Minutes – April 15, 2021 – approved 5/6/21
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
April 15, 2021 – 6:00pm – approved 5/6/21
School Committee: S. Bannon, J. St. Peter, A. Hutchinson, C. Sprague, R. Dohoney, B. Fields, D. Singer, M. Thomas, S. Stephen, B. Bonn-Buffoni, Zoe Holmes (Student member)
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 2 hour, 58 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
- Superintendent’s Report: Dillon – thank you to so many people for joining us. Tonight the bulk of our meeting is going to be around the Equity Access and High Expectations for All discussion, but we have a few things we need to address first. We will move through them relatively quickly.
- Good News Item(s) – N/A
- FY20 Audit Review – Every year we do an audit. It is part of our obligation with the state. They will share how we did. We pride ourselves on doing a nice job on the business side of things. Harrison – Tonight we have John Jesowitz and he will be giving us a quick overview of the audit from FY20. J. Jesowitz – I am a manager at Malentin. This was our fifth year doing the district’s audit. This is an annual audit that we do. For myself as the independent auditor, it is our responsibility to express our opinion of the district’s financial statements. Ultimately that is what you are paying us to do. The financial statements are those of the district while we prepare them; it is all coming off of numbers coming straight from the district’s general ledger. It is our responsibility to plan and perform the audit to give reasonable assurance that the financial statements are free of material misstatement rather than caused by client fraud or error. We do not provide 100% assurance; we are not able to look at every single transaction but we conduct our audits in accordance with governmental auditing standards. We plan and perform our audit using theoreality so we are looking at the largest balances, the riskiest areas to uncover any potential issues. One the district side, the financial statements are the responsibility of the district. We prepare them. We put them together and we put them in accordance with the governmental auditing standards, but ultimately the financial statements are the responsibility of management. Management is responsible for establishing and maintaining effective internal controls which we test during as part of our audit which we did not have any issues with this year. It is also the responsibility of management to identify and ensure that the district is complying with the laws and regulations. Also, we did not note any issues with that this year. They are responsible for making all financial records and related information that we need for the audit available to us in a timely manner and we also say that they did that as well. There are a lot of responsibilities with management. We would like to remind everybody in an audit it certainly does not relieve management of these responsibilities but we are happy to say that we did not note any issues with that during the FY20 audit. The financial statements are made up of five parts. The first part being the auditor’s opinion which is what is the only part of those that is ours. We are giving our opinion on the financial statements. The other four parts that make up the financial statements are all that of the district’s. It is the management’s discussion and analysis. I’m sure Sharon has made that all available to you. If anyone is falling along on the financial statements, I will just go over a couple of numbers from FY20. I am on page 13 which is your general funds balance sheet. I would just like to highlight down at the bottom under the fund balances, there are three amounts next to committed is $200,000 which represents the balance in the district’s capital stabilization fund. There is assigned fund balance which is $536,000 which is made up of the district’s reserve for expenditures and encumbrances and lastly is the unassigned balance which is just over $1 million and that is the amount that is certified for E&D. That was roughly 3.7% of the operating budget which is pretty good and right where you want to be. The only two other things I wanted to touch on were on page 11 in the middle third, you will see net pension liability and total oped liability. Your net pension liability is the district’s share in Berkshire County Retirement System. The good news for this year is it actually went down which was across the board for Berkshire County, mainly because their system had good market results and the system’s overall funding went up about 5% from 84 to 89. That ended up with a smaller liability for the district this year. The other is total oped liability which you will see is $85 million and that represents the district’s share of retirees retirement policies. It is not a you-have-to-pay-this-amount-all-at-once situation, it is a long-term view of what the district could potentially have to pay out decades down the road. Just for some perspective, last year the balance was $69 million, so it is about a $16.5 million increase. This was mostly due to a new valuation. It comes from an actuary valuation and they use certain estimates to come up with their calculations and a lot of the increase was due to the new valuation and they had to modify some of the numbers they were using to do calculations and that resulted in the increase. At this time the district has not yet started to fund the liability. S. Harrison – we had a clean audit again this year with no findings so we were happy to see that. S. Bannon – how many schools end up with no findings? J. Jesowitz – it certainly is not a long list. A lot of times there might just be a small recommendation. There are some others but it is definitely a clean bill of health and the team in the business office has a good handle on things.
- Vacancies (District Wellness Coordinator, Elementary Principal, Assistant Principal, etc.) – P. Dillon – we did a search for a District Health & Wellness Coordinator. We are very close to finalizing that and likely next week I will announce publicly who the candidate is or the person we are bringing on. Special thanks to the group that worked on the search and the group that did the work that led to us getting the funding from the Town of Great Barrington. That is good news. I had a very large elementary school principal search committee; 20 plus people and we interviewed some candidates and also concluded that search. I am finalizing details with that candidate and hope to announce that early next week even though we are on vacation. The third one is the assistant principal search and we are going to do that in Muddy Brook but I am waiting until the new principal is on board so that incoming principal can be part of the search. Sprague – one question about the wellness position. This is a grant position right now, funded by a grant but at what point, I know a while ago, when the wellness committee presented to you prior me being on the committee there was discussion about the importance of a position and how it would potentially factor in the budget. At some point does that become part of a conversation to make sure that if this is a position we value, will it be included. P. Dillon – I would defer to Rich who is the chair of the finance subcommittee but probably what would happen would be at a future finance subcommittee meeting we make a recommendation to put that on the list. There is a possibility the grant may be renewed and probably around the timing of it, it is due in the summer, we should apply for that first before we go to the finance subcommittee and then depending on what we hear from that then also go to the finance subcommittee. S. Bannon – the timing of this is really good for us because if we get it again, that application process is before our budget process. I will know going into next year’s budget whether we have been awarded another year of the grant. If not, then the finance subcommittee and administration will have to talk about it. R. Dohoney – we voted to create the position but any position should not be listed in the budget with a zero line item. If you want to make a notation that it is grant funded or something. From my perspective, we are going to start to see that percentage change at some point. It is good to track. Then we know from a budget standpoint where we stand. S. Bannon – I think the school committee has to make a conscious decision that they want to continue this; I’m not saying they won’t. Even if it is a grant, it is a decision. It doesn’t automatically go into the budget. We decide if we want to continue this position or not and put it in the budget. R. Dohoney – if the position is 100% grant funded, we put a placeholder in the line item of the budget. It’s not even listed there right now. We have other grant funded positions that are listed in there. Often we list the whole salary then the grant backs out the salary. S. Bannon – Sharon has taught me this over the years, we put it in the budget but does that jeopardize some of our grants because if it is in the budget it is a plan rather than a supplement? R. Dohoney – this is a subcommittee discussion. S. Bannon – I just don’t want to jeopardize any grant positions. P. Dillon – there are also a number of teacher searches going on. I tend to be less involved in those. Those happen at the building level and when they are concluded, I put people on the salary. R. Dohoney – so the people responsible for those have been briefed and updated on our diverse hiring policy? P. Dillon – yes, very much so. R. Dohoney – has there been any internal training on that for administrators? P. Dillon – we contracted with a group to help us really ramp up our diverse equity inclusion thing. I think the training will come out of that. We have not done that yet but folks are aware.
- Summer Program Plan(s) – P. Dillon – we continue to work on that as an administrative team. We are trying to assess student needs and staff availability. We had a nice meeting with several community-based partners to think about what our summer programming will look like and also what some of our other programming will look like. We are working on that and I think maybe at our next meeting, we can share even more details on that.
- Recorded School Committee Meetings – Link to CTSBTV – P. Dillon – someone on the committee wanted it to be clear that there were links to the recorded meetings so if somebody missed a meeting and they wanted to see them, they could. One our website under school committee, there is now a link to CTSBTV where all of the meetings are recorded and archived. If you have some free time and you want to watch a meeting that you missed, you can do that or if you were so enthralled in what was going on and you want to see it again, you can do that too.
