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Williamstown Elementary School Principal Joelle Brookner, left, and Mount Greylock Regional School Principal Mary MacDonald address the School Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Mount Greylock, WES Principals Refute Social Media Rumors about Career Changes

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The principals of Williamstown Elementary School and Mount Greylock Regional School on Thursday stepped forward to refute claims on social media regarding their respective decisions to step down from their current positions.
 
"The assertion that my decision is connected to the district administration is simply wrong," Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald told the district's School Committee.
 
"In my seven years back at Mount Greylock — because I did teach here for three years — I have enjoyed so much great collaboration with colleagues, some of whom are here today, students and community members."
 
MacDonald, who is stepping down from her post at the end of the academic year to return to teaching, said she was compelled to address the committee and community after a series of Facebook posts in the last week have contended she is leaving the corner office because of conflicts with the district's administration.
 
"I'm a teacher," MacDonald said. "I've always been a teacher, and I'd like to move back into that role where I can have direct interaction with students."
 
WES Principal Joelle Brookner, who has been at the elementary school 28 years as a teacher and more recently an administrator, was more direct, calling the Facebook chatter related to her departure "extremely hurtful to me and wholly untrue."
 
Brookner told the committee that the national average for principal tenure is four years, which makes it remarkable that she has been in the post at the elementary school for nine years and unremarkable that she has chosen to move on.
 
And she is not really leaving, Brookner said. She is transitioning to the currently vacant position of curriculum coordinator, where she will be able to serve students at all three Mount Greylock district schools: Lanesborough Elementary, Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock.
 
"As shared by the superintendent and reported on iBerkshires, I wanted to make this move for some time," Brookner said.
 
"The timing for this change is right for me now. There is no hidden agenda. I'm thrilled to be moving to this new position. This decision is personal for me and has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with district leadership."
 
The School Committee on Thursday held a special session for a budget workshop to pore over the fiscal 2021 spending plan in advance of Monday's presentation to the Lanesoborugh Finance Committee.
 
It promises to be a relatively uneventful budget season for the recently fully regionalized prekindergarten-through-Grade 12 district.
 
Benefiting from a zero percent increase in health insurance that has helped municipalities throughout Berkshire County this budget season, Mount Greylock's FY21 budget as drafted shows a 0.69 percent increase above the current year.
 
Williamstown would be asked for a 0.92 percent increase in its assessment, a rise of $111,783, under the budget as drafted, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Andrea Wadsworth told the committee.
 
Lanesborough's assessment would go up by just 0.2 percent, an increase of $11,696.
 
For FY20, the towns were assessed $12,113,764 and $5,769,249, respectively.
 
While the district's principals were clearing the air about their decisions to leave their posts, the administration was able to clear the air this week about a building issue that forced a one-day closure of the middle-high school earlier this month.
 
Superintendent Kimberley Grady sent the Mount Greylock community a two-page letter with a report from Pittsfield-based environmental consulting firm Eco-Genesis, which conducted air quality tests at Mount Greylock after students and staff complained about a foul, "sewer-like" smell in the three-story academic wing.
 
"[A]ll detections associated with the air testing conducted on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, were consistent with acceptable background conditions," Eco-Genesis reported.
 
Eco-Genesis began its tests on Feb. 14 and classes that Friday were canceled at the school.
 
The testing revealed concentration of two compounds that were near the standard range — one slightly above and one just below the "method detection limit."
 
"Regarding the sulfur compounds scan, there was one detection above the method detection limit (MDL) in sample MGRHS-3-SW. This was for carbonyl sulfide at 1.3 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), or 0.53 parts per billion (ppb)," the report read. "This detection is low and just slightly above the MDL of 0.5 ppb. The atmospheric background concentration is approximately 0.5 ppb.
 
"The laboratory indicated the other two samples also contained carbonyl sulfide but at levels just  below the 0.5 ppb reporting limit at approximately 0.49 ppb. All other sulfur compounds included in the scan in all three samples showed non-detectable results at the MDL."
 
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee acknowledged the recent resignation of committee member Dan Caplinger. Grady said applications for a Williamstown resident to fill the remainder of his term will be available on the district website on Friday morning.
 
The interim replacement will be selected from among the applicants by a joint vote of the School Committee and the Select Boards from Williamstown and Lanesborough.
 
Grady also informed the School Committee of an email she sent to district families on Thursday regarding the Coronavirus (Covid 19) outbreak worldwide.
 
Grady wrote that the district is working in concert with the local Board of Health and state authorities.
 
"Our school facilities department is vigilantly sanitizing our educational spaces as we typically do during cold and flu season," Grady wrote. "We are following all recommended guidelines to ensure the safety of our students and staff."
 
Grady also used the email as an opportunity to remind families about basic hygiene protocols and that children who are exhibiting symptoms, including fevers greater than 100.4 should be kept home from school.
 
In response to a request from a reporter at the meeting, Grady said the district's families are concerned about Covid 19, but she does not sense any panic.
 
"I'm not seeing a pandemic mode at any of our schools at all," Grady said. "The questions we are getting back from the letter are questions of concerns. ... We need to assure the community that the schools are working with towns and the state and following [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines. We don't want to create hysteria."

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Williamstown Theatre Festival Cancels On-Stage Season in Berkshires

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Theatre Festival announced Tuesday that it will not produce the summer 2020 season in Williamstown as planned.

The season was scheduled to open on June 30 on the Main Stage with Tennessee Williams' classic "A Streetcar Named Desire." Six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald was scheduled to star as Blanche DuBois in this production directed by Robert O'Hara, with Carla Gugino as Stella and Bobby Cannavale as Stanley. 

The season was scheduled to end on Aug. 23 on the Main Stage with "Photograph 51" by Anna Ziegler, which honors the work and contribution of Rosalind Franklin as she closes in on a discovery around the DNA molecule, and on the Nikos Stage season with "Animals," a world premiere by Stacy Osei-Kuffour. 

"This is a very difficult situation for everyone at the festival," Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield said in the announcement, emailed to supporters. "In the event the governor's or other civil authority's positions or requirements are amended or updated, we will let you know if these changes affect our ability to mount the season in Williamstown, as planned."

Greenfield said 2020 season ticket bundle buyers will receive a separate email detailing how bundle purchases may be converted into a donation, credit voucher or refund.

WTF will forge ahead with the new work that had planned but making it in a different way.

"We will create seven new productions with Audible, the world's largest producer and provider of original spoken-word entertainment and audiobooks, in a format safe to elevate, entertain, transport, reveal, unmask and transform audiences from the comfort of their homes," she wrote. "The stellar group of artists who planned to spend the summer in Williamstown, will deliver — with fearlessness and redoubled passion — on the promise they made to create this work for you. 

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