Back to School: Pioneer amps up health focus with new faculty

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Staff File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2019 5:29:41 PM

NORTHFIELD — There will be an increased focus on health when students return to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District, with the creation of a half-time nurse manager and a part-time health education coordinator positions. 

The two new positions are possible thanks to a coordinated school health services grant for $70,000 per year for at least four years, with the potential to renew, according to Superintendent Jonathan Scagel. He credits Suzanne Linden, nurse at Warwick Community School and the school district’s nurse leader, along with all the nurses in the district, for their assistance in pursuing the grant.

The nurse manager position will be filled by Carla Simpson, the current nurse at Pioneer. Debbie Hawkins, who was the nurse for Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, will be the acting health education coordinator. 

Scagel said Simpson will serve as an administrator to oversee and assist the current nursing team in the school district. The nurse manager’s primary role will be to ensure that all four health offices are meeting state standards of care and that the nurses are able to properly provide services to the schools’ populations.

Meanwhile, Hawkins will work closely with health staff members from all three district elementary schools to teach a comprehensive health curriculum. Topics that will be taught include basic human biology, anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, including puberty education to grades four, five and six. Additionally, the curriculum will include health and wellness, nutrition and diet, mental health and substance abuse prevention.

“The district nurses will continue to work on emergency preparedness,” Scagel added. The nurses have attended the School Emergency Triage Training and Stop the Bleed programs. They’ve also been mentoring Greenfield Community College’s nursing students.

Another recently added position within the district is the role of curriculum coordinator and grants manager, held by Ariel LaReau, who said she is looking forward to providing resources and removing obstacles so educators can bring the best and most equitable education to their students. She said having students at all grade levels engage in a more dynamic and culturally responsive curriculum is a top priority.

“I am excited to continue developing the vision of the Pioneer graduate as a mindful individual who embodies our core values and is proficient in our learning expectations,” LaReau said. “Let’s begin the conversation of what teaching and learning could be, and needs to be, to meet a world that will continue to rapidly change: culturally, socially, environmentally and economically.”

Scagel said having a new curriculum coordinator position will support the goal to ensure a strong curriculum alignment between the schools. Specialists and teachers have been collaborating to integrate arts and technology into the curriculum, as well as continue to build on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) offerings.

Elementary school changes

At Northfield Elementary School, the Parent-Teacher Organization raised money for and installed new playground structures last month, which are ready for children to enjoy when they return to school.

Elementary school staff will also focus more on student wellness, Scagel said. Staff members are piloting self-care activities to help students be ready, available and excited to learn and grow.

“The goal is to maintain a safe and supportive school in which every student’s needs are considered,” he said.

Warwick Community School will also see a new face as the school principal for the upcoming year. Christine Mullen, who has been a teacher at WCS for eight years, accepted the role as a combined third, fourth grade classroom teacher and principal earlier this month.

During the first weeks of the year at WCS, students will develop classroom routines and school rules. According to Scagel, this structure follows the tenants of the “Responsive Classroom,” which helps students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning environment, as well as supports their social-emotional growth.

The Warwick school is also launching a new science program, “Mosa Mack,” for sixth graders. The program uses both digital and hands-on components that support the engineering and design process, and continues the use of the “Mystery Science” program in grades one to five.

Following the closure of Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, new staff and students from Leyden will join the ranks at Bernardston Elementary School. Scagel said Bernardston’s staff have been working to make sure everyone — students and faculty alike — feel welcome and part of the school community.

Two new BES employees include a third grade teacher, Nicole Harper who previously worked at Leverett Elementary, and recently-hired Bernardston Elementary School Principal Kelly Carrier.

“With an increase in students and staff,” Scagel said, “BES has only grown stronger.”

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


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