Lee panel screens Berkshire Hills, Lenox school superintendents


LEE — Two local school superintendents said they likely would overhaul their work schedule if they take on the added leadership of the Lee Public Schools.

Lenox Public Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee and his counterpart Peter Dillon at Berkshire Hills Regional School District expect to delegate more in their home district should either be chosen for the Lee position.

"I would need a predictable schedule when serving Lee and when serving Lenox," said the Lenox school chief.

"I could coast a little bit in Berkshire Hills and take time to build a relationship in Lee," Dillon said. "I'm not going to try and do two full-time jobs in 60 hours."

The pair of superintendents on Tuesday answered questions posed by the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 committee charged with hiring the Lee K-12 district's top educator. The separate 90-minute public interviews conducted at Lee Middle and High School were to determine if the six-member panel — three school board members from each town — should ask either candidate back for a second question-and-answer session that would include questions from the audience.

Union 29 Committee Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth said the group would make that decision soon at a yet-to-be scheduled open meeting. Committee members include Lee's two building principals, special education director and teachers union president.

Since July 2013, Lee schools have operated under interim Superintendent Al Skrocki, who came out of retirement to succeed Jason "Jake" McCandless. McCandless left Lee to take the reins of the Pittsfield Public Schools.

Union 29 held off searching for a permanent superintendent in order to do a self-assessment regarding the future administrative, financial and educational direction of the district. Last fall, the union committee decided to advertise for a shared superintendent, prompting Dillon and Lee to apply for the position with the blessing and cautious optimism of their respective school boards.

Superintendent Lee has led the Lenox district since last February; Dillon has for the past seven years been at the helm of Berkshire Hills, representing Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. They were the only candidates to answer the call from the union committee for a shared superintendent.

Lee is entering somewhat uncharted territory as only two other K-12 school districts have ever shared a superintendent, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

During Tuesday's interviews, committee members covered topics including how they craft an annual school budget, the role technology should play in the classroom, the importance of curriculum development and their first impressions of the Lee district.

Lee believes in building a preliminary budget by understanding the needs and concerns in each of his town's two schools: Morris Elementary and the Grades 7-12 middle/high school.

"Every year feels like a new game with new priorities that need to be addressed," he said.

With many local school districts facing declining enrollment amidst rising education costs, taxpayers want and expect spending reductions to match small student populations, according to Dillon.

"If enrollment is going down, do we need to make parallel adjustments," he said. "Every time there is a retirement ... is this position critical [to keep.]"

In the area of curriculum development, both Lee and Dillon called for an assessment of what a district has and mapping out how English, math and other subjects are taught throughout the district.

"You need to have a vision of curriculum that is true to the education of children," Dillon said.

The superintendents also called for preparing high schoolers for either college or a trade, recognizing students need options after graduation. The options could be arranging internships or relationships with area employers or more school-based vocation courses.

"I almost would like to see development of a course at the middle and high school to expose students to trades — make it almost a required course," Lee said.

As for technology in the classroom, Dillon and Lee prefer it be de-emphasized in the younger grades, with the focus on face-to-face student-teacher interaction.

"Kids are confronted with enough screen time outside of school and we don't need to compound it," Dillon said.

They suggested gradually increasing the use of personal or school-supplied devices to enhance learning as students move up grade levels, especially in high school.

Lee school officials told both superintendent candidates the district has overhauled its technology moving toward the use of Google apps and, this week, looked to bring on a new wireless Internet service.

Dillon praised Lee for investing in technology and in recent years increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, challenging high school students to take higher-level courses in math, English and the sciences.

Lee has been most impressed by the culture in the Lee schools, especially the middle and high school, where he found the students were composed and the building immaculately kept.

"It's a place I feel a palpable sense of pride," he said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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