BENSON — Middle-schoolers here will head out of town next fall.
The Slate Valley Unified School District School Board voted unanimously Monday evening to realign Benson Village School to serve grades pre-K-6 beginning July 1, 2021. Seventh and eighth-graders will have in-district school choice, which includes Fair Haven Grade School, Castleton Village School and Orwell Village School.
SVUSD serves the towns of Fair Haven, Castleton, Hubbardton, Benson, West Haven and Orwell.
Last month, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell announced a plan to consolidate district schools during the coming two years. In addition to realigning BVS, the plan will bring all district seventh- and eighth-graders to the Fair Haven Union High School campus to create a unified middle school by fall 2022. That same year, the district will close Castleton Village School, sending CVS sixth-graders to Castleton Elementary.
At the time, Olsen Farrell said realigning BVS would save the district roughly $160,000 annually, closing CVS would save the district another $170,000 annually in operational costs and middle school consolidation would see a reduction of approximately 20 to 25 staff members for a savings of “well over a million dollars” for the district.
“It’s about offering everybody similar educational opportunities,” Olsen-Farrell said. “And while Benson is a wonderful, little school and I admire what the staff has done for our students, right now we have two teachers teaching five grade levels, and it’s just not sustainable. They’re doing a fantastic job, but that’s not sustainable in the long run.”
BVS currently has 56 students in grades pre-K through 8, according to Principal Amy Roy. Combined, next year’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes will total eight students.
“We are a small but mighty school,” she said.
Roy said the district will continue to provide transportation for seventh- and eighth-graders in the fall. She explained that a bus already runs from Benson to Fair Haven en route to the high school, and another route overlaps with an Orwell route should any students choose to attend OVS.
As the first Slate Valley school to make the transition to pre-K-6, Roy said she and her staff are excited to “make the big leap.”
“Our focus is really going to be on this new configuration, and really setting the model for what pre-K through sixth grade looks like here,” she said. “We know there’ll be challenges, but we also know about the possibilities that lie ahead for us in this new configuration.”
Slate Valley School Board Chairman Tim Smith noted support from the Board, administrators and the community at large.
In recent weeks, the board has held a series of virtual public input sessions in district communities and with BVS families. Smith said no major concerns were raised; questions generally focused on transportation and making sure students were going to have greater educational opportunities.
“(They) just wanted to be clear on the reasons why we’re choosing to repurpose Benson and how that fits in with our overall plan to move all seventh and eighth graders to Fair Haven High School in two years time,” he said.
Olsen-Farrell said the board’s approval of the BVS realignment “definitely puts us on the right path towards reorganization.”
In May, she said she will return to the board to recommend the second phase of the reconfiguration plan, which will shutter CVS and create a unified middle school.
This new plan is a paired down version of the ambitious $60 million bond voters rejected in March. While the bond was unpopular, Olsen-Farrell said many of the needs it addressed still exist.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results,” she said. “We have almost 20% less students than we had 10 years ago. We need a reorganization in order to realize equal educational opportunities for all of our students and the value for taxpayers and to address our significant infrastructure needs in the district.”