But after reviewing the pizzeria dispute, Dalton said he thinks the agency made the right decision in permitting the Picasso name.

The agency primarily serves a “filing cabinet function” when registering trade names, Dalton said. When a new business is registered, the agency does check to make sure it does not violate a state law that forbids deceptively similar names. But he said the agency does not have the legal authority to reject a new business name simply because it is like an existing one.

Dalton acknowledged that deciding when the deceptively similar threshold is crossed is often a tough call. But he noted that businesses that are unhappy with a new business name always have recourse in court.

“I’m very comfortable with the decisions the office makes on these issues,” Dalton said. “But I’m also empathetic” with the legal expenses businesses sometimes bear when there is a disagreement.

Picasso’s opened last August, and its menu includes pizzas, sandwiches, salads and chicken wings. The small restaurant includes a handful of tables and features Picasso reproductions on its walls.

Piecasso has been in business for about seven years, first leasing a small space in a shopping center on Mountain Road in Stowe before moving to its own building across the road about two years ago. It offers a wide-ranging menu, which in addition to pizza includes more than a dozen entrees.

There is a lounge with disc jockeys spinning records a couple of times a week. The restaurant is decorated with Picasso reproductions – and a few prints by the master painter himself.

Though he owns by far the larger business, Rovetto said Piecasso was hardly a corporate behemoth throwing its weight around in a name dispute. Nor was he worried about competition from a Williston pizzeria located many miles away.

Instead, Rovetto said, he takes pride in his pizza – he learned how to make it from his parents, who were from Sicily – and wants to protect his brand name.

The pizza made by the Williston restaurant “wasn’t my product,” he said. “And the product is my claim to fame. Without that, we’d be Papa John’s.”

Jordan said he holds no grudge against Rovetto. He hopes publicity about the name change will inform his customers that Today’s Gourmet is still the same business, just with a different name. He also wants to get word out about an expanded menu that will now include pasta.

“We didn’t try to steal anything from anybody,” he said. “Our dough and sauce are different. It was just the name that was similar.”

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