Place permeates everything. It’s a marker of culture, habits, pastimes, shared hopes and shared tragedy. It forms communities and lays out priorities for education. Place provides shared experiences and landscapes: vistas, lakes, stands of maples, green pastures and slate quarries. It bonds us, in good times and difficult ones.

The events around Fair Haven Union High School that have reverberated since February 2018 are, on one hand, still agonizing and exhausting. On the other hand, they remind us of our commonality, our shared fate, and that we can create tomorrow together. As much as those events still bring us sorrow, they also remind us of our toughness that forges us to move forward together.

“Normal” has a different look in the Benson, Orwell, West Haven, Hubbardton, Castleton and Fair Haven communities. Addison Rutland Supervisory Union (ARSU) is different than before February 2018, yet most have adjusted to new ways and are thankful for added safety. Events beyond the community’s control or responsibility have cast long shadows that still linger, even though the march of time demands teachers, students, parents and the community move on to the next day, week or school year.

As we take those steps forward to heal, they coincide with a time when Vermont is asking communities to consider how learning, schools and districts are designed through Acts 46 and 77. There is no better time than now to come together to intentionally design our community’s future, and ARSU is doing just that.

ARSU is redefining itself based on understanding and reinvesting in the vast opportunities and resources that surround us. The Slate Valley Innovation Committee is developing a plan to expand educational opportunities for students and help address the financial burden of deferred maintenance in ARSU’s schools.

ARSU is engaged in collaborative partnerships with community-based organizations and “anchor institutions” (colleges/universities, hospitals, businesses) to establish reciprocal relationships for innovating solutions based on equity, access and opportunity.

ARSU seeks to establish a “collaborative center,” for innovation through enhanced course design, faculty training, the development of tools to measure and evaluate institutional practices, research partnerships and procedures to support community involvement in education. Acts 46 and 77 mandate that adults provide “a map” forward.

ARSU is facilitating an innovative design process to consider equity, access and opportunity of space where moments for deepened personal understanding of place are discovered. This requires forming and sustaining trusting relationships and knowing and understanding the naturally occurring phases of development, both human and physical. Through trust and lasting relationships, we are recovering from traumatic events by reconnecting with our reevaluation of who we are and where we are.

The experiences of February 2018 have left a lasting imprint on the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union community. These experiences and stories are ours, and they are not the only ones. As educators prepare for a new calendar year, join us to consider teaching and learning in our place. Join us to recognize a community that is healing with the help of Act 46 and Act 77. Notice Fair Haven and its surrounding communities with a deep sense of pride as a place for innovation and celebration.

Join us to create tomorrow together.

This commentary was submitted by Brooke Olsen-Farrel of the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union Administrative Team.

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