March 1, 2024

HSB Minutes 6-13-2023

Hartford Board of School Directors

Select Board/School Board Joint Meeting Minutes

June 13, 2023 @ 5:30 pm

In-Person at Town Hall and Online Meeting 

Public Link


School Board Members Present: Kevin Christie, Peter Merrill, Nancy Russell, Russell North, Douglas Heavisides

School Administrators Present:Tom DeBalsi, Roy Hathorn, Julie Robinson

Select Board Present: Michael Hoyt, Dan Fraser, Kim Souza (online), Lanni Collins, Rocket, Mary Erdei, Ally Tufenkjian

Town Administrator Present: Joe Major, Treasurer 


          1.  Informal Conversation


          2. Call to Order the Selectboard Meeting

Mr. Hoyt called the Select Board meeting to order at 6:04 PM.


3. Call to Order the School Board Meeting

Mr. Christie called the School Board meeting to order at 6:05 PM.

Mrs. Russell recognized the fourth grade students from OQS. Principal, Amelia Donahey, introduced the project, students made buttons that allowed them to be seen at school as they wanted to be seen. The students made a video that described the project and explained their buttons. On their World Day, May 5th, all OQS students made buttons. Students introduced themselves and described the messages on their buttons. 

Ms Bristow, OQS Spanish teacher, recognized two students.  Lila Hoffmani entered and won a poster contest sponsored by the Vermont Foreign Language. Hannah Whitney won a Spanish poetry recitation contest. 


4. Joint School Board & Selectboard Equity Meeting 

A.     Welcome

The boards and the school administrators introduced themselves. 

B.     Community Agreements 

Dr. Mary Gannon welcomed the group, being together is the first step in the process. She referenced some points of history and reviewed the guidelines for the meeting tonight. 

C.     Background & Context

Dr. Gannon gave some background of the project. She came with Curtis Reed, and were looking for both boards to identify how to build the community. They held focus groups in the community, and asked community members what they were looking for to change. The strategic plan was developed and included many of those items. 

The task tonight is to see how we realign ourselves with the original intention of the strategic plan. 

Mr. Christie shared his thoughts about the history, an unfortunate racial event occured, HCOREI was formed to help work through the issues. He is proud of where we are in Hartford, even if we wish we were further down the road. 

Mr. Collins reviewed some town history, years ago an email was sent within town, the cartoon seemed to be racial in nature, HCOREI was formed, work was done with the community to address the issue.

Rocket questioned the difference between being racist or ignorant. When our children do this, we use it as an educational moment. If we treat people with the benefit of the doubt then it's a better way for them to come around. 

Dr. Gannon asked what type of work is needed intentionally or not.

Mrs. Russell, speaking as a grandparent of students and an early educator, often children carry their parental influences into their first classrooms. She noted that educators need to work with these children. She referenced a board training about prejudice, she hadn’t thought that she carried any. The school works hard training staff on how to best deal with these. Some staff are labeled, a lot is coming from the students.

Ms Souza  hopes that the school and town members aren’t taking this away on a personal level. The previously referenced incident would have happened anyway. These discussions might be uncomfortable but are part of our culture.

Dr. Gannon asked board members to describe some successful school work and to identify some of the challenges. 

Mr. DeBalsi recognized that we’ve come a long way and have made it possible to talk about these things. It’s important that people don't feel judged. The board has adopted a couple policies that ensure fair treatment, A restorative practice model is used to have discussions about any situation.

Mr. Merrill referenced a Washington DC family vacation. They witnessed many historical events that showed America mistreating others. When there’s a conversation about race in Hartford, he has a reason to have hope.

Mr. Hoyt stated he’s glad that we’re still referencing the strategic plan, we’re not done yet, but still working on it. Certain instances can change your mind, meeting together, training, serves a greater purpose, 

Dr. Gannon reminded the group that all come into a role with their own lived experiences. What aspirations do you have when you work on equity work or the strategic plan?

Mr. Hoyt responded that many are just good government procedures, policy work, improved communication, transparency, celebrations, and continuing to work on implementing parts of the strategic plan. 

Ms Tufenkjian referenced the policy on policies, and needs to be accessible and clear. This Select Board doesn't have a strategic goal and vision, no retreat discussion has been held. When doing this you would need to look at it with the equity lens. 

Ms Erdie shared it’s important to be open minded, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, adopted daughter from China thirty years ago, shared a personal story, “Chinese virus”, realized there’s a lot of work to do, the hardest thing is to listen and to offer where she can, some refuse to talk about the issues, doesn’t quite know where to go with that, important to learn something new and open yourself up. 

