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Schell/My Turn: Giving Hollins credit

I am saddened by the news that Greenfield Superintendent Susan Hollins is planning to retire.

I have worked with Dr. Hollins for over five years as she met the challenges of rebuilding Greenfield’s school system after a major financial crisis in 2008. I can attest to Dr. Hollins’ hours of hard work, visionary ideas and ability to get things done despite extraordinarily adverse conditions.

In July 2008, I was one of the few remaining administrators in the district. I became the elementary principal for Federal, Newton, and the preschool at North Parish. Carol Holzberg, who also stayed, was the technology director. Thankfully, Donna Woodcock and Gary Tashjian stepped up to the job of principal at the high school and middle school, respectively. Kathi Titus became special education director.

The six of us faced the challenge of opening the schools within two months. We had no budget, just a Post-it note stating available funding. We decided our priority was to bring back as many of the dozens of laid off teachers as possible so class sizes would be manageable. This meant our small administrative team would stay small as we faced the daunting task of rebuilding a system in near collapse.

Quite frankly I was afraid. It seemed like an impossible job.

Dr. Hollins stayed calm and focused under pressure. She created structure where there was none by thoughtfully gathering information and identifying guiding principles as we faced each next urgent priority. At meetings often lasting late into the evening, we met daily deadlines and made critical decisions while running the schools and creating a budget as we went along. Worthy of mention is the spirit of camaraderie among teachers, administration, School Committee and community members as this hard work was undertaken. Dr. Hollins’ journal entries describe and acknowledge everyone’s efforts as our schools regained strength under her leadership.

Greenfield has benefited greatly from Dr. Hollins’ contributions as superintendent of schools. Among her many accomplishments, she has raised school enrollment in Greenfield by bringing families back to their home district, successfully led the initiative for a new high school, kept the arts at all grade levels, eliminated sports fees, renovated and refurbished our school buildings making them cleaner and greener, reopened school buildings that had been closed before her arrival, started the first virtual school in the state of Massachusetts and created many innovative school programs at all levels, preschool to high school. She has balanced the school budget each year and used grant funding to optimal advantage.

She deserves our thanks.

With Dr. Hollins’ retirement, must we worry about weathering another storm like that of 2008? No. Her early notice provides the time necessary for an orderly transition. She has built systems, structures and staffing that ceased to exist in 2008. Moving forward, would we benefit from the spirit of cooperation that existed in 2008 as we pulled together to rebuild our school system? Yes. Absolutely.

Joan Schell is a retired elementary principal for the Greenfield Public Schools.

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