MONTPELIER — A review of the future of Main Street Middle School has been launched by the Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools Board.
There are concerns about the cost of repairs and maintenance, less-than-ideal facilities, overcrowded classrooms and the lack of outdoor recreation space at the school, which was built in 1913. The School Board is wrestling with whether to continue to pour money into the building or seek alternatives, such as rebuilding the facility or finding another site for the school.
Discussion about the school came up at a meeting of the School Board at the Vermont History Museum in Montpelier on Wednesday.
Board Chairman Jim Murphy said the building had some “challenges and expenses” over the years, “looks worn and torn” and was by no means the “shining gem” of the school district.
“In fairness, it’s a hard building to make better and we’ve put a lot of money into it over the years,” added board member Tina Muncy.
Problems listed included: the building being at capacity in a school district with a rising enrollment; a “crazy layout” that was difficult to reconfigure; lack of an auditorium; the cafeteria is “a disaster” and doesn’t allow for cooking food; and the lack of playground and recreation space.
Continuing to pour money into the building was “like keeping your old rusty car on the road,” Murphy said.
However, board members also listed a number of positive aspects about the building: The school is an attractive brick building in the downtown that is within walking distance for students.
Murphy said he favored keeping the building “as is,” and listed a number of options the board could consider. They included: major investment in renovation and upgrades “beyond just fixing stuff” and moving students to another site for a year to allow the work to be done; adding another floor to the existing building; constructing a new building on the current site; or finding a new site for the school.
Another option suggested buying and demolishing surrounding homes to increase the size of the school to add facilities and provide more playground and recreation space. However, there were concerns about reducing the number of homes in a city with a housing shortage. Alternatively, if the school district chose to find another site or build a new school, the existing school could be sold to provide housing that would help fund another school facility, board members said.
Murphy said the first step would be to start a discussion with the community, which other board members supported.
When it came to funding renovation or reconstruction, board members noted that there was not much “appetite” in the community to support another bond request after the $5 million capital improvement bond for the school district last year, and two bonds for city projects this year: a $10.5 million bond to build a public parking garage and a $16.75 million bond for a major upgrade of the Waste Water Treatment Facility.
“There’s a segment of the community that wants nothing to do with another bond,” noted Superintendent Libby Bonesteel.
Facilities Director Andrew LaRosa was asked by the board to estimate what the options might cost and what could be practically achieved to improve the school.
LaRosa said it would cost “millions” more to rebuild than to renovate the school. He said projects pending at the school included upgrading the main entrance, repointing brick masonry, old lead paint abatement and whether to renovate or replace the school’s large windows to improve energy efficiency.
Despite concerns about the appearance of the interior of the school, LaRosa said renovations this year would include new flooring, ceilings and lighting in some hallways and new bathrooms.
The board asked LaRosa to come back with cost estimates for options discussed to present to the community at a later date.
WILLIAMSTOWN — It felt very much like a family affair during commencement at Williamstown Middle/High School on Friday.
There was the pomp and circumstance of a traditional graduation but the real message to students from staff, faculty, friends and family was that they belonged and were loved, and hope poured out for their future success and happiness.
“These students wouldn’t be here ready to embark on their post-secondary pursuits, if it wasn’t for their parents, guardians, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles’ efforts in ensuring that they were supported throughout their educational journey thus far,” said Co-Principal Jamie Kinnarney. “Therefore, I want to thank you all, on behalf of our graduates, for your support and sometimes-required gentle nudge.
“In addition, I want to thank the educators that have served not only as teachers but mentors and surrogates to these soon-to-be graduates. I’m confident that due to your instruction, compassion, guidance and empathy, all the students sitting in front of us tonight are destined to reach their greatest potential,” he added.
Kinnarney noted that 67% of graduates plan to attend college in the fall. Other students planned to become certified in trades and one student was joining the military with a special focus on technical intelligence.
“Tonight marks the end to a chapter but also brings the excitement of the unknown road ahead,” Kinnarney said. “Be open-minded, pursue your dreams and as Dr. Seuss greatly expressed, ‘Why fit in when you were all born to stand out.’”
Valedictorian Evan Choquette and Salutatorian Devin O’Neill were next up, with Choquette delivering the address they both wrote.
