Lenox school officials weigh sharing superintendent with Berkshire Hills
LENOX -- A delicate courtship to explore a potential shared-services arrangement between two South County school districts is underway.
The possibility of sharing superintendents temporarily between Berkshire Hills Regional School District and the Lenox school district surfaced this week following Edward W. Costa's announced retirement from the top post in Lenox as of June 30.
The idea to save both districts some money and buy time for Lenox as it considers options for Costa's replacement was broached informally by attorney Richard Dohoney, a member of the Berkshire Hills school board.
At Monday night's meeting, Lenox School Committee Chairman Don W. Fitzgerald confirmed the approach from Berkshire Hills as committee members acknowledged Costa's letter of resignation.
"We will accept it, begrudgingly," Fitzgerald said. "But we will accept it. We wish you all the best. ... We were glad to have you."
"The pleasure has been mine," Costa responded. "It's a great staff and absolute super student body. I appreciate everything, and thank you for this opportunity."
During a scheduled meeting on Thursday evening, the Berkshire Hills School Committee will discuss whether to offer the services of its superintendent, Peter Dillon, to Lenox for one year, committee Chairman Stephen Bannon told The Eagle on Tuesday.
"The thought is that it would save both districts money," he explained.
"I'm absolutely, positively inclined," Bannon added. "Lenox is a good school district, they need some help, and sharing services would be wonderful."
"For years, we've been talking about collaboration," Dillon said. "Every so often there's an opportunity, so these are things we should look at carefully."
"There are too many school districts in Berkshire County, and arguably in Massachusetts as a whole," he maintained. "The challenge is that these are two full-time jobs. How does one person do some of each and what does that person give up?"
Dohoney has been spearheading possible collaboration with neighboring districts.
Describing Dillon as "an exceptional superintendent," Dohoney asserted that "he's very much up to the task, very vested in the Berkshires and he knows our districts very well. He would be the guy to do it."
In view of strong leadership at both districts' schools, Dillon said he's "very much open to the possibility. The challenge is in the details, but the chance to be bold is significant and important."
Dillon, in his fifth year as superintendent at Berkshire Hills, said the idea of an interim job-sharing arrangement with Lenox "makes a lot of sense, it's a neat opportunity." If the idea is accepted by both districts, he added, "it's a reasonable load" to handle the work for the five schools in Great Barrington and Lenox.
Fitzgerald, the Lenox school board chairman, outlined the possibility that "their superintendent is our superintendent as a placeholder until we figure out what we want to do."
He also mentioned a potential shared arrangement with Lee, where the school district hired retired school Superintendent Al Skrocki as its part-time leader until a permanent replacement is found for Jason McCandless, who left last summer to become the superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Other possibilities listed by Fitzgerald include hiring a successor to Costa from within, appointing a new leader or forming a search committee.
"All of those things are options we're going to have to look at, because it's going to affect a lot of things," he said, noting the ongoing strategic study on the future of the Lenox district.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said he has been contacted by Dohoney about the shared-services idea. "I'm in favor of the dialogue," said Pignatelli. "It would be a missed opportunity if we don't expand on the discussions that Lee and Lenox have already had."
While maintaining a town's own identity is important to residents, he commented, combining superintendents could work. Pignatelli advocated an even more wide-ranging exploration among the South County districts. "It would be beneficial to all the communities," he asserted, "because that's where the money savings is."
"It's something we have to get advice on for how exactly to go about the business of doing this properly," said Veronica Fenton, vice chairwoman of the Lenox School Committee. "We recognize our obligations for open meetings while at the same time we're dealing with personnel issues, so there's confidentiality that also has to happen. ... We're moving forward with due haste, but also not hastily. We have to do this for the best interests of the district. It's important that we're careful about how we do it."
Lenox School Committee member Michael Moran observed that "we have a viable elementary principal we can evaluate."
Morris Elementary Principal Timothy Lee plans to apply for superintendent.
While Moran urged a close study of the options, "by the same token, having somebody absent at the helm of the ship is not a great thing either, so we're going to do a rigorous process, as quickly as we can."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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