WORTHINGTON – State representative-elect Natalie M. Blais who will succeed longtime state Rep. Stephen Kulik, visited the RH Conwell School last week to get a personal tour of the rural elementary school and discuss its challenges, successes and uniqueness.
Blais, who will represent the 1st Franklin District, has emphasized the importance addressing educational needs particularly in rural areas. She said she was happy to receive the invitation from the school.
“They invited me to come and I jumped at the invitation,” Blais, of Sunderland, said. “It is my first time at the school and it is exciting because you can really feel the warmth and energy in every classroom.”
Superintendent/Principal Gretchen Morse-Dobosz and Worthington School Committee members Amanda Brooks-Clemeno, and Cai Walkowiak, escorted Blais from the school kitchen to classrooms, gardens, and to outdoor play and research areas. Blais ended the tour with an all school meeting.
Along the way conversations touched on issues like the school’s science and math programs, its new farm project and the importance of getting broadband service.
Blais also spoke with several students who told her what they were studying and what they enjoy about attending the school. While some said they loved being able to go into the woods for science projects, others spoke of their excitement over the schools sustainable farm project, which will eventually provide the school with produce, eggs, and honey.
Other students said they appreciated an absence of bullying at their school, and small class sizes.
“I think the students that interacted with her did a fabulous job by making her feel at home and explaining what learning and education looks like at RH Conwell,” Morse-Dobosz said.
Blais also heard from teachers and staff about the double and triple duties they often fill in order to fulfill the mission of the school and help keep it viable.
For example, while Morse-Dobosz is the superintendant and principal, she also frequently fills in as janitor, bus monitor, and food delivery person for the school.
She explained that the school’s food orders are so small that delivery trucks will not stop in Worthington, instead delivering their orders to the neighboring New Hingham School in Chesterfield.
“I drive by there on my way to work, so rather than having to pay someone to go pick up food twice a week, I do that and it saves money for the school,” Morse-Dobosz said. “For rural schools, things like that can make a big difference to us.”
Morse-Dobosz also told Blais that the Worthington School Committee and the PTO are very active and engaged in supporting the school.
“We are lucky to have them,” she said.
The 1st Franklin District covers 19 school districts in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin Counties, many of which are in rural areas like Worthington.
Morse-Dobosz said that strong representation for rural schools is absolutely critical in keeping them afloat.
She commended Kulik, of Worthington, as a long-time advocate for rural schools who played an integral part in getting the RH Conwell School reopened as a public school in 2015 after it had been closed by the Gateway Regional School District in 2010, then subsequently operated as a heavily subsidized private school.
“Steve Kulik has been such an big part of RH Conwell and the Worthington community,” Morse-Dobosz said. “He was very involved in getting the school going again, and has always been available to us when we ever needed assistance or advice.”
Kulik has served as a state representative for 25 years and supported Blais during her campaign.
Blais has emphasized that schools in rural areas are suffering from an outdated Chapter 70 funding formula, the major program of state aid for public elementary and secondary schools, and that changes in funding are “necessary and long overdue,” as she put it.
Morse-Dobosz said that she hopes Blais’s first visit to the school would be the beginning of an ongoing conversation about education in the Hilltowns.
“It is very important to understand the challenges that all our schools are facing” Blais said. “I look forward to more visits to the Conwell School and I will definitely be visiting other schools in the district when I begin my term.”