Pioneer School Committee taps Northfield resident as interim superintendent

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee has voted in favor of Northfield resident Patricia Kinsella to be interim superintendent. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Patricia Kinsella with her chickens at her Northfield home. The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee has voted in favor of Kinsella to be interim superintendent. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2021 3:17:51 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee has voted in favor of Northfield resident Patricia Kinsella to be interim superintendent, but contract negotiations are still being finalized.

The School Committee has posted a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to enter into executive session to negotiate Kinsella’s contract and reconvene in public session for a potential vote. This would mark the second new administrative-level hiring in a week after the School Committee hired The Management Solution Inc. (TMS) to fulfill the district’s business manager responsibilities.

The School Committee interviewed two candidates last week for the interim, one-year position. The search for an interim superintendent began after former Superintendent Jonathan Scagel announced his resignation last month. Special Education Director Christie Fontaine has been filling the role of acting superintendent since Aug. 12.

“I am delighted to have this opportunity to serve my new community,” Kinsella said in a phone interview. “Truly, what a wonderful, unexpected opportunity. To think that I could support the families in these four towns, so they can know that in this time of transition, the school district is in capable hands with the School Committee and an experienced administrator.”

She said she hopes to provide “some breathing room” throughout the coming school year while the district continues an extended search for a long-term superintendent. In the meantime, Kinsella is focused on working with district educators, custodians, food service workers and other staff members to prepare for the coming school year.

“I’m looking forward to a really great year where we can help kids come back to school after a tough, tough year,” she said. “Let’s get folks back into the buildings, and let’s start teaching and learning again. I hope I can help manage all of that so the School Committee and towns can figure out what they want to do next in terms of a long-term superintendent.”

Top priorities for the coming year, Kinsella said, include safely opening schools while keeping a strong focus on students’ physical, mental and social-emotional health. The School Committee voted Aug. 19 to pass a mask mandate for the coming school year. In addition to this, Kinsella said she hopes to check on the status of the district’s ventilation systems, personal protective equipment and more.

“Health and safety obviously comes first,” Kinsella said. “And I don’t say teaching and learning first, because I have every confidence that our educators will be ready to go. My job is to find out what they need from me immediately in terms of support for their work.”

In addition to the immediate preparation needed to start the school year, Kinsella acknowledged larger changes in the district, including the planned process of moving sixth-grade classes from the remaining two elementary schools to Pioneer Valley Regional School for the start of the 2022 to 2023 school year, which may require her attention as interim superintendent throughout the year.

Kinsella has no-school age children of her own, and said her two daughters are 19 and 24. Her family moved to a farmhouse in Northfield from the eastern part of the state just three weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic caused local and national lockdowns, and they were quickly welcomed into the community. Kinsella said she received multiple calls and texts from neighbors wishing her luck before her interview with the School Committee last week.

Her three decades working in education most recently includes experience as an assistant superintendent for Lincoln Public Schools from 2014 to 2017, as well as assistant superintendent for Canton Public Schools from 2017 to 2019. She was the interim senior district administrator for Newmarket School District in New Hampshire from 2019 to 2020, and has also been working as an education consultant through the Collaborative for Education Services.

Before casting their votes last week, School Committee members grappled between Kinsella and the other interviewed candidate, Carol Learned-Miller. Member Jim Bell said this was his third time conducting superintendent interviews, and he felt both interviewees were “as good candidates as ever.”

Ultimately, committee members voted to offer the interim superintendent position to Kinsella after hearing from current district administrators and teachers. District teachers’ union President Claire Brennan and former Co-President Renee Keir, Pioneer Principal Kevin Burke and Pioneer Dean of Students Cathy Hawkins-Harrison all voiced support for Kinsella based on her interview and experience.

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




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