LENOX -- With the future direction of the local district at stake, school officials have extended by one week the deadline for parents, students and all taxpayers to complete an online survey so their views can count.

Parents as well as the students from Pittsfield, Richmond, Lee and other towns who attend Lenox public schools under choice programs are also encouraged to take part.

So far, according to schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II, about 700 surveys designed by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group overseeing the town's strategic study have been received since the questionnaire went online Oct. 1.

The new deadline is Friday.

The survey seeks input regarding key issues being explored in the study, which include the future of the school choice program as well as potential collaboration or even some form of regionalization with a neighboring school district.

Enrollment has been declining in most public school districts countywide, as well as throughout the state and the rest of New England, reflecting decreasing population. In Lenox, 29 percent of the 753 students are from out of town.

Local leaders have pointed out that wide participation is vital since about 60 percent of real estate taxes paid by all property owners fund the schools, whether or not they now have or have ever had youngsters enrolled.

The surveys are at lenoxps.org/strategicplan. Printed versions are available at Town Hall, the Lenox Community Center, the town library and at the two school buildings.

The surveys received so far are from residents, students, parents, business owners and school staff.

During October, consultants held 13 focus groups with at least 205 participants. An Oct. 8 public forum attracted 70 townspeople, and on Oct. 11, a full day was dedicated to meetings with teachers and other school staffers.

The consultants will return to Lenox on Nov. 18 and 19 to finish gathering information before briefing the district's Strategic Planning Subcommittee and the public on the results.

Despite the deadline extension and a townwide robocall on Thursday evening, Costa said that "we have been really pleased with the overall participation of the Lenox community in this process so far."

All focus groups were filled, he stated, "and we even were able to add extra sections. Input from citizens who attended the community forum was outstanding. And of course, our teachers were highly engaged."

"Now we want to seize this last opportunity to make one final push to get citizens to go online and take our survey," he said. "In addition to multiple choice questions, the survey offers several places for open-ended responses."

The plan for the remaining four months of the study include public meetings of the Strategic Planning Subcommittee at Town Hall, working with the Public Consulting Group to narrow priorities and set goals, Costa said.

"Incorporating the community input, the team will analyze the current position of our schools, including their strengths, opportunities and challenges," he said.

The outcome will be a written plan early next year setting out recommendations, goals and a series of actions for the next three to five years.

After the subcommittee's work is completed in March, the report will be unveiled to the community in a public meeting and recommendations will be relayed to the Lenox School Committee for discussion and decisions.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto