|North Adams, Adams-Cheshire Creating Panel to Study Shared Superintendency|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
03:58AM / Tuesday, April 10, 2018
|The two committees agreed to appoint delegates to a joint panel that would look at a shared superintendency, if not for now, then for the future.|
School committee Chairmen Paul Butler, left, and Mayor Thomas Bernard gave comments at the beginning of the joint meeting held in Drury High's library.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials are hoping to find ways to collaborate but they want much more information before they decide to start at the top.
North Adams and Adams-Cheshire Regional school committees have agreed to create a subcommittee to gather some solid data on the benefits and challenges of sharing a school superintendent. Described as a "unique opportunity" by Adams-Cheshire Chairman Paul Butler, the proposal also has numerous unknowns.
The idea is being pushed by the looming departure of Adams-Cheshire's Superintendent Robert Putnam, who retires at the end of June. The regional school district is taking a two-pronged approach of searching for a replacement
for Putnam at the same time it is discussing the option of a shared superintendency with North Adams.
"I don't want to be forced into a decision," said Adams-Cheshire member Regina Hill. "But we're coming to a crunch time."
The two school committees laid out some concrete steps on Monday during a joint meeting at Drury High School recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television and attended by nearly dozen community members and educators.
William Cameron, a retired superintendent of the Central Berkshire Regional School District and member of the Berkshire County Education Task Force, said a shared administrator was feasible but not easy. Cameron said his own experience ranges from working in small superintendency unions to a large school district with more than 5,000 students and multiple buildings.
One model wasn't any more complicated than the other, he said, but there are challenges in dealing with multiple school boards and buildings. Time management and routines were key to making things work.
"It really depends, I think, on the willingness of people to try to something that could be very successful but it's not known yet to be successful," he said. "It also depends on who's going to be doing the work. The work increases with a shared superintendency, for whoever the superintendent happens to be."
The superintendent would happen to be Barbara Malkas, who's been leading the North Adams Public Schools for nearly two years. Malkas, who wrote her dissertation on collaborative efforts in large urban school districts, laid out four areas she said would be critical:
1) The superintendent could not split her time between two school districts but would have to be the superintendent for all seven schools at the same time. "There has to be that ability to be flexible to situations as they arrive," she said.
2) There would have to be a common set of goals and improvement strategies. Both schools have turnaround plans, she noted, and have a number of things in common that could be leveraged cooperatively.
3) There would have to be a single leadership team that uses data-informed decision making in addressing learning at every level.
4) The support staff would have to work together. "In the time of limited resources, it is better to work collaboratively," she said, noting that it is becoming harder to fill teaching positions as each district "poaches" the other's staff.
There would also have to be clear, transparent and timely information to stakeholders and representatives, continued participation in professional associations, and creation of a positive school climate and culture.
"I would be lying if I said I could be in all places at all times," Malkas said. "There will be times when there will have to be some triage and priority settings."
Delegating responsibilities would be an important consideration and principals would have to work with autonomy within their schools.
Several committee members, however, repeated their disappointment with a report on sharing leadership by District Management Group that offered little specific data to go on
. North Adams Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger told the Adams-Cheshire group that she couldn't answer what the benefits the city schools would get because she didn't really know what Adams-Cheshire had to share.
"I was extremely disappointed, as was your school committee
, with the report because I was hoping that would outline some of the assets," she said. "I don't even know what some of the assets would be that your district could provide us and vice versa or the challenges ... I think we need to do a lot more work to identify that."
Her fellow committee member Tara Jacobs was confident Malkas could handle both districts but also was concerned over the lack of information regarding programs, grants and school facilities.
"I feel a big gaping question mark hanging over my head," she said, suggesting a walking tour of each of the schools for the benefit of both school committees that others agreed would be a good idea.
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the North Adams School Committee, said it was made clear at the committee's last meeting that more stakeholders needed to be heard.
Malkas says she is committed to collaboration between school districts no matter what the final decision.
He, too, was disappointed that there was "lack of clarity in the process" in the report and it was a question of how the communities could effectively air their concerns.
"I personally pushed DMG to get something to us as quickly as possible," Putnam told the committees, adding that the report was "not characteristic of their work. "We are in the position to focus DMG on what it is we need know to make a good decision."
DMG, through the Nellie Mae Foundation grant, is available to the committee through Dec. 31, he said.
Adams-Cheshire is still bumping up against a June 30 deadline, and some officials thought it might be better to start smaller — such as sharing a business manager or information technology administrator. The two districts are already sharing in some areas, such as in grant opportunities and the development of the North Berkshire Academy for special education students.
Malkas said no matter which way the committees went, she was committed to working out collaborative efforts with neighboring school districts and suggested that if Adams-Cheshire wanted to move forward with shared services, its superintendent candidates should know it is a priority.
"In order to provide for the quality education of our students, changes would have to be made," Butler said at the beginning of the session. "Here in North Berkshire, we are faced with this unique opportunity. The very fact that we are here to discussing a shared superintendency underscores an understanding that in order to provide good opportunities for every student in our region, we may just have to be willing to face change."