Community provides configuration input at forum11/26/08

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee continued its work toward deciding a future configuration of the school district by holding a community forum Monday night. The event was held by the committee to get the community’s response on what residents found to be the most important aspects of configuration.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Parent Jason Hibbeler votes for what he feels is the most important criteria the Frameworks Committee will discuss in deciding the school’s future configuration.

For parents, this was one of the first times their voices could be heard during the committee process. Some seemed optimistic the forum would yield positive results.

“There will be a good conversation that comes out of this,” parent John Hemmelgarn said.

About 60 parents and community members gathered in the Williston Central School cafeteria to vote on different criteria and brainstorm pros and cons of different configuration options.

Frameworks Committee Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley asked people to choose their top priorities from a list of more than 20 criteria options. Williston teachers had determined their top 10 list last Thursday during their own forum, and parents came up with similar choices on Monday.

For instance, both teachers and parents said fostering a strong sense of community and rich relationships over time, with continuity for students, families and teachers, was the number one issue in determining a future configuration.

Teachers and parents found similar ground on other issues, although their rank in importance tended to differ in each top 10 list. The top 10 lists of both parents and teachers can be found on the school district’s Web page,, under the link for the Frameworks Committee.

Participants voted by putting multi-colored stickers on large sheets of paper next to their favorite items. Shelley allowed parents to make positive comments on why others should vote for certain criteria before decisions were made. She did not allow parents to make critical comments.

Some parents found the results of the earlier teacher’s forum encouraging.

“It seems like the teachers had a good sense of what was most important,” Melinda Friedlander said.

“They’re seeing what parents are seeing,” Pam Bouffard said.

Parent reactions

Hemmelgarn said he attended the meeting to make sure there were easier transitions for students in the future.

“Flexibility is a very important piece,” Hemmelgarn said.

Shelley Forrest, a parent and a teacher in Colchester, said her top issue was a greater focus on 21st century learning. She doesn’t want to see Williston students left behind.

“You have to know how to apply the knowledge you’ve learned,” Forrest said. “You have to be able to learn how to learn.”

Early in the evening, Shelley reiterated to community members the Frameworks Committee’s suggestions would not be done in time for the next school year, but instead for the 2010-2011 school year. Originally, work on configuration was to be completed by December and presented to the School Board in early January for budget considerations. In order not too rush the process, the committee and board decided to allow work to continue into the spring.

Beth LaStrada, the mother of five children, was unhappy to hear a new configuration would have to wait a year. She wants the community to be allowed to become more involved in School Board and Frameworks Committee meetings.

“If we’re going to do this (work) this intensely and drag this out, we should involve the community in every process,” LaStrada said.

She also said she wanted more debate on specific criteria items, rather than just hearing positive comments.

“They are trying to make this as sterile as possible,” LaStrada said.

Also during the forum, parents walked around the cafeteria to different flipchart stations where the pros and cons of certain topics — including multi-age classrooms, single-grade learning and different building configurations — could be discussed. Members of the Frameworks Committee and School Board wrote down the comments in appropriate columns. The large sheets of paper would also be used in future Frameworks discussions.

While looking at different flipcharts around the room, parent Tammy Pudlo said she liked the current multi-age system and likes the discussions the Frameworks Committee has had in its work. She said she would be open to changing the structure if it’s what the majority of the community wanted, but made it clear she was happy with the current set up.

“There is something to be said about having a four-year house,” Pudlo said. “Change is a little bit hard since it’s been working so well.”

Sue Scheer, parent of a second grader, said she was initially unsure of the house structure when her daughter started the first grade. She said it was a struggle initially with her daughter transitioning from half-day kindergarten to first grade last year, but this school year is much better with the help of teachers and older students.

“I’m seeing the benefits to (the current structure),” Scheer said. “The difference between the first grade and second grade for my daughter is huge.”

The Frameworks Committee meets again on Thursday, Dec. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Another community forum is scheduled for Jan. 12.