WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The commissioner of education has no plans to extend the closure of schools in the commonwealth beyond April 7, but Friday promised to give superintendents a four- to five-day heads up if an extension is warranted, the Mount Greylock Regional Schools superintendent reported.
Kimberley Grady appeared Friday with Town Manager Jason Hoch for one of his regular Town Hall updates in a short video produced by the town's community access television station, WilliNet.
Earlier in the day, she participated in conference calls with Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley and the superintendents of Berkshire County.
"[Riley] has asked us to think long term in the event they have to extend [the closures]," Grady said.
On Thursday evening, Grady talked with the School Committee about the district's activities since the closure that began on March 16.
Although the commonwealth is not allowing schools to require online learning, area districts, including Mount Greylock, are providing digital learning resources on the district's website. And it is collaborating with WilliNet on a series of videos, including instruction on yoga for children, adults and seniors and story times.
"We're going to have some guest readers," Grady told the committee. "We had a teacher in Lanesborough [tape] a story today. We'll have police officers, firefighters. We're seeking volunteer readers for different age groups.
"Parents will be able to log on and have maybe 90 minutes of programming daily."
The videos will be available, hopefully starting the week of March 23, both on WilliNet's cable television channel and via its website.
Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald told the committee she also is working on a way to safely continue the middle-high school's Greylock Plays performing arts series for remote presentation.
"We want to bring some of that talent to the greater community," MacDonald said.
Remote communication is going to be the order of the day for a while, and the School Committee on Thursday held its first virtual public meeting via the Zoom conferencing platform.
The meeting went relatively smoothly with just a few instances of committee members inadvertently talking over one another. One member was unable to log into the meeting directly but was able to follow along and participated in votes by listening through Grady's cell phone.
And the panel did conduct some business.
It held second readings for and approved two new district policies, one to address the needs of children of military families and the other to address children in foster care. In both instances, the policies were designed to make sure the district is meeting the educational needs of children in those circumstances.
At the middle-high school level, the committee approved several curriculum changes for the 2020-21 academic year.
MacDonald had previously presented information on the new course offerings and tweaks to the current curriculum that teachers were bringing forward.
"We are looking to add two new semester-long computer classes that go with the sequence we have, Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles," MacDonald said. "We're looking to add two lab classes -- Literacy Lab and Math Lab. They're similar to courses we've had in the past, but we're looking to reboot them for particular needs we have now."
According to the course description provided to the committee, students in the lab classes will receive targeted instruction to meet their specific needs in reading, writing and mathematics. Students will be recommended by faculty for inclusion in the labs.
"We're also looking to introduce a new math class, Introduction to Model Mathematics II," MacDonald said. "Essentially, it's for students who are ready to go to college but need to work on their math skills to better prepare."
It replaces a class in the current curriculum titled Introduction to College Math and has an updated syllabus.
Other changes in the year ahead include a continued shift in the school's Vietnam social studies elective to focus on the "political, civil and social events in the 1960s" in addition to the conflict itself. Mount Greylock also will be a quarter-long course titled "Personal Finance" to the wellness curriculum for ninth graders; the course will replace one quarter of physical education.
In other business on Thursday, the district's director of buildings and grounds told the School Committee about efforts underway to address deficiencies in the fields at the middle-high school.
Tim Sears told the committee the district has engaged PJC Organic to help create a plan for the fields.
"They helped us come up with a daily calendar of what we need to do," Sears said. "The first thing we did was soil sampling to see where we're depleted. … We will add certain products on certain days -- lime and calcium -- and do aeration.
"They guarantee that if we follow the program they laid out, we'll end up with nice, thick turf. We should be able to increase water absorption by 25,000 gallons per acre, lessening the need to add irrigation."
But the school still may need to add capacity to water its fields.
"Part of the organics plan does call for, if we have a really long dry period, some watering," Sears said.
Sears said the district is working with civil engineer Guntlow & Associates, which is familiar with the Route 7 campus, and said the school, "could probably go with some shallow wells and and store water in a tank with a little pump," to satisfy its irrigation needs.
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