Thu, Jan 9, 2014 11:48 AM
ROCHESTER - Rochester residents will meet at the high school
library next Monday to discuss the future of the town's school
system. A non-binding referendum on the school's future will be
held the following day.
Jolanta Labejsza, who chairs Rochester's school board, said the
purpose of the meeting would be to answer questions and clear up
"The meeting is open to anyone interested in the future of the
school," she said. "There is a lot of misconception about how
dissolution (of the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union) will
affect different towns."
The Vermont State Board of Education is pondering whether to
dissolve the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union, which covers six
towns in the White River Valley and includes Rochester. School
administrators in the supervisory union proposed dissolving it last
year; opponents claim that the costs associated with this proposal
haven't been fully considered. A vote had been scheduled for last
month, but has been postponed until June.
Labejsza said she wanted people to know that, no matter what the
state board decides, the consequences will take a long time to be
"We still don't know how it will affect the school," she said. "But
even if the supervisory union is dissolved, it will take a couple
of years to take effect. We're probably looking at 2016."
Like other towns in Vermont, Rochester has been struggling with low
enrollment: out of 143 students total, only 55 are in high school.
The school board asked John Everitt, a consultant with the Vermont
School Board Association, to study the high school question and
present recommendations. In his 22-page report, Everitt noted the
tumult caused by rapid changes in the school system, including a
new high school principal.
"Recently, the high turnover in school leadership has translated to
concern about the academic program," Everitt wrote. "This concern,
combined with declining enrollment, resulted in area families
outside of Rochester, choosing to send their children to schools
other than Rochester. The draw of larger schools with a variety of
opportunities is stiff competition."
Closing the school, Labejsza said, would mean sending Rochester's
students to as many as 10 other schools in the area.
"There would be increased transportation costs," she said.
One choice would be for Rochester to try to compete for more
"In order to draw additional students, Rochester needs to take
advantage of its small size and community strengths," Everitt
wrote. He recommended a focus on individualized learning,
technology-based instruction and evaluation; designing learning to
fit students' interests; and hands-on learning through
apprenticeships and internships.
"Such a program would be different from other area high school
programs and would have the potential to draw students from beyond
the valley," he wrote.
Everitt said there were three choices if the school did not grow:
find them a new high school; become partners with other high
schools and higher education programs to create a new magnet
school; and let the families choose the schools for their
"A lot of people have questions about the cost," Labejsza said.
"The school board has to offer the best value for the taxpayer
Everitt also advised re-evaluating the school's mission.
"With declining enrollment and increasing financial pressures,
continuing to offer a traditional high school program will not be
possible," he wrote. "Most staff positions would need to be reduced
to part-time and the program will draw fewer students rather than
more. Partnerships with higher education, businesses, and the
community will require a very different program mission."
Rochester could try to go it alone, but Everitt wrote, "The Vermont
State Board of Education has been looking to make larger
supervisory unions and would not make Rochester a single
"Small schools can't continue as they have," said Labejsza. "They
have to become something different."
The meeting takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Rochester High
School Library on Monday, Jan. 13. Everitt's full report can be
read at www.rochesterschool.org.
Stephen Seitz is a freelance reporter for The Mountain Times. He
can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.