Board rejects Warwick school’s charter conversion

  • Warwick Education Committee Vice Chair Tom Wyatt speaks to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee during Tuesday night’s meeting. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • After months of discussion, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee Tuesday voted 7-to-5 not to convert the Warwick Community School to a Horace Mann II Conversion School. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Warwick Education Committee member Diana Noble gives a presentation on the proposed Warwick Community School conversion to a Horace Mann II Conversion School and aspects of the budget during Tuesday’s meeting with the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2019 11:01:02 PM

NORTHFIELD — After months of discussion, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee voted 7-to-5 Tuesday not to move forward in turning the Warwick Community School into a Horace Mann II Conversion School.

Tom Wyatt, vice chair of the Warwick Education Committee, said the prevalent reason the committee did not approve submission of a charter application to the state was that “School Committee members felt they had to look out for the interests of the district as a whole.

“The implication was that the Horace Mann proposal was somehow going to hurt district students from other towns,” Wyatt said. “The rushed nature of the timeline, and the amount of information and complexity were also put forward.”

Before the School Committee voted, Warwick Education Committee member Diana Noble gave a presentation on the proposed budget for the “Warwick Discovery School,” as it would have been named. According to Noble, the proposed budget would be calculated by multiplying the number of “district,” or resident, students attending Warwick’s school by the average per student cost for Bernardston and Northfield elementary schools.

“We had been looking for a way to explain the philosophy of the budget without getting into numbers that might change,” Noble said.

Despite holding discussions on the proposed conversion at multiple meetings, School Committee members did not think enough of their questions had been answered. Members also said they did not have enough time to review all of the information.

School Committee member Sharon Fontaine said she still had questions regarding staff union agreements, payroll and transportation.

“When I see this book — that was so beautifully put together — there had to have been a ton of work that went into all of this, and yet there is no way that I could absorb all of this information tonight,” Fontaine said.

Russell​​​ Dupere, the school district’s attorney, suggested the committee establish a subcommittee to investigate the option and work out a memorandum of understanding for the conversion school or similar proposals in the future, should they arise.

School Committee member Mike Townsley argued that a vote of approval would not only be asking for further review from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), but would communicate that the district fully supports the conversion.

Warwick Selectboard Chair Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne contested this statement, saying the vote Tuesday would only be to forward the application proposal to DESE.

According to Wyatt, Warwick needed to forward its application to the state by Nov. 1. Had it been submitted, the town would have heard back in a few weeks as to whether it would be allowed to continue the application process. Then the town would have needed to submit a full application, including a memorandum of understanding between the school and School Committee, by Dec. 20.

Adam Holloway, Warwick Education Committee chair, emphasized how the Warwick Discovery School would incorporate distance learning, individualized curriculum and technological learning tools.

Pioneer Superintendent Jonathan Scagel countered these points, saying the school district was already implementing technological tools and various new teaching methods.

“We do virtual high school now, we do a lot online.” Scagel said. “I guess my question comes back to ... ‘What is the Horace Mann school proposing to do that the district cannot provide?’”

The Warwick Education Committee cited a $500,000 start-up grant that would have been given to the Horace Mann school, if DESE approved it. Wyatt said this money usually goes to more suburban or city schools, and using the money to establish a charter school in a rural area and to develop new learning programs would be a significant draw.

While the School Committee ultimately did not give its support, Wyatt said one School Committee member who voted against the submission suggested he continue researching a potential submission for next year. However, there is still a chance that the School Committee could hold a vote on closing Warwick Community School. The School Committee voted to close Pearl Rhodes Elementary School in Leyden as a cost-saving measure earlier this year.

There are potential options for Warwick to continue on or exit the district, such as potentially buying the school out from the district. The town could take out a loan for money to pull out, although this could cost millions of dollars. Holloway also said there is an option to become a commonwealth charter school.

The Warwick Education Committee will meet Thursday at 2 p.m. in Town Hall to assess where Warwick can go from here, Wyatt said. All are welcome to attend.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.

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