This past week has been a really difficult one for my small town of Middlebury, Vermont. My heart goes out to all of my friends at Middlebury College as they grapple with a complex and hurtful situation. I know that what they are dealing with has far greater implications than what I’ve been working on this week.
I also believe that the arc of local democracy is important. I’ve been deeply engaged with civic affairs for a good portion of my time here, so the local government events in our town this week mattered to me deeply. I started this blog to find “moments of meaning in small town Vermont.” For me, this week has had many of those moments. I write about a few below. Thank you for reading.
This week was Town Meeting Day in Vermont, with the weeks leading up to it filled with local campaigns, budget hearings, candidate and resolution petitions, and lots of local government meetings. I know it sounds mundane to many, but I love this time of year. It’s pure democracy in action, and those who show up get to decide.
On Monday night I presented our new school district’s budget at our Town Meeting. Born out of my time as a school finance analyst for the Wisconsin legislature, I LOVE to make budget presentations to a crowd. I’m eager to explain formulas and answer tough questions, always searching for both clarity and diplomacy. The syrup on the evening’s waffle was a tweet by a friend who called me our town’s Leslie Knope. In my book, there is almost no higher compliment.
The day before, was the final annual meeting of our old school district, the one I’ve chaired for the past four years. We had cake (not waffles). I talked a bit about the history of the Middlebury ID#4 Prudential Committee, recent people important to the District, our transition to a new governance structure, and the Board’s role in nurturing women’s civic leadership in our town.
During my time as Chair, the Board has accomplished a lot, including promotion of principal, construction of a playground, creation of a Spanish language program, improvements to science education, and expansion of student support services and intervention programs. We’ve also worked with our neighboring boards to hire a new superintendent, create and implement a strategic plan, and completely remake our local school governance model. And this doesn’t even include all of the “regular” stuff we did related to personnel, student discipline, community outreach, budget preparation, and policy development.
Yes, there have been challenging times, some of which I’ve written about on this blog. We’ve had to deal with navigating our role in a controversial town project, a petition to change our annual meeting time, and resistance to some of our proposals. But, we’ve weathered the storm as a smart, deliberative, supportive board, and I’m proud of that.
The ID#4 District coming to an end was sad. It’s meant a lot to me, and many others, over the years. As I talked at the annual meeting, I had to work really hard not to cry.
And, I was also happy. I played a significant role in delivering my school district to its closure because I knew it was the right thing to do for education in our community. I’m sad the school district I’ve loved, nurtured, and led for much of my time here is closing, and I’m happy a new district for which I agonized, advocated, and analyzed is beginning.
After reading my comments in a newspaper article in which I expressed my bittersweet feelings, a friend reminded me, ” Things can be more than one thing at once, and so few people know how to grapple with that. It is the right thing, and it is a sad loss.”
Endings can also be beginnings, closings can be openings. As we move forward with a unified school district, there will almost certainly be more endings. I hope my new school board colleagues recognize that this can be the right thing, even if it is also a sad loss. A transition or event can be complex, and more than “one thing” at the same time. It’s how we grapple with it that matters.
This final school district meeting, at which we ate cake, was satisfying closure for me. I like closure, although it’s an elusive goal. I’ll take it when I can. I’ll have my cake and eat it too.
If you care to, you can read below my remarks at the final annual meeting of the ID#4 School District in Middlebury, Vermont. And, you can watch the meeting here. Thanks to our moderator, Jim Douglas, for giving me the honor of making the motion to close the final meeting of the District. It’s now one for the history books.
Good afternoon and thank you for being here. My name is Ruth Hardy, and I am the Chair of the Middlebury ID#4 Prudential Committee, the Mary Hogan School Board.
This is the final annual meeting of the Middlebury ID#4 School District. One hundred fifty-one years* after its establishment under Act 89 of the laws of 1866, what is now commonly known as the Mary Hogan School District, has merged with the six other elementary and one secondary school district in the Addison Central Supervisory Union. The ID#4 Board and District will cease to exist after December 31, 2017.
While members of this Board and the Middlebury community were overwhelmingly supportive of the merger approved in March 2016, it is not without sadness that we bid farewell to a Middlebury institution that has served the children, families, and citizens of Middlebury so well for over one-and-a-half centuries.
