Note: These proposed minutes should be considered preliminary until they are approved by the board at a future meeting.
WINDHAM SOUTHEAST SCHOOL DISTRICT (WSESD) BOARD
TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2023
REGULAR BOARD MEETING – 6:15PM
HYBRID MEETING: WRCC CUSICK CONFERENCE ROOM, BRATTLEBORO,
AND REMOTELY VIA ZOOM
WSESD Board Members Present: Chair Kelly Young (KY), Anne Beekman (AB), Lana Dever (LD), Tim Maciel (TM), Ruby McAdoo (RMA), Robin Morgan (RM), Shaun Murphy (SM), Eva Nolan (EN), Kimberley Price (KP), Deborah Stanford (DS), Kaiya Colby (KC)
WSESU/SD Staff and Administrators Present: Mark Speno, Cassie Damkoehler, Hannah Parker, Chris Brewer, Traci Lane, Keith Lyman, Paul Smith, Julianne Eagan, Wendy M. Levy, Brin Tucker, Carmen Winchester, Erin Gobel-Lynch, Stacey Sawyer, Megan Altshuler, Jamie Scanlon, Ben Lord, Joe Rivers, Stacey Mousseau, Mary Kaufmann, Jon Sessions, John Gagnon, Kelly Dias, Mikaela Simms, Ellen Strong, Amy Skolnick, Laureen Reavey, Alexandra Keep, Henry Zacchini, Robin Macy, Rebecca Speisman, Mary Linney, Patty Walior, Deb Heller, Deb Schiller, Michael Szostak, Chris Nesbitt, Flo Levin, Kim Edgar, Aaron Walsh
Media Present: Chris Mays of the Brattleboro Reformer
Others Present: Lucy Corbin (BUHS student), Habame Scholz-Karabakakis (BUHS student)
Attending via zoom: Jody Normandeau, Matt Dricker, Sarah Cassidy, Kate O’Connor, Kevin O’Connor, Sherri Keefe, Nader Hashim, Kerry Amidon, Mindy Haskins Rogers, Diana Whitney, Jamie Contois, Mary Gannon, Jodi Nutting, Craig Miskovich, Liz Adams, Maggie Foley, Judy Dow, Laura Stamas, Charlene Galarneau
Please note: attendance may be incomplete.
I. CALL TO ORDER
KY called the meeting to order at 6:15pm.
KY announced there would be two executive sessions at the end of the meeting.
II. STUDENT MATTERS
There were none.
III. ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT
Superintendent Mark Speno announced updates to the search for a BUHS principal. He shared that a hiring process was conducted and a candidate pulled their name from consideration. He met with staff and received great feedback. He stated that we do have four strong dedicated leaders and the next steps will be determined and shared in the near future.
A. Coaching Models/Distributed Leadership in Schools
Mr. Speno announced the presentation, and noted the district used ESSER money to fund the teacher coaching program.
Brin Tucker, one of the Supervisory Union’s Curriculum Coordinators (with Paul Smith), began the presentation by asking the coaches — Carmen Winchester, Erin Gobel-Lynch, Stacey Sawyer, Megan Altshuler, Jamie Scanlon, and Ben Lord — to introduce themselves.
Ms. Tucker noted there are other teacher-coaches in the district. The teacher-coaches work with instructors on content, and whatever else they need.
Ms. Tucker and Mr. Smith shared a slideshow, “Meet the Coaches – Instructional Coaching in WSESU.” Highlights from the slideshow included:
• Why have coaches? Who needs coaches? The answer: everyone who wants to improve.
• The benefits of coaching.
• Teaching is a collaborative effort, and coaches learn, too.
• Teaching school is one part of being a good teacher; another part is learning from other teachers.
• A discussion on why someone would choose to become a coach.
• Coaches act as bridges between:
• The administration and teachers.
• Staff and District policies.
• Research and practices.
• Teachers and curriculum.
• Needs and resources.
• The many benefits of instructional coaching.
• The benefits of District coaches (as differentiated from coaches who remain in one school) include supporting diversity, equity, and social justice efforts; and contribute toward high-quality professional development.
• Photographs, stories, examples, and a video demonstrating how teacher-coaching appears in classrooms.
BUHS Assistant Principal Traci Lane and Dummerston School Principal Julianne Eagan spoke, from their perspectives as administrators, about how teacher-coaches affect their schools.
A discussion ensued on the different ways teachers respond to having coaches in their classrooms for observations. Some teachers are nervous at first, but the culture is changing and reception is growing.
Ms. Tucker and Mr. Smith attempted to play a video about coaching, but the technology presented challenges and they were unable to play it. The video will go on the WSESU website and a link will be emailed to WSESD Board members.
