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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Newly-independent Lincoln School District enters its first year in operation

This fall marks the first year that the Lincoln School District is operating as an independent supervisory school district for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, overcoming the challenge of withdrawing from its prior district to become established independently. 

The new district includes the Lincoln Community School, which enrolls about 82 students across all grades, according to U.S. News and World Reports.

Lincoln bid to withdraw from the Mount Abraham Unified School District after the district began talks about using Lincoln’s school space for other purposes in December 2020, according to reporting from the Addison Independent. Despite hurdles to finding a supervisory union — a Vermont-specific entity that develops curriculum, provides special education and plans other specialty programs — and filling staff positions, the bid to withdraw was approved by the Vermont State Board of Education on May 18, 2022 in a vote of 4–3. The school year has now begun with Lincoln functioning as its own independent district, known as the Lincoln School District.

“The Lincoln School District’s five-member board has been fully engaged in putting in place the policies, systems, staffing, and administrative and technological infrastructure to ensure it is ready to assume full responsibility for our children's education,” according to a message from the school board on the district website. “This process is moving on pace and has only been possible because of the extraordinary support and generosity of Lincoln residents.” 

The website also includes quotes from its elected school board members about the value of the new district. 

“As a Lincolnite, I am forever grateful to the teachers at Lincoln Community School… I found I was not alone in valuing the Lincoln Community School when the voters overwhelmingly voted to continue to educate Lincoln’s children locally,” Board Member Mary Gemignani wrote on the page. 

Jennifer Oldham, chair of the school board, is a longtime Lincoln resident and the parent of two Lincoln Community School graduates. With a professional background in nonprofit management and four years of experience on the board, Oldham wrote that she hopes to be part of a successful school district. 

“[Oldham’s] goal as a Board member is to support [Lincoln Community School] to thrive while demonstrating the viability of small rural schools and advocating for the unique educational opportunities they provide,” the same district webpage reads. 

This passion and enthusiasm from town residents carried the Lincoln School District through its sometimes turbulent process of withdrawing from the Mount Abraham district. The neighboring town of Ripton, Vt., also attempted to withdraw from the district in early 2021, but received a vote of no confidence from the Vermont State Board of Education in August 2022. A report on the attempted withdrawal cited the State Board of Education concerns that the proposed Ripton School District did not have adequate plans to achieve sufficient funding, establish a viable school district or employ qualified staff, according to the Vermont State Board of Education

Because Lincoln and Ripton appeared to be on similar trajectories, the latter’s failure to get approval for an independent district cast doubt on Lincoln’s potential approval. This also made plans for a joint supervisory union between the two towns impossible.

Despite this, Lincoln school board members remained confident throughout the process in its ability to successfully open and run its own school district. Oldham told the Addison Independent that there was no concern over whether Lincoln School District would be able to find the funding and staffing that Ripton could not. 

One key difference between the Lincoln and Ripton cases was that Lincoln declined the options given to them through Act 176, which offers provisions to delay the start date of an independent school district or re-enter the Mount Abraham Unified School District if needed. This decision was criticized by state education board chair Oliver Olsen, who said, “That move earlier this year was reckless and irresponsible. I don’t know how this is going to end but there’s not much we can do,” Olsen told the Addison Independent in August 2022. 

Despite these challenges and criticism, Lincoln leaders remained unfazed. “We all feel very confident despite the short time frame, that given all of the things that were going on… if we really wanted to achieve our independence and be able to have more control over what happens with our kids and our school, that it was better to get out sooner rather than to wait,” Oldham told the The Addison Independent. 

Lincoln School District officials explained in an Addison Independent interview in late August that the first year of the new district’s operation will largely be similar to previous years, while also adjusting to a “new normal” in Lincoln. 

Many components of education in Lincoln will stay the same. The school will retain most of the same teachers and staff, and will keep the same transportation system as in previous years. The district will save on costs by using two bus routes instead of three, Oldham told the Addison Independent. It will also continue to provide middle and high schoolers in the district with transportation to Mount Abraham Union High School — 77% of middle and high schoolers in Lincoln attend the Mount Abraham high school. 

Lincoln Community School Principal Tory Riley told the Addison Independent that the school aims to help students “see their own progression.”

“We’ll also be measuring growth in aspects of learning and being human, such as communication, perseverance, self-awareness and collaboration,” Riley said. “Because the majority of our students will attend Mount Abraham as 7th to 12th graders, we will be attentive to making that transition smooth for students.” 

While Riley was unable to provide a full interview to The Campus in the midst of the beginning of the school year, she emphasized in an email to The Campus Lincoln Community School’s mission statement as the new district embarks on the school year ahead: “Our school’s essential purpose is to insist that all students learn to use their minds well.”

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Julia Pepper

Julia Pepper '24 (she/her) is the Senior Local Editor. 

She previously served as a Local Editor. She is a Psychology major and French minor. This past spring she studied in Paris. She spent the summer interning at home in New York City, putting her journalistic cold calling skills to use at her internship doing outreach with senior citizens. In her free time she enjoys reading and petting cats.