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Students will be new Frontier superintendent’s compass

  • Martha Barrett<br/><br/><br/><br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Martha Barrett<br/><br/><br/><br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

Rather than oversee the education and policy of one school, the former Frontier Regional School principal now leads five schools in four towns with a $9.5 million budget.

One week into her promotion, the new superintendent of the Frontier Regional and Union 38 school districts says she is ready for the job.

“To me, it felt like the next step,” Barrett said. “It is a big responsibility. I want to do it to the best of my ability. I’ll try to keep the student interest at the forefront of my mind. The students are my compass.”

Barrett took over the superintendent’s desk this month. She replaces Regina Nash, who retired in June after 12 years.

From the central office on Christina Lane in Whately, Barrett’s new job comes equipped with 16 staff members who help develop the curriculum and budget.

But what the setting lacks is the students — something Barrett hopes to fix with once-a-week visits to the schools.

“My goal is to be out in the schools one day in the week,” Barrett said. “I don’t want to lose contact with the kids.”

Five days into the job, Barrett is making a few minor changes.

She will start with the monthly administration meetings. For the first time, school principals and district leaders will create an agenda for the next school year together.

On Aug. 26, faculty will discuss the system’s immediate and long-term goals. The discussion will be used to create the goals of the new evaluation system and to drive the agenda of the monthly administration meetings.

Unlike in the past, the meetings will rotate among the schools. Before, they were held at Sunderland Elementary School only.

The meeting will be pivotal as Frontier rolls out a new teacher evaluation system in September, which has the potential to be Barrett’s first serious test as superintendent.

The changes won’t be drastic, however. Barrett’s main priority is open communication between school leaders, parents and town leaders.

“I’m not the kind of person that comes in and makes sweeping changes,” Barrett said. “The district was left in good shape. I want to continue that and continue the good things that already started.”

She has already begun meeting with new teachers, and she plans to meet with the four towns’ highway directors to coordinate the procedure for snow days and weather delays.

This summer, Barrett’s main projects are hiring a new full-time technology director and securing funding for supplemental budget items or capital projects.

She will meet with the Sunderland Select Board this month to make a second round of requests for the $133,250 funding for capital items as part of the 2013-14 school budget. She also plans to work with Deerfield to do the same.

After a controversial budget debate last spring, the two towns rejected many of the requests, including $30,000 for a maintenance truck and $30,000 for a student transport van. Voters in Conway and Whately agreed to have their towns pay their full shares.

One of the dividing points between the school and towns was the name of the projects. The School Committee called the projects capital requests, but they later claimed the projects were meant to be supplemental budget items. While the regional school agreement makes no mention of town funding for capital projects, it does require towns to pay for supplemental budget items. Because the projects were submitted as “capital,” selectmen believe the choice to recommend funding to townspeople was up to them.

To avoid the confusion in the next budget cycle, Barrett said she will include the capital projects in the proposed operating budget with an explanation why it appears to have a large increase.

Barrett hopes the towns would change their minds regarding the 12-year-old van, a vehicle used by sport teams and for field trips, including an annual Old Deerfield trip taken by a humanities class. By the fall, the vehicle will not pass inspection, Barrett said.

As the school year begins, Barrett will have to turn her attention to the budget, which by springtime typically turns into a hubbub of politics and penny pinching between school and town officials.

This year, Barrett plans to communicate often with select boards.

“We’re all trying to do the same thing, run our departments using money efficiently,” she said. “We all have a common interest to work together. There has to be a continued conversation and no surprises. The school budget is always the biggest percentage of any town budget. I’m prepared to have these conversations.”

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