ST. ALBANS CITY — The keys to the legends and libraries of lore are passing into new hands next week. On Monday, the mantle and mission of the Saint Albans Museum will be taken up by its incoming interim executive director, Lisa Evans.
“The future of museums is connecting with people here and now,” Evans said in an interview on Wednesday. “That’s something really important that Alex has set up on a good trajectory for us. Now it’s my turn to take us down this path.”
The current executive director, Alex Lehning, joined the museum in October 2012, and has guided it through a series of positive transformations, including: three exhibit room renovations, an expanded public and educational programming calendar and the establishment of an internship program.
The museum board of trustees announced Evans’ appointment earlier this month.
“We are fortunate to have Lisa in place as SAM’s interim executive director. She has an extensive museum background, as well as a year of valuable experience working closely as an integral member of our leadership team,” said Janet Bailey, co-president of the museum board. “We expect a seamless transition and look forward to an exciting new era for the Saint Albans Museum.”
“I’m so thankful that Lisa is going to bring that passion that the organization has needed to thrive,” said Lehning.
The passing of the mantle comes at a time when the collection of artifacts and documentation of historical events is a heavy task to bear. With the reckoning of social movements, heightened scrutiny of law enforcement and the transition between presidential administrations — and the priorities that come along with it — there is much to document.
With the creation of a museum Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Accessibility Committee, Lehning (soon to become a volunteer at the museum) and Evans said one of the main focuses of the museum moving forward will be telling the stories left untold. Evans and Lehning are currently planning the museum’s spring program series.
“How do we make the museum more representative of our community?” Evans asked. “We’ve started thinking about new ways to bring history to the community. That needs to be a forward-thinking solution. How will this pandemic change society, and how will the community want us to respond.”
Both Evans and Lehning live and work in northern Vermont, but the two originally hail from the midwest, with Evans originally from Michigan and Lehning from Ohio.
Neither originally intended to be the executive director of a museum in northern Vermont. Actually, Evans wanted to be a ballerina princess.
“My life took a crazy spin from ballet royalty,” Evans said, laughing.
Prior to this role, she held positions at the Noyes House Museum in Morrisville and the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington. Evans received her B.A. in History from Northern Vermont University and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Museum Studies through Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Academic Program. In addition, she is a co-chair for the New England Museum Young & Emerging Professionals Professional Affinity Gathering.
“I could be a professional in school,” Evans said, laughing. “I love learning, I love teaching, and I love bringing a passion to subjects ... My passion is to bring [history] alive, to bring the past to today, make them understand that they are all a part of the history happening now.”
In her study of museums, Evans found herself in Brownington at the Old Stone House museum, where she was given an entire presentation space to create an exhibit for the town of Newport for the town’s centennial celebration.
“I was able to do all of the research on the town, and I built the entire exhibit from scratch,” Evans recalled. “That’s the beauty of smaller, local history and heritage museums. You get the nitty-gritty hands-on experience.”
Her blooming love for the history of Vermont led her to her current position as board president at the Chittenden County Historical Society, and associate programming director of the museum alongside Lehning, a self-described accidental museum professional.
Lehning got his start in school studying history, first in Maine and then at the University of Vermont. He later became a full-time staffer at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
“I just sort of fell in love with museums,” Lehning said. “I loved making the inaccessible accessible. Being able to take something that was hundreds of feet under a lake and make it reachable for students was very powerful for me.”
So Lehning began building his investigative historical career — giving lectures, teaching courses at CCV, working at United Way of Franklin and Grand Isle and heading archaeological digs researching Chittenden County’s rich and sometimes itchy history.
“I got poison ivy while looking for Lt. McDonaugh’s shipyard from the War of 1812 in Vergennes,” Lehning said. “They mowed the field the day before — they didn’t tell us it was all poison ivy.”
Lehning and Evans share a passion for education and what Lehner terms the “lightbulb” moments, when a student’s eyes light up with understanding and fascination when learning about the tales of their own homeland, like the rich history of shipbuilders in St. Albans Bay.
Lehning won’t be too far gone. After passing the honored torch to Evans, Lehning will switch gears to pursue his newest venture as executive director for the Vermont Cooperative for Practice, Improvement and Innovation, a mental health nonprofit based out of Northern Vermont University.
Though the position seems drastically different in nature, Lehning said he’ll still be telling stories just as he does in his current capacity, except that these stories will belong to other people: practitioners, hospitals, those with substance abuse disorders and more to grow and improve the health and wellbeing needs of Vermonters and beyond.
