Monday, December 17, 2012

Safety Protocols at Mahar

December 17, 2012

Dear Ralph C. Mahar Regional School Community Members:

In the telephone message that was sent to your home on Sunday morning (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO MESSAGE), December 16, 2012 I indicated that safety protocols would be posted on line and available in our offices. I learned later in the day that the safety drills and procedures practiced regularly and followed by our students and staff was already available on the Mahar website. Principal Tabales and I both felt that the level of detail provided could pose a threat to the safety of our students and staff.

This morning I met with the Chiefs of Police from Petersham and Orange, our School Resource Officer, Counselors, and other Administrative Personnel. I am also planning to work regionally with Franklin County Sheriff, Chris Donelan in maintaining the sense of safety and security that exists in all of our schools.
I feel that it is important that you be made aware of the safety protocols currently in place:

They include:

1. Full-time Resource Officer who is vigilant within our hallways, cafeteria, and wherever he is needed

2. Administrators and support personnel are equipped with two way radios to communicate with the Resource Officer and each other at all times

3. An Emergency phone system that reaches our offices with a distinct ring tone so that all are made aware of a call that must be answered immediately

4. 32 Cameras throughout the building and in some exterior locations

5. Video monitors at our offices so that administrative support personnel only “buzz in” appropriate visitors

6. Students and staff regularly practice and participate in secure in place and evacuation drills

It is recognized that even with all that we do, there is always room for improvement and our goal is to create the greatest sense of safety in our school community.

I will continue to post information this website as it becomes available. As always if you have any questions or concerns do not hesitate to E mail me at or call my office at 978-544-2920.

Michael R. Baldassarre
Superintendent of Schools

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Savings Reinvested in What Matters

As Published in Local Papers, Week of November 12, 2012

For the past three years the Orange Elementary Schools, Mahar Regional, and Petersham Center School have been sharing a consolidated Administration for Special Education, and the same three districts are now in their second year of sharing all Central Office Services and Administration of Technology. Orange Elementary and Ralph C. Mahar Regional (without Petersham Center) are in their second year of sharing Administration for Food Services Management. The spirit of saving resources by sharing services also appears to be on the brink of permeating Town Hall as the new Orange Town Administrator, Diana Schindler and I have begun sharing ideas about how we can team up to do more with less!

The consolidation of the schools’ Central Offices began with considerable commotion. For starters, the Orange Elementary School District was faced with a half-million dollar deficit that could only be alleviated through cuts in staff. On top of this Orange Elementary was faced with a decaying technological infrastructure and pressure from the Department of Education to improve student performance on standardized testing. Up the street, Mahar Regional prepared for a ten-year accreditation visit by a team of 14 people from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and all three districts began to struggle through the initiation of a new system for educator evaluation that was forced by the State.

As if this was not enough, the roof at the Dexter Park Elementary School continued to leak water, the chairlift at Butterfield Elementary School was in need of repair, and the Dam at Mahar Regional started making front page news on a regular basis. The roof at Dexter Park and Mahar Dam alone threatened to constitute about another half-million in spending for the district and the Town.

Just yesterday I was asked about the shared cost agreement that was voted by all three school committees seemingly so long ago. I took a moment to reflect on that document this morning and actually found myself smiling because I am starting to realize how the actions that the committees have taken are paying off for our children. In all the consolidation of Technology, Special Education, and Central Office Administration has saved the partnering districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Some of these savings are easily seen. For instance one Technology Administrator instead of three, one Special Education Administrator instead of three, one Cafeteria Director instead of two, and one Superintendent Salary with two Assistants instead of three Superintendents, and all with health and dental care plan costs that are shared by the three districts approaches $200,000.00 in savings each year. By the end of this fiscal year nearly $500,000.00 will have been saved in salary and benefits alone.

Then there are savings that are not so easily seen. For instance, every time counseling, speech, or psychological services are shared in the Special Education Department and every time joint contracts for services across the districts are negotiated the taxpayers continue to save. Let us not forget partnerships such as those in the ASPIRE afterschool care program. Under normal circumstances the transportation of Petersham students from Petersham Center to the program at Mahar would cost nearly $17,000.00 per year. This expense would be incurred by the taxpayers from Petersham or the parents of the children who participate. In the current partnership the cost to the parents and Petersham Center School for transport to Mahar is $0.00.

I am happy to report that the savings you have just read about have been put to use in improving the quality educational environment for all of our students. In the Orange Elementary Schools all three school buildings now have full access to the Internet – without wires. 72 brand new Mac Airs (new high tech laptops) and 140 iPads have been deployed to the elementary schools for student use. This is the equipment that many educators across the country use everyday in their classrooms – and we are proud to say that we finally have this technology in Orange.

