Sunday, June 16, 2019

Time to finish one journey and start the next...

June is when the school year is coming to an end, and we think about graduations!  We spent a few minutes at our June 5th meeting figuring out which Board members were going to attend each graduation.  For me, it’s one of the best things that I get to do as a Board member.  This year I will be at the Fairfield Promotion Ceremony and the BFA graduation.  Every year I will try to go to a different 8th grade graduation.  I wish I could go to them all!


Fairfield Center School Promotion Ceremony
I’m writing this now on June 12, after handing out Promotion Certificates to Fairfield 8th graders.  What a great event!  The gym was full to capacity with families and staff.  One thing that I loved about the ceremony was that students were very involved in it.  All of the student speakers were excellent, and they showed obvious pride in their school. 

They do something really cool there, called the “Gifts from the Class”.  All of the graduating students get flowers and walk through the audience, giving them to people that are special to them.  I have never seen that before, but it was great!

Thanks to Principal O’Dell and all of the staff who helped make this event possible.  I can’t wait to be there again!


Change in Cell Phone Use
The three pre-K-8 schools have agreed on a new common procedure for dealing with cell phone use.  The reason for this is that they have found that, more and more, cell phone use is interfering with student learning, and they have been struggling with how to deal with it. 

Starting next year, parents will be encouraged to have their students leave their phones at home.  If students bring their phones to school, they will have to turn them in to their teachers at the beginning of the day, and they will be stored in a secure place until the end of the day, when they will get them back.  During the day, if students need to call home, they will be allowed to use a school phone. 

The SATEC 7th grade team started using the new rules this spring, after April vacation. They have had positive results, with no parental complaints.

Sounds like a good idea to me.


What is Executive Session?
We had an executive session this meeting, which means that the Board went into a private meeting within our public meeting.  This is allowed, per Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, for very specific reasons only.  We do everything that we can to conduct as much of our business as possible in public, where visitors or viewers on TV can see what we talk about and what decisions we make. 

If we are going to move an item to executive session, I will cite the statute that allows us to do so.  For example, at this meeting, we moved an update on an employee’s work performance to executive session.  This is allowed by law, per Vermont statute 1 V.S.A. § 313 (a) 3, the evaluation of a public employee.

An important point: we cannot hold any votes in executive session.  So if we do decide in executive session to take action on a matter, we do have to make the motion and vote in open session, which will be part of the official minutes.  Again, we do everything we can to do all of our business in public.


Final Word
I know that I started this post on June 12, after the Fairfield graduation, but I’m ending it now on June 15, after the BFA graduation ceremony.  What can I say?  It was windy, but warm and sunny off and on, so there was plenty of time for families and friends to take pictures. We had just under 2000 seats setup at Collins Perley, and very few were empty.

Mr. Berthiaume was the speaker chosen by the graduating class.  He gave an excellent speech, encouraging the graduates to find something that they are passionate about and pursuing that.  He also encouraged them to be part of a generation of kindness - “We always have more room for kindness.”   He said that people might not remember what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.

So true.






Monday, May 20, 2019

A Common Arts Curriculum

My process for writing this blog involves re-watching our meetings, often multiple
times (really!).  I do that so that I:
1) remember exactly what happened
2) find people’s names and interesting quotes
3) get the facts straight.

Northwest Access TV does a great job filming our meetings, no matter how long they are, and we appreciate it very much. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the film for the May 1 meeting, so I was unable to watch it. It took a while before I realized that it wasn't going to magically appear like it always does!

Given that, I can recall two things that happened at the May 1 meeting that I would like to share.

1) St. Albans Town is building a new Public Works garage on Brigham Road and needed an easement to place a sewer line across St. Albans City School property and tie into the City municipal sewer. That was a no brainer on our part, and we agreed immediately. We appreciate all of the support we get from the member towns of our district and give back whatever support we can. It was nice to see Town Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso and Public Works Director Alan Mashtare at our meeting.

2) We also continued to fill out our new Administrative team in the Central Office. I mentioned last time that we had hired Asst. Superintendent Bill Kimball, and this time we hired Alexis Hoyt as our new Director of Behavior Support and Student Engagement. Alexis lives in St. Albans and brings a unique set of needed skills to our District. We are very excited to add Alexis to the team!

