Year in Review: 2015 saw a new test, a new principal, and open negotiations

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BENNINGTON — It was a busy year in education at all levels across the region in 2015, with a college president settling into his new role, uproar over the hiring of a high school principal, and the first open-session teacher contract negotiations in Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union history.

It was also the first year students in the SVSU and Battenkill Valley Supervisory Unions took the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, exams. The tests were adopted by the state board of education to replace the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, exams. Unlike its predecessor, SBAC is taken online, and the test adapts to the student taking it, giving the most accurate scores possible. After students took the exam in the spring, the first results were released in August. As with the NECAP results of previous years, schools showed a stark gap between low-income and other students in terms of performance.

According to school board member Fran Kinney, the representatives of the SVSU had been seeking to hold negotiations in open session for years, so as to undercut accusations that the boards were not negotiating in good faith. The negotiations took many months of back and forth, and eventually required an independent mediator to resolve a dispute on health plans, but Kinney said afterwards that he was pleased with how the open negotiations turned out, calling them the best negotiations in which he had ever sat. The two sides reached a preliminary agreement at the end of May on a new, two-year contract.

The Mount Anthony Union School Board caused a stir in the community in April, when it hired Richford Junior Senior High School assistant principal Glenda Cresto to fill the vacant MAUHS principal position created by the retirement of the popular and long-serving Sue Maguire. Many members of the public questioned the school's hiring process when it became public that Superintendent Jim Culkeen had informed MAUHS assistant principal Michael Molloy that he had been chosen for the position, pending board approval, before reconsidering and recommending that the board appoint Cresto instead. This situation led to the creation of a grassroots citizens group in Bennington, dedicated to making the school boards more open and transparent. They are still active, and are currently recruiting residents to run for school board positions in March.

This past year also marked the first year for Southern Vermont College president David Evans, who was hired by the board last November, began in the position on January 1, and was officially inaugurated earlier this month. He moved to the area last winter from Iowa, where he had been serving as vice president for student affairs at Buena Vista University.

"We seek students to become the best versions of themselves," Evans said at his inauguration, "My core aspiration is that the college, likewise, become the best version of itself."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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