Prosper Valley School Won’t Reopen Next Year; Officials Consider District Reorganization

  • Sixth-grade students make a circle on the first day of school at Prosper Valley School in Pomfret, Vt., on Aug. 26, 2015. The school combines students from the Bridgewater Village School and The Pomfret School. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • The Pomfret School is dedicated with a ribbon-cutting in Pomfret, Vt., on Aug. 31, 1991. Home to 102 students, the new $1.4 million building replaces four one-room schoolhouses. Gov. Howard Dean and Commissioner of Education Richard Mills also attended the dedication. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

  • Prosper Valley kindergarten through third graders spend the afternoon in their outdoor classroom in South Pomfret, Vt., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The school has been holding classes at Woodstock Elementary School since the start of the academic year due to mold problems in the building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2018 2:59:24 PM
Modified: 11/30/2018 11:48:24 PM

Pomfret — Mold contamination and declining enrollment have prompted the Windsor Central Unified School District to keep the Prosper Valley School in Pomfret closed through next year and to consider a districtwide reorganization that leaves the long-term fate of the school uncertain.

At a Nov. 19 meeting of the district School Board, officials decided that Prosper Valley’s 60 projected students next year will be fully integrated into the Woodstock Elementary School. The school’s K-6 students were moved to Woodstock this fall when the school was closed because of mold and moisture problems, but the relocated school has been operating as a “school within a school.”

Also coming to Woodstock Elementary next year will be a projected 15 students from grades four, five and six from Reading Elementary School. Meanwhile, the board voted to establish a committee to determine the best use of the campuses in the six towns of the district — Bridgewater, Killington, Pomfret, Plymouth, Reading and Woodstock.

“At the Nov. 19 board meeting, the board voted to keep Prosper Valley students at WES next year while the community engages in conversation around the best use for the Prosper Valley School moving forward,” Windsor Central Superintendent Mary Beth Banios said in an email on Friday. “Along with the current facility issues, Prosper Valley is struggling with declining enrollment. There are also budget challenges that informed the decision.”

Bob Coates, one of two School Board members from Pomfret, acknowledged that Prosper Valley School’s mold and moisture issues may have merely expedited decisions forced upon the district by declining enrollment.

The Prosper Valley School was created in 2015 in response to lower student enrollment when the Bridgewater Village School was closed and its students were moved to what was then known as the Pomfret School.

“The facts are difficult,” Coates said in a Friday phone interview. “The board made some very rational decisions on Nov. 19, but they’re also very emotional decisions. I’ve put three kids through Pomfret School/Prosper Valley School and my youngest, a fifth-grader, had to leave his school this year and now he won’t be able to go there as a sixth-grader. It’s tough stuff because it’s a terrific campus and a terrific school.”

The measures will result in the district-wide loss of three elementary teachers, at least one principal, one less administrative assistant and the reduction of specialists’ time, according to a Pomfret Listserv post made by Prosper Valley Principal John Hansen on Friday afternoon.

Current Woodstock Elementary Principal Maggie Mills will be the principal of the merged school, according to Hansen’s Listserv post.

“We are hopeful that most, of not all, of these reductions can be accomplished through attrition and not through layoffs,” Hansen wrote.

If layoffs are necessary, seniority will determine who remains.

School officials in October began talking about fully integrating into Woodstock Elementary when it became apparent the needed repairs wouldn’t be completed until late 2019 or early 2020.

Unlike this year’s “school within a school” model, where Woodstock Elementary and Prosper Valley students are being taught in separate classrooms except for physical education while sharing recess and lunch periods, students will be combined next year for a total of 255 projected students and an average of 18 students per classroom with 14 total teachers, according to Hansen’s post.

Meanwhile, the board also passed a resolution to establish a committee to develop planning initiatives for all campuses within the district.

The Windsor Central Unified School District was formed in response to Vermont’s Act 46 legislation, which forced small school districts around the state to merge into larger ones as a response to declining statewide enrollment.

Built in 1991, Prosper Valley’s campus features a wooded trail network, observatory, sugar house, greenhouse and outdoor gardening space.

Its students will continue to use the campus for an outdoor learning program called “Forest Fridays.”

Windsor Central’s campus planning committee will also be looking into potential investment and renovation opportunities at Woodstock Middle/Senior High School with community engagement in mind, Coates said.

“We’ll be taking as hard look at projected enrollment and figuring out ways that we can be responsible to taxpayers while also providing the best possible education to everyone in the district,” he said.

The next Windsor Central Unified School District Board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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