Aiden Kozik, one of the students in the program, addresses dignitaries and educators at the armory.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Aiden Kozik knows what he needs to do to succeed: Be prepared, be respectful, cooperate in the classroom and finish what he starts.
That was the message he gave, along with Director Jodi Drury, to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and dozens of officials and educators who turned out for the official opening of the North Berkshire Academy on Thursday morning.
"I like this school because my friends are here, because it lets kids take pride in school and learn to be a responsible person by working hard each and every day," said Aiden, from the speech he wrote.
Polito congratulated Aiden and the coalition that put the academy together using a state grant through the governor's office.
"It takes leadership in a community to identify a problem or a challenge, to come together as leaders ... to decide how you want to resolve that problem and then us, as state leaders, to work with you and invest in you, because we believe in you," she said, adding "your mission is about the fact that every, every student has the ability to learn. That every student has the opportunity to succeed. It's pure and it's good and it's absolutely right on."
Just three months old, the collaborative special education program is already successful — if Aiden is any proof.
Once a "worst-case scenario," said his mother, Kelly Kozik, he was doing well at another program but now he's really blossoming at North Berkshire with an A-average.
"He's come a really long way," she said. "He struggled through the years with the problems that most kids with disorders and learning disabilities have. ... He loves school, he misses school when he's on vacation."
The academy wants to continue to build that confidence in its students, said Drury. "We want to help more kids and we want to help more schools do better work with these kids."
The academy opened in the North Adams Armory on Jan. 2 along with the North Adams Public Schools' E3 Academy, an alternative high school program. It began as a conversation over a cup of coffee, said Superintendent Barbara Malkas, and came to fruition through the efforts of the city, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District and Northern Berkshire School Union, the Berkshire Educational Task Force, Northampton's Collaborative for Educational Services, and a state grant of $148,000 to make it all happen.
And it did. In less than eight months.
"It speaks to the collaboration in Berkshire County," Malkas said. "One of the reasons I love to be working here is not only do we collaborate when we know we need to, but we get the job done. We get the job done because we have great support."
Local superintendents knew there was a need for servicing students who have been placed in programs outside of their districts. They often required specialized education programs that could not be provided within the classroom. It was both a desire to serve this population locally — and to see cost-savings — that drove the collaboration.
The academy services children with attention-deficit disorder, learning and behavioral disorders, and autism who also need greater levels of academic, social and emotional support. It is operated under the auspices of the Collaborative for Educational Services, which works with school districts in Hampshire and Franklin counties.
"I think this is a phenomenal example of collaboration that we have," William Diehl, executive director of CES, said. "You had superintendents coming together ... and an efficiency grant that said you had one year to make this turnkey ready and we took that very seriously. ...
"I'm really proud we did that."
The program currently has four students with the possibility of two more joining. Thomas A. Simon, the North Adams Public Schools' director of student support services, said the placements show confidence in the program because relocating children can mean they can lose their spots in their current program.
"Strong education is critical to stabilize communities for the next generation because our collective success can be measured when your students can graduate from your schools here and be able to find a job, to be able to live in the communities where they were born and raised and begin their lives, and start their familes here," said Polito.
Drury said the former National Guard home now has a new purpose. The building has undergone a complete renovation since the city took it over more than a dozen years ago.
"This building is a new armory now, it reminds us when we work together we can create amazing new programs and support for our students and families that need it most," she said. "Self-respect, self-reliance and self-understanding, so our students can appropriately advocate for their own ways of learning, thinking and knowing."
Aiden counted down as Polito, Drury, Mayor Thomas Bernard, former Mayor Richard Alcombright, state Rep. John Barrett III, and A.J. Enchill and Matthew Russett, representing state Sen. Adam Hinds and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, respectively, cut the ceremonial ribbon.
"We're new. We're small but we're mighty," Drury said.
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Helme last year receiving the PopCares Community Partner Award for her efforts on behalf of local nonprofits and other groups.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's director of tourism has been named the 2019-20 Woman of Achievement by the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Club.
Suzy Helme began as the part-time events coordinator in 2015, later becoming the full-time director of tourism and community events. In her role, she organizes much of the city's annual events such as the Downtown Celebration and the concert series at Windsor Lake, as well as coordinating with organizations and institutions such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts and local charities on affiliated activities within the city.
The club will make the award at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Bounti-Fare Restaurant
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