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Voters line up to cast ballots at Stamford's special town meeting on Monday.

Stamford Votes to Continue School Merger Process

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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William Levine opens the special town meeting with School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore. 
STAMFORD, Vt. — Stamford voters on Monday gave the go-ahead to continue down the path toward a potential school district merger with Clarksburg, Mass. 
 
In a vote of 58-29-1, the special town meeting approved by paper ballot a continuing with Option 3 — a recommendation by the private consultants and the Interstate Merger Committee to create a unified district. 
 
Also on a motion by Nancy Bushika, town meeting approved putting funding for the merger research on the annual town meeting warrant should the grant funds run out.
 
Clarksburg's Select Board is expected to set a date on Wednesday for its special town meeting. Approval by both towns will allow the merger committee, made up of members from both towns, to hire a part-time consultant or administrator to guide the effort through the legal, educational and governance issues. 
 
Although the result was positive, the merger plan did receive some pushback from residents who questioned the decision to go with the third option proposed by Public Consulting Group. 
 
Option 1 would mean no merger but would still require Stamford to take actions to comply with Vermont's Act 46 — legislation forcing school districts statewide to reorganize and consolidate. The measure was the impetus for Stamford to begin talks with Clarksburg rather than northward to districts farther away in Vermont. 
 
Option 2 would leave the schools existing in their current grade K-8 configuration and share administrative services. This option was deemed as too costly, not as efficient in using building space and not providing educational benefits. 
 
Option 3, which would create an early education center at Stamford and a Grade 3-8 school at Clarksburg within a unified district was determined by PCG, the merger and school committees as the best choice.  
 
It would create larger classes so grades wouldn't have to be combined, more programming, better access to data, and early testing on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System instead of encountering it Mass high schools. 
 
"We want to improve their chances and improve their educational opportunities," said Cynthia Lamore, chairman of the Board of School Directors. 
 
But several residents thought there should have been a chance for voting on the other options. 
 
"Why can't we go with Readsboro?" asked one man. "Clarksburg is a sinking ship."
 
Ed Fletcher asked why the committee couldn't "re-present" that past option with Readsboro. 
 
"I came here expressly to vote as a parent and I would like to see the school remain as it is," said Nancy Lesage, who was concerned about how it would affect special education services. 
 
Robert Bence said his son had graduated eighth grade with a class of 13 from Stamford, and it was great. 
 

Members of the School Board and Merger Committee answer questions on Monday. 
"But that's expensive and to have five pople in a class is really expensive," he said. "Can we afford a class of five people and give them a quality education?"
 
Lamore noted that the Southern Valley Unified Union School District of Readsboro and Halifax was having its own controversy in sending Readsboro's Grades 7 and 8 to Halifax because the class was so small. 
 
Rejecting Option 3 was essentially a choosing Option 1, said school officials.
 
"As far as the state's concerned we have to show action, we have to show consolidation or merging with another district," Lamore said.
 
Stamford had voted not to join that school union two years ago, preferring to explore Clarksburg or gaining "isolated" status to go it's own way. School officials said there was little hope in becoming an isolated school although a few people thought the town should "push back."
 
But one man noted there has been pushback by towns and so far the courts have sided with the Board of Education. If they didn't choose Massachusetts, the state would decide. 
 
"Vermont's not going to give us choices anymore," he said. "They're going to tell us specifically to join with Halifax. ... We're not going to have an option really."
 
Kelly Holland, a member of the merger committee, said the state has already stepped in to forcefully merge school districts when towns have failed to act. 
 
"We're not trying to scare you, we're just telling you what we are seeing," she said. 
 
Residents also brought up concerns over the condition of Clarksburg School, how the funding would work and how much control they would continue to have over the school building.
 
A small contingent continued after the vote to push for more research into becoming a town district with "isolated" status. Holland said she felt uncomfortable in doing a two-pronged approach because it would seem to undermine the town's commitment to an interstate merger in the eyes of Vermont. There was also, she noted, no money for that effort.
 
Lamore suggested they come to the School Board meeting on Tuesday to discuss creating a subcommittee to do some research.

Tags: act 46,   interstate ,   merger,   special town meeting,   stamford school,   

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SVHC Nurse Named Impact Award Honoree

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The group Vermonters Taking Action Against Cancer has named Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center’s registered nurse Rebecca Hewson-Steller as one of its 2020 Impact Award Honorees. SVRCC is a part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

"Rebecca truly has a passion for cancer prevention and screening, community health, outreach, collaboration and building partnerships," said Jean Huntington, director of Oncology Services at SVRCC.  "She has a unique set of skills and expertise that benefit our community and the Cancer Center."

Hewson-Steller works as a nurse navigator in the Cancer Center and the Breast Health and Imaging Center. In addition to helping recently diagnosed patients cope with their illness and determine their course of action, Hewson-Steller conducts outreach aimed to promote awareness, prevention and screenings. To people outside the Cancer Center, she is best known for helping to organize outreach events to increase the number of people who get screened for colon, skin, cervical, breast and lung cancers.

"Her events are fun and informative, and really help people realize the importance of taking action to reduce their risk," Huntington said.

Amy Deavitt of the American Cancer Society nominated Hewson-Steller for the award. In the nomination, she wrote, "Rebecca works tirelessly on behalf of the patients she serves by going above and beyond to provide the best in cancer care. … Rebecca has been instrumental in breaking down barriers to increase colorectal and lung cancer screenings. Often, Rebecca is in the field at an event … talking a community member through screening logistics or explaining the polyps on display in the inflatable colon. … She clearly loves her job."

The Impact Awards began approximately 13 years ago. The VTAAC coalition of 650 members nominates honorees annually. The VTAAC Executive Committee reviews them and selects two individuals to honor each year. This year’s other honoree was Amy Pfenning of Community Health Center Rutland. In addition, Justin Pentenrieder has been part of the VTAAC leadership for 10 years and was honored for his numerous contributions in reducing the cancer burden for Vermonters as well as his service to VTAAC.

The goal of VTAAC is to reduce the burden of cancer for all Vermonters. Their 2016-2020 Vermont Cancer Plan outlines the five-year shared goals, objectives, and strategies for reducing the burden of cancer in Vermont with the goals of preventing, detecting, and treating cancer, as well as improving the lives of cancer survivors and their families. For more information, visit vtaac.org.

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