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Summer will be a learning experience for trust-challenged School Board

MONTPELIER — The Montpelier Roxbury Public School Board will spend part of its summer trust-building, but that’s not the only training members have in mind.

If there was a summer school for school boards the one responsible for running the two-town, four-school district just enrolled and it sounds like members are planning to carry a full course load.

The board wants training in restorative justice, and a refresher course from a legal expert on its roles and responsibilities. It’s also planning a crash course on budget and finance, wants to learn more about communication and community engagement, and wants to take a deep dive into how its various committees function.

That doesn’t include separate facilitated discussion on priorities and goal-setting.

They haven’t settled on a schedule, but they have flagged folks they think can assist them with what will be a learning experience for a nine-member board that is emerging from the pandemic with four new members.

Though three of those members — Emma Bay-Hansen, Mia Moore and Amanda Garces — were appointed to fill vacancies late last year, all were elected for the first time in March and one — Kristen Getler — wasn’t even on the ballot.

The turnover has triggered growing pains for the board that have become more evident in recent weeks. Earlier this month one board member — Garces — said she felt “unwelcome” and occasionally “attacked” as she wrestled with her role and seemed to blame Superintendent Libby Bonesteel for what she repeatedly characterized as a “communications issue.”

Board Chair Jim Murphy didn’t blame anyone. Not two weeks ago and not during the board’s virtual meeting Wednesday night, though he did say training provided by the Vermont School Board’s Association earlier this year did not appear to be adequate.

“We need something different, particularly around communication and trust issues,” he said.

Murphy also suggested a second training — one with the board’s lawyer, Pietro Lynn — clarifying its roles and responsibilities.

Confusion on that front has led to frustration for Garces and, to a lesser extent, Bay-Hansen and Moore.

The latter two proposed the board consider a training in restorative justice to help build what Moore described as a “foundation of strong communication and trust.”

Murphy agreed that would be a good first step.

“This is not a one-and-done thing,” he said. “This is something I think that requires constant work and … constant look-backs.”

According to Murphy, squeezing in both proposed trainings — one with Lynn and the other possibly through the Montpelier Community Justice Center — before budget season starts in the fall would be “a summer well-spent.

That was before Garces said she’d like to know more about the budget so she could be a meaningful participant in those deliberations.

“That would be really helpful and I would say a priority just to get everybody on the same (page),” she said.

It wasn’t just new members who said a budget refresher wouldn’t be a bad idea.

School Director Jill Remick said as the board receives requests, like one to upgrade the track at Montpelier High School that surfaced earlier this month, it would be useful to have a firm grasp on what is possible based on budget constraints.

“We need a fundamental conversation about how the budget works and where we have flexibility versus what are fixed costs,” she said.

School Director Andrew Stein, who serves as chair of the board’s finance committee, said that could happen a number of ways. One of them, he said, was for board members to attend a finance committee where financial statements are broken down line by line and there is a more robust discussion of the district’s finances.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Tyler Hoare and Kirk Halen from Russ/Wood Decorating, of Richmond, use a lift to put a fresh coat of paint on the historic train depot in Waterbury on Thursday.

Fresh paint pulls into the depot

Goddard picks Hocoy as 13th president

PLAINFIELD — Goddard College’s new president says the school’s low-residency model is a good fit for a post-pandemic education landscape.

The progressive school’s board of trustees announced Wednesday it had picked Dan Hocoy to be Goddard’s 13th president. Hocoy will replace Bernard Bull, who has accepted the same position at Concordia University, Nebraska. Bull’s last day at Goddard will be Aug. 1 and Hocoy will take over from there.

Hocoy is a licensed clinical psychologist with a doctorate in psychology from Queen’s University in Canada. He is a first-generation college student and an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago. Hocoy’s mother is from Malaysia and his father is from China. According to the school, Hocoy is committed to social justice and his dissertation “was the first to examine the impact of apartheid on Blacks in South Africa, and was used by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to structure its processes.”

