Lenox panel approves goals designed to enhance school culture, denounce bullying

The main entryway at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School boasts a large banner proclaiming it a "Judgement Free Zone" as part of an effort to discourage bullying.

LENOX - The School Department's Strategic Study Committee has approved goals for enhancing school culture at the elementary and at the middle and high school.

The committee also voted during its last meeting to adopt recommendations from study groups that focused on district leadership and staff professionalism.

Among the key school culture targets is a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Interim Superintendent Timothy Lee pointed out that the district gets two reports a year, on average, involving such incidents.

"It's important to encourage those types of reports being done," said committee member Thomas Romeo. "If the bullying actually occurs, then we should be encouraging people to do the forms. It has to be meaningful, people have to feel comfortable doing them."

Typically, parents submit the reports at Morris Elementary, while students fill them out at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

Other goals include improved attendance, a 100 percent graduation rate, a decline in the number of students choosing to attend other schools, and overall improvement in academic achievement. Lee suggested that measurements reflecting school-culture targets would be presented in each school's annual improvement plans.

Discussions on improving school culture focused on "what's going to build pride in the schools and have the students in a motivated, ready place feeling good about themselves being there every day," he explained.

According to the document, "Staff and students will hold each other accountable for maintaining a positive learning environment. Students, staff and families will communicate effectively and respectfully."

The strategic plan also calls for students, staff and families to "value, respect and appreciate all community members." All students would be given "multiple opportunities to provide service to schools and community."

Action steps include explicit instruction for students about positive language, staff training in language and consistent measures, and use of parent advisory groups to bolster a positive learning environment. Staff workshops to develop "cultural norms" are recommended, as well as support for all students to participate in curricular and extra-curricular activities.

On school district leadership, committee member Deborah Kain cited "a culture of open communication and comprehensive access" as a top priority to encourage teamwork and shared information.

The plan calls for leaders to be "respectful in word, tone and behavior in fostering open, two-way dialogue" and to convey "consistent messages of respect and empathy, both in verbal and nonverbal communication." In addition, the district leadership would "willingly accept constructive analysis and criticism" and "strive not to show favoritism."

Proposed action steps include increasing diversity through minority hiring over the next five years. The goal seeks a demonstration of "active pursuit of minority staff annually through records of postings and advertisements, proven through hiring results."

The study group on professionalism listed major goals such as public acknowledgement of accomplishments by faculty and staff, a culture that attracts and retains the best teachers and staff, and financial support for professional development, including reimbursements for the faculty.

Professional development points are necessary for teacher evaluations, license renewals and for recertification.

"Quality, relevance and connection to teachers' needs are what really matters," Lee said.

The district will be a professional learning community with shared leadership and consistent emphasis on "shared ownership" for the schools' mission and for student success, the document stated. "Professional excellence includes the ability to evoke a cooperative spirit among faculty and staff," the study group wrote.

Following a review by the district's consultant, Steve Kutno of PCG Education, the full School Committee is expected to discuss and vote on the overall strategic plan next month.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.