BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union school board discussed issues including the appointment of a new representative from Woodford at its Wednesday night meeting.
The board appointed Steven Yarnell as the board's representative from Woodford, a position that had been vacant since the March elections, when no one announced an intention to run and no write-in candidates received the required number of votes. Yarnell will serve until next March, when he will have the opportunity to seek re-election.
The board also heard a report on the Common Core from Mount Anthony Union Middle School principal Tim Payne and Mount Anthony Union High School principal Sue Maguire. Payne explained the history of the program, and attempted to debunk some common misconceptions. "The concern was that the students were arriving in college unable to stay in the math or science fields, or unable to read at the level the college required," said Payne.
The result, he said, was a movement toward a set of voluntary national standards, that showed what a student should know at the end of each grade level. "The common core are national standards," said Payne, "not a national curriculum."
The standards were launched in 2009 by the leaders of 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia. Since that time, four states have pulled out of the program, and several others, including New York, are considering doing so. Payne felt that many pulled out because they didn't fully understand the implications of the program. "Some states feel that this is a mandate from the federal government, which it is clearly not," he said, "But that's the discussion."
Shaftsbury representative David Durfee asked if following Common Core standards means more "teaching to the test." Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Catherine McClure said that the students would be tested to make sure they were meeting the standards, but that by creating a curriculum that improved students' reasoning and deductive skills, teachers would be able to move away from the stereotypical system in which students are fed information and then must regurgitate that information on a test.
Board member Ed Letourneau expressed concern over the Common Core's focus on English classes teaching students English-based skills, and taking the focus away from reading literature. McClure explained that the goal was to give students the tools to analyze text, including non-fiction, rather than focusing on the books themselves. "So what you're telling me," said Letourneau, "Is that we're turning our kids into robots?" Chairman Tim Holbrook cut the discussion short at this point, thanking Payne and Maguire for their presentation and saying that there would be time to debate the Common Core at another time.
Maguire also asked the board to approve a job description for an academic mentor position. The position already exists at both the high school and middle school, and reports to the building principal. The job of the mentor is to "assist a wide range of students in academic areas while developing a mentoring relationship that will guide them to make choices that will allow them to be successful in school."
One parent expressed concern about one of the listed duties and responsibilities for the position, that they shall, "determine the social skills needs of each student." She felt that the mentor would not have the proper training to do that, as social certification was not included in the list of requirements for the job. Maguire assured her, as the one conducting the interviews, she would make the determination as to whether or not the candidates were qualified.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB