BRATTLEBORO — Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) voters will see three races for school board directors in the Tuesday, March 7 election.
One candidate is running unopposed for a fourth seat on the board.
Kimberly Price and Jaci Reynolds are vying to represent Brattleboro in the three-year seat being vacated by Emily Murphy-Kaur.
Also, Robin Morgan — appointed last fall to the seat held by David Schoales, who resigned in October — is being challenged to complete the one year remaining on that three-year term by Rikki Risatti.
Dummerston representative incumbent Michelle Luetjen-Green is being challenged for a three-year term by Eva Nolan.
Ruby McAdoo is the sole candidate on the ballot for a three-year term to represent Putney, as incumbent Liz Adams has decided not to seek another term.
All candidates were asked by The Commons why they are running, how they feel the current board has performed in the face of such issues as the firing of the Brattleboro Union High School principal and the district’s ongoing sexual abuse investigation, and, if elected, what they hope to accomplish during their terms.
Morgan moved here from Chicago in 2010 and has been involved in community organizing, including working with Lost River Racial justice.
She is a music teacher, leading music and movement classes for caregivers and children, including in preschools and day cares, as well as teaching private lessons in voice and piano.
Morgan has been a Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) parent for almost nine years and has volunteered extensively at Academy School, serving on its Leadership Council since its inception.
She joined the Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) Leadership Council in the fall but attended just a few meetings before being appointed to the WSESD board to replace Schoales.
Previously, she served on the former Brattleboro Town School Board for a little over two years. When that board was dissolved, she continued participating in meetings for the merged board and served on the Communications Council as a community volunteer.
Morgan says she has followed the WSESU Diversity and Equity Committee meetings for several years and helped organize school community events such as the Diversity Day celebrations at Gallery Walk.
“Ever since I was elected to the Brattleboro town board, I have been fortunate to have a lot of parents and teachers frequently reaching out to me to ask questions or tell me about their school experiences,” she says.
“Having an inside view of my own three kids’ journeys in school gives me an important perspective as a board member, but having so many people share their experiences with me gives me a much broader lens on what people’s diverse experiences in this district are like.”
When she was being considered for her current seat, Morgan said that she hoped to be elected to continue on the board but would also check in with her family before committing to run.
“I think that coming onto the board and absorbing all the training and learning about how things are working is such a big investment of others’ time, trust, and relationships that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to serve on this board for only four months,” she says.
“The past three months have been pretty heavy ones as a board member, with a lot of very long and serious meetings outside our regular schedule, but my kids have really been good sports, and I have terrific family support from my husband, Jon, and my mom, Georgia, so we are making it work.”
Morgan says she believes the board has, overall, “done a good job navigating unprecedented and difficult situations over the past few years, from the impacts of the pandemic to the frequent changes in superintendent to the undertaking of the sexual abuse investigation and the situation with the [Brattleboro Union High School] principal.”
“This is a remarkable amount of upheaval in a short period of time and, given all that they have had to deal with, I think the board and the district administration have done well,” she says.
“I really think that our entire community is still affected by a lot of stress and trauma from enduring the last few years and all the challenges we have been facing, and that has impacted everyone — students, families, teachers, administrators, and board members.
“I really think that building more trust between our board, with our administrators, and with our community is a vital next step, and deep listening is a big part of that.”
For Morgan, another element of trust building “has to do with how we handle the legacy of abuse in our schools and the findings of the investigation.”
“It will be important to share those findings with the community with the highest degree of transparency that we can ethically provide. Our district has been working hard to create systems and policies that will prevent abuse from happening in the future, and part of doing that is examining how it has occurred in the past.
“I’m committed to helping steer our actions as a district toward accountability and repair.”
The “most important responsibility as a board,” Morgan says, “is supporting student achievement, which includes addressing barriers to that.”
“I am so impressed with all the ways our schools have adapted over the past few years to meet student needs in a holistic way, including the focus on outdoor learning, social-emotional learning, restorative justice, and our commitment to diversity, equity, and social justice.”
“There is some really exciting teaching going on in this district,” said Morgan.
She added that she is grateful to Diversity Coordinator Mikaela Simms and the diversity and equity coach and teacher leaders “for helping our faculty and staff implement that in their classrooms, and to our administrators for supporting that work,” she says.
Morgan is also interested “to see the results of the new math and literacy curriculums, and the guidance of instructional coaches in those areas.”
“All of this learning has to be accessible to every student in our district, and I’m so glad that we have recently formed a Special Education Parent Advisory Committee to get input from those key stakeholders,” she said.
McAdoo is coordinator of Putney Community Cares, Inc. She has two children at Putney Central School.
“I firmly believe in the value of public education and that we are all responsible for the strength and success of our school system,” she says. “I have always felt a strong sense of civic responsibility and believe that serving on the WSESD school board is the right place for my focus,” she said.
“I want to see all children thrive in our schools. I believe the function of the school board is to ensure the work of the district is in line with our community’s mission and values. As a WSESD school board member, I will aim to prioritize equity and inclusion in the governance work of the board.”
Calling the WSESD “still a relatively newly-merged district,” McAdoo said she believes “an unfortunate byproduct of the merger is that our communities don’t feel a connection to the school district, particularly around the budgeting and governance processes.”
“I think the WSESD board and administration could do a better job at keeping the public informed on the work and structure of the district,” she said.
“I look forward to finding solutions to help increase public awareness about the workings of the WSESD, which will help to dispel the perception of a lack of transparency at the board level. The merged district is a pretty complex machine, and we need to do a better job at explaining how the machinery works.”
McAdoo finds the recent work of the WSESD board around the sexual abuse and assault investigation to have been “critically important.”
“The WSESD board has taken the right steps to ensure that the investigation was established and accusations are taken seriously,” she said. “In all honesty, due to the sensitive and confidential work being done in executive session, it is hard to speak to what the WSESD board could have done better.
“For both the WSESD and WSESU boards, I believe there needs to be a continued focus on repairing the relationship with the administration, which has been challenged over the last few years through the recent superintendent transition. Working to instill trust between the administration and the board will, in turn, help to build back trust between the electorate and the school board.”
McAdoo said she is excited by the opportunity to continue the WSESD board’s work “on strengthening [their] systems of governance.”
She also believes the community “is ready for the WSESD board to return to a pre-Covid practice of rotating the location of their meetings” and feels that will allow the board “to see the facilities of each school and gain a better understanding of individual schools and communities.”
“In observing board meetings, I have seen the administration working hard to share the experience of each school, but the communities need to see board members in their schools to feel a connection to the work of the WSESD board,” the candidate said.
“This is the wisdom I am hearing from many residents in WSESD towns. I would also like to prioritize revitalizing and re-envisioning the committees of the board, such as the Programmatic [Committee] and Performance Equity Committee. Many of the WSESD committees have been dormant or ineffective for too long.”
Price grew up in Brattleboro, then left for a number of years, returning to raise her children — both of whom attend Brattleboro schools. She served as a director on the former Brattleboro Town School Board before the merger.
She said she always enjoyed her time on that board and feels members made “insightful decisions.” She has missed working with “the incredible administrators we have in our district.”
“I have been able to continue to work and help support local students, as I am currently on the board of directors for Community House,” Price said. “I feel I have the experience to help me jump right into the position, but I have been away from the process long enough to have an outside perspective.”
Price believes current board directors for both the supervisory union and school district are “working very hard on the issues they are facing.”
“The sexual abuse investigation is very complicated,” she said. “The public will always want to be as informed as possible, but it is extremely difficult due to the legal limitations.
“The board is working as hard as they can within the scope of the investigation. They just need to be as open with the investigation as legally allowed.”
Key issues for Price include mental health, inclusivity in school, and school safety.
“School safety is a national issue, and we need to make sure we are keeping our students and school staff safe,” she said. “We also need to continue working to make our schools inclusive of all students. The schools are making strides with inclusivity, but work needs to continue.
“Mental health is also a concern. We need to make sure we are supporting the whole child.”
Reynolds owns a catering business and food truck — Jaci’s BBQ Joint — which is transitioning to a brick-and-mortar location at the newly renovated Vermont Marketplace on Canal Street.
She previously served on the Windham Southeast School District board from March 2020 until March 2022 and was a Brattleboro delegate on the Windham Southeast Supervisiory Union board from March 2021 through March 2022. She was also among the candidates who stepped up to take Schoales’s seat last fall.
“I would like to continue the work of the board and am well suited to represent this community,” Reynolds says. “I am a woman and a member of the Sovereign Abenaki nation of Missisquoi, St. Francis/Sokoki band. Diverse representation is critical.”
Reynolds notes that she “grew up in poverty, much like so many of our community members.”
“I understand the needs of our most vulnerable students. Access to education is an absolute luxury that I did not have, and I believe it is vital for the many families who are also without this gift to be represented appropriately, particularly in matters of equity. I am that person.”
Reynolds is also a former foster parent who has participated in trauma-informed training. She said the experience of foster parenting “helped give me the tools to better understand children with complicated backgrounds.”
