By Phyl Newbeck
The year was 1960 and Barbara Snelling, a member of the Shelburne School Board, began to think that the children of Shelburne would be better served by a larger high school. At the time, Shelburne had only 75 students of high school age with similarly small numbers attending high schools in Charlotte, Hinesburg, and Williston. “I felt there would be more opportunities for their students if they were all together,” Snelling said. “There were a few union high schools at the time and it seemed like a good model.”
Snelling started her quest for a union high school by visiting with the other school boards. “The response from some of them was quite negative,” she said. “They didn’t want to give up their own leadership.” Snelling remembers trying to convince school board members of the benefits of a larger school including the addition of courses they were unable to offer in their small settings. After meeting with the boards, Snelling met with school administrators who were also reluctant to embrace the idea. “They were in charge of their schools and didn’t want to give up control,” she said. “Everybody thought their school was the best and they didn’t have a lot of respect for the other high schools.” Still, Snelling believes the principals were more accepting of the concept than the school board members. “They understood there was progress to be made if larger units were formed,” she said.
Eventually Snelling was able to get all the parties into the same room. “That was interesting,” she said “because you were putting people of different minds together. They each felt superior and that was hard to deal with. The process took months.” Snelling remembers Shelburne and Williston as the leaders with Hinesburg showing the most reluctance to join their neighbors. It took roughly a year to dissolve the existing schools and come up with the location for CVU; a spot which was chosen because it was roughly equidistant from each of the towns. Despite the fact that the new location was in their town, Snelling said the voters of Hinesburg took the longest to approve joining the union.
Snelling said some members of the individual school boards joined the CVU board but it was primarily composed of new people. Each of the principals was involved in the process and retained in a leadership position but Vince Durnan, a new principal from outside the schools, was hired. The best programs from each of the schools were brought to CVU and Durnan used sports as way to rally school spirit. Although Snelling worried that there might be some friction between the students, she noted that everything worked out as planned.
“It was a fairly long process,” Snelling recalls, “but I don’t know that it was longer than I expected. I expected it to be difficult. The amount of work involved was comparable to having another child.” Nevertheless, she pronounced herself pleased with the results. “CVU is considered a leading high school,” she said. “I’d say it’s been successful beyond my original expectations.”