Project Reconnect Takes Over Pittsfield Drop-Out Program

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The School Committee approved a bid by Project Reconnect to take over its drop-out center.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community Action Council's Project Reconnect will partner with the Pittsfield school district to assume management of a drop-out prevention program that serves 30 to 40 at risk local students a year.
Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless said the BCAC initiative was the winner of a bid put out last month to find an organization to administrate this educational component of the former Juvenile Resource Center, the rest of which was recently reconfigured into the Student Resource Center that will operate this year out of the former Mildred Elley space at St Luke's Square.
"When we moved the Juvenile Resource Center to its new location, we said that it was in the best interest of the students to peel off these drop-out prevention services, and provide these services in a different manner," Deputy Superintendent of Business and Finance Kristen Behnke told the School Committee last week.
McCandless said the school administration felt that this "unique group of students" needed not only a change of venue from its controversial site at the former Berkshire House of Correction, but also the addition of job coaching as well as mental health and substance abuse services offered.
"We really saw this as an opportunity to look for a partner locally," McCandless told the committee, "for someone to come in who brought the expertise, and brought a better game to that than we were currently providing our students."
The committee voted unanimously 4-0, to approve a contract that will pay $122,100 this year to the BCAC program to manage these services, with Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Cindy Taylor absent and Katherine Yon abstaining because of her employment at Reconnect. 
"We're working with a wonderful community agency that has a proven track record," said McCandless  "We feel this is a real step forward."
The committee also voted unanimously to approve an experimental new pilot program at Morningside Community School, which will incorporate additional health and physical education time to the elementary school's weekly curriculum.
Morningside Principal Joseph Curtis said a new specialist position for this program would not add personnel, but replace a science specialist currently employed there.
Rather than shortchanging science education, Curtis said the position was being eliminated out of a perceived need to incorporate more science material into the overall curriculum throughout the day.  Currently, he said, math and reading comprehension take up more than half of the school day for Morningside students.
"Science has taken a back seat," Curtis told the committee, who said he is working on ways to "give classroom teachers the tools" to integrate more science into the daily curriculum block, and reallocate the weekly period previously allotted for science to add more physical education.
"The reality is that some of our students are not educated to make healthy decisions in a methodical way," according to Curtis, who said that many school districts have already "made the jump" to increasing health and physical education time in the curriculum.
"Many of the things we're doing at the high school level need to start at the elementary level," Curtis added, who said the school will collect data to chart any measurable increases seen in healthy lifestyles.
"This curriculum you're talking about, it's things these kids really need," agreed Yon.

Tags: alternative programs,   drop outs,   youth programs,   

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