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Mount Greylock District Enrollment Down, School-Year Start Survey Positive

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District lost more than 5 percent of its student population from the 2019-20 academic year, but the ones who remain report general satisfaction with the hybrid start to the school year — at least in the general education population.
 
On a night when the School Committee devoted nearly all of its internal conversation to the question of whether the district should pay for an artificial turf field at the middle-high school, the administration focused its attention on the start of the school year and the annual school improvement plans that are required by state law.
 
Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam also gave the School Committee its first look at enrollment numbers for 2020-21.
 
More than three times as many families are home-schooling their children this fall compared to recent years. In both 2018-19 and 2019-20, 10 families in the Lanesborough-Williamstown district were homeschooling; this fall, 34 families are.
 
After two straight years with 20 students being home-schooled in the district, that number stood at 59 as of Thursday evening, Putnam reported: 13 students from Lanesborough Elementary (up from six last year), 27 at Williamstown Elementary (up from 8) and 19 at Mount Greylock Regional School (up from six).
 
Putnam said administrators still are compiling the Oct. 1 enrollment figures annually submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (but delayed because of the late start to the school year). Preliminary numbers show that there are 1,097 students enrolled at the district's three schools, a drop of 63 from last year's figure of 1,160.
 
Chapter 70, the commonwealth's major state aid program to districts, and Chapter 71, transportation aid, both could be affected negatively by a decline in enrollment.
 
Most — but not all — of the district's enrollment drop is accounted for by the increase of 39 in the home-schooling numbers.
 
"The reasons for this are manifest," Putnam said. "Certainly a lot of it is having to do with COVID and the choices parents made in regard to what we're facing with the pandemic."
 
Families who have kept their children in the district's three schools are, by and large, satisfied with the outcome so far, district personnel told the School Committee.
 
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Joelle Brookner and Director of Academic Technology Elea Kaatz shared preliminary data from a district-wide survey about the start of the academic year. Although the survey was open through Friday, the pair reported that, as of Thursday, the district had feedback from 91 faculty and staff members, 677 families and 223 students in Grades 5 through 12.
 
"There are definitely areas we need to address, and those will be top of mind for us, moving forward," Brookner said.
 
The pair did not present hard data from the still open survey but rather impressions from the responses that they are seeing.
 
Students, across the board, are reporting satisfaction with the district's asynchronous learning opportunities, which was a pleasant surprise for the district office, Brookner reported.
 
"Most hybrid students are feeling very integrated, and there's a high-level of reporting that they feel part of the community," Brookner said of the data from middle and high school students. "The balance reports … those were questions on screen time, pacing, content and social interaction with their peers, was positive, and it was more positive for hybrid students than those who are [fully] remote."
 
Staff generally reported that students are engaged in their classes and that attendance is "excellent," Brookner said.
 
And families at Mount Greylock shared their students' positive response to the asynchronous learning opportunities, while families in the early elementary age group (K-3) identified asynchronous learning as a challenge, Kaatz said.
 
In addition to that concern, one of the challenges emerging from the survey has to do with the pace of instruction.
 
"Teachers at both the elementary and middle-high school are concerned about content pacing," Brookner said.
 
"I also wanted to mention that I've been attending some statewide networking meetings … with about 100 to 150 educators from across the state, and these themes are absolutely shared with our colleagues across the state: concerns about content, concerns about pacing, concerns about meeting the needs of students, those are things educators all across the commonwealth are grappling with."
 
Both staff and families identified the delivery of special education services as a challenge for the district in the first month of the school year.
 
"There is also a concern about meeting the needs of special ed students, and there's a need for more time and support," Brookner said. "That's definitely on the minds of teachers.
 
"For parents of children with identified special needs [at Mount Greylock], about half of them are reporting that they're not adjusting well."
 
"The special education part worries me, as I'm sure it does you," School Committee member Carolyn Greene said after hearing the survey data. "We're obligated to serve these kids in the way that we say we will. I hope we hear more about plans to address that particular area."
 
Putnam replied that the administration would return with more complete results from the survey, the results of which will inform "the work the administrators do over the coming months."
 
Principals in the district's three buildings also will continue to work on fulfilling the school improvement plans they laid out for the School Committee on Thursday evening.
 
All three of the plans — developed by each building's School Councils — align with the district improvement plan, which is updated every three years. The schools share a commitment to address students' social and emotional learning needs and to promote principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.
 
"This is going to be a longer-term process," LES Principal Nolan Pratt said of his school's objective to "develop a curriculum that is student focused to help understand the inequities in our community, country, and world."
 
"We're going to build it from the ground up to make sure it really has an impact," he said. "This year, we're going to focus on getting some presenters in the school. We're going to look at texts and curriculum to make sure they're appropriate for age levels."
 
WES Principal Kristen Thompson said her school improvement plan is a work in progress, and she is hoping to finalize it with the School Council that convenes after some elections taking place to fill out the group.
 
One focus for the Williamstown school is addressing the PreK-6 school's math and social studies instruction. The latter needs to be brought into alignment with state standards, and the former has been identified as a place where WES needs to increase proficiency among high-needs students.
 
"One thing I can say we have done is we have hired a full-time math interventionist to work with K through 6," Thompson said. "We'll continue to work to assess the effectiveness of the intervention programs we have."
 
At Mount Greylock, the school improvement plan for 2020-21 is similar to that adopted for last year.
 
"We've determined [the goals] are essential, and that's why we want to keep them and follow through with them," Principal Jacob Schutz said. "We're ready to adjust as appropriate to make sure they're aligned with district efforts or any needs that come up with the current environment."
 
In addition to goals around inclusion, social emotional learning and meeting math standards, the middle-high school has the unique goal of exploring opportunities for new arts education and programming.
 
"It's also essential that we put forth the same amount of effort into the arts to ensure our students are happy, healthy and well rounded," Schutz said. "If there are any parents interested in supporting the arts, they can reach out to me, [Co-Curricular Director] Lindsey von Holtz or Cecilia Hirsch, the president of the Friends of the Arts group, essentially a booster club."
 
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee recognized the contributions of departing members Jamie Art, Alison Carter and Al Terranova, who are not seeking re-election on Nov. 3 and thanked Putnam for stepping in on an interim basis to serve as superintendent. Greene also thanked superintendent-to-be Jake McCandless for attending a second straight virtual meeting of the committee.

Tags: MGRSD,   school improvement,   

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Hotels, Meals Tax in Williamstown Shows Impact of Pandemic

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue indicate the town's lodging industry lost 57 percent of its business from April through September compared with 2019.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch reported those statistics to the Select Board on Monday night to demonstrate how much the local economy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The numbers come from the DOR's report of local lodging establishments' liability under the rooms and meals tax. Although the commonwealth has given businesses the "small relief" of being able to defer those tax payments, the amount they owe still shows up on the books, Hoch said.
 
In the half year that began after the pandemic started to impact Massachusetts' economy, Williamstown's hotels, motels and short-term renters collected receipts that translated to a combined tax bill of $124,287.06.
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