TACONIC & GREEN School district welcomes 100 to first annual meeting

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LONDONDERRY — The Taconic & Green Regional School District was hoping for decent turnout and a healthy discussion of the issues on voters' minds for its first annual district meeting. It got both.

About 100 residents attended the inaugural meeting, held Tuesday at the Flood Brook School in Londonderry, as the district discussed but did not vote on its $31.9 million budget, and Burr and Burton Academy's proposed tuition for the 2018-19 school year.

Voters also heard from BRSU Superintendent Jacquelyne Wilson, who discussed the new district's progress in adopting proficiency-based learning standards.

Wilson prefaced her report by announcing that the secretary of state had certified the results of the reconsideration vote in Rupert that reaffirmed the Act 46 merger between the Rupert, Pawlet and Mettawee Community School districts to form the Mettawee School District. The new district will operate as a "side by side" district along with the T&G within the BRSU.

An organizational meeting for the new Mettawee district will be held in the next 30 days, Wilson said.

Wilson said the district has been focusing on implementing PBIS — short for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports — to improve classroom management and to "make a significant difference on our kids' ability to be available to learn and build a really strong community."

The biggest initiative in the district is proficiency-based learning, which bases assessment on students taking ownership of their learning and advance upon demonstrating proficiency in a given subject area or skill. Statewide focus on that paradigm has followed the passage of Act 77, which mandated personalized learning programs for students.

"Many school systems are still stuck in that industrial model of how we educate kids. We're not preparing kids for industry anymore," Wilson said.

With proficiency-based learning, "We're really focusing on what do we need to do so that our kids are creative problem solvers, they're self-directed, they're strong communicators and they can innovate and re-invent themselves," she said.

District parent Heidie Vazquez-Garcia asked Wilson if the district plans to advocate for safety in schools as a board. "We haven't had the chance to have that conversation," Wilson replied, saying the board's next regular meeting will likely touch on that topic.

On the Burr and Burton Academy tuition question, BBA headmaster Mark Tashjian said the school's proposed "sending town" tuition of $17,065 marked an increase of 2.2 percent, below the state average increase of 3.2 percent. "We want to make sure we can be affordable to sending towns," he said.

The BBA tuition rate paid by the district is among the items being voted on by Australian ballot across the district on Tuesday, along with the budget, the election of a new representative from Sunderland and the establishment of a building and grounds reserve fund from the districts that are forming the T&G.

Marguerite Mason of Weston said BBA's tuition had risen significantly since 2011 and asserted the cost had been driven up by the "bells and whistles" available to students at the Manchester school. (According to Journal records, BBA's sending town tuition in 2011 was $14,100.)

"What we try to be is a school that serves a tremendous range of students. There's no question that if we focused on reading, writing and arithmetic and simplify, simplify, simplify, we could be cheaper. I would argue strenuously that we would not be better," Tashjian replied. "In this day and age I'm not sure that's what kids need. I'm not going to back down from our extraordinary ambition."

Chuck Sweetman of Landgrove asked about BBA's special education costs, and about what financial information the school provided to the Taconic & Green board.. Tashjian said the school works with the BRSU to determine individual special education needs, and presents its finances through its Form 990 disclosures.

Derek Boothby of Manchester said he was also concerned by the school's tuition increases, but also said he was impressed by BBA students in a recent interaction he had with them at the Manchester Community Library. And Michael Cohen of Manchester, noting he's a BBA board member, said he teaches the exact same college-level conflict resolution class at BBA that he teaches at Bennington College, and that the high school's students insights "are as good as and often better than what I see at Bennington."

In other business, voters took the following actions:

- Selected Oliver Olson as moderator, Rebecca Narwath as clerk and Tammy Heaton as treasurer for the 2018-19 school year. All are incumbents in their respective positions.

- Set position salaries at $1,500 for clerk and $300 for treasurer.

- Set Tuesday. Feb. 26, 2019 as the date of the next annual meeting and Manchester Elementary-Middle School as the location.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com.


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