Choquette joked that the day marked “the end of a very long and often unpleasant period of time that seems to have gone by in a flash but has given way to something greater, something which everyone will undoubtedly enjoy much more. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the summer solstice.”
They also noted that, at times, the past years had seemed interminable, through lessons and exams, and at other times, had flashed by, on field trips and other shared experiences.
Choquette thanked teachers, staff, family and friends for their support through school, adding the line, “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” from the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“Congratulations Class of 2019, thank you all and have a fantastic summer,” he added.
Brooke Nadzam, the school’s librarian, was selected by students as the guest speaker at commencement. But she wasn’t sure why and wondered what pearls of wisdom she should share with them.
She said that when she asked “a bunch” of students why she was chosen, she was told that the second-most popular answer was because she was most like their mother.
As a mother figure, she said she could be helpful in many ways and give good advice, such as being nice and telling students to keep their room clean and to wear sunscreen.
“It’s easier to keep things up than it is to catch things up,” she said.
She also noted that mothers love unconditionally.
“And I do, I care very deeply about all of you. We all do. We don’t do this for the glory. So, if you ever need anything, we’re here,” she said.
The first most-popular answer why students chose her was because “I was your second choice,” she said, to much laughter.
She said she was second choice often.
“Frankly, it’s not about being No. 1,” she said. “It’s about always showing up. It’s about never giving up and it’s about always doing the right thing and putting in 100%.
“We’re proud of you, and in closing, as many of you know, I don’t want to wish you good luck, because you don’t need good luck — because you got skills,” she added.
The senior message and class gift were presented by Lexis Coates and Shylah King.
Class gifts were $200 to 6th grade students (Class of 2026) and a gift card to the Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen in Barre to buy dinner for faculty and staff.
In a surprise announcement, Coates and King also presented a framed certificate in memory of longtime physical education teacher and athletic director Jenny Earls, who died unexpectedly of cancer in June 2017. Receiving the certificate were Earls’ husband Garrett and her son, Kyle.
The certificate announced that the lower sports field at the school would forever be named after her.
The school band played “Pomp and Circumstance” during the procession, the national anthem was sung by Savannah Covey, diplomas were presented by Co-Principal Renee Badeau and the declaration of graduates was by Mike Bailey. The Recessional was “Should I Stay or Should I go” by The Clash.
A woman with a history of public service in New York City has been appointed Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity where she will “identify and address systemic racial disparities and support the state’s efforts to expand and bring diversity to Vermont’s overall population,” according to a press release from Gov. Phil Scott.
Xusana Davis’ previous positions include director of health and housing strategic initiatives for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and director of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
In a statement, Scott said Davis’ leadership and experience are a “perfect fit” for the position.
“In this role, she will be critical to our work to ensure state government is demonstrating a full commitment to equal opportunity and treatment for all Vermonters, our visitors and our employees. This is an important step forward in our efforts to improve state government and strengthen our communities, both socially and economically, through real equality that values diversity,” Scott said.
In a statement released from the state, Davis described herself as “honored” to have the position.
“I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with all branches of government to make Vermont more accessible to all, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin,” she said.
Rebecca Kelley, communications director for Scott’s administration, said Friday Davis would not be available for interviews until closer to when she starts her new position at the end of next month.
Kelley said the Legislature had created the position of director of racial equity in 2018.
Candidates for the position were recommended to Scott by a five-member Racial Equity Advisory Panel. Scott, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, the members of the Human Rights Commission, the senators on the Committee on Committees and Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber each chose one member of the panel.
Kelley said the panel had found a number of qualified candidates.
“The governor, what he talks about is the ‘four C’s.’ He looks for, in every candidate, competence — What is their competency, their experience for the position itself? — character and integrity; showing a commitment to public service to the position that they’re going to be undertaking; and chemistry with the overall team that they’re going to be working with,” Kelley said.
Asked if the position was created in response to national issues of racial equity, Kelley said she was reluctant to speak for the members of the Legislature but said Scott and legislators have been looking for ways Vermont can be more inclusive and welcoming.
“From the administration’s standpoint, as the governor works to recruit more people to Vermont, he’s put an emphasis on also ensuring we are recruiting more of a diverse population,” she said.
Davis will oversee a “comprehensive organizational review” of the three branches of state government to weed out systemic racism. Also, she will look for existing policies and procedures that could inadvertently allow racial disparities.
