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Editorial: Pioneer parting ways with supt. may be good thing

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Ruth Miller discusses Pioneer's fiscal year 2018 budget during a hearing Thursday, March 2, 2017, held in Pioneer's auditorium.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Some things just don’t work out, and when that happens, it’s often best to acknowledge it and move on.

That seems to be the case with Superintendent Ruth Miller and Pioneer Valley Regional School District. The superintendent has decided to leave Pioneer after next school year, the end of her first three-year contract. She has had a rough two years, in large part because she has had to deal with the fallout from a district that is struggling financially. Being a top administrator is probably lots more fun, easier and less stressful when a district is flush and growing, not strapped and shrinking.

Miller, who has come in for her share of criticism from parents and teachers this year, described her job as a “considerable struggle financially that I was not aware of when I came … I didn’t come to Pioneer to have teachers lose their jobs and not have enough resources to provide for the students in the way I thought I’d be able to.”

When she was hired, Miller told the school committee she intended to stay eight years, until she retired. It seems she didn’t do her homework before taking the job.

Her first year she got a good performance evaluation of “proficient,” but this year the wind shifted and the school board found she “needs improvement.” That evaluation came about the same time that Miller says she decided to leave after a period of criticism over staffing and budgeting decisions.

Miller has 21 years in education. She was superintendent of Narragansett Regional School District in Worcester County for three years, and was associate superintendent for three years before that. She has also served as a principal for 10 years, and held other educational jobs for five years. Her district covered Templeton and Phillipston, with three elementary schools, a middle school and high school. Based on that resume, the school committee had every reason to believe it had selected a leader with the right qualifications and experience.

Miller was one of four finalists out of 15 applicants for the position. Several committee members said they felt Miller’s experience in the Massachusetts educational system was a strong asset, and many were impressed with her degree in business. Whether that experience helped Miller cope with tightening budgets and a $200,000 lunch program deficit discovered in an audit last year, having to do so apparently was not what she thought she had signed on for.

School board members met news of the resignation with mixed reactions. Some said they were sorry to see her go, and praised Miller’s work. Others, like Peggy Kaeppell, implied this might be a good thing, noting they have had more parents and staff “concerned with how things have been going in the last year and a half, more than any time I can remember.”

Given complaints from parents, staff and residents about changes in staff and communication, to name a couple of topics, member Allen Young said the change represents an opportune time to push toward further regionalization, such as sharing a superintendent with another district.

“I think, making lemonade out of lemons, that this is the opportunity to regionalize central office,” he said. “At this point, I wouldn’t be inclined to go out on a superintendent’s search.”

If, in fact, pushing into fiscal headwinds isn’t what Miller wants to be doing in the final decade of her professional career, then leaving is a smart decision. And, considering she could have given the district as little as four months notice, it’s helpful and professional that she gave the district a year to think through how best to manage.

This coming year, Miller says, she will help stabilize the district’s finances and leave the district in a “better place than when I got here.” But then it will be up to Pioneer to figure a way to move forward.