New Pioneer School Committee member aims to bolster teacher retention, improve meeting postings

Silvia Cummings, 42, is the newest member of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee.

Silvia Cummings, 42, is the newest member of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee. Contributed Photo

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-17-2023 11:54 AM

NORTHFIELD — A longtime resident has stepped up to fill one of the longstanding vacancies on the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee.

Silvia Cummings, 42, was appointed to the committee in August and will serve out the rest of a term that expires in November 2024.

An 11-year Northfield resident with a student in the district and an Amherst College health services employee, Cummings said she felt like it was the “right time” to join the School Committee.

“It was one of those things where you’re sitting on the sidelines and watching things happen,” Cummings said. “It felt like the right time and there’s also some things that were coming up as concerns as a citizen and a parent.”

Among her concerns were ensuring meeting agendas were posted on time with clear agenda items, and ensuring teacher retention. Cummings said posting errors can make the board look “sloppy,” and cited a July meeting in which the School Committee was going to vote on a school resource officer position, but a posting error prevented it from doing so, requiring a subsequent meeting the following week to take a vote.

In terms of teacher retention and morale, Cummings said she wants to figure out ways to keep teachers happy, which will benefit everyone in the school district.

“Happy teachers create happy students,” she said, adding that a number of teachers have left the district over the years and she’d “like to find out why.”

According to statistics compiled by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in the spring, Pioneer Valley Regional School retained 81.5% of its staff from the 2021-2022 school year to the 2022-2023 school year, Northfield Elementary School retained 76.2% and Bernardston Elementary School retained 100%. The state average retention rate is approximately 84% and Pioneer’s high school retention rate is the second-highest in the region, with only the Frontier Regional School District retaining more staff.

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Before any of that, though, the political newcomer said she will be spending a lot of time observing how the committee works so she can get her bearings. Local government is not all new to her, however, as her husband, Heath Cummings has served on the Northfield Selectboard for several years now.

“I’m just watching right now to see how things are managed and handled,” she said.

With her appointment, the Pioneer School Committee is one step closer to filling all its vacancies. There is still one position open for a Leyden representative, and any interested resident should reach out to Town Moderator Jack Golden to learn about the appointment process.

“I would hope my participation would encourage someone to step up as well,” Cummings said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.