Class structure, improved communication on agenda
By Tim Simard
The first meeting of the new Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee took place last Thursday evening at Williston Central School. The group of 20 community members, teachers, administrators, School Board members and students discussed what it hoped would be accomplished in the coming months.
Facilitated by Mary Jane Shelley of Charlotte-based TriFocal Consulting, much of the committee's work at its first meeting revolved around member introductions and setting precedents for future meetings.
The Frameworks Committee, a result of this spring's school configuration debate, will be working through December to develop a plan for the school district's future. Recommendations will be brought to the community and School Board in early January 2009.
School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth introduced Shelley and spoke to the group about what the board wants the committee to focus on – school configuration, house equity and improved communication between community and school officials.
“We have great hope and great faith in this committee,” Worth said.
Shelley spent part of the meeting discussing how she envisioned the committee work would proceed into the fall and winter. Meetings are to occur twice a month through December before recommendations are finalized.
The committee will work through five phases during the coming months; building understanding, identifying different options, narrowing down and evaluating options, developing recommendations, and refining recommendations and presentations.
Shelley asked each group member to express his or her desired outcomes of the committee. She urged members of the group to voice and listen to the wide variety of opinions that will be brought forth during the process.
“You are really empowered by the board to make some changes – some significant changes – to the school district,” Shelley said.
Common themes discussed included working to build trust between the school and community, more chances outside the house structure for interaction between students in the same grade levels, and a look at configuration options different from the current structure.
School Board and Frameworks Committee member Laura Gigliotti said trust needed to return through improved communication.
“We need trust in the whole community – between parents, administrators, the board – and see that we come together as a community,” Gigliotti said.
Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks echoed the sentiment, stating everyone in the group needed to participate together in the process.
Charlie Magill, a former member of the CVU School Board and whose children went through the school district several years ago, said he wanted the committee to look to the future and not become held up with issues in the past.
“We should be constantly looking at ways to move forward and get better and better,” Magill said.
Kevin Mara said he hoped different options outside the current house system could be seriously looked into.
“I hope this committee has the courage to find the best ways to educate our students, even if that means beyond the house system,” Mara said.
Abby Klein agreed with Mara, stating she hoped the committee would look into different configuration options within the school.
“I really want the committee to know that choice isn't a bad thing,” Klein said.
She said the current house system needs improvement in terms of equity.
“I hope we do come up with the process of not increasing equity, but creating equity,” Klein added.
Shelley said she hoped the committee would be able to address all the outcomes mentioned and she wanted to refer to them as the work continued.
Cindy O'Farrell, who is representing Families as Partners (FAP) in the group, believes the Frameworks Committee is “on the right track.” She likes the format and believes there is ample opportunity to speak up and discuss the important issues, even with differences of opinion.
“Yes, there will be differences, but hopefully we can come together and make some change,” O'Farrell said. “Something has to change. It's been like this for way too long.”
She added she likes the idea of the house system, but was open to changes and different options for configuration within the school.
Klein said after the meeting she liked the approach Shelley brought as facilitator and was hopeful the committee would move in a positive direction.
“I really get the sense from Mary Jane that she really doesn't have bias,” Klein said.
And with so many group members coming to the committee with differing viewpoints, she believes Williston residents will get recommendations that reflect the greater community viewpoints.
The previously scheduled meeting for Monday Aug. 11 has been moved to Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to avoid scheduling conflicts. Meetings will be held twice monthly on Thursdays.