By Constance Reddy Dwyer
She started her new job on July 1, and Dr. Elizabeth Ann Zielinski, better known as “Dr. Liz,” is very happy to be at the helm of the Oxford Public Schools system. She will be involved with the four schools in the District: Chaffee Elementary, Clara Barton Elementary, Oxford Middle School, and Oxford High School, in all serving 1,357 students.
Dr. Liz came to Oxford from the King Philip Regional School District in Norfolk, which comprised grade 7 through 12 students from the towns of Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, with a total student body of 2300. During her eight-year tenure there, 90 percent of graduating students pursued higher education; she also spearheaded an award-winning music program, exceptional sports programs, and specialized programs for students with disabilities.
Prior to overseeing the King Philip Regional School District, Dr. Liz served as assistant superintendent for the Quaboag Regional School District in Warren, school support specialist for the Holyoke public schools, principal of the Chicopee public schools, assistant principal of the Ware public schools, a grade 6 teacher in the West Springfield public schools and a grades 7 and 8 teacher in Springfield.
In Oxford, she will once again be able to include elementary kids in her focus. “In a PK-12 system, you can really see the growth and development of each child over the course of their schooling and develop strong family-school relationships,” she says.
In an interview in her spacious fourth floor office, Dr. Liz silently shows her creativity; her conference table features a mini sandbox, with beach-type décor, connoting calm and relaxation. With all the responsibilities she now shoulders, Dr. Liz wants to assure everyone she interacts with that being “cool, calm and collected” is central to her modus operandi.
When asked about the two failed overrides in town, one last year and the most recent one in May, her optimism was unshakable in that she believes the next override will be successful. In the most recent attempt, “We got closer to winning with more votes. There is still the need for an override and I will work with the interim town manager, school committee, select board and other organizations to articulate the needs of the school. We can’t run a District without funds.”
Dr. Liz emphasized how students must have the resources to reach their full potential and the Oxford school system must “lay the foundation for their future.” It is her intent to have the community—parents, students, townspeople, town officials--totally involved in the next override attempt by providing everyone with a survey in order to gain their input as to what they seek the Oxford Public Schools to be. “I want to be clear, transparent and concise” in my goals and I will seek to develop a strategic plan for the school district. I have to be transparent and honest and I can’t hide the ugly. Perception is reality, as the saying goes, and Dr. Liz wants the perception of the Oxford schools to be both realistic and positive.
Because of the failed override, she said “five teachers have to be laid off as well as some support staff.” Some programs like health education had to “shrink” and with school choice, the superintendent expressed her concern that she does not want to lose more students. She wants to assure parents that her goal is to have a “strong school system which, in turn, favorably increases property values.”
Parents are hard-working, she says, but the economics of the town are challenging. “Oxford has a significant number of children who are low income, 54 percent. Children of families in the low-income bracket often need additional resources and supports to be successful. The current funding formula for public schools statewide is not adequate to provide all the resources need for all of the children.”
Looking at the structure of the school system is a critical component and “it will take about a year to analyze all the data, to establish school (educational) priorities.” She already knows the District has “done quite a bit of restructuring and I will take a look at it and find out what is in the best interest of our students, to make sure that they get what they need to be successful.”
The school system now has a dual enrollment program and the superintendent hopes that students will find this resource helpful by enrolling in a college course while in high school to discover they can aspire to higher education. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program is very important, and as a past chemistry teacher admits she leans to the sciences. It is important that “children who struggle at an early age have intervention.” But she also acknowledged the foundational importance of language in any profession. “Kids need to read and comprehend well.”
Dr. Liz’s own education background is impressive, with a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, a Master of Education from Lesley College, and a Doctor of Education degree from Boston College. She and her family reside in Ludlow.