PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee believes the virtual graduation of its two high schools was a success and looked toward a possible in-person celebration in July.
Members at Wednesday's meeting congratulated the Taconic and Pittsfield high school classes of 2020 who were recognized in a virtual graduation on Sunday.
"Congratulations to all of those who were involved," School Committee member William Cameron said. "This has never been seen before and I think everyone has done a remarkable job in a very stressful circumstance in having a really fine virtual graduation."
Superintendent Jason McCandless agreed that it was a successful graduation but lamented that seniors have still been denied an important part of their high school experience because of the novel coronavirus. Health protocols during the pandemic have forced schools with significant numbers of graduates to hold virtual or "drive by" events while smaller schools have been able to hold outside graduations with safe distancing.
That wasn't possible for Pittsfield and Taconic, with more than 350 graduates combined.
"This year has certainly been different ... and we are sorry that students missed out on so many milestone events," he said. "So many things moving into adulthood they would consider touchstones in their lives. These times are without compare."
He did say all students were given a copy of the virtual graduation that was also available on Pittsfield Community Television and, if permitted, an in-person ceremony is planned in late July to actually hand out diplomas. Several other schools are planning outdoor graduations after the July 19 date set by the state.
In other business, McCandless gave a remote learning update and noted for various reasons some students are just not as engaged.
"We have students who this has really worked for and we have students who have barely engaged at all," he said. "We need to be ready to open up and address every single one of these students."
More distressing are the number of students the district has been unable to contact at all.
"It is one of the dozen things that keep us up at night," he said.
McCandless said teachers have gone through all of their students and recorded who they have been in contact with and who they have not.
He said administrators and counselors looked to track down students and the district has been working with the Department of Children and Families, the police, and other community partners to check on these students.
Some families just moved while others, although not engaged, have been contacted.
But there are still 21 students who are completely unreachable.
"These are the students we have not seen, we have no evidence that they have completed school work," he said. "Phone calls, texts, emails, and in many cases personal visits have gone unanswered."
McCandless said some school counselors have volunteered to personally visit the homes of these students.
Before the meeting began, the School Committee had a few participants in public comment: Matthew Gigliotti and teacher Kelly Cusson both asked the School Committee to consider changing Taconic's mascot, the Braves.
"You are the leaders of this district and if you are unapologetic in refusing to accept racism in our schools changing the Taconic mascot is easy," Cusson said. "It comes down to one question: Are you OK with racial stereotypes in schools."
Cusson and Gigliotti also implored the committee to change PHS' General mascot to something that was not attached to violence.
Cusson suggested it would be a good opportunity for students to come up with a new mascot.
The topic did not come up during the actual School Committee meeting as it was not on the agenda.
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