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Perrigo Proponents Plead for Ski and Ride Program

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photo by Paul Fixx
Hazen Union School Board members listen attentively as supporters of David Perrigo, who was recently told he would not be reappointed as coordinator of the school’s popular ski and ride program, share their thoughts. Parents and teachers shared the many benefits they have seen in their children and students because of Perrigo’s leadership.

HARDWICK – A time for public comment brought immediate concern from David Perrigo at the May 21 Hazen Union School Board meeting. Perrigo said he was “incensed at the disrespect” shown by Principal Jason Di Guilio at having scheduled the board meeting at the same time as the National Honor Society (NHS) induction, where Di Guilio chose to be.

Perrigo was disappointed that people had come to speak with Di Guilio, who would be late to the meeting. Board member Randi Bledsoe assured Perrigo that the board was the intended audience for public comment and the meeting was being recorded so Di Guilio could watch it later.

Holly Williams was given the chance to speak first so she could attend the NHS induction. She shared that her son, Anderson, has been ostracized by some teachers, but that Perrigo “helped foster his [Anderson’s] love of skiing” and was an adult who finally supported him. She said Anderson enjoyed skiing so much that he convinced his brother, Jackson, and other students to join the program, despite Jackson’s being a homebody.

Quite a few people came to the meeting in support of David Perrigo. Everyone who wanted to speak was given a chance, though the board limited that time to two minutes per speaker after Williams had spoken.

Speakers shared praise of the program in its current form, Perrigo’s leadership and his support for the students.

Emily Willems said that she “hates to see the program ‘chopped’ by half or more and lose Perrigo’s leadership.” Willems has driven the bus for the program and sees students making connections, while behaviors are addressed and they learn to be graceful on skis. She said it is the “best opportunity for some kids who might not have the ability to ski without the program.”

Willems also said the program is valuable in other ways, helping her to know the name of every single child in the school.

Daniela DiMarco then said that two of her five children are at Hazen, where she has been a chaperone for ski and ride. She commented that her children would not ski without the program, that the students make valuable connections and show amazing growth. She “doesn’t want to miss it,” praising Perrigo’s commitment to the program.

Teacher Kelly Robinson spoke next about the value of the ski and ride program and the change it has created for students. She said that the program has been “life changing for some special needs students, adding, “If we are really here for kids, this program is important.”

Parent Tom Halperin said he also values the program, but wanted to address the way the decision to cut the ski and ride program was communicated. He heard first about the coming change from students, who were hearing from staff and administrators that the program was going to be cut long before parents were informed.

Halperin expressed concern that many students will not have any chances to ski if the program is cut, noting that their special passes will not allow them to ski on many weekends and holidays because of “black out” days. He praised Perrigo for making sure that “cost is never an issue.”

He felt that the ski and ride program “is more popular than all other sports,” and would like to know why the school has decided that the program cannot continue in the same way any more. Speaking for others in the room, he said they would like to know the answer, adding, “We can’t ask the principal if he isn’t here.”

Halperin finished, saying, “it is important what we are doing for our kids and we need to keep doing it.”

Megen Hall has been a chaperone of the program and is the parent of an eighth-grader. She said it is the “best experience to see kids grow through the season,” adding that skill building builds confidence. She feels the time devoted to the program is important because “making friends takes time,” and “real life experience” gained through the ski and ride program is important

She said Perrigo creates an environment in which students grow and he encourages student leaders too. The student’s confidence carries over into everything and takes more than five days to achieve.

Hall said that shrinking the program is not beneficial to students and she would like to see it built up.

Sol Lew Raskin said he chaperoned the program this year, that Perrigo has grown the program and that “there isn’t a better choice to run the program.” He commented that this program invites students to participate who don’t take part in other sports or team activities.

Ellen Halperin shared that she has a problem with how this came about and how some teachers seem not to support it, scheduling tests on Fridays when ski and ride is scheduled.

Grace Hurley, the parent of two Hazen Union students, one who has been in the ski and ride program since freshman year, felt that it helped her son get “back into his body” after COVID. The program has helped him make “better, healthier, and wiser decisions.” Students have been pushing themselves, she said, adding that the program offers developmental support, fosters connections and helps students develop real life skills.

Jennifer Devenger, who has boys in eighth and tenth grades, spoke about their experiences in the program, where Perrigo has made sure her son has everything he needs to participate. He has grown more confident, making better decisions at home, taken on more responsibilities and made friends.

Devenger said that ski and ride has motivated students to keep their grades up so they can participate.

After making sure everyone had their chance to speak and hearing several comments from board members, Freihofner recognized teacher Kelly Robinson.

Robinson asked to give each member of the board a packet of messages that had been sent between the administration and teachers because she felt it was important for the board to see. She said the documents share a story of public humiliation and teacher demoralization. She told the board, “You are not hearing what is happening in this building.”

She asked for a private executive session with the board, which she said she’d asked for last year too, but no decision was made to offer one then, or at this meeting.

In a later comment, outside the meeting, Robinson said she has been a teacher for 29 years, 11 of them at Hazen, and the environment inside the school is “abusive” to teachers.” She expressed that lay people cannot begin to understand what the environment is like for a teacher and that not being supported adds additional stress.

She added that policy governance prevents teachers from communicating with the board about the effects of the policies they create and how they are implemented.

At the suggestion of board member, Patrick Kane, the board agreed to take up the ski and ride update

DiGuilio had returned from the NHS meeting and said he supports the ski and ride program, having brought it back after it was interrupted by COVID. He is working to “ensure longevity of the program beyond anyone who is here now,” and is weaving it further into the school community. He said that he has several people interested in helping to run the program and hoped to have arrangements made within the next month, but certainly by the start of the new school year, because waiting for the ski season to start would be too late.

Board member David Kelly raised concerns about funding for the program and what appear to be cuts despite administration claims otherwise.

DiGuilio responded by saying that other funds may be available in the coming year and that 10 days are being planned for ski and ride in 2024/5.

For the next hour, the board had a private executive session with school administrators to discuss a personnel issue. Upon exiting, Freihofner said the board had heard the concerns from the public about the ski and ride program and would work with the administration to create a sustainable plan for the future of the program.

Next, student representative Sadie Gann updated the board about the recent “Wizard of Oz” performance, sports activities and student plans for the upcoming schoolwide town meeting.

Plans were approved to pave portions of the parking lot and use ground up asphalt removed during that process to improve the road around the school.

A diesel mower costing over $23,000 will be purchased, the old one will be gifted to Craftsbury Academy and $9k will be added to the budget for replacing the furnace’s exhaust system.

An agenda item about exit interviews followed, during which it became apparent that there had been a misunderstanding between Freihofner, who said that a request for a teacher to have an exit interview with the board had been withdrawn, and Emily Willems who explained that she had declined Freihofners interview with her because she had hoped to speak with the entire board.

Dr. David Baker, OSSU Superintendent, explained to the board that Willems is an employee of OSSU and not responsible to the Hazen Union Board. David Kelley noted that she had only recently been employed directly by Hazen Union School. After some questioning of Tess Martin about human resources policies and whether school employees had ever had exit interviews with the full board, which Martin indicated hadn’t happened as far as she knew, the board arranged for their next meeting to begin a half hour early for an executive session with Willems.

The marathon meeting ended after three hours and fourteen minutes.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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