- COVID-19 – P. Dillon – we are heading into the April break. Please, please use common sense around travel and interactions and what you are doing. Every time there is a break, the back end of the break, there is a little bump in cases and transmission rate. The good news is lots of older people are getting vaccinated and even some younger people too, but there are several strains out there and we need to be deliberate and careful. Schools are doing a really good job. A while ago when we jumped into the pool testing thing, we thought it might be overwhelming. Over the course of maybe five weeks, we have done 166 pool tests, representing 830 individuals, happening twice a week at the middle and high school and once a week at the elementary school. To date, every single one of those tests have come back negative. At some point, somebody will test positive, then we will do the whole other set of things we do but for the moment we are doing quite well. Special thanks to the nurses and the folks from county ambulance who help with the testing. The state is extending the funding for the whole school year on that. We thought we were going to pick it up after April but the state is covering the funding. Mielke – my son and I both got a COVID test yesterday and we did it at the Stop the Spread site where they do the nose swab for you. My son has been participating in the pool testing and I asked him if that is the same because the kids are administering it to themselves, is that correct? P. Dillon – the very youngest kids are getting some help but otherwise kids are administering it and there are two EMTs or nurses from the county ambulance who are supervising it. A. Hutchinson – when you go to Stop the Spread, that is the deep nose swab but what they do in the school is much less invasive. E. Mielke – the one we did was very non-invasive but it was definitely a complete nostril. P. Dillon – the school one is a lighter touch. E. Mieke – that is what my son reported and it just occurred to me if I would trust him to brush his teeth without some supervision, it wouldn’t be great results. I was just curious about quality. P. Dillon – they are not like ones we were doing at the beginning of this which were really invasive. Unknown – I had a question around what the school committee has the authority to do if there was to be an outbreak of some sort particularly after you highlighted that things happen after school breaks. P. Dillon – if a pool tests positive or if there are a lot of cases, the first thing I will do is talk to our school nurses and then the local public health nurse and they start the whole contact tracing. Who’s had contact with somebody for more than 15 minutes at once or 15 minutes in aggregate then the whole crazy phone tree starts and everybody gets called. If there were significant clusters in the school, at that point I am obligated to call the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and tell them what is going on and ask their advice around what to do. I cannot unilaterally close the school without getting in trouble. I could close a section or a grade but I reach out to them and get guidance. Unknown – I am wondering if that is a new procedure that you don’t have the capacity to make the call of a school being remote. For example, in January when there was a full remote period of time, was that something you had the autonomy to make the decision of and has that changed now? P. Dillon – the commissioner and the governor are very clear that they want people in school and the guidance is constantly evolving. The expectation is as of April 5th everybody PK – 5 was to be in-person five days a week and the middle school by April 28th and the high school has not set a date yet but we set a date of April 28th. I think if there were a big outbreak, it would start to tax our capacity to test everybody and handle it so they have these rv command mobile centers and they go out and do their thing. I think they did it in one of the schools in Pittsfield. I think they have done it in Springfield and some other communities. Unknown – that is helpful and just to confirm, the school committee and you as superintendent do not have the autonomy as you had a few months ago to consider the public health of our community the way that you did before. The state now has control over that and you don’t have that type of jurisdiction. P. Dillon – I think that is a fair characterization. They might say it slightly differently but I think that is accurate. Unknown – for the record, I am just stating that it is concerning to me. P. Dillon – Massachusetts is a place that is built on local control and in this context we may have lost some of that.
- Equity, Access and High Expectations for All – P. Dillon – As we start, importantly there are 81 people on this call and the number keeps going up, some of you have been part of this conversation for weeks and months and in some cases even years, and some of you are just joining this conversation tonight. I understand that people are coming to this with all sorts of different background knowledge and experience. Some of you attended some of the community forums that the high school hosted; some of you read our two pager, there is a 14 page paper filled with links and other things and some of you got through that and some of you didn’t. What Kristi, Jon and I are going to try to do is share six or seven slides relatively quickly to give you a high-level overview of what our aims and goals are and then it is my understanding that Steve will open up the meeting to public comments and conversations. He will set ground rules around that but I think there will be a time limit. If it makes sense and it is the will of the committee, Kristi, Jon or I are happy to respond to things. This is really the bulk of the meeting so potentially we have the time to do that. K. Farina – I just want to echo what Peter said. I want to thank everyone who has participated in the first school committee meeting back on March 10th, the following one on April 1st, the two forums we held and the multiple people who are this evening to engage in this conversation. We are going to continue having forums at the high school every two weeks after vacation to keep this conversation going. I think it is incredibly important and whether you are here to support or express concerns, I really want everyone to know how much I value your input and the community involvement because I think it is critical to the success of this work. I just really wanted to be on record saying that. (Slides presented; see attached). Bannon – We can start public comment. Just raise your hand through Zoom and you will be recognized. You will be given three minutes. State you name and address for the record.
- DeCelle – I am just getting up to speed on this whole concept and my challenge has always been with the public school system that it is the choice you make for your children that we tend to teach to the middle. It is exciting to finally have children who are of high school age. Dylan is a senior now and it is a bit of a bust of a year but he is learning to fly planes so at least he is learning something new this year which is very exciting. I have two more children, girls, that are coming up; one is already there in 9th grade now, moving into 10th and another coming up, from 8th grade. I am trying to get my head around how this benefits Megan. I don’t mean to just focus on my kids because all kids are on the spectrum, right? Through elementary school and middle school….I am blessed with healthy children who operate on the upper end of the spectrum and have long conceded to the fact that a lot of resources are spent in different places in the middle to lower end of the spectrum and this model sounds like we are sliding back to that same…I have always asked at every level of the teachers to challenge my kids, bring the up, hold the bar high. In many cases that has been accommodated and it seems, based on the model that Dylan has been in, AP courses, honor courses, he has been in like-minded classrooms with other students who operate at his level which has hopefully made him reach and stretch. I am trying to understand how this benefits children who are at that upper end of the scale and are preparing for a very rigorous and competitive college world. Thankfully Dylan has mastered that and has four great choices and we got Dylan through. Now I am worried about Megan that she is going to … she herself is worried. She said “mom, we recognize as students that everybody operates at a different level” and those who are not maybe operating at her level may be frustrated and she is going to be frustrated because she is going to be waiting for other people to catch up with her. How does that benefit Megan? K. Farina – I think there are a few things about what you said that are actually why I believe in this so deeply and it is because of …. I am trying to choose my words carefully. I hear what you are saying and we all want the best for our children. We all want the best for our children but the fact that there is a perception that some students are able are other students aren’t, and we should separate them out and label them is part of the problem. S. DeCelle – I didn’t say that. K. Farina – I am trying to use my words carefully. S. DeCelle – right, because if you are in the professional world or you are anywhere, certain people have elements about them that they move forward quicker than others. We are all born with our own disposition and we all operate at different levels. I am a financial advisor, I have my own practice; I operate at a certain level and others don’t, right? As a result of that, I get to a certain place that many others don’t. I just want to understand how this benefits Megan. K. Farina – I think that what is important is, I agree with you, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and the sorting of students doesn’t actually allow all students the same opportunity to be challenged and shine and that is what we are in fact trying to do. Within the classroom experience, we need to…this is for all students, we need to change the educational practices so that students who are prepared and ready to excel and go in depth can get their feedback on their growth and students who need support can get the feedback on where they are in terms of their needs and growth or the proficiency they are working on. For example, we want all students to develop the ability to be clear and concise communicators but different students are going to be in different places in that growth and their ability to communicate might be different depending on what particular content they are working with. Having proficiencies across content areas where we are actually giving students feedback on their ability to communicate, whether there is a student that has Chris D’Aniello in the automotive classroom where he gets feedback on his ability to communicate in that area and where their strengths and weaknesses are, I think is really important for everyone to see the bigger picture. I don’t know if I am really addressing your question right now and I am sorry if I haven’t but I would love to engage in further conversation about this Sherry. P. Dillon – there are a couple of things. We are starting about starting with this in 9th grade and then within 9th grade students will be able to do this work with honors distinction and be challenged and engaged or be met where they are and be challenged and engaged. I think this isn’t that different than 9th grade as it is constructed now. The year after, it will extend to 9th and 10th grade and largely similar. Then by the time students get to 11th and 12th grade, we see them making choices around what they want to do but the choices are not being limited by silly gatekeeping devices. If somebody wants to do the hard work and AP track and take 11 AP exams before they graduate, there is still an opportunity to do that. I might not be so good for their mental health and well being but if somebody sees that as their path to achieving what they want to do, they can do that. If somebody wants to get to 11th grade and really dig deeper in something in a rigorous way, social studies, math, art, music, automotive, there are opportunities to do that. Part of why we have been so successful with college and career is they do check the boxes for some of those AP classes but the most interesting about our graduates is they had an opportunity to carve a path for them that is high personalized and individualized and I think folks are getting into competitive colleges and programs because of things like Dylan did with learning how to be a pilot because they wrote their own play, because they participated in poetry out loud, because they did a really good internship at AEIR and learned about economics, because they spent two months working in an organic garden and really learned a lot about that and then were able to write and speak about it in a way that was creative and interesting. I have an 8th grader; he is going to be a 9th grader this year. I have high expectations for him and I think he can work in this system and continue to grow and be challenged. Krisi or I can give you a call tomorrow to talk in more detail about this.
- Kristina Kisiel, Great Barrington – I think one thing I am not understanding, I have a recent graduate and I have an 11th grader but I also have a 7th grader so she is the one I am concerned about. What barriers currently exist for the students who are seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshman, that this program doesn’t affect. What current barriers are in place that don’t allow students who are not the qunitenessial honors students to take honors classes that such a program needs to be instituted? I am not understanding why they can’t take classes unless their choice is not to. I had the same concern as Sherry that this program is going to be geared to teaching more toward the lowest common denominator and if a child has propensities to be an honors student or a high academic achiever or a high achiever in general, that they are now going to have seek out and create their own programs in order to demonstrate what these propensities are. Farina – thank you for the question. There are several issues internally in terms of our structures and how kids enroll in classes and there is a whole system at work. I am not going to fault anyone for it because it is just the structures we have had in place where students very early on, often actually before they even get to high school, are already pre-sorted and then the ability to unsort themselves even if they want to is incredibly difficult. It is more difficult for students who have to jump through hoops, because we do have hoops; for example if I am a student who is in a college prep course as a freshman and I want to take an honors course and the teacher doesn’t necessarily agree with my choice, I sign up for the honors option and then I get sorted back into the college prep option then I am told by my guidance counselor that I have to get a form that I have to bring home and have my parents sign off that they agree that I can take the honors course that the teacher hasn’t recommended me for. That is just the process we have in place. There is a lot of gatekeeping around that and the other piece that I don’t think addressed well with Sherry, so I am going to try to take another swing at this, is the underlying messages to students when we have labels for them; that when we label a student CP, it just does something to their self esteem and it has impacts even on the socialization that happens with student groups within the building. K. Kesiel – now you are still creating a program if a child wants to participate and receive honors distinction that they have to go through the same hoops. They have to get their parents to agree and the faculty have to agree that they are capable of achieving that level, that’s one; Also, two, how is not having this separate honors distinction making those same students who are not attempting the honors distinction, how is that not affecting their social/emotional educational experience? K. Farina – it is within the classrooms so it is easier on roads and off roads. Even if I am a student sitting in a class, because I don’t think I am a really great math student, I have never seen myself as a good math student, and I am in algebra and I am learning algebra and the teacher is presenting challenges to the entire class and all of a sudden I am demonstrating that it clicks for me. I haven’t actually that I want to do honors distinction but now I am having the opportunity embedded within the classroom. When that lightbulb goes on for that student, they actually are getting the challenge to take on within the classroom. That was one of the things in the slide I talked about is the fluidity of this that does not exist in our current system.
