PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The long-standing tradition of "welcome days" is coming to an end in the schools after the state cited the district for not providing enough class time for students.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education performed a coordinated program review last year and found that the practice of bringing incoming sixth-graders and ninth-graders in a day earlier to get acclimated to their new schools meant that the other students were falling short of the required 180 days of learning.
"This is indeed a violation of our student's civil rights," Superintendent Jason McCandless said of the citation.
The superintendent said the district fought the citation and that many other districts in the state do a similar program but ultimately it has to cut that opening day from the calendar. McCandless said the welcoming day served as a great way to help students learn their way around a new school.
"We see that as a fairly substantive change to the way we open schools," McCandless said.
Additionally, McCandless said the report cited the high schools for not providing seniors with enough days. Seniors need to be in school 170 days and are traditionally let out earlier than other grades.
But in a recent year there were six snow days, which the seniors don't need to make up, and thus fell short on the number of days. He again said a number of districts in the state have the same policy yet the DESE report called on Pittsfield to fix the shortfall.
"There was no recommendation or order back saying this is what you have to do about this. It was, 'it is a problem, fix it,'" McCandless said.
School Committee member William Cameron said he's always disagreed with the seniors being let out early. In New York State, testing takes the seniors all the way to the end of the year, he said, and Massachusetts could fix the issue by simply requiring all students to be in school for the same amount of time.
But he is disappointed that the city will lose the welcoming days. He urged McCandless to attempt to reach a memorandum of agreement with the unions to have some staff members work one extra day to continue the tradition.
"This idea of having the incoming underclass students have the building to themselves initially is a great way to have them overcome apprehension," Cameron said.
McCandless said the previous policy was too dependent on "sticks" and didn't provide "carrots." He said the new policy includes a bit of both.
The superintendent also reported that he is currently in the process of developing an African-American studies course. McCandless said the district had such a course in existence in the past but it hasn't been taught recently. He said he is developing the curriculum alongside others who have taught the course and will be looking to identify an instructor and money for class material.
Curriculum Director Judy Rush also presented on a new educator program the district is rolling out to help new teachers adjust. The program includes orientation, assigning mentors, providing the required 50 hours of mentoring, and time to observe other teachers.
Health Director Gina Armstrong also invited the School Committee to a meeting next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall regarding the environmental test results for Hill 78 and Building 71. The tests assess the level of dangerous pollution left behind by General Electric. Armstrong said the results have not shown concern.
After cheering the early reports of a significant increase in state education aid, McCandless said the increase isn't exactly as it seems. The superintendent said there will be a number of requirements, tied to certain populations, attached to the money. The city is projected to see $3.7 million more in Chapter 70 funding.
"Their vision for this was that this money comes with strings attach," McCandless said.
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Pittsfield City Council Says Goodbye to Outgoing Members
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council held its last meeting of 2019 on Tuesday and said goodbye to four members who will not be returning in 2020.
Before the closing of the meeting, Council President Peter Marchetti thanked Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli, and Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo for their service and presented them with a plaque.
"I wish the four of you good luck in your future endeavors," he said.
Marchetti gave each council member a moment to say a few words and Krol, who was elected in 2009, took time to thank his family and constituents.
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Councilors swiftly approved the use of an additional $1 million in free cash to offset the tax rate and set a residential tax rate of $19.71 and a commercial rate of $40.36, per $1,000 valuation.
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Rumlow was appointed interim CEO and executive director in May after Randy Kinnas, the nonprofit's CEO for the last 19 years, moved on as director of Member Advancement for the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs. click for more