ORANGE — The Echo Valley Community School Board filled one vacancy, was briefed on another, and authorized the first music-related purchases from a $10,000 grant it received earlier this year.

Hours after students in Echo Valley’s two schools ended their first day, board members agreed to equip both of them with new digital pianos using money from a grant awarded by a nonprofit — The Mockingbird Foundation — run entirely by Phish fans and doubled by Phish’s own WaterWheel Foundation.

Though music teacher James Hamel requested permission to purchase one of the $650 digital pianos with the understanding he would lug it between the district’s elementary school campus in Washington and its middle school campus in Orange, Superintendent Susette Bollard recommended the board splurge.

While technically portable, Bollard said the piano would be time-consuming to transport and buying one for each school would save on wear and tear, and still leave more than $8,700 to spend on other equipment.

Bollard didn’t have to ask twice as board members authorized the purchase with two of the digital instruments.

“I’m so excited,” Chairwoman Jessica Foster said of the purchase that will benefit students at both schools at no cost to taxpayers.

The decision came on a night the short-handed board filled a vacancy it had been carrying since former member Alan Small’s term expired in March. The board was also told the search for a licensed physical education teacher will continue while that role is temporarily filled by an organization that runs summer camps.

Orange resident Monica Tonne was appointed to fill the vacancy created when Small opted not to seek re-election in March and nobody else ran for the three-year seat. Tonne was appointed to serve through Town Meeting Day when the mother of four is expected to run for the two years remaining on the term.

Bollard credited Principal Amy Harlow and Tim Francke with coming up with a creative solution to the unexpected physical education staffing.

While the search for a licensed physical education teacher continues, the school district has contracted with the Hulbert Center in Fairlee to provide that instruction on Monday and Tuesday at Washington Village School and Orange Center School.

“It’s a great out-of-the-box solution,” Bollard said, noting the teacher’s union signed off on the arrangement with the understanding the district would continue its search for a permanent instructor.

Though staff supplied by the Hulbert Center on a contractual basis will handle physical education, the health component of that position will temporarily become part of the science curriculum.

The Echo Valley board, which last year consolidated pre-K-5 students from Orange and Washington at Washington Village School and sixth- through eighth-graders at Orange Center School, was told that arrangement felt more comfortable to students this year.

“It feels like we’re a real school,” Francke said. “People feel like it’s more their home than they did last year.”

Harlow said there was a similar sense of “belonging” among students at the elementary school campus, while noting there were more of them.

Harlow said enrollment at Washington Village School has jumped to 120. That, she said, includes 30 pre-schoolers, but not the list of students waiting to enroll in that program. Meanwhile, Francke said there are 73 students in the three grades assigned to the middle school campus in Orange.

Board members welcomed those opening day numbers and briefly discussed a possible shift to policy governance. With its sister-district in the Central Vermont Supervisory Union interested in exploring the ends-based governance model, board members said they were open to considering it, as well.


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