- Clary, West Stockbridge – I come at this question from a few different perspectives. I taught at Monument for a year. I taught CP level English and what I found was my students actually weren’t grouped by ability so much as by social class. One day we had a little discussion about gun control and a kid came in the next day with a very well written four-page essay that was not assigned and was so well written and so well argued, that I said hey, why didn’t you sign up for honors? And he said I don’t want to be with the rich kids. That was really very eye opening for me. It is not about ability, it is about social groupings which happened way outside of school and way before Monument ever started. The second piece of this is that I am a parent of an incoming 9th grader and from her perspective I wish all of this had happened ten years ago so she wasn’t starting in the guinea pig group for this but I am really, really excited and proud that my hometown high school is going to be undertaking this and that she is going to be participating in the inaugural group. I am really proud; I am so proud that I have been moved to tears about it because from having been a teacher who is working on equity issues for the past 20 years of my life, I am just really proud. I have no doubt that it is going to be really hard. There is going to be a lot of challenges and as a teacher I would probably be just tearing my hair out right now thinking about how I was going to do it. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the State of Massachusetts and we are a broken country and part of the reason we are broken is because we haven’t gotten serious about addressing issues like this one. I don’t mean to call anybody out here, but when we refer to kids in a classroom as the lowest common denominator, that is a human being there and I think of the kids in my classroom when you say that. Those are human beings and they deserve to have as much success and feel as much success in their lives and to be valued in their community as much as anyone going to Harvard or Yale or any of those schools that I was raised to go to and did go to and frankly, I don’t want my kids to have anything to do with. Thank you.
- Unruh, Egremont – I am a teacher at Monument and I also have a child who graduated from Monument and another child who is graduating in a few weeks. I would like to share a teacher’s perspective a little bit. For the past bunch of weeks that I have been listening chat, there have been some really nice conversations where people have said “how can teachers rise to the occasion; they learned Canvas, they learned how to do remote teaching, they learned how to do hybrid learning, etc.” and that is true, we are exhausted. However, I really appreciate what Sheila Clary just said. We are a community that prides itself on being progressive, on looking out for everyone and not just a select few. When I hear parents, and there are parents I know in this community who are saying what about my child? When what about everyone else’s child? Don’t those children matter as well? Two weeks ago when I listened to his meeting, I heard several parents saying that; where are the parents of the students who struggle academically or students who haven’t had all of the opportunities that some of the other students have had. The fact is, some of those parents work in the service industry so they are out working right now or putting their children to bed or they are feeding them. There are a lot of good reasons why parents might not be here advocating for their children. My thought is, isn’t that our job? Isn’t that my job as a teacher? To advocate for all students and not just the select few. So, yes, I am exhausted and yes, this is going to be an uphill climb but I am so grateful to work for a school district that cares about equity; it cares about diversity; it cares about fairness. The last thing I want to say is the time to address inequity is right now even if it is hard. We have to do this. Thank you.
- & J Honig-Briggs, Tyringham – We just want to say thank you. We are so excited for our children to be a part of this experiment. We are 100% behind this. When our eldest daughter moved into the middle school and started telling us who was in her class, she got through three kids and we said, let us guess all the rest of the kids you are learning with. We successfully guessed every single one of them. We all had something in common. It was socioeconomic background. Our child has been afforded so many advantages. You do not need to think about her. You already do but she is going to be just fine. We want to do whatever we can to support any move you can make to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for all students. Everyone is going to thrive. I am so excited to see what happens. Everyone benefits from more inclusive and equitable classrooms and just want to echo what Sheela said. We are part of a community. We are part of creating substantial change. We want to be behind any initiative that is going to lead to more social justice and inclusion. Thank you and let us know how we can help. J. Briggs- I would just add to that. There is a lot of data that supports the idea that a kid like ours will actually not be harmed by this and might do better in the sense of a particular kind of academic achievement but there is the broader sense of what are kids who maybe are higher achievers or however you want to label it, will benefit from not being tracked into a particular group. The trick with these kinds of debates is we have the debate on a very narrow set of terms and education at its best is extremely holistic and it is about learning in lots of different ways. We deeply feel this proposal is going to take a more holistic approach to education for our children. Thank you.
- Nico – Baltimore, MD – thank you to everyone who is on this call right now. I know a lot of us have differing opinions but I think it is really great we are having a spirited conversation about all of this because we care about the future vision of our high school. I heard about this initiative six or seven days ago but I have been tapped into the conversation around this for years. The minute I heard about it, I teamed up with other alumni from the school to basically write a letter that everyone on the school board has. If anyone wants to see this letter, they should contact members of the school committee and they can share it. In a few days of circulating this letter, we got over 40 signatures. I think that reflects just how many alumni support this going forward. I know there is a lot of literature and date on the subject pointing to how this vision can really benefit all students in a really equitable way. I want to speak to my experience as a student at Monument to the experiences of my friends and peers who come from different backgrounds who are doing a number of things right now as to how the system in place right now only did work for a few. I did work for me. I was an honors AP student, many of my friends were. To the points that were brought up, yes, this also reflected socioeconomic standing and I think looking back, I don’t know why this conversation hasn’t happened sooner. I want to reflect some of the comments that were sent to me by other alumni of Monument to share their experiences as students who were in the building not so long ago. One student said that they were an honors kid and had a fiend who received a concussion. This field was then put into standard-level classes and felt a very deep sense of shame and ostracization knowing that the classes they were put in were seen as lesser. This proposal has my backing, as the backing of dozens of other alumni who have seen this. I guarantee if there was more time that we were circulating this message around, if they had more access, you would see this more. I question how we can have a class size of many 150 students and have students like myself, like other honors AP students, have little to no contact with many people who are in our grades? What does that do for the general community that this school is trying to build?
- King, Richmond – I have two daughters in the school who are currently in 9th and 12th grades so I understand that this new concept won’t affect my kids directly. I did write a letter to the school committee outlining some of my concerns but I have a specific question with regard to the STEM classes which often have a different curriculum. The honors class and the non-honors class move at a different pace so it is not a matter of having different conversations or looking into depth of the information but rather moving forward through a curriculum. I am wondering how that can be accommodated especially since we already had a reduction in the time spent for the higher level science classes which I’m very disappointed about the honor science classes are being designated for one credit instead of one and a half credits the way they used to. That is already creating some difficulty with allowing the students to really explore in labs and the excitement of making things more interesting. Not only do we have less time for the exploration in the labs but now we are going to have some difficulty getting through a curriculum because you don’t want to keep moving forward in the class if there are some students who are having some difficulty with the concepts. How will this system accommodate for a different curriculum? K. Farina – as a 27 veteran of the math department of Monument, I feel like I can speak very well to the question around science and math curriculum in this new proposal. It was in the report we gave to the school committee but we did start two years ago with the teacher development group and their entire focus is actually on the shift in mathematics instruction and this shift begins all the way down into KDG and helping students when they are 5, 6, 7 years old see themselves are mathematical thinkers and what that actually means and looks like is the teacher’s moves that teachers have to make in the classroom to development engagement around math and science conversations and also the habits of mind that students need to have in order to be successful mathematicians and scientists. We were in this work before COVID hit and we will be getting back to this work next year. I will share just a little tidbit. The teachers were very hesitant to get involved in this PD. I was director of learning and teaching at the time and the math department in both the middle school and high school and the teachers at the elementary school didn’t quite understand why we were targeting math except that maybe I was a math teacher and then the DOLT and did we think they were doing something wrong; were they in trouble and none of those things were true. We just wanted to shift to best practices in instruction in mathematics. The teachers engaged in a four-day seminar because that is how the group begins. Every few months they do the studio cycle where the coach actually comes in and coaches the administrators in the building because it is important to do any of this work well that PD isn’t just a one off, which is so often what school does. We teach teachers something then we expect them to do it and implement it and we think it is going to go well and that is not the case. Administrators have to be brought in and support the teachers, we have to give feedback so we had to get coaching in this. A teacher had to be chosen as a studio teacher and they lesson-planned with the coach and the next day they did the lesson and the entire group of teachers observed and then we debriefed it together. There was one experience at the middle school that I will literally never forget because it was with a group of special education students in fifth grade and the studio planned the lesson and the coach encouraged the teacher to do more difficult content with those kids because she was planning something really simple, really basic because these are the special education students after all. We all were observing; it was a fractions lesson and the content presented to them was much more difficult than anything she had ever done. The conversation those students had and their ability to actually discuss and learn the content, our jars were dropped open and that is exactly the point. We need to expect more from our students and they can do more than we let them. They need the right support. Certainly the teachers need to learn new instructional strategies and different assessment strategies, yes. That is exactly it. We have to do that. I think that we can. I think the teachers in this district are certainly capable of it. I believe in them. I just want to address the science thing because I think it is important. There is this perception that we cut the lab time in science. What we did is shifted our schedule so all classes could have blocks and I believe blocks are important for science labs but I believe they are equally important for art classes, woodshop and for even a math class. Our schedule did not allow for that so it was a tradeoff we had to make and I actually think it is better for all students in the school.
- & A. D’Aniello, Great Barrington (automotive teacher and special education teacher both at MMRHS) – We were both Monument students and are living the dream in Great Barrington trying to make our community a better place. I will tell you this, when I come to this school there is not one person in the school that doesn’t care about every individual in the school. When it comes to equity being best practice, we are trying to create a school that doesn’t leave anyone behind. We are trying to give everyone an opportunity to equally succeed. Let me tell you how important it is to have a student like Dylan in my class. I want to tell you, I love Dylan. He is a great student and he is an amazing person. I think he is going to 3D print an entire airplane and fly it someday. Let me tell you how important it is to have a student like him mixed in with other students that are not as high achieving as him and definitely other students that struggle. It gives an opportunity for Dylan to be a leader in the classroom, to be a teacher amongst his peers and to really facilitate the needs of the teachers as well. He can be an asset to me. I have been using that model for a long time as a teacher. That is only because I have really worked hard at making automotive a great place. When I came back to this school about 12 years ago, automotive was this place that was limited to only students that were struggling or they were sending these students that didn’t fit in any other place. What that did was it really made it a tough place. A place that many students were afraid to go to. When I started to work on other things like getting other students to take auto it really changed the whole dynamic. We had girls take auto or ELL take auto or people with severe learning disabilities. Opening it up to everybody. What that did was really gave them so much more. It makes my program so much better. As a teacher, it was an amazing transformation. I am also a parent of two students in the school, one is a senior and one in 9th grade and they are very different. Maggie is going to graduate this year and she is going off. She is an achiever. Emily struggles more and lacks self-confidence. She believes she is a CP student and she has actually found confidence this year being in 9th grade in a class of mixed students and realizing she is capable of much more and she is now pushing herself. She is an example of the possibility of changing our outlook on how we set up our classes and how we are going to represent our school to really be inclusive for any student. I am so grateful for everybody’s opinion here tonight. Thank you all so much.
- McMahon, Monterey – we have a student currently in Monument and one coming up soon. Both Stephanie and I are former students. I graduated in 2000. I just wanted to represent the voice of somebody who was in some of those classes, the foundational classes or the standard classes and I found it to be very bothersome. It was very difficult to experience going through and knowing that my entire education hinged on my limitations and that was a very clear message. Nobody said that but teachers at Monument were always wonderful and always giving but the framework that everybody had to work within dictated that sentiment. It wasn’t until I left Monument and went out into the world, I realized that I actually had an incredible capacity that I did have intelligence and I could use it. I have gone on to use it. I have taught myself chemistry and in order to operate in my field. I have been able to learn a lot of different things and it had to be self driven. I think about all of the students who might be told earlier on that they are a part of the group that education and learning is something that is done together and I hope for my kids that that is a message they can get. I did not get that message. I have made it work but not everybody does. Not everybody has the resources or the privilege that I have to pull myself up and work with others to get to where they need to go in life. I wanted to chime in with that. I think it is a really important thing to consider. It is hard to change and set aside the privilege when we have it and it can be scary but it is really important. Giving up privilege isn’t really giving up; it is sharing. I think that is something I hope to see Monument starting to do.
- Smith, Great Barrington – I have a daughter in 11th grade and a son who graduated. My question is very simple. Have the teachers bought into this. I heard Jolyn speak earlier tonight but I need to know if all the teachers have bought into this because they did not buy into the schedule change and although Kristi is saying that the block situation has worked well for everyone, in her opinion, and an asset and improvement to the school, I do know that teachers did not buy into the shift in the schedule and I do know that students have suffered because of that. I also want to underline, listening to everyone’s stories tonight and their perspectives, it obviously brings more information to me and I appreciate that. I clearly want an excellent education for every student that goes through Berkshire Hills. I do, like Chris and Anne, am a graduate but I don’t want our kids to suffer if this program gets implemented. P. Dillon – there are roughly 60 teachers at Monument. To get this thing going next year in the 9th grade, we are really looking at 10-12 teachers being invested in it. Kristi is about to start a process of recruiting and selecting people to do it so the question is have the teachers bought into it? Is there unanimous support among 60 teachers? No way. We are quite confident that there will be support among the 10-12 teachers who are going to directly work on it. Many other teachers also support it and then we think as we get it going and demonstrate that it works, it will spread. K. Farina – I think that there are much more than the majority of teachers that support this. I think the vast majority of teachers support it. I think that there are a smaller chunk of teachers who are super enthusiastic, ready to go and there is a middle group of teachers who I think would be super enthusiastic and ready to go except for what Jolyn voiced as they are really exhausted. This has been a really hard year. I am doing my work with my staff to really support them through this. That includes this spring work we are doing; the options we will provide for them in the summer and it includes really thoughtful planning in the fall to give the team of teachers who take this on the time and support they are going to need to be able to do it well. I do not want at all to minimize their feeling about how hard this year has been but at the same time, I know that they believe that our practices as they have stood cannot stand in the way that they have because it is not creating equity for our community and it has to be addressed. I think we still have a road to go to get everybody entheustiac and the majority is definitely in the plan.
- Elliot, Sheffield – I began teaching at Berkshire Hills in 2006. I currently teach French at DuBois. I am also currently teaching one section of high school French at Monument. Thank you for giving me the time. I attended public schools both in the US and in France. Because I was going back and forth between the countries, I wasn’t a clear fit in either school system and as a result I was put into the “lower level” of classes. This meant that the students that I attended classes with were at a socioeconomic level lower than my family was. This has probably been one of the greatest benefits that I have had as a human being because I learned what it is to be human and accepting. I didn’t really understand what it meant to understand the difference between the have and the have nots until I was in my later teens. I attended Yale University. I got into Yale because of who I am, not because of where I went to school or because of the courses I took. My main point tonight is this, we are talking about equal access entry. We are not talking about taking all students and making them high honor students at graduation. We are talking about when they come in and they have equal access whether or not their parents understand how the school system works. My parents didn’t understand how the school system worked in France or in the US and as a result I was put in lower level classes. This doesn’t mean that the students automatically get to take calculus and French 5 and AP chemistry. They need to prove themselves and show that they are capable of moving onto higher level classes. We are not talking about getting rid of AP classes. We are not talking about getting rid of AP sciences or math, etc. You can let everyone into Harvard but you can’t let everyone become a physician because they have to prove themselves. I applaud this program because it allows students to enter into a possibility and perhaps that possibility isn’t something they are able to follow through with but perhaps it is. I think that is extremely important because whether it is one student or 10 students or 12 or 100, we owe them that. Thank you for considering this opportunity.
- Salinetti, Tyringham – I am a 9th grade student at the high school. A lot of the people who have spoken today are past teachers or current teachers and I really appreciate everyone who has talked about their opinion and their view on this. I think as a student I have a very different perspective. There are people that can talk on behalf of their kids but I think for me looking at this it makes a lot of sense because it doesn’t feel like something that is going to be put behind or ahead and I think that is really important. I think putting people at an equal playing field because the goal is an equitable playing field. I think what we are talking about is it is dehumanizing to tell a student that one person is better and one person is less than. It is a societal issue that we have and it is an issue of racism and classism. It doesn’t just happen or occur that some students are put in some classes and some are put in others. As an honors student, I don’t even feel that challenged. I feel like I do a lot of work that is busy work but I would not be concerned that I would be in a class where I wouldn’t be challenged by being with other students. We are never going to be in social situations with only people who are just like us or who think just the same way. Honestly, that would be a very dangerous situation. It doesn’t make sense for us to be around all these people who agree with us constantly and think the same and have the same background because we can’t learn from each other that way. I think looking at this I look back to a project I was asked to do just hours ago. I did a survey about the growth mindset. The idea of putting students in a CP class is automatically saying this is your limitation. This is how far you can go. It is the same thing with honors. This is how far you can go and you shouldn’t fall behind. Every time I see an assignment, it’s CP extra credit, honors required. I feel like it is dehumanizing and I am not going to be dehumanized. I think to look at all of this just on the basis of what does it mean to have a society based on choices instead of on limitations and what does it mean for students to be able to advocate for themselves and learn that skill to be able to talk to their parents and talk to their teachers and say I am capable of something. That is a really powerful lesson to be able to tell someone you are capable. I think using that growth mindset, if you are capable of teaching students that they can become smarter but they just aren’t’ good at math or science then you have to be implementing and giving them the opportunities to see for themselves that they aren’t a bad math student or a bad science student. I think to me that is just affording everyone the ability not to prove themselves to but be themselves and see that they aren’t just their limitations for the tag that someone puts on them but they are who they are able to make themselves to be. There is so much privilege that it takes to be at the higher level of something or just to be asking what about my kids. What does it mean to be talking about everyone’s kid and not just your own. It is a powerful and important position to consider that everyone has the right to be able to show and be who they are capable to be rather than who someone else decided they are capable to be. Thank you.
