ST. ALBANS, Vt. – Tensions continue to run high in the Bellows Free Academy school district after its bold superintendent reached a point of disgust and publicly blasted teachers, their local union and other school administrators for lackluster academic results.
Citing dissatisfaction with student performance at Bellows Free Academy High School, Superintendent Robert Rosane publicly denounced the union – the Bellows Free Academy Education Association – and its members, claiming they are standing in the way of necessary school reform.
The standoff between Rosane and the union has resulted in the superintendent taking a temporary leave of absence from the district. An interim superintendent has been installed.
The drama began at the end of November when Rosane released emailed correspondence between himself and Justin Bedell, a teacher at Bellows Free Academy (BFA) and president of the teachers union, to the public and media. Teachers responded by labeling Rosane “antagonistic” and criticized him for releasing the private emails and using profanity in at least one instance.
Rosane, who has a reputation for bluntness, particularly when it comes to the need for reform, said in one email: “I want to blow the resistance [to reform] wide open.”
According to Rosane, over 60 percent of the students who graduate from BFA are not proficient in math, and nearly 50 percent lack proficiency in English Language Arts. While BFA closely matches Vermont state averages – students are even in reading and slightly below in math – these averages are nothing to boast about, with the statewide math proficiency set at a mere 36 percent.
BFA was labeled “in need of improvement” based on data from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). It failed to meet required annual progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Despite all the failure, teachers and other staff members have continued to challenge Rosane’s cries for reform.
According to the St. Albans Messenger, “Guidance counselor Kaki Hutchinson said it was unfair for Rosane to call BFA a failing school based on NECAP scores without noting that nearly every high school in Chittenden and Franklin counties is identified as failing.”
So it’s okay for one school to have miserable academics because neighboring schools are doing just as badly?
What teachers and the union need to realize is that by perpetuating this dismal status quo, they are only hurting the students.
Frustration boils over
Rosane’s frustration with the teachers and school administrators has been building. This school year, BFA implemented a program called Academy 21 and enrolled 60 freshmen. Under this new system, teachers are encouraged to be more flexible and focus on student-directed and project-based learning.
Rosane says that the program is not being put in place fast enough, blaming BFA principal Dennis Hill’s five-year implementation program.
“It’s kind of an excuse not to get started,” Rosane told the Messenger. “To say it’s going to take us five years, I don’t think that’s reasonable.”
“Our Academy model says basically we need to make learning personal, and we need to get rid of the time component and our (teachers) association is pushing back on that and saying, ‘Guess what, time can’t be flexible,’ and that’s really problematic,” Rosane said.
Teachers unions at four of the local schools in the Franklin Central Supervisory Union, including BFA, have entered a vote of “no confidence” in Rosane and many are calling for his termination as superintendent.
Rosane responded by saying the he and the public have no confidence in the teachers or their union.
Rosane has taken a leave of absence and an interim superintendent has been installed. Ironically, one of the union’s charges against Rosane is that he may lack the “ability to lead change and lead the school in a more meaningful direction,” according to the Messenger.
While union officials clearly have no use for Rosane, he may be a hero to the general public.
Michael Malone, chair of the supervisory union board, told the Burlington Free Press, “Stuff I have heard has been mixed. Folks don’t like the way it happened, but they liked the message, you know.”
In other words, while residents aren’t crazy about school employees engaging in open warfare, some appreciate having a superintendent who tells it like it is.
Rosane has apologized for the way he delivered his opinions, but he refuses to back down from his message – that school reform is necessary, not in a year or five, but now.