Schoales resigns WSESD board after 14 years
David Schoales

Schoales resigns WSESD board after 14 years

Longtime board member cites progress that 'stands in contradiction to the current ugly, destructive flurry of false narratives about the school district'

BRATTLEBORO — Longtime Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) representative and current Vice Chair David Schoales has left his elected seat on the board.

His resignation, sent to the district's central office last week, became effective on Oct. 22.

Asked why he has decided to step down now, Schoales responded that recent public diatribe against the board has risen to an unpalatable level. He said he feels he can be more helpful if he is no longer a board member.

“The ugliness does literally make me sick,” he said. “I am choosing not to experience any more of it.”

Schoales further explained his reason for stepping down and his tenure on the board in a statement to The Commons.

“For the 14 years I have served on the school board, my focus has been to make our district a better place and to keep the community values of equity, transparency, and positive school climate at the forefront of all our endeavors,” he wrote.

“As chair, I maintained a principled and collaborative decision-making process, considering opposing viewpoints but not succumbing to political pressures. I always chose to do what I knew was right for students.

“This includes a thorough and complete independent investigation of sexual abuse and abuse of authority, an independent school climate survey, an eight-point 'Ongoing Social Justice and Anti-Racist Commitment,' creation of a student-led task force to study and report on the School Resource Officer program, and a strong Leadership Council structure for stakeholders in every school building. We recently created a Student Advisory Committee and named two students to sit on the Board.”

Those accomplishments, Schoales wrote, “stands in contradiction to the current ugly, destructive flurry of false narratives about the school district.”

“Criticism is a part of public service, but the disruption of the work of the Board, and the anger and insults spewing from some community members is unprecedented,” he said.

“While many institutions in the headlines chose to avoid scandal by sweeping abuse under the rug for decades, this board is working to assure all abusers are held accountable and are not allowed to move quietly to a new district to abuse elsewhere. I believe this board's actions will also deter future abuse in our district by making it clear our School District will not tolerate abuse of any kind.

“While some in the community want to undercut the investigation by accusing us of secrecy, the board has stayed firm in its commitment to do the right thing and I know our community continues to support our goal of protecting the survivors.

“Leaving the board at this time will allow me to push back on the lies coming from those threatened by the sexual abuse investigation,” Schoales wrote. “As a private citizen, I will be able to advocate openly for full disclosure of the findings.”

He said that at times, “my passion has made me impatient for change and frustrated with those who would prefer the comfortable status quo. I sincerely apologize for any times my passion or misunderstanding has caused anyone genuine offense.”

A number of high points, and one clear low

Asked for his thoughts of the lowest and highest points of his tenure on the board, Schoales was quick to answer.

“The lowest point is easy: having to close the schools for the pandemic three days before the new board was seated,” he said.

“The high points are spread out across a number of conversations where the board worked smoothly to resolve a thorny issue,” Schoales said. “We collaborated really well during the first year of Covid. It was also a great day when Lana Dever and Deborah Stanford were elected to the board.”

A tenure of change

In his resignation letter, Schoales said he plans to continue as a community member of the Amendments Committee and the Policy and Social Justice Committee.

Schoales has also been a Brattleboro representative from the WSESD board to the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union board (WSESU). The co-joined multiple boards, which also include the Vernon School District, is the result of a reorganization mandated by Act 46.

At the Oct. 25 WSESD board meeting, current Brattleboro representatives Tim Maciel and Emily Murphy Kaur were nominated to represent WSESD as representative to the WSESU, but the entire matter was tabled until the next meeting.

Kaur wasn't present and representative Shaun Murphy, who nominated her, rescinded his nomination. But WSESU former Chair Michelle Luetjen Green suggested perhaps it would be more appropriate to wait until the new Brattleboro representative is appointed.

At the meeting, Maciel shared a statement with the board in which he pointed out that when his now-former colleague was elected to the board in 2009, Barack Obama was president and current high school students in the district were toddlers.

“Our students, our administration and staff, and our communities are better off today because of David's relentless focus on the health and safety of our students, on innovative teaching and learning strategies, and on fiscal responsibility,” Maciel said.

He noted solar arrays, local farm-fresh food for student meals, a commitment to anti-racism, social justice and diversity, Leadership Councils, the SRO Committee, and “the integrity of the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse in our district” as just a few of Schoales's accomplishments.

Maciel also cited the impact that Schoales has had “on the very culture of this merged Board, a culture that values transparency, collaboration and innovation, that fails to rest on its laurels, that at once supports and challenges the District to be better and to break with those traditions, approaches and mindsets that have held us back for too long.”

Maciel called Schoales “an exemplary model of a citizen who has given his time, his energy, and his expertise for nothing other than the personal satisfaction of knowing that he has made a positive difference in his community and school district.”

“He has exemplified the kind of civic engagement and spirit of generosity that should motivate all our students and neighbors,” he said.

Saying service on the board is “too often a thankless endeavor,” Maciel thanked Schoales.

“The health and safety of our students, the quality of our learning environment, the responsible oversight of our budget, and the strength of the board in rising to the many challenges we have faced with intelligence, integrity, and ethical decision-making are due in large, large part to your leadership,” Maciel said. “Thank you for being an 'educator' in the deepest sense of the word. Your voice on the board will be sorely missed, but your voice as an active and deeply engaged community member will be warmly welcomed in the months and years to come.”

Morgan interested in filling Schoales' seat

Schoales' term as a Brattleboro representative to the WSESD ends in 2024. On Tuesday, the board sent notice of the opening to the Brattleboro Selectboard, as required by state law.

Folks wishing to serve may send letters of interest to the WSESD board. An appointment will be made by Nov. 30.

To date, Robin Morgan is the only person who has sent a letter noting her interest in serving.

Morgan has lived in Brattleboro since 2010 and has two children in Brattleboro elementary schools and one at Brattleboro Area Middle School. She served on the Brattleboro Town School Board for more than two years until it was dissolved by the state, and she was a delegate to the WSESU board as well.

“I have continued to follow what's going on at the district and SU levels and a few people reached out to me to ask if I would consider stepping up,” she said.

“I feel like this is a very challenging time for our district as we recover from and deal with the ongoing disruptions of the pandemic while also navigating the abuse investigation and the impacts of that legacy on our schools and our community,” Morgan added. “I hope I can contribute a tone of compassion and stability to the board's discussions.”

In the March 2023 election, Schoales's seat will be open to anyone wishing to be elected.

“The Windham Southeast School District board will continue to thoughtfully and carefully work through the difficult issues and allegations being raised and continue the good work of building structures to effectively oversee this $62 million school system,” said Schoales. “That is what they were elected by their communities to do, and that is what they will continue to do.”

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