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Mount Greylock School Committee Looks at New Library Policy

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee last week began the process of enacting an updated and expanded district policy on library material selection and review.
 
The 1,500-word proposed policy came to the full panel via its policy subcommittee and would appear to replace two existing policies, titled "Library Materials Selection and Adoption" and "Library Resources," that add up to about 800 words on the topic.
 
The proposed policy received a "first read" at the School Committee's Nov. 14 meeting. No action could be taken on the proposed rules until after a second read at a subsequent meeting.
 
The new policy would spell out collection priorities for the libraries in all three district schools and explains in general terms the criteria that should be used for selecting materials for specific reading levels, from "easy fiction picture books" to "young adult/adult" fiction and nonfiction.
 
It also spells out the procedure for review of library materials in the event that the district receives a written complaint from a member of the school community.
 
According to the proposed policy, the superintendent annually would appoint a "Materials Review Committee" consisting of one school or district administrator, two teachers from the district, one librarian from a town library in Lanesborough or Williamstown, two community members (one from each of the member towns) and, in the event of a complaint at material at the middle-high school, a Mount Greylock Regional School student.
 
The six- or seven-person review committee would weigh the merits of the complaint, look at reviews of the library material in question and make a recommendation to the superintendent, who then would issue a written decision.
 
Although the School Committee did not intend to discuss the merits of the proposed policy until after the second read, the policy subcommittee did receive one bit of feedback at last week's meeting.
 
Steven Miller, noting that the proposed policy specified that material that survives the review process could not be challenged again for five years, suggested that a parallel provision be added that would keep material reviewed as a result of a community member's complaint from being added to the library's collection for at least five years. That suggestion received support from other committee members who expressed an opinion on the suggestion.
 
A relatively brief (96-minute) monthly meeting for the regional school committee included what could be its final vote on the use of proceeds from a $5 million capital gift the middle-high school received from Williams College in 2016.
 
The gift, which has been used for a variety of purposes by the district in the intervening years, has covered more than $5 million worth of expenses during that time since the college has managed the district's money as part of the overall college endowment, which generally has appreciated in value over the last seven years.
 
At the Nov. 14 meeting, the School Committee decided to take the money out of active management and, essentially, liquidate the remainder of the capital gift.
 
"We are expecting to use all of the Williams College gift over the course of the next year in connection with the field and track project as well as trailing responsibilities," Assistant Superintendent Joseph Bergeron told the committee. "In that time, if the college's endowment … were to take an unexpected downturn, it would put our ability to fund the project at some risk.
 
"It makes sense to let the college know we would like to protect the funds from any risk. It also means we'd be removing it from the potential reward. The vote here tonight is to vote to authorize the school district to reach out to the college and say, 'Please take all the funds out of active management,' so we will know exactly what we have available when we need it over the course of the next 12 months."
 
The vote does not affect a separate Williams College capital gift, given to Williamstown Elementary School when it was built in 2002. Over the years, the Williamstown Elementary School Committee and, later, the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee after regionalization, have had access to proceeds from that gift to address upkeep at the elementary school.
 
For years, Mount Greylock and town officials envisioned a similar "building renewal" fund for part of the proceeds from the $5 million gift to the middle-high school (at the time, a separate district from the elementary schools). But in March, the School Committee decided to move forward with the field and track project with the intention of using all the remaining funds in the Williams capital gift.
 
The meeting also included the School Committee's annual reorganization vote. Christina Conry, Carolyn Greene and Miller were re-elected as chair, vice chair and secretary, respectively, on 6-0 votes with committee member Ursula Maloy not in attendance.
 
Greene also last week gave the committee a report from the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. She said the statewide body took no action on a number of controversial resolutions that the Mount Greylock panel discussed at its October meeting.
 
Greene described the resolutions session at the early November conference in Hyannis as "bonkers."
 
"It was long, people were agitated, some people were impatient, people were calling for the whole thing to be adjourned," said Greene, a longtime Mount Greylock delegate to the state association's meetings. "I haven't seen anything like it. A lot of the resolutions were tabled and not taken back up."
 
Greene reported that based on feedback from her colleagues at the October meeting, she submitted a proposed amendment to an MASC resolution that would have recommended all districts in the state, "adopt the position of [diversity, equity and inclusion] coordinator to work towards an anti-racist school system."
 
"There were amendments to the amendment and amendments to the amendment to the amendment," Greene said. "And it got so crazy, no one knew what to do with it.
 
"Everyone was on board with the idea that districts should be accountable [on DEI issues]. One of the messages that came out of it was: The focus should really be on equity. Diversity and inclusion is good, but the focus curricularly and policy-wise and in terms of leadership — there should be an equity officer in every school because everything comes down to equity, whether it's literature or social studies or the budget.
 
"People wanted to take 'anti-racist' out of the resolution altogether. And these were Black school committee members saying, 'This is not about race. This is about equity.' … Good discussions, but heated a little bit."
 
Greene said the MCAS conference also tabled a resolution that would have called on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to immediately enact a moratorium on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. She said there was more agreement on one part of that resolution, which would have taken a stand against the MCAS tests being used as a requirement for high school graduation.
 
"Massachusetts is one of eight states that uses a standardized test as a requirement for graduation," Greene said. "One of the keynote speakers, who is the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, lobbied quite heavily to dispense with MCAS as a requirement for graduation, as did several other speakers."

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Williamstown Decides to Clear Out Water Street Lot

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A long-time de facto parking lot on Water Street will be closed to vehicles as of March 1, the town has announced.
 
The 1.27-acre dirt lot that was most recently the site of the town garage has been used to park cars for decades. But the town has never formally considered it a parking lot, and it is not paved, lined or regulated in any way.
 
The town manager Thursday said that concerns about liability at the site led to a decision to place barriers around the lot to block cars this winter and for the foreseeable future.
 
"Over the fall, we kept an eye on it, and what we were seeing was upward of 160 or 170 cars on any given day," Bob Menicocci said. "It got to the point where, because of its unregulated nature, the Police Department was getting calls for service saying, ‘I'm blocked in. Can you tow this car?' that kind of thing.
 
"It was becoming an untenable situation."
 
The town's observation of the lot found a high percentage of the cars belonged to people connected to Williams College, mainly students who used it for overnight parking. That conclusion is borne out by the way the lot tends to be a lot emptier during college breaks.
 
In the fall, the school's student newspaper ran an article describing the lot as, "a perfectly legal spot to stash a car, and thus, [where] it seems that College students have lucked into a free, convenient parking lot."
 
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