The Taconic & Green Regional School District Board of Directors is starting to consider the most important question it has faced since voters formed it five years ago: Should it establish a single regional middle school?
If so, should it be created by renovating an existing building and reallocating students in grades K through five to the remaining schools? Or should it be a new building, and if so, where?
If an existing school becomes a middle school, how much busing of students would be appropriate? Would all five schools be able to remain open?
These decisions all will have a significant effect on everyday life in the Northshire. Making these choices must be a community project.
The T&G board and BRSU Superintendent Randi Lowe have wisely recognized these decisions cannot be made in a vacuum, or without a public process that informs voters and leads to consensus. They’ve pledged to engage the community and listen to stakeholders as they consider how to proceed. We have no reason to doubt they’ll follow through.
That said, engagement can’t be a one-way street. Citizens of the district’s nine towns — Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mount Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston — should get involved in this discussion, regardless of whether their children, grandchildren or other family relations still attend the district’s schools.
At a Taconic & Green board meeting earlier this month, Lowe cited a number of educational and social growth challenges in the current set-up as reasons to pursue a middle school.
At present, the T&G’s middle school students are spread throughout the district. Flood Brook School in Londonderry, Manchester Elementary Middle School and The Dorset School are all grades K through eight; graduates of Sunderland Elementary School (K through grade six) and Currier Memorial School (K through grade five) choose which of those K-8 schools to attend next.
Small middle school enrollments and limited resources have led to teachers covering multiple content areas in multiple grades, Lowe said. There are inequities across the three programs: Some schools can offer foreign languages, tech and visual and performing arts, while others cannot. And the relatively small grade sizes lead to some kids feeling left out at a time when everyone’s trying to figure out who they are.
Furthermore, Lowe presented data showing that most families leaving the T&G for an independent school, such as Long Trail or Maple Street, are doing so in the middle school grades.
The middle school years — the short but important bridge between being a big kid and growing into a young adult — are among the most important phases in a young person’s development. Consolidating the region’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders together with their teachers and staff would allow that school the capacity to offer programs that the individual schools have struggled to provide and greatly enrich those middle school years for our students.
A single middle school would also be a place older kids could call their own, rather than a wing of the same grade school where they started kindergarten. It would bring the region’s students and families together before they head off to high school, making that transition a little easier. And a larger enrollment might help kids unsure of their place in this world “find their tribe” and walk into BBA or LTS with greater confidence.
Middle schools do not build themselves, and certainly not for free. Any effort to build or renovate will eventually come down to a dollar figure, and a likely bond authorization vote.
Vermont, having willfully ignored its school building needs for years, is on a path to reviving its assistance program, thanks to a law passed in 2021. A study due in January will detail the extent of the state’s school building needs and the potential funding sources. Whether that will lead to actual dollars for new construction remains to be seen.
That makes building local consensus — and with it, support for a potentially significant investment — all the more crucial.
Luckily, the T&G was born out of a can-do spirit and a sense of community. Those qualities will be crucially important as the process moves forward.
While other Act 46 mergers in our region were messy, sometimes spiteful affairs, the T&G merger was approved in a 3-to-1 landslide. Why did it flourish where others struggled? We think a big part of its success was that the merger committee adopted a simple but effective motto — “All our kids are all our kids” — and let that truth guide every discussion and decision.
The decision-making process on whether to build a regional middle school should follow the same mantra. We look forward to a process that engages the public as the T&G begins work in earnest.