Panel on sixth-grade move to Pioneer sets goals, schedule

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2021 5:28:26 PM

NORTHFIELD — At its first meeting Thursday, the committee responsible for planning the move of sixth-graders from the district’s two elementary schools to Pioneer Valley Regional School set a course for future meetings and discussed goals, including ways to communicate progress to district families.

The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee voted in December 2020 to move the sixth grade this coming fall — a timeline that has since been delayed to fall 2022 — after a presentation by a sixth-grade reconfiguration group created to study the potential benefits and drawbacks.

Some of the cited benefits include furthering curricular and extracurricular opportunities for sixth-graders, as well as social benefits from being with a more “developmentally appropriate” peer group.

But initial plans to move students for the start of this coming school year were met with protest from parents, with many saying they felt the process was being rushed. They also felt it was poor timing after a year where young students hadn’t been able to attend their elementary schools in person for months at a time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, the School Committee voted to delay the sixth-grade move to Pioneer Valley Regional School until the 2022 to 2023 school year.

The Sixth Grade PVRS Committee was formed to help plan and guide the transition. The committee has more than a dozen members, including administrators, faculty and parents.

“The purpose of this committee is we oversee all the subcommittees that are in charge of doing the sixth-grade move,” Pioneer Valley Regional School Principal Kevin Burke said Thursday evening.

He said one of the larger subcommittees that will be formed is the Transition Subcommittee. This subcommittee will focus on activities and goals required to transition students through the move during the 2022 to 2023 school year. Burke said that having community transition activities will introduce students to Pioneer’s middle and high school faculty ahead of the 2022 school year.

Additionally, subgroups will include a Curriculum Subcommittee led by Curriculum Coordinator Ariel LaReau, and a Special Education Subcommittee led by Special Education Director Christie Fontaine. Others will focus on facilities, athletics and programs, and more.

“Overseeing those subcommittees and communicating all the information to not only the School Committee, but also figuring out how we make sure the public knows what’s going on and the planning that we have moving forward,” Burke noted.

This brought members to discussion on committee goals, with the first goal — communicating with district families — drawing the most discussion. Burke said the full Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee has requested regular updates from the Sixth Grade PVRS Committee.

“But this committee also has to think of other ways in which we communicate this out, because not everyone listens to School Committee information, and so part of this is — what’s the best way to bring this information to families?” Burke said.

Members discussed various avenues for disseminating information among district families. Suggestions included sharing information through online education-based systems like Blackboard or ClassDojo, as well as through community social media pages. Northfield Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization Co-Chair Cheryl George said she thought they needed to find several ways for information to be shared.

“Not everybody has social media, not everybody uses that; not everybody reads the paper,” George said. “So I think if we attack it from several angles, I think that will put it out there.”

One suggestion was to create a web page to post documents and information pertaining to this Sixth Grade PVRS Committee so there is a “central location” to direct families to for further, detailed information and future meeting dates. Burke said being able to share a link to a site with the primary information would be one of the easiest ways to manage this.

“One other thing could even be, if we’re going to do all avenues, when school starts back up — a piece of paper home in the backpack,” George said. “For those families who maybe don’t check email regularly … then you can say some communication on paper went home in the backpack at the beginning of the school year, just to let people know that this committee exists.”

During a meeting earlier this month, Pioneer School Committee member David Young said he felt, based on a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) letter that asked for more information to determine whether moving sixth-graders to the middle and high school is a viable option for the district’s sustainability, that state approval of the move is not a foregone conclusion.

On Thursday, George also asked about the finality of the move. Burke will seek confirmation from DESE, but in the meantime he said the Sixth Grade PVRS Committee should “move forward as though this is moving forward.”

“I think a lot of the discussion will happen here. I think a lot of planning will happen at the administration level,” Burke said. “Probably because our admin. teams will also be involved, and using the feedback from this and helping to create that plan. So we might not necessarily be creating that plan physically during these meetings, but as that plan is created, we will be looking at it, reviewing it and making adjustments.”

The Sixth Grade PVRS Committee will meet biweekly on Thursdays at 5 p.m., with agendas posted on the school district website, PVRSDk12.org. The meetings are open to the public and are being held using Google Meet. The committee will meet next on July 8 and July 22.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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