Following an August 13 meeting of the White River Valley Unified District school board, three administrators— South Royalton Elementary Principal David Wells, WRV High School Principal Reed McCracken, and Supt. Bruce Labs, conducted a tour of the school building in South Royalton.
The newly-merged WRV Unified District was approved by voters last fall, and a new board, with representatives from Bethel and Royalton, assumed control of the unified district July 1.
The merger has brought changes to both the structure of education, for Bethel and Royalton students, and to the school buildings, as well.
A first stop on the August 13 tour of the South Royalton School was the school library, which has been rearranged and outfitted with new café-style seats, a number of tables, and a new rug.
As the tour passed the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) flag outside the office, Supt. Labs was asked whether South Royalton High School’s accreditation would carry over to the merged school, as Bethel previously did not attempt to become accredited.
Labs responded that he has been talking with a NEASC representative about the importance of maintaining the high school’s accreditation, and had been assured that NEASC “doesn’t want to lose any schools with this type of thing.”
The tour concluded in the gym, now transformed with the new school colors for the WRV School— with dark green, bright green, and golden-striped walls and floor, a new wildcat decal on the court, and royal blue safety mats left on the walls underneath the basketball hoops. As of now, all banners in both schools will remain where they are in each gym.
Small Class Sizes
After the tour, the two principals shared more details on preparations for the new school year.
Although merging the Bethel and South Royalton high schools into one will mean larger graduating classes, it appears that the number of students in any given class will likely remain quite small.
Standard required courses at the high school are set, but it is still unclear exactly which additional courses will be offered this year, high school Principal McCracken acknowledged.
McCracken said sign-ups to date were low for some classes (i.e. computer science and current events), and that one course—Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus—had only one prospective student.
Although AP Calculus will not be offered this year in a classroom setting, McCracken said that it could possibly be taken online via Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative. In past years, South Royalton High School used the program for language classes, each time resulting in unsatisfactory experiences, and a decision to drop use of the system partway through the school year.
During merger planning, it had been forecast that the larger, merged high school would be able to offer a number of “new” and “exciting” courses. However, McCracken said that final decisions on which courses will be offered will be determined on a “case-by-case” basis.
“We don’t really know what will happen, but we have the teachers to teach these classes now,” he said. “Our priorities have been with [hiring teachers.] Everything else we’ll figure out later.”
An Endless List
In the time remaining leading up to the first day of school, there are still many bases to cover and to-do list items to check off.
South Royalton Elementary Principal Wells said he anticipates that the entire $140,000 budgeted to “rebrand” the school will be spent.
The work has involved, he said, covering up everything with a hornet at Bethel School, and most of the royal blue surfaces at South Royalton School.
Administrators also want to get new curtains and light rigging for the “gymnatorium” stage in South Royalton, estimated to cost $28,000, plus a large decal to cover the mascot scoreboard in Bethel, two items currently at a standstill due to lack of time.
Taking out a notebook from his pocket, McCracken said that there was “just an endless list of items nobody had thought of yet,” which still needed to be taken care of.
Other issues on that list are various student clubs and organizations, on both a structural and operational level, and safety precautions and training, such as active shooter drills and protocol.
Graduation requirements and whether they will remain consistent for the students already partially through high school and those entering into their first year also have yet to be determined, as is who will make that final decision, McCracken said.
Wells explained that they did estimate there will be around 150 students in each elementary school, and about the same for the middle school.
Numbers at the high school are harder to pin down, as it is still not certain how many students may be enrolling at other schools.
“We’ll just see who shows up on the first day,” Principal Wells said of the inconclusive high school numbers. “There’s nothing else we can do until then.”
-- EMILY BALLOU, a 2017 graduate of South Royalton High School