Update: This story was corrected to state Joan Lenes’ time in the state legislature.
After 26 years of service to the children of what is now known as the Champlain Valley School District, Joan Lenes has decided to retire from the school board. A Shelburne resident since 1979, the 67-year-old Lenes received her Master’s in Education from the University of Vermont and taught at the UVM Center for Service Learning. She served five terms in the State Legislature between 2007 and 2016.
She recently sat down with the Shelburne News to reflect on her work with the school system.
Question: Why did you originally run for the school board?
Lenes: I was a founding member of Robin’s Nest Children’s Center in Burlington. I enjoyed the board work there and I liked the idea of doing policy development for the broader good. When my daughter was in kindergarten in Shelburne, I was co-chair of the PTO. Eventually someone suggested the school board. After I gave it some thought, I realized it would be a great way for me to be of service for the greater good, not just my kids.
Question: Can you tell us about some of the changes you’ve seen in your years on the board? Lenes: One positive change is a better understanding of brain development and the way students learn. There is more of a focus on students being in the driver’s seat for an individualized learning experience. Teachers are generally functioning less as lecturers just dispensing information and more as facilitators. There’s more asking “why” and having students explain their reasoning. Teachers are more nurturing. Some say it’s softer but I think it shows more understanding of what each learner needs.
Question: Would you care to share your thoughts about school consolidation?
Lenes: I think it makes a lot of sense in our district. We’ve worked at putting in place things that preceded the legal consolidation for the last ten years. We had what we called “carousel” board meetings. The Chittenden South Supervisory Union board [now the Champlain Valley School District] would have a business meeting everyone was invited to talk about a common topic and [next] the individual boards would go to separate rooms. It was a more systematic way of doing things without losing the individuality of the schools.
Question: What are your thoughts about the most equitable way to fund schools?
Lenes: In their day Acts 60 and 68 served a purpose and made things equitable, allowing all our communities to offer foreign languages and extra-curricular activities. Previously, Hinesburg had the smallest revenue source and some Hinesburg kids came to CVU at a bit of a deficit for that reason. Act 60 equalized that.
Question: A topic that has unfortunately been in the news recently is violence in schools. Do you have any thoughts on the best way to keep our children safe?
Lenes: I think it’s important to have strong relationships with our children and know them well enough that we can understand when they are hurting or going through a mental health episode. After one of the early school shootings, our board talked about cameras and metal detectors. We decided not to do that, but we do have adults roaming the halls. I think legislatively we’re in a different time and I would love to see some gun safety legislation. I register my car and young drivers have all kinds of restrictions. I truly believe in a person’s right to own a gun but strongly believe there is responsibility with that. I believe Ms. [Emma] Gonzalez in Florida and her fellow students will be a break in the waterfall of violence. I have hope.
Question: What would you say to someone who is thinking about running for office?
Lenes: It’s not for everyone, but if it’s something that matches who you are, you should run. I’m the board chair of Emerge Vermont, which trains Democratic women to run for office. I’ve learned that everyone has something to offer so we help show people they can be involved and tell them they have a voice.
Question: What’s next for Joan Lenes?
Lenes: In addition to Emerge Vermont, I’m helping Champlain Housing Trust fundraise to purchase the St. Joseph School in Burlington from the Catholic Diocese. It’s almost going full circle since Robin’s Nest rented that space back in 1985. I’m also on the board of the Vermont Children’s Foundation and Age Well, and I coordinate Thursday deliveries for Meals on Wheels in Shelburne and Charlotte.