January 11, 2021
Good afternoon BSD Community,
As you may have heard, on Friday evening Burlington High School (BHS) Principal Noel Green resigned. Though I was surprised by this resignation, I am grateful for Principal Green’s leadership of BHS over the past three years and I wish him the best on his journey forward. I spent this weekend working with my leadership team and the BHS team to create a plan forward for our school and our District. Today, Assistant Principal Lauren McBride began serving as Acting Principal and the entire BHS team is committed to and focused on moving forward for the students and families they serve. Thank you, Principal McBride, and our entire BHS team for stepping up. Please see more details about the transition plan below.
As we move forward, I want to acknowledge something I have heard from several BSD leaders, staff, and community members this weekend. With Principal Green’s resignation, BSD has lost an educator of color and a District leader of color. As you know, equity is one of my foundational beliefs regarding education and my leadership team’s primary focus. This year my cabinet and I have spent time exploring what it means to lead with equity and inclusion at the heart of all we do, but it is clear there is much work to be done. We have made it a goal to recruit and hire more educators and leaders of color and while we are making progress in that area, it is also imperative that we acknowledge the importance of our work in supporting and retaining educators of color in our district. As Superintendent, I want you to know I am committed to this work.
On a separate note, I want to remind everyone that we are hard at work developing next year’s budget. As you may remember, our first estimate was that next year’s budget could increase taxes by 13%. I am happy to report that tomorrow night we will bring to the board a proposal that brings that impact down to 7.15%. The work is not done, and the board will still need to deliberate and may want to see changes, but I wanted to assure you we are trying hard to keep this number down while avoiding large scale layoffs and/or program cuts. Please join us at 6 PM via Zoom or the District Facebook page to learn more.
Please see below for important information regarding MLK Day, Snow Days, BHS Downtown, and more.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – In keeping with previous practice, BSD will once again be in school for a half-day on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year (January 18th). Recognized by Americorps as “a day on, not a day off,” our schools will focus this day’s curriculum and learning on Dr. King and his legacy of equity, inclusion, hope, and love. As in previous years, we will accommodate parents who choose not to send their child to school on this day so that they may participate in service or other educational opportunities.
Snow Days – Depending on the extent of severe weather, Snow Days may eventually look different this school year. However, we will treat the first two days of inclement weather as traditional “Snow Days,” provided they do not fall on a Wednesday when we are already engaging in remote learning. The first two days we are closed due to weather will be made up on June 14th and June 15th. If we are required to close beyond two days, students will receive remote instruction.
Responsive Teaching – In the aftermath of last week’s disturbing attack on our Capitol Building and democracy as a whole, I let you know that teachers and principals would be prepared to create safe spaces at schools and encourage conversation and reflection where appropriate. Thank you, Principal Oropeza and EMS Social Studies Teacher Jeremy DeMink, for taking the time to share what this process looked like in their school and class.
BHS Leadership Transition Plan – As mentioned above, I have asked Lauren McBride to serve as Acting Principal of BHS. She will be supported in this role by Assistant Principal Herb Perez, as well as long-time BHS teacher Gayle Botelho, who I have asked to serve as Acting Assistant Principal. Principal McBride and APs Perez and Botelho are smart, passionate, and knowledgeable professionals who have the skills and abilities to help our students and staff navigate our current situation.
Today, Monday, January 10, we will post a 10-day internal job opening for an interim principal, per the Burlington Administrators Association contract, as well as a potential interim assistant principal. Both positions, if filled, would end before the start of the 2021-22 school year. We will also be launching a national search to find the next permanent principal of BHS. There will be a variety of ways for community engagement and when the time comes, I hope you will engage in that process. Most importantly, I hope you will help both our current team as well as the next permanent principal feel welcome, valued, and supported.
BHS Downtown – BHS parents, students, and staff answered a survey and has chosen the name “BHS Downtown” for our new school. On Monday, Burlington City Council took action to support the project by guaranteeing the construction loan being used to transform the former Macy’s building into our temporary school. The BHS Downtown task force has finalized all major design elements for the project, which will cost approximately $3.5 million. Work is well underway to transform this space, which you can see in the most recent copy of North Ave News and in the stories aired by Local 22/44, WPTZ, and WCAX.
PCBs & BHS Campus Occupancy – PCB building material sampling is in full swing on the BHS campus on Institute Road. Environmental consultants are on-site taking hundreds of samples throughout the building. This sampling will continue for the next couple of weeks and will inform the path forward for campus renovations. Once we know the full extent of contamination, we will finalize and begin a pilot program designed to try to remediate certain spaces. This will allow us to know if remediation of the PCBs is really an option and, if so, the project cost associated with going this route. We should have this information this summer, which will allow us, as a community, to make a decision on whether or not we should spend money on a total PCB remediation project or look for alternatives.
In the meantime, the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) has made formal recommendations allowing us to use some areas of “A” Building. These recommendations are based on previous testing that occurred in September and December. VDH identified some spaces where dust samples did not detect PCBs, such as the kitchen and cafeteria, and thus recommended occupancy of those spaces without limitation. Other important areas, such as the gym, locker rooms, exercise rooms, and auditorium, showed some presence of PCBs but on average were below Vermont’s screening values, so VDH has cleared these spaces as suitable to be occupied no more than 30 hours per week by students and staff. This recommendation is important because it allows BSD to proceed safely with activities like indoor athletics. There were some spaces where VDH recommended against occupancy and BSD will not utilize those spaces. You can read the memo above or see the spaces laid out in our consultant’s color-coded map.
Lunch with Tom – This week we launched “Lunch with Tom” as an opportunity to engage with families, staff, and the broader community. More than two dozen people joined me for a brief presentation on the budget, BHS, and in-person learning before participating in 45 minutes of conversation. My goal will be to host these regularly as an opportunity to connect and share with families and community members, and all meetings will be recorded and shared on our website and social media.
Equitable Budgeting and Strategic Planning– BSD has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for support in developing an equitable budget and staffing model. This work is one of my priorities and will occur this spring, with the goal of rolling out the new model for next year’s budget development cycle. This project aims to ensure our budgeting process drives resources to where they are needed most and in a way that is consistent and transparent. We’ve also issued an RFP for help developing the District’s next five-year strategic plan. I am excited to begin both of these projects and cannot wait to join you all in moving our district forward. Please share these RFP’s widely!
PSAT – This year, BHS has been assigned to take the PSAT on Tuesday, January 26th. As our BHS students are without a home to call their own until early March, I have directed the BHS team to use EMS as the testing location so that BHS students can utilize a safe and familiar space as they begin the journey of considering the options available to them after graduation. EMS will pivot to remote learning for the 26th as well as the regularly scheduled remote learning day on the 27th (EES will not be impacted). Special thanks to Principal Keifer and EMS community for accommodating this move.
PreK Updates – We are working hard in preschool on getting back into routines and enjoying the winter weather. By building in independent self-help skills children are becoming more capable of getting all their snow gear on and maximizing their playtime. From a health and safety perspective, we are still focusing on mask-wearing, keeping our group sizes small, and not mixing classrooms. As we all know preschoolers want to play together so we are setting up more small group stations for kids to engage with one other peer. We have also done some great work in getting kids comfortable with Remote Learning and using their iPads for when we have had to make that shift quickly.