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McCann School Committee Meets For Last Time in 2019

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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Principal Justin Kratz updates the School Committee on the switch to standards-based scoring.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Williams College gave McCann Technical School a gift that will brighten up its football field — but it needs some expertise to get it assembled. 
Superintendent James Brosnan informed the School Committee at its final — and brief — meeting of 2019 that he would need to issuie a request for proposal for electrical engineering services to get the ball rolling in an effort to illuminate the field. Williams College recently donated a full set of athletic field lights to McCann after the college refurbished Weston Field. 
"We've got a garage full of lights and everything that was given to us by Williams. It's a whole set up. But to evaluate the project I really need someone with engineering expertise," he said. "To figure out the feasibility of this, the implementation, what other additional costs might be involved. [Someone] to put the whole package together. I want that professional expertise so we have some facts on what it will cost. Right now we don't have that."
The superintendent's report only had one other topic: A request to waive any potential conflict of interest issue with his vote on the Berkshire Health Group board. 
The board exists to give school districts in the county greater buying power when negotiating with a health insurance provider. Teachers cannot be on the voting board so they have always empowered Brosnan to represent them with his vote. Recently a voting member from another district raised the issue that it might be a conflict of interest since administrative positions are also on the health plan in most cases.
"Apparently someone on the Cape filed a question with the Ethics Commission regarding if it was a conflict for staff members (Brosnan and alternate Maureen Senecal) or any other employee to be on the board. The Ethics Commission said no BUT … ," Brosnan explained. "Erring on the side of caution their legal counsel sent to our legal counsel [a motion]. It's a little bit laborious but I have to read it verbatim."
What the motion basically said was that even though the Ethics Commission ruled it was not a conflict of interest for him or any other voting representative to negotiate with health insurance providers, the superintendent still disclosed on record to the board that there is a potential for one because he also participates in the health plan. The motion passed unanimously for both Brosnan and Senecal.
Principal Justin Kratz in his report told the committee that the planned transition from the traditional A-F grading system to a standards-based system will be implemented in 2021 instead of the planned 2020. A standards-based system breaks down a subject matter into smaller pieces and is supposed to give a greater understanding of a student's grasp of a given subject when compared to traditional letter grades.
Kratz said more time was needed to roll it out correctly and have both teachers and the incoming freshman class feel comfortable.
"We looked at the body of work so far and how far we've come. We've come a long way but we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do, so we've adjusted our timeline," he said. "We are not going to roll it out with our freshmen next year. We want to do this as right as we possibly can. There will still be some bumps in the road I'm sure but we want to make sure our faculty are completely comfortable. We're going to adjust and look at [implementing it] for the freshmen of 2021."
His last update for the committee was a recap of the always popular Showcase to Success open house. McCann annually invites community members and eighth-graders to come and tour the shops and meet the faculty for one night in the fall.
Kratz was particularly impressed with the student participation and engagement this year.
"We received about half a dozen emails from parents saying it really had an impact on their child. Our kids love to talk about what they're doing. When they get the opportunity to talk to people about their programs they take advantage of it," he said. "And we'll have a pretty similar number of students helping out at the eighth grade after school program. We always have three, four, five of our students who stayed after school to help instruct the eighth-graders. Thats always great to see."
The committee's last order of business before breaking for the holidays was a heartfelt thank you to Rachel Branch of North Adams for her four years of dedicated service to the McCann School Committee. Chairman Gary Rivers thanked her on behalf of the whole committee for her dedication and her extraordinary effort. 

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Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder

Guest Column
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant. 
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good. 
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
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