Adams-Cheshire set a meeting for the community but the community didn't come. Adminstrators said they'll try a later hour next time.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — An attempt to hear community concerns about the school district fell short Tuesday when only one parent attended the open forum.
Billed as a community conversation with the administrators of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, the 90-minute open forum hoped to attract parents and communities members with questions or concerns about the district. While principals for all three schools said the idea was great, holding the event at 9 in the morning may not have been most convenient.
"My first thought is that we hold the next one at 6 p.m.," said Superintendent Kristen Gordon upon entering a mostly empty conference room Cheshire Elementary.
While the room may have been nearly empty, the administrators and parent Patrick Hanbery, who has served on multiple committees for the district, still discussed some of the major issues in the school — particularly with 24 percent of children in the district opting to go to other schools.
"We have some great things in the works," Gordon said. "We do have a very good marketing plan we are going to roll out."
The school district has hired a marketing consultant and will be rolling out multiple events and programs to help show off the positive things at the school in hopes to get the younger children excited about going there. Recently, the school has had professional photo and video shoots to go into its marketing material, will begin a community television show, is holding a commissioning event for the new solar panels and is bringing elementary pupils to tour the newly renovated high school. Gordon said she is even eyeing a billboard on Route 8.
On the education side, Hoosac Valley Principal Vinnie Regan said he is looking to increase the college preparation programming, which can then be emphasized to prospective students.
"My goal is to have 50 percent of seniors take at least one AP class," Regan said.
Regan said he is also slowly adding additional extracurricular activities, including the recently added outing club, and adding a Shakespeare & Company program soon. Extracurricular activities tend to keep children in schools longer and Regan hopes to increase those.
"We have programs that people don't even know about," Gordon said, using choreography and robotics classes as examples.
The district is also looking to start an engineering program that will bring companies to the schools, Gordon said.
The administrators have been looking at other districts with the same demographics to find one that has made improvements to student achievement overall in standardize testings. Cheshire Elementary School Principal Peter Bachli said they haven't found a similar district that has dramatically improved scores but they have partnered with two schools to share ideas.
The biggest problem is that the district doesn't have positions like a curriculum coordinator to focus on improving schools, he said. Gordon added they will be presenting a budget next week with little room to expand programming.
Bringing more students into the district will improve state funding and allow for the district to expand those extracurricular and academic programming. Gordon said she will be contacting legislators in hopes to help change the funding mechanism for charter schools, which she says takes about $800,000 out of the district budget each year.
"I don't want anyone to think I am against charter schools. I just think the funding mechanism needs to be changed," she said.
With lower funding, the school district can't provide the extra staffing and programming to improve student achievement so more students leave, cutting more from the budget. Bachli added that the district also spends a lot on transportation with the state only reimbursing the school at 54 percent.
While the conversation was led by questions from Hansbery, he also answered some for the administrators. Hanbery has been heading an effort to improve communication between parents and staff — particularly with online grades.
The school district is in its first year of having online grades for elementary children after piloting the program last year. Hanbery said some teachers are great while others are not in posting grades. Regan said he hopes to have some more professional development for the teachers to get them used to the new systems.
Hansbery said he understands that he can't expect results immediately because the teachers need time to grade and then transfer them online but he would like to see the grades come out while the students were still on the subject.
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