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Renzi Citizenship Award winners, clockwise from top left, William Apotsos, Natasha Nugent, Yeshe Gutschow Rai and Jack Uhas, pose with Principal Joelle Brookner and Superintendent Kimberley Grady at last week's School Committee meeting.

Mount Greylock Committee Meets Award Winners, Discusses Budget Priorities

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Elementary School sixth-graders chosen as examples of good citizenship last week told the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee about one way that example is being modeled to the whole school.
Four 2020 winners of the Renzi Awards were recognized at the committee's monthly meeting.
And Vice Principal Elea Kaatz explained that the school's Choose to Be Nice program includes a monthly all-school assembly organized by the sixth-grade Spirit Committee.
"Each spirit assembly introduces the month's values," Renzi Award winner Yeshe Gutschow Rai told the committee. "The value include respect, kindness, acceptance, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, friendship, patience and courage."
Rai gave a presentation along with fellow award winners William Apostos, Natasha Nugent and Jack Uhas.
"During the assembly, the Spirit Committee reads or acts out a book," Rai said, giving examples like "The Rainbow Fish" and "What if Everybody Did That?"
"Acting out stories is fun, and the whole school looks forward to it."
The Renzi Award, first given in 1986, honors the legacy of former teacher, principal and superintendent Helen Renzi. One or more sixth-graders are selected each year by the faculty in the upper grades at Williamstown Elementary based on their demonstration of exemplary citizenship. In addition to having their names inscribed on a permanent plaque at the school, the honorees are allowed to select a book for the school library.
"These students are representative of the many other students in our school who are, as our school motto asks us, 'Using Our Powers for Good,' " Principal Joelle Brookner said. "These are shining examples of what that motto looks like in real life."
After kicking off the meeting by celebrating how one of the district's two elementary schools is building good citizens, much of the rest of last Thursday's meeting was focused on other kinds of building -- building a fiscal year 2021 budget and building a garage-like structure to provide the last of the indoor space needed for the middle-high school.
On the former front, the School Committee heard from representatives of the three School Councils, who brought forward their "wish lists" for the budget that the School Committee will develop over the next couple of months.
All three councils agreed that the No. 1 priority for their schools is the maintenance of current staffing levels. After that, each had desires specific to their buildings.
Mary Reilly, a member of the Lanesborough Elementary School Council, said her group is requesting room in the budget to hire a social worker to augment the work of the LES school adjustment counselor.
The adjustment counselor already interacts with the majority of Lanesborough's elementary-age children, either individually or in small groups.
"The addition of a social worker would allow more time for greater in-depth counselling," Reilly said.
The Lanesborough School Council also is asking for money to provide teachers with technology to replace the current practice of teachers using their own devices.
"Having uniformity across devices will allow teachers to implement the highest curriculum," Reilly said.
A second information technology desire for Lanesborough: the introduction of smart boards in the classroom. Acting Principal Nolan Pratt said that currently there is one smart board in the entire PreK-6 school.
Williamstown Elementary is asking for the budget to support a full-time math interventionist position, mimicking a successful initiative at the school with a reading interventionist.
The School Council in Williamstown also wants to move the art teacher position from 0.8 FTE to a 1.0 FTE, in other words, making it a full-time position. Part of the rationale for that request is that the school is ending its longtime practice of dismissing pupils at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoons, eliminating a block of time that teachers have used for planning. Since those planning hours now will be spread out over the week, additional hours for one of the specialists will help round out the schedule, the School Committee was told.
Brookner said the school is looking at various ways to fill that 90 minutes of time in school for pupils each week. The solutions may include reconfiguring existing staff, which may or may not have budget implications, she said.
Williamstown Elementary also is asking for money to purchase materials for a transition to the Massachusetts Social Studies Curriculum Framework.
That Social Studies change also is on the wish list for the Mount Greylock School Council, which asked for an increase in staffing in the performing arts department. The school soon will see a second longtime music teacher retire in a span of two years, School Council member Andrea Malone said. The council sees this as an opportunity to change the performing arts staff from 1.8 FTE spread across two positions to two full-time spots.
The School Council also seeks budget support for social emotional learning initiatives.
