Parents react to school administration decision about changes in house structure

Summit House students will move to other houses


The Williston School District administration made its pitch for new house structures to the Williston School Board and a large group of parents during last Wednesday’s board meeting.
Close to 40 parents attended the April 9 meeting. District Principal Walter Nardelli gave detailed descriptions of the changes parents and students should expect for the next school year. Significant changes will include the formation of a separate administration for lower houses at Williston Central School and more integrated grade level learning across houses, especially for fifth graders (see adjoining story regarding the upper houses).
“There’s a lot of logistics to meet the needs of students and families,” Nardelli said at the meeting. “We’re hoping there’s enough balance.”
Nardelli agreed everyone would not be pleased with the changes taking place, but his goal was to reach a favorable consensus of at least 75 percent of parents, faculty and students. National education consultant Raymond McNulty, a former Vermont education commissioner, delivered free advice on how to proceed with changes, Nardelli said.
“Ray believes we have an excellent (educational) model,” he said. “He understands there are weaknesses and he said our goal should be in addressing those weaknesses rather than create a completely new model.”

Lower house concerns
Some parents voiced concern over the changes, especially those with students in Allen Brook School’s Summit House, which will be dissolved at the end of the current school year. Two teachers will move to Williston Central School while two who had one-year positions will not have their contracts renewed. Nardelli said Summit House would be cut because of the one-year contracts.
Summit House students will move with friends to different houses, in an attempt to ease the transition.
“Summit comes first right now,” Nardelli said “We’ll take care of them first, then everyone else.”
Parent Christina Mead expressed frustration that parents were not involved in the reconfiguration process.
“I’m disappointed on how it was handled,” she said. “I would have liked to have been asked to be part of the discussion. A lot of (Summit House parents) would have loved to have been included.”
Cindy O’Farrell, parent of a Summit House student, thinks there may have been easier ways to accomplish their goals.
“The two (elementary) schools idea is a little wacky to me,” she said. “I think it would work more efficiently and least expensively if they were to have everything all under one roof.”
Part of the administration’s plan would move all kindergarten classes to Allen Brook School and move some lower house students to Williston Central School.
A subcommittee of the district’s Program Council, a group of faculty and staff, decided upon the configuration. Mead said Summit House has been dealing with changes and transitions for a few years. Teachers Laura Lewis and Cara Crowther, who have the one-year contracts, were brought in to replace teachers who left on extended leave or switched to a different house, she said.
Mead said she hopes the administration will support parents and children as they decide where students will go. She said her daughter would have to choose which friends to pair up with before the end of the year.
“She’s a little anxious, and maybe even a little concerned,” Mead said.
O’Farrell, who has a child in Summit House, thinks the added transitions will be hard for all students in the house, but understands the small steps the administration is making.
“They’ve done a lot of work in a short amount of time,” O’Farrell said. “After hearing the specifics, I think to make a major change right in the beginning would be foolhardy.”