The parent of two children in the district, Reynolds says she has “firsthand experience” with special education. She is a current member of the district’s newly formed Special Education Parent Advisory Committee and serves on the board of Black Mountain Assisted Family Living, “where we provide housing for adults with disabilities.”
Reynolds is also the Brattleboro representative on the WSESD Independent Budget Review Committee for fiscal year 2024.
“As a board member, I was present and involved at meetings, even when my baby was in attendance with me,” she said.
“I was discerning in my decisions and asked for clarifying information when needed. I was supportive of our school staff and administration. I was fully supportive of the sexual assault investigation and remain so. I supported our ongoing social justice commitment.
“I was always respectful of my fellow board members, even when we disagreed, and I will continue to be.”
Reynolds said she seeks “transparency and accountability from all people who are involved with our school community.”
“I want to help improve communication from the board and share as much information as possible in an accessible manner,” she said. “I have stayed involved in board meetings this past year, and I am ready to be in a position to help out once again. I have learned a lot as an outside observer that I believe will be helpful. I have been able to connect with so many community members and can bring a lot more feedback to the table now.”
Reynolds said the sexual abuse investigation “is an example of the board stepping up to do what the community asked for, and I am thankful for that.”
However, she said, “outreach to encourage people to report hasn’t been great.”
For example, metadata — data about the data in the investigation — “has been withheld,” Reynolds said.
“The board can easily correct both of these things, and it will make a huge difference. As a parent, I still haven’t received any communication from the district on guiding my child in reporting something, if necessary. This is something the board should have already mandated.”
Regarding the termination of former BUHS Principal Steve Perrin, Reynolds says it is “such a sensitive topic that nobody seems to be willing to even say his name.”
“I couldn’t judge how the board handled that, because it was obviously all done in executive session, but I will say that it is absolutely critical that decisions were made impartially, which is difficult to imagine because this is a person we all know and have had varying relationships with.
“My hope is that legal counsel and the advice of the Vermont School Boards Association was followed and that personal feelings were kept out of it for the protection of everyone involved,” she said.
Reynolds said that had she been a board member during the time of the firing, she would have felt “obligated” to recuse herself “because I believe that objectivity would have been impossible for me, as I worked with Steve as the food service director in 2017-18.”
“Only board members with no personal connection should be in a position to assess his fitness to continue his role as BUHS principal,” she said. “It’s just too murky of a situation otherwise.”
Looking to the upcoming term, Reynolds said she is excited “to work toward increasing the amount of local food — specifically, proteins — served at our schools.”
She has been in contact with folks directly involved in the process for the school district’s purchase of food and said, “I think we can make a big impact for next school year.”
As a member of the newly formed Special Education Parent Advisory Council, Reynolds said she will serve on the council if elected.
“Through this work I hope to bring resources and support to families. Another big goal for me is to see students with disabilities represented and discussed whenever we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Reynolds said.
“I have felt like we discuss race often — and rightly so — yet students with disabilities are rarely mentioned unless a parent brings it up,” she added. “They need to be centered in more of our conversations.”
Reynolds wants voters to know “how absolutely thrilling it is to see so many folks interested in serving on the board.”
“Technically, I have an opponent in Kim Price, but that’s not how it feels to me,” she said. “Kim was an excellent board member in the past and would be once again. It feels really good knowing that whatever the outcome, we will have a student centered person in this three-year seat.”
Incumbent Luetjen-Green has lived here for almost five years and has four children in grades 3 to 12 attending district schools.
She is the board representative on the Dummerston Leadership Council and an active member and volunteer in the school community.
Before staying home with her children fulltime, she worked with abused and traumatized children as a child development specialist.
“My own life experience was to grow up in poverty with drug addiction in my home,” she says. “Only one of my parents has a high school education, so I certainly have perspective of the challenges and needs of our most at-risk students, but I think what I bring to the table is that I’m not confused about the scope of my role.
“I am deeply aware of the impact public education has on our society and grateful for the hard work that goes into it. So much so that I promised myself I would say ‘yes’ and help whenever I could once all my kids were school-aged.”
After being a school volunteer, in 2020 Luetjen-Green’s community asked her to run for an open seat on the board.
“I didn’t come to the table with an agenda of things I believed weren’t being tackled aggressively enough; I showed up willing to listen, learn, and serve,” she said. “I anticipated there would be a pre-existing established order in how things were done on this level of local governance.”
Subsequently, she said, she experienced how a board meeting is run but felt “a lack of substance around reporting school operations and student outcome.”
“There wasn’t clear purpose to our discussions, other than to flush out whatever felt important enough to be added to an agenda by the chair,” she said. “This was largely in part because we are a newly merged district that never defined or developed operating protocols, reporting systems, or goal-setting strategies.
