Hancock Elementary welcomes small-town leader with big education background

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HANCOCK — When Hancock Elementary School students arrive Wednesday for the start of an in-person school year, there will be a new superintendent there to greet them.

Rebecca Phillips, 55, of Barre, began her new part-time role on July 1, but has been working vigorously with Principal John "Jay" Merselis III to ensure proper safety protocols are in place.

"Rebecca comes to us with a great background in special education and leadership. We were impressed by her leadership skills, her ability to listen well, and her capacity to build relationships," said Hancock School Committee Chairman Alex Kastrinakis, who said she was one of four candidates considered. He declined an initial request to disclose Phillips' salary.

Hancock Elementary is part of Shaker Mountain School Union 70, which includes the towns and school districts of Hancock, New Ashford (non-operational) and Richmond.

For the past four years the union has contracted with Peter Dillon — who is also the superintendent of Great Barrington's Berkshire Hills Regional School District — as its shared-services superintendent. The role had Dillon stretching across vast and dynamic territories, which has included ongoing talks about the feasibility of merger between Berkshire Hills and Richmond Consolidated School.

The time had come for him to scale back.

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So when Jenevra Strock, who served as the district's part-time special education director, announced in the spring that she would retire at the end of June, an opportunity arose.

Going it alone, Hancock and New Ashford did a search for a new superintendent and special education director, and ultimately hired Phillips, who's agreed to split her time between the two roles on a part-time basis.

Phillips previously served as principal for Petersham Center School, and recently retired as director of special services for the Ralph C. Mahar Regional, Orange and Petersham school districts, when she came across the Hancock opening.

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During a recent interview at a picnic table outside of the school, Phillips said she enjoys working in smaller, rural districts.

"Hancock [Elementary] is really the community's center," she said. "When I first came to the area it just felt good."

Dillon, who is poised to extend his shared post with Richmond and Berkshire Hills for another year, said he's parted ways with Hancock on amicable terms.

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"I think that's really exciting for them," he said of Hancock's good fortune in landing someone qualified to fulfill both administrative roles.

"I really like her," he said of Phillips. "She's great and thoughtful."

She also wastes no time rolling up her sleeves and getting to work.

Since coming on board in July, Phillips helped draft Hancock's reopening plan and hired a new school nurse, in addition holding parent town halls and helping her colleagues organize UPS deliveries of personal protective equipment and school supplies.

Kastrinakis said Phillips will continue to support the School Committee, policy, budget, special education, instructional leadership, and supervising the principal, while Merselis will focus on supporting curriculum, teachers and students and communicating with families.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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