Classes this fall in the Lamoille South school district may be a hybrid — both traditional in-building teaching and remote education.
But the remote portion will be more finely tuned than the impromptu system that was made necessary by the COVID-19 crisis.
Superintendent Tracy Wrend told the school board Monday that expectations for students need to be broader than the remote learning that has happened over the past two and a half months. For instance, would art students have their own supply kits if they can’t dip into the communal paint supply at the school? How many copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” should be made available?
Personal protective equipment has become a commonplace term in the past few months, typically in cases where the supply of things like masks, face shields, rubber gloves, hand sanitizer and the like has been inadequate. And that won’t change in the fall.
Wrend said plans are needed for the types of equipment students and school employees will need in the next school year. She said, for instance, a school nurse’s needs are different from a classroom teacher’s, which is different from the front-window receptionist.
“We don’t want to compete for materials,” she said.
The school board met remotely Monday, after the logistical nightmare at the previous meeting.
Then, board members and central office staff all sat around a table in the Morristown Elementary School library, voices muffled through face masks. Nearly 100 people attended via Zoom, most of them with choice words for Wrend’s decision to go to a pass-fail grading system.
The board ordered that students be allowed to choose between regular grades and the new system, after members insisted the board have a say in how grading is done.
Stowe board member Tiffany Donza continued her criticism Monday of the grading changes, and said she thinks the problem stems from the “yearlong arc” that proficiency-based learning requires — yearlong and second-semester classes would not be graded in the pass-fail option.
Proficiency-based learning is the new system that is less a grading system and more a measure of individual student progress. Detractors think regular point-in-time grading is better for students who want to get into good colleges, and Donza said Lamoille South has implemented the system more liberally than other Vermont school districts. She said she is not “comfortable with the yearlong arc,” and she thinks the board “needs to give oversight, not (a) rubber stamp.”
Board members scolded
At the end of Monday’s meeting, board chairman David Bickford excoriated his fellow board members for “behavior undermining the district,” following revelations that some board members had been emailing each other and attacking Wrend for the grading changes.
“Frankly, I’m upset at what’s being said,” Bickford said, and he would prefer to step down as chair if the chatter outside the board meetings continued.
Donza and Erica Loomis — both of whom voted against renewing Wrend’s contract — defended their correspondence, as did newcomer Dick Shanley of Morristown.
Donza said she was “elected to do a certain job” and she wasn’t going to “sit back and do it quietly.”
Shanley referred to “a puppet situation” in the board’s relationship with Wrend. He said he has a military background and the “only ones who can tell me what to do” are superior officers.
Stowe board member Erica Loomis said she doesn’t think Wrend is honest and doesn’t answer her questions in a timely manner.
“There is a lack of respect for the board, and you have to earn my respect,” Loomis said.
Bickford said news stories, like last week’s piece detailing the numerous splinter conversations between board members like Donza and Loomis, might hurt the district’s ability to recruit new teachers or staff.
“The district’s reputation is being assailed and sullied,” Bickford said. “This conflict sucks the oxygen out of the air.”