Dear Vermont State Board of Education members,
According to a news account of your most recent State Board of Education meeting held in Barre, several members of your board expressed concerns there about the quality of educational opportunities currently available at Cabot School. Specifically, State Board members were quoted in The Times Argus asserting that the Cabot School was on “life support,” that the current situation was “heartbreaking” and that “no one on the Board feels the status quo is acceptable.”
As parents, community members and Cabot School Board members with a clear understanding of our small community school’s current challenges, as well as its strengths and opportunities, we take exception to the perceptions of Cabot School apparently now held by some members of your board; they simply don’t square with what’s actually happening here.
The purpose of our writing to you today is twofold: The first is to address several misconceptions about Cabot School that were voiced (according to The Times Argus article) by members of your board. The second is to extend an invitation to any of your members to schedule a visit to Cabot School in the near future, to see for yourselves the range and quality of opportunities available to our students in grades PreK-12.
1. Concerns about opportunities for students
A concern raised by one member of your board centered on program cuts that were believed to have been recently made at Cabot. According to the article, the board member asserted that, “They cut their art. They cut their music. They cut their gym.” In fact, we are fortunate to have a dynamic and talented PreK-12 art teacher who currently offers an AP Art option for interested high school students, in addition to her other classes. Neither that program or position have been cut. We also have a vibrant music program at Cabot which, for years, has successfully varied its focus year-to-year according to the particular skills and interests of the students involved — from providing accompanying music for student-written plays to organizing and performing in a touring band, The Limes. Moreover, Cabot’s secondary music program has been celebrated throughout the state for being innovative and highly personalized. As part of a challenging budget process last spring, we eliminated a part-time elementary music teacher from the school’s program this year. Middle- and high-school students continue to reap large benefits from our music program, and we’re hopeful that elementary music can be included again in next year’s budget. Finally, no cuts have been made to our physical education classes. We did enter into a cooperative agreement with Twinfield this year for two of our varsity sports (in an effort to address decreased participation numbers), and this fall’s combined Cabot/Twinfield boys soccer team played extremely well.
2. General concerns about Cabot School
According to The Times Argus article, another member of your board stated that, “Our plan should not be viewed as an endorsement of the status quo in Cabot,” and added that he didn’t think “anybody on this board thinks the status quo is acceptable, ... or more importantly that it meets the goals of Act 46.” We’re not clear on how your board has reached its understanding of the “status quo” at Cabot on which this poor opinion is apparently based, but this circles back to our sincere offer made at the start of this letter: Come out for a visit and get a firsthand look at what’s happening for students here. What follows are several examples of high-quality educational programs now in place in Cabot. In addition to meeting Act 46’s main goal of increasing opportunities for students, we feel that they are, from a statewide perspective, well above the status quo.
a. High School program: As part of this year’s redesigned curriculum, students choose two interdisciplinary “project studios” each trimester in topics ranging from small business startups to “Chemistry and Conflict” to exploring the interaction of music, physics and biology. At the “Sci-Fi Script Slam and Exhibit” last week, teams of students in the Sci-Fi Film Production project studio presented their 40-page screenplays to a panel of drama experts (including well-regarded Vermont filmmakers Bess O’Brien and Jay Craven) followed by rehearsed readings of one scene from each screenplay. The judges were then charged with selecting the top two screenplays to be produced and filmed during the next trimester. These interdisciplinary courses mirror the work of the adult world, and are designed to develop vital skills in communication, collaboration and creative thinking. In addition to the 12 project studios offered during this current year, Cabot high school students can also choose from year-long courses in mathematics, art, music and world language, as well as several Advanced Placement courses.
b. Environmental education: In partnership with educators from Siskin Ecological Adventures in Charleston, Vermont, students use hands-on, inquiry-based activities to learn about local ecology and develop leadership skills.
c. Elementary student support: We’ve added an elementary-grades counselor to our staff this year to provide more support for our younger learners, in particular, those students who are dealing with significant personal trauma.
d. Middle School program: Middle school students develop knowledge along with skills in collaboration and leadership while engaged in interdisciplinary learning expeditions — projects — built around a central theme. Benefiting from an ongoing partnership with the University of Vermont’s Tarrant Institute, students investigate, research, build and present work that intersects with the real world. This trimester’s project, Blue Planet, explores marine ecosystems.
e. Cabot Leads: This innovative program gives students in grades 5-8 the opportunity to take an active role in the Cabot community, working for up to an hour weekly on jobs that range from school tech support to library assistant to culinary prep cook.
In closing, we sincerely hope that the current information included above will serve to address and correct the misconceptions about Cabot School that were expressed publicly by members of your board at its meeting in Barre. And again, we would very much appreciate the opportunity, as your schedules permit, to personally introduce members of your board to the variety of high-quality learning opportunities available at our school.
Jeremiah Breer, Sharon O’Connor, Lisa Olson, Rory Thibault and Chris Tormey are members of the Cabot School Board of Directors.