“If we truly want to grow and improve our schools, we need to work together systematically with purpose and intention — not just talk about what we think a better school system looks like.”
Luetjen-Green believes the relationships she has built with families, teachers, administrators, and board members have helped her understand “how to best represent my community in the board room.”
The town representative to the SU and SE boards for the past three years, Luetjen-Green has chaired the Communication Council throughout her term and sat on the Finance Committee for the past two years.
“The work of the Communication Council has improved access and participation at board and committee meetings through social media and email sign-up opportunities,” says Luetjen-Green. “We took responsibility for ensuring all voters were informed on important ballot questions, such as dissolution of our newly merged school district.”
She served as chair of the SU board until the past year, when Kerry Amidon was voted to step into that role.
“I was replaced as the WSESU chair, but I can hold my head high,” said Luetjen-Green. “I did excellent work with the time I had in that role. I consulted with the superintendent on the creation of a yearly agenda calendar to ensure the work being done in our schools was at the forefront of every meeting. I was alarmed that we weren’t evaluating our superintendents and brought forward a peer-reviewed evaluation system, approved and implemented immediately, which has now been modeled out into the district for all administrators.”
As chair of the board of the supervisory union, she noted that she “brought forward developmental trainings from the Vermont School Board Association to help us establish foundational procedures and protocols that support being effective in our role through respectful collaboration with our administrative team.”
“It’s been many months and we are still establishing our agreed-on values, but once we get there, I believe it will help us better focus on what we agree on — and that is to see our schools and students thrive.”
As representative on the SU board, Luetjen-Green has participated in two superintendent searches.
The candidate noted that for a new board member, “it takes time to truly understand our role, our scope, and the process around open meeting law and how a board meeting is run.”
“To be an effective board member, you also need to put in the time to understand what systematic operations of a large school system look like to be able to advocate for positive changes and support accountability and growth,” she said.
“I’ve given a great amount of time and energy serving in this role. I have perspective of what next steps look like to begin to align the board’s work with our administrators’ work so we can actually set goals together and monitor progress. I can’t walk away from the opportunity to be part of something so meaningful.”
Aside from Morgan, who came to the board in November, Luetjen-Green is the only candidate who has actually been on the current school board for any time as members have grappled with myriad issues.
She believes the board has “done the best they could, based on our scope of understanding and the guidance of our board leadership.”
“I do believe we could be communicating better with the public, our administration, and even each other,” she said. “I think relying on professional services to guide us through such a challenging need is really important and to understand our scope of involvement. It’s tempting to want to problem-solve and provide solutions, but our role is to understand the problem and hold the district accountable to addressing it appropriately and transparently.”
For Luetjen-Green, key issues now and to come include “getting strategic in how the board operates.”
“We are a newly formed board, since our communities merged into one district, and we never established a foundational approach on how to be most effective,” she said.
The board has “seen growth this past year, but we need to align our work with the work being done in the schools, so that we can share goals with our administrators and define what growth and accountability looks like.”
“Only then can we really delve into specific topics that are important to our community and educators, such as meeting our students’ social/emotional needs; growth around diversity, equity, and inclusion across the district; and supporting our schools and every classroom to mirror the values we hold dear to our hearts in providing an enriching experience for all.”
Nolan moved to Vermont nine years ago with her husband, Thomas Nolan, who served on the board for three years. Their two boys will enter preschool and kindergarten here.
She was graduated with a B.A. in criminal justice from Eastern Nazarene College and has worked extensively with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC).
Nolan received counseling and support training with BARCC and additional training to become a volunteer educator in community outreach, awareness, and prevention education.
Working with BARCC’s Survivor Speakers Bureau, she facilitated discussions at schools, colleges, and community centers.
During her time with BARCC, her outreach included having conversations and training about sexual violence, rape culture, how to be a bystander, and “ways we as a community can create change and support survivors.”
“In particular, I reached out to adolescents, colleges, hair salons, community centers, and marginalized people of color surrounding Boston who needed access to services,” said the candidate, who, with her husband, has created a video.
“As a mom with school-aged children, I’m deeply concerned about safety and bullying in our schools,” Nolan said. “I’m in a unique position where I have the time to serve and use my training to add voice to how we move forward.
“I am familiar with colleges and the process of an investigation when a sexual assault allegation is made. I understand what it means to be in a supportive role.
“I enjoy collaborating and working in a team. We get more done as a community. I want students to feel empowered to speak to educators, parents, and each other. Having a safe and welcoming environment is essential.”
As to how the current board is handling challenges, Nolan said she knows “only as much as the public.”