Rocket asked that we should be open to finding solutions, maybe we haven’t identified the right questions, all documents should be living, selective classes and protective classes, some recognize as racial minorities getting the preferential treatment, we need to solve some of these issues, we can not govern free speech, what’s in the control of government, consider the scope of HCOREI to be equity broadly making sure they are empowered for wider review.

Mr. Major, HCOREI member, advisory committee not an action committee, their role is to research and recommend, they are following what their charge is, worked to get a communication officer, referenced Tuck School study, challenged both boards- is the charge broad enough? HCOREI will continue to do the work to move us forward. 

Sarah, HCOREI chair, this conversation has happened many times, looking at the lens that is deeper, watered down work to make the most people feel good about stuff, have discussed this, what place can we focus on where we get the most effect. 

Rocket asked about broadening the scope, and getting the most, HCOREI has the most committed citizens doing their work, how do we address the management and government through HCOREI ?

Mr. Merrill hopes that we just get going to move the conversation forward. 

Mr. North, going forth with the charter, there should be better collaboration from both boards with the charge for HCOREI for the year.


D.    Board Equity Updates


E.     Hartford Committee on Racial Equity & Inclusion Quarterly Update

Sarah, chair, work all starts from strategic plan, but work starts at the basic place, Juneteenth celebration, Saturday, Lyman Point, Community Safety Review RFP has been posted, Public Communication Officer, position unfilled, funds should be used to set up for position, want to engage with the school more, “fires” have been with the town.

Molly, HCOREI member, Quoted Maggi, “Lift up the people who are most marginalized”.


F.     Discussion on Board Collaboration & Next Steps 

Mr. Collins, report from constituents, less than 5% fall into a race category, but we focus an extreme amount of work in the town based on this categorization. Many feel that we spend too much time looking through a racial lens versus a whole town lens. What about the poor white folks? 

Ms Souza commented, until we are a genuinely welcoming inclusive community to folks that don’t fall into the white majority we will not increase the diversity in town. 

Mr. Major, commented on the constituents to Mr. Collins, it’s all 10,683 residents, what work has taken away from all the work?

Mr. North commented on this activity showing a need for a communication director, 

Mr. Hoyt asked all to look at the Select Board agendas, most of the time is used to address town issues, not a lot of time is spent on social issues.

Rocket asked to come to the next meeting with data, what percent of the student population is food insecure? I’m trying to get more facts.

Sarah, social infrastructure is as important as bridges and roads. When we are talking about making our town better it shouldn't be in lieu of making the roads better.

Mr. DeBalsi reminded the group of the work in the last five years. The big next step in the schools, it’s a little more welcoming, but how do we make them want to stay? Let’s look at the data and the plan, how do we move that forward?

Mr. Merrill recognized Rocket’s thought that if we don’t measure we can’t improve. Race affects the atmosphere in the schools, therefore bullying affects the whole. He referenced the ADA guidelines, they  help us all.

Mrs. Russell cautioned the group about some disabilities that are not as noticeable. The district is addressing many of these needs. 

Michelle Boleski, past HCOREI member, thanked all members. She is questioning why there is a joint committee, you only meet once every four years. You have to meet at least once a year. One solution for the Select Board is to create a committee on policies. Until the work of the strategic plan is done talking about broadening it is distracting. What has been accomplished? A communication staff member is desperately needed. 

Rocket asked for the chairs to identify problems. How can we compile the data that’s available?

Ms Tufenkjian commented that the community safety review is an opportunity to do that, what contributes to the health and wellbeing of the community? The data collection would be gathered widely.

Ms Souza said there is a lot of data available. We should look at it as challenges, ethnic racial diversity is lacking, improving the economic wellbeing within the community would help.

Sarah read the first charge of HCOREI.

Dr. Gannon summarized the conversation, all over NE “why do we have to talk about race?” Everyone benefits when we are creating a welcoming community. It's good for everyone. She shared how the learning environment is impacted when a racial comment is made. Please remember your core values as boards. You have to come together on common ground, it drives your practice. Good government, good classrooms, is equity. 

Rocket shared that he’s the only Select Board minority member. It’s a difficult position. Being super mindful is important. 


G Adjourn the School Board meeting/adjourn the Joint Meeting

Mr. Hoyt called the joint meeting adjourned at 8:05 PM.


Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey

Hartford School Board Recorder