Williamstown Elementary, Mount Greylock Principals Outline Budget Priorities

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The principals of Mount Greylock Regional School and Williamstown Elementary School on Thursday asked the School Committee to support staffing increases for next year that will address both learning gaps and social emotional wellness needs in the district.
 
Following on the heels of last month's presentation by Lanesborough Elementary School Principal Nolan Pratt, Mount Greylock's Jacob Schutz and Williamstown's Cindy Sheehy gave presentations at the committee's virtual meeting to discuss the fiscal 2023 budget priorities identified by the administration and school council at each school.
 
Sheehy had the longer "wish list," saying the PreK-6 school needs a second social adjustment counselor, a new reading specialist, a paraprofessional for a planned student support center and more hours for its both a special education teacher slot and an existing occupational therapist.
 
At Mount Greylock, Schutz said the school is looking to add a math interventionist and a reading interventionist for the next academic year.
 
No numbers were attached to either budget request.
 
The presentations are designed to come early in the budget process, to give the School Committee a sense of the needs to be addressed by the funding requests that will result from budget discussions among the administrators and district office in the coming weeks.
 
But committee member Julia Bowen noted that, by her count, Sheehy's request added up to nearly five full-time equivalent positions, or FTEs, adding up new hires and increased hours for existing positions. Bowen asked Sheehy what, if anything, the principal would prioritize in the budget process if the district could not afford all that additional staffing.
 
Sheehy replied that not all of those 4.9 FTEs would be a net increase to the district. Some would be offset by reductions in the number of classroom sections due to larger-sized grade cohorts moving up – either to Mount Greylock in the case of sixth-graders or to elementary grades where larger classroom sizes are more appropriate.
 
"Some items are reallocation of current staff members' responsibilities in our current structure," Sheehy said.
 
And Sheehy's presentation provided background on the need for each of the positions sought by the school.
 
"We were able to bring a social adjustment counselor onto our school staff two years ago, which was incredible," Sheehy said. "What we're finding is we are a school that's growing – what feels like exponentially. We went from 374 students last year to 425 this year, and we're still enrolling.
 
"What our goal is is to continue to meet the needs of our students' social and emotional development in the best way we possibly can. Right now, our social adjustment counselor is an incredible resource. She is able to meet with kids. She's able to do small-scale, lunch bunch activities. But for a school of Williamstown's size, I'd love to see us be able to bring an additional social adjustment counselor on board to really be able to not able meet the needs of the students and staff but also do programmatic things in the area of social emotional learning that would allow our counselors to push into classrooms."
 
Likewise, for the reading specialist, one is not enough for the 425 pupils at WES, Sheehy said. She would rather bring on a second and allow one to concentrate on kindergarten through second grade and the second to focus on Grades 3 through 6.
 
Bringing on a new paraprofessional for a student support center would create a resource for struggling students, Sheehy said.
 
"What we're always finding, whether it's this year or in another year, is that our students are really coming to us with more and more things that are preventing them from being able to access the curriculum," she said. "Being able to have a student support center would allow our students and our staff to have a space for students to go to, for students to be able to take a break, to take a sensory walk, to be able to just take a minute and have a space in the school where they can be calm, where they can be able to collect themselves and talk to a trusted adult – and then be able to go back into their classroom and engage with curriculum and engage with peers."
 
After asking Sheehy how the WES proposal could be pared back, Bowen asked Schutz why his request did not include additional supports for the social emotional wellness effort at the middle/high school.
 
"We tripled down [in that area] last year," Schutz said. "I'm not saying we're good to go by any means, but the School Council and School Committee really set us up to help our students last year. We added a school social worker last year, and with the Williams College Fund and some SEE Fund money, we were able to provide teletherapy for many of our students. We had a lot of in-kind support already built in.
 
"At the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade level, we've already adjusted our program of study to have mandatory [social emotional wellness] classes. We have counselors in the classroom teaching SEW. It's direct instruction in social emotional wellness that's a change from last year based on what we saw. We're not perfect. We're not there, but last year, that was the push."
 
This year, Schutz's budget request is focusing on curricular supports to help students who are struggling in math and reading.
 
"At Mount Greylock, our students have excellent PSAT scores, SAT scores, AP scores," Schutz said. "We have amazing graduation rates. Our college acceptance rates are outstanding. The colleges our students choose to attend the professions and careers our graduates choose to pursue are impressive. Our MCAS scores, on average, compared to students at other schools across the state are very good. And for all that, we're glad and proud of our staff and our students.
 
"With this in mind and with the understanding that every student is our priority, we continuously look to hone our craft and to seek ways to improve the academic skills of all our students. This includes our struggling students."
 
Schutz showed the School Committee data indicating a disturbing recent trend in failing grades in English and history classes at the middle/high school: 19 in 2018, 28 in 2019 and 55 in 2020. Likewise, had the commonwealth not adjusted its grading requirements for the 2021 MCAS, 17 students in Grade 9 and eight students in Grade 11 would have failed the math portion of the state's standardized test.
 
New specialists in math and reading would allow for targeted instruction and improvements to general instruction, Schutz said.
 
"What it comes down to is dedicated professional hours," he said. "Whether it's one-on-one, whether it's in small groups, whether it's programmatically working with teachers, working with departments, whether it's those developmental courses I've mentioned ...
 
"My vision would be a combination of developmental courses with a main focus being on inclusion, pushing in, doing coaching where the cohorts I've mentioned are the targeted audience, however everyone else in that included classroom is going to benefit.
 
"Even though the target is moving students from the failing to 'needs improvement' or 'needs improvement' to 'partially meeting [expectations]', those students from ‘partially meeting' will be pushed up, the students in the ‘meets expectations' will be pushed up. Everyone is going to benefit from this. It's not just something that just the targeted audience will benefit from. It's also a support to our faculty as far as introducing strategies and helping teachers prepare and introducing this guided instruction."

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Williamstown Board of Health 'Strongly Recommends' Masks at Town Meeting

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Health on Monday morning strongly recommended that attendees at Tuesday's annual town meeting wear masks and relayed that masks will be available for anyone who arrives without one.
 
But a groundswell appears to be developing for that meeting to be adjourned to a new date and location in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The town moderator said last week that he has no intention of unilaterally postponing the meeting or adjourning it to a "date certain" at a different venue. And on Friday, the town posted a statement on the issue on its website.
 
Such an adjournment is possible if an attendee moves for one at the outset of the meeting (identifying a time and location for the meeting's resumption) and that motion passes.
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