Berkshire Regional learning chief Jonathan Bruno interviews for Easthampton superintendent post


Staff Writer

Published: 03-22-2023 3:41 PM

Editor’s note: The Easthampton School Committee this week is interviewing three finalists for superintendent. Jonathan Bruno was the first to be interviewed.

EASTHAMPTON — In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday night, Jonathan Bruno told the School Committee that there’s a need for someone with his skills, drive and equity focus and that the school department could benefit from his experience.

“I’m an anti-racist educator. I’m an anti-bias educator. I am an anti-ableist educator,” said Bruno, one of three finalists to replace Superintendent Allison LeClair. “This was a place that I see I could fit and where our philosophies will not necessarily perfectly mesh, but we have sort of similar goals for the community, and as a former member of the community, I really appreciate it.”

After spending the day meeting members of his potential new community, Bruno, the director of learning and teaching at Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Stockbridge, answered two hours worth of questions at an in-person interview with the School Committee in the high school library.

Bruno, who holds a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in special education from Northeastern University, told the committee he applied for the superintendent position not only because his family has an interest in living in the city, but also because the work that the school district is doing with diversity, equity and inclusion matches what he’s doing in his own work.

He also advocated that every school district should perform an equity audit on a cyclical basis because the work “isn’t a destination,” but should be ongoing.

Bruno, who grew up in Northampton, said he spent a lot of time in Easthampton as several of his relatives lived there.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle asked whether Bruno had dealt with a problem in which opinions were polarizing.

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Bruno pointed to the approach to literacy instruction called “science of reading,” which helps students decode the words on a page by breaking them down into parts and understanding the sounds that letters make. The method incorporates phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and knowledge building, an evidence-based approach the Easthampton district adopted during the pandemic.

For Bruno, the challenge in looking into the science of reading approach was that the school district he was working in used a “whole language” approach, in which writing, speaking, reading and listening are integrated in the learning process, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Bruno, who described himself as dyslexic, said he understands the need for explicitly targeted instruction like the science of reading.

During the first year of integrating the science of reading instruction, he said there were a lot of arguments regarding the change. However, as time went on, reading and Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores went up.

“I provided the evidence and they bought in,” he said.

Another question from School Committee member Megan Harvey concerned how Bruno might assess the effectiveness of the district’s special education programs. Bruno, who has been a special education teacher for 17 years and continues to work in the field, said it was important to monitor progress using several measures and understand proficiency-based learning.

In reflecting on some of Easthampton’s numbers, Bruno noted that while the four-year graduation percentage for most students is in the high 90s, the rate for special education students is in the low 70s.

“Why is that? I can’t tell you that right now, but that will be something that I will look at. That will be something we have to look at as a special education team,” he said.

Bruno said he’d also look at program effectiveness within established programs and communicate with the parents of special needs children as well as the staff.

If selected, Bruno said he intends to spend the few months on a “learning tour” to understand community needs and priorities, and becoming a present member in the community.

“The superintendent’s role is not just directing the schools from up on high. The superintendent’s role is to be boots on the ground working with students and staff, and the community, and understanding what the needs are of the school, and helping the community meet those needs through all of the partners being parents, community members, the mayor, the city … and the school community,” he said.

Other finalists for superintendent include Erica Faginski-Stark, director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools, and Vito Perrone, a former Easthampton High School principal who is now the interim superintendent of the West Springfield Public Schools.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at]]>