Jackie Wilson: Taconic & Green — just getting started

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Conventional wisdom tells us, "numbers don't lie." But sometimes, numbers tell only part of the story. For the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020, for example, the Taconic & Green School District's second-annual warned budget for education spending is up by less than 1 percent. After applying all the State of Vermont calculations, the T&G equalized tax rate for FY20 is basically the same as last year, $1.54.

While this marginal spending increase and flat tax rate may suggest business as usual, the real story is that a great deal of change, reallocation of resources, and collaboration at our five schools is well underway. The mission is to provide children with an education designed to help them thrive in the 21st Century.

We are just beyond the mid-point of our first year of operations, but T&G can already point to achievements. Centralizing our building operations and transportation functions has improved the quality and equity of this fundamental service at a lower cost. Our buildings are well maintained, cleaner and safer. Our buses pick-up and deliver our children on time. Just as important, this restructuring frees up our school principals to have more time to focus on education.

Our new coordinated foodservice program is also delivering a positive return on investment. At T&G, food is more than a meal. Educating our children on the importance of nutrition is featured daily as we move away from processed foods and sugar-filled snacks to more fresh fruits, vegetables and locally grown food.

We are especially proud of our work in the classrooms. The State of Vermont legislated the move to Proficiency-Based-Learning with the passage of Act 77 in 2013. PBL is designed to create a more personalized focus on a child's progress in mastering basic learning and personal skills that will help them flourish in our changing world. PBL requires added efforts from both students and teachers, but creates a richer, more meaningful education.

PBL will provide students and parents with a wider range of feedback. A new PBL Report Card is currently being phased in at all our schools during the 2018-19 academic year. Every school is conducting multiple public forums for parents to help them understand and take advantage of the opportunities created by PBL.

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We also embrace the advantages of teaching outside the classroom. Programs such as the Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert, and STARBASE in Rutland, immerse our children in real life applications of biology, physics, technology and mathematics. They also create invaluable lessons in teamwork and collaboration. To ensure that all our students are able to benefit from these outside classroom programs, our extracurricular budget has been increased in FY20.

Another area of added cost next year will be in technology. We all are living in a time of constant change with smartphones, computers, tablets and apps. To keep up — and keep ahead — we've allocated money in the FY20 budget to fund a new Director of Innovation and Data Management position. This person will work with our teachers to introduce them to the latest developments, applications and even dangers in the tech world. We want our children to be computer literate and safe.

Our T&G schools are proud of what we've accomplished so far but realize there is always more work to be done. Next year, for example, we will be expanding middle school choice to include sixth grade. We are also expanding our public PreK program to include all nine T&G communities. More information on these changes will be rolled out to parents in the weeks ahead.

We have been entrusted with the responsibility for preparing your children with an education needed for their future. We take that responsibility seriously.

To learn more about T&G, please attend our annual meeting next Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m., at the Manchester Elementary Middle School. To help prepare for that meeting, and the March 5 vote on the budget, please pick up the Annual T&G Report. Copies are available at all five T&G schools, Manchester Public Library, and the Town Halls of our nine communities: Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mount Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston.

I hope to see you on the 26th.

Jackie Wilson is the superintendent of the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union.


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