Frontier interim supt. gets unanimous nod from school board

  • Recorder Staff/Andy CastilloFrontier Regional School, as seen Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Recorder Staff

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/18/2018 11:35:05 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Deciding to stay with its initial interim choice, Darius Modestow will now officially remain the interim superintendent of Frontier Regional and Union #38 School Districts for the next school year.

Following a vote with no dissenters by the joint School Committee Monday evening, the Worthington native who has been the principal of Frontier Regional School for the past five years will have a chance to prove himself as the right choice perhaps for years to come.

The decision, though, did not come without a few caveats, including Modestow’s urging the School Committee to think about what policy it can create to make the job less of an overwhelming or even a “borderline impossible” burden in time commitments to meet.

The stress from the number of hours on the job, including the meetings a superintendent needs or should go to, was something both Modestow and the committee suggested was part of the reason for the departure of Lynn Carey, who announced her resignation last month, citing she needs to spend more time with her family.

It also came with two Selectboard members, one from Whately and one from Sunderland, letting the committee know they feel it should do a more formal, outward search for a candidate, and while doing so, get feedback from beyond the town that sits in the district’s seat.

“The legitimacy of an internal candidate is strengthened by doing an outside search,” Whately Selectwoman Joyce Palmer-Fortune said

“The towns don’t just want to be funding resources,” Sunderland Selectman Scott Bergeron said, who called the questions and part of the approach to this point as both “insular” and “sad.” He continued: “Inclusion needs to be a part of the process.”

Initial contract questions challenged the School Committee with regards to what to do with Modestow’s current principal contract, which has one more year left. There were thoughts of what if he decides he doesn’t want the job anymore and wants to go back to the principal job, or if the committees decide to go another way. Those queries were expected to be answered in part in executive session, following Monday’s decision, and at its next meeting, June 26, at 6 p.m. at Frontier.

In a near hour-and-a-half interviewing session, Modestow answered committee members’ questions regarding his leadership style, vision for the district and his strengths and weaknesses entering a job he’s never held before.

He cited his longtime experience as an administrator, beginning when he was 27, three years after becoming a teacher at the school where he student-taught. Modestow said the school district needs to work on building its administrative team because, when “you have a strong team at the top, it’s a trickle-down scenario.”

He hopes to build on the school’s social-emotional supports and to work on integrating more programming across the district.

Modestow wants to continue working on something he has been chipping away at as principal of the high school, the assumption that students in the district will go to Frontier after sixth grade instead of elsewhere, like a private school.

Other goals of his are for the committee to look at the regional agreement and, for example, make sure it has strong and direct language in the process of hiring a superintendent.

Modestow leaned on his communication skills as his greatest attribute. For instance, “I would rather walk up to a teacher’s classroom than go back and forth with a dozen emails,” he offered.

He sees his leadership style as a derivative from his views on communication — asking people what they need and what their views are, before ultimately explaining his views and why he might have a made decision one way or the other.

Though often approached with a 10-foot pole, Modestow did touch on the question posed by Deerfield Selectmen and School Committee Member Trevor McDaniel about regionalization, saying he could talk about it all day, if needed. Modestow said the district needs to streamline what it does.

“We’re not talking about regionalization per se,” Modestow said. “We’re talking about how to make the district more efficient.”

Some committee members questioned his lack of experience with elementary education.

Modestow said he did serve on the elementary School Committee in Pelham, but most importantly, he will be able to give strong advice to the new elementary school principals through his style of communication.

“I think the role of the superintendent is to be at the point of supporting,” he said.

When asked later on in the meeting about the same point, he began, “I’ll answer the question although I’ve already answered it.” The committee member offered she had been held up by the tornado warnings. Modestow smiled, lightly joking that was a good excuse for coming in later.

As the committee members voted without any deliberation or discussion to approve Modestow, the lone candidate interviewed for the interim position for the next year, torrential rain thumped down on the windows and ceilings of the high school’s library, yet it was clear he was very comfortable in the seat he now sat in.

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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