Common Arts Curriculum
Our second May meeting was held at SATEC, and we got a presentation of student art from their two Art teachers (Katarina Mernicky and Amanda Bates). They showed us a lot of great art work, and were also very excited about their new district wide art curriculum, created in coordination with the art teachers from our other district schools and the art curriculum director for the state of Vermont. As they said, now you will know what skills a student should have at a specific grade level, regardless of the school they attend. Another great example of Maple Run teachers working together.

We also heard from three of their students, all of whom were very thankful for having art classes available to them. One said, “School can be really overwhelming, and art enrichment, for me, is an outlet where I can express my feelings.” All three students used art as a way to deal with stress and get themselves into a “good” place.

Freedom of Expression policy
Earlier in the year, we had the two editors of the BFA Mercury (Haley Seymour and Julia Scott) come to a meeting and express their dissatisfaction with our Freedom of Expression policy, which had recently been adopted by the Board. This is a policy that every School Board is required by the state to have.

We listened and setup a meeting with them, their advisor Peter Riegelman, Superintendent Dirth, Board member Alisha Sawyer, and myself, to talk about their concerns. The meeting went very well. The students made their points clearly and were very well organized. We had a good back and forth discussion and settled on three changes to make to the policy.

The Board reviewed the new language, and voted unanimously to move it along for public comment and adoption at the first June meeting. The BFA Mercury advisor said, “I would like to thank the Board … for giving these young women a change to come speak. They did a great job... everybody would be proud.”

Truly, I am proud. It’s always good to see students who both care strongly about a subject and then have the skills and fortitude to fix something that is a problem to them. Good luck at college next year Haley and Julia!

Administrator contracts
A school board doesn’t have a lot of official duties. We write policies, which guide administrators in running our schools. We provide oversight, ensuring that the District follows laws, makes prudent use of its assets, and is providing a good education to the students of the district. And we set a budget that we believe is in the best interest of students and taxpayers.

As the group who is responsible for overseeing the fiduciary aspects of the district, we also need to approve contracts for all of our staff. We have already approved contracts for Professional, Support, and non-union staff for this coming year (signing all those contracts is work!), leaving just Administrator contracts to approve. Mostly, that is building Principals and Assistant Principals, but it is also people in the Central Office, like the Business Manager, Curriculum Director, and Special Education Director. Back in April, the Board gave the Superintendent guidance as to what District administrators should be paid. The Superintendent then negotiated contracts with each administrator, with final approval belonging to the Board. 


This process was completed at our last Board meeting, when the Board approved the Administrator contracts as presented by the Superintendent. It should be noted that, unlike with a union employee contract, not every administrator get’s the same increase - it is up to the Superintendent to determine what is appropriate based on the employee and the Board’s guidance.

Final Word
For the 3rd year in a row, a student from Fairfield Center School is the Vermont state ambassador for Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school nutrition and physical activity program. Alyssa Boudreau will represent Vermont at the national meeting this summer in Cleveland.

I asked Sean O’Dell, principal at FFCS, what their secret was. He said, “We do farm to school and agriculture well. Dairy is a part of our life.” According to Sean, our kids do a great job of encouraging everyone to get regular physical activity. “Our kids rise to the top of the state every year, and that’s a real source of pride for us,” he said. It’s a source of pride for all of us, Sean. Thanks for your work Alyssa, and enjoy your visit to Cleveland!

What do you think? Can we make it 4 years in a row?

Did you know?
Most of our meetings are videotaped and available on YouTube at:

Maple Run Meeting Videos

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Internal internships doing well

The second meeting in April was held at Saint Albans City School (SACS).

SACS Internships
As the host of our meeting, several SACS students and their teachers were there to tell us about their internal internship program.  They currently have nearly 100 students doing internships in various areas within the school.

The first student, Colby, has an internship helping out in a Pre-K classroom. As a result of his work there, he now wants to go to college and study to be a Pre-K teacher.  “We don’t have many male teachers in the younger grades”, he said.

The second student, Finn, is a facilitator in the Makerspace. And, by the way, he’s in the second grade. Finn spoke very well about his duties. He ended by saying “I like being an intern in the Makerspace because I feel different.  I’m not just a normal student, I get to go somewhere else and do something else.”

Finally, Jack and Megan have internships with the HOPE team, an in-school business which produces many different products for sale. They gave a demo of the CNC router that the school has. CNC machines, by the way, take an electronic design and control a tool (in this case a router) to make the design. The students are teaming up with Jeff’s Seafood to make and sell wooden cheese boards.  While doing these projects, they learn practical examples of math, science, and business.

