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Hoosac Valley Reports Higher Attendance, Curriculum Changes

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Correspondent
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Hoosac Valley Elementary's Principal Peter Bachli described the past school year succinctly for the School Committee on Monday.
"We have without a doubt had a year like no other," the interim principal said.
Bachli believed the two words that best describe the efforts of students, teachers and administrators this year are "resilience and perseverance."
While he was saying goodbye, the school's new principal — Erin Beaulac — was introduced to the School Committee.
Bachli, who had been principal at Cheshire Elementary from 2009 until its closure in 2017, retired from Morris Elementary in Lenox last year.
Beaulac comes from Springfield and has experience in both teaching and administrating in elementary schools there, including as assistant principal at German Gerena Community School.
Hoosac Valley Middle School principal Christopher Sposato also presented a review of the school year for the middle school. He noted that attendance, participation and passing rates all increased during this school year. Sposato mentioned that some COVID-19 restrictions remain in place for the school and suggested, for instance, that parents send their kids to school with water bottles because the fountains will still be turned off for the rest of the school year.
Sposato introduced some changes to the curriculum and schedule for the middle school for the upcoming school year. He reported that math and English language arts (ELA) were getting a bump in class time this year.
Some committee members expressed concern that this would take time away from science and social studies classes. Sposato noted that this problem would be alleviated by incorporating math and ELA into those other classes, creating a more holistic learning experience.
Hoosac Valley High School Principal Colleen Byrd also reported on her school's performance during the pandemic and presented a new learning program for the high school in the upcoming year. Attendance increased this year, reaching a daily average of 90 percent, she said. She also reported that passing rates increased, partly because of a lower homework load and increased group learning.
Byrd outlined the new Pathways initiative. This program offers students choices regarding their academic paths, with the dual goals of preparing students for life after graduation and providing a more enriching academic experience. For instance, Byrd introduced an internship and work study program that will allow high school students to work in the community and gain valuable career experience.
Byrd said the school district will be launching a public relations campaign to sell the new program to prospective students. 
"We have not done a good job really talking about what we have," she said, including, "the vast amount of AP classes that we offer and the hands-on activities that we do have for students."
Byrd later said, "I'm hoping that part of the promotion of the high school is going to be not only what we have to offer for courses but how we can show students their pathway regardless of what they're going to do after graduation."
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Cheshire Selectmen Discusses Town Meeting Results, Considers Job Descriptions

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Staff

CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen is excited to welcome a new full-time town administrator to Cheshire.

The board discussed at its regular meeting Tuesday the results of the town meeting earlier this week. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said that Monday's town meeting brought "amazing news with the approval of the town administrator position."

The rest of the board agreed. Member Ray Killeen said that "early on … you knew which way [the vote for the full-time town administrator] was going," based on the comments by the town members and the applause that greeted those who supported the measure.

Francesconi said the town's selection for the post, Jennifer Morse, will be able to start soon after July 4. The board, however, has not yet negotiated her contract.

Some board members expressed disappointment that the recall measure, Article 17, did not pass. They said that in hindsight, they should have had some guidelines as to what type of behavior rose to the level of recall. They also said they should have upped the required signatures to oust a current member to more than 3 percent of registered voters, or 100 signatures, whichever was lower, as many of the criticisms of that measure centered around the low number of signatures.

Killeen said some voters may also have been confused about the change of some town officials (town clerk, tax collector) from elected to appointed. He said they may not have been aware that this would come up for a vote later, and that their vote at the town meeting was not final.

In other news:

  • The board reviewed job descriptions for some of the appointed officials in town. Members spent a lot of time discussing the harbormaster position, saying they wanted it to be a more educational position, rather than a punitive one.
  • Francesconi asked Police Chief Tim Garner if they could re-letter the harbormaster boat to say "Harbormaster." Currently it says it is owned by the Police Department, but because the harbormaster position is not a law-enforcement officer, Francesconi argued that the current boat-lettering could confuse some swimmers and boaters.
  • Garner reported that he is retiring next year, in 2022, and that he should be succeeded by a full-time police chief.
  • Garner also said police reform efforts in Massachusetts could have some drastic consequences for small-town police departments like Cheshire's. Since Cheshire's department is staffed by mostly part-time officers and its budget is a relatively small part of Cheshire's overall budget, additional training requirements for police departments will likely eat into Cheshire's police staffing.
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