Warwick on brink of creating new school district

  • Karen O’Neil, vice chair of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee, Reina Dastous, School Committee chair, and Patricia Kinsella, superintendent of the school district at a recent School Committee meeting. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Nathan Swartz and David Young, who both serve on the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee representing Warwick. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2022 3:41:00 PM
Modified: 10/17/2022 3:40:55 PM

NORTHFIELD — School officials recently approved two of the three agreements necessary for the Warwick Community School to transition out of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

“We will be one of the smallest elementary schools and districts in the county,” David Young, Warwick town coordinator and member of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee, said.

Last month the school committee conducted a first reading of the transition and tuition agreements for Warwick. Last week, the committee approved the first two documents it read, and began a first reading of the retiree agreement. The committee plans to host a vote of this third agreement on Thursday.

The two documents approved allow for Warwick to be a separate district. Warwick will have its own elementary school and a tuition agreement with Pioneer, enabling middle and high school students to attend Pioneer Valley Regional School in neighboring Northfield. The tuition agreement was created using the tuition model in Vernon, Vermont.

Warwick will no longer have a voting seat on Pioneer’s school committee. They will have one non-voting seat at the table, similar to the union and the students at the school committee meeting. “We will be heard without standing in line for citizen comment, but we will have our own school committee,” Young said.

“Retirees are a huge expense for the budget. We are not just going to leave them,” Young said.

The retirement agreement to be signed next week identifies the portion of retirement costs Warwick will pay as they leave the district. The town will pay its portion, and then it will slowly decline over time as their responsibility over retirees diminishes.

While towns across Franklin County are turning to regionalization as their answer to their problems with not having economies of scale, Warwick has a different solution.

“I have a lot of confidence in our ability to innovate and solve problems,” Young said. “We will continue to strive for a better way to educate.”

Warwick is planning for the elementary school to be extremely small and the town is not planning to have a teacher in front of the classroom teaching traditional lessons to a group of students all the same age. Instead there will be individualized plans for each student to learn on their own.

When the Pioneer Valley Regional School District decided to close the Warwick Community School in 2020, 46 children were enrolled. “Almost half of the students were school of choice,” Young said. Twenty-four students were Warwick residents, and 22 were Orange residents using school of choice to enroll.

While the 2020-2021 school year was an off-year due to remote school during the pandemic, 19 students from Warwick were enrolled in the Pioneer Valley School District for grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Normally there are about 25-30 students, according to Young. Patricia Kinsella, superintendent of Pioneer Valley Regional School District, explained many families decided to homeschool their children during 2020, but are now coming back to the school district.

The reopening is expected to be smaller in student numbers and in the following weeks the Warwick Community School will know the number of students who wish to enroll.

“We feel having an elementary school in town is necessary for community life,” Young said as the reason for leaving the school district and creating their own. “We already have a building.”

Kinsella echoed this sentiment, saying, “The town owns the facility outright and it is a delightful location for children to be educated.”

While Warwick is leaving the district there is no animosity about the decision from the regional district.

“Warwick has educated kids in town for over 250 years,” Young said. “We have the ability to pull this off.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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