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'I live in the future'

Ely talks of his vision for school district

New Superintendent of Schools Eric Ely says he is ready to try new avenues to reach educational goals. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
August 15, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — New School Superintendent Eric Ely has an optimistic view of what the Southbridge schools can be — "the centerpiece of the community."

To him, the key factor in making that possible is teamwork, both within and outside the schools' walls, involving pretty much everyone in the community.

"School districts are like elephants — they move slowly," Ely said. "If it doesn't want to move, you can't make it move, but a group of people can make it move."

Ely just finished his second week at the helm of the district, and staff people are already saying the working atmosphere is more flexible and open than it was under his predecessor, Dale Hanley. That openness, Ely said, is crucial to where he hopes to take the schools, since the district still faces several challenges that will require creativity to solve.

"I live in the future," he said. "We take what we have, toss out what doesn't work," and create new things to fill the gaps, he said.

But he doesn't see himself as the sole source of those new ideas. Instead, Ely hopes to find them in the teachers, staff, students, business community and general citizenry, since all of them have a stake in the system's success. To do it, he sees his role, in part, as making it possible for people to cross the barriers they may see as dividing themselves from others.

Ely points to his own history as an example of what he means. Several years ago, while principal of a high school in Dayton, Ohio, he was a multi-sport coach, including football, and there was a feeling of division between the athletes and the fine arts students. To encourage crossing that gap, Ely joined the drama group, spending two years performing "A Christmas Carol" (first as Scrooge, then as Bob Crachit).

Here, he sees a similar opportunity with October's Hispanic Heritage Month. He'd like to see students take the lead — with adult guidance — in devising, fundraising for, promoting and running events to celebrate Latino culture and share it with the town's Anglo and other populations.

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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