Shaker Mountain schools chief takes leave; retired local administrator fills in

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RICHMOND >> A well-known former school administrator in the Pittsfield and Central Berkshire school districts is taking charge of the Richmond Consolidated School and Hancock Central School while Superintendent Barbara Ripa takes a three-month leave, beginning immediately, to take care of a family medical crisis.

William J. Cameron, Jr., 68, who retired in June 2014 as superintendent of the Dalton-based Central Berkshire School District after a three-year term, began his tenure on Friday as interim superintendent for the Shaker Mountain School Union, which includes Richmond, Hancock and New Ashford. The announcement was made by School Committee Chairman Jim Biancolo.

The part-time position includes two days a week in Richmond and one day in Hancock.

"He and Barbara knew each other professionally and she recommended him to us," Biancolo told the Eagle. "She brought him to meet with the Shaker Mountain School Union Committee." The nine-member group includes three from each town's school committee.

"We met with him twice, thought he was great and hired him," Biancolo said. "We're lucky to have him."

The tri-town school union shares a superintendent, administrative assistant and special education director.

"I have a lot to learn because I've never worked in a school union before," Cameron acknowledged in a phone interview on Friday. He cited differences with the operations of municipal and regional districts where he has worked.

"I'm glad that I was free and able to help out," he said. "I'm honored that the school committee asked me to serve."

Cameron said his mandate does not include "making major transformations or reorganizations." During his tenure through Feb. 5, he will attend to the "important but ordinary things" — development of budgets for the next school year and to the pursuit of the goals set out by Superintendent Ripa and the committee, such as moving forward with teacher evaluations.

A native of Albany, N.Y., who lives in Pittsfield, Cameron served as schools superintendent in Salem from 2007 to 2011.

He was assistant superintendent for personnel and negotiations in the Pittsfield school system from 1997 to 2007 and he has been an adjunct instructor in education at MCLA in North Adams. During a previous stint with the Pittsfield district, he was director of the Title 1 Program from 1978 to 1991.

Cameron is a member of the Berkshire County Education Task Force, which is exploring a wide range of potential shared services and collaborations among area school districts.

In Richmond, enrollment for the pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school spiked by 10 percent this fall compared to last year, said Administrative Assistant Natalie Gingras. "We have 10 new Richmond families in pre-K," she pointed out. "That's a nice increase for the town."

The current enrollment reported to the state is 177, compared to 161 in the 2014-15 school year. About half are school choice students, mostly from Pittsfield and West Stockbridge, as well as several who are tuitioned-in from Hancock.

Ripa was named superintendent of the tri-town school union in July 2012. A resident of South Hadley who commutes to the Berkshires, she is the former assistant executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, and had been superintendent in the Hampshire Regional School District.

"Please keep her in your thoughts during this difficult time," Biancolo stated in a message to the school community.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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