Superintendent's Update – March 29, 2024

Dear Shrewsbury Families, Colleagues, & Community Members,

I would like to provide you with a couple of brief updates and an important message regarding our expectations for respectful cultures in our schools.

First, I want to call your attention to the work of the Preschool-Grade 4 Capital Planning Study Committee.  This committee consisted of parents, educators, and leaders from Parker Road Preschool and all five of our elementary schools, along with members of the School Committee, Select Board, municipal administration, and School Department administration.  The study committee met several times since September to examine our community's potential future needs for school buildings in grades PreK-4.   The final report of the study committee can be found here. The study committee's consultant from the Collins Center at UMass Boston presented the findings of the study committee at this past Wednesday's School Committee meeting -- you can view the presentation here and the presentation slides here.  I appreciate the work that the study committee did to lay a foundation for addressing PreK-4 capital needs years in the future by identifying variables, making recommendations, and suggesting potential solutions.

Second, I want to provide you with an update regarding the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget process.  This past Saturday, the School Committee and district administration participated in the annual Saturday hearing of the town Finance Committee.  You can view the hearing here and find the presentation slides here.  We are fortunate that, unlike many Massachusetts public school districts that are facing cuts in personnel and programming in the coming year, our finances are stable thanks to the investment our community made in passing the operational override in 2021, for which I remain deeply grateful.  We will not require any cuts, and will be able to make some targeted investments for key requirements in special education, student mental and behavioral health, English language education, literacy, career technical education, and cybersecurity.   The School Committee will vote in April on a recommended School Department budget to be presented for approval at the Annual Town Meeting in May.  

Finally, I want to again call your attention to my ongoing concerns regarding both students with significant mental health challenges and students whose behaviors are disrespectful or inappropriate.  I ask that you take the time to read my message below, which will be published in the next edition of the Shrewsbury School Journal that will be delivered to all Shrewsbury residences in the coming days.  I am appreciative of the difficult work our staff is doing to address complex mental health concerns among a small number of students whose behaviors are highly impactful; separately, I am grateful for the work staff are doing to hold students accountable when their behavior violates our core values or disrupts the learning environment.  I am also asking for our families' continued support, as your own expectations for your children and your support of the school's expectations – especially when students make poor decisions and don't meet those expectations – are key to maintaining positive, respectful school cultures in the face of the challenges of today's society.   As I note below, the vast majority of our families provide that support, for which I am grateful; in the small number of cases where parents do not support the school's efforts to hold students accountable, we will continue to take a respectful but firm stance in order to maintain a safe, supportive, and purposeful environment for student learning.

Thank you for your ongoing efforts to support our schools, and best wishes to all who recently celebrated Holi and to all who will be celebrating Easter this weekend.     


Joe Sawyer

Superintendent of Schools


High expectations for respectful school cultures


As winter comes to an end and we are beginning to see signs that spring is on the way, it is exciting to see our students blooming in many different ways.  As we finish the second semester and head into the last third of the school year, there are many accomplishments of which our community can be proud.  These include: in performing arts, another superb high school musical along with music ensembles and individuals earning regional and state honors; incredible student artwork created and displayed locally and online; several team and individual honors in academic competitions; various successes in the athletic arena; and, at the core of our educational mission, a variety of measures that show promising overall growth in our students’ academic progress.  

I’m pleased that the vast majority of our students are doing well and developing their academic skills and character as we would hope.  However, as I’ve reported to the community previously, at the same time we continue to experience significant challenges where too many students are struggling with complex mental health issues, and too many others are displaying behaviors that are disrespectful or inappropriate both in and outside of school.  This is not unique to Shrewsbury, as communities across the state and nation are seeing similar struggles among our youth.  While we are fortunate that this phenomenon is more limited in scope here in Shrewsbury than in many other locales, these behaviors – which we see across all of our grade spans and among all types of student demographic groups – are affecting the climate of our schools in negative ways.  We must respond skillfully as a school system to counteract these effects and maintain the positive, respectful cultures that have been the hallmarks of our schools for decades.

There are many strategic efforts underway to address students’ mental health and well-being and to support their social and emotional development.  I also want you to know that our schools are working hard to ensure that our high expectations for students’ behavior are clear, and that students are held accountable when they do not meet those expectations. 

I recently spoke with our educators and leaders, and I shared with them that in my almost 34 years in education (27 here in Shrewsbury), it is clear to me that their work has never been more challenging or complex.  We must continue to use the expertise of our clinical staff to skillfully work with students whose behaviors are related to mental health challenges, and at the same time ensure that our teachers, paraeducators, and administrators are supported in addressing student behaviors that disrupt the classroom and school environment.  I expect that parents will work collaboratively with their school when their child requires redirection or consequences for poor behavior – and the vast majority of them do, which I appreciate.  In cases where parents are not supportive of holding their child accountable, I expect our educators and school leaders will take a respectfully firm stance, as the success of all of our students depends on maintaining a safe, supportive, and purposeful climate for learning.   

We have rightfully taken pride in our strong school cultures in Shrewsbury.  Despite the challenges of today’s society, I am optimistic that our school communities will succeed in helping our students meet the high expectations we hold for them.  By guiding our students, empowering our staff, and partnering with our families, I am confident that our schools will continue to provide learning environments where our students can thrive. 

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