Lenox panel to hold off on schools study until its ‘finished product'


LENOX -- The Strategic Planning Committee, which is exploring goals and action steps for the future of the town's shrinking school district, remains reluctant to roll out a full report to the public until it deems its work completed.

At a two-hour open meeting on Wednesday night attended by 12 of the 13 committee members, Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II emphasized that the action steps "don't have to be perfect, they will evolve when you have five subcommittees starting to work on five goals."

A major public forum suggested by Costa for June 16 at the middle and high school's 500-seat auditorium failed to win majority support. It would have featured a full-fledged presentation led by Steve Kutno, the school district's hired consultant for the project.

Instead, several members of the strategic study group will provide a progress report to the School Committee at its regular public session at 7 p.m., Monday, June 23, at Town Hall. The contract between the district and Kutno's Public Consulting Group called for a final report by late March.

After spending most of the Wednesday meeting editing a 35-page mission, vision and goals document drafted by Kutno and based on massive community input, study committee members voiced doubt that they were ready to present a report to the public at a large meeting.

"This is not a strategic plan," said Dave Naseman. "This is just a few platitudes, without the real action that's the guts of what the plan really is. We've got these ephemeral strategies, we haven't even fleshed them out yet. I don't think that will sit well, frankly."

"To me, it seems like we're a couple of months away from having a plan, a finished product," committee member Neal Maxymillian said. "If we're going to go up there and talk about the mission statement and the goals, and we don't actually have a plan yet, I think that's dangerous. The community at large will still think they have the opportunity to give us opinions and thoughts on what they think we should do."

"Because of what is facing the community in terms of financial sustainability, all the issues that are out there," said Dave Fisher, a high school social studies teacher, "it would have been imprudent for us to simply throw this in. We don't have confidence that's it's well thought-out, something that will really be a plan we can all live with for the next three to five years.

"Therefore," he continued, "we need the fall. Anything to satisfy some need to have closure at a certain date would be irresponsible."

Costa reminded the group that Kutno, the consultant, "would be the first one to tell you it's not a finished product. Steve has said numerous times that this has taken far longer than what he anticipated. That's OK, it doesn't mean it's better or worse, it just took time. He fully intends to say this is not a done deal, he just wanted to report on what we have."

"The School Committee does not want to have the feeling that we've gotten nowhere," said its chairman, Don W. Fitzgerald. "But I know for a fact that the committee does not want to have a half-assed plan, something that's not owned, that's not quality, not as good as we can make it.

"There's always the tightrope between fast and good," he added. "I believe it should be done as quickly as possible, to do as quality a job as possible, and sometimes a quality job may take more time. I believe right now we don't have a full plan.

"We want to have a quality plan that everyone can buy into, and if it's going to take an extra 10 weeks, so be it."

Costa had urged the group not to go overboard with "word-smithing" fine points in the draft, stating his opinion that "we're going in circles and at some point, we have to stop planning the work, and work the plan. The plan alone isn't going to give us any answers, but we need to finalize it."

"What we've seen in the last two meetings," he stated, "is the word-smithing went around, and around, and around, and then changed again when we got a new draft. So it cycles around, and I'm just trying to get us moving forward tonight so we can start working on a plan."

After a prolonged discussion on various approaches to the "values" section of the document, committee members voted to approve "respect, honesty in our interactions, responsibility and accountability to our community, determination and adaptability" but then designated them as "behavioral expectations" for the school system instead of "values."

The group also approved language recommending a leadership goal to "increase the quality of communication and access to information between and among students, staff, parents and the community."

On goals relating to school culture, committee members voted to add a recommendation to "recognize and celebrate student and staff achievements."

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


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