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Pittsfield Schools Looking to Fund Internet For Families

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In preparation for the possibility of further remote learning, the school administration is exploring the use of CARES Act funding to provide all students with internet access.
Superintendent Jason McCandless told the School Committee last week that the plan is to tap the district's $1.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allocation to purchase mobile hotspots for families without an internet connection. 
"We do continue to examine the means of getting much closer to 100 percent of our families connected to the internet," he said. "With a high-quality internet that works for our academic purposes."
With remote learning becoming the standard in 2020, the school district supplied essentially all students with a laptop. However, McCandless said 10 percent of the student body either does not have internet or unsatisfactory internet.
This represents between 500 and 550 households. 
"We want to be ready for that and we rather be overprepared than underprepared," he said. 
He said the best option looks to be purchasing around 550 Verizon Jetpack hotspots. These units would provide internet and cost $99 apiece.
The monthly service fee is $39.99 per month per unit with another $1.50 fee a month to allow the district to manage the devices.
This would run the district $192,522 over six months.
"We would see that as very appropriate use of CARES Act funding because that money was really given to district to help facilitate this," he said.
This per-month service fee could decrease if the state were to enter into a statewide contract with Verizon to make it a state-approved vendor 
"The city of Pittsfield and probably 200 other districts are trying to solve this," McCandless said.
He said they will wait for further state guidance before making the initial purchase.
In other business, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Finance Kristen Behnke said there is an expectation that the entire district will be eligible for the Community Eligibility provision districtwide next year, meaning every student will get a free lunch and breakfast.
"That is certainly good news given the pandemic and the uncertainty of where students will be eating lunch and not having to handle cash would be really helpful," she said. 
She said an application will be submitted to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education  DESE but that she fully expected to be approved. 
Before the meeting started in earnest, Chairwoman Katherine Yon read the staffing report and noted that Herberg Middle School Principal Martin McEvoy has left the district.
According to an article published in April by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, McEvoy was selected as the new superintendent of the Hatfield Public Schools.
"I would just like to congratulate Mr. McEvoy on his leaving Herberg to become a superintendent of schools," School Committee member William Cameron said. "I have to observe that he picked a most interesting time to move into another administrative role."  
McEvoy had applied last year for the Hoosac Valley Regional School District superintendent position but pulled his name before the final interviews. He had been assistant principal at Hoosac before becoming principal at Lanesborough Elementary. He had been at Herberg for two years. 

Tags: remote learning,   

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Pittsfield to Test Sewage For COVID-19

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city will test sewage for COVID-19 at the wastewater treatment plant.
Mayor Linda Tyer announced in her weekly update Friday that the city will utilize a new method to monitor for the novel coronavirus: sewage testing. 
"Research indicates that sewage testing analyzes epidemiological trends. We will have an early warning by detecting the resurgence of the coronavirus in the city’s sewage," she said. "We will be able to anticipate and respond rapidly and effectively to any possible new outbreaks even before positive test cases are identified." 
She said the city is utilizing a Boston-based company called Biobot Analytics and have already conducted one of the two baseline tests.
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