Washington Central Story
WCUUSD Community Newsletter - December 8, 2023
Those of us who have spent our lives in the Northeast know that in December, the month with the least daylight of the year, we try to find light wherever we can. You may have begun the celebration of Hanukkah this week, or decorated with lights, or maybe you just find yourself drawn to light in nature or at home. In this newsletter, Shelley will share some more about winter lights and the many traditions we associate with light this time of year.
I am feeling like right now is an especially important time to seek that light, because things in the world feel so very heavy. We know that hate has shown itself closer to home than we would like, and this is deeply unsettling. I believe that the only way to counteract that hate is with love and care. I know that each and every day our school communities show up for our students and families, so that they can extend that care to each one. Know that your schools, and your communities, are here for you.
There is much to celebrate this month. In this newsletter we will acknowledge a few of our amazing educators, peek into the classroom at an incredibly relevant project-based unit, and share some important information with you. I hope that you are able to find some warmth and light in whatever way makes sense for you!
- Meagan Roy, Superintendent
In this issue...
- Snow & Weather Day Recap
- Academic Achievement - World Peace Game
- Humanity & Justice - Thinking about Traditions
- Safe & Healthy Schools - Some information about PCBs
- Celebrating Educators
- Our New Website
- Upcoming Board meeting information
With our second week in a row of unsettled Monday morning weather, I wanted to acknowledge that the decision to delay or call off school has been trickier than usual of late. Last month, I shared an overview of my two (often competing) snow day priorities:
- Our students benefit from being in school and learning with our amazing faculty and staff, and,
- Our students need to be safe
As I've shared, this is a difficult balance on even the most straightforward of storms! But these past two weather events have brought up two additional pieces of information that may be helpful for you to know our thinking about:
Delay vs. Closing?
Because it is a priority to have students in school, when storms are predicted to end early in the morning we will try to delay opening rather than close altogether. A two-hour delay can give the road crews time to clean things up, give our maintenance crews time to clear our parking lots, and give our staff some additional time to get into school. However, we make the decision about the delay very early in the morning (sometimes before 5:00 am), and sometimes conditions don't improve as quickly as we thought they would. We do understand that it is challenging for families to adjust to a two-hour delay, only to then have to adjust to a full cancellation. As a parent myself, I know it throws all of your contingency plans up in the air! Sometimes, though, it is just unavoidable. We truly prioritize having school, and we do the best we can to make the right call - but with the safety of students and our staff a priority, it can make for changes.
Multi-Town Decision Making
The reality of being a single district that is spread across a large geographic area means that the conditions can differ widely from town to town. Things may be relatively clear in one place and very much hazardous in another - especially our outlying towns. We make school closure decisions as a full district, not school-by-school. Unless there is a non-weather related issue in a single building, all decisions are made for all 6 of our school buildings. If the majority of our five towns are reporting difficult and dangerous travel conditions, we will close for all of our schools.
I hope this additional information is helpful - and here's to weekend-only storms for the rest of winter!
Our team has been thinking a lot about these times of unrest and uncertainty, and how we can support our students, staff, and families (and ourselves!). We reflected on the ways we talk about heavy things with students - and immediately thought about sharing just one of the many ways our faculty and students are engaged in deep learning about the complexities in our world. We want to share one of those with you, because we feel as though it’s especially poignant now.
Thanks to Jen Miller-Arsenault, Steve Sheeler and Sean McIntyre for helping to pull this together!
The World Peace Game is a days-long, hands-on simulation that challenges students to explore and solve complex economic, environmental, social, and political crises. In the summer of 2018 Washington Central hosted a World Peace Game master class so that a cadre of teachers could be trained to be facilitators of the game and we could incorporate the World Peace Game as a vital part of our seventh grade curriculum.
After a few disruptions due to the pandemic and staff attrition, we are thrilled to offer the World Peace Game as a universal seventh grade learning experience once again.
Last month students in the Maple Core participated in the Game. Steve Sheeler, social studies teacher in the Maple Core, facilitated the game. In his words:
The World Peace Game has consistently demonstrated the ability of our young people to work together in a meaningful way to address real world issues. I left this game inspired and encouraged about our future. Our students have the ability to think outside the box to address real world issues like climate change, rights for refugees, and resource distribution. The power of the game lies in the ability of the facilitator to take a step back and pass control of the experience to the students. By the end of the game, I was merely a spectator as the students took ownership and developed creative and inspirational solutions towards World Peace. With more classroom experiences like the World Peace Game, I'm excited about our future and the ability of our students to be leaders. Despite the complexity and moments of despair early on, our students rose to the challenge.
