Whitcomb High School is Dead. Long Live the Albert Whitcomb School

The Bethel School Board recently decided to change the name of both the Whitcomb High School and Bethel Elementary School to the Albert Whitcomb School. Let me start by saying I have no problem with the name change and I agree with the brief announcement which was made by the chair of the school board at the annual Bethel Business Association meeting.

What I do not like is that fact that the school board chose to do so with almost no input from the rest of the community. There was a warning in the newspaper. Well, I have news for town officials – not everyone reads the newspaper.

Over a year ago, I set up a blog where I encouraged all of the board members to post their issues and agenda items. All too often I had heard the “word on the street” which did not reflect reality. Why? Because Average Joe on the street does not have all of the information. Why? Because Average Joe does not attend every school board meeting. And why should he? Average Joe has a lot of other things to deal with.

But it sure would be nice if Average Joe had the ability to see what was going on at upcoming and past school board meetings without having to attend a meeting. Any why shouldn’t he? The meetings are matters of public record, and they certainly already take minutes. So why not post said minutes on the BethelVermont.com web site? Despite my repeated request and instruction on how to do this, the board has yet to publish a single meeting’s minutes.

Another thing they could do is post notices of their upcoming meetings, perhaps even to go so far as to include an agenda. However, despite my repeated urgings that they do this by filling out a simple form on the site, they have not done this even once.

On April 26, the school board posted this entry on their blog:

“Post your comments on the name change.”

That’s it. After over a year, they still don’t seem to grasp that the point of a blog is for THEM to put up some content and then give readers the opportunity to reply. So I reminded them of this by commenting on the site. I said that I would be more interested in the School Board’s motives for the name change, and how they came about with the new name. Their response is classic: they took my comment down without any explanation or response.

Two weeks ago, the school board held a special meeting to discuss the school name change. (Of course, there was no mention of this special meeting on the town web site.) I was unable to attend, but I was told of two items that are of interest to me. First, the chair of the board attempted to blame me for the lack of postings on the school board blog. This is, without a doubt, the most ludicrous, lame excuse I have heard to date. I’d rather hear something like “I don’t know how to fill out the form,” but this takes the cake. Yes, a week or so before the special meeting, the chair emailed me asking me how to set up a new category on the site. Because of work requirements, I did not have time to recover my lost administrator password and sign on to the site to investigate the problems that were reported. But that’s totally beside the point, as this had absolutely no effect on his ability to post a new entry on the site! Furthermore, why has the site laid dormant for an entire year since I put it up? Was that because of my lack of response two weeks ago? I think not.

Second, a school board member was quoted at the meeting as saying, twice, that the board has the power to make the change on their own. I am not questioning their authority or motives for the name change. What I am questioning is why they insist on operating in a closed-door, closed-mind mentality. Apparently we have another town committee who has decided to take the insular, private, closed door approach to their regular operations instead of chosing to operate in an open manner. Perhaps they think that they can operate below radar and that will attract less attention, making their day-to-day tasks easier.

Given the recent uproar over the name change, it would seem that this tactic is not working.