Colchester schools reopen for fresh academic year
By Jason Starr
The Colchester Sun
The Colchester School District begins its last school year under the leadership of Larry Waters this week. Waters said Tuesday he plans to formally submit his resignation to the Colchester School Board on Saturday during the board’s annual planning retreat.
His resignation will take effect in June 2016.
Before his exit, he’ll work to move the district forward on a host of initiatives, including compliance with the Act 46 school spending law and Act 166 universal pre-kindergarten law, overseeing spending decisions on a leftover sum from a $5 million high school science lab bond, and furthering the study of his plan to close the school’s two existing elementary schools and build a new early education center. The school year will also be marked by a national search for Waters’ successor.
All of this will be done in the context of federal Common Core curriculum integration, adherence to personalized student learning plans and a focus on the “Universal Design for Learning” style of lesson preparation.
When Colchester’s teachers returned to their classrooms last week for three days of professional development, a major theme of their focused on the new lesson preparation method. It’s a teaching theory that aims for complete classroom success upon initial delivery of a lesson.
“Differentiation is no longer our main theme,” Waters said.
Meanwhile, Colchester’s results on last spring’s standardized tests — the first results received since switching to a new test to assess a student’s grasp of the Common Core curriculum — were released Monday. The school district performed better than the state averages, according to Waters, but specific results for Colchester schools were not available by press time.
Colchester’s five school buildings will absorb a typical amount of teacher turnover, said Waters, as well as the introduction of one new principal: Colchester Middle School’s Michele Cote. A former administrator at Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Cote takes over for Dawn Gruss, who resigned after four years. The middle school also lost longtime assistant principal Peg Gillard to retirement. Dovid Yagoda returns as assistant principal, and Gillard’s position was transitioned from assistant principal to special education coordinator, filled by Julie Tanguay. The restructuring was done to better delineate the responsibilities of the three administrators, Waters said.
“We are very optimistic about our leadership team,” he said. “(Cote) brings significant experience to the table working in the Barre schools. That experience is providing a great benefit and direction to the school.”
All other principals and administrative leadership teams return from last year.
Other new elements in the district include a new elevator at the high school, new roof at the middle school and new parking lot surfaces at the middle school, high school and Malletts Bay School.
Malletts Bay is the site of the district’s new preschool program under Act 166, which guarantees 10 hours per week of early education for Colchester’s 3-5-year-olds. The school has hosted an Essential Early Education and Head Start program for preschoolers for the past four years, and the implementation of universal pre-k has meant an expansion of offerings and hiring of a new teacher. The district is also partnering with 33 preschools around Chittenden County to serve 88 Colchester preschool students.
The new Act 46 school spending law has placed a spending cap on Colchester’s schools of 2.34 percent for next fiscal year. That amounts to $684,000, according to Business and Operations Manager George Trieb. The annual raise in teacher compensation due next fiscal year under a three-year contract agreed to last year will push district spending over the cap, Waters said. He will be advising the school board how to bring next fiscal year’s spending under the cap, or brace for tax penalties associated with going over it.
Early fiscal year ’17 budget discussions will be a topic for Saturday’s school board retreat, as will options for roughly $700,000 in unspent science lab bond money. A repurposing of the money for another building need, such as upgrades to the high school theater, may find its way onto the Town Meeting Day ballot for voter consideration in March, Waters said.
Another topic of discussion Saturday will be forming a group for citizens and educators to discuss the educational challenges and opportunities associated with Waters’ proposal to consolidate the district’s two K-2 schools, Union Memorial and Porters Point. District administrators plan to lobby legislators for a change to statewide incentives for school district consolidation to include intra-district mergers to help increase cost savings associated with early education consolidation.