Sean McIntytre, middle school English teacher in the Maple Core, had the opportunity to support the Game for the first time. He has the following to say about the experience:
I had the privilege of supporting Steve Sheeler and the Maple Core 7th graders during this year's World Peace Game. I've heard from teachers and past students that the game was an amazing experience, but this was my first opportunity to witness it up close. The World Peace Game demanded extended focus, quick math and public speaking from our students, and they met all of these challenges. However, what struck me most was the interpersonal skills they used during negotiations and their ability to cooperate and work toward a common goal. Despite many situations on the game board and in the crisis report that seemed likely to lead to conflict and destruction, at no point did countries "attack" each other or work against a peaceful resolution to the myriad problems affecting their world. Seeing middle school students in this light was refreshing and inspiring. When challenged and given the freedom to collaborate, they solved problems that seemed unsolvable.
And, here are a few words from some of the seventh graders who just participated:
The World Peace Game is an interactive game that requires everyone and every group to be involved and engaged. This game takes time and patience, but everyone will have something to celebrate if finished in time.
There are three reasons why more schools should play the World Peace Game. Firstly, it helps kids to problem solve. It makes them able to find solutions for themselves instead of relying on other people. Secondly, it makes you able to decision make. If there’s two choices you got to know which one to pick and the consequences of each. Thirdly, it teaches kids to think outside the box. They think more logically to solve the world’s problems.
You have just been given a very amazing opportunity. This game will change the way you see the world and in a fun way. At first it may be confusing like you have no idea where to begin, but I assure you that you will get it. But you should keep in mind that this game is not about war. This game is about achieving peace, together, as a world, not just as a country. So just remember, throughout the game. You only win when you work together. If you think about everyone and try to solve problems to everyone's benefit you will succeed in peace.
Students in our other two middle school cores, Cedar and Spruce, will complete the Game this month.
During a time of uncertainty and this season of darkness, our students’ focus on working together to solve seemingly intractable problems and achieve world peace is a reminder of the promise, hope, and light that our youth bring to our future.
Humanity & Justice Corner
More About Traditions
Shelley Vermilya, equity scholar in residence
December's sun is at such an angle in our northern hemisphere that we have our shortest days this month. School starts and ends in the dark. I've noticed the hens are slacking, since they need 12-14 hours of light to lay.
There are many traditions and holidays this time of year and light seems to be a universal theme. Diwali Festival of Lights, St. Nicholas Eve, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanza are all December events with glowing candles or strings of light (to learn more about winter holidays around the world, check out this source: https://spoken-here.com/language-services/winter-holidays-around-the-world/).
The Humanity and Justice Coalition is inspiring conversations about what we can do to ensure that everyone thrives. This includes thinking about traditional events in all our schools. Conversations about long-held traditions stretch our imaginations. I often hear people worry about changing these traditions: “we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater*!" Of course not! But thinking about traditions is a great opportunity to think about what we do and why.
Here are some questions guiding these discussions:
- Is this tradition free of bias?
- Does it deepen relationships with students and their community?
- Do we all learn something new, something that disrupts harm or stereotypes, and are we celebrating so everyone—everyone—shares the light and joy?
- As we actualize our commitment to all students thriving, what might we keep, tweak, or let go?
Are there some traditions that you look at now and think, "Oh my! I didn't realize how that ____ (your example) must have hurt my friend’s feelings;" or "I was always the last one picked for that'" or "I never got a ____"?
What are some new ideas you may have to preserve the good of a tradition? Pirate Day? Sparkle Day? Creemee Day? World Kindness Day?
So many great questions to ponder!
* Did you know? The phrase "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" comes from the ole days when the eldest got the tub first with the clean hot water, and then everyone in the family got in, baby being last!
Safe & Healthy Schools - PCBs
U-32 received its results just before the Thanksgiving break, and unfortunately several spaces in the building were identified as exceeding the school level safety standards. Obviously, this result was unsettling for everyone; however, almost immediately an inter-agency team from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Agency of Education (AOE) and Department of Health (DOH) surrounded our U-32 and facilities team to discuss implications. The most important thing we learned is that we can safely operate and occupy all U-32 spaces while we work to mitigate the PCBs. We have an agreement pending with Stone Environmental, a consulting firm that will help us through the process.
Congratulations to our Teachers of the Year!
Although we announce our Teachers of the Year in August, they are formally acknowledged at the Vermont Outstanding Educator Day in November each year. Congratulations, Daisy and Julie!
Our new website launched last month! Check it out when you get a chance, if you haven't already. As we move forward we'll be adding new photos and other tweaks to make it a helpful place to promote our schools and communicate with our communities.
If you notice anything that needs attention or have suggestions please use the “contact the webmaster” link.
WCUUSD Budget Meeting
Our next budget meeting will an opportunity for the Board to discuss updates to the proposed budget (originally presented on November 15th). As you will recall, the proposed budget represents a 12.96% net education spending increase, and that increase is despite a proposed reduction of just under $900,000. Our budget continues to be impacted by statewide changes in our education funding systems, increased workforce costs, and increases in health insurance and facilities costs.
In addition, our Board will be discussing the implications of the Tax Commissioner's December 1 Tax letter. Overall, statewide education spending is projected to increase at a high rate, resulting in significant increase in property taxes. This, along with implications of our PCB remediation, will impact the Board's budget discussions.
Check out our website for more information and for the link to join virtually: