The Consolidation of an Education

The Consolidation of an Education

I wish every day was All School Sing,

and we always did the Chicken Dance.”

Aidan, 7 years old, Marlboro, Vermont

A celebration at Marlboro Elementary School, Vermont. ( photo: Pam Burke)

con-sol-i-date, verb ORIGIN early 16th cent. (in the sense [combine into a single whole] ): from Latin consolidare, from con- ‘together’ + solidare ‘make firm’ (from solidus ‘solid’ ).

Maybe lots of Superintendents show up at schools dressed like Abe Lincoln in February and maybe some even attempt to visit every classroom in every school in their entire district. Or maybe that’s just Vermont.

Or maybe that’s just Steven John.

Before Dr. John became our district Superintendent, he was a Principal, and before that, he was a classroom teacher, and in between–he parented, sang in a chorus, acted as Town Meeting Moderator–and even worked as an “extra” in the film, Funny Farm.

It’s funny to have a Superintendent’s face in one of your favorite movies about moving to Vermont, but it’s also nice to know that he lives here and knows the people and has worked in the trenches before making vital decisions on behalf of the rest of us.

Last week Steven attended All School Sing at our elementary building in Marlboro, Vermont. This time he came as himself.  But he still had an opportunity to wear another hat, when he was asked to lead one section of the room in a round of Nursery Rhymes.

His tune was Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Afterward, he joined our school Principal, Francie Marbury, at the monthly coffee chat with parents–and we had a chance to hear about education from the district perspective–about how each school was like a row boat filling with water and how each Principal was bailing as quickly as she could to keep the boat from sinking.

Steven pointed out that although each school strongly held onto their individual identity–eg. the way we do things in Marlboro — if you took a look at these same schools from a bit of a distance, you’d see that they were pretty much the same.

I bristled as this lack of distinction. Having taught at some of the schools Steven mentioned, I was quick to point out the inaccuracy. But Dr. John went on to counter that all these schools have high caliber teachers and that they all shared the beloved tradition of All School Sing for example.

Sure all schools in Vermont do All School Sing, I thought, but not like us: Do other schools have a Lost & Found Fashion Show complete with a runway and soundtrack?  Do they waltz to Boyz to Men on Valentines Day and contra dance to Aretha?  Do kids tell jokes?  Do teachers laugh and sigh just as hard as everyone else? Does Spider Man (aka. the board president) appear on the climbing wall?

The meeting ended with a stalemate between the Superintendent and me. But I kept on thinking…

Maybe from a hundred feet up these small schools look the same, but in the day to day, in the moments that matter, our school has that “Je ne sais quoi,” and that makes all the difference.

Perhaps the difference in our perceptions has to do with the difference in what we’re after. Dr. John has to balance the budget, answer to the state, make our district make sense on paper.

As a  parent, the school has to make sense to my child and my family. We intentionally relocated to Marlboro for this particular style of education. We chose it for that immeasurable spark that I saw among students and teachers.

It’s the same spark that I saw this morning at this week’s “Sing” on top of a table of a hundred lit cupcakes that were rolled out to fete teacher David Holzapfel’s 60th birthday.

The whole room was taken by surprise, and they all sang in a way that showed that they really meant it–and that they all knew that David’s wife Michelle was not only a terrifying Ghoul on Halloween, but a killer baker.

“This is a beautiful community,” I thought as I looked around at a room of beaming faces…  Any distinction between teacher and student had melted away as the whole room stood to applaud David’s efforts to blow out an extraordinary number of candles with a bike pump that failed mid-way.

“Where’s Steven John now?” I quipped to the Principal on my way out. “You don’t see that in Dover!”

(See Tribute to a School & Kindergarten Moments for more on unconsolidated education, Marlboro style.)

Note: Thanks goes out to Dover for their letter to the Department of Education reversing the decision on the closed meetings in Montpelier.

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