Richmond Consolidated School principal departing before year's end

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RICHMOND — After nearly seven years as principal of Richmond Consolidated School, Monica Zanin is departing Dec. 18 to take up a new post as principal of Morningside Community School in Pittsfield.

Zanin, who is credited with helping boost residential enrollment to more than 50 percent and averting a possible shutdown of the K-8 Richmond school, announced her resignation Friday afternoon.

"It is bittersweet," Zanin said of her upcoming departure, "but I'm excited about this next chapter and thrilled that it's at Morningside. I couldn't have picked a better school system."

Zanin takes the principal position at Morningside as its former leader, Jennifer Stokes, moves into the special education director's role for the Pittsfield district. The former special education director, Gretchen West, took a job with Central Berkshire Regional School District. Stokes and West both started their new jobs on Monday.

Zanin's current contract at Richmond was set to expire this coming June. She applied for the Morningside position after it was posted on Nov. 20 and accepted the offer last Friday.

Earlier that day, she notified School Committee Chairman Dewey Wyatt and Peter Dillon, superintendent of the Shaker Mountain School Union 70, which includes Richmond.

"Peter was very supportive of my moving on and looking at my future," Zanin said.

Dillon credited Zanin for "doing a lot to set the school up for success, and building it to a position of strength. The school is very well liked and appreciated, and a lot of that is due to Monica's leadership."

"It was a team effort, the community and the staff, the families, you can't run a successful school without all of the stakeholders," Zanin said. "I feel we've made wonderful progress, and one of the most important was raising the resident enrollment to keep the school open."

Dillon has posted the job opening for principal and plans to form a 24-member search committee of faculty, staff, parents, other community members and several eighth-graders. The committee will split into three groups as they evaluate applicants.

"We'll see if we can find someone as interim principal," Dillon said. "If the candidate is strong and is making progress, it could become a permanent position."

He also advised the school community that "we will likely do two processes — one for a interim principal for the rest of the year and one for a longer principal."

Dillon also distributed a survey to the community for guidance on the qualities preferred for the next principal and soliciting applicants for the search committee.

Acknowledging that the pool of potential principals may be somewhat shallow in December, he commented that "someone in a district office role could leave mid-year." He has encouraged three Richmond school staffers with administrative licenses to apply.

"We'll weather this well," Dillon said, citing the "extraordinarily strong faculty and staff at the Richmond school, and a thoughtful School Committee."

Zanin recalled that when she began her tenure in Richmond, Matthew Kerwood, the town administrator at the time, cautioned that the school was in danger of closing. "I was not going to let that happen and I did everything in my power to keep the school open, working with the long-range planning committee," Zanin said.

Current enrollment, pre-K through Grade 8, is 179 students, including 54 percent who are Richmond residents, up from 40 percent in 2014.

Richmond School Committee Chairman Dewey Wyatt said that although the timing of Zanin's resignation "is not ideal, you always want to work with somebody if that's what they desire, to make it work for them and for us."

"A new job is a good challenge, professionally invigorating," he added. "She has tremendous energy and passion. We've enjoyed that. and so will her future employer."

Wyatt also cited Zanin for a "very nice run in Richmond. She played a really strong role, conveying the positive aspects of the school and being a good ambassador for young families looking to settle in town."

"I think the work we did here was exceptional, raising student achievement working as a phenomenal team for so many years," Zanin said. "I will miss the students tremendously and I've learned a great deal from the staff here. I was just looking at my next step and I'm ready to move on."

As part of her doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Zanin said she was working with students from different demographics.

"I'd like to transfer that work to a more diverse community," Zanin said. "I look at my future and this is just the next chapter in my journey, with an amazing dynamic team at Morningside. It's really impressive what the leadership team of educators has done with that school." Morningside's enrollment is 387 students, pre-K through Grade 5.

She had worked at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield for 13 years before her post in Richmond. Her roles at Reid included stints as a teacher, guidance counselor and finally as team leader and head of curriculum, instruction and guidance.

At Richmond, in addition to academic achievement, social and emotional growth has been a key priority, Zanin said. "We've seen growth in all areas, so the public heard about that. There's always work ahead of you, but we've built a solid foundation."

She also asserted that social emotional learning "should be the foundation of any school system and should be a first priority in administrative planning — the psychological and physical safety of our students is imperative for learning."

Eagle staff writer Amanda Drane contributed to this report.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter@BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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