New Pioneer principal hopes to make school ‘model’ in western Mass.

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/9/2016 10:49:27 PM

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School’s new principal, Jean Bacon, says that she wants Pioneer to support all learning styles, including students who need more support or students who need more challenge than the curriculum provides.

Bacon, 54, of North Bennington, Vt., was named Pioneer’s next principal in late March following the resignation of William Wehrli. She said she was attracted to Pioneer because of its moderate size of 450 students and because it teaches both middle and high school students.

“I was really looking at this point in my career to find a middle or high school principalship,” she said.

Bacon’s career has been extensive and rather eclectic. She worked as a computer programmer, owned her own consulting business and did demographic analysis for the United Nations. After growing up outside Hartford, Conn., she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wesleyan University, her doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago and studied at the Woodruff Institute at Castleton University.

“The Woodruff Institute is for folks like myself who are kind of mid-career professionals looking to move into education,” she explained.

Her first experience with teaching came at Williams College, where she was a professor of sociology for 10 years. Since 2004, she’s been working as a central office administrator with North Adams Public Schools. She has taught a variety of subjects from math and science to SAT prep courses.

“For the last few years, I’ve just been biding my time waiting for a principal position,” Bacon said. “I realized that the people who had the best opportunity to help improve the teaching of students were really principals.”

Bacon said she thinks Pioneer “is going to be a great fit” for her. She likes that students “are really actively engaged in learning,” and that the school offers a wide range of electives that provide students with workplace skills that will help them post-high school.

“One of the big challenges I’ve seen is taking the workplace readiness skills and making it a part of the curriculum,” she said. “Pioneer seems to be at the forefront of being successful for that.”

In her first few months as principal, Bacon intends to work with the Pioneer community to figure out where the school has opportunities to grow. By eating lunch with students, she already has a few ideas.

“One of the things that has been stressed to me is are we doing our best for the kids who need a little more challenge or a little more support than what the program is offering,” she said.

To challenge the students who are academically ahead of the typical program, Bacon wants to expand the school’s curriculum of Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“That’s one of the big projects I’ve been working on in the district I’m coming from,” she said.

While only 30 or 40 students took AP classes when Bacon came to North Adams Public Schools, nearly 200 do now. Bacon said AP classes help keep students in college by giving them “excellent preparation for what’s next.”

She’s also working to improve Pioneer’s special education program. Currently, the school places students in a Pre-Employment Program (PEP) taught at the Franklin County Technical School.

“We should be serving the needs of the kids so we don’t have to send them outside of the school,” she said, adding that students should be able to stay with their friends while having their educational needs met.

Bacon hopes to have a long-range plan for Pioneer by the end of October that will allow the school to meet the needs of every student.

“I’d love for Pioneer to be the model school in western Massachusetts,” she said. “I’d like every child to graduate with as many opportunities before them as we can possibly offer.”

Bacon even said she’d like to teach once she “gets the lay of the land.”

“I really, really enjoy teaching and I think as a principal it keeps you grounded,” she said. “I think it’s important to appreciate what every teacher goes through every day, the challenges they face and how hard they have to work.”




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