Adams-Cheshire schools launch turnaround plan amid enrollment drop

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CHESHIRE — Amid declining enrollment, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is implementing a turnaround plan that it hopes will improve student achievement.

Superintendent Robert Putnam has rolled out a four-pronged plan to increase student performance on standardized tests through "research-based turnaround practices."

"This is the basket into which we're putting our eggs," Putnam said during a School Committee meeting on Monday.

The four pillars of the plan are improving leadership, shared responsibility and professional collaboration; intentional practices for improving instruction; student specific supports and instruction to all students; and school culture and climate, Putnam said.

Each school principal in the district has established benchmarks and will regularly update the School Committee on their school's progress. Putnam said the district must improve student performance to level the student enrollment.

Putnam said Monday that the district has already met benchmarks related to the first turnaround practice by creating "instructional leadership teams" that have received training.

But he also noted that the district has struggled to fully address the second practice — improving instruction — as it has failed to field qualified applicants for a high school intervention teacher or a mathematics intervention teacher, both of which were key components of his fiscal 2018 budget.

The plan was developed with guidance from the District and School Assistance Center through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Bay State Reading Institute, and is announced at a time when the district is under significant scrutiny.

School Committee members expressed a desire Monday to receive frequent updates on the plans.

Vice Chairman Stephen Vigna said he would like have building principals to review the plans once they're refined, then receive updates as milestones are achieved.

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"To make sure that we're on track," Vigna said.

Committee Chairman Paul Butler also requested updates, good or bad.

"As much as we all want to hear good news, I think if there's things that aren't working we really need to hear that sooner than later," Butler said.

All eyes were on the district's enrollment following the closure of Cheshire Elementary School earlier this year, and promises from parents that they would utilize school choice to send their children out of the district.

As of Oct. 1, parents of 30 students from Cheshire opted to send their children to other districts.

Overall, the district's enrollment declined from 1,318 in 2016 to 1,220 in 2017, according to district officials.

"The decline in enrollment is more pronounced than in previous years and is no doubt related to the closure of Cheshire School and the uncertainty in the district future," Putnam said in prepared remarks to the School Committee. "The only response to this is to improve educational outcomes and to introduce new programming so that more families will want to return to ACRSD schools."

Declining enrollment is nothing new for the district.

Committee member Darlene Rodowicz noted that while 80 students graduated from Hoosac Valley last year, only 54 students are enrolled in preschool this year. Kindergarten and first grades have also seen declines for several years.

"That's just the demographics of not only our district, but the whole county," she said.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter


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