The Montpelier Roxbury School Board planned to focus on board training in governance and an update from the mission and vision committee at its Nov. 16 meeting, but the agenda was overshadowed by the abrupt resignation of board member Amanda Garces. Garces, a Montpelier representative and founder of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equality in Schools, had been a member since January 2021.
Vice Chairperson Mia Moore began the meeting with a lengthy acknowledgment of the work Garces has accomplished as a board member. According to Moore, Garces was instrumental in the establishment of the board’s equity committee and climate survey.
Garces “spearheaded the work to establish the equity tool that the board can be using as a framework for making decisions. … She asked important and critical questions about how equity shows up or doesn’t in our students’ education and in our board practices. Our board, just like every other institution in this country, operates with norms that are rooted in white-dominant culture … and it’s just really hard work to confront those norms. … I also want to appreciate her noting that tension and disagreements are very normal aspects of process and progress,” Moore said.
Board member Emma Bay-Hanson said Garces “was a tireless voice for equity and inclusion, and that will be sorely missed.”
Early in her tenure, Garces publicly expressed feelings of tension and friction when communicating with some board members and with Superintendent Libby Bonesteel. Most recently Garces disagreed with the public input process for the Montpelier High School track renovation proposal. She also expressed concern that without bussing, students from Roxbury would be unable to access extracurricular track offerings. Garces did approve the final track renovation project with the rest of the board on Nov. 2 .
Murphy announced a resignation on Front Porch Forum, on Nov. 11, without naming Garces. The board seeks an appointee to fill the position until Town Meeting Day in March 2023. At that time an elected person will fill the remainder of the term until March 2024, with the option to run for an open 3-year term. Letters of interest should be sent to Murphy by Dec. 5, 2022 at email@example.com.
Bay-Hansen asked the board to consider how to expand the diversity of people who run for the board. She suggested providing support to make it easier for parents to attend might help. Bay-Hansen and Moore will work on a proposal for this, which will not include the administration for implementation.
The equity committee proposed that a firm be hired to conduct a district-wide audit to examine strengths and gaps in equitable education, using federal “ESSER” funds. The committee did not receive the Vermont School Board Association grant to develop a definition of equity for the district. Student representatives Zach Henningsen and Merrick Modun proposed revisions to the diversity, equity, and inclusion policy with an emphasis on curriculum and equity.
Phil Gore, of the Vermont School Board Association, guided the board in a brief process to define “good board governance.” He encouraged school board members to create a common vision, driven by a “shared moral imperative.” This vision should be shared by administrators, teachers, and the community, and would lead the school district to function as a cohesive, unified team, he said.
Nathan Suter, of BUILD Strategies Consulting, who led the process for the district’s visioning committee, presented portions of a draft report and vision statements. Suter summarized discussions about community engagement, accountability/transparency, student choice, and culture. The members present requested the dissemination of the vision statement and the committee’s report at a time to be determined.