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Northern Berkshire Union Hires Director of Pupil Services

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire School Union on Wednesday night voted to hire Stephanie Pare as the new director of pupil services. She accepted, pending contract negotiations. 
The members of the School Committee called it a tough choice between two highly qualified candidates but opted 9-1 to promote internally to replace the retiring Debra Rosselli, who spent 11 years in the post.
The decision came after more than an hour of interviews with finalists Pare and Amanda Brooks-Clemeno and another half hour or more of discussion. 
Committee members — some who indicated they had been leaning the other way — were influenced by the knowledge that Pare has already been working with the administrative team and had received votes of confidence from teachers and support staff. 
"I think her dedication to our union over the last 14 years working here, to me that's something I just think is very important," said NBSU Superintendent John Franzoni. He felt Brooks-Clemeno was a strong candidate and would do well in whatever she did next, "but I feel confident that Steph will be a good fit with our team and the admin team as well as bringing her knowledge that she has been so successful in Florida to the other schools."
Pare has worked in special education for 17 years and is currently special education teacher and special education director assistant at Gabriel Abbot Memorial School in Florida, one of the four NBSU schools with Clarksburg, Monroe and Emma Miller in Savoy. She began her career at Drury High School in North Adams and then went to Abbott after earning her master of special education from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She also holds a master education in literacy and reading through the Reading Institute at Simmons College. 
"The reason I'm looking at this position is I'm ready to take the next step, I feel it would provide me an opportunity to reach out and help more kids, and that's the biggest part of special education is being able to help kids," she said. 
Pare had been working on her administrator license but hit a bump with the state Department of Education would not allow the mentor hours she had accumulated because her mentor did not hold the correct license. She's now working with a retired superintendent and special education director to complete her hours. 
She said her grant writing experience included being the Title 1 coordinator for the four-school union and has worked with the business administrator to ensure it was managed properly. 
In response to questions, she said meaningful inclusion means that the child is a full participant in the class with materials modified to ensure that takes place. 
"It may involve pre-teaching, reteaching specific strategies around the questions that are expected from a child to ensure you're meeting their goals," Pare said. "Inclusion is a big part of what I feel is important. I've worked really hard on that model. 
"As a director, I think a lot of professional development and working with the team comes in ... a lot of times it's easier to have a student out of the room and teach them. But it's not always best for the student: They need to learn in that group environment. And it takes teamwork and planning and strategies, and it's case by case."
Pare also said training for teachers is a large part of developing strategies for working with children with social emotional issues. 
"Mr [E. Jon] Friedman (the school adjustment counselor) has a lot of ideas but it's finding a way for him to incorporate some of that and using those resources, and then providing training that is meaningful and is directly related to what you're seeing in the classroom," she said. "We have been using the crisis prevention model, and using that across the board, but really emphasizing the importance of the needs of the child. Children don't want to misbehave they don't want to act out, and how can we take them from where they are and give them a safe place to discuss it."
She said she is familiar with the education evaluator process, having taken training in it and going through it herself. 
"I think a lot of ways to offer feedback is through mentorship and offering suggestions and being willing to work with that person to give ideas and support," she said. Pare also didn't see an issue with leading the people she'd been working side by side with until now. 
"I think the most important part is to make teachers feel heard and respected in their ability to reach out and to reach out yourself and start that communication."
The school union has been interested in developing a parent advisory council and Pare said she had been involved in a "quasi" advisory council last year. Four or five events had been set up to invite parents into the schools to being talking about what they would be able to do. 
"I don't think it went beyond that. But I think that a great place to start is to get parents in and get them talking about different ideas, and then working with the staff in the building," Pare said, adding that every school knows at least one parent who would be willing to participate. "This is what it would take, and and starting somewhere."
Pare said she would spend time in the schools regularly to get to know the children and try to keep the paperwork to off hours. Franzoni pointed out that the position would now be year-round, meaning much of that work could be done during summer. 
Brooks-Clemeno is a special education teacher in the Hoosac Valley Regional School District. She earned her bachelor's degree from Barnard College, a master of business administration from Fordham University and attended the MCLA Leadership Academy. She is also chair of the Worthington School Committee. 
