At our recent school board meetings, the Board approved a budget for next year that includes some significant changes to the way our schools are organized, and we wanted to reach out and tell you more about these decisions.
The two biggest changes include moving all of the district’s 7th and 8th graders to Crossett Brook and rezoning Moretown’s 5th and 6th graders to Crossett Brook, both of which will happen next fall. This may come as a surprise to some, though others may be aware that conversations around grade configurations in the schools have been going on for years in our district.
This past fall, the Board had approved a long-term plan that included these two changes as well as the expectation that we would continue exploring the possibility of closing the Fayston School. This long-term planning effort had been spurred by the Board's recognition that rising costs, our diminishing Act 46 merger tax break, the need for major reinvestments in our buildings (that is, bonds), and declining enrollment were coming together in a perfect storm that would be financially unbearable for our communities. We came to see that if we could bring larger cohorts of students together we could actually improve programming opportunities for students.
We did not anticipate implementing the long-term plan as early as this year. Our principals had been urging us to merge the 7th and 8th grades, but the Board indicated that it wanted to wait at least another year to make this change. In late December, as we began to work with next year’s budget, we saw projected tax increases that ranged from 3.0% to 8.7% in our towns, and many of us felt this was more than our community could support. Efforts to reduce the budget showed we would have to cut programming (you may remember that 5th and 6th grade band and chorus as well as elementary world language were on the list), which we also thought our community would not support.
This caused us to return once again to consider the possibility of moving forward with parts of our long-term plan as soon as next year. The whole administrative team -- every building principal, as well as several district-wide staff members -- met to flesh out this possibility in terms of staffing, programs, and class sizes. The budget chosen by the Board allows the district to deliver the same high quality programs but with less expense by bringing more of our 5th through 8th grade middle school students together.
Planning for this transition is already under way. A Transition Leadership Team will be working to identify questions that need to be answered (for example: What happens to the bus routes? Will student teams be reorganized? How will staff be reassigned? When can students and families visit their new schools? and hundreds more). They will develop committees of staff and principals to answer these questions and share out this important information. It will be intense work, but we have confidence in the highly skilled and experienced educators who will implement this transition to best serve our students.
We know that your children also have many questions about the changes ahead. We urge you and your students to share those questions with your building principals, who will be best equipped to respond. If they don’t yet know the answers, they can let you know when we can expect the information. We also encourage you to discuss the opportunities this change will bring with your children. The more we can guide them through this change - whether it is welcome or unwanted - with a positive lens, the better we equip them to navigate future changes. As students who have spoken to the Board about this matter have reminded us in recent months, they are sometimes more flexible and resilient than adults, and we are wise to acknowledge and support their ability to successfully manage change.
For those families whose students will change schools next year, please know that more detailed information will be coming from our district leaders about school choice options for Moretown incoming 5th and 6th graders and transition plans for all of our incoming 7th and 8th graders.
We know that our students and teachers need our support throughout the months ahead. Thank you for joining us in the effort to make this a smooth and successful transition.
The HUUSD Board