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State releases G-M from Level 4

TURNERS FALLS — The wait is over and so is Level 4. After six years, the state no longer considers the Gill-Montague Regional School District to be underperforming.

“The commissioner has made the decision to release Gill-Montague from Level 4 status,” Eva Mitchell, an associate commissioner with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the School Committee this week.

Committee members and the handful of staff present greeted the announcement with applause on Tuesday.

The district entered Level 4 in 2007 following a review more critical of leadership and finance than education and implemented a turnaround plan in 2012.

During a visit to the district in late November, pushed for by local legislators on behalf of the district’s teachers, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester heard from staff of all four schools regarding what was presented as the counterproductive pace and pressure of the turnaround effort for schools that are not, individually, underperforming.

In a letter following the visit, Chester said he was satisfied with the district’s progress but required the assurance of a permanent superintendent after two years of interims, and a brief operational plan laying out how the district will continue to improve without state oversight.

Mitchell said the commissioner returned from vacation Tuesday morning, reviewed the operational plan and made the decision.

In a letter read aloud by Mitchell, Chester wrote that as recently as 2011, the district continued to face challenges in uniting to address systemic weaknesses, improve governance, allocate resources, provide training, develop aligned curricula and support schools and teachers but noted progress in the past two years.

“At this point I am confident in the district’s overall district performance, the presence of stable leadership, and your assurances of continued accelerated improvement,” Chester wrote.

The district’s new rating on the five-level accountability and assistance scale will be released in mid-September with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System results based on the lowest level assigned to a district school. At present, no district schools are in Level 4 or lower.

“It’s good news. The staff has worked incredibly hard, and really the staff should get most of the kudos,” said Great Falls Middle School Principal Donna Fitzpatrick, following the announcement.

Teacher and teachers union President Karl Dziura had a similar reaction.

Dziura said it has been a long time and a tremendous amount of expectation placed on teachers, and while administrators have been supportive it has not been consistent support as many have left.

“If this wasn’t such a formal venue, I’d be jumping and clicking my heels,” Dziura said.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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