As the final members of the Middlebury ID#4 Prudential Committee, we are honored to share in the rich history of civic engagement, educational leadership, and community enrichment that has been a hallmark of this Board and School District.
While the District’s history has not been without challenges, brought on by the evolution of town demographics, education policy, and financial realities, we are proud to be a part of a body that has always endeavored to do right by the students and community members of Middlebury.
Like all institutions and leaders, the ID#4 Board did not do its work alone. The board has been fortunate to have the guidance of several strong principals and superintendents over the years, including our current principal Tom Buzzell and recent past principal Bonnie Bourne, and current superintendent Peter Burrows.
The board has also had the incredible honor of working with a talented and dedicated group of teaching professionals at the Mary Hogan School. Our teachers are second to none, and their overall professionalism and dedication to our students has made our job easier. We’ve also had great support from staff and parents, and, in particular, one staff/parent who has been involved with our school for nearly 40 years – Mary Longey.
Mary retired last year, after serving our school as a parent volunteer, founder/leader of the Middlebury Elementary School Association (MESA) – the parent organization at Mary Hogan School, and then as the school manager for 34 years. Mary organized ID#4 meetings, took minutes at every annual meeting (except this one!) since the early 1980s, and kept our school running smoothly. Thank you, Mary!
The ID#4 Board has also had the great privilege of having the support of our community. We don’t often have crowds of people at our meetings, and in large part, I think that’s because our voters trust our work and judgement. And, it’s also because we are fortunate to have the skill and dedication of MCTV’s services at each of our meetings. No matter how mundane our discussion, heated our debate, or silly our comments, MCTV has captured them all on camera for our community to watch.
The man behind the camera for most of the past 25 years has been Dick Thodal. Dick has been at almost every meeting of the ID#4, UD#3, and ASCU boards over the last 2 ½ decades (and that’s A LOT of meetings!). Dick is professional and knowledgeable and gracious and patient, so very patient. Our Board and community owe Dick an enormous amount of gratitude for his work to support public education, local government, and to nurture democracy through an engaged and informed citizenry, and an honest and transparent local government. Thank you, Dick!
Finally, as the last chair of the ID#4 Board, I am particularly grateful for the role this board has played in supporting and promoting women’s civic leadership over the past several decades. During a period when our Town’s other public boards have not embraced women’s leadership, this board has been led by a woman more often than not over the past 35 years.
Several of these women have served as role models and mentors to me. I served under two chairs – Lucy Schumer and Karen Lefkoe. Lucy’s leadership modeled the importance of hard work, good listening and collaboration, and Karen’s leadership was gracious and good-hearted, yet probing when appropriate. I am grateful to both of them for their service and leadership.
Finally, the woman who led the ID#4 Board longer than any other is Carol Eckles. She was chair throughout most of the 1980s-90s, and school district moderator until last year. She has been a teacher, school principal, professor of education, and is the mother of five children. When it comes to kids and education in Vermont, Carol has seen almost everything.
Early in my time as a school board member, she reached out to me to talk about the importance of our District’s history and culture. Despite her experience as a school administrator, or perhaps because of it, she emphasized that the Board is here to serve the community, not the administrators. She underscored that as chair, sometimes you have to make tough decisions and stand up for what is right for the school district, regardless of outside pressures.
Carol embodies a quality that is more important for women leaders today than ever – persistence. Since my first cup of coffee with Carol at Rosie’s Diner nearly seven years ago, she has been my school board mentor and role model. My grit is in part, born out of hers. Thank you Carol, for helping clear a path for strong women’s leadership in Middlebury!
The ID#4 Board is excited for the opportunities that the new merged Addison Central School District can bring, and eager to work with our neighbors in Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham, and Weybridge. Yet, we will always have a fondness for our singular role as school board members for the Mary Hogan School and Middlebury children.
Thank you for the many years of support of this board, school, and community. We are honored to have had your trust with our town’s most important resource – our school children.
* The ID#4 School District may in fact be older than 151 years. After my remarks, local historian, Jim Douglas, did some homework and discovered this document apparently in the archives of the New York Public Library. It’s the law from 1866 that I thought had created the district, but in fact appears to have expanded its powers. In any case, ID#4 has been around for a long time.