School district transition advances in Warwick, founding superintendent appointed

  • Entrance to the former Warwick Community School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2022 1:23:13 PM
Modified: 9/16/2022 1:22:44 PM

WARWICK — With the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee recently taking a first read of a transition agreement and the town of Warwick appointing a founding superintendent, the town’s withdrawal from the Pioneer school district is progressing toward a June 30 departure.

On Sept. 8, the School Committee listened to a presentation from Warwick Transition Subcommittee Chair Michele Giarusso, and also held a preliminary discussion on drafts of the transition and tuition agreements — two of the three documents that need School Committee and state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) approval for Warwick to withdraw from Pioneer and open its own independent elementary school.

“This is an amicable divorce,” Pioneer Superintendent Patricia Kinsella said to laughs. “We were united, we will not be united.”

“There’s a historical connection that the district and town recognize,” said Warwick Selectboard Chair Brian Snell at the meeting. “We’d like to keep that going.”

The withdrawal process began after the Pioneer School Committee voted to recommend the closure of Warwick Community School in January 2020. Then, in July of that year, Warwick residents voted at Town Meeting to begin the withdrawal process from the district and launch their own elementary school district.

If approved, Warwick’s district would educate students in the elementary grades and the town would have a tuition agreement with Pioneer, enabling middle and high school students to attend Pioneer Valley Regional School in neighboring Northfield.

At last week’s meeting, the School Committee, Warwick Transition Working Group member Diana Noble and Snell discussed how enrollment would work for both elementary and high school students.

If a Warwick parent wants their student to attend Bernardston or Northfield elementary school, Noble said it is Pioneer’s decision if School Choice funding would be needed. Kinsella said Warwick’s School Committee would also have to take a vote to participate in the state’s School Choice program.

Middle and high school students, however, will be able to attend Pioneer through the tuition agreement, which is currently set to use the same rate charged for students coming from Vernon, Vermont.

“We want it to be consistent,” Giarusso said. “We just said, ‘We have to charge any tuition student the same.’”

“We wanted something that was fair and already developed, using the state of Vermont for that,” Noble said. “That’s how we got there. It is a three-year agreement, so it will have to be a living document.”

“How education is funded in Vermont is different than Massachusetts. I would just advocate to remove any type of language that identifies another district, another town that we have a tuition agreement with,” said School Committee member Melissa Gerry. “I think we can get to the nature of how we come up with that tuition agreement without saying it’s connected to another district.”

The School Committee and Warwick Transition Working Group will conduct a second review of the two agreements on Oct. 13. They will also undergo a first read of the retiree cost participation agreement.

A vote is expected on the two agreements discussed at last week’s meeting. Once all three documents are approved, Snell said, they will be sent to DESE for feedback and approval. The timeline, he said, is very tight because all documents must be submitted by the end of December.

“Thank you to the committee. We know we’re on a tight timeline,” Snell said. “We appreciate that. It’s hard work, it’s tough, but we’ve got to stick to it.”

Founding superintendent

At Monday’s Warwick Selectboard meeting, the Selectboard voted to offer a superintendent contract to Carole Learned-Miller, who the board hopes will help get the independent school district on its feet during its first few years in operation.

“She’s obviously got good credentials. We’re very happy to have her,” Snell said by phone Tuesday. “Restarting the school is going to be challenging for the first couple of years.”

Learned-Miller currently serves as chief of staff at the New York City Leadership Community and has previous experience with DESE, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, among others.

Goal: 2024

The “broad goals” for the district, as identified in the contract, are to open Warwick’s elementary school for fiscal year 2024, continue to build up educational programs by connecting with families and children, and to develop the 25-acre campus.

As of now, Snell said Warwick officials don’t know the exact number of students that will be attending the elementary school next fall, but they are “planning for small numbers” to start.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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