Morgan will take a seat as new WSESD board member
Robin Morgan, appointed this week to fill the vacancy on the WSESD board of directors, speaks at a 2019 meeting of the Brattleboro Town School Board.

Morgan will take a seat as new WSESD board member

Board makes appointment to replace former member David Schoales as a Brattleboro representative until March election

BRATTLEBORO — Robin Morgan is the newest member of the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) school board.

She will take the seat, vacated when David Schoales resigned, and she will serve until the March election.

Morgan was appointed Tuesday, Nov. 15 after an executive session that took close to an hour, with all votes in her favor except for representative Shaun Murphy, who abstained.

Chair Kelly Young read a statement celebrating Morgan's “ability to collaborate, her conviction, and integrity.”

“We value her as a stakeholder,” Young said, adding the decision was “difficult” and not taken lightly.

Present via Zoom, community member Craig Miskovich, a lawyer, said he didn't think discussing the candidates in closed-door session was “required.”

“It may have been permissible, but I don't think it was wise,” he said. “Now the public has to wonder what did you say in there about everyone that you couldn't say in public?”

Young said she had conferred with the board's attorney and the Vermont School Boards Association and was told the executive session was the way to go.

Morgan was immediately sworn in via Zoom.

She had applied for the seat along with Peter “Fish” Case and Jaci Reynolds.

On Nov. 8, the board met to hear from each candidate, but a statute that went into effect June 7 require school boards to make appointments after consultation with selectboards.

That mandate necessitated a joint meeting on Nov. 15, where all Selectboard members agreed via Zoom that the three were “fine” candidates and deferred to the school board to decide.

Former member of the town school board

Morgan served on the Brattleboro Town School Board for about two years before the district merger in 2019 and said she's worked with many current members on the town and Windham Southeast Supervisory Union boards as well as the Communications Council.

She has been a parent volunteer at Academy School and Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) as well, and has gotten to know some schools “intimately” and develop “very positive relationships” with administrators.

As she's been watching and attending board meetings over the past few years, Morgan said she has been “really concerned” that there is a lot of “mistrust in the community about what's going on in the board.”

She noted that the board has been experiencing an unusual situation necessitating more executive sessions than usual as the sexual abuse investigation here continues. Morgan said she would “really love to be a part of helping navigate this really traumatic situation of the abuse that occurred in our schools and help heal that within our community.”

“I want to be a voice for just continuing the board's current work of centering student needs and support and safety at the heart of all this, but also centering the needs of survivors and finding a path forward for our whole community that feels like healing from what has happened,” Morgan said.

On Nov. 8, she had said she would “see how it goes” for her family as she serves on the board and make a decision in January whether to run in March.

Saying she appreciated others' numbers skills regarding budgeting, she added that she brings “a lot of competency” to the table in weighing the districts' needs and wants and amount of money available.

Morgan said that she supports the board's efforts in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice and that she would like to “move things in a direction that gives people confidence in the board and that the board is working in tandem and partnership with administrators and not in conflict.”

Board weighs other candidates

Case ran against Lana Dever in the 2022 election and lost by 100 votes.

“I believe this board suffers from a messaging problem,” said Case, adding “the constant executive session thing has hurt the board's ability to move forward with confidence in the community” and said that it appears “things have been voted on when nobody is looking.”

“That's my perception from sitting on the outside,” said the radio host and Reformer columnist.

“I don't know that you're making the wrong decisions,” he said. “I question whether every time the board goes into executive session that you need to.”

Case said that “it comes down to messaging and how you can convey that what you're doing is in the best interest of the kids.”

“Enough with what feels like decisions being made outside of the boardroom being brought into the board room already decided on before everybody gets to speak their minds,” he said.

Case said his skill set is being “somebody who doesn't back down from a fight,” “who takes a look at the entire problem,” and “who has conversations with everybody from the boots on the ground to 30,000 feet.” He added he's always “willing to be proven wrong.”

He said that, when he ran for school board, he talked to as many school administrators as he could to find out what “communication from the board to the ground level” there was.

“I found out there was virtually none,” he said, adding his intention, if appointed, would not to be “a disruptor but to help with the messaging.”

Saying that he fully intends to run for a Brattleboro Selectboard seat in the March election, he called Reynolds “the best choice,” given her past experience on the board. He also called Morgan a “fine” choice.

Asked how he'd collaborate as a board member and team player, Case said, “it all starts with conversation and communication.”

Board member Liz Adams took Case to task, saying in a recent column he “furthered the idea that there's something wrong with this board, and to me that's not OK.”

“I don't know who you reached out to on this board, but I can tell you that every executive session was warned appropriately,” she said.

“The board takes more time than just these meetings,” Adams noted.

“I know you certainly never reached out to me for information,” she told Case, asking him, “Did it ever occur to you that maybe what you're being told wasn't accurate? What work have you done on reaching out to this board to find out what's out there in the community is accurate or not?”

Case said he hadn't reached out but had read minutes and talked with members of the public from whom he senses mistrust of the board.

Adams twice raised her voice when Young tried to redirect the conversation train.

The exchange prompted student representative Ben Berg to say he was “very uncomfortable with the way this conversation has turned.”

“We as a board [...] are showing ourselves to the public in this manner?” Berg said.

“Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean they're wrong, it doesn't mean you're right 100% of the time,” he continued. “It seems like this argumentative narrative that's being pushed by board members isn't healthy for anyone.”

“It's kind of embarrassing,” Berg said.

Reynolds left the board just six months ago and said she has talked to many community members since. She agreed with Case that there is a messaging problem.

“There is mistrust,” she said. “We do have a messaging problem, and people have become part of this really harmful narrative.”

Reynolds added that she knows those on the board are “good people” with “good intentions, trying to do their best,” but that she also hears that anyone who questions the work of the board is “somebody who just wants the investigation shut down,” referring to the sexual abuse investigation.

“Every single person I have spoken to is fully supportive of this investigation and just wants more information,” Reynolds said.

“I want to do a better job of reporting back to the hundreds of people that this board does have good intentions and I know things are complicated,” she said. “I just feel my work with this board is not done.”

She was the only one of the three candidates who said she will run for a seat on the board in March - regardless of whether she would be appointed Tuesday night.

“Everyone in this room has equal value to me, and we just have to work together to find the things we have in common to move forward,” Reynolds said, noting “so many positives.”

“This is such an opportunity to get all the drama and silliness behind us and just move forward,” she said. “I think I did a pretty good job of that when I was on the board. I didn't do enough. I'd like to come back and continue that.”

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