DORSET — Following weeks of turmoil and publicly expressed differences over its leadership, Long Trail School has planned to pull together as a community Friday, Oct. 15, with a field day open to all.
The event, first made public in a joint announcement by the administration, trustees and faculty, will be held on the independent grades 6-12 school grounds on Kirby Hollow Road in Dorset.
It follows a tumultuous few weeks, in which a majority of the school’s faculty sought changes including the resignation of John Moser, the chair of the school’s board of trustees, from the board; a “360” performance review of Head of School Seth Linfield; and the appointment of parent and faculty representatives to the board of trustees; and the removal of a policy allowing for disenrollment of students whose guardians behave unacceptably or cause disruption, at the school’s discretion.
The community day event is taking place instead of the faculty walkout that would have begun had those conditions not been met.
The school invited students, faculty, parents, trustees, alumni and community members “to join together in the values of the school to beautify our campus, to play games, do arts and crafts and have fun, and to share a meal.”
Instead of classes, “we will focus our attention on embracing the family atmosphere which is so valued and unique to LTS,” the school said of the event.
It comes more than a week after Moser agreed to step down as Board of Trustees chair immediately, and from the board entirely by January.
But Moser’s letter of resignation, addressed to his fellow trustees and emailed to the entire school community a week ago, made accusations that the constituencies who had sought change in school governance ignored the school’s core values and used “bullying tactics” to achieve their ends.
Sources familiar with the situation said teachers were angered by the distribution of the resignation letter.
In the letter, Moser, of Dorset, said he stepped down in the best interests of the school moving forward. He listed accomplishments during his tenure: the completion of the field house, an increase in enrollment, the school remaining open in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and improved financial stability.
“I am proud of these achievements and to have worked with such a committed team to improve the lives and experiences of LTS students,” Moser said. “However, over the last few days when I have asked myself the question, ‘What is best for the students of Long Trail School,’ I have come to a different conclusion than in the past.”
But Moser also called out his critics.
“I have been deeply frustrated and saddened over the last few weeks to see many in our school community ignore these core values as they sought to win at all costs instead of looking for ways to collaborate for the greater cause — our students,” Moser wrote. “As much as I disagree with the bullying tactics and the demands vs. conversation practice it is my hope that by stepping down the much-needed conversations between the Board, Administration and the teachers and faculty can begin in earnest and everyone at LTS can return to and model our school’s values.”
He did not specify what constituted “bullying tactics.”
“I leave this board with only one regret. I wish the teachers knew how much every board member respects the work they do and appreciates how hard their job is. Clearly, this is an area which we could have communicated better,” he said.
Moser’s interactions with parents and faculty were cited during a Sept. 20 “town hall” meeting, and in a blog post that preceded it. Parents who organized the meeting said Moser and the board had refused to meet with them to hear their concerns about the school’s direction — specifically, the departures of about 20 faculty and staff during Linfield’s tenure, the lack of parents and faculty on the Board of Trustees, and a lack of transparency from leadership.
At the meeting, middle school science teacher Sean Dempsey recounted that in 2020, Moser attended a faculty meeting after teachers sent the trustees a letter expressing a lack of confidence in Linfield.
That’s where Moser and the teachers’ version of events diverge.
In an interview in September, Moser said the teachers’ concerns were addressed “point by point” in a meeting.
But Dempsey said Moser “literally waved our letter in our faces scolding us and preaching talking points that were not part of the issues being addressed in the letter. No discussion was held, and our concerns were dismissed as if we have no idea what’s happening in the walls of the building we’ve worked every day.”
In another email to parents who organized the meeting, Moser responded that board members “would not be dignifying this event with our participation.”
“The mission and core values of LTS ... will not be changing,” he said. “If you do not share these values, we recommend you withdraw your enrollment from the school.”
Editor’s note: Manchester Journal editor Darren Marcy is a Long Trail School parent and has not been involved in the reporting, writing or editing of Vermont News & Media’s coverage of this story.