WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School senior Amelia Murphy was recognized this month as a "top scholar and an active participant in the classroom and the school community."
District Superintendent Kimberley Grady gave Murphy a Certificate of Academic Excellence during the monthly meeting of the School Committee.
"[Murphy] commands a great deal of respect from her peers and faculty for her level of maturity, integrity and enthusiasm for learning," Grady said.
She said Murphy's active life in and out of school includes hiking, gardening, rowing, Nordic skiing and karate. And with a primary academic interest in science, technology, engineering and math, Murphy is serving as a teaching assistant this year in Mount Greylock's Advanced Placement computer science class.
"This has allowed for my growth as a more confident programmer and also allows me to help my fellow students," Murphy said in accepting the award.
She also highlighted another of her extracurricular activity, Mount Greylock's robotics team.
"When I came here, there was not a robotics team," she said, adding that a fellow student spearheaded the program. "The support was immediate from faculty and staff, and within a few months, the team existed and was growing membership."
While being honored for her academic achievement, Murphy emphasized that clubs offer "great depth" at the school.
"I have felt challenged here as a student, as an athlete on many teams and as a club member and a community member in the Berkshires," she said "I feel confident to carry the experience here at Mount Greylock into higher education."
The award is made through the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents to the student who has the highest academic ranks and who has distinguished his or her self in the pursuit of academic excellence.
The brief award ceremony provided a note of comity after an unusually contentious opening to the meeting.
November marks the School Committee's annual reorganization. It took a 3-2 vote for a divided panel to decide Dan Caplinger will chair the committee for the next 12 months.
Lanesborough resident Al Terranova opened the process by nominating Caplinger, who had been serving as vice chairman. Lanesborough's Christina Conry then nominated Regina DiLego, who took over as chair this summer after Joe Bergeron moved out of the district.
The choice was informed, in part, by the committee's practice of rotating the chair between residents of the district's two member towns. By law, three committee members reside in Lanesborough, and four reside in Williamstown, the larger of the two towns.
Bergeron, at the time a Williamstown resident, had chaired the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee since it was formally constituted after the November 2018 biennial election, the first since the region was expanded to include both towns' elementary schools.
That would have made 2019-20 Lanesborough's turn for the chair, although DiLego — the vice chairman at the time of Bergeron's departure — had served as chair for four months since Bergeron stepped down.
In addition, Bergeron chaired the Transition Committee, the ad hoc panel comprised of elected committee members from both elementary schools and the middle-high school that guided the transition process from Jan. 1, 2018 through November 2018.
In other words, he was the de facto chair of the regional school committee for about a year and a half prior to leaving the district.
"If the historical practice has been to alternate between Williamstown and Lanesborough, that seems like a smart practice," said Jamie Art of Williamstown, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Bergeron's term. "We ended up in a situation where it was a Williamstown chair, and that flipped because of Joe's departure. It doesn't seem to me it should flip back to Williamstown because of a few months of Joe's absence."
Art ended up voting with Conry in favor of DiLego.
Terranova and Williamstown residents Steven Miller and Alison Carter voted for Caplinger. The two candidates each abstained from the vote.
Miller said that Caplinger, a former chairman of the Williamstown Elementary School Committee, was well suited to the task at hand.
"I agree that it is good to alternate between the two towns," Miller said. "We have been going through a lot right now, and it is a busy time. I think it is good to rotate now to Dan. There have been several times where we have had contentious meetings. … Dan has done a very good job of working to get us to consensus.
"Given what is coming at us, I would be confident with you serving as chair."
Conry expressed a preference for sticking with past practice.
"I also am relatively new to the School Committee," said Conry, who was elected as a newcomer to district governance in the 2018 election. "I think that Regina and Dan, in their roles the last couple of months in the absence of Joe, have been working very well. I do think, in all fairness to the switching from Lanesborough to Williamstown, it makes sense to have a representative from Lanesborough as the chair."
Caplinger himself agreed her argument had merit.
"I have to say I find that argument compelling," Caplinger said in a meeting telecast by the district on YouTube. "What Christina is saying makes sense to me in the sense that if Regina serves [for 2019-20], Lanesborough will have almost 18 months, the way Williamstown had almost 18 months.
