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Rowe School moves ahead with Berkshires superintendent

ROWE — Despite an 11th-hour plea to keep current Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, the Rowe School will move into the shared superintendency of the North Berkshire School Union on July 1 — a few days after the Rowe School itself moves out of its temporary home within the Hawlemont school building.

New school board Chairwoman Lisa Danek Burke stunned some present Tuesday, when she asked the School Committee to hold off switching to a new administrator “until we decipher what the benefit is to our students.”

Saying she inherited the decision to go with a new superintendent, Danek Burke said she has received calls and emails from school parents asking “why I’m not stopping this move.” Danek Burke pointed out that the town received a petition signed by the families of 20 of their students that had asked the school board last spring not to make the move.

Until this spring’s annual election, Danek Burke was the minority dissenting vote in a series of 2-1 School Committee decisions that led to Rowe’s leaving the three-district shared superintendency of 30 years and joining the Berkshire union. The other two members at that time were chairwoman Lisa Miller, who is married to the former Rowe School principal who was let go by Buoniconti in 2010, and Cynthia Laffond, who wanted to change superintendents so that Rowe would have more control over its own school. Laffond did not run for re-election, and Susan Zavotka, School Building Committee chairwoman, was elected this spring.

On Tuesday night, Danek Burke said the decision was made without the School Committee’s having full financial information with which to compare the two shared superintendents. With both Buoniconti and new school Superintendent Jonathan Lev present, she said the potential savings of moving to the new district was less than anticipated. She said the new arrangement would also put more administrative duties on the school principal’s shoulders, taking teaching time away from his work with students.

Lev said the principal will have more administrative duties, but that two other principals in the Berkshire school union have the same duties and are teacher-principals.

“It’s impossible to allay your fears, at this point, without your direct experience, to see what it’s like,” Lev added.

Danek Burke said, during the past nine months of discussion, “there was no discussion of the educational advantages, no transition plan and no criteria for that decision (to change superintendents). I see no advantage for our students.”

Danek Burke said the move to change superintendents “was motivated by personal desires” and would ultimately affect Rowe’s students, who go on to middle and high school with other children from the Mohawk and Hawlemont school districts.

Zavotka said the contract with Lev was signed before she joined the board. “The decision was made and I feel that the contract needs to be honored. I think we need to give it a shot.”

Danek Burke said she was concerned that, if Rowe changed superintendents for a year and wanted to come back to Mohawk’s three-district superintendent’s office, “there’s a significant risk that door may not be open.”

When asked if he wanted to comment, Buoniconti thanked the community for letting him serve their schoolchildren for nine years. “I don’t know what the circumstances will be next year,” he continued, “but if I’m superintendent (for Mohawk and Hawlemont) and if things don’t work the way you want them to go, I would be open at that point. I don’t know how the two school districts will feel about it,” he added. “I will advocate for the students of Rowe.”

Rowe Principal Bill Knittle said the children’s last day of school at Hawlemont will be June 19; after that school officials will start packing. Moving vans will be coming June 24 and June 25, to take Rowe School furnishings to the new Rowe Elementary School, which is still under construction. School officials plan to store items in a completed part of the new school building.

The new school building replaces the elementary school building that burned down in 2012. It is scheduled to open in August.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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