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Mount Greylock School Committee Gets Report on Start of School Year

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District on Tuesday evening plans a community forum on the start of the school year.
The School Committee last Thursday heard that things are going as well as can be expected as the PreK-12 district re-invents the way it teaches students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are really appreciative of the fact that we've had a couple of weeks of remote learning actually, despite some challenges," said Joelle Brookner, who this summer transitioned from being principal at Williamstown Elementary School to being director of curriculum and instruction for the district.
"Bringing in small groups of people that we have in each of the student support centers in the schools has its own set of challenges, and it's allowed us to work out some kinks. It's allowing us to anticipate some of what the problems are probably going to be when we have more students in the building, such as distancing."
WES, Lanesborough Elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School each began the academic year with fully remote instruction on Sept. 16. They are scheduled on Monday, Oct. 5, to begin a hybrid instruction model with about half the student population in the building on any given days -- either morning or afternoon four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) at the elementary schools or in a AARBB week at the middle-high school, where half the students will be able to attend in person on either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.
Students in all grades will be learning remotely on Wednesdays at all three schools under the hybrid model.
Brookner told the School Committee that it will be a challenge for teachers to lead a class of students for in-person instruction while maintaining the mandated social-distancing needed to reduce the opportunity to spread the novel coronavirus.
"I'm speaking from my own experiences," she said. "Working in the student support center, it's really difficult to stay 6 feet away from a first-grader who is asking you for help. We're seeing there are certain things we need to kind of be flexible about. And anticipating transitions in the hallways with really small numbers, like 16 students.
"These two weeks [of remote instruction] will be a gift once we get that back."
All three of the district's principals talked about the importance of the student support centers, which have been providing in-person instruction for students who need it most during the remote phase of the school year.
"Right now, the Williamstown Elementary student support center has opened up to students who are high needs or are district determined," WES Principal Kristen Thompson said. "We are up and rolling. We have kiddos in there who are accessing the curriculum and their teachers in ways that they need to be supported. Some students who we may not have been able to see in the spring are on and getting some instruction.
"Our paraprofessionals and teachers are, overall, doing an amazing job anyway, but their support is what is keeping the Williamstown Elementary student support center afloat. It's been very hard to staff this and think of the logistics of staffing it, but with everyone who is committed to students, we've been able to make it work."
Mount Greylock Principal Jacob Schutz said there are a variety of reasons students at the middle-high school have found their way to the student support center, either virtually or in person.
"If they have connectivity issues, they can come in and use it," Schutz said. "If they want more of a structured environment rather than sitting in their bedroom. If they need some peace and quiet to get away from their dog and their animals, they can use the student support center. We have a variety of students using the student support center for a variety of reasons."
Schutz said the center is set up for 30 students, but the maximum for instruction could be closer to 40. He also said that not all students who use the center use it every day, and in answer to a question from a committee member the first-year principal expressed no concern that demand was bumping up against capacity.
"We have students who have self-selected and families who have self-selected to have their students utilize that," he said. "It's a Google form we've sent out a couple of times, and I likely will again. But teachers have also identified students who they've seen struggling with the remote learning, and we've reached out to see if they want to take advantage of it.
"We assume that this is going to be an evolving and flexible thing. Just because you sign up to go doesn't mean you go every day. Just because you stop in for one day, it doesn't mean you need to be there every day. … Once we start getting to our maximum, we're going to have to start restricting. But I think we're going to be OK, and I don't think we'll have to turn many people away."
All three principals praised their teachers for developing new modes of instruction for remote learning, the model in place for the majority of the district's students.
"Our teachers have been absolutely killing it, adapting, learning screen time -- whether it's too long and students are fading or whether it's too short," Lanesborough Elementary Principal Nolan Pratt said. "They're really embracing the curveball of remote learning.
"Connectivity is an issue. We have some families in Lanesborough who live a little bit further away from remote service. That's slowing us down a little bit. … One thing some teachers have been doing is during students' lunch or recess, they'll have those students who missed content time come back in and try to do it in a one-on-one or two-on-one situation to catch students up on time they missed."
The district also is advising families on ways to boost their Internet connection, Pratt said.
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee, which authorized transferring up to $325,000 from the district's School Choice and tuition accounts to cover costs associated with reopening in the pandemic, learned that the administration will not be placing Black Lives Matter signs on school grounds.
Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam, who earlier told the committee he was relying on a legal opinion that such signage was permissible, told the panel that he since has learned of potential complications.
"Allowing signage that supports political, cultural, human rights movements is within the personal rights of individuals, but different rules apply to public entities," Putnam said. "The Mount Greylock Regional School District does not have a policy on the distribution of political materials on school grounds. The district must be viewpoint neutral.
"In other words, if you allow pro-something signs on school grounds, then you must also allow anti-something signs. Following the Sept. 10 meeting, the district received requests for clarification on the process and criteria for allowing signage supporting political, cultural and human rights movements on public grounds. It was never my intention to open the school grounds to such signage situations. That is why I have to reverse my decision.
"The signs will be removed tomorrow, and I will not be revisiting this issue prior to my departure in early November."
School Committee member Al Terranova told Putnam the committee shares his disappointment about the need to reverse course.
"This was fully supported by the School Committee," Terranova said. "I understand why we're taking them down, but I don't want to leave you out there, Dr. Putnam. Your decision [earlier in the month] was endorsed by myself and the full School Committee."

Tags: COVID-19,   MGRSD,   school reopening,   

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Elfenbein Named to Mount Greylock Regional School Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Curtis Elfenbein responds to a question during Wednesday's combined meeting of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee and the select boards from Lanesborough and Williamstown.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Lanesborough resident Curtis Elfenbein on Wednesday was appointed to fill two years of an unexpired term on the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee. 
By a vote of 12-1, the six remaining School Committee members and the select boards from Lanesborough and Williamstown chose Elfenbein over Christine Canning-Wilson in a virtual meeting moderated by Lanesborough Town Moderator Chris Dodig.
School Committee member Steven Miller of Williamstown cast the vote for Canning-Wilson. Everyone qualified to vote on the interim appointment participated in the meeting except for John Goerlach of the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen.
The elected officials from the district and two towns questioned the two applicants on a variety of topics for about 75 minutes prior to voting.
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