- Mielke – Noelia, that was amazing. I had a few things to say. I think Madame Elliot’s points are really important because I feel we are getting certain people who are focusing on this idea that something is going to be lost; that in order for some to gain, someone has to lose something and that is not true. I really appreciate the clarity that Madame Elliot brought to that. It is getting misinterpreted a bit. I also wanted to point out that this is not a brand new idea. I believe the people presenting the idea have said this before. This is not being sprung on us. This has been in the works for a few years now. I remember in the fall of 2019 going to the school advisory council with Ben Doren and having the portrait of a graduate, the proficiency-based learning. This was already in the works and we had opportunities to be part of shaping it even then and obviously COVID and the pandemic kind of threw off our community conversations around it but it didn’t stop the district from moving forward with the plans. I went to a really good high school in rural central Florida. It was horrifying and I still managed to go to a great college and I still managed to consider myself a life-long learner. There is a lust for learning that I feel like no matter what the class makes up is, a bad teacher, etc., those things can’t squash. I think some of these high achieving students that parents seem to be worried about somehow losing out, I feel like that is super….I feel like I’m not worried about those kids. I feel like those kids are going to succeed no matter what. I spent a few years subbing in Southern Berkshire and had a long stint subbing in the remedial. I could not believe how much the guys in this class were just giving up. They were 15. They had no expectation except for how to thread a maneuver to get a hall pass out of me. They were all intelligent. I have seen what they have done since they graduated. I think they are 30 now. These are smart guys but the system had given up on them so they no longer even expected anything of themselves. I had this great idea of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr – the time is always right to do what is right – but I am not going to leave on that note. Instead I am going to leave on a note of a movie I recently wanted with a group of friends, The Breakfast Club, which I hadn’t seen in 25 years. It is just really hitting me how The Breakfast Club is super outdated and we watch it and it is painful that we see them stuck in these roles kids were both socioeconomic but also scholastically and I think a lot of us as adults, we grew up where sure maybe that is an exaggeration of high school experience might have been like but I think many of us had high school experiences, those of us 40s and higher, had an experience where that was what high school was like. You got slotted in a spot both socially and academically. It was really hard to get out of that or you wouldn’t know other people. I think it is easy to perpetuate the same system even if it is broken and I think the time is right to make this change and I am really supportive of it and I am really appreciative of everyone who has spoken out.
- Edson, Great Barrington – our daughter is in PK so we are thinking long term about this and we are really honored to be a part of this conversation as this is still an extended part of our community. I also teach middle school currently at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, CT. I teach humanities, science and I direct theater productions for 5th – 9th grade. I want to give some perspective about how people learn from a teacher’s point of view. I also just want to point out something kind of obvious. We right now as a community are having a meeting all in one place. Peter did not break us up into breakout rooms and say the smart people go over here, the high achieving people here, etc. We are all having a respectful conversation, we are all learning from one another. This is how life works. No where else in life other than in some schools do we divide people up that way. As a middle school teacher, I am tasked with the challenge and honor of differentiated learning. I do a lot of project-based learning and when I put groups together, I do this very carefully. Any teacher here will vouch for that. You think very carefully about who is in what group and for what reasons. We are playing to everyone’s strength and we are also acknowledging that everyone has a challenge and that diversity comes in vast forms. Diversity is diverse. This includes neurodiversity, emotional IQ so I could have somebody who is dyslexic who might by some standards of a school be put in a lower functioning struggling group who has incredible insights into something in current events or write some beautiful poetry or there are so many different ways a kid can succeed. It is up to us teachers to create a culture where everyone has that opportunity and everyone has that voice. I will also say that someone who attends a lot of professional development about diversity and equity issues that are run by bi voices and queer educators, all of them in by experience are saying to knock these walls down so that we can create opportunities in school at are more like life so that we can all work together and all learn together. I have found over 20 years of teaching that it produces incredible results and every kid feels like they succeed and they are often challenged in ways that might be set up by some sort of core standards of what measures intelligence or success. Thank you.
- Pink, Housatonic – Thank you so much to all the parents’ voices I am hearing. I am a special education teacher at Monument for the last three years. I have three children at Muddy Brook and I am a 2001 graduate of Monument and I know there are a couple of my classmates here tonight as parents also. I wanted to say when you are thinking about this and you have fears about change and you are saying what does my child stand to lose from this, I really think what can you child stand to gain from this. We know as educators that one of the most in depth displays of learning mastery is to be able to teach another person. Having students at varying levels in a class helps all students. It changes the model from the teacher being the gatekeeper of the knowledge to a community of learners who are working together and can learn from each other. We want to produce students who have diverse perspectives and can empathize with people who aren’t sitting right next to them and exactly the same as them. Just to clarify, in this, you don’t teach to the middle. That is not how it is done. There is content and you teach to get your student to where they are to where they need to be. That is not the same thing as just teaching to the middle at all. I have been to a lot of the forums and listening to what I am hearing is there are a lot of where are these other parents, where are the parents of the students of the disenfranchised…they are disenfranchised, that is why they are not here. They can’t participate in this conversation at the level of many people with the education to be able to discuss it which also usually means as well so we are talking about a socioeconomic divide. Just to provide you with an example, I co-taught 9th grade English last year and I had a student who I wasn’t sure how literate this student was at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t sure if they were understanding the novel that we were reading. I was really hard to tell because they were not producing anything in writing. I gave this student a small assignment, create something using color to convey emotion based on a quote from a novel and this student created a beautiful abstract portrait following the emotions of the main character throughout the entirety of the novel using different colors. This student clearly understood the book, was learning mostly in a class of students of similar abilities but was demonstrating mastery of what we wanted them to know in a different way. They didn’t write an essay about it. They made this and explained it and showed the understanding. We need to get out of this box where the teacher stands at the front of the room, we put all the smart kids in a room and that teacher teaches the smart kids how to do things. We need lasting memory and that you get from teaching and interacting and experiencing other people.
- Redpath, Great Barrington – I have three kids who have been in Monument for the past seven years or so. My youngest son is a junior. I want to thank the school for all of the work they have done this year. It has just been tough for everyone and tough for you as well. You have helped support food for the community and other stuff so that you for that. I support this equity and access for all plan. I understand some and some maybe not. I think part of the reason for that is the district doesn’t really provide a good annual reporting of the educational outcomes and detail year to year. The annual budget has some documentation very briefly on one page but there is really no meat in there as far as educational work. I think not all folks have a sense of the educational outcomes. When the district brings up plans like this there is somewhat of a disconnect and people say why change it, it is working fine and there is nothing wrong with it. In some of the materials that are linked in the letter about this, it is linked to a survey which is done every year. There is welcome to school, high truancy rate, 50% of sophomores report depression symptoms. There is something there. The Mass Dept of Education rates the district at a 67, so kind of near the bottom in terms of performance and that is around low participation rate for multi race/minority students. The equity program can support everybody. The district needs to make sure they are complying with all the state laws and all the community members and make sure they are currently providing physical education is being provided for all students which is not in compliance with state law, health planning issues that need to be taken care of but I think the work is happening. I think the item that need to be added so the community is up to speed on an annual basis is that the accountability report card from DESE is on some sort of annual documentation and the outcome of the district improvement plan every year so we can see some of the work that is going on and really get a sense of what is happening. Some of the metrics that are going to be captured for this equity plan are great and then we can see how successful it is. Since the district is a $30 million organization we really need to make sure we have this reporting and spread out to all the town folks and I’m surprised the selectboards don’t have better requirements on this reporting. I think the equity plan is a great thing and overtime we will see its success.
- Dalton, Housatonic – I am an art teacher at Monument. I have been there for 21 years. I am also in charge of supporting student voice at Monument at the moment. I want to touch upon a few little segments that have happened. I have a few students who are honors and AP level students who chose not to take them and took CP level classes because they said the conversation was stronger and more interesting for them which was really interesting for me to hear. They ended up going to Mt. Holyoke and Smith College, really good schools. They chose to do CP classes because they weren’t looking for grades, they were looking for dialogue and interactions with other students of different levels of ability. I wanted to throw that one out there for a second. I think it is so important that the student voice in the conversation, the letter that came out was super important from alumni. I was impressed to see the diversity of the students in just three days that supported this deleveling and think as a community and as a school and as a teacher and probably as an administrator, that if we were to join in and work on this as a group, it would be really phenomenal of what kind of community we could support. I am excited about that. I hope you are too.
