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Shirley Edgerton has been the director of Pittsfield non-profit Rites of Passage and Empowerment since she founded it in 2010.

Edgerton Taking Part-Time Role at Mount Greylock

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District is formalizing a partnership with an area leader in the field of cultural proficiency.
 
Pittsfield's Shirley Edgerton will join the staff at Mount Greylock Regional School for a half day per week through the end of the school year and for the foreseeable future, Superintendent Jason McCandless told the School Committee on last week.
 
"We began working with Shirley Edgerton several years ago to address some specific circumstances at Mount Greylock Regional School," McCandless said. "I've known her and respected her and consider her a mentor and someone who helped me take steps forward in understanding my own biases.
 
"Our administration, after a consultation, brought forward a plan that is very low cost and is dependent on Shirley thinking enough of us to alter her very busy, quote, 'retired' life to become part of our community."
 
McCandless made the announcement Tuesday after reviewing for the committee the district's three-year plan to continue addressing the goals of the 2019 Student Opportunity Act.
 
Edgerton, who was a cultural proficiency coach in the Pittsfield Public Schools for more than eight years, also serves as the founder and director of the Rites of Passage and Empowerment program.
 
Her more regular presence at Mount Greylock will continue work she already has undertaken with staff and students at the middle-high school, McCandless said.
 
"She is working with individual students, working with affinity groups, working with families and working with young folks who have disappointed other people around them and community members around some of the actions and some of the language they have chosen to use," McCandless said. "That has been very powerful for some students and small groups of students and some families.
 
"She is excellent at doing that work, and we're very grateful to her for being willing to come and be part of our community as she is balancing so many other things."
 
McCandless reminded the School Committee in the past he had proposed a full-time director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for the district. But the district was unsuccessful in its early efforts to find the right candidate for the spot, which later, still unfilled, came under the budget axe.
 
"Obviously, we had a big goal several years ago to have a full-time DEIB director," McCandless said. "We have grown into a programmatic approach."
 
McCandless has made DEIB a cornerstone of his tenure in the district since he was hired by the School Committee in 2020.
 
On Tuesday, he and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Bergeron explained to the School Committee how the district's SOA plan complements its efforts in DEIB, particularly the belonging aspect.
 
Bergeron's formal presentation of the Student Opportunity Act plan included a definition of belonging and an explanation of how increasing a sense of belonging for students helps the district achieve its broader goals. Belonging is, "a feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having a good relationship with the other members of the group because they welcome you and accept you," Bergeron said.
 
"It sounds like it's something that is a feeling within the school district, but it has a very serious set of foundational pieces of importance for how every bit of work that our students are able to do … and how our district is able to perform," Bergeron said.
 
Students who do not feel a sense of belonging do not participate in school, leading to chronic absenteeism and less desirable outcomes for students even when they are in the building.
 
"Participation is not just being present in school but being present fully in all the things that are happening," Bergeron said. "[Belonging] is foundational for academic performance. That's proven by research and supported by common sense."
 
Bergeron walked the committee through the district's current and planned efforts to increase a sense of belonging for students, including: the district-wide social emotional learning curriculum, the presence of a social worker in each of the three schools, affinity groups for students and families, increased efforts toward implementing restorative justice practices and improving communication with families.
 
"All of this is being done in a climate where we understand fully that we don't have a lot of funding for additional efforts, additional staff," Bergeron said. "This is an area where we know we're concentrating what we already have on a task that needs to be done and done well and done fully in order for a lot of areas we find important to be addressed.
 
"Whether we're talking about DEIB, absenteeism or student performance, all those things are tied together here. That's how our Student Opportunity Act plan ties into the District Improvement Plan and how it ties into our day-to-day life of living w/in the budget we're given."
 
School Committee member Julia Bowen pressed McCandless for specifics about how the district will measure the success of its initiatives. McCandless said those will include not only student performance but also discipline data and attendance data.
 
Committee member Jose Constantine asked for details on how the district is addressing its stated goal of diversifying its staff.
 