The job comes as a natural transition for Lehning, who has been volunteering in healthcare and hospice systems since he was a teenager.
Evans and Lehning said they hope to continue to grow and adapt to the ever-changing world and bring history from the pages into peoples’ homes.
“I want the people to know the Saint Albans Museum is their museum,” Evans said. “We create what they want from us, and what all of us are together. I want partnerships and collaborations with the general public. (This job) is about being a part of the past and bringing the community together.”
MONTPELIER — A pair of bills in the state senate have very different takes on whether or not school resource officers have a place in public education.
Senate Bill 63, proposed earlier this month, would bar schools from contracting with law enforcement to staff SROs, but it was soon met with an opposing bill proposing precisely the opposite: Senate Bill 76 proposes grant funding for SROs, and includes four years of annual grants to encourage schools to use them.
Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, one of S. 76’s co-sponsors, said it was the creation of S. 63 that inspired the creation of S. 76. He believes that SROs provide significant service to schools and the students in them, as evidenced by an incident in 2018 when a student allegedly attempted to carry out acts of extreme violence at Fair Haven Union High School.
In that particular case, Brock said, it was the student’s friend who reported his intentions to an SRO in New York. That SRO then reported it to the SRO in Vermont, who in turn alerted local law enforcement.
“We have not had a school shooting incident, but we’ve come close,” Brock said. “This was real. This wasn’t theoretical ... A young man took many measurable steps to kill as many students as he could.”
The use of school resource officers has been a topic of discussion locally as candidates vie for board seats in the Maple Run Unified School District. Members of the public spoke out against the presence of SROs in MRUSD schools in September after an incident involving a student with a disability being arrested by an SRO became public. This led to the board creating a committee to examine the use of SROs in district schools.
Some MRUSD candidates have called for SRO funding to be used elsewhere, such as on counselors and counseling resources for students, mental health and restorative justice resources and resources for students who have experienced trauma at any point in their lives.
Senate Bill 63 was introduced on Feb. 4, and would prohibit schools from contracting for the services of school resource officers. The bill states that the presence of SROs leads to an increase in arrests, convictions for low- and high-level offenses, and directly contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The bill also states that the presence of SROs disproportionately affects students of color and students with special needs. According to U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection data from 2015-2016, Black students had an arrest rate 5.4 times higher than that of white students, and Black students with disabilities in Vermont face the highest overall arrest rate of 134 per 10,000 students.
Numerous attempts to reach bill co-sponsors Sens. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, and Christopher Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, were unsuccessful.
While Brock said he didn’t question the statistics, he said they show correlation rather than causation and there needed to be more in-depth analysis of negative incidences between SROs and students before any kind of blanket ban should be considered.
Brock said the majority of the comments and experiences around SROs that he has seen and heard have been positive.
“Not every resource officer is perfect,” Brock said.
The opposing bill, S. 76, cites slow response times for law enforcement in rural areas and the cultivation of positive relationships between students and law enforcement, in addition to keeping students safe from on-site violence.
“Ten Essential Actions to Improve School Safety,” a study issued by the COPS Office’s School Safety Working Group to the US Attorney General, suggests that SROs may have a “profound impact” on a school’s preventative measures against violence and maladaptive behaviors.
The bill would also make school districts and supervisory unions eligible for an annual SRO grant for $50,000 beginning this year and for the next three years, funded by the Agency of Education. The funding is designed to encourage those who have not previously retained an SRO to do so.
If passed, the bill would give discretion to trained SROs and law enforcement — not the Agency of Education or the state Board of Education — on all aspects of restraint and seclusion on school property pursuant to 20 V.S.A. 2358.
“I grew up in Franklin County, and was actually in school when the SROs were originally put in,” Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, said in an interview on Tuesday. “In talking with teachers, they’ve seen students respond positively to SROs ... Let the parents and the voters decide.”
Parent said he appreciates that SROs wear multiple hats and provide multiple services, and is looking forward to talking about reforms and ways to potentially make their presence and impact more positive.
Brock said he thought the implementation of S. 63 and the banning of all resource officers could possibly lead to more problems and disorder in schools, and may result in potentially violent incidents that could have otherwise been prevented with SROs on-scene.
“What we do in Vermont more than anywhere else is let communities run local schools,” Brock said. “The training (for SROs) could very well be improved ... but that’s part of continuing education.”
Both bills have been referred to the Education Committee.
“It seems like a hot button issue, but I don’t think (bill 76) or bill 63 are going to go anywhere this year,” Parent said.