Tech, mental health and a new school: Shaver-Hood looks back

Jul 12, 2022

After nine years, a brand-new elementary school and shepherding students and staff through a pandemic, Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood has retired from Wareham Public Schools. 

“It’s been a very nice journey,” Shaver-Hood said. “There’s so many nice people that care about the students and want to do the right thing. It’s a pleasure to work with educators that have that as their mission.”

One big change from when she took the helm in 2013: An increased focus on the social-emotional side of education. When she started, there were no social workers in the district. Now, the district employs a number of social workers, counselors and school psychologists to help meet students’ needs.

“Covid threw everything in education askew,” Shaver-Hood said. At the start of the pandemic, she said, she was predominantly concerned about students’ well-being and potential learning loss.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, however, she saw that social-emotional impacts outweighed students’ academic struggles. Social-emotional learning is an umbrella term that encompasses skills like moderating one’s emotions, interacting well with others and respecting boundaries.

“Schools were really the hub for communities and families,” Shaver-Hood said. 

She said that while the schools worked hard to keep kids engaged academically, she wishes they had been able to do more to bring the community and families together safely.

“I don’t think anyone realized the toll it took,” she said. Shaver-Hood said she wished that she had more immediately focused on social-emotional support as students returned to schools. 

One silver lining of the pandemic, she said, has been families’ enthusiasm at once again being able to be a part of the school community.

“The families flock to their childrens’ events,” she said. “They want to participate and be involved.”

Wareham students got back to learning about one week after schools closed in March 2020 — far faster than many other districts. That was possible because the schools have provided each student with a laptop for the past six years, Shaver-Hood said.

Shaver-Hood said that the increased use of technology in Wareham schools is one of her biggest accomplishments. In 2013, each school had carts of iPads that were shared between classes. Now, in addition to the one-to-one Chromebooks, each classroom in the new Wareham Elementary School is equipped with a large touchscreen. Young students have access to a TV studio and 3-D printers, and students can learn to write code to program video games.

“I think those kind of pieces will serve students well into the future,” Shaver-Hood said. 

Another of her proudest accomplishments, she said, was the introduction of the IB program at the high school and new reading programs for young students.

“The changes and growth that we’ve seen from those programs is refreshing,” she said. 

One of the greatest challenges Shaver-Hood faced during her time at Wareham Schools was an increasingly tight budget. When she began as superintendent, there were seven schools in the district. Now, due to the shrinking school-age population and budget cuts, there are just three schools.

“Budgetarily, it’s been really challenging — not because of lack of support,” Shaver-Hood said, adding that the town has been “nothing but supportive.”

She said she’s proud of the work the district has done to provide students with a well-rounded education — one that provides both opportunities and challenges for every individual.

Shaver-Hood praised Jane Fondulis’s work in the Office of Beyond School Time, which provides enrichment opportunities for kids and teens both after school and through the summer. Those activities range from wooden boat building to drama and beyond.

“I know that will continue to serve our students and provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Shaver-Hood said.

Overall, she said, she hopes that the district will continue to build on the work she’s done.

“I hope that what I’ve done over the past nine years is give people the opportunity to move forward and continue to see that progress,” Shaver-Hood said. “Our job is to try things to give kids opportunities.”

The district’s new superintendent, Dr. Matthew D’Andrea, began work on July 1.

Shaver-Hood said that in retirement, she’s looking forward to having more free time for the things she loves: Travel, spending time with her grandchildren — who she described as “fabulous athletes and students,” and playing pickleball.

Another retirement perk: She won’t have to wake up before the crack of dawn to make that all-important call about whether or not to have a snow day.