"One area we talk about a lot is social-emotional health," Malone said. "We're talking about reviewing new programs or existing one. There will be a need for new programming to address changes in our environment, to support student resiliency and engagement .,. as well as growing demands on faculty.
"The social-emotional well being of faculty should be considered."
The School Councils are bodies of parents, community members and -- in the case of the middle-high school -- students who, among other things, are responsible for developing budget priorities that are brought to the School Committee. School Councils are expected to have more of a role with the advent of regionalization and the loss of three elected school committees, one for each of the three schools.
After the councils made their pitches, Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the School Committee that the FY21 budget also will need to support the district's efforts to comply with the Student Opportunity Act passed last year in Boston.
"Our priorities under this law focus on targets and measures for addressing persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups, identify evidence-based programs the district will use to reduce disparities and supporting family engagement, particularly with low-income English language learners and students with disabilities," Grady said.
She said the district needs to address provisions under the law or risk having solutions imposed on it by the commissioner of education. She said that she did not want to create a budget that addresses legitimate priorities identified by the councils only to cut those items in order to fulfill the Student Opportunity Act requirements.
The district needs to submit a SOA plan to Boston by April 1.
"Our strategic plan touches on all of these areas, so I'm confident that if we follow the plans that we've brought forward that we'll be able to do this," Grady said. "But there's a lot of reading materials and I want to make sure everyone [on the School Committee] understands. 
"I don't want to be critical of the work that people [on the School Councils] have done. I just think there's more current stuff out there that is going to guide where we have to go with this budget."
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee voted to remove the tuition charges for its half-day preschool programs at WES and LES. The district has been discussing taking that step for some time, and tuition charges only were expected to bring in less than $2,000 per year in Lanesborough anyway, Grady said.
She emphasized that this is not universal preK but removal of a fee that already exists in an enrollment-capped program.
"It would be a waiting list model," committee member Regina DiLego said. "It would allow, obviously, students with special needs who have to have a program get priority. Then 4-year-olds, who are called cusp children. Then looking more along the lines at free and reduced lunch for people who can't afford full-day somewhere else could get into our program."
The committee also voted 5-1 to move forward with a plan to build a steel building on a concrete pad at a cost not to exceed $110,000.
This building is intended to address the last two needs not covered by the multi-purpose building currently under construction on the Mount Greylock campus: garage space for grounds maintenance equipment and a waxing room for the middle-high school's cross country skiing program.
Both those elements at one time were part of the plan for the multipurpose building being funded from proceeds of a $5 million capital gift from Williams College. But both uses were trimmed from that building when it became apparent the square footage could be built less expensively in a separate structure.
Steven Miller moved that the committee authorize the expenditure, up to $110,000 to be funded out of the district's operating budget and Mount Greylock's revolving accounts after receiving assurances from Assistant Superintendent Andrea Wadsworth that the money could be found.
Chairman Dan Caplinger voted against the expenditure after expressing a desire to first know precisely where the money was coming from.

Tags: academic award,   MGRSD,   school budget,   

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Williams Inn Combines Food & Brew for Youth Center Benefit

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

David Fields of Wormtown delivers a draft at the brewery's 'takeover' of the Barn on Jan. 29. Patrons got to try the beer and some of the food pairing from chef Kevin DeMarco.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The interest in craft brewing has been inspiring menus that reflect the unique tones of these ales, lagers and stouts. 
We're not talking hot dogs and backyard barbecues — although there's certainly nothing wrong with that — but rather pairings akin to popular wine dinners at which both food and beverage are matched to complement and enhance each other.
Think crab cakes, Korean BBQ, cheddar cheese fondue and chocolate layer cake. 
That's the goal of the four-course beer dinner slated for Thursday, March 5, at the Barn Kitchen & Bar at the new Williams Inn. The beer is being supplied by Wormtown Brewery of Worcester and the menu by the Barn's Executive Chef Kevin DeMarco. The dinner is designed to not only satisfy those with a taste for fine brew and a hearty appetite, but will also benefit the Williamstown Youth Center
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