RMA asked how Ms. Tucker and Mr. Smith review data to determine which schools have their own coaches and which schools use the district-wide coaches, and what does equity look like in this context. Ms. Tucker responded: the initial goal of the program was to have coaches in every school, but staffing has not allowed for that. Currently, seven of the ten district schools have their own coaches, and there is cross-school collaboration.
A discussion ensued on the coaches’ methods for their own learning, including coaching each other and learning by observing other teachers in classrooms.
Mr. Speno continued his report. He referenced Policy D17, which the board adopted at the April 11 meeting. This policy is mandatory by state statute. Now the board must determine whether our mascot is in compliance with the policy.
Joe Rivers, a BAMS History teacher and member of the Brattleboro Historical Society, gave a presentation on the history of the BHS/BUHS team name, Colonels, and how the connotations of the name evolved over time.
• The school had no team name until 1950 when the Principal initiated a process of naming the team in response to pressure from local news media. The initial process was a student vote but the principal was not happy with the name students selected (Barracudas). He asked for a name connected to the site of the location where the new school would be built, a former civil war hospital and recruitement site. This was in the context of a militaristic culture and cold war fears. The student council made a decision to name the
team the Colonels.
• In the 1970s, the miltaristic image of the Colonel shifted. A music teacher from the south promoted the southern colonel image and had the band members dress in costumes based on that image. This theme spread to the sports teams who began to use the phrase “Pride of the South” to describe the team. In 1996, a southern colonel icon with a confederate flag was published on the cover of the yearbook.
• In 2003, the administration asked students what should be done about the mascot. Students were divided over this and did not come forward with a recommendation that the administration approved of. The school compromised by removing the icon while leaving the Colonels name in place.
A discussion followed.
Mr. Speno reflected that it was faulty process that put the burden of this decision on students. We should learn from that as we move forward.
LD said that learning the mascot’s history has its place, but in these current times we cannot decouple the Colonel from a racist history. It is time to move on and move forward, and select a mascot that represents all of our students.
SM said he was a school board member in 2004, when the mascot discussion was occurring. SM brought and read a series of documents from that era, including newspaper articles, press releases, and meeting minutes with public comments during the discussions. He recalled that there were terrible things that happened in the years leading up to the removal of the Colonel icon. At homecoming in 1998, there was a bonfire and there was an effigy of a black doll thrown onto the flames, and the rallying cry was “Pride of the South.”
Diana Whitney of Brattleboro, parent of a BUHS athlete, spoke about the shame of this mascot. She said that the fact that a confederate flag was on the yearbook is painful and it cannot be ignored that the Colonel name is associated forever with the image. She noted the students on her daughter’s team are ashamed of the name and refer to their team as the “Popcorn Kernels” to separate themselves from a racist icon.
DS invited students to speak up on this, and noted this conversation will happen at future meetings, as well.
Jaime Contois of Putney shared that she has followed state-wide work on this issue and is excited the board is addressing this issue. She asked the board to be compliant with Act 152 and appreciated that action is being taken quickly.
BUHS student Habame Scholz-Karabakakis encouraged creativity in choosing a new name. She said that teaching the history of this issue is important to shed light on where we are now and how far we have come.
KY and Mr. Speno discussed how to choose a new mascot that will represent the community. KY said Mr. Speno should lead the process.
A discussion ensued on whether a motion is necessary to direct Mr. Speno to do this. Mr. Speno said he has already started developing the framework for this process. RMA noted the Board has already approved the policy, which directs the superintendent to develop the framework; thus, no new motion is needed.
KP asked if the budget includes an allocation to change all the sports uniforms once the name and mascot are changed. LD said that regardless, these things must be changed. Ms. Contois said she will fundraise for this cost if need be.
BUHS Principal Cassie Damkoehler expressed support for a motion by the board in order to make a statement. She recognized that this process will bring up emotions but emphasized that this is an opportunity to step forward in a positive light and empower our students. Our student body is resilient and smart and the majority want to see these changes occur.
MOTION BY TM TO ASK THE ADMINISTRATION TO CHANGE THE BRAND TO ONE THAT IS WITHOUT RACIAL HARM AND IMPLICATIONS. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
KY reminded attendees this conversation will continue at the next Board meeting.
IV. FISCAL REPORT – Capital Plan Review
Because Finance Director Frank Rucker was absent, this item was skipped.
V. CONSENT AGENDA
• CLERK’S REPORT: APPROVAL OF MINUTES – MARCH 20, APRIL 11, APRIL 17, 2023
a. March 20 Minutes
DS requested the following amendments:
• RMA should be listed in the attendance.
