Williams Center at Mount Greylock Director Kaatje White highlighted the programs being made available by a fund set up by Williams alumni.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The "town-gown" relationship was on full display on Tuesday, when the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee trumpeted its relationship with Williams College and talked about how that may help pull up some state standardized test scores that concern school officials.
The featured guest at a marathon meeting was the college's assistant to the president for public affairs.
Jim Kolesar joined the board for a discussion of the benefits that have accrued from the Williams College Fund for Mount Greylock, a program spearheaded by the donations of the Jeffrey family, which includes a number of Williams alumni.
Kolesar said Tuesday that the Jeffreys contribution has been augmented by a number of local households interested in seeing the high school advance.
By the end of the 2014-15 academic year, the fund will have generated $735,000 to support "teacher and administrative initiatives to catalyze innovative change and to sustain improvement" at Mount Greylock, Superintendent Rose Ellis said.
"Williams certainly sees much to applaud in the way the school has handled the fund," Kolesar told the committee. "Mount Greylock teachers are eager to innovate if they get the proper support. ... We're seeing expanded offerings for students, which is fantastic ... extracurricular things, experiential learning, getting students off the campus to do job shadowing.
"These projects seem to be enhancing the lives of students of all backgrounds and abilities, which is important. It allows the school to reclaim its historic legacy as a model innovative school."
Of particular note is the $31,000 the district spent last year on a needs assessment for Mount Greylock's science department. The fund allowed the school to engage Rexford, N.Y.'s, International Center for Leadership in Education to look at the entire program from grades 7 through 12.
That assessment will help Mount Greylock address some lagging science scores on the most recent round of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test scores announced last night by Principal Mary MacDonald.
While Mount Greylock students in Grades 7, 8 and 10 easily eclipsed their contemporaries across the state on the English language arts and mathematics exams, the news was less rosy on the science exam.
Fifty-one percent of eighth-graders taking the science exam fell into the "needs improvement" category and and another 11 percent were in the "warning" category, the two low-end categories in the MCAS system. MacDonald said the district's performance was on par with averages across the commonwealth.
"That's good to know, but Mount Greylock has never just been at par with the state," she said.
MacDonald went on to describe the science program as, "very much a work in progress. Much work has been done in the sciences this summer. The middle school overhauled its curriculum."
As recently as 2011, 72 percent of Mount Greylock's students fell into the "needs improvement" and "warning" categories. So the 62 percent in those categories on last year's tests is a step in the right direction.
But those science numbers lag behind the school's performance on the the math and English tests, on which Mount Greylock students clobber the state averages.
In math, the percentage of Mount Greylock students rating "advanced" or "proficient" (the high end of the four-category system) was 72 percent — 20 percent higher than the state average and 3 percent better than the school's seventh-graders did in 2012.
In 10th grade math, Mount Greylock's sophomores achieved a 93 percent rate for students rating advanced or proficient, with 71 percent falling into the advanced category.
In English, 92 percent of Mount Greylock's seventh-graders fell into the advanced and proficient category; the state average is 71 percent. The sophomore class had 98 percent of students rating advanced or proficient in English, with 54 percent categorized as advanced.
As usual, Mount Greylock was well represented at the high end of the achievement spectrum. Ellis announced a list of 30 Mount Greylock students who were named John and Abigail Adams Scholars based on their MCAS scores. The students achieved scores in the top 25 percent for the area, and as a result they are eligible for free tuition for four years at a Massachusetts state college or university.
But school officials were equally proud of the fact that the the school achieved a rating of 84 (on a 100-point scale) for narrowing the proficiency gaps among students identified as low-income.
"What this shows is that your socioeconomic status doesn't matter at Mount Greylock," MacDonald said.
"The whole faculty is committed to providing the best education for all, and we underline 'all,' " Ellis added.
The whole academic program at Mount Greylock benefits from its relationship with Williams, and that relationship goes beyond the money from the Williams College Fund.
The committee on Tuesday also heard from Kaatje White, the director of the Williams Center at Mount Greylock, which brings college students to the junior-senior high school and students from Mount Greylock to the Williams campus.
White highlighted a number of programs that have utilized that relationship since she started with the program in 2008 and noted that the fund started by the Jeffrey family has enhanced the center's efforts.
"What this money has done is inspired the teachers so the teachers are more excited about working with me and Williams," White said. "There has been this synergy that has occurred that I'm very grateful for as well."
This year, 40 Williams students are working with Mount Greylock students — either in the classroom or in Tuesday night tutoring sessions held on the college's campus.
White said one of the limitations to even more participation by the collegians is the problem of getting them down Route 7 to the Mount Greylock campus. But she credited the college's coordinator of experiential education, Paula Consolini, for working with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority to open opportunities for bus service between the two schools.
There was discussion whether Robert Ericson, who is also a Lanesborough selectman, should serve on a school building committee, while wearing both 'hats.'
"Currently there is a bus from North Adams that leaves every 15 minutes, and many [Williams] students are working at North Adams' elementary schools," White said. "We're now trying to get that shuttle bus to go south to the Berkshire Mall, which will open up Mount Greylock and Lanesborough Elementary School."
In other business, the committee began the work of creating a building committee required under the terms of the Massachusetts School Building Authority's invitation to the district to the MSBA's eligibility phase.
School Committee members discussed issues that included whether staff members (like Ellis and MacDonald) who serve on the committee should be voting members, particularly in light of the expectation that the committee will have a budget to spend, and whether Robert Ericson, who serves on both the School Committee and the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen, should serve on the building committee while wearing both "hats."
The committee will be responsible for moving the school project to its next major milestone, a vote of Williamstown and Lanesborough residents likely this spring on whether to authorize money for a feasibility study and preliminary design work on a new or renovated Mount Greylock.
School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said the feasibility stage is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $750,000, based on conversations with MSBA officials.
Williams has pledged $25,0000 to the effort, and the School Committee hopes to contribute $75,000 out of its operating budget, leaving a $650,000 bill to be split between Mount Greylock's two member towns (Lanesborough and Williamstown), if voters give the OK. Currently, the towns split district costs on a 40/60 basis, meaning Lanesborough would be asked for $260,000 of the $650,000 and Williamstown would be asked for $390,000.