Schools to tackle equity issues (7/23/09)

Board’s decision marks end for Frameworks Committee

July 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston School District administrators will pick up where the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee left off this past spring. Administrators have already begun working on how to best create and maintain equity within the district’s house system.

House equity was one of three issues the Frameworks Committee, a group of parents, teachers, students and community members, was asked to research beginning last year.

In a special School Board meeting on July 7, board members voted to let the administration handle the equity issue rather than bring the Frameworks Committee back in the fall. The board’s decision effectively puts an end to the committee, which began its work on school communication and configuration last July.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said it “made sense” to turn the equity piece over to the school administration.

“The timing is right,” Worth said. “They see these issues every day.”

While the Frameworks Committee met frequently on communication and configuration, the issue of house equity intertwined frequently in the group’s conversations. Through detailed notes and minutes from the committee’s meetings, administrators have picked out equity issues to address this fall, according to District Principal Walter Nardelli.

“The committee has already done a nice job on some of these issues,” Nardelli said.

Some concerns of equity brought up by the committee included perceived inequalities in core curriculum between houses, Nardelli said. Issues also ranged from class sizes and gender balances to the number and type of field trips in houses.

Nardelli said public input would be crucial to the administration’s work in the coming months. He said there would be opportunities, starting in September, for parents and teachers to weigh in on equity via the school’s Web site, He said he wants the public to help determine the administration’s goals.

“We’re asking, ‘How best do you see us meeting these goals?’” Nardelli said.

The administration has a deadline of late December to present the changes it wants to see for house equity to the School Board.

“If there’s some budgetary issues, it has to be done by December,” Worth explained.

Another reason the board asked the administration to look at the equity issue dealt with “fiscal responsibility,” according to Worth. She said she’d heard from community members that taxpayers should no longer fund the cost of the Frameworks Committee now that configuration has been decided.

Since last July, the district paid $42,855 to Frameworks Committee facilitator Mary Jane Shelley’s business, TriFocal Consulting, said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Shelley’s work with Williston might not be finished. Worth said she could be utilized in an advisory role as the administration works on the equity piece. Shelley had no comment to the Observer about the committee’s work over the past year or on the board’s decision. She did say she “absolutely loved working with the committee and the board.”

Worth was quick to heap praise on the committee and its members for their hard work and the amount of time they volunteered.

“We would not be where we are now without their efforts,” Worth said.

During nearly 12 months of meetings and forums, the Frameworks Committee devised recommendations on how best to improve school communication and structure. The committee was also asked to recommend changes for improved school equity. The group planned to visit the issue this spring, but the configuration debate took longer than anticipated.

In the end, the committee recommended several changes to improve communication and highlighted different configurations for the school district. Ultimately, the School Board chose to pursue so-called Option A — a configuration the committee looked at only briefly because it had been considered unfeasible earlier this year.

Option A places pre-kindergarten through second grade students at Allen Brook School and third through eighth grade students at Williston Central School.