New superintendent plans survey, listening sessions

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

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/30/2022 4:26:26 PM
Modified: 9/30/2022 4:22:13 PM

ATHOL — On July 1, Matt Ehrenworth officially took the reins of the Athol Royalston Regional School District as its new superintendent. He and the rest of the district staff naturally spent the summer preparing for the 2022-23 school year.

Ehrenworth recently sat down with the Athol Daily News to reflect on how things look in the district after the first full month of classes under his supervision.

“So, I can say I think things have gone well for the opening of school,” he said. “All of the building principals and their staff were prepared. They were ready and welcoming for all of the kids when they returned, and there was a huge focus on students’ belonging in the community. I think even through the first few days of school, classes were really emphasizing that and trying to establish community in the classrooms and just build on that.”

Asked if he had been faced with any unforeseen circumstances, Ehrenworth said, “There’s nothing that has surprised me. There are always little things that pop up with the beginning of school, whether it’s switching a bus route slightly, or having to address something in the schedule.

“One of the things that has not become a tremendous issue is absences. We still are dealing with COVID, whether people realize it or not, we have times where teachers get it. We’re in a district that is hard enough to staff and to keep substitutes coming in, so when these types — now it’s an endemic — when these types of things go through the school, it can create problems for the coverage.”

Ehrenworth said while the district had seen a “bit of a spike” during the week of Sept. 19, a week later there were fewer than a dozen students and staff who were recovering from the virus.

“It was pretty significantly decreased,” he said, “but there were a couple of days when we had a few teachers out from each of the buildings, and that just makes staffing hard.”

The new superintendent said that he did have a few parents reach out to him over the summer to discuss a variety of issues, but added he plans on instituting a program to encourage more input from parents and guardians.

Survey

“I actually am in the process of putting together a survey,” he said. “My entry plan did outline some of the questions I want to ask to the community. So, I’m putting together a survey first that will go out to all of the parents, and there might be separate surveys — one for parents, one for students and other community members. Then, shortly after I put out the survey, I’m going to start having listening sessions at each of the buildings so that I can be sure parents have access to me.

“I’m also going to try to make sure that I target specific audiences and see if I can get people to come, whether it’s our BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) population, or LGBTQ, I want to get an understanding of how all of our children or students feel in our district — whether or not they feel they belong. Every kid who comes through our doors should feel like this is their home, that this is their school system.”

To that end, said Ehrenworth, he was encouraged to see increased student participation at a recent meeting of the district’s Equity Team.

“There were a lot of really great ideas for trying to incorporate the student voice and student’s thoughts into the teaching and learning aspect of the school, not just the behavioral or the cultural,” he explained. “Why is it that the student voice isn’t reflected in the curriculum, or in how we’re teaching or the kinds of activities that we’re using? That was one of the topics we talked about with the Equity Team.”

Staffing, Ehrenworth pointed out, is one issue that the ARRSD, along with many other school districts, is working hard to address.

“I can say right now we are fully staffed,” he said. “Staffing was a challenge, even throughout the summer. Every district across the state is running into these problems. I know there’s definitely an emphasis here because we’re relatively geographically isolated, and the draw from surrounding communities isn’t — there’s not quite a tremendous pull bringing people in here. But it’s not just us. We might have it a little worse, but there’s a shortage all across the state.

“I just had a meeting with UMass/Amherst and their education department. Cindy (Kenned), our new assistant superintendent, and myself were talking about what are the opportunities that we can provide to student teachers to try to get them to come and serve in our district, and get them to want to stay? We were talking about certain incentives that could align with the education program that UMass/Amherst has that might be enticing for people to come here.”

Before coming to Athol, Ehrenworth served as assistant superintendent for the Blackstone-Millville Regional School District. Despite the daunting issues he must now deal with, he says he’s glad he’s made the jump to his first tenure as superintendent.

“I’m very glad I made the decision to come here,” he said. “Cindy Kennedy — Doctor Cindy Kennedy — she was just appointed as the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, and she’s been a tremendous partner in this work from the beginning. She’s been a tremendous asset.

“I’m very happy that I made the change. I absolutely love it here in Athol-Royalston.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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