Slate Valley school board votes to build middle school on Fair Haven campus

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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CASTLETON, Vt. (WCAX) - A southern Vermont school district is proving Act 46, Vermont’s controversial 2015 school consolidation law, can work for some communities.

There are big changes afoot in the Slate Valley Unified School District. The school board voted Monday night to send all seventh and eighth-grade students from Castleton, Orwell, Benson, and Fair Haven to Fair Haven Union High School beginning in the fall of 2022. Officials say the idea of creating a district middle school is something the communities have discussed for decades.

“There wasn’t a lot of dissent -- general concern and questions -- but more or less everyone supported the idea,” said Tim Smith, the SVUSD School Board chair. He says the decision is a culmination of declining enrollment, increasing costs, deferred building maintenance, and staffing shortages. The hope is that by creating this middle school in Fair Haven on the current high school campus, Slate Valley will have fewer students who use school choice to go somewhere else.

“A lot of our eighth graders do not necessarily feel the connection to Fair Haven Union High School and are taking school choice option to other schools outside of the district,” said SVUSD Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell. She says by consolidating, the district can offer more academic courses and extracurricular activities. “The Act 46 merger process was difficult within this district.

The district has merged twice. The first time voters approved it after a failed vote. The second time it was forced by the Vermont State Board of Education. But Olsen-Farrell says closing a small shrinking school and building a new union middle school proves merging works. “This is an absolute success story. I think we are meeting the intended outcomes of Act 46,” she said

The board also voted to close Castleton Village School in June of 2022. It’s currently used for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. The sixth graders will move back to Castleton Elementary School before going to FHUHS for seventh and eighth grade.

Castleton voters will have a say in what happens to the future of the Castleton Village School at Town Meeting Day next spring. If they choose to return the building to the town, the selectboard could buy it from the district for $1 and do with it what they please.

Meanwhile, the construction of the middle school at the FHUHS campus is set to start in June.

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