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The Northern Berkshire School Union Committee is hearing a request from Hawlemont Regional to join the shared-services partnership.

Hawlemont Seeks to Join Northern Berkshire School Union

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire School Union is looking for a lot more information before it makes a decision on accepting the Hawlemont Regional School as a member.
The regional school serves the elementary needs of Charlemont and Hawley and recently contacted NBSU about joining the union. 
NBSU is five independent town school districts that share administrative services between Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, Rowe and Savoy. 
Monday's meeting of the School Union Committee was to hear a presentation of the proposal but the lack of a quorum because of missing Monroe members prevented more than a brief general discussion and a recommendation from Chair Judy Oleson of Florida that it would continue under better circumstances.
"All we've really had so far is a couple of phone conversations," said NBSU Superintendent John Franzoni. "I did follow up and talk with our school attorney from Dupere Law Associates. And I also spoke with a couple of [Department of Elementary and Secondary] representatives in regard to regionalization, and they all said, basically what you're saying and I agree 100 percent, is that this process takes a while to determine if this would be the right move for the five districts in the NBSU and for Hawlemont."
Hawlemont is a partner of the K-12 Mohawk Trail Regional School District, which educates students in Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Plainfield and Shelburne Falls. They operate similar to how Mount Greylock Regional had operated with the former Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary school districts. 
But the cost-sharing agreement between the two regional districts is set to expire next June and Hawlemont officials are considering a different partnership. Heath, which had been sending its students to both Hawlemont and Mohawk Trail, recently decided to send all its pupils to one of the Mohawk Trail elementary schools in part because of this.
Franzoni had told the Clarksburg School Committee last week that he didn't think it possible for Hawlemont to join before the next school year. Clarksburg is dealing with financial issues, and the possible departure of the assistant superintendent, Jennifer Macksey, should she win election as North Adams mayor, he said, and is in the midst of making agreements for new educational and communications software.
"I think it's important to vet that process early, how it's going to affect our shared special education people, who would obviously have to take on some new responsibilities ... how many new staff members would that require?" he told the Clarksburg committee. 
Franzoni reiterated on Monday some of the concerns he expressed in Clarksburg and again pointed to the study done when the school was considering merging with Stamford (Vt.) School as an example of how to proceed. 
"That went on for two years, using some grant funds," he said on Monday. "You hire an outside company to come in and do a feasibility study for us. ...
"I think we all need to just kind of take a step backwards and take all this information and share it before any decision can be made at all."
All six of the Hawlemont committee members eventually logged into the virtual meeting but neither side was really prepared to either answer detailed questions or to accept them. 
"I don't think that's something we want to share right now I think it's just something we're saying that we need to get through the course of vetting the process and study," said Franzoni. "I don't know we want to have that conversation right now."
The two committees were, however, able to assure a concerned Hawlemont parent who called in to say "busing those kids over the mountain would be insane." 
No one would be bused to North Berkshire, Hawlemont School Committee member Charlie Ricko said, adding at some point there would be a forum to answer parents and staff's questions. 
It would not be possible Monday night for any further discussion, as Macksey was unable to rustle up one more member and Oleson closed the meeting for lack of a quorum. 
"I know that there's a lot more research to be done. There's a lot of numbers to be put together, a lot of the questions as [committee member] Suzanne [Crawford] just illustrated are going to need to be answered," said Ricko. "As far as I'm concerned, I personally, I think that if the numbers work out, and it seems to be beneficial for all of us, I would certainly be in favor of joining the NBSU."

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MCLA Holds First In-Person Commencement in Two Years for Class of 2022

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago gives the keynote address in the Amsler Campus Center. See more photos here.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago applauded the new graduates of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for completing their degrees despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At any other time, your achievement would simply be celebrated, which would be the end of it. But this is no ordinary time . . . You have succeeded in your quest amid the most convulsive circumstances that we can remember," Santiago said.  

Santiago was the keynote speaker at MCLA's 123rd commencement ceremonies on Saturday, receiving an honorary doctorate in public service. The event marked the first time the college has held festivities in-person in three years. Graduates and family members filled the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium, utilizing the provided fans as the spring temperatures topped 85 degrees.

"When you began your college career and MCLA, the term COVID have never been uttered. When you began your college career, you didn't have to mask up unless you were doing open heart surgery or were planning to rob a bank," he said. "When you began your college career, you could engage in online and remote learning if you wanted to, not because you had to ... This is what you have lived over the past two years; this is what you have overcome to reach your academic goals. I salute you."

Santiago drew several parallels between his time as a student in the 1970s and the struggles students face today. He said it is good to see a positive outlook from many students, despite the difficulties they have faced during the last few years.

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