May 28, 2022

HSB Minutes 11-23-2021

Hartford Board of School Directors

School Board Community Engagement Meeting Minutes

November 23, 2021 @ 6:00 pm

In-Person Hartford High School Auditorium and Online (Zoom) Meeting

Members Present                                                  Administrators Present

Kevin Christie                                                           Tom DeBalsi

Peter Merrill                                                              Cathy Newton

Nancy Russell                                                          Roy Hathorn

Russell North                                    

Havah Armstrong Walther

Olivia Merrill

            1.  Call to Order 

Mr. Christie called the meeting to order at 6:17 PM, (late due to technical difficulties and room change). 

The public was invited to join the meeting in-person or via Zoom,, meeting ID 86878996913.

-       Changes, Additions and Approval of the Agenda  
Moved by Mr. North, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to approve the agenda, motion carried.

Mr. North thanked the audience for attending.

2.  State of the District and Concerns around Staff Morale and School Environment 

Mr. DeBalsi apologized to the audience for the delay in the meeting. The meeting was moved to the auditorium. 

He explained that the first couple of months have been a difficult start. Across the country, state, and in our community Covid has caused many stressors. He noted that the staff has been working hard to address the needs of the students given the difficult times. He brought the issue to the board and welcomed feedback. What “win win” solutions can be found? 

Mr. North told the group that tonight is a “fact finding” event, hopefully there will be many comments. The board will continue to address the issue at the December 8, 2021 meeting.


            3.  School Board Response

Mr. Christie noted that the community is under stress, we’re not immune. We all are having difficulties. Hopefully by the end of this meeting we will have some solutions.

Mr. Merrill referenced an article noting that many other districts are having similar staffing shortages therefore impacting the school program. We need to address this as a community which is why we're reaching out to you.

Mrs. Russell asked for input, we need to know what you need, what will work. 

Mr. Christie said that over the next couple of days the administrators will discuss options with the district’s attorney and Dept of Ed to see what solutions would be permissible. 


4.  Public Engagement 

Mr. North invited the public to speak, each person will be given up to five minutes and all will have a chance to speak before anyone has a second chance. Mr. Hathorn will monitor the ZOOM chat comments and share any concerns/questions. 

(Recorder note: not all ZOOM comments are recorded as read due to clarity and/or volume.) 

He asked that attendees come to the front microphone so that all can hear. 

1.    HHS and OQS parent- thankful for the staff, EL curriculum, quarantining issues, still in a health crisis, asked for EL to be optional for the remainder of the year, early release needs more study- disruptive and not always equitable for all, shortened day could make behaviors worse, how will IEP services be met, parents who need to work?

2.    Can we use Covid funds for better wages for staff?

3.    Parent of Hartford student, and teacher in district, speaking honestly, has written three letters, Invitation for tonight’s  was misleading and flawed, new curriculum is the reason for additional stress, new curriculum was decided by administration, curriculum is one of the highest stressors in the elementary classrooms, one hour a week is not going to provide for enough planning, it takes an hour of prep for an hour in the new program, enrichment activities?, none of us can solve COVID issues or the staffing shortage, the board can solve the stress of the new program, early release is not fair to the families

4.    What additional staff can support the current teachers?

Mr. North responded that there is a staffing shortage all around.

Ms Walther asked about the vacancy rate in the district. Mr. DeBalsi responded that it has been difficult to fill some positions, currently there are a couple of teacher openings and some paraprofessional positions. Other staff are covering for open positions. Substitutes are difficult to hire. This year it’s been hard to fill the permanent substitute positions. 

Mr. Christie asked Mr. DeBalsi to report on the staffing shortages on Dec 8th.

5.    IEP Parent- doesn’t feel that the teachers are being heard, cited Nichole Vielleux letter, ELA curriculum, lack of substitutes- can you review the COVID protocol and relax it a little bit, student behavior- aggressive behavior, are those students being referred to Special Education? teachers need support- more man power, what do teachers have for support, renegotiate sick time? compensation? financial commitment to hire regular education paras, what are you doing right now for the staffing shortage?

Mr. DeBalsi responded, open positions are advertised on School Spring, paraprofessional openings are posted in the Valley News, most new hires are word of mouth, hiring pool is dry, many other area openings offering higher hourly rates, open to suggestions for posting places.

Mr. DeBalsi commented on the ELA curriculum. We have made changes, but will need to look at the proposed changes again. Any new curriculum is difficult to start in a pandemic. 

6.    Was the mandate to the vaccine result in the staff shortage?

Mr. DeBalsi answered that only 3 staff members refused. Mandating has helped to keep the children, staff, and the community healthy. Currently we have 437 staff members.

7.    DBS parent (2 children) new curriculum, old way of doing curriculum? What has changed? Can we go back to the old way?

Mr. DeBalsi replied that we’ve been looking for a strong ELA program in skill development. This new program is a good one, but is difficult given the stressful pandemic times, attendance issues due to quarentening, paused the program, will need to review and regroup.

Mrs. Newton replied, will treat this year as an exploratory year, no expectation for what you need to do, own pace and by building- not a district wide roll out plan, administrator and planning team will discuss the plan, the full implementation will take place at the end of 3 years.

8.    WRS parent (2 students ) not getting a clear picture of what is going on, what Mrs. Newton explained and what she’s read in the google drive is very different, how many teachers were on the committee?

                        Mrs. Newton responded.

9.    Nichole Vielleux, HEA President, was not on the ELA Curriculum Study Committee, the science of the new program is good, how kids learn to read, this makes everyone a better decoder, the delivery of the program is not good- difficult to follow, many manuals and books, the committee did not choose the program it was picked by administration, afraid that the teachers are so upset about EL Education there’s no chance for the program, someone proposed to give the staff substitute time for extensive training (3 hour block), misinformation about substitutes- high school graduate who passed the fingerprint test, 15 years in the district, has only written one letter after many other staff shared their concerns and issues, 11 or 12 staff members out in a day- due to family/health issues, kids are happy to be in school, Labor Management Team meetings are helpful, wants to make Hartford a district where good teachers come and stay.

10. Family work schedule would not support early release, what about the middle school bus schedule? 45 minutes late to school

Mr. DeBalsi responded that there are bus driver shortages, and they are trying to address the issue. The vaccine mandate did cause a couple of drivers to leave.

Could we rotate bus routes so that the same students aren’t late? He will look into this.

11. Health care families, can’t handle students getting out an earlier

12. For all schools or just elementary? middle? high school?

Mr. DeBalsi responded, good question for the board, still concerned about other buildings.

Ms. Walther stated the value of the questions and sharing of concerns. We will address the issues.

13. Parents are struggling too, can this be dealt with in the school buildings and not send students home? play in the gym for an hour? extra curricular activities in the schools?

Ms Walther asked for comments from all so that at the next meeting there will be good information to discuss, something that won’t be a burden to the families. 

Mr. DeBalsi stated that was a good idea, but given our size what can we do, there is guidance about how we can mix students, all volunteers need to have background checks. 

Mr. Christie noted that “everything” is on the table but safety prevails over “everything”. 206 people are on the ZOOM call and another 20 people in person. 

14. OQS/HMS parent, curriculum comes and goes, could brainstorm enrichment ideas for keeping kids in school, should listen to the teachers to see what is going to help this year, primary source should come from the teachers

      Mr. Merrill noted we want suggestions, but is interested in finding out what the impact would be on the families, work day, economic impact, stressors that are in the community

15. Behavioral problems?

16. Options for parent volunteers

Mr. DeBalsi discussed how parents could volunteer, fill out a form, get fingerprinted, substitute application- come to the Superintendent’s Office, group sign up at OQS last night, any volunteer has to have a background check

17. Framework of topics, open ended right now, important to know what the schools are working on right now

Mr. North responded, we are in the process of developing that framework.

18. DBS (2 students) supporting the teachers, thank you to the teachers, sometime along the school transitioned from a place of education to child care provider, doesn’t seem like the primary concern is about the quality of education, sounds like biggest complaint is the new curriculum, if it’s going to alleviate stress on the teachers we should trust the teachers, work with neighbors- community can come together

19. How do parents help if they want to? Playground attendant?

20. Does the district have the authority to mandate vaccinations for 5 and older? 

Mr. DeBalsi replied not yet, takes time, still in the process at the state level.

21. Are the troubles we’ve heard at the elementary schools or shared at the other schools?

22. HSD employee, HMS student, DBS students, heard and seen the behaviors, staff are saying the behaviors are because the kids haven’t been in school, if students get out early the solution creates more problems, after school programs cross students- cancelling due to COVID is difficult when cancelled, can outside agencies come into the school for programs during the day for staff training, offer employees childcare or gym memberships, that would attract new staff members

Mrs. Russell commented about daycare shortages, same staffing shortages, daycares closing, early education field difficulties, attended PTO meeting- heard about a staff member who shared the timing of planning for the new EL program- not enough time, need to hear from families so we can make an educated decision

Mr. DeBalsi shared that having an early release would allow staff to plan together because currently staff members are covering for others during their planning time. This meeting was planned to see how we can help our teachers. We are stopping the new EL curriculum until we are out of COVID. Some of the suggestions tonight will be explored. 

Mrs. Russell shared what seems to be a misunderstanding, what the board thought was clear wasn’t, we are all working for the children, we want to be a team. 

Mr. DeBalsi shared that the district has done well when he’s talked to his colleagues around the state. There have been no total school closures, yes we have some staff openings. Schools operate because of our teachers, how can we help them be the best teacher they can be. He will push the board on Dec. 8 for a decision.

Mr. North asked Mr. Hathorn to scan through the questions, the Zoom chat can be saved for future review.

23. HSD employee, has been the hardest year as an elementary teacher, the shut-down spring was difficult, main priority last year- socialization not academic priority, safety a concern, this year academics are being shoved down us, no time for student socialization, no play time, three hours a day for the ELA program, supported at WRS by principal for planning, doing one part of the program, passionate about my students, need to go back and do more social things, they need to learn how to get along, worried about staff leaving, look at the program and listen to the teachers

24. Mr. North commented that it’s budgeting time, maybe we should hire a volunteer coordinator. Mr. Christie agreed, special funds could help with this position.

Mr. Merrill commented about the need to come together to find a solution, we all are part of the stress of the pandemic. It’s not about finding fault. This conversation is helping us all. 

Mrs. Russell noted that all of Vermont is going through this. 

Mr. DeBalsi reported about the three vaccine clinics at the elementary schools. The majority of the students were Hartford, over 60 shots at OQS, over 100 at WRS. 

25. Parent volunteers

26. Stresses around curriculum

27. HHS teacher, safety and vaccination, would appreciate it to revisit surveillance testing, has been buying the self-testing kit

28. Administrator, staff shortages due to COVID conditions, class size concerns, increased student population, imbalance DBS K-1 classrooms higher numbers, not an easy thing to address

Audience member- can you pull staff from one building to another to help with the number of classes?

29. Please don’t lose track of the behaviors? Will you need more time to research this, a lot of ideas suggested tonight?

Mr. DeBalsi said the need is now, and should not be prolonged.

Mr. Merrill replied it’s not a simple thing, this will be a multi-step process.

Mr. North stated there are some short and long term needs and answers.

30. Parent (2 elem) if I had a choice for my children to be in the class or have a better curriculum, I’d like them to be in class with others. 

31. Why are the older students not being engaged in this conversation?

Mr. DeBalsi asked about having the principals ask their staff about their needs and solutions, that would give the board a chance to hear from all buildings.

Olivia Merrill commented that HHS has different needs than the elementary schools. She will work with the high school students to help identify needs.

Mr. North recognizes there are stresses at the upper levels.

32. Volunteer coordinator, short staffing causes a lack of volunteer availability 

33. Grateful for students to be in school for the last year and a half, worried about the loss of more instructional time given what the loss has been over the last two years, worried about managing volunteers seems like taxing the building administrators, seems like the EL curriculum on hold would help, 3-4 PD days left for the year at the elem level- could you give staff those days to work on their planning, pausing the EL program could allow for talking to the teachers to plan the roll-out, with COVID funds could you add PD time at the beginning of the year, make sure any changes are looked through an equity inclusion diversity lens

34. Larger push out of information for vaccine clinics

Mr. DeBalsi will email the Dept of Health representative asking for other clinics. 

35. Suggestion to use the Zoom format of raising your hand when you want to ask a question instead of using the Chat format

36. EL curriculum, contract for the program? economic impact for extending the roll out?

37. Loss of instructional time is not supported by the community

38. HHS kids stated that early release would not be beneficial for them, the last hour of the day is for extra curricular activities

39. Dedication of staff is amazing

40. Is there a way to look at the current calendar to see how the remaining inservice days are going to be used?

41. What’s the best way for students to share their thoughts?

Any student can send information through Mr. DeBalsi, Mr. Hathorn, Mrs. Newton, any board member, or the student representatives.

Olivia Merrill offered that she and Sydney could survey the HHS student body.

Olivia further offered to talk to any Hartford student.


Mr. DeBalsi asked that any person who feels they weren’t heard should contact him. He noted that there is a lot of information on the district website.

Mr. Christie summarized that the board is interested in hearing from the community members so they can make an informed decision. It was important to hear from the HEA president and a veteran teacher about making Hartford a special place. At one point there were 206 people on ZOOM, amazing to have that many community members participating. Tonight was very informative for the board. 

Mr. North suggested that this topic be on the agenda for upcoming board meetings, updates, etc.

Mr. DeBalsi announced that he has had several people email him about subbing already!

Thank you to those who attended.


5.  Adjournment

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to adjourn at 8:41 PM, motion carried.


Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey



Next Regular School Board Meeting is December 8, 2021, at 6:00 PM