North Adams, Adams-Cheshire schools to study shared superintendency

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NORTH ADAMS — It never hurts to have more information.

That was the message from the North Adams School Committee, which agreed on Tuesday to forge ahead with a study of the feasibility of sharing a superintendent with the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.

"We have been working, at least in the northeast of the Berkshires, to really [ask] how do we do things differently? How do we collaborate?" said North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

The discussion comes as the neighboring Adams-Cheshire Regional School District continues its search to replace Superintendent Robert Putnam, who is retiring at the end of the school year. The vacancy has prompted discussions between the districts about the potential for sharing the leadership position.

"Demographically, there are definite similarities," Putnam said. "If you look into school profiles, both districts are facing similar challenges."

Mayor Thomas Bernard, who serves as chairman of the city School Committee, stressed on Tuesday that the committee was only "talking about talking," and reinforced that discussions were preliminary.

"We're looking at a situation where statewide there is significant competition for these types of positions and we have the benefit in our district of a strong superintendent who we can work with to look at a relationship that would build on that strength," Bernard said.

If a superintendent was shared, it would not be a merger of districts, he said. The districts' two governance structures would remain intact.

Any agreement would have to be voted on by both school committees in open session.

"It can't hurt to discuss it right?" asked School Committee Member Nicholas Fahey.

In the meantime, the search for a new superintendent in Adams-Cheshire will continue. If a shared superintendency is not approved, the Adams-Cheshire School Committee is scheduled to appoint a new superintendent on April 2.

The idea of sharing comes on the heels of a Berkshire County Education Task Force report, issued last year, that envisioned the creation of a single, unified Berkshire school district over the next decade.

"We have been told over and over again that 10 years is too short a timeline," Malkas said. "This is not going to be something that's going to happen overnight, but it does start somewhere."

The study of potential consolidation will begin under an existing grant — $100,000 from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to North Adams Public Schools, North Berkshire School Union, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Pittsfield Public Schools and Central Berkshire Regional School District — and will be overseen by education consultant District Management Group, which aided the task force in Phase 2 of its work.

"When looking at data regarding population and student enrollment trends throughout Berkshire County over the next decade, the results are not promising," said Adams-Cheshire School Committee Chairman Paul Butler. "Coupled with that is the fact that state aid to education has not kept pace with the rising costs of education and the fact that communities simply do not have the available resources to make up the shortfall."

In Southern Berkshire, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District and Shaker Mountain School Union are in the second year of a two-year shared superintendency, the first of its kind in the Berkshires.

"I think it's an opportunity that we would be remiss not to take," committee member Karen Bond said of the study.

Putnam said leaders of North Adams, Adams-Cheshire, and the North Berkshire districts have worked closely together in the last year to find opportunities for collaboration.

"There's just so many things that we're doing together that would be enhanced by a single superintendent," Putnam said.

Butler said the collaboration has the opportunity to help improve the education of students in both districts.

"I do believe that positive benefits exist for all communities involved here," he said. " As the possibility of a shared superintendent is studied carefully over the next couple of months, more details will emerge."

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376.


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