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Mount Greylock Superintendent to Work on Culture Shift Over Next 3 Years
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:55AM / Tuesday, February 13, 2024
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Superintendent Jason McCandless, seen at the field groundbreaking last fall, has set some goals to improve Mount Greylock for students and staff before he retires.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School Superintendent has goals for the next three years that he characterized as simple yet profound.
"I think somebody could look at this and say, 'OK, Dr. McCandless, you are the Mayor of Simpleton,'" Jason McCandless said last week, referencing a single from the English rock group XTC. "'You want kids to be nice to one another, and you want them to show up at school. Big deal.'
"It is a big deal."
McCandless made that comment toward the end of a presentation on his goals to the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee at its Feb. 8 meeting.
McCandless told the committee that he expects to stay on the job another three or four years but recognized that after 30 years in public education he is nearing the end of that career.
"My intention is to be here for most of my current contract, because it's a pleasure and an honor to be here," he said. "The goals that you see tonight may appear simple. And, in fact, in some ways they are. … As I start thinking through and being able to see retiring and stepping away in front of me, I'm thinking about what are some of the most important things I can do in this place.
"I feel like we've done some important things together, particularly in relationship building in this district, particularly in trust building … I've been thinking about: If I have 900 days or 1,000 days left to serve these wonderful communities, what are some deeply valuable things I can do?"
McCandless, who has occupied the corner office on the Cold Spring Road campus since 2020, identified three main goals for himself in the years ahead: ensuring that every student has a trusted adult in school to whom they can turn, addressing the harmful impacts of widespread access to social media and addressing "chronic absenteeism" in the PreK-12 district.
On the first goal, McCandless said he wants to institute advisory periods at the middle-high school and engage in professional development programs throughout the district that address, "the dire need for students to have positive, powerful, trusting relationships" with adults in school.
"I want to work to ensure that every child has an answer to the question, 'Who can I go to in this school if I need help?' " McCandless said. "I think we are going to do some polling that asks that exact question. … I think we need to find ways to build stronger, deeper relationships between students and adults when they're in our school buildings."
On social media, McCandless reminded the School Committee of his past statements on not favoring a total ban on access to cell phones. But he is very aware of the distractions those devices can create and the harm that adolescent use of social media can create.
"We'll continue working on digital wellness because we know none of this is going to go away," he said. "But we also know that students have 6 1/2 hours or 7 hours of 'sacred time' per day that our entire society has built the ages of 5 to 18 around to be a student, to go to school and learn. The constant access to social media is a distraction, no question."
McCandless said he will look at best practices from districts around the country and bring forward proposed rules for the district. But he also said he will engage students in the conversation to create the changes that he will propose this spring to start with the 2024-25 academic year.
On absenteeism, McCandless wants to increase the district's messaging to students and families about the importance of attendance and create "attendance response teams" in each of the district's three buildings to work individual students and families on the root causes of absenteeism.
Two of the five School Committee members in attendance at the meeting praised McCandless for the goals he identified and the changes he wants to achieve.
"What you're talking about is culture," Julia Bowen said. "You're trying to shift the culture. … And your connection to academic outcomes, when I think about the MCAS performance presentation we had and the gaps we're seeing … if people aren't showing up, it doesn't matter what academic strategies you put in place.
"There's a phrase you may all already know: Culture eats strategy for lunch. And if you don't fix the culture, it doesn't matter what your strategy is."
That echoed one of McCandless' themes throughout his presentation: Improving the culture in the district's schools will lead to safer, engaged students who want to be in school and will be there, ready to learn.
"The longer I do this work, the more I understand that all of those buildings built above the surface have to be built on the foundation of super decent human beings being in super strong, positive, caring relationship with one another," McCandless said. "That is the answer, I think, to our bias-based issues. It's the answer to the misogyny that sometimes our students are guilty of on one hand or face on the other hand. It's the core issue of bullying. It's the core issue of why kids start creating illnesses so they don't have to come to school. It's a lack of kindness, it's a lack of compassion and, from my position of superintendent, it's sometimes a lack of courage of having the willingness and the courage to say these things out loud: That it's a lack of these very basic things.
"And I do not want to leave this place without having given my best effort to establish this, re-establish this, build this as the vast base that undergirds all of our work — be it academic work, be it anti-racist work, be it arts work, be it whatever. It has to sit on this foundation."
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