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Mount Greylock District Builds Diversity Training Days Into 2021-22 Calendar

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
02:37AM / Wednesday, April 14, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee last week approved a 2021-22 academic calendar that includes six half days for all-staff professional development with an emphasis on diversity training.
 
"When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work, that's a community effort, and it starts with the community in the central office and goes to everyone who works in school buildings or around school buildings," Superintendent Jason McCandless said in proposing the calendar.
 
"I would suggest to you that if we adopt this calendar, it becomes, in many ways, a template for moving forward with inclusion of half days as professional development time. We need time to reflect, to gather and learn from one another, and we need time to learn from experts, whether joining us in person or virtually, who are helping us become better practitioners all the time."
 
McCandless scheduled the half days for staff training on Oct. 8, Oct. 29, Jan. 14, Feb. 11, March 11 and April 18 — all Fridays. He also built into the schedule a full day for professional development on Friday, March 18.
 
The six half days will count toward the commonwealth's minimum requirement of 180 school days, McCandless informed the committee. He picked Fridays to make the days more "family friendly" for the families of students who might want to get an early jump on the weekend.
 
McCandless said the district plans to prepare take-home lunches for families that would like a student lunch on the half days.
 
He said the alternative to building half days into the school year would be to extend the labor contract to create non-classroom days solely for professional development.
 
"That's an expensive proposition," McCandless said. "We're probably looking at $150,000 to $200,000 for every day we offer to add on to the work year."
 
The calendar as approved on Thursday has students in Grades 1-12 returning for classes on Thursday, Sept. 2. The schools will be closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week. The first winter break will begin with a half day on Thursday, Dec. 23, and classes will resume on Monday, Jan. 3. February break will run from Feb. 21 to 25, and April break will be April 18-22. The anticipated last day of school — without snow days — is a half day on June 15.
 
Members of the School Committee asked McCandless a couple of questions related to the half days for professional development.
 
Carolyn Greene asked whether there would be opportunities for students to engage with DEIB work on those days. Michelle Johnson asked about child care for elementary school students on the half day and whether high school students could be utilized to help run a structured program at Lanesborough Elementary on those afternoons.
 
McCandless said he was open to both those possibilities.
 
The committee approved the 2021-22 calendar by a vote of 7-0.
 
As for this year's calendar, McCandless informed the committee that the district plans to welcome high school students back for full-time, in-person classes on Monday, May 3, five days after the state-mandated date for full in-person instruction of middle schoolers.
 
McCandless said he wants to give time for middle school students — including some seventh-graders who may not have had any days in the middle-high school — to settle in before the full complement of ninth- through 12th-graders are in the building. The first day for middle school under the state mandate is a Wednesday, which has been a fully remote instruction day under the current hybrid model at Mount Greylock; on Thursday and Friday, April 29 and 30, the "B" cohort of high schoolers will be taking classes in person.
 
As for the district's two elementary schools, the first week of fully in-person instruction that started on April 5 went off without a hitch, McCandless said.
 
"This is my 28th year of working in a public school system," he said. "I have seen lots and lots of examples of magnificent team efforts, of people pulling together for the good good of the kids. … Watching us get ready for reopening this past week and watching the middle-high school preparing and doing the scheduling and figuring things out — this will go down in my mind as maybe the best, most comprehensive team effort I've ever had the honor of being a part of or witnessing."
 
Lanesborough Elementary's principal said the return to full in-person instruction was "awesome."
 
"It was great to have all the students back in school, to hear the noise of a classroom as it should be," Nolan Pratt said. "Teachers had to adapt to a new schedule rather quickly, and they did it with ease."
 
The School Committee discussed returning to in-person meetings for that body. McCandless reported that given the need to maintain 6 feet of social distance for adults (it's 3 feet for schoolchildren, under Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines), an in-person gathering in the meeting room at Mount Greylock would accommodate the seven-person committee, two administrators and "seven to nine people if we really were creative and everyone was squeezed with 6 feet of distance."
 
Although the school does have a much larger space available, its auditorium, that would present challenges for recording and transmitting meetings online and on community access television, McCandless said.
 
Chair Christina Conry noted that when the School Committee did hold an in-person meeting during the pandemic last year (barring members of the public from the meeting room), there were difficulties picking up voices on the microphones with committee members wearing masks.
 
Greene said she would be hesitant to start meeting in person until the meeting room was available at full capacity to accommodate as many members of the public as it normally would. But she suggested that perhaps the School Committee could, in the fall, start holding some meetings in person and some virtually.
 
In pre-pandemic times, state law did allow for remote participation in meetings by committee members as long as a quorum of the body was present physically at a meeting location. Last spring, Gov. Charlie Baker suspended that provision of the Open Meeting Law and allowed fully-remote board and committee meetings as long as public bodies allowed the public to view the meetings while in progress or make a recording and/or full account of the meeting's proceedings available as soon as possible.
 
The School Committee on Thursday was scheduled to put to bid construction work to make Mount Greylock's athletic fields compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX. District Business Administrator Joe Bergeron informed the committee that architect Perkins-Eastman was not ready with the bid documents for the panel's review, and he asked the committee to schedule a single-item meeting for April 15 to get the project going.
 
That meeting was scheduled on the district's calendar but later marked "postponed" with no rescheduled date identified.
 
The district has until April 2022 to bring its fields up to code after completing an addition/renovation project at the middle-high school.
 
Before Thursday's meeting came to a close, Steven Miller asked Conry for a discussion about the student travel policy the committee adopted by a 6-1 vote on March 31.
 
"I had a question about a clarification of the travel policy that I'd like to ask the superintendent because it's inspired by questions [from the public] we received in the last 48 hours," Miller said. "We had questions about how it's interpreted."
 
McCandless said the "nuance" at issue would "be beyond what I think the spirit and certainly what's written in the policy would suggest. In short, my answer was it went beyond clarification to an outright change of the policy."
 
The "clarification" was never specified in Thursday's meeting, and Conry ruled Miller's request to continue discussing the policy out of order.
 
"My feeling is we had a special meeting to talk about this policy, in part, we spent over an hour talking about it and voted, 6-1, to move the policy forward," Conry said. "My understanding also is, as a committee, it's part of our code of ethics to support the will of the majority of the committee. This feels like it's not being honored at this point."
 
Miller responded that there were unintended consequences to the policy that members of the public were not able to raise during the March 31 meeting.
 
"It results in people changing their plans to try to honor the new policy, and it would help people as they plan the next few weeks to have some clarity," Miller said.
 
Johnson asked if the questions from the public dealt with exceptions to the policy, and Miller responded that the questions were about "the application of the policy."
 
"The application is implementation, and implementation is the work of administration," Greene said. "It is the role of the administration, not the School Committee. I don't want to get into a conversation about how [the policy] is going to be implemented. It's not our job."
 
Conry then shut off the discussion and welcomed a motion to adjourn, which passed, 6-0-1, with Miller abstaining.

Tags: MGRSD,   school calendar,   

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