Davis will work with state agencies to address fairness and diversity policies, look at reporting, gathering and analyzing race-based data to determine the nature and scope of racial discrimination, develop training to improve inclusion and develop performance measures.
The position is overseen by the Office of the Secretary of Administration
Davis has a Juris Doctor with a concentration in International Human Rights Law from New York Law School, where she also directed a civil liberties education program for low-income and minority youth.
Vermont will pay a black man, who was the victim of an “unreasonable stop and seizure” in Wallingford in 2014, at least $50,000 after reaching a settlement in what the the ACLU of Vermont described as a “racial profiling” lawsuit.
Gregory Zullo, 27, of Rutland, was stopped by Trooper Lewis Hatch of the Vermont State Police in Wallingford in March 2014. At the time of the stop, Zullo was 21.
Hatch was fired in January 2016.
Zullo filed a civil lawsuit, arguing his rights had been violated, against the state in September 2014. The civil court ruled in favor of the state, but in January 2019, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in favor of Zullo and sent the case back to the civil court to be heard again.
The settlement announced Thursday evening resolves the case.
On Friday, Zullo said he couldn’t discuss the settlement in depth.
“I have to say I’m actually pretty surprised and pretty happy with the way it turned out. I think the Vermont State Police, they got what they wanted. I’m happy with how everything turned out on my end. The figure (amount of the settlement) it feels like a really good apology,” he said.
Lia Ernst, the ACLU of Vermont staff attorney who argued the case at the Vermont Supreme Court in May 2018, said Zullo’s was a landmark case because it established precedent that the state can be held responsible and sued for damages based on the actions of a state employee.
“That’s exactly why Mr. Zullo brought this case. He brought it not just to vindicate his own rights and stand up for his own rights but to stand up for all Vermonters and, in particular, for Vermonters of color who are disproportionately stopped, searched and seized by Vermont police as years of data show time and again,” Ernst said.
The settlement is described in a short filing:
“To resolve Gregory Zullo’s claim arising from the unreasonable stop and seizure conducted by former Trooper Lewis Hatch, the State of Vermont agrees to provide Mr. Zullo $50,000 and all costs of mediation. Mr. Zullo acknowledges the Vermont State Police’s longstanding commitment to fair and impartial policing and in exchange for the relief specified above, Gregory Zullo shall execute a general release of the State of Vermont.”
In a statement, Public Safety Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson, said the settlement reached by Zullo and the Department of Public Safety, resolves the case “in a fair manner.”
The settlement was reached Thursday after a lengthy mediation session, according to the state.
Zullo said while it was challenging to go through such a lengthy case, he was proud that the outcome was likely to help Vermonters whose rights had been infringed by law-enforcement officers.
“Hopefully, this will make certain officers a little more careful when they are doing their duties as a police officer throughout Vermont. That was one of the biggest things for me was making sure that other people wouldn’t have to go through the same thing,” Zullo said.
The ruling by the civil court in the state’s favor didn’t come as a surprise but he pointed out the Vermont Supreme Court decision in his favor was unanimous.
“There were a lot of highs and lows. Basically, it was a roller coaster of sorts. … But I have to say, we really did change things for the better, not just for people of color in Vermont but definitely for all Vermonters,” he said.
For Zullo, the decision by the Supreme Court justices is important not just because of the protection of civil rights but because they agreed with the ACLU’s argument that police cannot use a “faint odor of burnt marijuana” alone to establish probable cause of a criminal act.
“That helps a lot of people who otherwise would be targeted a little more often than your average Vermonter,” he said.
Ernst said the case represents new law.
“The Supreme Court ruling ensures that the state can be liable when its employees violate the (state) Constitution which has never been held to be the case before and it also, quite rightly, recognized that racial motivation in making policing decisions is worth a particular harm that requires redress. This case is a landmark decision that we hope Vermonters will rely on going forward in bringing cases when their Constitutional rights have been violated and particularly when they’re violated because of that person’s race,” Ernst said.
Adam Silverman, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Friday that since the 2014 stop, though not as a direct result, Vermont State Police have overhauled and updated training policy and procedures, especially related to searches and seizures; worked to improve training at the state’s police academy and at in-service training, including a focus on addressing implicit bias; and worked to strengthen community partnerships and connections with marginalized individuals and groups.
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