September 2, 2014

Little Details: Grateful for Williston’s schools


By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

The day my daughter started kindergarten, I snapped a photo of her stepping onto that big orange school bus. She turned to me to smile as she ascended the steps. Her blue Columbia backpack—the one she’d carry until the end of ninth grade—seemed enormous on her little back. She wore an orange jumper with black Mary Jane’s and white ankle socks. Wisps of her blond hair were gathered in two pony tails.
This was the day she excitedly waited for. Preschool, library programs and hours spent reading picture books as a family were all preparation for the real deal: school. She took her seat near the front and waved through the window as the bus pulled away. I burst into tears. It was the end of an era.
Our family was soon caught up in the whirlwind of our community’s educational system. I became a volunteer reader and ELF (now Four Winds) parent. I baked peanut-free snacks for class events and hung my daughter’s artwork on the refrigerator. My husband left work to facilitate regular practice sessions with students in the Continental Math Program.
Our daughter learned reading, writing and arithmetic. She learned how to be a good friend and how to play recorder and clarinet. She discovered, through a school vision screening, that she was nearsighted. Her first pair of eyeglasses—with spiffy green frames—brought clarity to what had been a decidedly “impressionist” world. She befriended teachers and played in the Friday morning band at Allen Brook School that greeted students as they arrived for class.
The move to Williston Central School for middle school was not without a few bumps. A stint in New Zealand in fifth grade and a move to a different house in sixth grade proved positive. Friendships deepened—with peers and teachers—and music assumed greater importance amid a flurry of extracurricular offerings.
Starting high school at CVU was scary…for us, as parents. It seemed so far away. Remote, actually. And there were students from at least five towns. We’d soon be driving around Chittenden County to accommodate study sessions and sleepovers.
Academic rigor jumped several notches. Our daughter needed to develop solid study skills to meet heightened expectations. Her circle of friends assumed geographical breadth while the quality of those friendships enjoyed greater depth.
For sophomore year, our daughter was off to the French-speaking region of Switzerland to spend a year as an exchange student. CVU supported and helped facilitate the adventure.
By junior year, she wanted time away from CVU’s campus to build upon a summer internship in Montpelier. Commuting to the State House via bus in the morning, she reached out to classmates and teachers in the evening to determine class assignments.
Senior year was a whirlwind of studying, college applications, working and engaging in extracurriculars. Sleep was a highly valuable and somewhat limited commodity. Academic rigor was upped yet again. Reaching out to classmates and teachers for help—an important skill—became routine. College acceptances arrived. Scholarships were dangled. A school was selected.
No school system is perfect. That said, I believe our community’s schools make a genuine effort to accommodate students. It’s as if there’s an unwritten contract: step up to do YOUR part and we’ll support you in tailoring the experience.
As this newspaper goes to print, we’ll be moving our daughter into her residence hall in western Massachusetts. She trades “crunchy granola” Vermont for a liberal town near the Berkshires. As she dives deeper again into reading, writing, science and mathematics, I’m one proud and appreciative parent. I’m proud of my daughter for seizing the extraordinary education our community afforded her. I’m also appreciative of the truly amazing and inspiring educators who teach, challenge and inspire our children.
It’s the start of a new school year. Let’s make it a great one.
And for those kindergartners just starting out, I say, “Welcome to a great school community!”

Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

Friends of CVU seeks input


By Alice Brown

The Friends of CVU is a group of parents from Charlotte, Hinesburg, St. George, Shelburne and Williston who volunteer together to strengthen the links between community, teachers and CVU high school students. Over the years, the Friends of CVU has become mostly involved with parent education and with support of CVU teachers. We work with Connecting Youth to sponsor educational speakers and appropriate programs, which support community members, parents and students. The group also aims to support student clubs and activities with grants, made possible by CVU community donations.
What does the current Friends of CVU group do? This past year, we hosted the November dessert with the principal event, during which Principal Jeff Evans engaged parents with the latest news on how CVU continues to move forward. We ran a teacher and staff appreciation luncheon for the approximately 300 CVU employees, who very much appreciated the delicious special lunch! And we organized a breakfast for grad challenge presentation day in May, feeding close to 1,000 CVU seniors and juniors, parents and guests, teachers and staff and community panelists. It was a wonderful community celebration of our graduating students!
Where would Friends of CVU like to go in the future? In keeping with the mission of developing community, we hope to distribute an electronic directory of students’ home contact information this fall. We’d like to expand opportunities for the community to meet with our principal by adding a new event, Breakfast with the Principal, in the early spring, since many parents truly enjoy learning from CVU’s principal about the school’s direction. And we’d like to raise enough funds to support CVU’s students, particularly for class “extras” and special trips, which might otherwise be beyond the reach of some of our families.
The Friends of CVU would very much like to hear from you, our parents and community members. What would you like to see our high school’s parent support group achieve? Would you be interested in more parent outreach and education workshops and programs? Would you like to see community dinners at CVU? How about more scholarship support for students, perhaps for international trips? Please let us know your thoughts.
The Friends of CVU can be reached at [email protected]
The CVU School Board would like the community to know of another great opportunity to become involved in the high school. Community input is greatly appreciated when the board is preparing the budget each winter. The “Budget Buddy” program, an opportunity for up to 11 community volunteers to participate in all budget meetings (December and January), is one way in which residents can learn more about how the CVU budget is developed and share suggestions, concerns and other valuable “outside” viewpoints. Please contact a school board representative to learn more.

Alice Brown is the co-chairwoman of Friends of CVU.

Make sure kids’ vaccines are up to date


Observer staff report
To celebrate the importance of immunizations throughout life, the Vermont Department of Health joined with partners nationwide in recognizing August as National Immunization Awareness Month.
“Your child should have all of the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s immunization schedule to protect classmates and the community,” said the Health Department’s Immunization Program Chief Christine Finley. “Check with your doctor to find out what vaccines your child needs.”
Most schools require children to be current on vaccinations before enrolling to protect the health of all students. When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk and can spread diseases to others—including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer or other health conditions.
Children who are 4 to 6 years old are due for boosters of four vaccines: DTaP (to protect against tetanus and pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (to protect against measles, mumps and rubella) and polio.
Older children, like preteens and teens, need Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) and meningococcal vaccine is required for residential students. HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is not required for school entry, but highly recommended when children are 11 to 12. Yearly flu vaccines are recommended for all children 6 months and older.
Parents can find out more about the recommended immunization schedule at or or

Public hearing set for All Metals relocation


Meeting Thursday, Aug. 28

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
All Metals Recycling, currently located on James Brown Drive, is looking to move its salvage yard operation to Avenue B off Industrial Avenue.
A public hearing is set for Thursday, Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.
All Metals needs a certificate of approved location before it can obtain the proper state license to open a salvage yard in town, which requires a public hearing.
The board went through a similar process last September when it approved the James Brown Drive location. All Metals Recycling opened that facility after nearly two years of appeals from nearby residents and another salvage yard.
The Development Review Board approved All Metals’ request for a discretionary permit at its July 22 meeting.
All Metals Recycling is proposing a scrap metal recycling business on a .72 acre portion of an S.D. Ireland property near the end of Avenue B.

Local author releases new novel


House of Wonder

Observer staff report
Williston author Sarah Healy will celebrate the release of her new novel next week.
A book launch is set for Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at Phoenix Books in Burlington.
“House of Wonder,” Healy’s second novel, follows devoted mother and career woman Jenna Parson’s return to the neighborhood and family she sought to distance herself from.
“With keen insight and rare emotional truth, Sarah Healy hits every mark with ‘House of Wonder,’” best-selling author Augusten Burroughs wrote in a review. “It’s funny, sad, hopeful and heartbreaking and filled with characters that stick with you and make you care. If you’ve ever known an outsider or an oddball—or been one—this is a novel for you.”
Healey is also the author of “Can I Get an Amen?”