The leaky roof at Dexter Park is fixed, the chairlift repair at Butterfield is underway, the accreditation team has come and gone at Mahar, the Mahar Dam issue is going to be handled by a generous group of volunteers, and we are hopeful that assessments to our member towns will be reduced in Fiscal Year 2014. Art instruction and Physical Education are back at Orange Elementary along with additional support in reading. We are also scheduling the purchase of a brand new math curriculum in January 2013, which is outstanding considering that our teachers were called upon to provide instruction without for far too many years.

As you can see the administrators, teachers, and staff of our three districts have dealt with a lot in recent years. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to publicly applaud their efforts. Their willingness to engage in professional development and to pursue data driven techniques for the improvement of student learning is noted and should be appreciated by all. If you have gotten this far into this article and are the parent or friend of an employee in our three systems, please take a moment to send them a note of thanks.

Because of their hard work and efforts the schools in your towns have been enhanced. These schools are a better place for your children than they have ever been. You have elected educationally supportive school committees, and you continue to do your part to fund us as best you can. For this I am personally grateful. Your investment in our schools is an investment in the future of our children. The path to improvement in not only set, but as you have read we have been on it for some time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Outstanding Attendance at Preschool Network Conference on October 3!

On October 3, 2012 the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School hosted an event in partnership with the Regional Preschool Network, Thom WRCP, and the Orange Elementary Public Schools to provide a day of workshops for parents and area child care providers. Professional presentations by Certified Human Behavior Specialists provided attendees with opportunities to understand new and effective practices and philosophies for working with children and students.

In all, the three workshops offered had a total of attendance of 250! From local schools the event was attended by, Narragansett; Gardner; Petersham Center School, Ralph C. Mahar; UMASS; Deerfield Academy, Quabbin; Ashburnham- Westminster; The Perkins School for the Blind; CAPS Collaborative; and the Orange Elementary Public Schools. Other organizations represented were, THOM WRCP (Thom Western Regional Consultation Program); PCDC (Parent Child Development Center- Head Start)- Greenfield; Greenfield STARR Program; Hampshire Franklin Daycare; Bethany Christian Nursery School- Gardner; REACH Early Intervention; ABC Easthampton; Criterion Heritage EI Program- Hadley and Holyoke; Totspot Child care- Pittsfield (at least 5 staff); Little Bears Learn & Care; Valley Opportunity Council- Holyoke; Southern Berkshire Child Care Program- Sheffield MA; and Educare.

Participants were asked to complete Evaluation Forms after each session. Below, please find some highlights from the comments sections of these forms:

Session I: BRAIN GYM

“Loved practicality of it, it is easy to do and takes minimal time but there is a large benefit.”

“I am a parent that has 2 young girls. Transition is hard and I think this will help!”

“I now have the knowledge & information to put some of the activities to use at home!”


“Another great workshop- the humor- the suggestions- the life experiences shared were wonderful to listen to even at the late hour. So many great tips, thoughts and advice!!!”


“I gained a lot of strategies to try and share with my co-workers.”

“I will put the 3 steps (rules, consequences, consistent follow through) into my newsletter for parents because it is clear & easy to understand- Thank you”


“Jeanine[the presenter] is a marvel at what she does. Every bit is useful and her stories make it enjoyable. Her LOVE of children is strong and pleasant to see.”

“Triggers, humor, informative, as parent found information very valuable.”

“Connection from child to adult concepts back to child behavior, the way the presenter did her presentation, that there is work that I need to do to better my relationship with my children! To give them and myself an emotional language.”

Thank you to CAPS Executive Director, Dr. Edward McCaul for taking the lead on this outstanding program. Thank you to the Regional Preschool Network and Thank You to all who were able to attend. I hope that the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School can serve as the site for future workshops with the same level of success as we saw on October 3!!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mahar Grade 10 ELA Growth Percentile: 9th Highest in State

The release of 2012 MCAS data last week brought about what has become a usual stir of activity in the media.  Whether we like it or not, our system for accountability pits neighboring districts against one another.  I think it is human nature.  People just want to know who the best is, who the worst is, and where they stand in this continuum.  In recent years, test results for individual students tell parents how their children performed in relation to their same aged classmates who scored similarly on previous MCAS administrations state-wide.

For many people who do not work in schools or take a seriously active role in understanding all of the information, it can be very confusing.  The casual visit to the assessment portion of our Department of Education’s website presents acronyms, and statistical analyses that require a careful eye.  In 2012, more than 395,000 Massachusetts students took the MCAS and there is plenty that can be said about their performance locally as well as across the Commonwealth.

For many districts in Central and Western Massachusetts it is business as usual when it comes to reporting our scores.  With great certainty our districts are improving as the Department of Education encourages central office administrators, who support principals.  The principals provide direction and guidance to teachers and staff who have the most monumental task of all; teaching, motivating, and assisting their students.  But as always when it comes to comparing district to district, the playing field is not level.

The original examination on this topic was published in 1966 by a researcher named Coleman.  He showed that children from high socioeconomic backgrounds consistently outperformed children from low socioeconomic backgrounds when it came to school based outcomes.  This fact has been researched and reported on again and again and again over the 66 years that followed his study.  Last year a book called “Unequal Childhoods” was published and it was more of the same.  Rich kids outperforming poor kids nationwide. 