I know I say it all the time, but the presentation skills of our Maple Run students are incredible.  They are very poised, confident, and knowledgeable.  You can also see that they are excited about their internships. I’ve seen this before.  You get students excited about being in school every day, and it helps them out in all areas.

Snack Bar - Saint Albans Football Association
There have been plans for years to replace the snack bar located at the Football/Soccer field at Collins Perley.  Tim Smith from the Saint Albans Football Association gave us an update on the project.

They have finalized the design, which will include space for the current snack bar and new bathrooms.  This has been sorely needed, as the only bathrooms currently available are inside the Complex.  Also, this building is close to the walking path (which is well used), so the intent is to make a bathroom available for community use even when games are not going on.

It is estimated that the new building will cost $250,000. They have already received $45,000 in donations of materials/labor and are working on more. They asked us if we could contribute up to $90,000, and they would supply the remainder. Tim expects that in the end, we won’t even have to pay that much.

The Board agreed.  This is a needed project and will be a community asset.

New Assistant Superintendent
The Board got to meet Bill Kimball, our new Assistant Superintendent, who will be starting on July 1 (in case you were wondering, our contracts run from July 1 - June 30.  That’s our fiscal year too). He was visiting for the day, touring all of the Maple Run schools.

Bill is a former Principal, Curriculum Director, and is currently the Superintendent of the Washington Central Supervisory Union. Like all of Maple Run, Bill is student focused.

The job of Assistant Superintendent is something new for our District.  Because we have three administrators retiring or leaving this year, the Administrative Team took it as an opportunity to improve our administrative structure.  They looked at how people’s jobs have changed over the years, and decided that we could do things better by redefining positions and their responsibilities.  As an example, we won’t have an HR Director anymore - that will be part of the Assistant Superintendent’s work.

In the future, I hope to write about the various positions on the Maple Run Administrative Team and what responsibilities they have.

I’m excited about the changes moving forward, and confident that Bill will be a welcome addition.

Can’t subscribe?  Send me an email.
Do you like this blog but have had trouble subscribing?  Just send me a note at  jmorrill@maplerun.org and I will email you a copy of the blog entries when I make them.

Got ideas for subjects you would like me to cover?  Again, send me a note!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Thanks to all you Champions!

Legislative Update
Our first meeting in April started off with Representative Lynn Dickinson giving us a legislative update.  She talked about a number of things, but the bill that will probably have the most effect on us this year is S.40, a bill which will require that every school and childcare facility in the state test all of their faucets for lead, and fix them if they fail to meet the required level.  In this case, the required level is < 3 ppb (parts per billion).  This is a fairly strict limit, as current state and federal guidelines call for lead levels < 15 ppb.

The plan is that the state will pay for all of the tests, but they will contribute only a fixed amount of money for any required repairs.  So, x dollars for a faucet, y dollars for a water fountain, etc…  We won’t know for sure what those dollar amounts are until the bill is passed in its final form.  All of these tests and repairs will have to be done this year.

Some good news for Maple Run - the state conducted a pilot program for this lead testing near the end of 2018, involving 16 schools, and SACS took part in it.  They had one faucet that was original from the 1960s and had to be replaced.  All other water sources were < 3 ppb, and the vast majority were less than 1 ppb.  So we have one school done already!

In my opinion, this is a good idea.  We don’t want our children exposed to lead.  It’s just too bad that it’s another unfunded mandate, and worse, has to be paid for out of a school budget that did not anticipate having this expense.  

New Collins Perley Manager
David Kimel, the current Manager of Collins Perley is retiring at the end of this school year, so CPSC needs a new Manager.  Collins Perley has its own Board, and they are responsible for recommending a person to Maple Run to fill that position.  They interviewed 4 candidates and decided that the best person for the future of Collins Perley is Tim Viens, the current CPSC Assistant Manager.  The Maple Run Board accepted the recommendation of the Collins Perley Board and hired Tim as the new Manager.  

I certainly hope that Dave will enjoy his retirement, but he will be missed.  I can’t count the number of times that someone has given a report at a Board meeting and it included the statement “Thanks so much to David Kimel for all his help.”  I guess now it’s my turn - thanks, Dave, for all your hard work and dedication.  It’s appreciated.

New Maple Run Newsletter
The Maple Run newsletter has a new look and lots of great content!  Check out the April issue at Maple Run Newsletter - April 2019​.

Final Word
Superintendent Kevin Dirth suggested that we create a new Maple Run School Board award - the Champion for Children Award.  As he pointed out, we are very fortunate to have so many community members volunteer in our schools in all kind of ways.  Kevin said, “I would like to suggest that these Unsung Heroes get some kind of recognition.”