Minimal turnout for primaries


By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
With few contested primary races, Williston voter turnout for the Aug. 26 primary elections was one of the lowest turnouts in recent years.
Town Clerk Deb Beckett said 352 voters turned out to the polls on Tuesday—just 4 percent of Williston’s registered voters. Of the voters, the town received 183 Republican ballots, 166 Democratic, 2 Progressive and 1 Liberty Union.
“There was very little that was getting people excited to get out and vote,” Beckett said.
Beckett said that since every voter gets four ballots, votes on one, and recycles three, the town ended up with more than 1,000 unused ballots in its recycling bins, plus nine cases of ballots left unopened. While the state pays for the ballots, the town is on the hook for the cost of the voting machine, approximately $2,000.
For a primary with few contested races, Beckett said it seems more effective to conduct party caucuses.
“It was an incredible expense for such a low turnout,” she said. “I have to believe that would be so much more cost effective to do it that way than what we just went through,” she said.

Below are the statewide results of some of the primary races, as of 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Williston results were not available before press deadline. For full results, visit

U.S. House, Republican
Mark Donka: 3,795 votes, 34 percent
Donald Nolte: 3,142 votes, 28.2 percent
Donald Russell: 3,630 votes, 32.6 percent

Vermont governor, Democratic
Peter Shumlin: 14,212 votes, 78 percent
H. Brooke Paige: 2,955 votes, 16.2 percent

Vermont governor, Republican
Scott Milne: 9,997 votes, 72.4 percent
Steve Berry: 948 votes, 6.9 percent
Emily Peyton: 1,970 votes, 14.3 percent

Chittenden County sheriff, Democratic
Kevin McLaughlin: 2,808 votes, 68.3 percent
Ed Cafferty: 1,300 votes, 31.6 percent

Rec Director applications pour in


By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Advertisements for the Williston Recreation Director position drew a grand total of 106 applications.
Town Manager Rick McGuire said he advertised the position nationally and locally, with an Aug. 15 cut off date.
“I’ve already narrowed the field down from 106 to 34 and we are in the process of setting up an interview panel,” he said.
He said the town intends to invite six or seven candidates for interviews in early September and hopes to have a new director in place by November. The interview panel will likely consist of one Selectboard member, a staff member, a Recreation Committee member and someone from the community with a background in parks and recreation.
McGuire said he received 95 responses to an online survey about recreation in town and is in the process of analyzing the responses. The survey feedback will be used to help develop the recreation director role and guidelines for the department.
The recreation director position became vacant in July when longtime director Kevin Finnegan stepped down.

Williston Seniors moving to new home


By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

The Williston Seniors group is moving to a new location that organizers hope will allow the group to grow.
Beginning in October, the Williston Seniors will hold twice-monthly meetings at the Green Mountain Masonic Center.
“So many seniors need fellowship,” said group member Vickie Walker. “They’re looking for fellowship and ways to draw together and activities that are focused on the seniors.”
The new meeting space is larger and has a more expansive kitchen, allowing for the group to expand its activities. Walker said Williston Seniors, which has existed since 1973, has outgrown its current meeting space.
Currently, it has approximately 30 members and meets in the Whitney Hill Homestead the first and third Tuesday of each month. The group is not affiliated with the senior housing community, however and most of it members live elsewhere.
“A lot of people think the Williston Seniors are just the Whitney Hill Seniors and they’re not, they’re seniors from all over,” Walker said. “Everyone is welcome at the meetings.”
The first Tuesday meeting is typically a potluck lunch and business meeting, where seniors can socialize and plan for future activities. The second monthly meeting is focused on games, crafts and activities.
The town will pitch in the $2,400 required to prepare the new location and rent the space for a year of meetings. The money will come from the Recreation Department programming budget, Town Manager Rick McGuire said. The town does not currently support Williston Seniors, but does provide a weekly exercise program for seniors, which costs approximately $3,500 a year. McGuire presented the group’s plan to the Selectboard on Aug. 18 and the board expressed support for the senior group.
Walker said the seniors are still interested in reviving talks of a community center in town that would serve the needs of seniors. First, however, they want to further examine what the senior community needs and wants.
Any seniors interested in joining Williston Seniors can meet Tuesday, Sept. 2 at noon at Whitney Hill Homestead for a potluck lunch.