"Given some of the research I've come across, one of the more impactful ways to create a sense of belonging for all our kids, particularly our students of color, is to diversify our teaching staff," Constantine said.
 
McCandless agreed and said the district, like others in the county, struggles with that issue.
 
"I can tell you having tried to do this work for years and years and years that the challenge of being an effective recruiting agency and an effective recruiting organization in Berkshire County has its specific challenges," McCandless said. "Being rural has its specific challenges. Doing this work in Massachusetts with the hoops one must jump through to have a license in Massachusetts presents its challenges.
 
"We're a member of the Berkshire Black Economic Council. We advertise through some national vehicles that attempt to increase the diverse applicant pool. We certainly work within our own communities and our own networks to become more diverse."
 
The School Committee voted, 7-0, to approve the district's Student Opportunity Act plan.
 
In other business on Tuesday, the committee voted unanimously to authorize the district to sign a lease and power purchase agreement with a solar provider for the roof at Lanesborough Elementary School. Earlier this year, it took a similar step regarding Williamstown Elementary School — both with the approval of the select board in each of the towns, which own the school buildings.
 
The lease and PPA will enable Mount Greylock to have a shovel ready project in place when the commonwealth allocates funds to a Green School Works program, Bergeron said. Under the program, the state will pay for a replacement roof on a school if that roof includes a solar array; under the PPA, the district would buy energy from the solar provider at a lower cost per kilowatt hour than it can get on the open market.
 
Bergeron said it is unlikely the Green School Works program will be funded in fiscal year 2025, but he is hopeful it will start awarding grants in FY26.
 
The School Committee also heard a report from Lanesborough Elementary Principal Nolan Pratt about the upcoming sixth-grade class trip to Mystic Aquarium and Cape Cod. Pratt said the Lanesborough pupils again this year will be joined by their counterparts from Hancock Elementary School, most of whom will be joining the district next fall at the middle-high school.
 
Pratt said that thanks to fund-raising efforts, the cost of the trip for families had been reduced from an initial $798 per child down to $336 per child. He also said that local businesses have offered grants to offset the cost of the trip for families with financial need.
 
Finally, McCandless shared the district's current plans for school choice for the 2024-25 school year. He told the School Committee the administration is planning a contraction of choice offerings due to larger class sizes from its in-district population and a desire to keep classroom sizes at an optimal level.
 
At LES, that means he expects to add up to 18 seats, with the majority in second and fourth grades. At WES, that means just five new choice openings, including two in kindergarten, two in fourth grade and one in first grade. At Mount Greylock, McCandless said he plans just 10 new spots — all in 11th and 12th grades, where the district tends to see few applications each year.
 
"We're going to have some disappointed families in neighboring communities, but we feel that to serve the families of Williamstown, Lanesborough, New Ashford and Hancock best, that's the approach we need to take," McCandless said.

Tags: DEI,   MGRSD,   

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Williamstown Town Meeting Passes Progress Pride Flag Bylaw Amendment

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Mount Greylock sophomore Jack Uhas addresses town meeting on Thursday as Select Board member Randal Fippinger looks on.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — By a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, town meeting Thursday passed a bylaw amendment to allow the Progress Pride flag to be flown on town flag poles.
 
The most heavily debated article of the 40 that were addressed by the meeting was decided on a vote of 175-90, amending a flag bylaw passed at last year's town meeting.
 
Mount Greylock Regional School sophomore Jack Uhas of the middle-high school's Gender Sexuality Alliance opened the discussion with a brief statement, telling the 295 voters who checked into the meeting that, "to many, the flag is a symbol that, in our town, they belong."
 
The speakers addressing the article fell roughly in line with the ultimate vote, with eight speaking in favor and four against passage.
 
Justin Adkins talked about his experience as, to his knowledge, the only out trans individual in the town of about 7,700 when he moved to Williamstown in 2007.
 
"Most people, when I moved here, had never met a trans person," Adkins said. "Today, that is not the case. Today, many people in this room are free to say who they are.
 
"LGBTQ-plus youth still face a world where their basic being is questioned and legislated. … Flying a flag is, really, the least we can do."
 
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