New supt. of Mohawk Trail, Hawlemont districts hopes to be strong advocate for rural education

  • Sheryl Stanton is the new superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colrain resident Sheryl Stanton, seen outside Mohawk Trail Regional School, is the new superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colrain resident Sheryl Stanton, seen outside Mohawk Trail Regional School, is the new superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2020 11:30:46 AM

BUCKLAND — Sheryl Stanton, the new superintendent of Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont Regional school districts, may never have found a career in education if it hadn’t been for a college course mix-up and a teacher who made a difference.

“I mis-registered for a class,” she said, laughing. “It was a combination of an English language arts course and an education course. … I needed one more class to graduate, and I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll take it.’ I was just trying to finish my bachelor’s degree.”

But the professor of that course changed the way Stanton viewed teaching — a field she had never considered as a potential career path.

“My world was rocked,” Stanton recalled. “I could be a teacher.”

Stanton was a good student, she said, but like so many students, she knew what it was like to struggle in a class, or even to fail.

“I have a real sensitive spot for kids who don’t do well,” she said. “I knew I had to do it, but I didn’t understand why learning was so important.”

Her professor at the University of Connecticut helped her to understand. She said if she could get students to realize the importance of education sooner, “we could really make a shift in education.”

From that class forward, she said, “it was off to the races.”

Stanton completed her master’s degree in 18 months from Elms College, and in 2006, she took a position as an instructional leadership coach at a turn-around school in Springfield.

Stanton recalled the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) coming to her school with questions and concerns about programs she couldn’t address or wasn’t familiar with.

“My department was the only department in the school that did really well on the state assessment, but in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘Why don’t I know that?’” she said. “That’s when I said, ‘If I really want to effect change for students, then I probably need to go into administration.’”

So she went through a leadership program, and in 2007 she took a position as a principal for Ludlow Public Schools. In 2014, she was hired as assistant superintendent for Southbridge Public Schools, and by 2016, she had assumed the role of superintendent for Granby Public Schools.

In June, Stanton was selected out of three finalists for the open superintendent position for Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts. She officially assumed the role on July 1.

“I’m excited and thrilled to be here,” Stanton said from her new, freshly painted office at Mohawk Trail Regional School. “I’m very grateful I have the opportunity.”

Stanton said she was drawn to the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont school districts because of her love for both public and rural education.

“I’ve always said your ZIP code should not influence the quality of education you receive,” she said. “Rural schools need that strong advocacy — they’re at a disadvantage in the state formula.”

Stanton, a resident of Colrain, has been involved for several years with the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition, an organization that aims to address the financial challenges rural schools face.

She said her experience at Granby Public Schools — another rural district where leveraging resources and developing strong community relationships was essential to her role — prepared her for her new position as superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts.

One of her goals for the two districts this year involves the development of a strategic plan, she said.

“When the strategic plan is strong, then you have this goal that everyone understands, has been a part of developing,” she said. “And everyone is clear that these are the things we need to do to bring Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont to the next level in terms of providing education for every student.”

The plan will be developed with the help of community members, municipal government members, parents, teachers and administrators, according to Stanton. Student achievement data, student attendance data and post-high school student success rate data will be reviewed.

“I think it’s really important that the community understands that there are measurable outcomes that we’re looking to get,” she said. “Those are goals, and we might not actually get there, but our work is toward those measurable outcomes.”

She said as she gets to know the districts over the next several months, she’ll develop a better understanding of what areas or issues the districts need to consider when developing a strategic plan.

“We’re always looking at curriculum instruction and assessment,” she noted.

Her introduction to the districts, of course, coincides with preparation to return of school next fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the districts need to first understand how students and families responded to the remote learning environment initiated in the spring.

“I think understanding that certainly is something that — regardless of a strategic plan — we have to wrap our heads around,” she said.

The distance learning team plans to meet Monday to incorporate the most recent guidance from DESE with the information principals gathered about their respective schools.

As she settles into the job, Stanton said it feels like she’s juggling two different worlds. In one world, she’s getting to know the districts and developing relationships with colleagues; in the other, the realities and challenges brought on by COVID-19 are ever-present.

Still, Stanton said her first few days in the new role have been as exciting as they have been busy.

“It’s just been overwhelmingly positive and hopeful, even in a pandemic,” she said. “I’m very hopeful we’ll get through this, and there’s certainly brighter skies coming our way.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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