Seventeen determined souls are stepping into their new roles of either superintendent or principal of a Berkshire County public school this year, looking to lead staff and students forward in the field of 21st-century education.
While administrative turnover has been common in recent years — both in the region and across the state — what stands out on this 2018-19 slate is that the majority of these new school leaders have climbed up the ranks through either their home school systems or neighboring districts. Only five of the 17 new leaders come from outside of the Berkshires.
Veteran local administrators offer various reasons for this trend.
Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said most folks aren't in it for the money. He told The Eagle that salaries for a commensurate position, even in the neighboring Pioneer Valley, are an average of $10,000 to $20,000 more than what one can earn in the Berkshires, "with an increasing pay scale as you move east."
The incentive to live and work in the area, McCandless said, is the connection a person has. "You have to find somebody that loves and wants to be in the Berkshires," he said.
In addition to 65 new teachers this school year, Pittsfield has four principals who are new to their roles, as well as several other new administrators and program leaders.
"When you hire an administrator, ideally you want them to be there for a couple of years. Our colleagues have found, as we have found, the talent we have right here: people who want to serve the community and want to serve these children and families," McCandless said.
Central Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Laurie Casna said that while some aspiring school leaders in the county leave the area to try something in more urban setting, others are motivated to stay in the county and seek other local opportunities. She said the area's superintendents, who meet on a regular basis, are aware of this trend and try to be accommodating.
She said no school system "wants to be left in the lurch" when a principal or superintendent leaves, but if a candidate is up front about their interests in taking on an advanced or different kind of role in another local district that isn't offered in the home district, "most of us as superintendents are supportive."
Central Berkshire has two internal candidates who are new to their principal roles this year: Annie Pecor moves from assistant principal to principal at Craneville Elementary School, while Deborah White has gone from being principal at Craneville to principal at Nessacus Regional Middle School. The Nessacus principal left for a role at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington.
"I think it's a good thing when you can give people professional growth," Casna said.
The ultimate hope among these employers is that by encouraging and promoting school leaders locally, their experience and institutional knowledge of Berkshire County and its public schools will stick around for awhile.
Other new roles
Among others expanding their administrative track is John Vosburgh, who on July 1 stepped into his new role of superintendent of Adams-Cheshire Regional School District from the role of principal at Taconic High School. A graduate of Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, he's a resident of the town of Washington. He said that while the length of his commute is about the same, the responsibilities and daily duties of his superintendency have brought him to a different ballgame.
"It's different in many ways," Vosburgh said. "My role and my perspective of things has changed. In my principal role there was a lot of micromanaging. Here I've more been watching and evaluating."
He entered his new role knowing that the Adams-Cheshire district had recently experienced some major shifts in recent years, from revolving changes in administrators to the closing of Cheshire Elementary School.
Vosburgh said his primary focus is "really trying to get the lay of the land, evaluating where the district is at and where each individual school is at, while trying to learn about the community and how the schools operate. What occurs in one district or one school cannot be duplicated."
Vosburgh isn't the only new school leader in the district this year.
"Since I've been here, I've hired a special education director and a high school principal in the first four weeks," he said.
At Hoosac Valley High School, Colleen Byrd, a former English teacher and dean of students there, has been promoted to principal. Carla Chioda, who recently served as special education coordinator for Leominster Public Schools, is the new Adams-Cheshire special education director.
Said Vosburgh, "One of the things I've discovered with the closing of Cheshire Elementary and moving folks all over the place is that it has caused a lot of anxiety and unrest. So we're trying to provide some consistency and stability so folks can really be focusing on their students."
Superintendent Peter Dillon, who heads both Berkshire Hills Regional School District and Shaker Mountain School Union 70, said some of his school leaders have also also been a part of this Berkshire shuffle. Tim Lee, previously a superintendent and an elementary school principal in Lenox Public Schools, has moved this year into the role of principal at Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington. Sean Flynn, a Monument Mountain Regional High School guidance counselor, has been promoted to the newly created role of coordinator for career/vocational technical education and internships. Monument's new assistant principal hire is Peter Falkowski, former principal of Nessacus Regional Middle School in Dalton and former vice principal of Taconic High School.
In contrast, Douglas Wine, the newly tapped principal of Monument Mountain, brings his experience all the way from Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Dallas, Texas.
Dillon said whether they're internal candidates or external hires, the leadership roles and administrators each face their own sets of learning curves, be it an adjustment to school climate or curricula.
What remains consistent across roles and districts is that "the job of an administrator is increasingly more challenging," said Dillon. He attributes this to a list of everything from new stakes in state curriculum and testing standards, to the demands of shifting demographics and diminished school enrollment figures in the Berkshires.
"What we all have to do now is build deeper benches of school leaders," Dillon said.