Lamoille South superintendent Tracy Wrend has agreed to field questions from Stowe residents next week about what might happen if the town decides to leave the school district.
She and Lamoille South business manager Andy Lundeen will appear before the Stowe Selectboard Monday, April 12.
Wrend’s planned visit didn’t go over so well with school board members, some of whom sounded the alarm about the superintendent possibly going off-script without first consulting the board about her talking points, and some grumbling that her guest appearance takes away from her other school-related duties.
“Is it appropriate for our superintendent and business manager to go to one of our town’s select board meetings and present information that we as a board have not seen and discussed?” school board member Tiffany Donza, of Stowe, asked.
Some board members were worried she might be walking into a political arena in a town where emotions about Stowe’s place in the merged district run high. Stowe holds a special vote on Tuesday, May 11, to decide whether the town should pull out of that district.
“In an emotional and controversial issue, we should probably just make sure our ducks are in a row, and not hang our staff out to dry,” said board member Dave McAllister of Morristown.
Part of the board’s resistance to Wrend’s appearance is the time it might take her to prepare on top of her already full plate.
“It seems to me what you have is a request for a summary of the last two or three years of work that we have done in forming and running a unified union school district,” said board chair David Bickford of Morristown. “It’s so very broad. And it must require an inordinate amount of preparation at a time when we are under the governor’s expectation that we are going to be opening all of our schools to all of our students to a much higher degree than we've experienced. Plus, the day-to-day operation of the school district.”
Sometimes, even in an era where people are conducting business in virtual settings, one can feel the tension in the room.
Wrend bristled at a scuttled suggestion that the board vote to authorize her visit to Stowe — or hold a special meeting between Tuesday and next Monday to walk her through her talking points.
She talks to people all the time, she said, whether it’s to folks at Rotary, town government officials, or elsewhere around the community.
“I'm sensing a reluctance for factual information to be shared. And that is making me feel much more compelled to make sure that I get that factual information out there,” Wrend said. “I know what my role and responsibility is. I know what my areas of expertise are. I will do my homework to provide factual information. And I know my job is not to give legal advice. So, don't worry about that.”
Purportedly, Wrend has been asked to speak about the tax implications wrapped up in the upcoming vote on whether to dissolve the school district.
But Wrend said the questions she’s already received cover “a super broad scope.”
She ticked off a long list of questions she’s already been asked:
• What is the process if Stowe withdraws?
• What would the Lamoille South governance structure look like?
• How does the pupil “weighting” system work, in conjunction with a legislative report on the topic?
• How to address inequities?
• How much would it cost to separate and who would pay?
• What about AP classes, or the lack of them, at Stowe High School?
• Why is Stowe not on the U.S. News and World Report list of best high schools anymore?
• What about declining enrollment?
• What’s the long-term outlook for capital projects?
“Those questions are really big questions that are broad and have a complex set of factors that go into either providing an answer, or giving the electorate the information to weigh the possibilities through their own personal lens,” Wrend said. “Obviously, I can’t guarantee, or none of us can guarantee, the future with regard to everything. But we can lay out some factors and considerations that stakeholders could use to evaluate their beliefs about what might happen in the future, and what that means for students, schools and communities, and use that to inform whatever position they might take.”
Au revoir to French class?
Also Monday, a few Stowe High School juniors joined the meeting to bemoan the resignation of French teacher Seth Marineau, who is leaving at the end of the school year.
In an email Tuesday addressed to “chers élèves magnifiques,” or “dear magnificent students,” Marineau said the demands of the job had become unsustainable.
He said the French program at Stowe High has more students enrolled than the Spanish program, which has two full-time teachers. He said he had unsuccessfully tried to convince the administration to add an extra half-time teacher.
Eleventh-grader Sarah Evans said Marineau built the program “from the ground up” since starting with seven students in 2017, including Evans. She was hoping to take French in college and worries the program will be axed.
“I am a much better student and young adult because of him. We all care about him and we do not want to lose him. I hope you, as our school leaders, can rethink this,” Evans said.
Sophomore Astrid Young said Marineau is “absolutely beloved” by his students and their parents.
“I really, really don’t believe he would resign unless it was an absolute last resort because he wasn’t getting the support that he needed,” she said.
Ella Murphy, a high schooler who didn’t indicate what grade she’s in, said during her first day of eighth grade, as a recent transplant from Colorado, she only knew one word of French: bonjour.
She said Marineau gave her extra packets to learn and sat with her one-on-one to practice talking.
“He really outdid his position as a teacher, and I definitely think he deserves more than that,” she said.
Marineau did not respond to an email seeking comment by deadline, but on Tuesday, a group of 11 Stowe High juniors launched a petition aimed at keeping Marineau in the classroom.
The petition — online at bit.ly/3rWqOSL — had garnered more than 150 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. Attached to the petition are 4,000 words of testimonial from the students.
Wrend, anticipating discussion about Marineau, opened up Monday’s board meeting urging patience while the district figures out what to do with the French program.
“We will be following up with information over a period of days and weeks about staffing changes and our programmatic plans, as we always do,” Wrend said.