Athol School Superintendent outlines district goals

  • Athol Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Matt Ehrenworth. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 11/19/2023 5:01:25 PM
Modified: 11/19/2023 5:00:32 PM

ATHOL – Athol Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Matt Ehrenworth presented his FY24 Superintendent’s Goals at the Nov. 15 meeting of the School Committee.

These goals include improvements in student learning, strengthening operations to meet the needs of students, improving district communications and participation in the New Superintendent Induction Program.

“There’s a focus on strengthening teacher leadership,” Ehrenworth said in an interview with the Athol Daily News. “I’ve increased the diversity of staff that participate in the instructional leadership teams, so there’s more representation from everybody. I want building-based leadership from the staff.”

The superintendent stressed this effort isn’t focused solely on teachers who need coaching.

“The coaches are not about coaching teachers that need help – we can all grow. The coaches are there for everyone. The teaching model we have is tiered,” he said.

Tier 1 provides coaching for all educators. Tier 2 focuses on specific teaching teams that may be working toward different goals. Tier 3 is targeted to those teachers who need additional support, in some cases because they are new.

Creating positive relationships

Another priority, he said, is to foster what he calls a “culture of belongingness.” This is being done in part via the district’s relationship with National Educators for Restorative Practices.

“That piece of the work centers on relationship-centered learning,” Ehrenworth explained. “If you don’t have a community, you can’t have restorative practices because there’s no accountability.”

The first step in that direction, he said, is to build a sense of community in classrooms and school buildings. Asked to explain restorative practices, Ehrenworth said that relationship-centered learning focuses on building connections between the students and teachers. He added that this is not just about academics—it’s about connecting with one another.

“Research will show us that a student can’t stay on target for an hour and a half listening to academic content; they’re going to need a break,” he said. “During that break, why not use that time to connect with one another and get to know who your teacher is. That strengthens the relationships in the classroom.”

That break time, Ehrenworth said, is one of about 50 strategies the district is trying to incorporate. He said a new strategy for student discipline is also needed.

“The discipline of yesterday said ‘you do X and your consequence is Y,’” he said. “But what is the motivation behind the behavior? And we’ve come to learn all kids are not motivated by the same things.

“Differentiated discipline is about working with kids and understanding what motivates them and deters them from engaging in different types of behavior, then using that to help shape the changes in behavior we want to see. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program.”

Meeting future goals

Ehrenworth added that building community in the classroom – having students get to know one another and develop a template for acceptable behavior – results in less disruption and reduces the likelihood of bullying.

The superintendent emphasized that none of his goals or strategies “is a one-and-done. These are all processes that we’re going through and developing.”

Ehrenworth also wants to prepare facilities to meet the needs of the district now and in the future. Meeting those needs could in some cases prove to be a major challenge. As an example, he said the high school dates back to the 1950s and has had no major renovations since then.

“I think our facilities, at least at the high school, are significantly outdated,” he said.

Ehrenworth noted that Athol Community Elementary School, which opened seven years ago, “is already bursting at the seams. We have about 600 students in that building and that’s its capacity, and we have more students coming in every day. Where are they going to go?”

The next steps include capital planning, putting a group together and starting the conversation on the needs of the community and what has to be done.

Ehrenworth said he’s waiting for a facilities study by the architectural firm of Drummey Rosane & Anderson. He said the company has assessed all of the structures, mechanical systems, properties, and fields for each school. The study, he said, will be used to help determine what the district should do relative to facility upgrades as it moves into the future.

Ehrenworth intends to continue participation in the New Superintendent Induction Program instituted by the state 13 years ago. He pledged to continue refining his skills in strategy development, data analysis, and instructional leadership through participation in the three-year program and to earn a rating of at least “proficient” on each major assignment.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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