The Champlain Valley School Board gave the district’s administrators a challenge when they were putting together the 2018-19 budget: Stick to a 2.3 percent increase.
That really meant just a 1.2 percent increase after bonds for Shelburne and Williston schools were factored in.
It was a puzzle; each school needed more resources in various areas.
Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said her team decided to look at it as a “closed system,” forcing creativity with the overall goal being to create equity within the system.
“All of our kids go to [Champlain Valley Union High School], we would be doing a huge disservice to our kids and our communities if we didn’t make sure that when they get to CVU they’ve had not the same exact experiences, but equitable experiences and opportunities,” Pickney said. “So, they aren’t sitting in a science class with kids who have had rigorous science instruction and they go like ‘I have no idea what they are talking about, must be I’m not a scientist.’ I think in that way the merger has been hugely helpful.”
One area where administrators noticed a disparity from school to school was in staffing for intervention services within the schools. That encompasses the counselors, literacy specialists, and more. The administrators broke the intervention services into three categories: Coaching/coordinating, implementation, and social/emotional learning.
Meagan Roy, director of student support services, described their approach like this: “What does good intervention and instruction look like? And how do we set high-level practices, guidance? Then this is what it should look like for our schools so then they can develop the systems underneath them that provide kids that level of intervention,” she said. “All of that goes hand-in-hand with getting kids to proficiency.”
At the April 17 school board meeting, the administration broke out the percentage of staff in each category at each school. The administrators were then able to also explain how the decisions were made to shift staffing within the district.
Months before these decisions were made by the administration, the team began looking into “the current reality,” Pinckney said.
That’s when they noticed disparities such as Charlotte needing a social worker, instead of a counselor. The team then shared details with administrators at each school. Those administrators were then able to talk staff to find out what was needed, and where changes could be made.
Trust between the schools and the central office administrators were key in the process, Pinckney said. Prior to the district merger, each school would have had to look at cuts and additions individually; the merged district now can make those changes in the “closed system” Pinckney described.
“Every year you have retirees, and we are making some cuts to the system. You have to look to see, do we have a place for everyone?” Pinckney said. “So, we sent out a note in January that said here are the openings next year, let us know if you are interested in any of them. And so we discovered we have a place for everyone, and everyone in their place. Everyone’s happy.”
The adjustments don’t mean the district’s schools will become identical. Their individual flair will remain and keep them unique. Through hard decisions, Pinckney said, “we come back to: we are one system.”