• The name of the student group is the Student Advisory Committee.
• On page 11, change “in perpetuity” to “compulsory.”
• At the end of the minutes, in the “Executive Session” segment, include a statement from KY indicating “action is expected,” and, “Mr. Speno was invited into Executive Session.”
• Include that a motion was made after rising from Executive Session, and there was a motion to approve the recommendation from the administration.
MOTION BY DS TO AMEND THE MINUTES OF MARCH 20, 2023 ACCORDING TO THE CORRECTIONS. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
TM requested the following amendment: on page 9, the second-to-last paragraph, insert a “point- of-order,” and that the Chair approved it.
MOTION BY TM TO AMEND THE MINUTES OF MARCH 20, 2023 ACCORDING TO THE CORRECTION. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
MOTION BY KY TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF MARCH 20, 2023 AS AMENDED. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
MOTION BY RM TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF APRIL 11, 2023. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
MOTION BY KP TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF APRIL 17, 2023. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
VI. PUBLIC COMMENT ON NON-AGENDA ITEMS
Jamie Contois asked if the Reformer article from April 18, 2023, about the search for a BUHS principal, would be part of this meeting’s agenda.
LD read a statement in response to a quote from the article. “Instead, they wasted precious time in executive session debating their own biases over this candidate. That’s my impression.”
“The accusation of bias in the principal hiring process from a member of the hiring committee is predicated upon the notion that my work and that of my fellow board members is unnecessary and in fact detrimental to the community. I would like to take this opportunity to respond directly. For the past year I have listened as accusations and conspiracy theories have run rampant, many making their way into the pages of our local paper and often with a consistent genesis. These words are not innocuous, they do what they are intended to do, they stir doubt and confusion, they divide and instill fear where there should be community and healthy discourse. Let me be clear, as a woman of color these accusations cause harm. They make it difficult to do the job for which I was elected, they make me lose faith in my community and they cause other women to question if being a public servant is worth their safety and mental well being. To accuse women of color of bias for not hiring a white man is either willfully ignorant or worse- knowingly weaponizing cultural and systemic racism. I will not sit by for either. I was elected to do a job that includes making tough decisions for the betterment of our schools and our future. I will not be bullied into anything less.”
Mindy Haskins Rogers from Northampton, Massachusetts, said that because the process for choosing a new principal is closed, one person’s narrative carries. She noted that in her school district, and elsewhere in Vermont, the process for choosing a new principal includes sharing publicly who the finalists are and providing opportunities for the public to meet them.
KY asked Mr. Speno to explain the process for choosing a new principal. Mr. Speno responded by explaining the process. Highlights included:
• In the beginning of February, the position was advertised in many places locally and nationwide.
• The administration received seven résumés. Mr. Speno submitted those résumés to the Agency of Education for their review, resulting in one candidate being removed from the process.
• Mr. Speno formed a 20-person screening committee, which included students, parents, staff, and members of the Board.
• The committee chose five candidates and scheduled meetings with the candidates. Two candidates dropped out before their meetings occurred.
• The committee interviewed the three remaining candidates. There were three focus groups with a full day of interviews, which involved the participation of 93 people.
• The committee made its recommendation, but the candidate they chose took a position elsewhere.
• Mr. Speno recently met with BUHS staff and administrators to discuss this and determine next steps.
LD asked how the administration protected the applicants’ anonymity. Mr. Speno responded: all participants on the committees signed a non-disclosure form.
TM noted the committee is a screening committee, not a hiring committee, and words are important.
DS said there are two issues here: one of them is the process; the other is that a member of the screening committee exposed sensitive information to the press.
Mary Gannon, who has been involved in the district as a racial equity trainer, shared concerns about the formation of the search committee. She noticed from the article that the women of color were not part of the process. She said that when we are in situations that are predominantly white, it is vital that there is careful consideration to who is in the search committee and what perspectives they are bringing. She talked about the different perspectives that committee members bring who have different lived experience, connected to a different socio-cultural experience and also asked the board to consider what a diverse screening committee communicates to candidates as they interview and go through the process.
TM asked for LD’s earlier statement to be included in the minutes, verbatim.
VII. UNFINISHED BUSINESS
A. Sexual Abuse Investigation Update
KY reported the Board recently met with the attorney to determine:
• what information they are seeking from the investigator
• what do they need to move into the next phase
• what data can be shared with the public.
B. Policy & Amendment Committee – Policies to be presented to the SD Board
F35 School Animal Policy – Re-Adoption
MOTION BY DS THAT THE WSESD BOARD APPROVE FOR ADOPTION F35: THE SCHOOL ANIMAL POLICY.
