Vermont announce parent advisory panel for education, but it was never launched

Published: 8/14/2023 10:26:27 AM
Modified: 8/14/2023 10:44:19 AM

In December, Vermont’s top education official announced the formation of a group of parents and guardians who would advise the state on school issues.

The “Family Engagement Council” was intended to give parents and guardians more input on the state’s educational policies. Similar bodies have been convened in other states and at the federal level, officials said.

But eight months later, that group has not materialized.

“We did not ever formally appoint the council,” said Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Agency of Education.

The agency’s initial announcement said that the group would first meet in January of this year.

“From superintendents and school board members, to educators, school counselors and facilities managers, we have groups organized to provide a voice for their members at the state and local level,” then-Secretary of Education Dan French said in the Dec. 2 announcement. “There is no organization providing a similar voice for parents.”

But amid the legislative session, the start of the council was delayed, Fisher said, and officials were still reviewing applications this spring when French announced his resignation.

He is currently the chief operating officer at the nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers.

After French’s departure, Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey was elevated to interim secretary.

Because of that transition, the conclusion of the legislative session in mid-May, and last month’s catastrophic flooding, “just from a capacity perspective, it made sense to kind of hold off” on the parents’ organization, Fisher said.

It’s not clear whether Bouchey or a new permanent secretary will seek to revive the parents’ council, but Fisher said the state is committed to getting feedback from parents.

After the initial announcement about the Family Engagement Council, he said, officials received a greater-than-expected amount of interest from parents and guardians about the group.

“There is definitely an appetite for these kinds of conversations,” he said.

It’s also not clear when a new permanent Secretary could be named. Last month, Gov. Phil Scott asked the State Board of Education to begin searching for candidates for the position and laid out some of his administration’s priorities for the role.

The new secretary should work to raise test scores, reduce inequality between school districts, and expand career and tech education, Scott said.

“We must drive transformation in the system and be more responsive to the evolving needs of our students and families,” Scott said in a July 26 letter.

Asked why the governor was just now starting this process, Jason Maulucci, a spokesperson for the governor, said he had wanted to wait until the end of the legislative session.

“We were planning to send the letter in early July, but were delayed a few weeks because of the flooding,” Maulucci said in an email. “More importantly, the Governor has full confidence in Acting Secretary Heather Bouchey, who previously performed the role of acting secretary prior to Secretary French’s appointment in 2018.”

The State Board of Education has convened a search committee, board chair Jennifer Samuelson said, and will schedule meetings to draw up a job description for the position. The governor’s office initially asked for an eight-week search, but Samuelson said that was likely an unrealistic timeline.

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