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A pre-school peek

Date: 8/23/2010

East Longmeadow,Hampden-Wilbraham and Longmeadow superintendents share facts, changes and visions for new year

Aug. 23, 2010

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

The nights are getting cooler, the days shorter and the leaves on some of the area's maple trees have already started taking on brilliant hues.

Can the start of the new school year be far behind?

In the towns of East Longmeadow, Hampden, Long-meadow and Wilbraham, the first day of school Sept. 1 for grades one through 12 in all systems will mean new faces in administrative positions for some towns, new procedures for students and parents at some schools, and an ongoing updating of bullying policies in all districts.

Here's what parents and students need to know to start the school year:


This school district begins the 2010-11 school year with a new superintendent at the helm, and new principals at two of its schools.

On July 1, Gordon Smith replaced Interim Superintendents Theresa Oljarz and Elaine Santaniello as head of the school system.

Assistant Principal Michael Knybel will replace Principal Richard Freccero, who retired at the end of the 2010 school year, at East Longmeadow High School and Santaniello will leave her primary position, that of director of curriculum in the superintendent's office, to take over the role of principal at Mountain View School.

Smith told Reminder Publications he's looking forward to learning more about the town and its students as the school year begins.

"I'm eager to really begin learning what the values, beliefs and interests of the East Longmeadow Public Schools and the community at large," he said. "I've already begun meeting [with parents and staff] and doing a lot of listening."

He said he's asking three questions at these meetings: "What are [the school system's] strengths as they see them, what are the challenges and what should be maintained at all costs."

"Those types of things, that's really the heart of a community -- their core values - and that should be reflected in the school system," he said. "My job is to get an idea of what the core values of the community are and how those, then in a way, define the school system [and how the system] develops students to go out and become productive community members."

One of his first acts as superintendent has been to oversee the revisions of the district's bullying policies to bring them in line with the new state statues.

"We certainly, as all school districts are doing, are looking at our bullying policy and there will be an addendum to our code of conduct in the early fall," Smith said.

He and the administrators of the town's five schools also began examining the district's curriculum in late July.

He said the group is taking "a look at the curriculum as a whole and identifying where our strengths are and where there are challenges [in order to] put together plans to address those challenges."

As a part of this curriculum evaluation, the district is preparing to hire a new director of curriculum to replace Santaniello.

"The posting just finished and we have quite a few applicants," Smith said, adding that interviews were expected to take place the week of Aug. 23.

Smith said the district's school transportation task force was also due to meet shortly.

"They will be looking at our entire transportation system and ultimately coming out with recommendations for the School Committee," Smith said.

One immediate change to this year's bus procedures will be the use of video cameras on all bus routes, as approved by the School committee at its June 21 meeting.

"The purpose, first and foremost, is around safety certainly," Smith said, "When you have something such as a video camera it can aid a disciplinary process, but ... it is for safety [of the students and drivers]."

For detailed information on school start times and freshmen orientation at East Longmeadow High School, see the Back to School pages of this issue.


Wilbraham starts the year with a reorganization of its elementary schools, and changes to the schedule at Minnechaug Regional High School to facilitate a smoother dismissal.

"We will start the high school five minutes earlier than in recent years," Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea said. "Our new hours for start time moves from 7:40 a.m. to 7:35 a.m., and dismissal from 2:10 p.m. to 2:05 p.m."

O'Shea said this slight time shift "is to release the buses [at the high school] at an earlier time so those same buses can make their runs to the middle school and elementary schools." The change will also "give the bus drivers a little breathing room on the roads and the [high school] students a little more time to get to the buses at dismissal," he added.

Another change at the high school will be the loss of some athletic fields as construction begins on the new Minnechaug.

"The high school will lose its track and field and many of its sub-varsity fields on the left side of the school," O'Shea said. "But outdoor track is a spring sport and we won't immediately have to deal with that. We will lose our practice football field and some of our practice soccer fields, but we've made arrangements with the town and with Wilbraham & Monson Academy to use their fields and we appreciate the cooperation we've gotten from our neighbors in that sense."

Construction of the new school, O'Shea said, should not otherwise impact the school. "Deliveries to the high school will be made between the hours of 8:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. so that, in that sense, [they] will not interrupt or coincide with regular commuting hours," he said.

The most significant change to the Wilbraham schools is the restructuring of the elementary grades following the closure of Memorial School.

