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North Adams Schools Go Remote; April Vacation Canceled

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The public schools are doing a "soft opening" this week of remote learning plans that will get students through the end of the school year. 
Berkshire County schools closed on March 13 for a presumed two weeks but that's been extended to May 4 by the state as part of the lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The district has already been connecting with students from the early days of the closure through online platforms reading stories, providing resources and materials for Advanced Placement, calling students and offering music lessons through Google hangouts. 
Once guidance came from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a series of professional development sessions were launched last week with summaries (found on the NAPS' website here) for parents and faculty and based on a longer document negotiated with the North Adams Teachers Association. 
"Since then we've had many staff start to also participate as providers and facilitators of professional development to their peers," Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas told the School Committee on Tuesday during a meeting held on the Zoom virtual platform. "And so while students are still getting devices, getting access to wifi, this week was about making connections for those teachers who had not already connected with their students.
"And we're hoping to be up and running with a regular outreach to all of our students and their families in the course of the next week."
In the summary for the remote learning plan, it's stated that the early work and leadership by educators was the basis for its development.
"This plan capitalizes on the creative problem solving of these educators and serves to promote their good work as we endeavor to provide a universal and systemwide approach to supporting education through remote learning," the summary states, and then goes on in more detail on how students and faculty will be expected to interact, and how special education will be delivered. 
"North Adams Public Schools is asking for incredible levels of flexibility, adaptive leadership and learning, and support. We cannot do this work alone and while family engagement has always been a priority it is necessary to our students' success," it continues.
The district has boosted wifi guest access at Greylock School and will be following through at Brayton and Colegrove Park elementary schools as well so families will be able to get a signal in the parking lots. The public library has also offered to boost access but Drury High is more problematic because the parking lot is farther from the school building. 
"It may not be possible but that's something we're looking into and there will be a cost incurred associated with that," Malkas said. 
Some 170 digital devices have been distributed to students through a loan program and another 130 are being processed. These are being doled out through the district's lunch program, which is now serving about 4,000 meals a week.
The School Committee voted to cancel the April vacation that would have been the week of April 20; the teachers' association board has already unanimously agreed to work through the scheduled vacation. 
"I support not taking a vacation time, just to sit here and be even more isolated than we already are," said School Committee member Tara Jacobs, but wondered if time couldn't be built in later considering how "emotionally stressful" the last few weeks have been.
"I wouldn't suggest it because if we do get to have our students come back to school, it will be as if we're launching a new school year again," Malkas responded. "And there will be several weeks of getting students reactivated to school, and the regularity and schedule of that, I think that at this point, I think we're all feeling like let's just push through to the end."
Plus she noted, a week's vacation would mean a disruption in food service at a time when families are in need. 
School Committee member Ian Bergeron agreed it is a stressful time for children and while a return to school may not be a positive thing, four days off once they come back wouldn't necessarily help. 
"I think it's important to say that not every student is finding this to be a welcome addition to their day," he said. "Although, it is a necessary one."
Should students return on May 4, as anticipated by the state, the last day of school will be June 18. 
In other business: 
The committee voted to give the food service department Good Friday off at the request of director Corey Nicholas. Food service has been working daily to prepare lunches and breakfasts for pickup at locations around the city.
"He is very concerned about their fatigue level, and would like to give them that opportunity to have three days to recover," said Malkas. Instead of getting a Friday lunch and food for the weekend, students would pick up for three days of food on Thursday. 
"People that are working right now are working hard, and it's a scary time to be leaving the house every day ... I think it's a well deserved few days to be home," said School Committee member Heather Boulger.
The Friday off would replace a floating holiday allowed in the contract.
• The committee also voted to accept school choice students for the coming year. The district averages about 60 students who school choice in; kindergarten slots would be not be open until all North Adams enrollments are in.
• The committee will have to meet again in a few days to sign off on a memorandum of understanding with the teachers' union on the schools closure and remote learning plans. The MOU had been expected to be voted on Tuesday but Malkas said there was language that had to be finalized.

Tags: COVID-19,   NAPS,   

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North Adams Council Passes $41M Budget for Fiscal 2021

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council approved a $41 million budget for fiscal 2021 on Tuesday along with using close to $300,000 in reserve funds despite concerns expressed by several councilors.
The total amount to be raised is $40,939,756, up $134,218, or 0.33 percent, from last year. Some $11,369.776 has already been spent over the past three months through continuing appropriations caused by delays in the state budget because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
"This is now coming on really six months of a budget process," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "We typically start talking about the budget with the Finance Committee in March, and this year we had our first conversation in late April because following the shutdown at the state and local levels, there was just so much uncertainty ... it made sense to pursue several months of continuation budgets, with the goal of bringing forward this budget now for you in October."
The budget on its own did not generate much discussion overall but the use of $320,427 in reserve funds to offset the amount to be raised by taxes did.
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