Coburn progress detailed at school committee meeting

Feb. 4, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

Teacher Katherine Kraver presents students’ work to the school committee.
Photo Credit: Channel 15 Public Access

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The work being done at Coburn School was on display at the West Springfield School Committee meeting on Jan. 28.

Coburn School Vice Principal Mike Atkins briefed the school committee on the progress the school has made in various areas, including its instructional focus; new initiatives, such as ReadyMath, the “TELL” English language program and the school climate committee, which has created an improvement action plan based on a staff survey.

Atkins also informed the committee on the adoption of the “Coburn way,” the motto of which is “Be safe, Be responsible, Be kind.”

He said disciplinary referrals are “significantly down” and classes are being observed by “non-biased” education students from UMass Amherst, who then report back to the administration.

Another initiative that Coburn has employed involves identifying early warning indicators for students who may be at risk and pairing them with some 30 volunteer “trusted adults,” which Atkins said, has been shown to help at-risk youth.

Finally, Atkins said, student recognition, family engagement and collaboration have increased in Coburn and he gave the committee concrete examples of each.

Third-grade teacher Katherine Kraver of Coburn School brought four of her students with her to demonstrate for the committee the work they had done on biographies.

Students Lucas Cruz, Angelique Cortes Chavez, Emmanuel Wilson and Reina Kiefer explained how the class had written biographies about Principal Gina Martin-Ryan. To do so, they interviewed her, learned about writing a draft, edited their work and “published” it by copying it into a book. The process included students reading their work to each other and gaining feedback. The students even interviewed Martin-Ryan’s family and illustrated their books by drawing pictures based on photos from Martin-Ryan’s life.

Acting Assistant Superintendent Kevin McQuillan provided an update on the new Coburn School project. Currently, designs are under review by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and a meeting is scheduled with the organization for Feb. 27.

McQuillan said the school department has had meetings with planning and construction, the fire marshal and building commission and the Department of Public Works as the project designs move forward. He said construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2020.

During Superintendent Michael Richard’s report, he updated the committee on the status of funds from the student Opportunity Act (SOA) which was signed into legislation by Governor Charlie Baker in November. The act updates Chapter 70 school funding with $1.4 billion statewide per year over a period of seven years. West Springfield’s portion of the allotment will be approximately $2 million. The budget subcommittee is developing a plan to support students and staff with the additional money.

Richard also shared that West Springfield High School is one of 14 high schools in Massachusetts to receive grant money from the state for the Innovation Pathways Program. The school received $50,000 to launch a manufacturing pathway.

Richard also put out a call for substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals, who can find more information on

A request was made for $14,707 from various schools in the district to modify their budgets. The requests were approved by the committee.

During the public comment period, Darby Pettingill, president of the West Springfield Civic Association asked about the upcoming transition of Richard, who has taken a job as superintendent in another district.

“There’s a lot of apprehension with the staff in West Springfield, and I’m sure, the families of West Springfield. Where are we going now? What is the process?” she asked. Mayor William Reichelt said that a school committee meeting would be conducted the following week to discuss the transition.

School Committee Member Nancy Farrell said the budget subcommittee had reviewed a proposal regarding elementary faculty prep time which would require four full-time teachers be hired to meet the contract requirements of a four-day rotation.

Richard announced that the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award nominees have been selected. He will choose a winner from the district’s five nominees, and that person will be honored at a Gala in May.

William Garvey, this term’s liaison to the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative told the committee that a search is underway for a new executive director with the departure of Andrew Churchill.

Garvey also took a moment to praise a recent presentation by Dr. Ruth Potee at the West Springfield High School on the effects of opioids on the adolescent brain. Garvey said Hampden County had recently seen a 100 percent increase in opioid deaths.

“I really think we need to get people like [Potee] in front of our students,” Garvey said.

Richard thanked Carey Sheehan for his work as the business manager for the district. It was Sheehan’s last meeting before his retirement and he was presented with a giant bag of Lifesavers mints in a nod to a well-known habit of his.

“I go through a bag of these a week,” he joked, thanking the committee. 

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