“However, I believe in the board’s integrity and following directions from their legal representative,” she said. “Because of my background, I understand investigations have a process. Some information will be private to protect all parties, including survivors. It might seem frustrating, but the process will come to an end. I have witnessed colleges create a stronger community of education, outreach, and supporting students, educators, and administrators after allegations.
“While we can’t change the past, we can change the school’s culture of the future. It is important to remember that survivors live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.
“We, as a community, can ensure that services are available and continue the kitchen-table discussions taught in our schools and bring them home. I plan to listen and come in to support and work as a team with all board directors for the good of all our schools.”
Nolan said that “as a mom,” she wants parents, students, educators, board members, and administrators “to all work as a team in creating a thriving environment for all our schools.”
“Through my lived experience, I can add an important voice,” she said. “Bullying across the country has gone up. Sadly, we have a lot of work to do.
“I am a believer that change doesn’t have to take forever,” she said. “I want Vermont to be the leader in creating a safe and fun environment for all students.”
Risatti has lived here with their service dog since 2018. After working with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps roving crew in the area to help maintain state hiking trails, they realized “there are the most opportunities here” for them “to succeed at overcoming chronic homelessness and poverty.”
Their civic efforts “have been inspired by a hope to eventually have enough financial security to enable them with the resources necessary for healthy parenting.”
“I’ve read studies that say raising children in Vermont costs $18,000 a year,” they said. “I receive about $13,000 a year from [Social Security Disability Insurance], which is constructed to prevent people from employment from earning more than $1,100 a month. How many children taken by [the Department for Children and Families] come from families with a guardian netting about $26,000 a year or less compared to other economic classes?”
After working several jobs pre- and post-high school graduation, where they earned honors, by 2012, Risatti filmed part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City. Their PSA video recording debut was featured in Asheville, North Carolina “as the fruition of an Arts and Humanities residency involved in producing the third and final part of a zine series during WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, formerly Willing Workers on Organic Farms) resistance to mono-agriculture.”
A staunch activist, they were elected for a three-year term as a Representative Town Meeting member for District 2 in 2020 and is serving a two-year term on its Agricultural Advisory Committee.
Risatti said they are campaigning to serve “to support our collective responsibilities of recovering from democide [said to mean “(Mass) murder of people by a government which has power over them”] with hopes to further earn, nurture, and expand our joys and grace in reconciling grievances without suffering martyrdom.”
“I deeply thank people’s altruistic intentions and loving efforts,” they said, regarding the district and board. “I practice gratitude of our developments by learning from listening carefully to people’s shared thoughts and feelings about prioritizing and manifesting values. I respect and appreciate our adaptability to compassionately resolve endless challenges and ethical differences together.”
In their response to The Commons’ questions, Risatti chose to ask more questions.
“One of the countless steps towards community transparency and accountability to past, present, and future generations I committed in preparation of this election is sending draft versions of these interview questions to all the candidates and current local board members,” Risatti says, “I think there are wise lessons expressed and explicitly protected within the Miranda Rights because all statements ‘can and will be used against you’ in life.
“However, I think avoidance of these issues is negligence and I do not endorse silence about the following concerns:
“• What is the quality of occupational preparation and standardized curriculum options in all grades in all the Brattleboro/Wantastegok Ndakina schools about the intersections of outdoor environmental studies, sex health, gender theory, economics, art humanities, governance; precolonial living history, slavery, war, and civic movements?
“• How publicly accessible are warned meetings, audit information, and qualifications of authors and criteria of curriculum materials we purchase and contact information with the teachers we contract with and appointed committee members in WSESD?
“• How is employment affirmative action reviewed and enforced in WSESD?
“• Is there a census chart of our school employees to reflect occupation demographics?
“• How many BIPOC, non-BIPOC, teachers with disabilities/differences, and LGBTQIA+ are employed currently and what have the comparative ratios been since each of our schools’ founding?
“• What is the school employee salary spectrum compared to qualifications, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disabilities/different abilities?
“• How much, by percentage and cost, was previously invested into BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently-enabled authors in school curriculum and libraries?
“• What are the current accumulated values and proposed budgets for future purchases into comparatively-diverse authors? If this info is not yet available, when will we propose a request for bid contracting this research so collected facts may create a statistical foundation for discerning how to address equitable education?
“• What have you done to help decolonize education?
“• What do people need to do to help decolonize education?
“• How do students empower themselves?
“• How could the school systems become more democratic?
“• How have you helped improve democracy?
“• What do you think and feel about race-shifting and the influential effects members of corporations posing as indigenous nations directly have, short and long-term?”