LEE -- Should Lee Public Schools merge with another district -- possibly Lenox Public Schools -- Lee students will likely be prepared for regionalization.
That’s the impression several Lee Middle and High School students gave during the second of three public input sessions on the status and future after school programs and activities in the school district. The final gathering scheduled for March 25 will focus on academics. In January, two meetings were held to discuss school spending and the administrative structure of the K-12 school system.
The focus groups are the next phase of the school districts ongoing self-evaluation that could determine its future financial, academic and governance structure. The committee hopes to complete its study by June.
While the Lee School Committee is exploring options that include collaboration or regionalization with neighboring school districts, none has emerged yet as a clear-cut favorite of taxpayers, parents, students and other stakeholders in the local K-12 school system.
However, through cooperative sports teams, drama and other extra curricular activities, Lee and Lenox aren’t the bitter rivals they once were, breaking down competitive barriers established long ago.
For Lee High senior Julie LePrevost, she has had no problem competing for another school. Two years ago, she joined the Lenox Memorial Middle and High School alpine ski team, as Lee doesn’t have one, thanks to the cooperative arrangement allowed by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
"Getting the experience on the ski team was great," she said. "I would rather have a co-op to keep the sport going than get rid of it."
Lee and Lenox are also among the several Western Massachusetts high schools that participate in the Fall Festival of Shakespeare which culminates with each production being staged over a four-day period in November at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox.
"We go and see the other schools’ performances and support each other," said senior Megan Martin, a four year veteran of Lee High drama.
Long-time Lee resident Ed Lahey was more direct saying it’s time Lee and Lenox unite claiming there is much less animosity between the school districts, especially even when they go head-to-head on the tennis courts.
"When we play Lenox, it’s like ‘Old Home Week,’" he noted. "The competition is fierce, but the friendships are fierce."
While Lee and Lenox school officials informally discussed ways they could work together last spring, both are conducting separate self-evaluations to address their common problem of rising school budgets and declining enrollments.
In Lee, collaboration through shared services, administrators and programs seemed to appeal to many townspeople, increasingly popular with school districts across the state, according to Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. MASC is assisting Lee with its self-assessment.
An online survey conducted late last fall by the Lee School Committee found about two-thirds of 162 people felt strongly about collaborating or sharing services with one or more neighboring schools district; nearly half favored Lee becoming part of a regional school district.
Overall, 230 people took the survey, but dozens didn’t answer all 13 questions.
In September, the seven member school board unanimously agreed to explore the options and benefits of sharing services with an area school system. The collaboration could range from a mutual agreement over a shared administrator or program to regionalization, possibly with Lenox.