Shrinking student populations in northern Vermont and New Hampshire are prompting school officials from both states to consider an interstate district merger.
SAU 7, which includes Colebrook, Clarksville, Pittsburg, and Stewartown, has lost 30% of its student population in the past decade. Across the Connecticut River in Canaan, the Essex North Supervisory Union has lost 40% of its students in the last fifteen years.
“We have 220 highschoolers going to three highschools in the region,” says SAU 7 superintendent Bruce Beasley. “Many community members feel there is a better way to provide a better education to these students.”
The two districts already allow students to attend a class at any of the three schools, but an official merger would significantly change the districts, leading to closures of some schools and a reduction in overall staff.
“Losing your high school identity - the sports, the mascot - is part of the conversation, but we are trying to pull together to see what we can offer,” explains Karen Conroy, superintendent of the Canaan district, who previously served as a superintendent in New Hampshire’s North Country.
Conroy says the main goal in merging districts is to improve academic offerings to students. She says there is no other district close enough in Vermont to collaborate with, so Colebrook is an obvious choice.
After a meeting last week with Vermont Secretary of Education Daniel French and New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, the two districts are waiting on state approval to launch an official interstate exploratory committee, named the Connecticut River Collaborative Committee.
If they receive approval this fall, officials hope to begin conducting an analysis on the potential costs, savings, and academic benefits of forming an interstate school compact.
If approved by voters in the affected towns, this would be New Hampshire’s third interstate school district with Vermont.