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Clarksburg Officials Feel More Discussion Needed on Merger

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Interstate Merger Committee has hired Public Consulting Group to lead it through the next steps toward a merger between Clarksburg and Stamford (Vt.) Schools. 
However, the Clarksburg contingent feels more discussion is needed on the merits of a merger between the two small elementary schools. 
Superintendent John Franzoni filled the School Committee in last week about the selection of PCG, which had done the initial study of the schools that was presented to the towns. Based on that research, the adjoining towns both voted to continue the process to determine how such a merger would work and what legal processes would be necessary. 
There had been only two bids for the request for proposals for a coordinator to develop a plan of action and liaison with state and federal officials. The second was the local Berkshire Educational Consulting Group, lead by Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and William Ballen, longtime educators and administrators in the region. 
"Both groups were very strong. But it was determined by a reasonably close vote that PCG, Public Consulting Group out of Boston, would again lead that work," Franzoni said. "So there's been some discussion already about having potentially some conversation with Jake Eberwein of the Berkshire group to maybe do some work with us for the local work that needs to be done for phase two. That's going to be about to be discussed further between those two groups and the interstate committee."
The superintendent of the Northern Berkshire School Union said both schools were well represented at the vote but he came away feeling that the towns may not be fully aligned on goals. 
"I think we're a little bit divided there about what our plan is," he said. "Having that location in Vermont is going to be a very challenging next piece of this agreement."
Both towns wish to keep their schools open and the model currently under discussion would turn Stamford into an early childhood education center and have Grades 3 through 8 at Clarksburg, largely to accommodate Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing. 
The Northern Berkshire School Union does not believe that bringing Stamford in as a sixth member of the union would be possible. The union is already spread between schools in Clarksburg, Florida, Rowe and Savoy, and also serves Monroe students, and across two counties. So another question is whether it would be possible to have only the one location in Clarksburg and have some Stamford students attending other NBSU schools.
"I understand completely Stamford's position, they want to continue to have their building functioning as a school," Franzoni said. "But I think that's going to be a big part of this next piece is, you know, is that realistic terms of what obstacles it's going to create?" 
He added, "I think that's something that we need to have some discussion about, what each town as part of this next phase is willing to compromise about and not willing to compromise about based on what the findings are of the consultants."
Stamford is seeking to merge with Clarksburg in response to Vermont's Act 46 that forced small schools to join in districts to streamline and share governmental structures, purchasing, hiring and programming. With the act now expired, Stamford could stand alone or possibly join Southern Valley Unified Union School District, which it had avoided because of the distance between it and one of the schools, Halifax, some 25 miles away. 
Clarksburg has been trying to develop a preschool program and, after the failed school building vote, find space within its cramped building for programming. Stamford has a preschool but Clarksburg is now entering into a shared prekindergarten program with Gabriel Abbott School in Florida.
"We can't wait much longer — any longer, really — to have our own preK program in Clarksburg in terms of offering the services that are required for children on IED plans, in terms of just giving our  families the option of having a preK program to get their children prepared for school," Franzoni said. "Pretty much every town around us has one except for Clarksburg."
But while both towns have found support with state officials, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is questioning why Clarksburg is willing to merge with a school on the other side of the border but the school union is not willing to form a district. The NBSU members have rejected the idea of consolidation. 
"We have done our due diligence there, but you know, there are some other options, too, that we may have to consider even though I know some are ones that we do not want to do," the superintendent said. 
None of the current members of the School Committee were involved in the initial talks about the merger and Franzoni also came on after the process had already begun. 
"I understand Stamford's position and how this merger will work for them and benefit them," said Chairwoman Laura Wood. "I struggle to see all benefits for Clarksburg."

Tags: interstate ,   merger,   

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Clarksburg School Preparing for Reopening Scenarios

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

The new security doors can be seen in the school lobby. The doors are one of several updates at the school, including a public address system and an accessible bathroom. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Principal Tara Barnes is working on a "nice puzzle challenge" in figuring how students will be situated within the elementary school come fall to comply with public health guidelines for the pandemic.
The state guidelines, so far, are requiring social distancing as well as masking for students in Grades 2 and up. Schools will also require a separated space for children who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
"I feel from most of our classrooms, about 15 students is the max of what we're able to get in there," she told the School Committee on Thursday. Further guidance from the state in regard to desks and dividers could mean a few more, but, she said, "I don't want at any point to compromise the safety of students or staff when I'm looking at these spaces."
Barnes said she's reviewing the use of "overflow" spaces such as the gym and rethinking uses of non-classroom areas and how that might affect special education teaching and splitting up classes to keep the numbers down. 
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