The system of accountability has put extreme focus on individual teachers, administrators, schools, and districts – indicating that the axis for real transformation in student performance rests on local school committees.  Yet many argue that with per pupil expenditures so out of whack, the low socioeconomic districts will really never be able to compete with the high socioeconomic districts.  For example, the per-pupil expenditure in 2011 for Orange, MA was roughly $5,000.00 less per student that it was in Newton, MA.   If the Orange Elementary Public Schools were funded at the same level as the Newton Public Schools it would have an operating budget of $11 million rather than the $6.9 million that it is provided to do business with.

For those who are waiting for the Federal or State Government to do something drastic to bring about some fairness to education funding, my recommendation is for you is to be optimistic, but don’t hold your breath.  In our region we have been taking steps locally to provide our children and young adults with as many opportunities to compete with their classmates around the state – and not just on our athletic fields. 

Specialized programming along with focused day-to-day instruction has brought Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School to a high point with regard to our Grade 10 English and Language Arts performance.  In 2012 our district is reported by the Department of Education to have just fewer than 50% of our student body classified as low income.  This is more than 15% higher than the average of all districts in the state.  And you know what?  In 2012, 10th graders at Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School outperformed the state average on their English and Language Arts Assessments.   It appears as though we can compete. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Episode #8: All About Pre-School

In this episode, Jackie and I talk with CAPS Educational Collaborative Executive Director, Dr. Edward McCaul, Assistant Superintendent Tari Thomas, and Naragansett Director of Early Education, Ms. Terry LaBonte.  Since pre-school is not compulsory for all students, many parents and community members are unaware of the benefits of early educational opportunities for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Click Here to View Episode #8: All About Pre-School

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Episode #7: Canines for Disabled Kids

Jackie and I had the opportunity to sit in the studio with Canines for Kids Executive Director, Kristen Hartness and her trainee, Asha.  Prior to our interview, I like many assumed that service animals were limited to Seeing Eye Dogs and Police work.  Kristen provided me with a new understanding of how would be pets can trained to do so much more to improve life's quality. Connection - Service Dogs

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kindergarten - Grade 6 After School Program: ASPIRE Approved by Mahar Regional School Committee

On August 13, 2012 the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School Committee held a special meeting in which I presented plans to open a Kindergarten – Grade 6 after school program that was given the name, “ASPIRE.” The acronym stands for:

A = After
S = School
P = Program
I = Incorporationg
R = Recreation &
E = Education

In prior years approximately 75 children in the Orange Elementary Public Schools attended an after school program that was grant funded. The five year grant known as the “21st Century Learning Grant” expired at the end of the 2011 – 2012 school year, leaving area parents and students with no after school programming. Many families in the Orange-Athol region also utilize pricey private after school programs to which transportation must be arranged and in which there is little connection between classroom instruction and after school academic programming.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education posted grant applications for another 21st Century Additional Learning Time Grant for this academic year. We will be filing an application for funding, and it is due on September 20, 2012. Competitive priority in this grant fund is given to applications that are jointly developed between school districts and/or other partnering entities. Mahar and Orange Elementary will partner on this grant application, and invite some other after school programs to participate with us in the grant application process.

I informed the school committee that the ASPIRE program would be available for families in Orange and surrounding towns. The program will be housed at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School because the nearly 200,000 square foot facility offers more opportunities for children to engage in sports, arts and crafts, cooking, and networked computer use. The Mahar facility also sits on more than 100 acres of land, offering students opportunities for outside play, nature walks, and even a low level ROPES course that is used for Mahar’s physical education program.

It is also our intention to work with area farmers and our partners at the Seeds of Solidarity to have a small farm on campus. The children will have the opportunity to have real hands on experiential learning with regard to agriculture. The opportunity to grow food that we can distribute on our campus is also very exciting!

Children who attend the ASPIRE program every day during the school year will be provided with an additional 290 hours of instruction in mathematics and language arts. I presented data from the Massachusetts Extended Learning Initiative that showed how the additional hours of instruction have paid huge academic dividends for children across the state.

The cost of the program is $10.50 per 3-hour day. Children will be provided with snacks, 90 minutes of instruction in mathematics and language arts, and 60 – 90 minutes of recreation daily. The adult to student ratio was set at 8.5 students per adult. This is because each group of 17 students is scheduled to be supervised by two adults at all times. At no point will a child be unaccompanied by an adult in this program. We have a huge facility and the safety of the children is our first priority.

Services will be available on the first day of school which is August 29, 2012. Applications are available for parents at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional Website ( and in the Superintendent’s Office at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School. Applications are also be available at the Fisher Hill, Dexter Park, Butterfield, and Petersham Center Schools.

Questions about the program can be directed to me at 978-544-2920 or via e-mail (