Crafts initially approached the board to discuss the length of the school year on April 3, but chair Rich Werner tabled the issue so it could be properly warned and the board could review research that Crafts had done into the matter. At that time, Werner said that the reason the school has 181 student days is that teachers said they needed more time to work with students, and that since the additional days were added, test scores have risen.
In the ensuing weeks, Crafts sent the board her research, a detailed evaluation of the top schools in the state and how their instruction hours compare to that of the Dover School. The information was accompanied by a letter in which Crafts said she feels that students need time outside of academic learning to make discoveries and develop new skills, and that the success of the Dover School is not due to student days but to the quality of its teachers.
“We have been requiring 181 days for a long time now,” said Crafts. “It is time to look again with fresh eyes at what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.”
Werner said that after reviewing Crafts’ research, he looked into the teachers’ contracts. “We’re under contract until 2019, so nothing can change until then,” said Werner. “We wouldn’t be doing our due diligence, representing the town and the voters in the district, by changing a contract midstream.”
Former school board member Victoria Capitani said she hoped the board would consider retaining 181 days. “I came here tonight to urge the board not to consider this,” said Capitani. “These days were added over a series of years and it took a long time to get up to 181 days. I ask that the board continue to offer this many days. We offer the best, we’ve never been mediocre, and I think we should continue a longer school year.”
At the time of the discussion, results were not yet in from Wardsboro, which voted Monday on whether or not to merge school districts with Dover. Werner said if Wardsboro voted yes, which it ultimately did, discussion about school days would be moot, because the new unified district’s school board will need to make new policies and procedures for the newly formed district leading up to it becoming effective in 2019.
Windham Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Anton said he has been working on the formation of a new school district through the merger between Brookline, Jamaica, Townshend, and Newfane, and the “fresh eyes” Crafts referenced in her letter is accurate.
“They’re starting from ground zero and are saying, ‘We have an opportunity to start something from a fresh perspective,’” said Anton. “I think the research that is done here allows for a really informed conversation. Whatever path goes forward, you’ve set this community up for a successful conversation.”
Werner thanked both Crafts and Capitani for their input, which Anton echoed. “We need all these perspectives because as we create where we’re going, we need to constantly be looking at these things,” said Anton.
“And we can’t just rest on our laurels either,” said Werner. “If we don’t constantly look at things, we’ll miss something.”
Tripp Morse suggested that the board look into how other countries handle school scheduling, noting that it’s his impression that the Scandinavian community excels in K-6 education. “I think it might behoove us to look at how other international educational systems work,” said Morse, “and to potentially look outside the box and bring some of those thoughts and ideas of how they educate their kids into our system.”
Werner said he would retain Crafts’ research for future contract discussions, and the board was receptive to Morse’s suggestion as well.
In other news, a modular unit behind the school, which was purchased in the early 1990s as additional instruction space but has been being used as storage for many years, is having some structural difficulty.
“I’ve gotten a report from the custodians that the building is shifting and is leaking water badly,” said Martyn. “At the moment they’re not letting anybody go in. They don’t feel like it’s safe, and the exterior doors don’t open because the weight has shifted.”
Werner said “it should just go away,” and although the board has never wanted to put money into the unit, that they may need to consider doing so now by paying to discard it. Werner said that the unit was almost sold in the past but ultimately wasn’t. Anton, who before becoming superintendent was principal at the Dover School, said he tried to give the unit away at one point. “We couldn’t find anybody to take it,” said Anton.
Werner asked Martyn to put the word out that the modular unit is available for free if anyone would like it.