The center, which provides an alternative to traditional on-site school learning for a portion of the student population, will reopen this school year in leased space formerly occupied by the Mildred Elley Business School in St. Luke's Square.
Superintendent Jason McCandless said the center, which serves students who, for either a short-term or long-term basis, cannot be at one of the city's high schools, is a vital part of the district, but needed retooling.
"The student resource center will continue to operate, and it will continue to serve students in a secure setting," McCandless told the Pittsfield School Committee on Wednesday. "This opportunity to move has been a wonderful opportunity to look at the programs, to think about what we want to do with the programs now, and begin to think about what we would like to do with these programs in the future."
The current heightened security learning center, which drew criticism from the NAACP earlier this year, consists of a dropout prevention program that serves about 30-40 students a year, as well as an off-site school setting for students on suspensions, and the EOS (Educational Options for Success) program begun in 2009 after the closure of the Hibbard Alternative High School.
In this new formulation, the school district is looking to subcontract the dropout prevention program portion of the center to an outside partner, and whether that aspect is handled at the new East Street location or at another site will depend on the results from a request for proposals for the approximately $100,000 program, which went out to bid last week.
"We feel that these students are going to be better set up for success if they have some additional job training, some additional counseling, mental health care, maybe even alcohol and substance abuse care," said McCandless.
The superintendent said the center has put Pittsfield ahead of the curve in preparing for changing laws regarding expulsions and long-term suspensions, noting that many communities have no such options for providing this level of education for students who for behavioral or other reasons cannot be served in a less secure setting. The school district will continue to work in partnership with the sheriff's department on all programs other than the dropout prevention program, and the use of metal detectors and other security measures will continue to be in place, but at a site more conducive to learning,
"The Juvenile Resource Center is something we all care about deeply, we've all had some concerns, and raised by some of our community friends and neighbors earlier this year," said McCandless, asking the committee to approve the lease for "a new location, that's not in a just barely post-Civil War era jail."
The Juvenile Resource Center was started at the former Second Street Jail, initially funded by a $2 million grant. It currently is budgeted at $400,000, a figure which will remain substantially the same as the revised Student Resource Center programs.
The committee unanimously approved a two year lease contract to rent the former Mildred Elley educational space.
"It's proven very successful," said Vice Chairman Daniel Elias, "It's a great program."
"I think it's certainly a program that distinguishes us," agreed Chairwoman Katherine Yon.