New literacy programs, school building plans for Easthampton schools

  • Maple Elementary School special education paraprofessional Christel Wilmot, left, her son Nickolas Lacroix, 12, and special education pre-K teacher Laurie Bernotas were among several volunteers hard at work painting at the Easthampton school. Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maple Elementary School special education paraprofessional Sheila Mullarney and several other volunteers paint the main hallway at the school on Monday. Teachers, staff, spouses and alumni are volunteering their time to paint the school interior this summer. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maple Elementary School alumnae Lana Johnson, left, and Summer Poudrier, center, both 12, and fourth grade teacher Ryan Pickard, right, paint the main hallway of the Easthampton elementary school on Monday. Many teachers, staff, spouses and alumni volunteered their time to paint the school this summer. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maple Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Ryan Pickard, right, paints a doorway at the Easthampton elementary school on Monday. Many teachers, staff, spouses and alumni volunteered their time to paint the school this summer. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maple Elementary School special education pre-K paraprofessional Boni Johnson, left, and Greg Kwolek, on ladder, spouse of staffer Juliana Kwolek, prepare to paint one of the doorways at the Easthampton elementary school on Monday. Teachers, staff, spouses and alumni are volunteering their time this summer to paint the school interior. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maple Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Ryan Pickard, right, paints a doorway at the Easthampton school. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kim Gilbert, elementary literacy coordinator in Easthampton, stands in the library at Maple Elementary School. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

  • Kim Gilbert the elementary literacy coordinator in Easthampton poses for a photo in the school library at Maple Elementary School on Aug. 11, in Easthampton. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

Published: 8/16/2016 7:53:04 PM

EASTHAMPTON – As Maple Elementary School students enjoyed the last few weeks of summer vacation, many of their teachers were already hard at work – painting the school.

Some two dozen of the school’s teachers, led by 4th grade teacher Ryan Pickard and Title 1 interventionist Juliana Kwolek, have already spent three days sprucing up the school’s hallways with a fresh coat of paint, readying the building for the start of school Sept. 1.

 “We had this theme of community last year, an all-school theme,” Pickard said. “As part of that, I kind of wanted to show the outer community our community at Maple.”

The new paint job isn’t the only new occurrence at Maple and other schools in Easthampton.

As part of a restructuring of positions at the city’s three elementary schools, a new literacy coordinator job has been created. In that role, Kim Gilbert, who has worked in the district for three years, will help guide elementary and middle school staff in innovative reading and writing curricula implemented last year.

Making Meaning, the reading program, focuses on allowing students to make connections, and ask questions and share their thoughts and work with their teachers, themselves and other students. 

“We talk about hands-on a lot, but this is ‘brains-on,’” Gilbert said. “Kids are learning to talk to each other and not just the teacher.”

Maple principal Judy Averill said she’s already seen changes in learning since last year’s adoption of the curriculum. “I’ve even had kids say ‘I respectfully disagree with what she (another student) says, and here’s why,’” Averill said. 

In addition, she said the way of teaching and learning used by Making Meaning has found its way to other parts of the classroom as teachers are moving toward more “student-centered” lessons in other subject areas.

The writing curriculum, Being a Writer, similarly focuses on student-to-student relationships to help engage children with each others’ writing.

“They want to be able to hook the reader because they know who the readers are,” Gilbert said. 

The programs were introduced at Gilbert’s suggestion on a pilot basis two years ago. Now in her position overseeing the program’s implementation, she’ll consistently check in with teachers and ensure that any new teachers can quickly get up to speed on the programs. And she’ll focus on building a support network among teachers so they’ll be able to collaborate to discuss what’s working and what’s not and share their expertise.

“This is really pushing teachers out of their comfort zones, for some,” Gilbert said. “There is not one teacher who doesn’t have an expertise to share.”

New hires

Armed with a healthy budget, the district this year has hired or is in the process of hiring six new positions.

That includes a board-certified behavior analyst who will work throughout the district and will provide social, emotional and behavioral support services.

A speech and language pathologist assistant will work with students in the elementary schools.

A newly-hired reading specialist will fill the role vacated by Gilbert when she was promoted to literacy coordinator.

A new 2nd grade teacher at the Center/Pepin elementary schools, will help maintain smaller class sizes, according to Superintendent Nancy Follasbee.

The district is in the process of hiring a design and technology teacher for Easthampton High School. That position is being restored after being eliminated earlier.

Martha Jenkins will replace Kara McElhone as gifted and talented programs coordinator at the middle and elementary school levels.

Julie Anne Levin has been hired as the director of curriculum and grants manager. She replaced Polly Parker, who passed away in the spring, according to Dayle Doiron, the district’s business manager.

And Eric LeBeau will succeed Peter Roy as facilities manager. Roy retired this year after 15 years in the position, Doiron said.

School building update

The possibility of constructing a new school remains on the horizon.

Architectural firm Caolo & Bieniek was selected in June to draft a design. The company will work with a steering committee in order to form an “educational vision” for the project, according to Follansbee.

The steering committee is made up of Mayor Karen Cadieux, Follansbee, School Committee Chairwoman Debora Lusnia and three other school employees.

“The steering committee will facilitate the visioning process with focus groups made up of larger groups of city officials, community members and members of the school department, about 40 people in all,” Follansbee said in an email.

Once that planning process is complete, Caolo & Bieniek will draft designs as required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Those requirements cover renovations of Maple School, consolidation of pre-kindergarten through 4th grade and consolidation of grades pre-kindergarten through 8th grade.

“The conceptual designs will be shared with the public through a number of forums and will then be narrowed to one design to be put forward to the MSBA for approval,” Follansbee wrote.

Heathy living at White Brook

White Brook Middle School has been awarded a $3,319 grant to support its Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative, which aims to kick start and sustain healthy nutrition and physical activity improvements at the school.

Part of those funds will be used to purchase a mobile breakfast service kiosk, where kids can get breakfast outside before school.

The remaining funds will be used to purchase a mobile sports equipment cart for use during recess, important because the school does not have any playground equipment, according to a release sent by the New England Dairy and Food Council.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at


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