WOODFORD >> The Woodford School Board met for the first time of the 2016-2017 school year on Wednesday and discussed the short and long-term future of the school.
Classes will begin on Monday Aug. 29, and the school will host its annual first day barbecue that evening, at 5 p.m. The board met in the school's upstairs classroom, as the downstairs classroom where they usually meet just got a fresh coat of paint, and will have a new floor installed tomorrow, according to principal Sandy Foster.
"It's always nice to get together with our families," said Foster on the barbecue.
Foster and teacher Melissa Chancey explained a new writing program that the school is introducing this year, in which students will write three different essays, based on prompts, throughout the year. The essays will focus on three different types of writing: narrative, opinion, and informative. The prompts will be based on the same theme, and will build on the skills learned in previous grades. Chancey said the essays will be am important benchmark of students' writing abilities. "We'll have an across-the-district feel of how our kids are writing," she said.
Foster was also excited about the installation of new equipment that will allow students to interact with classes in other schools. The technology was paid for by US Department of Agriculture's distance learning grant, which the school received in 2015. The grant covers equipment, installation, and training for teachers on how to use the new equipment.
The new equipment, according to Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union technology director Frank Barnes, consists of standalone technology carts that will allow students to individually interact with classes at other partner schools, colleges and universities, and museums. "If a student wanted to take a course in meteorology at Lyndon State, they could do that," he said.
"This is more advanced than Skype or WebX," he continued, "This allows everyone involved to interact with each other. This would allow us to expand that and have one in every building. This could put us into a lecture at the Smithsonian, or any major museum, talk to people at NASA, things like that, which help kids to understand that their thoughts, and their learning, have relevance in the real world."
Foster said that Barnes hoped to have the technology installed by October.
Finally, the board discussed the status of the SU's talks on Act 46. Board member Dick Frantz, who represents Woodford on the SU's study committee, said that he feels the best way to protect Woodford's school would be to join a larger structure, similar to the Mount Anthony Union District. However, he said, he would request assurances that the new district would not be able to close Woodford Elementary.
"I've always believed that a wide variety of schools is good," said Bill Botzow, who represents Pownal and Woodford in the Vermont House of Representatives, "When everybody is the same, they all become very average. There isn't an opportunity to excel."
"Woodford can serve as an incubator for different ideas," said Frantz, "You can do that more easily on a small scale than they can in a school like Bennington."
Superintendent Jim Culkeen suggested that there could be other benefits for Woodford, should the districts of the SVSU merge. "There are people on the border who might want to come in this direction," he said, "but without Act 46, I can't do that."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.