- Grossman, Great Barrington – It is great to hear from so many people in this conversation. I think it is important for parents to speak and to hear from these different perspectives. I know Peter you said before you really want parents to hold you feet to the fire on this. I think this is really important here. People have termed this many things: an experiment…the bottom line on all of this is a dramatic departure in a lot of ways as to what was done before and we don’t know how it is going to work. I think it is really important for us to be able to measure this. I would ask this, when we decided to change the structure, eliminate the lab time, what were the results of that? This is a great discussion of equity. A lot of us care very deeply; just about everybody I’ve spoken to on the parent side regardless of where their kids fall on the overall spectrum, some of us have kids who fall over over the spectrum from special needs to honors. I really love to know when we had this discussion last year, we were afraid that distance learning was going to adversely affect those who are more disenfranchised. I know it happened all over the country. I would just say, what have we learned from the changes that have been made so far in particular the changes that were made to the lab time that we had before, what are the results of that. I would also love to know after this experiment in distance learning, what did we learn from this. Where are our kids today versus where they would have been if they were in school full time? I ask that because if we can’t answer these simple questions about what has happened over the last couple of years, I am afraid we may not be able to answer them when we institute this and really understand what is happening. The bottom line on all of this is in principle a lot of this makes sense and we care very deeply about equity. Is it going to work? Do we have the systems in place for us to understand whether or not it is working and I would look at the changes that have happened most recently and what we can say about that. I would love to hear a little bit more about what we have learned over the past year and a half and how we can make sure we are measuring this in a way to figure out what is working and what is not. P. Dillon – There are three things that I see. As Kristi explained in the beginning of the meeting, the shift in time to create bigger blocks that resulted in losing some time in science but gaining time in other classes, I think in the simplest terms, as a little hard in science and particularly for at least one and maybe a couple of teachers. I think it had an impact on some of those students. One the other end, many teachers had more time than they ever had and I think that was very positive for them and those students. K. Farina – The shift in the science schedule, I want to be super clear about this because there was a lot of conversation coming from an individual teacher in the building who was not happy with the change. That was not all of the teachers in the building. In fact, it was not really any but one or two. While I want that person’s voice to be heard, it shouldn’t be heard over everyone else’s when there were actual benefits to students in other places. I have to say that. The other piece of that is when we shifted the schedule, we also shifted how science was signed up for. The intent of the schedule which was new last year so we never even finished it because we went into a pandemic, was that students would take honors chemistry and they had their one period with the block built in and the second year they got two periods of AP chemistry. They actually, over a two year cycle, were going to have more time in their chemistry than they would have otherwise, except we had a pandemic so it never got to happen. To ask me what the results are for that, I can’t answer that question. P. Dillon – the second question was where are we now in the context of the pandemic and how do we know what is going on. We are hopefully at the tailend of the pandemic and we’ve had ups and downs. For the first time we did a big internal assessment throughout the district to get a sense of where people are but we have never done that assessment before so it is the baseline of where we are going. I think before the end of the year, we will check in on that again and then I can tell you some more about it. The third one was and I will try to capture this, how do we know if we do this if it will be good and what are some of the metrics around that. I tried to articulate that. The other side of the coin is if we don’t do anything, and we are aware of all the ways we are not serving many many students, to continue to not take action, I see it as a problem. We are in the process of setting up benchmarks and outcomes around how can we monitor this going forward and see is it doing what we want it to do but if we do nothing then we continue to serve the top 30% high achieving students very well and maybe a subset of kids with special needs and we continue to not meet as well as we can the needs of many other students. Even though, I say this having two recent graduates, even though on paper many of our students are performing exceptionally well, many of those same students are doing that tremendous cost. You talk to the hard charging highest achieving students who are taking 11 AP exams and are captains of teams and leading all sorts of groups and are in the band and the musical and every other thing you can think of and many of them are exhausted and disaffected and disconnected and I think that is because we are pushing them through a system that isn’t appropriately meeting their needs. B. Grossman – thank you. I just want to reiterate on this, I appreciate greatly that we are addressing these issues we know exist. I just want to make sure we have frameworks in place to measure what is happening across our students so we can accurately assess what is working and what is no. Philosophy we may be all in the right place; practically we want to make sure we are achieving these objectives and making things better for everyone across the board. The only way you can do that is if you measure it closely and we can agree to how we measure in advance so we can see how we are doing, especially because a lot of these ideas are really innovative and revolutionary in some respects. We owe it to ourselves to be able to be very reflective on this and you only do that through metrics.
- Allard, Stockbridge – I am a mother of an incoming freshman and a current 7th grader. I am also a youth worker and youth advocate at Railroad Street Youth Project. I have worked with the bulk and diversity of a lot of young people and a lot of the children of the parents on the call. I will say some of the programs have thrived the most that I have seen have been the programs where we have AP level students all the way through special needs students to special education needs. The reasons why they thrive were some of the reasons why Chris D’Aniello spoke so well earlier. I won’t go over that. I have seen the success of this. I have seen them flourish. I secondly want to say this call as I and looking, there were 88 people; this call has been led by 99% of white voices and I see that and one of the reasons you don’t hear from disenfranchised marginalized folks if because these kinds of calls are exhausting, it is exhausting to hear and sit in a community to hear that people wouldn’t really want equal access for all of our students. We know the honor students are going to do ok because they are networked, they are going to have so many opportunities in life and I work with a lot of students who don’t have that voice and that access, who will not have that access unless there are teachers in this school, like Chris D’Aniello, like Krista Dalton who actually see their potential beyond what else is happening. I want to name that we really have to start thinking about humanity more than we are thinking about IQ. Somebody mentioned emotional intelligence and emotional intelligence is just as valuable as a high IQ if not more in this world we are trying to create right now. What this school is trying to build, and I applaud you for taking this leap and doing this work because I know it is bold in this day and age, is that in order for us to move forward as humans together to what Noelia so eloquently spoke about, we have to working together, we have to be reaching across and as somebody who would be deemed as the lower denomination and who have kids who can be in these classrooms with your kids who know that they are being seen as a lower denomination, it is so dehumanizing. Let me just state this for the record, as a woman of color, as a black woman in this community, I see kids being dehumanized every single day and one of the places that happens is in the school system and it’s not because of great teachers there; there are amazing teachers there; there is amazing administration, but the culture that has been created overs these decades and decades in the Berkshires…I grew up here. I went to elementary school here, it is so deeply entrenched in so much systematics and all of the “isms” and we have this moment in time right now to be able to face boldly and move into some new territory. I full heartedly support that and for those that don’t, I’m not even going to argue with you on that. I am not going to argue with my humanity or the humanity of the young people that I work with every single day in this community. I hope more of their voices are heard.
- Flynn – I want to thank everyone for this incredible two hours of conversation and the level of engagement has been impressive. The first thing I want people to know is, as a faculty member and a member of this community, I live in Great Barrington, I support this whole heartedly. I think it is smart the way we are approaching it in a sense that it is audacious; we are at our best when we are progressive. We are being daring. I think it is also smart that we are taking it a really intentional first step with the 9th grade where you have students who are coming from five or six different schools; five or six distinctly different experiences and allowing them to all come in the same place at the same time and we will be committed to doing this well. We want parents to do what they are doing right now. We want you to reach out and advocate. We would like to have ways in which we are doing it more intentionally for all parents so there is an opportunity for all parents to feel they have a voice and there is a platform for them to reach out and be part of their kid’s experience from day one and that they are in partnership on that. Again, we will measure this. We will be paying attention. We know how much is on the line here. Please hold us to account for that. We are committed to that. We have done a tremendous amount of work in terms of becoming better, in terms of being data driven. Finally, this isn’t something we have just come up with whimsically. We have looked at exemplars; we have gone out and visited some schools that have been doing this for quite some time and have done it successfully; we are paying attention to the outcome and we think we are going to be a better school because of it. Thank you.
- DeCelle – I need to clarify when I first spoke at the beginning, I didn’t identify myself correctly as Sherry DeCelle, Tolland, School Choice. I keep hearing the word socioeconomic issue. This is a public school so what does it matter? Socioeconomic does not relate to a public school. If I chose to take my children to a private school, that is a different issue. This is a public school so socioeconomic is almost insulting. I absolutely believe that in teaching we learn. I am a financial advisor; I teach my clients and I learn and they learn. I am absolutely a proponent of teaching. We all learn when we teach but there is a human element that we seem to continue to diminish that some people, you know them, all of you know them, some people strive for a higher standard than other people and so if I have children or I have professionals in my world who strive to be the best every single day, congratulate them, encourage them. Unknown – I don’t think this is appropriate right now. This is inappropriate. You already spoke once and I think that should have been called to begin with. S. Bannon – Sherry, your time is up and we are done taking public comments. It is now time for the school committee to talk. I purposely gave public comments for a long time because this is an issue that is very emotional for people and I want to make sure everyone feels heard. I think we have done that. We don’t do that normally. We do hear people but we don’t normally have 88 people on the line and a lot want to speak; some up to four minutes even though we allow three. I really appreciate everyone’s input tonight. I am going to turn it over to the school committee for their discussion and hopefully a vote tonight.
- Dillon – I am trying to facilitate two conversations. There are five school committee members in this room and there are five school committee members on Zoom. If any of the remote school committee members want to say something just raise your hand and I will recognize you. Obviously the people in the room just wave at me. Maybe to prime the pump, Kristi, Jon or I or the other principals are happy to respond to questions you might have. We are happy to clarify things that we might not have articulated as well as we hoped or you hoped.
- Hutchinson – I just want to thank all of the parents and community members who did speak tonight. I think it is great to hear all of the opinions both in support of and those that have concerns because those concerns are real. I was really impressed to hear from the recent graduates because they are giving us the experience of people who have recently gone through the school.
- Dohoney – One thing I would like you to speak to a little bit is, my hope for this process is the focus on this stage of the process why this is the best solution to the problem we identified. I think you touched on that a little bit tonight but not as much as I hoped it to be. There is consensus I think. I think it was a far more explained level of data this week. I was very troubled by how the enrollment numbers break out for low income students; I think you have substantiated that position. The racial disparity in the upper-level courses, I am proud of what I am seeing. I think we have done a good job. That is not presenting as problem in the numbers you have submitted. Of course, you can always improve. With regard to the low income discrepancy, it is clearly something that has to do with…we all knew that. We have received a high-level overview of one solution without any presentation of alternatives. We have heard references of other schools but no real hard evidence as to where this has been successful and why it has been successful at those locations. If the administration has anything more to offer around those that would be great. P. Dillon – I will share a couple of things, then go to Kristi because she participated in some of the visits. On the one hand, people are talking about this as a bold an audacious plan and on the other hand, many districts all over the country did this 20-30 years ago. I used to work in New York and outside of New York City there is Scarsdale and the former superintendent of the Scarsdale who eventually because the NYS Education Commissioner and there is an interesting connection between that school and Monument in that they were both involved in the WISE projects. What that school district did 20-30 years ago was they deleveled and figured out how to work with kids in different ways. They continued some excellence and really rigorous work and AP classes but they identified a bunch of the ways to do really rigorous work. They have had tremendous success. All sorts of schools outside of Boston have done this to varying degrees. When Kristi and her team visited Maine and New Hampshire and High Tech High, they also did that. When I worked in New York and we opened 300 schools doing the Bloomberg administration, not everyone was a success. Many of them were different from the screened high schools and still had tremendous success with kids in terms of their learning and post-secondary opportunities. This is our best thinking around this solution. If we were to approach it in some other way what might we do? Someone at some point said our country is reeling. Our foundation is cracked. We need to address this in this fundamental way. The other approach to education is tinkering. We could have a little more time in the lower level classes and hope that it results in a shift. I think starting up in 9th grade is super deliberate work, getting a bunch of teachers invested and giving them the tools to move forward is a completely reasonable strategy. I look back when we were opening and closing schools in New York, that is what we would do. We would start with the 9th grade, then the next year was 9th and 10th grade and work our way up. K. Farina – What we are talking about here is educational best practice. It is research based. I shared last week the national council of teachers of mathematics has now written a book for both high school math instruction and elementary and middle school math instruction and are advocating across the nation that we have to eliminate these tracking practices. We have been partnered with Great Schools Partnership which is a very well-known organization across all of the northeast and through the rest of the county and this is all research based strategies we are using. This isn’t just something we came up with. Even the New England Association of Secondary Schools who we used to do our evaluation with, which we stopped doing in 2009, have shifted toward the Portrait of a Graduate and proficiency-based approaches because these are the best approaches to use to address the issues. That is why the proposal is what it is. This is the best educational research-based method to address these issues. R. Dohoney – So we have a problem and we believe there is a systemic solution to it but how much of the problem is performance based? How much of the problem is because we are not optimizing the opportunity for these kids in our current system and I guess an exemplary question is, Peter, you have been superintendent for over a decade; Kristi you have been principal for two or three years, why do you still have that ridiculous form and jumping through hoops? Why can’t kids just sign up for AP courses if they want to take them. I was shocked to learn that. Shocked. We are telling kids they can’t take AP courses right now. K. Farina – are you asking me to resign? R. Dohoney – we heard a lot about kids and defending kids who are subject to this. I have two kids that are going to have to go through that? If my kid wants to take an AP course, she just can’t sign up for it? Are you saying no to someone who isn’t checking the form? P. Dillon – can you give Kristi a second to respond? K. Farina – as outlined in the document, we really try to begin to make some of these very shifts beginning in 2017. Prior to 2017, in our AP english courses students did have to do an entry writing assignment in order to gain access to that program that has been eliminated. I believe I also showed you with the enrollment data that last year was the first year we eliminated the standards level courses at the high school in all of our core academic areas. Last year was my first year as principal. I am not even through my second year. We have been making changes and change is going to be gradual and that is why this proposal is to start in 9th grade. The form for registration, we actually in terms of honors and CP, I did away with that during the registration process that we did last spring. That was the first time we didn’t have that process but of course, the registration process that we did during last spring was in the middle of a pandemic and then the schedule had to be scheduled in cohorts. I do just want to say I am in my second year and it has been a pandemic year so in my defense, I have been trying. P. Dillon – I have been superintendent for 11 and a half years. There is a bunch of stuff that I am super proud of and there is a lot to continue to do and some stuff to undo. Some of this stuff, you shared your own story about being put in a leveled class. Some of this stuff has been going on for decades. Bit by bit we are getting to things and having some growth in some areas and taking a couple steps back in others and growing in other ones. The really interesting thing is the average time for a superintendent in a district is like two and a years. Imagine what happens to a district if every two and a half years they start again. I think in many ways, we have a lot of momentum and things are moving in a good direction, and I readily admit we have a lot more to do. If we set this up right….the greatest strength of this district has always been how we interact relationally with each other but what we need to unpack is structure and institutions. If we set this up right, the district will be set up well for the next 30 years. S. Bannon – there are a couple of things I would say, I think all of us, and I hope all of us know that this is the right thing to do. It is about the process now. How we make this work and how we get buy-in from everyone. I do believe that we will do that. This may be an experiment to us but we like to think Monument is exceptional and it is. We are not the first school in the county to do this. We are not subjecting our kids to some broad experiment that may or may not fail and it will fail if we don’t implement it correctly and that is part of the process. I have faith that we will implement it correctly. Anyone would think that we are going to have this equity and do it in a way that affects our highest achievers; I don’t believe anyone would allow that to happen. What we are trying to do is help everyone; not take away from someone to raise someone else up. That bothers me because I think all of our students deserve the same actual chance in their four, five or even three years in the high school. We are moving from one to the other. I do believe the highest achievers are going to do great and may even do better because there may be less social pressure on them and they may actually, as some people pointed out, do well by being exposed to other people in the school. I do think this is now about the process and making sure it works. Is it going to work perfectly? There are going to be some bumps in the road but that is where metrics come in, measuring and making sure you know where they are, you get out ahead of it and we fix the problems that there are. Any major change is going to have some problems. P. Dillon – we built the right team for this. You saw in the report some of the characteristics we would like to see teachers doing and then we get volunteers or select people to build the team and we invest a lot of time in them and in refining this over the summer. A group of thoughtful people given time and resources will do extraordinary work. I think a lot of people are fired up about this. Steve, Zoe Holmes is one of the two student members on the school committee. She has her hand up. I would like to recognize her.
- Holmes – I just wanted to say I have a lot of questions and thoughts about this really exciting new step, but I do want to be brief. The past few meetings I think have been pretty productive in bringing more and more new voices to the table and discussing it. Tonight we heard more concerns from parents of really high-achieving students; we heard also really striking descriptions of the issues that we are currently facing, and what I was most moved by was the tremendous support of people who I feel are most qualified to speak to the needs of the disenfranchised in our school. Those people believe that this is the best plan, and I believe that they know what these students need and they can speak not for these students but they can speak about the experiences of those students more than I can as a student in the school. Although I had my initial doubts and concerns, I have been really reassured by the increased depth and detail that the administration has gone into with the presentation over the past couple of weeks, and although I don’t get a vote in this, I am very optimistic that it can and will be rolled out very well, so I would urge everyone to approve that move forward with this plan and I think from here we just need to focus on getting input from all of the groups we heard from tonight, students, alumni, parents, teachers and community members and really be focusing on transparent accountability with how we are measuring our progress and how we are being flexible with responding to the challenges that are inevitably going to see. I am throwing my support behind this plan even though that is not where I originally was when heard about this for the first time.
- Bonn-Buffoni – I think maybe a lot of people may have misunderstood Sherry’s questions and what she was really asking. I think she was wondering how this is going to fit for all the kids and how the kids that are higher performing, what is in place to keep them at that level. From what I am learning, if you put it in a sports aspect and you have a really good sports team and sometimes they will place a really bad sports team and the kids that are really talented will not try as hard and you can see that their abilities go down. Then you get the right people in the right places teaching both of the teams and the kids what weren’t so good, they are bolstering up, pushing the kids that were already good and so they are all moving up. What I am hearing in this plan and procedures, reading some of the links for the higher achievers, there’s a ceiling on the classes that they are taking now. With what we are planning moving forward, there is no ceiling. Those kids can go as high as they want and it is putting the people in the right places so that everyone is being challenged and pushed forward. I think some people are worried. Is this going to bring the kids that are better academically, is it going to bring them down? They are just wanting assurance that it is not just tailoring to the kids that have a hard time. With this plan, we have the right people in the right places and it is going to help all the kids move up and have the best opportunity and learn at the best of their ability to be prepared. Just reading all this and hearing everybody, there is not going to be a ceiling anymore. There is not going to be a ground floor and not going to be a ceiling. Everybody is going to come in equally and they are going to be challenged and be able to go as high as they possibly can or want.