"We've combined all of our second and third grades in one building and fourth and fifth grades in one building and moved the sixth grade to the middle school," O'Shea said.

To accommodate this reorganization, O'Shea said modifications are underway at two schools.

"At Soule Road we're adding a separate driveway for parents who are dropping off and picking up," he said, adding separating bus and vehicular traffic in this way will be will be "safer for everyone."

There will also be modifications to the driveway and sidewalks at Stony Hill School.

As a part of the realigning of grades and buildings, O'Shea said the district has also worked to better coordinate curriculum among all the elementary schools.

"The curriculum meetings have included Hampden teachers as well," he said. "[In Wilbraham] we have over 90 teachers who will be teaching in different classrooms than they did last year."

O'Shea praised the hard work of staff and administrators during the summer months to pack, move and unpack materials in preparation for the reorganized school model.

"It's been an incredible effort by the maintenance department and our teaching staff; [they] have spent countless house of their summer setting up their classrooms. I definitely appreciate everything they've done getting their classrooms [ready]," he said.

The district has also worked over the summer to revise its bullying policy.

"We revised [it] to bring it in line with the new state law and we will be providing some new and additional training for teachers for the new expectations around anti-bullying measures," O'Shea said, adding that, as with most districts, the policy will be "a work in progress" as "the state is still issuing its guidelines."

He said parents will be able to access the new policy in two places "one will be in the K to 12 student handbook students will be getting at the beginning of the school year.

The policy will also be found in our district policy manual," available on the district Web site.

O'Shea said he hoped that the final revisions to the district's bullying policy would be completed by "early September"

"It was undergoing a complete revision, that was ongoing for about a year," he said. At press time the School Committee had not approved the final draft of the new bullying policy.


The Longmeadow Public School system is also starting the year with a new superintendent at the helm.

On July 1 Mary Doyle replaced E Jahn Hart, who retired at the end of the 2010 spring semester.

Formerly the superintendent in Carlisle. Mass., and before that, a principal in Newton, Doyle said this was her fist time in Western Massachusetts.

"I'm delighted to be here," she said. "The people have been very warm and receptive and I'm fortunate to be a part of such an outstanding school district."

She said in addition to herself, the district has added several new teachers for the upcoming school year.

"The principals have done an outstanding job in finding qualified, fabulous staff for all six schools," she said,

In addition to hiring new staff, she said the principals of the district's six schools have been working on "several initiatives to address bullying in their schools."

She cited the assemblies that will take place on opening day in the schools as an example of these initiatives.

"Principals will talk about respectful behavior and caring for one another and making our schools caring places," Doyle said. "They will also address the students about the consequences of bullying."

These procedures will all be in advance of the release of the district's updated bullying policy, which she expects will be "completed by December."

"We have to have a [finalized] policy by December," Doyle said. "But the superintendents [of many schools] have asked the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to send out a draft [of their policy] so that all school systems are following a similar model."

She said the district's administrative team met earlier the week of Aug. 16 to continue making updates to the current bullying policy.

Another change Doyle wanted parents to be aware of for the coming school year is the introduction of late start days in both the elementary and high school.

She said the high school would have three late start days, and the elementary four late start days during the 2010-2011 school year.

"We're gong to have late start days so that teachers can work on professional learning communities," Doyle said.

Doyle defined professional learning communities as a place "were teachers at a grade level work together on building continuity in their curriculum and grade-wide assessments tools to monitor student learning."

To accommodate parents, Doyle said the elementary and middle schools would offer care within their buildings on late start days.

"The principals are going to arrange for coverage," she said. "They're going to use the computer room, they're going to use the gym and have arts and crafts available. Students may also work on academics."

She said the cost for parents wishing to place their children in this late-start care would be $10 per child per day.

Doyle is also looking forward sharing her vision of "including global education" with students and parents in Longmeadow.

"I want to work on a curriculum that prepares students for 21st century skills. That would include students who are bilingual, technologically savvy, have excellent communication skills and are strong in the STEM areas," she said.

The acronym STEM, Doyle explained, stands for proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math.

"We absolutely are part of a global community and we want our students prepared to work [in] and understand their role in this global community," she said.

In September and October, Doyle said she's planning to visit each school and host "staff and parent coffees."

"I look forward to meeting members of the Longmeadow community," she said.