He also brings with him years of administrative experience in higher education. Goddard will be the fourth school where he will serve as president. He is currently the president of Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City, and has served as president of Erie Community College in New York and Antioch University, Seattle.

Hocoy said in an interview Thursday he started his education career as a professor because of the impact he can have on others. He said he found himself pushed into administrative roles and advanced from there.

He said he knows what its like to be a member of the faculty.

“I truly believe faculty are the most in touch with what our students are experiencing because they’re on the front lines, in terms of experiencing their work and hearing about what issues they have with regards to higher education. Whether that be access or cost or having day care, for instance, so that they can drop their kids off,” he said.

Hocoy said he was an associate provost at Saybrook University in San Francisco when he heard about Goddard from Mark Schulman, a former Goddard president who had taken the head position at the school on the West Coast in 2010.

“He would tell so many stories about the transformational impact Goddard had on students, and so I had this image and fantasy of this very progressive college in central Vermont,” he said.

Hocoy said he was told about the influence the school not only had on its students, but on the community.

Now he has the reins, and he’s eager to engage in a listening tour with stakeholders to get their feedback and get a sense of the school’s priorities.

Those priorities have changed in recent years from a school trying to avoid losing its accreditation and staring down a large budget deficit to a position of strength and growth. Goddard came off accreditation probation in October. It was placed there by the New England Commission of Higher Education in September 2018 because the commission said Goddard “does not now meet the commission’s standards on Institutional Resources and Organization and Governance.”

The two biggest issues with the school, from the commission’s perspective, were stability of executive leadership and financial resources. The first part was handled quickly by Goddard when it hired Bull in 2018 to shepherd the school through probation. He worked to eliminate the school’s $1.2 million budget deficit in just seven months by reducing the school’s expenses and raising funds.

Bull started bringing in other organizations to use the school’s campus in Plainfield. Because of the school’s low-residency model, students are only on campus for half the year. He was in the middle of raising $4 million for cash reserves for the school when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Hocoy said he wants to build on Bull’s progress. He said one way to help build stability is to be relevant.

“Goddard attracts people who want to make a difference or impact in the world. It attracts people who want to make meaning out of their lives. And it attracts people who want to make a sustainable and ethical living. I believe there is a very large market for that. Goddard has always been on the forefront of change and this is a time for Goddard to shine, in terms of providing that relevance to addressing the needs of today,” he said.

Hocoy said he sees a post-pandemic world as an opportunity. He said Goddard’s education model will be attractive for students in this “new normal.”

“Because people are more familiar and more comfortable with a low-residency model that they may not have been prior to COVID,” he said.

Gloria J. Willingham-Toure, chair of Goddard’s board, said the school owes Bull a debt of gratitude. Willingham-Toure said he was the right person for that job and Hocoy is the right person for this job.

Willingham-Toure said Hocoy’s experience is important, and that he’s worked from coast to coast. The chair noted the school also has a location in Port Townsend, Washington, and Hocoy will need to identify with them, as well.

Willingham-Toure said Goddard is in a great spot.

“It’s a state of readiness right now. Its a state of readiness to sort of move on into whatever our next era is going to be,” Willingham-Toure said.

The chair said all colleges around the country need to take a step back right now, ask themselves who they are and where they go from here.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

Parks director pitches Montpelier as outdoor recreation hub

MONTPELIER — Can Montpelier hike and bike and paddle its way to prosperity, or is its already vibrant downtown reason enough to strategically invest in outdoor recreation?

Parks Director Alec Ellsworth told receptive city councilors he believes the answers are “yes” and “yes” during what was likely their last completely virtual meeting Wednesday night.

Councilors will meet briefly to set the tax rate early next month and will return to in-person meetings at City Hall on July 21. City Manager Bill Fraser said arrangements are being made to accommodate residents who prefer to participate remotely, pandemic or no pandemic.

Ellsworth told councilors the COVID-19 crisis did nothing but buttress the argument that outdoor recreation can provide fresh fuel to local economies even in communities that aren’t blessed with ski slopes.

“The pandemic has really reawakened people to the outdoors,” he said.

Ellsworth said there is opportunity there and Montpelier is well-situated to pitch itself as a place where visitors can do much more than snap a selfie in front of the State House and maybe grab lunch before hitting the road again.

“We’re trying to turn a few hours visit into an overnight visit, or a weekend visit,” he said suggesting that has paid huge dividends in other Vermont communities, including some not so far from Montpelier.

The towns in the Mad River Valley are making it work and so are Waterbury and Barre Town, which don’t have ski resorts, but have invested in trails that attract thousands of visitors each year to growing trail networks who collectively provide a significant jolt to the local economy.

“The communities that are really successful are identifying their strengths and then telling their story really well,” Ellsworth said. “Then people come. It’s not that complicated.”

Montpelier, according to Ellsworth, has a story to tell and a running start on outdoor recreational opportunities, even if its 15 miles of trails lag behind nearby communities like Waterbury and Barre Town and are mostly used by locals and lack a tangible connection to its historic downtown.

Montpelier will never be quintessential “rural” Vermont, like East Burke, which is home to the Kingdom Trails, and it can’t lean on a mountain, like Stowe, or the Mad River Valley. However, Ellsworth said geography is on its side, topography doesn’t hurt, it has a compellingly diverse downtown that is already an attraction, and it is poised to expand its trail network and create access at the confluence of two of its three rivers.

That’s a pretty good start and Ellsworth said the planned expansion of Hubbard Park, the proposed creation of Confluence Park, and a recently extended bike path that runs from one end of the city to the other and will soon link up with the Cross Vermont Trail put the city in a position to credibly bill itself as an “outdoor recreation hub” — even if some of that experience is in nearby communities.

“We’re so close to so many amazing outdoor recreation opportunities,” he said, suggesting “packaging that for people” would pay off.

Ellsworth got no argument from council members, who liked what they heard.

“We are in the middle of so many opportunities,” Councilor Jay Ericson said, suggesting it wasn’t hard to imagine promoting Montpelier as a “launching point” for activities just beyond its borders, as well as those right in its backyard.

“We have a downtown people can come back to,” he said.

Ellsworth said making that connection was critical and continuing to make strategic investments in expanding and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities — including getting some mileage out of the city’s underutilized rivers — should be a focus.

“We have everything else that folks are looking for in spades,” he said.

Ellsworth said readily accessible and diverse outdoor recreation opportunities are good for existing businesses and attractive to prospective businesses, as well as the people they employ. However, he said outdoor recreation isn’t a “silver bullet” and Montpelier has work to do.

“We’re about five to 10 years behind the communities that have been riding this wave and 20 to 30 years behind towns that were on the cutting edge of this,” he said.

Ellsworth credited the council for its support and those strategic investments are starting to show.

“There’s been a lot of good momentum lately,” he said.

In the past two years, Montpelier has raised $1.1 million for outdoor recreation, including the $500,000 it has raised for Confluence Park and the $300,000 it has secured for the Hubbard Park Expansion.

The city has also received a number of smaller grants, including one to partner with Montpelier Alive to promote the city’s outdoor recreation economy. That $45,000 grant was awarded by the Trust for Public Lands last year.

Going forward, Ellsworth says forging and fostering alliances with Wrightsville Beach, the Cross Vermont Trail and nearby communities, like Barre Town and Northfield, that have invested in their own unique trails should be part of the strategy.

With four square, mostly developed, miles at its disposal, Ellsworth said Montpelier should make the most of what it has while playing to its strength.

“We need to make strategic investments to connect our trails to our downtown so adventures can start and end downtown,” he said.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


“Questions of working from home piqued the interest of the Center for Research on Vermont at the University of Vermont who surveyed some 400-plus Vermonters last May about their telecommuting habits and attitudes.”

Editorial, A4

Senior showcase

Montpelier’s Marshall Donahue and Spaulding’s Zach Stabell to play in North-South baseball game. B1