- Fields – I will echo what Bonnie has said. I think left out of this is the role that the teacher plays. I was talking yesterday to a veteran teacher in the school and we both almost said it at the same time, that this is not new to many of us. I taught electives for 30 years that were all heterogeneous and I will agree with Bonnie, I pushed kids who I knew could do more and who chose to do more. To people who feel we were going to take from the top in order to give to the bottom, the teacher is a key here to see and to push and to push in all types of students, to show the student who might have done a WISE project, a program that I ran for a couple of years at Monument in which a kid who had never done anything in academics, did a welding project making a 1500lb fountain and the stood up for half an hour and talked about how he did it. This was a kid who would have been perceived as being one of the “I don’t want my kid to be with that kid”. Arielle talked about that a couple of weeks ago. This allows that type of attitude to be squashed and to be shown that everybody can do something and they chose to do it. I like that approach. When I first heard it in 2017, the present committee except for the new people who were just elected, we heard a presentation with a student voice. It was very important and in this plan, that is what I am hearing. I am hearing a lot about students will have choices, will be pushed, no one is going to be left behind in this approach. I am not sure if there are other approaches. The approach that we are moving from as has been stated tonight so eloquently by many parents and students has had its problems. Just as one point, one of the signers of the letter I interviewed at Monument a number of years ago and she expressed to me an interest and had taken other courses, she would have loved to have taken theatre and an auto course and she was so sad that she never took an agricultural course. When I asked her why, she said I was on the AP track and that is who I dealt with. She felt that it was her fault, that I should have gone out of my comfort zone but I chose not to. This allows students choices that they might not have now. I am totally for it.
- Sprague – I am new to the committee and I am proud and honored to be sitting on the committee at this point in time. My only question and it has been mentioned in some of the supporting documentation but I don’t know it if has been explicitly expressed. I want to make sure that this is not a vote for carte blanche and we blink and it is four years later but that we will be back in this room having these conversations (inaudible) to be tweaking.
- THE BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT SCHOOL COMMITTEE VOTES TO SUPPORT THE ADMINISTRATION’S DESCRIBED PLAN AT THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR EQUITY AND ACCESS FOR ALL. THE ADMINISTRATION WILL SHARE REGULAR UPDATES ON IMPLEMENTATION INCLUDING PLANNING, COMMUNITY OUTREACH, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT, DATA AS WELL AS MID-COURSE ADJUSTMENTS OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT SEVERAL YEAR AS PART OF THE EXPANDING DATA TRACKING SYSTEMS AND DEVELOPING IMPROVEMENT PLANS FIELDS SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Dillon – You will see in the motion…sometimes I ask you for a blank check but this is too important to ask for that so I see this like with flexibility comes accountability. I am asking you to take an intellectual lead which many of these think will make a big difference and in exchange for that I am committing to regular updates on an ongoing basis and sometime the metric might change but checking in on this all along. If a parent or a group of parents of high-achieving kids are having trouble with this, then we will hear it and will make shifts, as well as low-achieving parents’ kids are struggling with this, we will make changes. That is just one lens to look through. We will look at data by gender, ethnicity, interest, commitment and all these other things, some narrowly defined and some broadly defined. I think we are setting up young people to be tremendously successful.
- Dohoney – I know a lot of us asked about defining the metrics and you mentioned what is the indicator for the need for change and I thought that was good. Those are the indicators we will be measuring going forward? P. Dillon – I would like a little flexibility there. At least those and maybe some others. There is a lot of research that says, 9th grade credit accumulation correlates almost perfectly with high school graduation rates. If a student goes through 9th grade and passes most of their classes, then that sets them up in this wonderful way to almost certainly graduate. There are other indicators like that that are not on that list that I want to dig in deeper to and look at. I like all the things on that list and likely we will do some ongoing surveys in between. We will use some existing state data and some local data. We may run focus groups. There are a whole host of things we will do. R. Dohoney – You will add to this list and not subtract from it is what you are saying. P. Dillon – yes. R. Dohoney – I noticed that MCAS was number one on the list. Are we solving an MCAS problem here? P. Dillon – you have heard me talk about this a million times. I don’t want to start a war about MCAS. It’s one data point and thoughtful people in our organization look at multiple data points. Just measuring some stuff like, weighing myself everyday doesn’t really help me address it. You eat a little better and exercise more. MCAS is one measure but there are other measures. The headache about MCAS is that it is autopsy data. We get that information back after the whole class has been taught often in the summer and the same teachers may not see those students again. R. Dohoney – I want to look into the debate about MCAS. I would like to make a motion to have no more debates about MCAS. I just wanted to understand the role ahead of this. P. Dillon – Maybe someday I will make you a really neat pie chart and everything will be 7%, and we will weigh and value it in some deliberate way. I am not quite there yet. R. Dohoney – one of the major subsidiary benefits from this other than the primary benefit is the district’s commitment to using data and reporting and transparency that this is going to bring to the school committee and the community, which is something I have heard a lot about prior to this debate and certainly during this debate. One thing I will say is, I think this whole smart kids are going to get screwed by this, is a false narrative. I think you are just pushing the problem down. The real risk and I don’t see it as a big risk, but the only risk I think I see from this is the existing problem you have now gets pushed down in the classroom. If teachers are not trained and supported properly and they are forced to do the resource allocation, something that looks like a zero gain that people are worried about, it is not the rich smart white kids who are going to lose any end game if that situation is created. Just like moving all of the segregation down to the classroom we need to eliminate the risk of that. That is my biggest concern. I am willing to accept the plan to build the plane while we fly it but that is why I have been so cautious this whole time. If this doesn’t work, if our class sizes aren’t right, if teachers are not trained right, if teachers are not supported right, the same kids are going to get screwed worse. My concerns have always been process and planning. I am willing to accept the model but that is my concern. P. Dillon – I should probably just be quiet. I don’t know if building the plane while we fly it is totally right. We might be repairing the plane as we fly it. I think there are multiple years of planning on this; there is a lot of work and the work is ongoing. Can it be refined? Certainly. Articulated better? Always. Can we engage the community in richer, deeper conversations? Certainly. In the whole scheme of school reform and looking at what we are doing, I think we are very well positioned. I have tremendous trust in our teachers and educational staff and as we set aside the resources, I am confident that they will rise to the occasion and be really successful.
- Fields – I am not sure we are building the plane while we are flying it. I think we are looking at a different model plane that hasn’t taken off yet. We have had three years of development since 2017. This has not been a plane that is flying. It is being renovated. It is another type of plane and it is on the runway. It is now starting to move forward. Within this plan there is going to be adjustments made and as the motion states there is going to be feedback from all perspectives.
- Dohoney – can I make one comment? I didn’t want to make it during the debate. I think it is a cowardly thing to do to vote against something on process but I came close to doing that on this. I want to have a Meet & Confer at some point where we can discuss how we deal with big issues like this. The COVID thing was thrust upon us, and we had to deal with it, but nobody was with how decisions were made there but that was excusable. When I first got on this school committee, the way budget decisions were made was a disaster. I lost sleep over it. I lost friends over it, and we fixed that. I think we need a better way where we don’t have a three-page memo dropped on us at a meeting that wasn’t even scheduled for a change this big, and we have to go through this type of tortured process to get where we are at now. I want some kind of autopsy down the road on how…Steve is a stellar chair of this committee; we don’t have to rely on rules and procedures, and maybe I am over-lawyering this but there needs to be some filing requirements, notice requirements, something so that we don’t have to have these processes anymore. P. Dillon – I support that and commit to creating structures. What you did with the finance subcommittee was a game changer. What I think we have done in some other areas have been real game changers too. We can set up a structure so there is a calendar of significant changes almost parallel to the budget process where we start talking about something six months out and backward sharing of a plan and community conversations. At different times we have done this better and worse. I think our first go-around of the high school project, the building project, we didn’t do it so well. I think we figured it out the second time. I think the one that stands out as really being deliberate and taking the time was the renaming of the middle school and that was in some ways 50 years in the works but the actual renaming was probably a year and a half or two years. S. Bannon – we used to be briefed after every budget season. Now we don’t have to. It will come to that also. The end result is what I care about. R. Dohoney – the school renaming thing was good. P. Dillon – I am leaving the door open. That is my teaser for work on that later.
- Sub Committee Reports:
- Policy Sub Committee – N/A
- Building and Grounds Sub Committee – N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Sub Committee – N/A
- Technology Sub Committee – N/A
- Finance Sub Committee – N/A
- District Consolidation & Sharing Sub-Committee – N/A
- Personnel Report:
- Extended Leave of Absence
- Retirement(s) – P. Dillon – two people have announced their retirements. It is that time of the year when people start doing that. I like them both tremendously as people and educators. Mary Auger who has been at Muddy Brook for many years and Lisa Baldwin who has been at Monument for many years; they both did exceptional work. We will celebrate them in some time when it is appropriate to bring a big group of people together. The sculpture at the high school of did you leave your mark on Monument, have you left your mark on the district and these two teachers have done that in incredible ways, impacting many, many students. I would like to appreciate that.
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business
- Public Comment
- Written Communication
MOTION TO ADJOURN – ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 8:58pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary