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Forum seeks community definition of equity and excellence in education

Center for Creative Solutions to discuss future of education in Windham County

The events on April 1 and 2 at the Latchis Theatre and Marlboro College Graduate Center are free (though donations are accepted). Day care is available. Registration is suggested. For more information, visit www.marlboro.edu/community/ccs/convening.

BRATTLEBORO—Act 46, the state’s 2015 overhaul of education funding, spending, and governance, has spurred conversations — some deep, some curious, some frantic.

But Act 46 is one piece of education-related legislation in a long line of legislation.

What does the future of education look like in Windham County? And what does the Windham County community want for the future of its children’s education?

The Center for Creative Solutions hopes to help the community answer these questions for itself.

Its conference, “Equity, Excellence, and Value in Public Education,” kicks off with a panel discussion at the Latchis Theatre on Friday, April 1 at 7 p.m.

The center will also facilitate two workshops to explore equity and excellence in public education on Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Marlboro College Graduate Center.

Act 46 calls for equity but never defines it, said Felicity Ratté, the center’s director.

“Before you can set out to produce it, you need to know what it looks like,” she said.

From riverfront discussions to education

Since 2007, Marlboro College has housed the center, which provides interdisciplinary workshops to “open up new thinking and possible solutions.”

The center, which has a strong focus on ecology, collaborated on a downtown riverfront redevelopment project in Brattleboro in 2010. Ratté said this large project didn’t move forward once it reached the community phase.

But the center’s “mini projects” have gained more traction, she said. In 2013, the center worked with Susan McMahon, associate director of the Windham Regional Commission, and the town of Londonderry on post-Tropical Storm Irene recovery planning, an initiative called “After the Flood.”

Additional conversations, however, have evolved in the direction of education.

Act 46 — which calls for consolidation of supervisory unions and school districts as an antidote to escalating educational costs in a time of declining student enrollment — is receiving a lot of laser focus, Ratté said.

Yet Act 46 is one piece of policy amid many others, like Act 77, which codifies the Flexible Pathways to Secondary School Completion initiative and supports dual enrollment for high school students.

She thinks Act 77 has potential to change education in Vermont, and she says that the personalized learning plans and multiple roads to graduation hold potential for students to define their education.

Shifting conversation to community

With so much change on the horizon, it’s important the community become involved, Ratté said.

“We want to have a conversation beyond the acts,” she said.

Many of the conversations so far have happened at the school-board or legislative level, and less at the community level, she said.

In preparation for the April panel and workshops, the center hosted facilitator trainings, Ratté said. Some of those eight facilitators will participate in the April events.

The center will help direct community members toward resources that can help them translate the vision to concrete plans.

New facilitators in the community carry the added bonus of creating capacity for future discussions, she said, adding that civil discourse feeds democracy.

As for an agenda? “The center is completely agnostic,” said Ratté, adding that its mission is to create a space for community involvement and discussion.

The right solutions to any of the questions the center poses are the solutions discovered by the community, she noted.

The center’s goal for the conference is to foster an open-ended visioning process.

“The outcome is really open,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #349 (Wednesday, March 23, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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