Teachers have gone through a lot of professional development to incorporate the new technology at Hoosac Valley. Principal Vinny Reagan said the focus is to get students ready for college or careers.
ADAMS, Mass. — In his high school days as a Mount Greylock Mountie, Vinny Reagan knew Hoosac Valley as a "sports school."
While that may be true is some aspects — such as the girl's basketball winning a Western Mass title this past season — Reagan now sees a lot more that outsiders may not know about.
Reagan is the school's new principal, taking over last year, and has set a goal for the school to be known for its academics and arts, too.
"It was great handing over that trophy to the girls but I want them to go to college too," Reagan said during an interview on Friday. "My goal is for half of the students to take an advanced placement course."
The school has served the residents of Adams and Cheshire for years but the population has been declining and, with that, school-choice students have become a significant source of revenue.
Other school districts have hired outreach coordinators to boost those numbers, too, and with four schools within miles of each other in Northern Berkshire, competition has grown. Some 300 students living in Adams and Cheshire are not going to the district's schools that has been taxing on the budget. Hoosac Valley officials feel they haven't done enough to show the community what they offer.
The school has gone through massive changes in just the last two years, including a complete renovation, and officials want to show those students that Hoosac Valley isn't just a sports school. The district has hired OneEighty Media, a marketing consulting business headed by John Krol, to help "tell the story."
"I'm pretty in touch with what's going on in Berkshire County and I had no idea this renovation was happening," Krol, also a Pittsfield city councilor, said on Tuesday. "In some ways it is a well-kept secret to people on the outside."
Krol has already organized a photo shoot to update the district's stock photos for mailings, event fliers, advertisements and possibly a billboard to help show off the renovated school. They have begun a television show on to be shown on Northern Berkshire Community Television highlighting non-sports related activities and are planning open houses and ceremonies to bring the community into the school.
"We've put together a solid outline for an outreach plan," Krol said, adding that "I would have killed to go to a high school like this and we need to get the message out."
It isn't just the $45 million renovation that has changed the high and middle school but a change in administration. The district has two new principals and a new superintendent who have all set forth goals.
Principal Vinny Reagan helping students in the renovated library.
The school's curriculum has gone through a complete overhaul on the middle school level to further correspond with the high school programming now that the two levels are in the same building, a new teacher evaluation system is being rolled out to increase accountability, team leaders for each discipline have been added and a new student assessment system that includes specific teachers in the middle school have been assigned to work with students who are falling behind.
The middle school level has been struggling with standardized testing scores and officials are working to correct that.
Teachers have been going through a lot of additional professional development to help teach with the brand-new technology that was installed with the renovation.
At the high school level, Reagan is implementing a new pathways program that will be similar to the college educational system. Students can choose a pathway and each semester take electives that correspond with that particular field, then be able to graduate with a pathway distinction.
"We want students to be college ready or career ready," Reagan said.
They have also partnered with Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative for the development of STEM education. Reagan is planning STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, pathways such as an engineering tract. Additional advanced placements courses have been added as well.
"We're pushing the higher level classes and we've added a lot of AP courses," Reagan said, adding that new teachers have been recently whom he feels will be "very effective."
Co-curricular activities are being added in the high school, such as a new partnership with Shakespeare & Company to form an after-school program and a dance class to the choreography classes in the new blackbox theater. A new music club — Hoosac Valley's version of the TV show "Glee" — has formed. These activities are aimed at keeping students engaged.
"We're trying to find the hook for every kid," Reagan said.
He is planning on bringing back spelling bees and science fairs and hopes to get the community to the school to support those as well.
Staff and administrators are also working to improve the "hidden curriculum" that aims to "not just teach academics but educate for life." That includes adopting new core values (dubbed Hurricane Pride) that are emphasized to the students.
All of the changes are on top of what the school already does, and Reagan is hoping to feature former students who have gone on to successful careers.
Even with all of that, they still need to sell it to attract students.
"School districts are not set up for this kind of thing," Krol said of his role in consulting. "And they shouldn't have to.
"This is needed."
Reagan said there is no plan to hire an outreach coordinator when Krol's contrat is up in six months. By that time, they are hoping word of mouth will be strong enough to continue spreading the message.