Pioneer, Gill-Montague district merger group predicts final report this summer

  • Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

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

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2021 6:13:02 PM

While the pandemic slowed down the expected planning pace, members of the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board have continued moving forward with exploring the creation of a new regional school district, and plan to have a final report to share with the public this summer.

The Six Town Regionalization Planning Board, which has members from all six towns in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District and Gill-Montague Regional School District, formed in the fall of 2019. The exploratory committee has previously explained that the vision for the new district would be to reorganize Pioneer Valley Regional School and Turners Falls High School, so that one would be a middle school and the other a high school. All the currently open elementary schools would remain unchanged.

Chair Alan Genovese said enough progress has been made over the last two years for the committee to begin sharing its findings with stakeholders for feedback. Genovese said “an endeavor of this magnitude requires a lot of up-front research to understand the educational implications on students and the financial impact” on the six towns of Bernardston, Gill, Leyden, Montague, Northfield and Warwick. Two subcommittees have been working with consultants on this data collection process.

According to Genovese, the Education Subcommittee chaired by Northfield resident Deborah Potee, has charged consultants with gathering information and responses through meetings with administrators from both districts. The subcommittee has shared names with the consultants of interested citizens who will participate in a presentation and a question/answer follow-up period.

“The presentation will focus on the history of the population decline in the district, the rationale for merging the two districts to form a new regional school district, and whether or not this would create more learning opportunities for middle and high school students,” Genovese said.

The consultants will also create a survey that the Six Town Regional Planning Board will use to glean more information from the two districts’ constituents. Once the consultants complete their work, the Education Subcommittee will engage all interested constituents in the fall, through presentations, community meetings and forums to further explore the issues and gauge how families feel about these potential, significant changes to their public education system.

“A crucial piece of this work is gaining an understanding of what impact a newly formed regional district will have on the quality of education available to our students,” Genovese said. “The primary goal of the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board is to offer more learning opportunities and activities to students while stabilizing the middle and high schools in both districts, which have seen a significant decline in student enrollment over the past decade.”

The Finance, Transportation and Facilities Subcommittee, for which Mike Naughton of Montague serves as chair, has been working with consultants from The Abrahams Group to examine the financial impact of forming a new regional district. This includes researching financial projections for each district and how that translates to the respective towns’ responsibility to appropriate funds in the future, should they decide to keep the status quo. Additionally, potential bus routes are being reviewed to understand the length of routes and the anticipated expense in a new school district.

Genovese said a final report will be completed during the summer months and posted on the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board website, sites.google.com/view/strpb/home, which includes more information about the board’s work to date and its members.

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


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