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Mount Greylock School Committee Focuses on Elementary Funding Requests

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District's two elementary schools want to overhaul their English language arts curriculum starting in the 2021-22 school year.
 
That was one of the budget priorities that the schools' principals shared with the School Committee on Thursday.
 
"The writing component is not strong at all, and the spelling part, the language acquisition is all over the place," Laneseborough Elementary Principal Nolan Pratt told the committee in its monthly virtual meeting.
 
Pratt and Williamstown Elementary School Principal Kristen Thompson laid out the priorities they developed along with their School Councils for fiscal year 2022.
 
Each principal is asking for an additional staff position, along with the district ELA curriculum upgrade, which is projected to cost between $100,000 and $140,000.
 
Pratt is seeking an additional $9,500 to support technology management and instructional technology at the Lanesborough school.
 
Thompson is looking for $3,000 for a new math screening program to assess pupils' competencies, $12,000 for teacher stipends to appoint grade-level teacher leaders and $4,000 to update reading material in the school library and classroom libraries.
 
The annual presentations followed last month's budget presentation from Mount Greylock Regional School Principal Jacob Schutz. The School Committee will take those priorities into account as it decides on a budget to put forward to the member towns next month.
 
The big ticket items for the elementaries are the new ELA curriculum and new full-time positions.
 
Last year, the district's director of curriculum coordination signaled that the current language arts curriculum needed to be addressed.
 
"We've decided to focus our [Student Opportunity Act] grant on research-based early literacy programs in pre-K and early elementary grades," Joelle Brookner said at the committee's December meeting. "Our goal is going to be to increase proficiency in reading across our early elementary students, hoping that we catch as many students as possible before Grade 3 and beyond.
 
"We are going to use our funds to do things such as align curriculum between Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary. Specifically, we will be purchasing Fundations materials, which is a reading program we've been using in Williamstown for a couple of years and expanding, and Lanesborough has started using Fundations. We need to do some catchup with the purchases there and some training. I have been doing a lot of research on other programs. … Another goal of the grant will be to adopt a district-wide writing program for the schools, which is something we've been missing for a while, and also to consider a new core reading program. We currently use the Reading Street program, which was a purchase that was made a number of years ago and is becoming outdated; the research on it is not as great as it used to be."
 
The staff increases sought at each of the two schools would be in different areas.
 
At WES, Thompson is seeking room in the budget for an additional classroom teacher to support a large "bubble" class that is reaching sixth grade this fall.
 
"[The class] is larger than our current one, and we're also looking at needing to provide some additional support and accommodations for a wide range of supports for the students," Thompson said. "It could be possible we would need an additional FTE [full-time equivalent] in this area. We would look at what the class sizes would actually be and look at enrollment at that time whether we would need to hire additionally or whether we would be able to shift within our own staff to make sure we're providing the appropriate staffing for the sixth grade."
 
In Lanesborough, Pratt is looking to add a full-time social worker at the elementary school, something that the much larger school in Williamstown already has.
 
"This is one we had on the budget priority list last year," he said. "Last year, with the pandemic, we decided not to bring anyone in based on the fact that building relationships over Zoom is not the easiest thing to do, especially at a young age. So we're trying to get a social worker this year.
 
"And it's definitely more necessary with all the impact of stress in the pandemic. … It looks like based on just the parent survey, it is six students for every grade level who is not currently being seen by a school counselor who would need to be seen. That number is probably going to come down as teachers fill out the survey, but I'm looking at about 30 students who will need someone to talk to throughout the school day to help cope with all that is happening this year and will be happening."
 
Superintendent Jason McCandless said the staffing requests at both elementary schools will help pupils make up for emotional impacts and learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
"The Lanesborough School Council wisely anticipates the need for a social worker to help students be fully attentive to learning and be able to work through and get past some of the challenges of the past year," McCandless said. "Even the Grade 6 FTE at Williamstown Elementary — it really represents the need to maintain at a minimum the class sizes we have now. If we can have smaller class sizes, allowing for more personal attention, that's a winner. If we can have more attention coming from a mental health expert, rather than less, that's a winner."
 
McCandless said he likely will have other budget priorities districtwide related to the pandemic, including summer programs and after-school enrichment to help fill learning gaps. The district will look first to COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government to help offset those costs.
 
Pratt said the addition of a social worker at LES will help with the school's efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, a goal also addressed at Williamstown with the request to fund updates to the reading material at the elementary school.
 
"There is a good amount of research out there that would suggest if you ask a second grader, ‘What does an author look like?' they are not necessarily going to be apt to describe an individual of color," McCandless said. "Speaking very generally and based on every school and district I've ever worked in, our libraries, be they individual classroom libraries or 'the library,' generally under-represent authors of color, authors of various religious backgrounds.
 
"Some easy work to do to say to kids and their families and our community that you matter, you belong here, you are represented here is to make sure there are books by people who look like them, by people who worship like them, by people who linguistically and culturally may share characteristics and books about individuals who share all those characteristics.
 
"It's one reason we're looking at a new ELA curriculum — it is about the quality of the curriculum but it's also about the cultural appropriateness of the curriculum and making sure all of our students in all of the ways they come to us are represented in positive, powerful, proactive ways through our ELA curriculum. We want our libraries to deliver those same messages."

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Hasty Wants Williamstown to Do the 'Hard Right'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Forget forsythias.
 
The real harbinger of spring in small towns is the political lawn sign.
 
And this spring, Wade Hasty livened up Williamstown's curbsides with distinctive bright yellow and green signs carrying a simple message, "Electorate leads the way," and bordered by images of flowers.
 
"I'm anti-partisan," Hasty said in explaining his choice in color scheme. "At this time in the American social climate, a large grouping are hyper-partisan. I chose two colors that represent the two largest third-party organizations. The mayflower outlines the sign as it is the Massachusetts state flower. I'm a 'transplant,' and I thought, 'how fitting.' "
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