Lenox Public Schools group finding right mix new-age teaching techniques


LENOX - The strategic study on the future of the town's school system now underway will include a focus on digital education as well as consideration of collaboration or regionalization with an adjoining district.

"Instead of content-driven spewing- out in front of the classroom, which is always necessary," said David Naseman, a member of the School Committee's study group, "there are certain kinds of subjects, like math, where you need the teacher up there, while others can be done without that intensity."

"If we're really dealing with the global economy," he stressed, "we need to produce people who are going to be able to compute and to compete. So the library is not a library of books, but of computers. If you want to look at paintings, you have a website that goes directly to the Louvre. That's part of a vision I'd like to see happen."

At the first meeting of the group earlier this past week, study subcommittee member Pam Kueber described herself as "a traditionalist. I just think of reading, writing, arithmetic." She advocated " stunning" education for pre-K through thirdgrade students, "because once you get everybody doing the three R's, it just becomes a virtuous circle. By the time they get to high school, the die is cast."

"Is there a balance between what you've just said, which is very traditional, and the notion of inspirational?" asked Steve Kutno of Public Consulting Group (PCG), which is working with the town on the school district's future vision through a $39,500, seven-month contract. " It's where those two things converge that makes the difference."

" The dexterity these kids have from 3 years old up, they can go anywhere in the world they want to," responded Naseman. "I think the traditional and what I'm talking about are complementary, but there's a difference in emphasis. Some responsibility is now transferred to the student. To some extent, you free up the teachers' time for more important things."

"Lenox and most schools in Massachusetts districts have been late adopters to any kind of digital learning," Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa III observed. "That's not a criticism, it's just a fact. Other states have been pioneers, some out of necessity."

" I love the term ' Lenox Online,' " he added. "There's a next step for us to bring in blended learning, not go whole-hog online but let's not just stay where we've always been." Costa, a self-described technology buff, will serve on the state Department of Education's digital task force.

Committee member Jo Anne Magee questioned whether "some students have the social, family and economic supports at home that will allow them to become fully participating citizens, to mature and blossom."

Costa reported that 15 years ago, the percentage of Lenox students who qualified for free or reduced-price federally subsidized lunches was in the single digits.

"This past year, we reached 18 percent in our elementary school, so there is a huge shift in the economic status of the school population," he said. The change is not a result of incoming school choice students, School Committee Chairman Don Fitzgerald stressed.

By U.S. Census Bureau measures, subcommittee member Robert Vaughan noted, just over 20 percent of the town's population from age 5 to 20 now meet federal poverty guidelines under the federal Title 1 program that provides funding to help educate low-income students.

Study group member Thomas Romeo said that despite the " major flaw of looking at Lenox as an affluent community, we have the same issues as other towns surrounding us. We have people who are just barely making it, and those kids are challenged. How do you make sure those kids get the same opportunities?"

" We're not really ' The Millionaires,' " added Fitzgerald, referring to the local high school teams' nickname.


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