Although the new middle/high school building is still scheduled to be turned over to the district on August 25, as planned, board members yielded to the pleas of new high school principal Tom Fitzgerald and new vice principal Leanne Monroe for more time for staff training and planning time before students start filling the classrooms. “My concern is not about when they’re turning over the building, but more about the time between when the building gets turned over and we have kids in the building,” he said. “I have some concerns about being able to address instruction for the students.”
School was scheduled to start on August 28 (and that’s still the start date for Twin Valley Elementary students), but Fitzgerald said the two-and-a-half days between the hand-over and the first day of school wouldn’t be enough for teachers to move into their new rooms, for the orientation of new teachers and para educators, and for the new administration to set expectations for staff. “There’s the saying you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” said Fitzgerald. “Well, that holds true for Leanne and me. There are people that will walk through that front door who I don’t recognize.”
There will be 13 new staff members at the school, including five new teachers, Fitzgerald told board members. And he and Monroe haven’t had an opportunity to meet with many of the teaching staff yet. “I’ve met with some of the teacher leaders,” he said, “and they’re very concerned about us getting off on the right foot. They’re hungry for some leadership, and asking us to be that leadership. We need the time to set expectations, to build relationships with the staff, to tell them what they can expect for discipline support and what I expect to see in the classroom.
Fitzgerald said there was also “angst” from some people about having sixth-grade students joining high school students in the same building. “With the school starting on the 25th, we won’t have time for a sixth-grade orientation.”
Board members appeared hesitant to grant Fitzgerald’s request at first. “Nothing here is new information,” said Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd. “This building (Twin Valley Elementary School) went under the same transition last year, and the administration and staff came together to make it happen.”
Fitzgerald pointed out that TVES Principal Rebecca Fillion had experience with the staff at the school and had built a level of trust with them and the incoming staff from Whitingham before the transition.
Board member Aimee Reed asked if Fitzgerald had a plan for making up the three days of instruction. He said he would ask for input from teachers, but suggested holding make-up days on a holiday such as Martin Luther King Day. “Or maybe this year we won’t have six snow days,” he said.
But board members and former principals Kathy Larsen and John Doty said they supported Fitzgerald’s request. “I don’t think this is anything we could have foreseen two years ago when we set this schedule,” said Doty, referring to the turnover in administration and staff. “The fact that it’s going to be turned over to us on the 25th is something we’ve known for a long time, and under other circumstances that might be okay. But it’s not Tom’s (Fitzgerald) fault that we picked that date two years ago. There’s no culture there, it has to be built by the administration, and the faculty has to have some insight into where the administration is going to lead them and how things are going to be done, because they’re the ones that are going to have to answer the questions kids ask.”
Doty’s remarks appeared to help turn the tide of opposition. “When you put it that way, it’s not the building that’s the issue, it’s the staffing.”
“We just see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we want it. Now!” said Reed. “Three days may not seem like a lot.”
“I say we give Tom (Fitzgerald) the three days,” said board member Dennis Richter.
Board members voted to extend students’ summer vacation until September 3. Students attending the career center in Brattleboro, however, will still start school as originally scheduled on August 28. An orientation for sixth-grade students will take place on Tuesday, September 2, from 3 to 5 pm.
In other matters, the board approved the hire of Chris Richter, a Wilmington High School graduate, as a 0.7 FTE business teacher. Board member Dennis Richter abstained from voting on his brother’s appointment.