I think this is a great idea, and the Board was supportive as well, so I am pretty sure we’ll see this implemented in some way this year.  In the meantime, to all you volunteers, Thank You!

Jeff Morrill

Sunday, March 24, 2019

We work as a team...

The second meeting in March of the Maple Run School Board was held at the BFA library.  The second meeting is always held at one of the schools in the District, and the hosting school gets a chance to make a presentation or two.

BFA Presentations
Dr. Preston Randall (Guidance Director) spoke about the increased anxiety that our teenagers are feeling, based on the results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey given every other year to students grades 6-12. According to Preston, this survey “is one of the most reliable data points for local data about teenage behavior, particularly as it relates to risky behaviors...”. While things like violence and bullying are trending downward, the data shows that other areas of concern, such as the use of alcohol among students or signs of depression and anxiety are remaining level or slightly increasing. This is not something unique to Vermont - this same survey is given across the nation with similar results.

End result?  One of the things that helps teenagers deal with stress and anxiety is to have some feeling that they have some control.  BFA counselors and staff are now thinking about different ways that they can offer support and still help students feel in control.  As Preston said, there are:
  • Things that we do to students because they just need to be done
  • Things that we do for students, because they do not yet have the skills needed to do them
  • Things that we do with students, in order to help them get the skills
  • And finally, things that we support students in doing, because they have the skills needed
If we follow this hierarchy of support and have faith in the skills our students are developing, it is hoped that they will gain a better sense of the control and mastery that they need and want.

A big thanks to Haley Seymour and Alex Haag, our BFA student representatives.  Haley is a Senior and this was her last Board meeting.  She has done a great job representing BFA students to the Board, and I know that Alex will continue doing great as well. Alex reported that he has been involved with work on our Wellness policy development and it is nearing completion. He also reported that this year’s prom theme is “A Night Among the Stars”.

Fairfield Construction
We then considered the Fairfield construction project.  Principal Sean O’Dell summarized it for us - they need to pave the driveways and parking lots (they are dirt now), and make room at the school so that their art and music classes do not have to be held in a separate, nearby building (the Common school).  I went there for a tour last Friday, and parked in the far corner of the big South parking lot.  There was a lot of water that day, and the lot and driveways were definitely hard to walk on.

All in all, it is a reasonable project.  Using the Common school was never the most desirable choice, but the Fairfield Center School and it’s taxpayers could not afford the $1.2 million that it will take to add new classrooms to the school.  But now they are part of a larger District, and all our taxpayers need to take care of all of our schools and students.  This is one of the advantages of being a part of a larger District.

Also, this is a great use of our Capital Improvement Funds.  This is the kind of thing that we have saved them for.  We have made huge investments in our local buildings, and we have to keep them sound.  When we ask you on the ballot every March if we can transfer any fund balance for the year to our Capital Improvement Fund, this is why you should say Yes!  So that we have money available when we need to make repairs and improvements like these, without having to go to a bond.

After some discussion, and seeing the need, the Board voted unanimously to approve the project.  On to the detail planning!  I’m sure there will be some disruption during construction, but hopefully everyone will take it in stride as we work to making FFCS even better.

Statewide Health Care Negotiations
For the first time, health care benefits for school employees are being negotiated at the state level.  Prior to this, every school district or supervisory union negotiated health care benefits separately.  Employees in one district might contribute 20% of health insurance costs, for example, while in another district they contribute 17%.  Some districts offer an employer funded HSA, while others do not.  Now, every school employee in the state will get the same health benefits.
The negotiations must be started by April 1, 2019, and will affect all contracts starting after June 30, 2020.  There are 5 people representing the employees and appointed by the VT-NEA and AFSCME (the two largest school employee unions in the state), and 5 people appointed by the VSBA (Vermont School Boards Association) to represent the school districts.

What does this mean for Maple Run employees?  Our contracts expire on June 30, 2020, so we will start negotiating new contracts later this year.  Health care is a big part of an employee’s benefits, and we might not know what they are going to be until the middle of December.  So employees aren’t sure what kind of health care benefits they are going to get, and employers don’t know what it’s going to do to their budgets.  Not a good spot for anyone.  Stay tuned….

