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Northern Berkshire Union Schools Report Fairly Smooth Reopenings
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:25PM / Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Principals in the Northern Berkshire School Union reported last week that their reopenings have been going well. 
 
Gabriel Abbott Memorial in Florida, Emma L. Miller and Rowe elementary schools reopened for in-person learning in September; Clarksburg has been operating with a hybrid model, largely because some classes are too large to properly distance within the building. 
 
"Clarksburg can can be described as that wading into the beautiful lake, instead of jumping right in like my counterparts in the union, we took our time to reopen this school year with a very staggered, slow start," Clarksburg Principal Tara Barnes told the union committee at its quarterly meeting. "But it has been a very safe and successful start."
 
It wasn't until Oct. 5 that the school had all students in person in some manner, with about 160 taking in-person learning and 20 who have opted for remote, synchronized learning. 
 
"Learning has looked a lot different this school year," she said. "But it's still focused on our core curriculum and our social emotional learning. It looks different in that we have more staff, we have more teaching assistants to help us out the school year, we have a lot more technology."
 
Barnes said it was helpful to have the NBSU staff and fellow principals meet regularly to discuss plans and obstacles. 
 
"I feel like we have been trying to figure out how to get over the next hurdle as that hurdle comes up every day," she said. "And it's been great to really be collaborative in our efforts around all of these new challenges."
 
She believed that all parents have been good at complying with safety measures around socializing, travel and keeping children home if they don't feel well. 
 
"I concur with Tara that the year's going well," said Florida Principal Heidi Dugal. "We started right away, Sept. 8 was everybody back in school full time. Our numbers are down for in person because we don't have our 3- and 4-year-old preschool program going on."
 
The school has six remote learners, three of whom are school choice students, and about 10 home school. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning is being done; Google Classroom is being used in Grades 3 through 8 and Seesaw in Grades kindergarten through 2.
 
Dugal is concerned about remote learners coming back into school in November if the air exchangers are not fixed by then. 
 
"We are limited for room. We may have to move a classroom so I'm hoping that won't happen," she said. However, the town has approved the air exchanger and the school is also in the pipeline for the Massachusetts School Building Authority's accelerated repair program to address ceilings, windows and sills. 
 
"You call those bumps. I call them wrinkles. They're not bumps. Everybody knows how to use an iron and we take out our iron every week and we iron out the wrinkles and every day gets a little bit better," Dugal said. "We're really in sync with each other and I like that we support each other. And I think our school committee has been fantastic."
 
Rowe Principal William Knittle said the kindergarten through Grade 6 school also started in class on Sept. 8, although there is no prekindergarten offered this year.
 
"We have the same number of students in K to 6 as we did last year, but nine of them are remote. So we have 53 in person and nine remote," he said. "What we've been shooting for is a mixture of indoor and outdoor education. So each class — by not doing preschool — each class was able to have two indoor classroom spaces, and an outdoor tented learning space."
 
One of the tents was taken down by the recent windstorm but the two others are up and running. 
 
"It's been a community effort, the parents are working with us in terms of letting us know when kids are not feeling well and get them checked by a doctor and if necessary, have them have a COVID test," Knittle said. 
 
About 18 students and two staff members were tested over the last few weeks because of symptoms but were all negative, and another family chose to shift to remote for two weeks rather than test. 
 
Savoy Principal Tracey Tierney reported that K-6 school has 44 children learning in person and two remote through the TEC Connections Academy. Masks, she said, are "almost a nonissue."
 
All of the principals thanked school union's technology coordinator Josh Arico for his help in setting up and trouble-shooting systems. 
 
Director of Pupil Services Stephanie Pare said the special education staff has been working this past spring and fall to ensure that student needs are being met, whether in person or over Zoom. 
 
"They're very creative in finding ways to meeting the needs of the kids," she said. "They'll work anywhere, they'll do anything anybody asks as long as they can do it safely and in the best interest of the kids."
 
Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Finance and Business Administrator Jennifer Macksey reported that she is closing in on end of the year reconciliation and that the schools were able to renew some $340,000 in grants and received close to $193,000 in new grants, largely toward COVID-19 related expenses. 
 
She said because Clarksburg has been the lead in these grants, the accounting has not been very transparent. She is working on giving the member towns a "better snapshot of what are revenues are right now." 
 
"That's been my my primary focus over the last couple of months," Macksey said. "In addition, we had a very busy summer working on projects, we made close to $400,000 in renovations in Clarksburg, 100,000 in Savoy, and I'm looking forward to working with the town of Florida on the window and sill project, as well as fixing the air handling."
 
She also said she would be working more closely with the towns' treasurers on data integrity and reporting. The bundling of NBSU wages under Clarksburg has worked well (previously towns were paying separately into an account) but thought the turnaround time for the towns to reimburse was lagging. 
 
"I may be looking to the individual committees to kind of help me push the individual towns a little bit and making sure this process works smoothly," she said. 
 
In other business, Judy Oleson of Florida was re-elected as chair and Cindy Brule of Clarksburg as vice chair. 
 
The board, after meeting in executive session, returned to open meeting to approve an immediate salary increase of $11,500 for Macksey, who was recently named assistant superintendent.
 
"I thank all of you for supporting her and I thank her for taking on the new job responsibilities," Oleson said, adding Macksey "just jumped in there and did it." "Jen, we appreciate you so much. Thank you."
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