Editorial: School leaders workshop provides excellent forum to learn, grow

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The citizen-volunteers who serve on our school committees and other municipal boards of Franklin County may be unpaid, but the issues they’re charged with overseeing are no less challenging than if they were all paid healthy stipends.

Once on board, it’s on-the-job learning and the passing down of institutional knowledge and wisdom from members who may have served for decades, acquiring along the way the experience and skills needed to get the job done.

Inevitably, there are gaps in the tool kits of the various school board members, finance committee members and municipal leaders, all of whom bring a wide range of backgrounds to their new and emerging roles.

Stepping up to the plate to help them in northern Franklin County is retired school administrator Shirley Gilfether of Greenfield, who has organized a district leaders workshop for Pioneer Valley Regional School District for Thursday, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in Pioneer’s library.

Gilfether, who has 42 years of experience in education, some of it in the 1990s as Greenfield High School principal, saw a need and knew she could fill it. “I just started to realize after those 42 years ... that I had a lot of things that I could still give to people as a gift of my knowledge. I thought Pioneer could use a hand,” she explained.

During recent meetings, Pioneer officials have clashed over what are the responsibilities of the School Committee versus the responsibilities of the superintendent and other central office staff. They are considering outsourcing their superintendent’s office to another school district.

“Oftentimes, this is their first foray into public office,” Gilfether said of school committee members, emphasizing the importance of “understanding roles and responsibilities so people aren’t bumping into each other and not overstepping or micromanaging.”

Drawing, no doubt, on contacts cultivated over the course of her career, Gilfether is bringing with her a high-powered bank of experts, all of them likewise volunteering their time and experience. Besides Gilfether, presenters include:

Patricia Correira of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who will discuss the responsibilities of school committees;

Patricia Martin of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, who will speak on superintendents’ responsibilities;

Mary Jane Handy of the Massachusetts Dept. of Revenue’s Division of Local Services, who will discuss revenue, budgeting and negotiations, and

David Giannotti of the State Ethics Commission, who will present on ethics and conflicts of interest.

All of these topics can help volunteers avert crises, protect themselves from liability, and better fulfill their mission to offer the best possible education for children.

Gilfether’s workshop follows in a distinguished tradition of volunteer training opportunities, many of them offered by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, such as a recent workshop on generating income through short-term rentals (think, Airbnb, for example) and an upcoming workshop on Nov. 15 on open meeting law training.

County residents are fortunate to have such opportunities.

“I think this is hopefully a good beginning,” said Gilfether of her upcoming workshop. We share that view and thank her for her service.