"This is awkward. … At the same time, I don't feel like the result makes that much of a difference in terms of the operation of the committee. I'm sure Regina and I have differences stylistically. I have a history. I was chair of the WES Committee. People know what that was like. Regina has been chair here and at Lanesborough [Elementary] for a long time. I know that whatever decision the committee makes, it will work."
Miller, who has in recent months clashed with other committee members over plans to build a multipurpose building (which he opposed) and an artificial turf athletic field (which he favors), appeared to disagree that it made no difference who was chosen as chair.
"I'll agree this is awkward," Miller said. "It's nice that we have two candidates with a lot of experience. But there is a difference in style of how they run meetings. I have concerns about how some of our meetings have been run … how decisions have been made, how the public is allowed to participate."
Grady, who opened the meeting in the absence of a sitting chair, took a roll call vote that resulted in the 3-2 split.
Caplinger then took over the meeting and requested nominations for vice chairman — by custom a Lanesborough resident in years when a Williamstown resident serves as chair.
DiLego nominated Terranova, who announced that he was not interested in serving as vice chair because, "I'm on too many subcommittees."
DiLego pointed out that November is the time when subcommittee positions are reassigned, so Terranova could, in theory, cut back in that area. But Terranova stood firm in his decision not to serve as vice chair.
He instead nominated Conry, who said that she would prefer not to serve given the fact that public speaking is not her strong suit.
To allay her concerns about being called upon to chair meetings, Caplinger told her that he would make every effort to attend all the committee's meetings. But Conry still said she was inclined to turn down the position.
DiLego then nominated Art.
"I don't think it has to be town specific," DiLego said. "You've already broken tradition."
Art, who was appointed in June to fill out Bergeron's term, said that given his relative lack of experience, he did not feel comfortable accepting the post.
"I won't leave the committee without a vice chair, but I'm the most junior member," Art said.
Miller then offered a solution, saying that he, if returned to the post of secretary, would be happy to run meetings in the event of Caplinger's absence if Conry would serve as vice chair.
He ran the idea past Mount Greylock Assistant Superintendent Andrea Wadsworth, who happens to be a longtime School Committee member in her hometown of Lee and the chairman of District IV of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
With Wadsworth's assurance that the secretary could gavel in the meetings if needed, Conry accepted the vice chairmanship nomination, and she was elected unanimously. Miller also was elected unanimously as secretary.
In other business at the nearly three-hour meeting, the School Committee:
• Heard a recommendation from Student Representative Charlie McWeeny that the district seriously heed the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics and find a way to start the school day at the middle-high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. rather than the current 7:40 first bell.
• Heard reports from the district's three principals on their schools' performance on last spring's MCAS exams.
• Heard enrollment numbers that show a decline district-wide for 2019. The district went from 1,201 students on Oct. 1, 2018, to 1,165 as of this Oct. 1, the official reporting date to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a drop of 36 students, or just less than 3 percent.
• Received a budget timeline from Wadsworth, who serves as the district's business manager. She said she hopes to have a rough preliminary budget in place by mid December with firmer numbers for the committee's study by the end of January. The district needs to have a proposed budget, reviewed by finance committees and select boards in both member towns, in place by March 12, 45 days before the first of the two town meetings.
• Finalized a facilities use schedule for the district's gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias. Grady pushed the committee to have a conversation with town officials in both towns about the district's past practice of not charging youth sports groups to use the gyms. She noted that overnight and weekend use of schools comes at a cost in terms of materials and manpower, and if the towns don't want the district to charge outside groups, they need to recognize that the district's appropriated budget will reflect that cost. At Caplinger's request, Grady said she would reach out to both town managers to begin that dialogue.
Discussed how to have a full discussion of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, their carcinogenic properties and the potential risk of building an artificial turf field that uses "crumb rubber" for infill. Community member Thomas Bartels, who has been pressing the committee to take a stand on the issue, again addressed the panel during public comment, reminding members than an EPA study cited
by the artificial turf industry was clearly identified by the federal agency as "not a risk assessment."
"Who will assess the risk?" Bartels asked the committee. "The student/athletes? The parents? Perhaps the School Committee when making decisions about allocating scarce resources to individual projects."
Later, during the committee's discussion of how to approach the PAH question, Terranova expressed exasperation, not for the first time, about critics of the turf field.
"We're well aware of a variety of chemicals and different things and things that exist even in organic stuff," Terranova said. "If we're going to have a discussion on every chemical in every substance, we're going to be here forever. Be prepared for that. There's oodles of them."