KY noted this was on the previous meeting’s agenda. She asked Board members to pay attention to DS’s announcements on the edits. She said this version inserts words that were previously removed.
VOTE ON THE DS MOTION: MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
DS pointed out the Policy and Amendment Committee has been working on F35 since November.
RMA appreciated that meetings agendas now include links to the policies on the website, thanks to Mo Hart.
C. BUHS Mascot (Policy D17) (15 minutes for presentation) (15 minutes for students)
Was completed during the Administrative Report.
D. Natowich Field Resurfacing
KY reported she had reached out to Frank Rucker for more information, and this topic will be revisited two meetings from this one.
Ms. Damkoehler said she has a great deal of information on this issue, which she will compile.
EN thanked LD for her beautiful mascot speech. EN thanked SM for bringing his articles and stories. She noted this is a historical moment that is meaningful to her.
VIII. BOARD MATTERS / TRAINING
KY reported she developed a poll for Board members to fill out, and it includes possible training dates. She asked Board members to respond.
RMA asked for the date of the summer retreat. KY responded: June 26. Mr. Speno responded: the location is to-be-determined. KP said she would not be there.
IX. NEW BUSINESS
A. Hires / Resignations
Mr. Speno announced one teacher resignation: Carly Mautner, BUHS Math teacher.
MOTION BY RM TO ACCEPT WITH REGRET THE RESIGNATION OF CARLY MAUTNER, BUHS MATH TEACHER. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
Mr. Speno announced six new hires:
Sarah Coughlin – Academy School Grade 4 teacher, one year
David Mazor – BUHS Art Chair
Lauren Perlstein – Guilford Pre-K teacher
Bernice Saranita – BUHS Band Director & Music Chair
Kaitlin Tafe – Dummerston Grade 4 Teacher
Aaron Walsh – Putney Central School MS AST
MOTION BY LD TO ACCEPT THE NEW HIRES AS PRESENTED. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
X. EXECUTIVE SESSION
KY announced there would be two issues covered in one executive session. They are as follows:
• 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(3) – The appointment or employment or evaluation of a public officer or employee, provided that the public body shall make a final decision to hire or appoint a public officer or employee in an open meeting and shall explain the reasons for its final decision during the open meeting.
• 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(E) – Pending or probable civil litigation or a prosecution, to which the public body is or may be a party.
KY invited Mr. Speno. She said no action was expected.
MOTION BY DS TO FIND THAT PREMATURE GENERAL PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE WOULD CLEARLY PLACE THE PUBLIC BODY OR PERSON INVOLVED IN SUBSTANTIAL DISADVANTAGE, REGARDING THE APPOINTMENT OR EVALUATION OF A PUBLIC OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE; AND REGARDING PENDING OR PROBABLE CIVIL LITIGATION OR A PROSECUTION, TO WHICH THE PUBLIC BODY IS OR MAY BE A PARTY. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
MOTION BY DS TO ENTER INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION UNDER 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(3), REGARDING THE APPOINTMENT OR EMPLOYMENT OR EVALUATION OF A PUBLIC OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE, PROVIDED THAT THE
PUBLIC BODY SHALL MAKE A FINAL DECISION TO HIRE OR APPOINT A PUBLIC OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE IN AN OPEN MEETING AND SHALL EXPLAIN THE REASONS FOR ITS FINAL DECISION DURING THE OPEN MEETING; AND UNDER 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(E), REGARDING PENDING OR PROBABLE CIVIL LITIGATION OR A PROSECUTION, TO WHICH THE PUBLIC BODY IS OR MAY BE A PARTY. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
The Board entered into Executive Session at 8:41pm.
The Board rose from Executive Session at 9:40pm.
MOTION BY KP TO FIND THAT PREMATURE GENERAL PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE WOULD CLEARLY PLACE THE PUBLIC BODY OR PERSON INVOLVED IN SUBSTANTIAL DISADVANTAGE, UNDER 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(D), REGARDING GRIEVANCES. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
MOTION BY DS TO ENTER INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION UNDER 1 VSA §313(a)(1)(D), REGARDING GRIEVANCES. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
The Board entered into Executive Session at 9:41pm.
KY announced there was no action expected.
The Board rose from Executive Session at 9:47pm.
MOTION BY AB TO ADJOURN. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:48pm.
• A slideshow, “Meet the Coaches – Instructional Coaching in WSESU.”
• A slideshow of the history of the Colonel as a mascot and sports team name.
submitted by Clerk, Robin Morgan from notes taken by Wendy M. Levy.