AYER/SHIRLEY – Before he became Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent this summer, Adam Renda was an administrator in the Fitchburg Public School District, where he started out as a classroom teacher more than 20 years ago.
Despite the size difference between the two school systems – Fitchburg has eight public schools and a total enrollment of 5,349, while Ayer Shirley has four schools and 1,695 students in grades K-12 – Renda seems right at home in his new job, which he started July 1st after being selected by the School Committee from a final field of three top candidates, all of whom hold doctorate degrees.
Renda’s teaching experience was particularly important to one of the School Committee members who hired him, and Renda agrees it’s a plus. “I still consider myself a teacher,” he said in a recent interview. “There’s nothing quite like standing in front of a group of kids in a classroom.”
He can look back into that lens now, to see things from students’ and teachers’ points of view.
“Of course, it’s always about the kids…” Renda said. But when there are administrative decisions to be made that affect other “stakeholders” in the school and larger communities, he strives to include them.
Asked how it’s going, after three months on the job, Renda said its all good. He’s getting to know Ayer and Shirley and it’s a good fit so far. “This is a welcoming community,” he said.
He noted “regular meetings” with public safety officials, for example, including fire and police chiefs, some of whom are also relatively new to their jobs, he said, if not to the two small towns they serve.
He has also received a warm reception in the schools; everyone from the central office to faculty and staff members have welcomed him with open arms, Renda said. They all seem open to the idea of change, too, which is heartening, he said and bodes well for the future.
Page Hilltop Elementary School Principal Fred Deppe, a notably enthusiastic cheerleader for his school and for the district, said the new superintendent, whose office is in the same building as his own, has the right stuff, including enthusiasm. “Dr. Renda is dedicated to the goal of making ASRSD an exceptional school district (that is) the envy of other local districts,” he said, adding that Renda is supportive of his administrative team and school staff and enjoys interacting with students.
“He wants every student and every family to feel…that they belong in our school community,” he said of Renda. “He is open to ideas…” and has an “open door” policy that welcomes “sit-down conversations,” he added.
During his two-decade career in Fitchburg, Renda said he’d been involved in just about every aspect of the other school system, from substitute and assistant teacher to classroom teaching at several levels, including third, fourth and fifth grades, to teaching Algebra in summer school. He even worked as a school custodian while in college. His last position was Chief Innovation and Intervention Officer.
Asked to explain the title, Renda itemized some of his roles. One was as a principals’ coach, he said. He was also responsible for “making sure we had interventions that worked,” for students and families in crisis, providing help and support. Also on the list, creating a “character code of conduct.” The aim, he said, was to be supportive rather than punitive when dealing with behavioral problems.
And he respected others’ ideas. “When someone wanted to try a different track…” he’d listen, Renda said. When Kindergarten teachers in the other district expressed concern about testing their small newcomers too soon, for example.
The plan they came up with together: allow 15-20 days for the kids to settle in first, in part “to cut down on disruptions,” he said. “We did it the year before Covid (pandemic shut-down) and it was a success,” he said, adding that “unwanted (classroom) disruptions went down by half.”
Renda is the third superintendent of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District, formed in 2011. His predecessor, Mary Malone, who retired at the end of last year, had held the post since 2014. She has agreed to stay on as Fields Committee chairman, Renda said.
Although he’s now part of the group, which is mapping out plans for a makeover of the high school athletic fields, it’s new ground for him and he’s grateful, he said, to have a veteran heading up the effort.
It was on her retirement “bucket list,” Renda said of Malone.
“This year, we play on other (schools’ ) fields,” he said, naming recent examples, including Lunenburg. Chatting with ASRSD School Committee member Michele Granger at a recent game there, Renda said she commented on how nice the new playing field was and said it was “exciting” to anticipate future games on a new field at Ayer Shirley High School. “We’ll soon have a great new facility too,” he said.
Asked for her take on the new superintendent’s early days, Granger’s e-mail response was positive. “I am very happy with Dr. Renda’s start in the district,” she said. “He seems to be taking the time to get to know stakeholders and students (and) has been seen at many fall sporting events with his family.” Parents have commented on that support and say they “appreciate his efforts,” Granger said.
Granger added that Renda would present his goals for the year at the Oct. 5 school board meeting. “I am looking forward to hearing them,” she said.
Speaking of which, does Renda have any ideas to propose, at this early stage of his superintendency?
Renda doesn’t seem poised to start overturning apple carts, but he does have programs he wants to forward, he said, some of which were included in his presentation to the School Committee.
A co-teaching/inclusion model, for example, in which students with IEPs (individualized education plans, a function of the Special Education Dept.) are included in the regular classroom, “when appropriate” rather than taken out for instruction, he said.
It’s not a new idea and he doesn’t take credit for it, but he thinks it would work well in Ayer Shirley.
The aim, he said, is to meld special education and regular education – “not exclusively” but whenever possible — so that all students have access to the same curricular content, “in an appropriate way.”
Any surprises? None so far, Renda said. He knew what he was getting into, that it was the right fit. “I was local enough…I asked the right questions,” he said.
What does he find unique about Ayer Shirley?
“It’s a small district, not affluent, but not facing a lot of economic disadvantage,” either. “There’s a mix,” he said. That said, he recognizes the limitations of tight budgets in the two towns and that the district must work within parameters taxpayers can accept. “Strategic planning is…important,” he said.
No question, Renda takes the helm at a challenging time, with COVID-19 still at issue. After a couple of tumultuous years, during part of which many students learned remotely, all of them are now back in the classroom, with some restrictions such as masks and safety measures such as voluntary pool testing.
Renda said that with the mask rule set to expire next month, state-wide, “new guidance” was expected from the commissioner of education soon.
To sum it up, Renda favors “positive changes” for kids, going forward, with other stakeholders in mind. It’s a tall order, but Ayer Shirley’s new superintendent seems up to the task.
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)