Jessica Roy, of Barnet, did not go into Monday’s Caledonia Cooperative School District (CCSD) board meeting on Zoom expecting to be named chair of the school board.
But that’s exactly what happened.
At the board’s annual reorganization meeting, Lynette Farnham, last year’s board chair, chose to decline the position.
Farnham said that while she appreciated the nomination and enjoyed the role itself, it wasn’t a good time.
“Maybe in a few years,” she said. “But right now, for many reasons, it’s not a good time for me to dedicate that kind of time.”
CCSD oversees three PreK-8 schools: Barnet School, Waterford School and Walden School. According to the Vermont School Boards Association, the chair not only keeps the board on task but also establishes the tone for board teamwork and collaboration with the administration.
Longtime board member, Sue Roberts was nominated for the position, but also declined.
Then Roy, trying to shield herself from sight, was nominated.
“Somebody really needs to like … volunteer,” she replied. “I don’t think I have it in me either … I could barely do the clerk job this year!”
“Well, this is a new experience for me,” said Mark Tucker, CCSU Superintendent.
“Yikes,” remarked Roy, who is just starting the third year of her three-year term.
“I’m the kind of person who will do it if nobody else will,” she said, adding that she had been thinking of not running for another term next year and that perhaps someone with longer-term vision should be selected.
Board members, Jennifer D’Agostino and James Hemond also declined the role.
“I’ve heard a nomination and a second, and you have not declined …” Tucker told Roy.
“Well, I’d like to, but I don’t see anybody else jumping for [the position] … ” said Roy, laughing.
Following just over 10 minutes of discussion, Roy was unanimously approved as the new head of the nine-member CCSD board.
“I better get to the agenda, give me a second … I wasn’t prepared,” she said. “You guys need to be nice to me.”
Farnham was voted vice-chair and said she would help Roy out as best she could.
Roy said in an email on Tuesday evening that many of the board members are relatively new.
“My best guess as to why this job ‘fell’ into my lap would be because of my experience as a leader in my classroom and school,” she said. “I also try to make sure I do my due diligence when it comes to doing what needs to be done.”
Roy said that she went into the meeting expecting things to continue as usual.
“I was quite shocked!” she said. “But, my experience as a teacher has taught me that sometimes you have to adjust and do it quickly depending on the situation. So, that’s what I did!”
Roy, who has two children, has spent her entire professional career as a public school teacher in the Barre Supervisory Union.
“I always try to put as much of myself into whatever I do, especially when it comes to my family and my students,” she said.
“It has been a VERY challenging year as a teacher and a parent,” Roy wrote. “The hybrid/fully-remote/fully-in-person teaching was the most difficult balancing act I have ever had to manage in my 18 years as an educator. I’m hoping that this taught me how to be an excellent juggler and that I can try to keep the momentum going into this next year as board chair.”
Roy first decided to run for the CCSD board in 2019 as a new Barnet resident who was concerned about the school and the lack of transparency from the board at the time. She had moved from the Peacham community, where her children attended Peacham School and Roy was very involved.
Roy also served on the Act 46 study committee.
Roy said that she foresees the biggest board challenge in the next year to be the CCSD budget.
The FY22 (July 2021-June 2022) CCSD budget passed by a vote of 406 to 326 on May 4 and will mean a tax-rate hike for residents of all three towns. Merger incentives, in their last year, both shielded residents from a larger rate hike and also made it so the administration and board were unable to lower the tax hike without enormous cuts, which they opted not to take.
School principals and board members expressed relief and gratitude to residents for their approval of the budget at Monday’s meeting.
“We are also facing so many unknowns with the results of COVID,” wrote Roy on Tuesday. “How ARE our students doing? Do they need more support academically, socially, emotionally? How is their health? Will we need more support for them? How is the staff feeling? Do they need more training? How do we support our entire learning community in a way that doesn’t hurt our community financially?”
The meeting saw the addition of new board members, Daniel Gingue of Waterford, and Kilee Willey of Walden.
The board plans to have a “board retreat” this summer to work on a collective vision and goal setting.