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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
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Berkshire Profile: Selectwoman Jane Allen

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, April 16, 2006

Williamstown Selectwoman Jane Allen
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident whose actions contribute to the Berkshires way of life.

Williamstown - For some, life is all about learning, for others, teaching is their calling. Service to neighbor and community is the work that inspires other individuals.

Town Selectwoman Jane Allen,67, has crafted a life encompassing all three purposes. The decades of her life carried Allen from student to classroom teacher to school principal and elected town official. She is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.

And according to Allen, she is "very fortunate."

"I have had the good fortune to be part of many communities," she said during an April 13 interview. "I am so fortunate to have been able to work with wonderful, talented people and to be able to continue to work with wonderful, talented people."

Allen is a North Adams native. She spent her youth living on State Road with her parents Lindon and Mary Brooks. Lindon Brooks was a manager at the former J.J. Newberry's store on Main Street, Allen said.

North Adams Roots

"I grew up right across the street from Fort Massachusetts," Allen said. "On Main Street, there was Newberry's, Grant's, and Woolworth's. There was Bank Street. I remember how incredibly vibrant Main Street was; John [her husband John Allen] and I talk all the time about Rice's corner and how lively it was on Thursday nights and Saturdays."

The urban renewal endeavors of the mid-1960s and early 1970s erased much of the downtown character; that mistake was repeated throughout many communities during the era.

"At that point, the feeling was new was better," Allen said. "It was 'tear down the old and go with the new.' "

The city school system was "cutting edge" when she was a child, Allen said.

"At that time, we went to school at age four for half-days," she said. "Then we went full days at age five, and then we went to first grade."

Katherine Dailey was Allen's pre-primary and kindergarten teacher, and Allen attended Brayton School when the building was designated as an elementary school. She graduated from Drury High School with the Class of 1957, she said.

"I believe that I received an excellent education at North Adams schools," she said.

While enrolled at Drury as sophomore student Jane Brooks, she met her future husband John Allen. The two became high school sweethearts who dated regularly and attended proms as a couple. The two attended different colleges but the relationship survived time and distance. They were married on August 12, 1961 and this year marks the couple's 45th anniversary of their marriage. Jane and John Allen have three daughters and several grandchildren now living in Colorado and Alaska.

"I Loved Helping The Kids...."

After graduating from the North Adams State College, now known as the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and after marrying, Allen embarked on a career in education. She has taught pre-school aged children at the Little Red Schoolhouse, first grade students at the town-based Broad Brook school before the school closed in 1980, and then taught students enrolled at the former School Street three-building complex.

Teaching brought enormous joy to Allen, she said.

"I loved helping the kids to be successful, to want to be life-long learners," she said. "I was so lucky. When I was a first grade teacher at Broad Brook, I had such an incredible room with great windows. We had guinea pigs, we had a greenhouse, we had a workbench and easels. We had a dress-up area. When we moved to the [School Street] building, there wasn't as much space, but I never gave up the guinea pigs, the easels, the workbench or the blocks. I believed these things were important."

"The kids all worked so hard academically and I was so proud of them. But they didn't sit at their desks all day long. They all had workbooks and once the work in their folder was done, they could choose activities. It was a wonderful way to learn. There was recognition then that kids learn in different ways."

Allen earned a master's degree in educational administration at SUNY-Albany in 1985. Her administrative internship was completed at the town's elementary school under the guidance of former Superintendent Helen Renzi and former Principal Howard Smith.

"It was great fun to do my internship at the school," she said. "There were such wonderful people there and I was so fortunate to have worked with them. I remember that we did an all-school production that was just great. Of course, that was pre-MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing]."

"We had such a wonderful director, Roger Ames, and we had two performances so that we could have two casts. The kids wrote the music with Roger and it was just amazing. It brought the community and the school together. It was a highlight of my internship."

Renzi was a "cutting edge" education leader, Allen said.

"She had us at the forefront of what was happening in [elementary] education," she said. "We had a foreign language program, a writing program, before most elementary schools had them. We had monthly events built around a theme, and the kids really got into it. [Renzi] was amazing, she really had us together as a school."

Principles Of A Principal

Allen transitioned from teacher to principal after earning the master's degree. She was the principal of the kindergarten-grade 1 Crane Community School in Windsor and it's "sister school", the grade 2-grade 5 Cummington School. While serving as principal of the schools, she was also the Title 1 director for both education venues. She also worked as principal of the Kittredge Elementary School in Hinsdale before becoming principal of the Clarksburg Elementary School. Allen retired from the Clarksburg school post after serving the school for eight years.

Her experiences in education have focused on empowerment, Allen said.

"It was empowering as a teacher to create life-long learners," she said. "As a principal, to empower teachers to take charge of learning, to make good things happen, that is so positive."

Focus on Community

Her decision to seek elected office came as one of life's surprises, Allen said. She is in the midst of her second three-year term as a member of the town's select board.

"It was never on my radar screen," she said. "My family and friends thought that I'd be in education forever. And then a trusted friend of mine called and said 'would you consider running for selectman,' and it piqued my interest. For me, it's more about community service than politics. I don't see myself as a politician but I do see myself as a public servant. I see [being a public servant] as a very positive sense."

Leadership and service have had a role in Allen's life for many years. She served as a member of the Drury student council during her high school years and as a senior, she was elected as student council president. She is currently a MCLA trustee, a member of the town's COOL Committee [CO2 Lowering Committee] and a member of the Images Cinema Board of Directors.

"And in these things I am fortunate," she said. "I am able to work with people such as [Williamstown Town Manager] Peter Fohlin, [MCLA President] Mary Grant, and [Images Executive Director] Sandy Thomas. I continue to work with talented people."

Her passion for the entities she serves knows no limits; Allen believes that the town is a wonderful community, MCLA is a great example of a public college and the cinema is an asset to the community and the region.

"Images Cinema will be 90 years old this year," she said. "We are so lucky to have this here. Other communities are working to bring back what we have been able to hold on to."

Lasting Impressions

All of her endeavors - teacher, principal, elected leader and committee/board member - have brought Allen into the fold of many communities.

"Communities are unique," she said. "For me, it's the people that make a community special and that's what has always left a lasting impression on me. Schools are a reflection of a community. And if you had told me the month before I decided to run for selectman, well, it just wasn't on the screen."

But once the idea was presented....

"I realized that I needed to continue to make a difference," she said. "I think that I will always look for the opportunities to make a difference."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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