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Mount Greylock Adds Day in High School, Splits Elementary Days

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — All students at Mount Greylock Regional School will be in school two days a week, and elementary school pupils will attend four days a week to start the school year under the latest iteration of the hybrid learning model announced Thursday by interim Superintendent Robert Putnam.
And the School Committee finalized its negotiation on a three-year contract with incoming Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.
After meeting in exectutive session for about 15 minutes, the committee came out and voted 6-0 (with one member, Regina DiLego, absent) to approve a contract negotiated with McCandless, who was offered the job the week before.
The committee did not disclose a starting date for McCandless, who currently is the superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools. Pittsfield has voted to hold McCandless to the 90-day notice in his contract.
The bulk of Thursday's meeting was devoted to Putnam, who discussed his most recent thinking on hybrid learning  and informed the committee that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had given districts a four-day extension of the deadline to submit a final plan for the resumption of school in the fall.
The panel had scheduled a vote for Thursday evening to approve the plan that Putnam was to submit to DESE on Monday, but at the outset of his presentation, he asked the body to delay that vote until Thursday, in advance of a now-Aug. 14 deadline for submission to the commonwealth.
Putnam stressed that the plans for the start of the school year continue to evolve, and nowhere was that more apparent than in the school schedules he laid out.
At Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary, pupils now are scheduled to attend either a morning or afternoon session on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Previously, the preK-6 classes were scheduled to be divided into cohorts that attended for full days on either Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday.
The new plan maintains the objective of only having half the pupils in the buildings at one time, but it avoids having youngster away from school for five-day stretches (either Wednesday through Sunday for kids going to schools on Mondays and Tuesdays or Saturday through Wednesday for those in the Thursday-Friday block).
"The advantage of this is children will have more consistent interaction with teachers and their peers," Putnam said.
As for Mount Greylock, last week Putnam laid out a plan that would have had sophomores, juniors and seniors begin the year with fully remote learning. Earlier this week, he announced that 10th through 12th graders would go to school one day per week.
On Thursday, he announced that sophomores, juniors and seniors will be in school two days per week, just like their counterparts in the middle school and the freshman class.
Seventh- and eighth-graders will have classes on the third floor, Putnam said. The ninth grade will be on the second floor of the school’s academic wing. Classes for students in 10th through 12th grades will be on the first floor.
"Cohorts would be developed alphabetically based on family groups and in consideration of family-developed pods," according to a slide Putnam showed the School Committee. "To the extent possible, students would be grouped in cohorts of 10-15 students that stay together throughout the day in a specific set of classrooms to limit commingling of cohorts."
The rapid change from fully remote learning to hybrid instruction for most of the high school came after the district heard feedback from families concerned about the potential social and emotional impact of continued isolation for adolescents already feeling the effect of lost connection with families and teachers since March’s school closure.
"I'm very happy with the progress we’re making," School Committee member Steven Miller said. "That doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue to ask [for more in-person instruction], and I encourage other people to constantly ask. But I think this is wonderful, the discussions we’ve been having."
Putnam replied that the development of plans for September is an iterative process and will continue to be an iterative process once classes begin.
"Once the school year starts, we are redesigning and rebuilding the plane while it's flying," he said. "That’s just the nature of the organization of school. Essentially, our task is done with students with us the entire time.
"The heavy lift is what's going to be happening the first 10 days of school and figuring out how to make that happen."
Thursday's School Committee meeting marked the first time a public body in the town of Williamstown has met in person since March. While the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen continued to hold in-person meetings and the town held its annual town meeting at the elementary schools, the two-town school district has held all of its meetings remotely by video conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as have all Williamstown's boards and committees.
With one committee member, Alison Carter, participating remotely by phone, the other five School Committee members in attendance sat 6 feet apart from one another and wore masks during the meeting, which was telecast on the district's YouTube channel.
The public was barred from in-person attendance at the meeting in accordance with the same executive order from Gov. Charlie Baker that enabled all of the recent video conferences by public bodies throughout the commonwealth.

Tags: MGRSD,   school reopening,   

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Six COVID-19 Cases Linked to Williamstown's Pine Cobble School

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Four children and two faculty members from Pine Cobble School have tested positive for COVID-19, the private school's head reported on Friday.
Ten days after a kindergarten teacher went home with a fever, the ensuing tests have turned up six cases, Sue Wells said.
"All the cases are contained to the kindergarten families, and the teachers in the kindergarten," she said.
All of the families in that kindergarten cohort were ordered by public health officials to either be tested for the novel coronavirus or quarantine for 14 days, Wells said.
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