Springfield schools before joining the Collaborative for Educational Services in its Department of Youth Services for eight years. She was later a teacher coordinator, which she described as a hybrid administrator educator, with at least 50 percent of her students having special education needs. She began with the Hoosac Valley High's behavior program about three years ago.
"I thought that my skills and my mindset were much better based for special ed administration," she said. "This is not an easy job ... but I think that with my analytical and business background, with my experience on school committee and with my deep educational experience, I think that I can bring a lot of ideas and vision to this particular position in this particular district."
Her priorities, she said, would be to see how the school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic had affected students, particularly how students with disabilities were managing remote learning. 
She envisioned doing a listening year and would keep contact with teachers and administrators through regular meetings, possibly held over a platform like Zoom, as well as meeting with related service providers and special education teachers on a regular basis. 
"I find that when everyone's talking to each other, when everyone has the same message, it's the best way to go," she said.   
Brooks-Clemeno said she has been doing self-assessments and evaluations for a decade. She also thought it important to help parents understand their children's often confusing individualized education plans and she spoke about a collaborative process in leadership, preferring that to any micro-managing. 
"I think it's very important also as a leader to listen and to be quiet," she said. "To really understand all the nuances of what's going on so I don't want anyone to think that, you know, should I be afforded this amazing opportunity that I would come and swinging, ready to burn down the house, so to speak."
Brooks-Clemeno spoke at some length about social/emotional trauma, saying she would institute a multi-tiered support system over a three-year period of assessment, program selection and then implementation. This would require teacher buy-in to be successful, she said. 
"We're educating the whole child so we can't ignore or push away or pretend that those things don't exist," she said. "And I think that it's important to acknowledge that and find whole district wide ways to address that."
A number of committee members remarked on Brooks-Clemeno's obvious passion and background, others to Pare's knowledge of the school district and proven work ethic. The fact that Pare had strong backing by many who worked with her in the district became an obvious factor in her selection. 
"She described herself as visionary and assertive, I think that that's very true about her and I think those qualities could bring some changes or new ideas present, said Rowe School Committee member Susan Zavotka of Brooks-Clemeno. "I think one, promote from within. If there's always the concern of status quo, but if we're happy with the status quo that's not a bad thing. So I think those are things to think about."
Clarksburg School Committee member Eric Denette thought they were both very strong but was really impressed with Brooks-Clemeno's vision and response to the social/emotional question. He would cast the lone vote for her. 
Business Administrator Jennifer Macksey said she was looking for someone who can support the administrative team.
"I really am looking for a colleague who can keep up with deadlines and support me in my deadlines, as well as I can support the person in this position," she said. "And I think we really need someone who's going to give this position 120 percent, because we have a lot of development on that side of the house that needs to be to be done."
Franzoni echoed her statements, saying the school union had been developing a strong team with the hiring of Macksey last year and the addition of Josh Arico as information technology director. 
"I just think that they're both obviously strong as we've established," he said. "We're very fortunate as we have been throughout. I feel like there have been, in my two years, very strong pools for positions that we've had to fill. I think that obviously both are qualified candidates."
However, he said, Pare would be his choice based on his knowledge of her work, his desire to reward achievement with advancement and the strong endorsement from Florida Principal Heidi Dugal. 
"I think that both are strong candidates," said Florida School Committee member Carla Davis-Little. "I know there's a lot of people in the other school districts that don't know Stephanie, that haven't worked with her. I think that it could be a very good relationship. As a parent is how I know her best, and I always felt very good, being able to turn to her and go to her throughout the year of my kid's meetings. So I will vote for Stephanie."

Tags: NBSU,   special education,   

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Clarksburg Town Meeting Passes $4.6M Budget, OKs Truck Purchase

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Select Board member Allen M. Arnold is sworn into office by Jeanne Moulthrop, voted temporary town clerk for the meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A sparse town meeting burned through a 19-article warrant on Wednesday night under sunny skies. 
The meeting, held on the lawn of the Senior Center because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, swiftly approved a town budget of $4,565,710 and the purchase of a new Department of Public Works truck for $250,000.
Based on the financial articles passed on Wednesday, including a transfer of $98,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate, the property tax rate is estimated at $17.86 per $1,000 valuation, three cents lower than this year.
The town has a current free cash fund of $518,892; town meeting also approved transferring $250,000 in free cash to the stabilization account and using $64,138.20 to pay off the library loan. 
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