For the first time since local school districts merged to create the regional Champlain Valley School District in 2017, a Williston representative will chair the school board.
A majority of board members voted for Angela Arsenault last week to lead the board. Chairs are chosen annually after Town Meeting Day.
Arsenault answered the following questions from the Observer about the board’s work in the upcoming year.
Q: How long have you been on the board and what is the role of the chair? Why were you interested in taking on that responsibility?
A: I’m entering my third year on the board.
The chair works with the superintendent to develop a framework for the board workplan, which is then fleshed out with the full board. She also facilitates board meetings and spearheads effective communication between board members and the administration, as well as fostering an inclusive, co-creative spirit among board members.
I’m particularly interested in continuing board education around equity and anti-racism. I’m excited to bring to the board everything I’ve learned and will learn through my involvement with an incredible group called the Education Justice Coalition of Vermont. I look forward to facilitating meetings where lively discussion is encouraged and space is made for all voices to be heard.
I also aim to build a dynamic workplan that is proactive, but leaves room for us to be a responsive board with an eye toward more student and community input.
Q: Does the board have a plan for using the federal pandemic relief funds expected to come out of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act?
A: The board plan for the relief funds will be to rely on the expertise of our district administrators to allocate the funds we receive in the way that best serves all students. As an oversight body, the board will ask questions and follow up when we understand how the monies are to be spent.
Q: Will the vaccination of teachers, starting this week, help the district re-open school buildings full time before the end of the school year?
A: The vaccination of school staff is very exciting! I’m thrilled about this as a parent in our district because I know it’s bringing a sense of relief to many people who’ve worked tirelessly for our students throughout the pandemic.
That said, the decision to increase in-person instruction is a multi-faceted one and ultimately rests in the hands of our superintendent, Elaine Pinckney. She will continue to work with principals to try to find a safe way to bring our seventh- and eighth-graders back for more in-person learning, while adhering to Department of Health and Agency of Education guidance.
Q: How has the district made progress toward racial equity with the implementation of the new equity policy and potential hiring of an equity director and how will that work continue?
A: The board will hear from CVSD’s co-lead Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) coaches next week (March 16). They’ve been working with additional DEI coaches in each school building this year and will share with us an overview of their initiatives to date.
The adoption of an equity policy is an important step, but even more important will be the subsequent system-wide review of practices and honest discussions about what’s missing. How are we meeting the tenets of this policy and where are we coming up short? And then, of course, what do we do about it?
Hiring a Director of DEI is also a wonderful and necessary step, and I hope our entire school community will welcome this person into the district and support her or him in what is sure to be a challenging role.
No single person or position or policy can repair the harm that is caused by racism and inequity. I’ve heard it said recently that schools are very good at replicating a culture. If we truly want to see progress within our district, we all need to be making progress outside of the school system, as well.
Q: With the school resource officer position not being renewed, what will be the district’s strategy for school safety?
A: The district’s strategy for school safety will include contracted threat-assessment professionals, as well as a closer collaboration with the Hinesburg Police Department. It’s worth noting that one of the most effective school safety measures is to create an environment in which students feel connected, or like they’re part of a community, and this has been a focus of our educators all along. That doesn’t change with the removal of an SRO.
Q: Is there anything else Williston residents should know about the work of the school board.
A: We welcome student and community input. Though we can’t always provide immediate answers, we are open to listening and understanding community concerns. We also love to hear about what brings you joy in our schools!
We’ll be discussing ways to foster more meaningful board/stakeholder interactions at our next meeting (March 16). Let us know if you have any ideas. And if you can’t make it to a board meeting, you can reach out via email: CVSDSchoolBoard@cvsdvt.org.