New Mount Greylock Principal Ready for Challenges

By Phyllis McGuireSpecial to iBerkshires
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Mary MacDonald takes over as principal of Mount Greylock Regional High School on July 1.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mary MacDonald is ready to take the helm of Mount Greylock Regional High School.
It will be a sort of homecoming for MacDonald as she taught at the school about a decade ago.

In nearly 20 years as an educator, MacDonald has taught English in schools in New York and Lenox, as well. The Connecticut native has been coordinator of curriculum, instruction and assessment since last August for the Tri-School District, which is composed of Mount Greylock and the elementary schools in Lanesborough and Williamstown.
"I feel fortunate to know Mount Greylock, to know many of my colleagues," MacDonald said in an interview recently. "I know Williamstown and the other communities, and what families want for their children."

MacDonald is the school's third principal in three years. She was named to replace John "Jack" Kurty who submitted his resignation several months ago after less than a year in the post; Kurty had been hired after Timothy Payne resigned in June 2012 to become principal of Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vt.

A desire to work with children influenced MacDonald's decision more than two decades ago to resign from a job in the business sector and become an educator.

After graduating from Boston College, she worked for Putnam Investments in Boston as a product manager for institutional domestic equity vehicles. While working in investment management, MacDonald volunteered with youth literacy programs and as a Big Sister.  

"Volunteerism had always been a family tradition, but I began to wonder what would happen if flipped my priorities and made working with youth my career," McDonald recalled. "I put aside my application for an MBA program and sought a graduate education degree."

MacDonald earned a masters in English education from Columbia Teachers College and then landed a job teaching at a progressive public school in Manhattan.

Several years later, MacDonald moved from New York to Williamstown to be with her husband, a professor of political science at Williams College. "We left (New York) before 9/11," she said, adding that she had resided in close proximity to the Twin Towers.

"In Williamstown, I was fortunate to get a job teaching English at Mount Greylock," said
MacDonald. When the school faced budget shortfalls in 2003, she received a pink slip, but was saved from being dismissed probably because another teacher retired. But the following year, she received another pink slip.

"I was frustrated. I had been teaching a long time," said MacDonald.

She found a job at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, and taught there for approximately seven years.

Then she assumed the newly created position of coordinator of curriculum in the tri-district, which shares administrators and a business manager.

"Much of my job as tri-district coordinator is to bridge learning between the elementary schools and Mount Greylock by developing communication."

"Superintendent Rose Ellis has been fully supportive, and Ellen Boshe and Joelle Brookner (principals of Lanesborough and Williamstown schools, respectively) and I will continue to collaborate along with Kim Grady, the district director of pupil personnel," MacDonald said. "We do not want to lose momentum; we know that teachers need opportunities to hone their skills and expand content knowledge to better engage all students. Bringing teachers together in professional learning communities allows them to share and learn from each other."

This year, MacDonald was instrumental in bringing together visual and performing arts teachers from tri-district schools for a colloquia to share educational philosophies and instructional approaches.
Steps are also being taken to improve learning and teaching of other subjects.

"Elementary and middle school science teachers have begun to talk about how they will meet next generation science standards, and what the new standards mean to content and skills taught in each grade," said MacDonald. "This summer, we have professional development courses on literacy and digital media organized for teachers at all three schools."

Carolyn Greene, chairman of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, said, "Mary relates incredibly well to both students and faculty. It's a real gift!

"She also understands the challenges of administration and there are not many faculty willing to take on those challenges. The regulations only increase on a regular basis. It's a very difficult job and Mary is more than up to it."

There have been many changes in education since MacDonald embarked on her career as an educator.  

"Students have to be prepared for a different future — one of which we can just barely conceive — and skill development has become as critical as content knowledge," she explained.  

Testing has increased accountability, and MacDonald suggests an awareness that students learn in different ways has also increased.
Student safety has also become an issue in light of recent tragic events in schools across the United States.

"While Mount Greylock has not experienced traumatic breeches of safety, it is critical for us to remain vigilant," MacDonald said.

Visitors to the school know from personal experience that the building is secure with locked doors and entrance and exit protocols.  

According to the new principal, the teachers, the staff and the administration are aware of the need to support students who are struggling with their emotions and behavior. There also is a Student Support Team in place and alternative programs such as Peer Team, which is comprised of juniors and seniors who receive training to support students experiencing challenges.
Now, teachers also face the challenge of capturing the attention of those students who are suffering from "end of the school year fever." They are present in body, but their minds wander.
MacDonald sees the positive aspects of being an educator.

"While some students struggle to grow and others soar, there's nothing like watching a student develop — not just academically but emotionally and socially — it is a responsibility and incredibly rewarding."

Two former students, poet Jake Snow and Dylan DeThier, author of "18 in America: A Young Golfer's Epic Journey to Find the Essence of the Game," shared their writing with English teacher Kellie Houle's Local Authors seminar.

"Both young men had been students in my English class, so it was great to see them in their new roles," said MacDonald.
MacDonald is enthusiastic about returning to Mount Greylock in her new role as principal come this July 1.  

"Mount Greylock's early years have a storied reputation," she said. "I would like to see the school create opportunities for student learning in and outside the classroom that enable it to gain the same kind of reputation for excellence.

"With our strong, dedicated faculty and staff and the support of students, families, and the community, I think we can build a place where students don't merely survive but rather thrive in school."

Tags: MGRHS,   principal,   

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