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Greenfield Public Schools

Greenfield school officials praise Hollins

GREENFIELD — From the creation of new school programs to her advocacy for a new high school, the work of Superintendent Susan Hollins was praised by administrators this week. Hollins announced Wednesday that she’ll retire by the end of this school year.

And while many have questioned her path, said Greenfield Middle School Principal Gary Tashjian, no one should question her commitment to making Greenfield schools a better place.

“Reflecting on the 27 years I have been in this district, I believe more positive things have happened in the six years under Susan Hollins than all the other years combined,” he said.

Hollins joined the district in July 2008, months after school board members had learned about a $1 million hole in school funding. Families fled for neighboring schools, teachers were laid off and administrators made plans for others jobs.

“That was not a good time here in the Greenfield schools,” said Donna Woodcock, principal of the high school.

In quick order

“She was able to get things back in place in a pretty quick turnaround time,” she said. “She had prioritized (putting) teachers in front of students as opposed to giving us administrative help ... (and) we made it through.”

Administrators highlighted Hollins’ ability to retain Greenfield students. Enrollment numbers have recovered from the School Choice exodus half a decade ago. There are currently about 1,800 brick-and-mortar students, the highest total since 2007.

They praised her innovation to give students more choices, including the creation of new programs and schools — like the Math and Science Academy and the Discovery School at Four Corners, an innovation school that emphasizes community and environmental preservation.

Woodcock said that the new $66 million Greenfield High School has a lot to do with Hollins’ campaigning to the state on behalf of the school department.

Hollins transformed how the department tracked incoming and outgoing students, said Lisa McGuinness, who registers new Greenfield students. Hollins asked for a daily enrollment report and studied the trends of why students were coming or going, she said.

McGuinness became accustomed to receiving emails from Hollins with timestamps from early in the morning or late at night. And the superintendent’s online journal provided students, parents and staff an opportunity to keep up with the Greenfield schools, which McGuinness said she used to talk with new families about the department.

Virtual school future

Hollins was the leading force behind the department’s cyber school, which opened in 2010 and has since converted into the independent, state-authorized Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School.

The topic dominated School Committee discussions this spring and divided the board. Some praised it as a haven for students who, for a variety of reasons, struggle in brick-and-mortar schools. Others criticized it as a major distraction from regular Greenfield school business and were wary of the department’s contract with for-profit curriculum company K12.

While an independent board of trustees now runs the school, Hollins and the Greenfield School Department have continued to provide contracted administrative services. Ed Berlin, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said that the school will be able to run smoothly whenever Hollins departs.

“I’m absolutely confident that the school will be able to move forward (and that) we’ll be able to have an administration set up where we will be able to effectively run the school,” said Berlin. He has said, since July, that he’d like the virtual school to hire its own administrators by next summer.

The school wouldn’t have been around had it not been for Hollins, said Berlin.

“It was her inspiration and her vision that got us to where we are today,” he said.

Finding a replacement

Mayor William Martin, the School Committee chairman, said that the school board will meet again at the end of October to create a plan going forward, including when and how to conduct a superintendent search.

It’s unclear exactly when Hollins will step away from the school department. The Greenfield School Committee voted Wednesday to authorize Martin to work with Hollins to determine her end date.

Hollins, who wrote in her online journal that she has an ill family member, is prepared to work through June but would be open to leaving earlier.

“Superintendent changes are an important change for any school system,” she wrote in her journal on Thursday. “I hope my early notice gives ample time for quality thinking about how to move Greenfield Schools forward in the future.”

Woodcock hopes that Hollins will be able to stay throughout the year.

“Things are going well, progress is being made and I’d hate to have that kind of abrupt change” in the middle of the school year, she said.

Mary Link, who has headed up special projects for Hollins like the film festival and high school lunch lecture series, said she believes the superintendent has laid a strong foundation for her successor.

“A new person could come in and just keep going with what’s here for a while and they would still have a really strong school district,” she said.

As a Greenfield High School alumni, Martin said that the school spirit that he enjoyed as a student has finally returned to the school department under Hollins’ leadership.

Member John Lunt, who led the search committee that found Hollins in 2008 and who worked with her as chairman of the committee for three years, echoed that statement.

“When I look at the schools now and really the dire straits the schools were in when she came in, she put together and led a team that did an incredible job bringing stability back to Greenfield,” he said. “Lots of people were responsible for it but she was the leader.”

Member Francia Wisnewski said that during Hollins’ tenure, with support from the community and local government, the school department has been able to improve students’ academic success and life achievement. But she said that there are still many areas that need to be improved.

“We wish our superintendent good luck in her future endeavors and we are looking forward to the next steps for the Greenfield school district,” she said.

Member Daryl Essensa said the board was lucky to have found in Hollins, “such an innovative, creative and thoughtful leader to help our schools turn around.”

“With her announcement to retire, we have the important charge to replace her with someone with the experience and expertise to keep Greenfield Public Schools moving forward in the positive direction she initiated,” she said.

Member Maryelen Calderwood said that “because of legal issues pertaining to employee confidentiality” she would only note that every School Committee member — except for Essensa, who was absent, and Donna Gleason, who abstained — voted Wednesday in favor of having Martin work with Hollins to consider an earlier end date.

“The committee now needs to turn to the task of seeking qualified candidates who are capable of working on the serious issues of ensuring the integrity of special education, improving relations with educators and maintaining the transparency of the budget process,” said Calderwood.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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