QUOTE: “Life holds no greater reward than the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
My relationship with Mount Everett began over 20 years ago. Mount Everett was to become my first principalship, and at this stage of my career it’s pretty certain to be my last. I arrived here after 13 years in education working in other school systems. During that time I had the opportunity to visit and network with teachers and administrators from many different kinds of schools. I was contemplating a complete change in career because I didn’t think that what was being accomplished was meeting the needs of kids, parents, communities or even our
country. In my view social skills were not adequately addressed, curriculum and instruction were not aligned to
standards, kids and adults didn’t share relationships which instilled a collaborative sense of pride in their schools, schools didn’t share a bond with their larger communities, and, most of all, very often ideas to try something new or different never went anywhere for reasons such as labor agreements, bus schedules, lunches, an unwillingness to put the needs of the school and students before self-interests, and sometimes just plain inertia.
At Mount Everett I found something very different. Staff were smart, hard-working, friendly, and willing to try new things. The community took pride in its school as evidenced by the completion of the new Sheffield campus in 1992. Commensurately there was a sense among students and staff to want to accomplish things deserving of community confidence and pride beyond the new bricks and mortar. I think they’ve done so over the years and continue in that vane. Among recent accomplishments are the back-to-back state championships by our robotics team, the high school MCAS scores in English are tied for the best in the state, this year 16 of our music students qualified for Western District and two also qualified for All State, for the second year in a row one of the students in our Vocational Agricultural Future Farmers of America Program ranked first in the state in horse judging and this year our entire horse judging team won the state championship, our boys baseball and girls softball programs have each won Western Massachusetts Championship in the last two years, Mount Everett was designated as one of the best high schools in the country in 2013 receiving a Silver Medal from U. S. News and World Report, one of our students qualified for the state finals in this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition, this year one of our softball players received a full Division I athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, this year SBRSD was one of only 376 districts in the country to receive a Best Communities for Music Education designation by the NAMM Foundation we have received a Governor’s Citation from Deval Patrick in recognition of this accomplishment, this year a Mount Everett student placed third in the state at the American Legion Oratorical Competition, in the last two years Mount Everett has had both a state and national winner of the Google Scholarship recognizing women in information technology, this year the Mount Everett athletic department received the District G Sportsmanship Award from the MIAA at a ceremony attended by students and staff at Gillette Stadium, Mount Everett received the winter sports season sportsmanship award for Berkshire County, and also this year Mount Everett is one of only two middle/high schools in the county to receive a level one ranking by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Ed for overall academic performance as measured by pupil performance index. These awards were all given by outside organizations evaluating our school. They are indicative of the comprehensiveness of our program and high standard for excellence we have here.
From technology to vocational, from extracurricular to core academics our students, families, and staff work hard, function as a team, set aggressive goals, and achieve high standards. We certainly don’t claim to do everything right. In fact, I think our staff members are our own most trenchant critics. We
see ourselves always as a work in progress with an eye on continuous improvement.
Similar to most other districts in the county, the most daunting challenge for Mount Everett in the coming years is enrollment. When I first arrived here in 1993 the average number of students per grade was about 75. That number now stands at about 55 in 2014. The good news is that we’ve reduced staff over the years, mostly through attrition, commensurate with the decline in the number of students. The average elementary class sizes are about the same so there isn’t another enrollment downturn making its way through the system. If families can remain in our community our enrollment should remain stable. We still field a comprehensive program of study rich in arts, vocational, extra-curricula, honors/advanced placement, technological, and self-directed student learning
experiences. At the same time that we have reduced staff over the years, we have still managed to retain sufficient numbers to continue offering the comprehensive program described above. The comprehensiveness of our program reflects the diverse range of interests and aptitudes of our families
and student body. It requires a critical mass of adults and students willing to work as part of a team to bring these programs to life. Without sufficient numbers we would be in jeopardy of losing the comprehensiveness which is such an integral part of our culture. An obvious downside of declining enrollment is less money from the state. Fortunately our towns are very generous in their contributions to our school which always exceeds the foundation amount required of them. The more subtle downside of declining enrollment is our ability to continue having enough students and staff involved in our programs to sustain them as the rich robust experiences we’ve come to expect. Fortunately those rates of participation generally are in the 60-70% range for both students and staff involved in our extra-curricula programs, enabling us to continue experiencing the exciting and successful efforts I described earlier in this note.