School Happenings…
One of the best parts of our meetings onsite at a school is that our principals get to speak out about what has happened or what is going to happen.  A couple of interesting points were made by Angela Stebbins and Jason Therrien from SATEC.  Odyssey of the Mind is a great program that gets students to use their creativity and problem solving skills as a team.  SATEC has had a strong program for quite a few years, while the other K-8 schools have not.  Ever since Maple Run was created, the organizers at SATEC have reached out to SACS and FFCS to include their students as well.  Angela reported that in the most recent state competition, Maple Run fielded four teams composed of 25 students from SATEC and FFCS, and they did great!  Two First place awards and two Second place awards.  A great success, and it shows how working as a combined District can benefit students.

Jason then noted that Spring sports are starting and for the first time, baseball turnouts are low.  So again, schools are looking to work together to make it so that students do not lose out on an opportunity.  In this case, SATEC and SACS might combine squads into a single team, splitting games between each school’s fields.  We work as a team of schools, so that teams of players can compete on the field.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be!

Until next time,

Jeff Morrill

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Notes: FFCS = Fairfield Center School, SACS = Saint Albans City School, SATEC = Saint Albans Town School, BFA = Bellows Free Academy Saint Albans, and NWTC = Northwest Technical Center.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The first meeting of a new Board

The day after Town Meeting, the new Maple Run School Board met for the first time, and held its' annual Reorganization meeting.  The Board consists of 10 members living in Fairfield, Saint Albans City, and Saint Albans Town.  All voters in the three towns that make up Maple Run are eligible to vote for every Board seat.  This year, two new people have joined the Board, Alisha Sawyer from Saint Albans City, and Joanna Jerose from Fairfield.  Two Board members were also re-elected, Nina Hunsicker and Sally Lindberg, both residents of Saint Albans Town.

The first actions of the meeting were to elect new Board officers.  Jeff Morrill was elected as Chair, Nilda Gonnella-French as Vice-Chair, and Susan Casavant Magnan as Board Clerk.

Once the formalities were out of the way, the Board got down to business!  The Educational Support Professionals (ESP) contract which had been negotiated earlier in the year and had been ratified by the union membership, was ready to be signed.  This is a one year contract from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020.  Why just a one year contract?  The State passed legislation requiring that Health Insurance for all school employees be negotiated at the State level.  Those negotiations are going on now, between representatives of Vermont School Boards and the VT-NEA. And because they will override existing contract language regarding Health Insurance benefits, the State declared that no one could negotiate a new contract extending past 2020.

The Board voted to accept the new contract, which included approximately 3.66% in new money.

We then discussed Town Meeting Day results.  Thank you so much for your support of the Maple Run School District.  All of the Maple Run ballot items were passed by pretty favorable margins.  Thank you for supporting our budget, which the Maple Run Administration has worked very hard on to keep affordable while still supporting our students.  Unlike most other districts in the state, we are not seeing our equalized pupil count decrease.  This budget includes money to support a double digit increase in health insurance costs, yet we still kept the increase in per pupil spending down to 2.17% over last year.  I don't have a crystal ball, and many things which affect our tax rates are out of our control, but I hope that we can continue to keep tax rate increases down, while providing our students a solid education.

Thank you for supporting the BFA Bond, which will allow us to make major repairs on the North Building (which anyone who has driven by can see that it needs).  It will also allow us to add sprinklers to the South building, increasing the safety of everyone in case of fire.  By the way, adding the sprinklers will take the longest to do, with the work spread over the next three summers (hopefully).  And last, we will finally be able to connect the two buildings with an enclosed hallway and provide a central entrance to BFA for visitors.  This will make the transition of students and staff between buildings much safer and also protect the school by enforcing a single, securable entrance for all visitors.

Just as important, by supporting the bond for BFA, we will have the money in our Capital Improvement Fund to make some major changes at the Fairfield Center School.  We plan to pave all of the parking lots, making them safer to use.  We also want to add an addition to the school, so that students will no longer have to use the Common School for Art and Music.  These two projects combined are anticipated to cost about $1.2 million.

As the new Board Chair, I'm hoping that this blog will help keep more people informed about what the Board and the District are up to.  My intent is to post new entries every month or so to let you know about some of the major things we are working on.  The Board normally meets twice a month, on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday.  The first meeting of the month is usually held at the Maple Run Central Office, located on Catherine Street in Saint Albans City.  The second meeting is usually held at one of our five schools.  Visitors are welcome.

If you find this information useful, please leave a comment, or email me at jmorrill@maplerun.org.

Again, thank you for all your support of the students in the Maple Run School District.  It is appreciated.

Jeff Morrill