Williston, district school enrollment in slow decline


By Matt Sutkoski
Observer correspondent
As students in Williston, surrounding towns and most of Vermont go back to school this week, many are finding fewer classmates, and in some cases, fewer teachers than in the past.
Williston, and the parent Chittenden South Supervisory Union, are no exception to that trend.
Following a statewide trend, enrollment figures continue to drift downward.
Last year, 1,063 students were in Williston schools, according to the town’s school district. That compares to 1,092 a year earlier and 1,134 back in 2010.
Staffing levels have eased downward as well. The Williston School District had 201.72 full time equivalent positions last school year. That’s 10 less than three years earlier.
Most school districts, including Williston, hire demographers to glean hints as to how enrollment figures will change over the course of the next decade or so.
In general, the demography data suggest that in Williston and the Chittenden South district, enrollment will bottom out in about five years then grudgingly begin to increase again.
The long-range enrollment projections are inherently unreliable, because unforeseen factors like a major new housing development, or the loss or gain of a major employer or an unexpected influx or exodus of families can easily change trends.
So Williston schools do little long range planning on staffing numbers, said Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli.
The demographer usually provides updated numbers in November, and the school board takes a close look at where the increases or decreases are occurring to make staffing decisions.
“If the decrease is spread out over the grades, just a few students per grade level, we may not be able to reduce staff. If it is concentrated in kindergarten, first and second grade, then we do make staffing adjustments,” Nardelli said.
One extra complication this year is the long-time demographer for the school district, and many others in northwestern Vermont, Bill Smith, has retired, said Bob Mason, Chief Operations Officer for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.
The school district will need to find a new demographer soon to continue research into enrollment trends.
Mason said the CVU board, and all other town school districts within the supervisory union, take the same tack as Williston. They make staffing decisions based on detailed and updated information received during the fall and early winter.
Champlain Valley Union High School enrollment has slowly dropped in tandem with the rest of the district in recent years. The high school had 1,277 students as of June 1, down from a peak of 1,385 in 2004.
The latest enrollment projections suggest CVU’s student population will slowly fall to below 1,100 within about seven years.
Declining enrollment doesn’t mean a dearth of new teachers. Educators are being hired to replace those who have retired or moved on to other employment.
Marie Eddy, who is starting this year in guidance at CVU, says she’s looking forward to being a part of a vibrant school community.
Eddy said she isn’t really new to the school. She was at CVU for nine years ending in 1998 as guidance secretary, then registrar. Her three children all went through CVU and her husband works there.
Jessica Mongeon, who will teach special education, is also technically not a new educator, but has roots at CVU, having been a paraeducator for the past four years. She’ll work with a wider variety of students and faculty, which she said she looks forward to.
Kylie Wolgamott is a new part-time art teacher at CVU.
“As an art teacher, I always have new lesson ideas that I have developed over the summer that I am excited to share with my students,” she said. “I have heard wonderful reviews of the CSSU district. Every time I mention that I will be teaching at CVU, I hear responses such as ‘my kids went to school there and loved it!’ or ‘The teachers there are great.’ Such positive reviews were a draw to the district,” she said.
Also new this year are math teacher Hannah Carey, English teacher Adrian Walther and special educators Greg Conk and David Richardson.
In Williston schools, many positions left open by retiring teachers and staff were filled by changes in assignments for teachers due to declining enrollment, Nardelli said.
Shannon Baker took over as guidance counselor. Liz Neeld became the executive assistant. Lyall Smith was hired as the head of maintenance.

PHOTOS: Volleyball and soccer leagues




Players compete in a soccer league game last week at the Williston fields.

Players compete in a soccer league game last week at the Williston fields. (Observer photos by Al Frey)

[Read more...]