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A robot built by the Mount Greylock robotics team is demonstrated for the School Committee at last Thursday's meeting. The team, the Mechanical Mounties, has risen from 139th to 78th in New England in its two years.

Mount Greylock Likely to Stay with Winter/Spring Vacation Weeks

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It likely will be at least another year before the Mount Greylock Regional School District considers a move away from the traditional February and April vacation schedule.
 
And it looks like a switch to a single week off in March may not be in the cards at all.
 
Superintendent Kimberley Grady last week presented a tentative 2020-21 academic calendar to the School Committee for its consideration. As drafted, the calendar would stick to the familiar practice of a week off starting with the Presidents Day holiday in February and another commencing with Patriots Day in April.
 
The committee has in the past discussed whether it made sense to switch to long weekends for the February and April holidays and a full week off in March for a couple of reasons: one, it would align the schedule more closely with the schedule at Williams College, which employs many of the parents of children in the district and two, it could result in a net pickup of school days that could prevent going deeper into the month of June with snow days.
 
At Thursday's monthly meeting of the School Committee, Grady said the schools benefit from the February week off for health reasons. Custodial staff use the mid-winter vacation week to thoroughly clean the schools in the midst of cold and flu season, and students and staff benefit from the time off to recover from illnesses and not bring germs to school to be retransmitted.
 
Last year, the district surveyed families to gauge the level of interest in changing the vacation schedule, and the results were mixed.
 
"We didn't have a glaring number of people supporting a single week in March," Grady said.
 
"Looking back at the survey data … the current model seems, although it's close, more popular than having a March week," School Committee member Jamie Art added.
 
The committee took no action on the draft calendar but will need to approve it at a subsequent meeting before it becomes official. In its current draft, the first day of school for students in Grades 1 through 12 would be Sept. 1 (Labor Day 2020 is on Sept. 7), and the three schools again would have a five-day Thanksgiving weekend beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
 
A scheduling sea change continues to be on the radar of the School Committee, which again Thursday touched on the idea of "flipping" start times at the district's elementary schools and middle-high school.
 
The committee was informed that a Mount Greylock student is conducting a survey of middle and high schoolers to see whether they would favor starting their school day later — a change that potentially would impact interscholastic sports teams that compete against schools with an earlier start and end to the school day.
 
Committee member Christina Conry pointed to the website of the Dover-Sherborn Public Schools in eastern Massachusetts, where such a switch will be implemented this fall. In Dover-Sherborn, the current 8:35 a.m. to 3 p.m. elementary school day will switch to 7:50 to 2:15; the district's secondary schools will switch from starting at 7:40 and ending at 2:15 to starting at 8:35 and ending at 3:10.
 
The Dover-Sherborn district's website says the switch there is, "centered on the public health crisis of adolescent sleep deprivation," and chronicles the district's consultation with sleep experts. It also notes that there is a growing trend nationwide toward later start times for middle and high schools, including a decision by the the California legislature to require all middle schools to start at 8 p.m. and high schools at 8:30 by 2022.
 
The first class at the Grades 7-12 Mount Greylock Regional School starts at 7:40. The last class ends at 2:27.
 
"I know it's complicated," Art said of potentially making the flip. "But as a committee, it's worth exploring. If it can work … it's worth keeping track of."
 
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee heard recommendations from the district's Parent Advisory Council, which represents families of children with disabilities. The council is asking, among other things, that the School Committee fiscal 2021 budget support tutoring in mathematics and English language arts, the creation of a co-curricular cooking club that would be open to all students at Mount Greylock and an expansion of the school's Unified sports program to include track and field along with basketball.
 
The committee also heard a presentation from students who are studying computer science at the middle-high school. The curricular work, which includes an Advanced Placement course, dovetails with the school's growing robotics team. The "Mechanical Mounties," founded in 2017, have gone from ranking 139th in New England in their first year to ranking 78th last year.
 
• The School Committee also Thursday authorized the superintendent to execute a contract for an owner's project manager to oversee construction of the multipurpose building that will, among other things, house the central administrative staff for the PreK-12 district.
 
By a vote of 7-0, the committee OK'd spending up to $81,000 for the OPM services. Art, who serves on the committee's Finance Subcommittee, noted that Grady had negotiated that price down from more than $125,000.
 
• Art also reported on his subcommittee's work to try to analyze the impact of current and planned appropriations from the $5 million capital gift Mount Greylock received from Williams College at the outset of the building project at the middle-high school.
 
Art said that after accounting for the multipurpose building and other expenses — like renting the trailers that currently house the central administration — the committee can plan for about $3.66 million remaining of the gift, which appreciates in value over time as part of the college's endowment.
 
If the committee stays with its long-discussed goal of maintaining $1.5 million of the gift as an endowment to support extraordinary maintenance needs (new boilers, new roofs, etc), that would leave, "roughly $2.12 million that could be spent on field improvement projects," Art said.
 
"[The Finance Subcommittee] didn't get into what those projects would be — whether grass or turf — but the consensus recognition is that a lot of time has been spent identifying field improvements as a necessary thing for the school to do and using roughly that amount of money was an appropriate use of the capital gift," Art said.
 
The $1.5 million, if maintained, would continue to grow at a rate of $65,000 to $67,000 per year, based on past performance, Art said.
 
"I thought it was important for the full committee to hear about the financial ramifications [of using the gift]," Chairman Dan Caplinger said. "Town officials and others have told us it's important, and I believe we should be responsive to that. Now you have this information. Everyone has this information. You can think about it and then figure out what the next step is."

Tags: MGRSD,   school vacation,   

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Historical Echo, Irony in Williams College Cancellations

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For the second time in school history, the classrooms at Williams College will be very quiet this spring.
 
In 1970, it was a two-week student strike to fight a war.
 
In 2020, it's a three-month closure ordered by the college to fight a global pandemic.
 
Paul Miller has ties to both stoppages and sees a parallel.
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