Outreach meeting continues talks on potential Pioneer, Gill-Montague school district merger

  • Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Chair and Warwick Selectboard member Alan Genovese and Vice Chair and Gill Selectboard member Greg Snedeker speak to the four Pioneer Valley Regional School District selectboards Monday night at the Bernardston Senior Center. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • From left, Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Chair and Warwick Selectboard member Alan Genovese and Vice Chair and Gill Selectboard member Greg Snedeker speak to the four Pioneer Valley Regional School District selectboards Monday night at the Bernardston Senior Center. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2022 1:45:56 PM

BERNARDSTON — The Six Town Regionalization Planning Board held the second of several public outreach meetings Monday night to further explore school regionalization, bringing together the selectboards of the four Pioneer Valley Regional School District member towns.

Meeting at the Bernardston Senior Center, the Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick selectboards listened to a presentation from the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board, which is studying the fiscal and educational feasibility of merging the Pioneer Valley and Gill-Montague regional school districts. The board previously met with the Gill and Montague selectboards earlier this month.

“This is the beginning, really, of the outreach,” said Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Chair and Warwick Selectboard member Alan Genovese. “We are here to serve you, get your questions and find your answers.”

The boards listened to an 11-minute presentation put together by the Planning Board, which presented the expected educational benefits and opportunities that could come from merging the two districts, as well as enrollment numbers and early financial projections. The video, narrated by Northfield representative Deborah Potee, can be viewed at bit.ly/3UchND7.

If the districts merged, which would require Town Meeting approval from all six towns, elementary school students would continue to attend their respective hometown schools, middle school students would go to Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield and high school students would attend Turners Falls High School in Montague.

While the financial struggle that all rural school districts are facing is one of the major points influencing the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board’s work, the driving force, according to Genovese and Planning Board Vice Chair and Gill Selectboard member Greg Snedeker, is the educational and professional development opportunities that would come with greater enrollment numbers. Larger enrollment could in turn bring in additional aid, while also enticing students and families to join the district.

Having more students and teachers, Genovese noted, would allow for more flexibility in course schedules, meaning more specialized electives will be available, which he said can help teachers develop, too. Increased enrollment would also bring more extracurricular opportunities by providing a bigger pool of students for choruses, bands, theater and athletics.

“When you have a combined staff and student population, you can run that course several times, which expands the opportunity for kids to take that and other courses that they’re interested in,” Genovese said. “You don’t have the teacher that doesn’t have a colleague to talk with about designing curriculums and designing courses, which is a real benefit to this in terms of the professional development. … The more minds you get together to share information, the better things are.”

Any look at the financial projections, Montague representative and former longtime Montague Finance Committee member Mike Naughton said, should be done with the mindset that those numbers may change in the future because the data is not as concrete as the enrollment data.

“We’ve talked a lot about the educational benefits from having more students and faculty; we’ve talked less about the financial implications and how all that might work,” Naughton noted. “The data is more firm about what the student populations may look like.”

Naughton added that any contracts with faculty and staff would need to be done by a new school committee if the districts were to merge. The composition of that school committee and how its representatives are elected would be spelled out in the new district’s regional agreement.

Northfield Selectboard member Mary Sullivan-Bowen asked the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board how the two districts’ superintendents — neither of whom were at Monday’s meeting — have been involved with the regionalization planning. Genovese said Gill-Montague Superintendent Brian Beck has been “very active in supporting our efforts,” and he is hopeful Pioneer Superintendent Patricia Kinsella will “express more interest” as the process continues to move forward.

“I will continue to engage her to hear what her thoughts are,” Genovese said. “My sense is right now, she’s putting her energies, and rightfully so as a superintendent, to make Pioneer the best it can be in this moment and work with the teachers and the staff and the students to provide the best opportunities that are available given the circumstances.”

Over the coming months, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board will continue its work soliciting feedback from the community and working with consultants as it develops a recommendation for the six towns. Genovese said the board plans to continue to reach out to the community in various ways, including more public presentations. Monday’s meeting can be streamed on Bernardston-Northfield Community Television’s YouTube page at bit.ly/3F7pMw3.

“We’re the pioneers in that we’re doing the work, in my opinion, that the state should be doing,” Genovese said. “We’re creating the blueprint.”

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


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