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School Board Ponders How to Respond to Parent Concerns

photo of brick school building taken from a hill above the school.
Union Elementary School. Photo by Carla Occaso.
For the second Montpelier Roxbury Public School Board meeting in a row, concern about Union Elementary School was presented by a parent during a board meeting. The board’s response to those public comments, and policy work, were central in this week’s meeting.

Two weeks ago the equity and effectiveness of reading instruction at UES was raised. This week the concern was students in crisis. Ben Maniscalco, UES parent, asked the board “Is there a consistent protocol in place from administration to keep teachers and students safe in extremely tense and emotionally heightened situations? One student in crisis should not hold the entire wing of the elementary school hostage for 45 minutes to an hour with qualified licensed personnel watching them. It just really doesn’t make sense to me.” 

Chair Jim Murphy thanked Maniscalco for his comment, but board member Emma Bay-Hansen asked how the board and administration should respond to public concerns like the one raised by Maniscalco without violating privacy? 

“Accountability for me is a big thing,” said Bay-Hanson. “… When community members come to us with concerns I’m not always seeing good follow-through … I don’t know what the accountability piece is on the other end to to circle back to those folks and make sure their concerns are being followed up on and the progress has been made. … Who’s going to connect them to the proper channels?… I still think that people should feel heard and understood and then reacted to on some level. You know there should be some responsiveness.” Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said “(It’s) an area of conflict for me. … when people are writing the school board directly and I’m not part of those conversations.” 

The board also reviewed policies. Nathan Suter, the district’s visioning process consultant, stated that the new policies that had a fifth reading during this meeting — board meetings A20, public participation in board meetings A21, community engagement and vision A23, and board/superintendent relations A24 — “build a communication loop” between the administrative team, the board, and the community about priorities and timelines and will clarify accountability. Those policies are available on the district’s website.

Suter led an activity to determine board priorities based on the district-wide visioning process.The board developed focus areas for overseeing the school district’s work. Bonesteel noted that in terms of low student performance “We know what our gaps are. It’s economic status and students with special needs.” Each focus area’s activities will be viewed and expanded through the lens of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, Suter said. The three areas are academic achievement; belonging, safety, and wellness; and connection with community and accountability.

The board meets next on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Montpelier High School or on Zoom. Agenda and login info can be found here