Slayton: Hancock school closes

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(HOST) The Hancock Village School closed last week. It was two hundred and eight years old…and a good little school. Here’s Tom Slayton with his thoughts on the end of an institution.

(SLAYTON) The Hancock Village School, the oldest operating school in Vermont and the second-oldest in the nation, closed last week, a victim of changing times – dwindling numbers of students, growing expenses, and a feeling that schools that are small and local just can’t hack it in today’s world.
The closing made news across the country. It seemed that an older, more rural way of life, was quietly expiring, even in Vermont. That school had operated since 1801, when Thomas Jefferson was president. It had creaking wooden floors, and teachers pulled a rope in the entryway to ring a bell on its rooftop when it was time to call the kids in from recess. It was a good school, 208 years old or not.
Although the vote in Hancock was two-to-one in favor of closing, just about everyone in town had mixed feelings about it, and probably many others across Vermont felt a twinge when this small school shut down. I know I did.
It seemed like another stake in the heart of Vermont’s small towns. I know, I know, that’s over-simplified and Romantic. And I know there are very good reasons for closing the school.
For one thing, there were only 31 students being educated in Hancock, in kindergarten and grades 1 through 4. Those students will be bused to other schools in the area – most of them to Rochester, just a few miles down the White River Valley.
That’s school consolidation, something that Vermont Education Commissioners have been in favor of since the 1960s. The current commissioner, Armando Vilaseca recently reiterated that position, and said that Vermont has too many schools, too many school boards, and too many teachers. And looking at the big picture, he’s probably right. School consolidation will streamline Vermont education, make it more efficient, and help it meet the challenges of the 21st century. Bigger schools generally mean better, more complete education.
But something is lost,, too, when small schools are closed.
Students can lose the individual attention that a good teacher who follows them through several grades in a small school can give them. And rural towns that lose their schools lose a vital part of their community life. The school is the heart of the town, local people say. And they’re right.
So you have to admit that Hancock’s 31 students will probably get a broader, more contemporary education at the larger schools they will go to next year. But they will lose the security and sense of connection to their town, their family, their teachers, and their history that they had in the little Hancock Village School.
"Why do we throw away the older things and think that new is somehow better?" asked teacher Amy Braun recently.
It’s a question I still don’t have a good answer to.

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