Letter: Adams-Cheshire at a Cross Road
To the Editor:
The communities of Adams and Cheshire are at cross road, to say the least. As is often the case, this cross road is located at the School District.
Nearly 50 years ago, the two communities came together to form one regional school district. That district has endured changes in the demographics of the community, changes in the national and state economies, and changes within the education system itself. And yet, through all of this change, Adams and Cheshire have always rallied around the schools. Change has, as it so often does, bred adaption and innovation.
Now, the times, they are a-changing (again). This time, as in 2010, change requires the school district, and the communities, to adapt and innovate.
Whatever is decided is, unfortunately, only a temporary solution. Among the unknowns are the results of the Berkshire County Educational Task Force, other potential school closures necessitating an incoming flow of students, or other factors that we cannot predict.
One thing must remain true — we must stop using children as bargaining chips. Operating a public Pre-K through 12 school district is just not like running a business. Public education is not a free market. A decision to consolidate schools within a district must be made not on what is necessarily popular or what will benefit a specific community, but what is best suited to deliver a high-quality education to our children.
Factors that I would look at include, first and foremost, safety. Next, I look to how can we best invest our hard-earned dollars that we are sharing at an ever-increasing rate into delivering the best education possible. Town borders should play no role in this decision.
Looking first to safety, a large, enclosed campus with abundant parking is ideal. Fortunately, we have to look no further than Cheshire Elementary School. Cheshire Elementary is set off of a main road, yet easily accessible from Route 8. There is a clear, separate, and safe drop-off zone for both parents and buses. Further, any family that walks into the school can enter safely and not come into contact with any vehicle traffic or cross a major thoroughfare. The playground is nearly completely fenced in, allowing for the most effective means of monitoring the children while they are at play.
Where I look next is so important to turning around the performance of the district. From my vantage point, our greatest need is in the elementary school level. I applaud the notion of combining all classes at this level. This allows all teachers in a given grade to be in a single building and to totally operate as a team. Each child in the grade will be on the same page. But it goes even further, as more resources will be available to intervene in a targeted fashion. This investment is made even greater when more funds are potentially freed up in reimbursements for transportation costs. These higher reimbursements can, in turn, be reinvested to fund needed positions where they are needed most — in the classroom. These dollars allocated to in-class resources are not simply dollars "spent" or wasted — but wisely and keenly invested in our children.
This is a crucial time for our district and our communities. Rather than preach rhetoric and divisiveness, we need to embrace change and innovation. Rather than draw lines in the sand, we need to come together around what matters most — our children.
I am very confident that, regardless of whether the children are in Cheshire Elementary School or C.T. Plunkett, the district will remain committed to its highest calling — to provide a quality education for our children. However, absent some unknown fact suddenly coming to light, I very much intend to vote to keep Cheshire Elementary School as the location where we will educate grades Pre-K through 3, and I would encourage my fellow School Committee members to do the same. As I mentioned earlier, this is only a temporary fix — but as far as temporary fixes go, it just makes sense right now.
Ed St. John, IV
St. John is a Cheshire representative to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee