A-R Supt. Fernandes’ goals include positive steps for students, staff, parents

  • Darcy Fernandes Contributed photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/9/2019 9:55:11 PM
Modified: 9/9/2019 9:55:06 PM

ATHOL – The 2019-20 school year is now well under way, and the goals for measuring success remain much the same as they were in September of last year, although the steps for attaining them may have been altered a bit.

“Our goals have remained the same,” Athol-Royalston Regional Schools Superintendent Darcy Fernandes told the Daily News. “We have not changed them since last year, when we got the school committee’s approval. Those goals remain improved literacy, social and emotional learning, and data-driven decision-making. Those are the three main goals that we’re working on, but they take form every year a little differently, depending on the feedback we get from our staff.”

Last year, she said she conducted focus groups with all the staff at every school. “We simply asked ‘how is this working? What’s working, what isn’t?’ she said, “For example, last year, with our data decision-making process, people were getting comfortable with it. They felt it was helpful to them. But, the problem was we didn’t have enough time scheduled for them during the day for our teachers to have success with it.”

Fernandes said faculty now have three 80-minute periods per week after school to familiarize themselves with the process, compile the data, and make decisions based on the date for improving both individual student and classroom performance. Last year, teachers were given just one 45-minute period each week to complete the process.

“It just wasn’t working,” she said bluntly.

The superintendent said data assessment has, for example, led to a new academic coach coming on board at the high school “to help support learning.” She said the addition of the coach will allow the district to make some of the improvements recommended as the result of a district review undertaken by the Office of District Reviews of the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to Fernandes, a company has also been hired to support the district’s efforts to improve math scores at the high school.

“Finding math teachers in this area,” she said, “is virtually impossible. So, we’re really trying to build up peoples’ strengths in the math area, so we’ve invested more funds in that area.”

“In listening to the teachers,” Fernandes went on, “they were like, ‘Yes, it’s a good start. We understand what social/emotional learning is. We understand what the focus should be. But where are the practical strategies?’”

She said time is being set aside to train both faculty and students in those strategies. She explained there is more of a need for social/emotional learning because students at all ages are exposed to tragedies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Incidents that may have been considered local news when we were growing up are now considered news of general-interest,” she said. “We used to have a half-hour of news each night, followed by plenty of time to discuss things with our parents or grandparents, our friends and their parents; there was a lot more time to process what was going on. Today, everything is immediate and the coverage is wall-to-wall. The emotional reaction stays at a higher level, and is still there when the next tragedy or emotionally-wrenching event takes place. We have to find a way for students to process and deal with their emotions while also finding the time and strategies necessary to allow for effective learning.”

While students and administrators maintain the overall goal of giving students an excellent education, Fernandes said imparting hope to young people has also become a major objective. She said that, not so many years ago, students who had no plan for pursuing a higher education at least held onto the hope that they would be able to land a job in manufacturing upon graduation from high school.

“The economy has changed,” she said, “and it’s unrealistic to expect you’ll find a good, reliable, well-paying job with nothing more than a high school diploma. We must give students hope that they can find the additional education and training they need to secure a decent job.”

All students in the district, via social/emotional learning, will focus on five specific “competencies”: social awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, self-management, and self-awareness.

Fernandes credited Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski with working closely with the school district to establish the Aspire Athol program. The program will, among other things, provide workshops and speakers focusing on the basic question; How do you build hope?

“We certainly want to give all our kids the best education possible,” said Fernandes, “but even the smartest students in the district won’t do well in life without the hope needed to motivate them.”

Please support the Athol Daily News' COVID-19 coverage

Thank you for your support of the Athol Daily News.

E-Edition & Local Ads


athol forecast

Most Popular

Athol Police Log: June 24, 2020

Social Media

Athol Daily News

14 Hope Street,
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Telephone: (413) 772-0261
FAX (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.