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Elfenbein Named to Mount Greylock Regional School Committee
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:06AM / Thursday, October 29, 2020
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Curtis Elfenbein responds to a question during Wednesday's combined meeting of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee and the select boards from Lanesborough and Williamstown.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Lanesborough resident Curtis Elfenbein on Wednesday was appointed to fill two years of an unexpired term on the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee. 
 
By a vote of 12-1, the six remaining School Committee members and the select boards from Lanesborough and Williamstown chose Elfenbein over Christine Canning-Wilson in a virtual meeting moderated by Lanesborough Town Moderator Chris Dodig.
 
School Committee member Steven Miller of Williamstown cast the vote for Canning-Wilson. Everyone qualified to vote on the interim appointment participated in the meeting except for John Goerlach of the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen.
 
The elected officials from the district and two towns questioned the two applicants on a variety of topics for about 75 minutes prior to voting.
 
One of the first questions came from Miller, who asked each candidate to talk about the greatest challenge facing the two-town school district.
 
Both agreed one of the most pressing issues is how the district responds to the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Elfenbein, currently a teacher at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, said Mount Greylock, like other schools districts, needs to support teachers who will be asked to transition from fully in-person instruction to hybrid instruction to remote instruction "at the drop of a hat."
 
"I'm proud of the way our district has handled the move to hybrid," he said. "I think it was handled well. I think the timeline made sense. I think the metrics in place make sense. But one thing I find myself concerned about … is what mechanisms have been put in place to observe compliance by students in the building and in the buses to and from the building in terms of maintaining distance, keeping the masks on.
 
"An outbreak -- and I'm not talking about one positive case -- an outbreak can cripple both the school and the community. As unthinkable and inconceivable as it may feel, given our low numbers, counties just over the border in New York are seeing astronomical gains in terms of cases."
 
Caning-Wilson said she, like Elfenbein, has a child who is currently fully remote, and she has experience as an educator delivering online instruction going back to 1993.
 
"I've trained in this," she said. "I would be a wonderful resource for the teachers and a resource for you. … I have also been a parent on the [Special Educaton Parent Advisory Council], which, obviously, advises you. When it comes to special education online, one of the things we have to consider is the social/emotional piece.
 
"On top of that, I can tell you … I've been a child advocate for a lot of kids this fall who want to get reintegrated into school, and part of the problem is their home and their parents don't know how to teach them. That is an issue."
 
COVID-19 came up in answers to several questions, including when Elfenbein addressed a query from Williamstown Select Board member Andrew Hogeland: Why apply for a spot on the committee now instead of running for Lanesborough's open seat on the Nov. 3 ballot?
 
Elfenbein said it was an issue of bandwidth for him.
 
"In March, I was pretty much neck deep in my own school's transition from in-person learning to remote learning while we were working with other districts, crafting a plan to keep our students engaged," he said. "In the spring, that's where all of my energy was. Now that the situation both in terms of the school where I work and this district have stabilized to a degree, when I heard earlier in the month that Regina [DiLego] was stepping down, I thought, 'Well, I wanted to serve. This might be the opportunity to step in, see what I can contribute.' "
 
Canning-Wilson pointed out that she did submit candidate papers with more than enough signatures to get on the November ballot but withdrew her name after seeing an email that she obtained through a Public Records Act request. The July email exchange in question involved a candidate for the School Committee and a current committee member appearing to express their hope that another candidate entering the race for the Lanesborough seat could "beat Christine Canning."
 
"When I read it, I thought of two things, beyond that it was mean-spirited and hurtful," Canning-Wilson said. "The first thing was, why does someone write something like that? And to me, it's because they might feel threatened or they feel this person may question them. Because I really had no dealings with this person. And, with that, I thought, maybe it's better. If this job is so important to this person that they have to do this, step back.
 
"But then, when Regina resigned, she said to me, 'Chris, you really need to run. We need an independent voice. We need someone out there who isn't going to go into groupthink.' I also think I'm very fair and neutral. … But if someone got that upset about me running, I just said to myself, 'Is it worth it?'
 
"Now, it really is worth it. … At this point, I really can serve the health, welfare, safety and education of students with my education, my expertise and my experience."
 
Both candidates stayed neutral on an issue that recently has divided the School Committee: whether an artificial turf field should be installed at Mount Greylock.
 
Two Mount Greylock Select Board members gave the candidates an opening to address the issue. Hugh Daley, who has been outspoken in calling for the district to preserve a portion of the Williams College capital gift, told the candidates -- and current School Committee members on the call -- that he hopes the district will follow the recommendations of town officials in both towns and prioritize savings. Anne O'Connor, who has criticized the synthetic field option on environmental grounds, directly asked each candidate how they saw the issue being resolved.
 
"I would be very neutral on this because I'm not an athlete," Canning-Wilson said. "But I would listen and get the data and do the research and do whatever is in the best interest of the children."
 
Elfenbein said he played on both natural grass fields and on the artificial surface at Williams College during his high school athletic career at Mount Greylock and that it didn't matter to him at the time one way or the other.
 
"I've looked at the durability issues and cost savings," he said. "I've looked at some of the injury data.
 
"I'm coming in with an open mind. I don't have an opinion. But I'd definitely be interested in finding the answers to those questions."
 
Elfenbein makes the seventh member of a committee that currently does not have a meeting posted until after the Nov. 3 election. When it meets on Nov. 12, it could have as many as five new members, including Elfenbein. Three members whose terms are expiring are not running for re-election. A fourth member, Williamstown's Carolyn Greene, is opposed by Elisabeth Beck in Greene's bid to fill the remainder of a four-year term to which she was appointed earlier this year when Dan Caplinger left the committee.
 
With Wednesday's vote, Elfenbein will serve out the final two years of the seat formerly held by DiLego.
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