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Williamstown-Lanesborough Students, Teachers Adjusting to Remote Learning

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Administrators and parents from the Mount Greylock Regional School District gave a passing grade to the start of remote learning in the K-12 district.
But they were grading on a curve.
"I think it's been stressful, but I think it's going as well as we can expect it to at this point," Williamstown Elementary School Principal Joelle Brookner.
Brookner and the district's other two principals participated in a virtual meeting Thursday of the School Committee's Education Subcommittee, which held a joint session along with the school councils from Williamstown Elementary, Lanesborough Elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School.
Most acknowledged there have been bumps in the road and stress for teachers, parents and students. But several also acknowledged the gains that have been made since the district rolled out its remote learning plan on April 6 and 7.
"I keep referring to this as the adventure no one had asked to go on," Brookner said of the remote learning necessitated by the closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I'm super grateful to our teachers and our parents. We're all learning new things. We are all as individuals and as parents and as professionals under extraordinary amounts of stress.
"One of the positives worth noting is the incredibly high level of collaboration among staff — within grade levels, across grade levels, with the administration, with the technology staff — to work together to create this whole new system of learning."
Superintendent Kimberley Grady and all three teachers talked about the meetings they continue to hold with teachers and the feedback they receive from families.
"We have families sending us emails or phone calls that are having great success," Grady said. "Then we have families … a lot of them are essential employees and have to go to work every day. And students are going to a family member or a grandparent and not having as much luck with remote access.
"Kids are sometimes missing meetings. I heard from a grandmom just the other day who said it's the first time she's seen a Chromebook and did not know how to even turn it on. … The devices are going out. The assignments are going up. But it's still not easy for everyone to access."
Connectivity problems, especially for families with multiple students plus parents also forced to work from home, are one common issue that school officials are hearing.
On Thursday, Mount Greylock's director of academic technology said she would compile a list of best practices for homes with limited bandwidth to distribute to families struggling with the issue.
Steven Miller, the chair of the Education Subcommittee, noted that one possible solution would be to plug a device directly into the router rather than relying on wireless internet for all users. Belastock said that ethernet cables won't work for the Chromebooks many of the students are using, but that idea would take another of a family's computers off wifi, freeing up bandwidth for the Chromebooks.
Another issue that came up at Thursday's meeting was time management.
"Some days are so much heavier than others," said parent Andrea Malone of Mount Greylock's School Council. "My girls are not always sure how to structure their time outside of Zoom meetings."
"Probably the biggest stressor for our high schooler is when the classes are back-to-back-to-back," said Rob Mathews, also a member of the Mount Greylock School Council. "It becomes stressful as you are in one class and you approach the time when your next class or meeting is supposed to start."
A couple of parents expressed a desire for the teachers to establish more consistent schedules, but much of Thursday's meeting was devoted to praising the district's teachers and families for the work they're doing to adjust to the new reality.
"I feel like I'm seeing [teachers] start to move from simply replicating what they are doing in the classroom to trying to do things differently," said Julia Bowen, the parent of a fifth- and sixth-grader at WES. "Writing assignments about the experiences the kids are having is an example.
"I'm also starting to see more connection, which is great. I've appreciated how quickly the teachers have responded when we've had questions."
While teachers and students work to adjust to life in a remote learning environment, the business of the district continues.
On Tuesday, the School Committee OK'd a revision to the bus contract with DuFour Tours that reduces the district's payment during the school closure to just the amount necessary to maintain the buses, the bus barn and the liability insurance. The labor costs will be borne by the bus company, Grady reported.
Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Andrea Wadsworth informed the committee that the regional transportation aid the district receives from the state next year will be reduced to reflect the decreased expenditure on transportation in FY 2020.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the School Committee decided to post the opening for Wadsorth's position.
And on Thursday, the advisory committee helping to pick the new principal at Mount Greylock began interviewing eight candidates for the post being vacated by Mary MacDonald, who is looking to return to the classroom after seven years in the corner office at the middle-high school.
One member of the 18-person committee of staff, parents and students advising Grady on the Mount Greylock position has generated some discussion in the community.
Longtime guidance counselor P.J. Pannesco is a member of the group, an inclusion that sparked a rebuke on Facebook from Williamstown resident David Armet, a vocal critic of Grady's.
Armet has pointed to a pair of incidents in the last three years in which Pannesco has angered members of the community with inappropriate social media posts; the first was reported by in April 2017.
On Friday, Grady declined to talk about specific personnel matters arising from the 2017 and 2018 incidents but discussed why Pannesco was included on the advisory panel.
"PJ serves as substitute principal and assistant principal in the absence of Mary [MacDonald] and Jake [Schutz] and has for years," Grady wrote in response to an email "He is a long standing member to the school and the community.  
"A great deal of time went into organizing the committee, having PJ and his experience in the different roles he plays was something the administration and I felt was important."

Tags: MGRSD,   remote learning,   

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Mount Greylock Committee Member Pushes to Reopen Schools

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Steven Miller participates in a recent meeting of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee via Zoom.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chair of the Mount Greylock School Committee's Education Subcommittee on Tuesday repeatedly pressed the district's interim superintendent to develop benchmarks that could be met in order to allow a return to full in-person instruction.
For now, school officials are planning to begin school in mid-September in a hybrid model that sees half the students in preK through ninth grade attending classes in person two days a week with the rest of their time on learning spent remotely; sophomores through seniors in high school would attend school one day a week under the current plan.
Several times during a more than two-hour virtual meeting, Steven Miller reiterated his contention that the Lanesborough-Williamstown district is uniquely situated to move to full, in-person instruction.
"We are in a wonderful situation where we are in a rural setting with people who are responsible, who are socially distancing and wearing masks," said Miller, who also referred to the county's low incidence of COVID-19 positive tests.
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