From the classroom perspective our average student to teacher ratio is about 10 to 1. I think most teachers would agree that they’d like that number to be larger. I don’t think it would cause us to lose anything in the way of our personalization efforts or the close knit relationships between adults and students. Those unique qualities of our school are borne primarily of intellect, emotion, and will rather than mathematical proportions. I think it would be great if we could add another 40 children to our student body. If they were spread out among the grade levels, I don’t think it would cost us a dime.
I’m not sure what the future has in store for our Mount Everett. Ironically, as we work to enhance the college and career readiness of our students, the principle determiner of our fate most likely resides with an uncertain local economy and business climate. We are among the smallest of the small districts in the county. Our geography places us in a difficult position in an aggressive school choice market; and popular public opinion supports the belief that what we accomplish for all students at our school each and every day can only be achieved for niche markets at private and charter schools. As a community, we should be proud of the fact that we prove that notion wrong by demonstrating that a small local regional public school district, along with the efforts of families and the community at large, can and does produce college and career ready students who are prepared to take their places as citizens of our democracy both in our local towns as well as our nation.
Perhaps at some point economic and political realities will dictate that Mount Everett will be assimilated into what the DOE has referred to as a mega district that would encompass all of south county. If that day comes, there is a pragmatic part of me that will understand; but at the same time I’ll be sad to see our towns lose the educational and community culture they’ve supported for over 50 years. If it happens, it won’t be for a lack of effort on the part of our students and staff. We won’t be caught standing around wringing our hands about our challenges and what could become of our school; rather, we prefer to work and think hard fighting for something worth fighting for! We’ll continue to nurture a culture of strivers, givers, and multitaskers. We’ll applaud our students who jump out of line while playing in the marching band at the homecoming parade, grab their cleats from a parent and take the field to play a game of soccer. We admire students who make robotics presentations to school committee in their baseball uniforms because they didn’t have time to change after the game, and then have to rush home to do their homework. We celebrate staff who arrive early, stay late, consistently go above and beyond contractual obligations, and work extremely hard to forge positive productive personal relationships with students that are the bedrock of our entire program.
Given all the challenges we face, in order to be a supporter of Mount Everett I think you have to enjoy embracing an underdog perspective. You can pick your metaphor. If it’s biblical your money was on David with his stone and sling. If it’s nursery rhymes that you remember, you related to the little engine that could. I think I can! You were most likely rooting for the A.F.C. Jets vs. the N.F.C. Colts in Super Bowl III and you probably still can’t watch Miracle on Ice without welling up. That’s us!
Most families who have lived and worked in our towns for some time have come to know Mount Everett through the experiences of their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or maybe the boy or girl who lives down the road. Many citizens are alumni themselves. Please try to maintain those
connections by attending events at school like concerts, athletics, and theater. By all means please continue sharing your professional knowledge and experiences with our kids through our internship and independent study programs. Our students, who the vast majority of times do the kinds of things that made us proud, need your attention and affirmation. Recently, efforts are being made to enlist support from members of our community who don’t know us
very well. On behalf of our students and staff I welcome and greatly appreciate the investment of time and talent from these generous and willing people. Together, we have to learn how we can best marshal this effort.
In large measure, I think the future of our school will depend on the amount of community support and confidence we can muster. We have to prove to parents and the extended families of our students that we can do things for their children that will yield a better life for them. Perhaps for those who don’t have such a direct connection to the district, we must demonstrate that their public school can be a gateway for local kids to become successful scholars, business people, parents, friends, and citizens of our democracy. I believe Mount Everett is equal to that challenge.
If you’d like a peek at something truly unique and absolutely fantastic about Mount Everett, find out more about our faculty.