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Gleason jumps in race after run as principal

GREENFIELD — After 34 years working for the school department, retiring principal Donna Gleason believes her experience would serve her well on the School Committee.

Gleason, 65, of 31 Vernon St., will retire on June 30 as principal of the Discovery School at Four Corners — a post she has held for the past five years. She is running Tuesday as a write-in candidate against ballot candidates Margaret Betts and Wesley Blixt for one of two vacant three-year school board seats.

The candidate — a Greenfield High School alumna, who has had ties to the town for 61 years — said she has experience working with school budgets and with teaching and overseeing curriculum. As principal, she’s attended and spoken at school board meetings throughout the years.

“And I don’t have an agenda,” said Gleason. “I’m really the kind of person if you bring up something, I’m going to go to the source documents ... and then try to make a decision for what’s best for Greenfield.”

She entered the race as a write-in with less than two weeks to go before the election. She said her last-minute campaign was partly because of a miscommunication. Until recently, she was under the impression there needed to be more time after her retirement before she could run for school board. She also wanted to dedicate her time and energy to her final months as principal.

“My first job is to be a really good principal. I don’t know if I could have balanced both,” she said. “I would have felt inappropriate trying to run a campaign for six months.”

A former teacher and reading coach, she said Superintendent Susan Hollins hired her as principal in 2008 because she was the only reading coach who wanted to divert from the way the curriculum had always been taught.

Earlier this week, Gleason posted a glowing remark from Hollins on her “GleasonForGreenfield” campaign Facebook page:

“Donna, You are certainly someone who’s not afraid of challenges! You would be an even, sensible voice on the School Committee — someone committed to having a quality school system for Greenfield. Having a School Committee member who understands how Greenfield’s school system works would be an asset. I would welcome working with you.”

That comment, along with Gleason’s praise of the progress the school department has made during the past five years, led opponent Wesley Blixt to publicly question her willingness to move beyond the status quo. Gleason disagreed.

“I do think I think for myself,” said Gleason. “Do I like Dr. Hollins? Yes. Do I think she’s right 100 percent of the time? No.”

Gleason said that she believes this upcoming School Committee will select the school department’s next superintendent and that board members will have to think critically over the next year of what kind of leader they want.

And Gleason is excited about the sweeping changes occurring in the education landscape, including changes to curriculum and a new system to evaluate teachers and administrators.

“I think the future of education, and one of the things I like about what the state is doing, is moving a little bit away from the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and saying, ‘Prove to me that your child is making progress. Prove to me that you’re teaching your child something’,” she said.

Gleason acknowledged the difficulty of undertaking a last-minute write-in campaign. She is unable to campaign during school hours, so her husband, Ronald, has been out days and nights talking to potential voters.

“It’s worth a shot. I have nothing to lose,” said Gleason. “I have everything to give to Greenfield and if Greenfield doesn’t elect me, there’s (always) the next time.”

Gleason’s father, Al Sommer, is a former Greenfield principal. She’s had three children go through the system, has two grandchildren in the schools now and three more on the way. Her only five-year hiatus from the town was for a teaching job in Italy early in her career — where she taught Greek, French, Italian and American students.

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

From what I hear Gleason is in Europe right now. Why isn’t she around to talk to constituents like her opponents? Especially since she’s a last-minute write-in; her opponents have been meeting with voters for months now. It doesn’t seem like she wants this as much as they do.

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