South Egremont — What appeared to be a regular weekday morning in the tiny village center was undoubtedly momentous for Kristina Miller of Sheffield. As schools across Berkshire County flung their doors open to welcome students, Miller and her husband, Stuart, made the quick drive to South Egremont to drop their daughter off for her first day of kindergarten at the newly reopened South Egremont School. “We’re closing the gap on the family attending the South Egremont School,” said Kristina Miller in a nod to the fact that she and her two sons all attended the village school. “We are happy to continue the tradition,” she added after being ushered across the street by a crossing guard and police officer. As to the allure of this tiny, one-room schoolhouse? “All the things that come along with a small school,” said Stuart Miller.
Bunches of green and blue balloons bounced in the breeze, courtesy of neighbor Salisbury Bank; beyond the white picket fence marking the perimeter of the schoolyard, a pair of girls were at play on the metal climbing structure, stopping every once in a while to dunk the pint-sized basketball through a lone hoop. And positioned by the gate to welcome her new students was Sarah Cooke, keen on facilitating as peaceful and protected a transition into the new kindergarten space as possible, which, considering the village school has been shuttered for several years, was a tall order.
“I’m looking forward to finally being home in the little schoolhouse,” said Cooke in a written statement. “It feels cozy, ready [and I] can’t wait to see what the 9 kindergarten students will be creating this year!” she added, citing plans for a garden, exploration of the village and meetings with neighbors as topping her list after being on hiatus from the building since 2016. “So many people have given so much energy and love to this space to make it welcoming for young learners,” said Cooke. “And of course, I imagine the other learners and teachers, stretching back decades upon decades who spent what I hope were wonderful childhoods and lives learning and teaching in this space. It feels good to be part of this living history!”
The South Egremont School, a one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1881, is one of a trio that remains in the Commonwealth. Following extensive renovations last summer — the Town of Egremont spent $350,000 to fix the 137-year-old schoolhouse — the village school was expected to open for the 2018-19 school year. A week before classes were slated to begin, SBRSD Superintendent Beth Regulbuto decided to move the 13 students enrolled in SES to the district’s main campus in Sheffield, citing the presence of lead as making the space unsafe for occupants. A year later, Regulbuto is breathing a proverbial sigh of relief:
“We are very much looking forward to the opening of the 2019-2020 school year!” she said in a statement Tuesday. “The South Egremont School is ready for the first day of school, and we look forward to seeing it filled with the smiling faces of the students [Wednesday] morning.” Regulbuto offered a huge thank you to Jeremy Wells, director of buildings and grounds, and his staff for all the work they did getting the schoolhouse safe and ready. In addition, she noted the collaboration required to pull off this much-anticipated day, citing “the District and the Town of Egremont worked very well together under challenging circumstances and tight timelines to make this wonderful school experience happen for our SBRSD students and families.”
The sound of children’s voices floating through town is a welcome return to what has been the norm for decades. An open house was hosted at the Egremont Village Inn; parents have donated art supplies and toys; the wireless company donated services; and a kind neighbor brought a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers and a watermelon to contribute to Wednesday’s first-day-of-school festivities.
Principal Charles Miller, who came to SBRSD at the start of last school year, called the opening of the district’s one-room schoolhouse “a collaborative labor of love.” He cited members of the Egremont Select Board, the school committee, the townspeople, and the district as playing integral roles in pulling off the opening. He then went on to extend shout outs to Jeremy Wells, calling him “consistently calm and collected,” while adding: “we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our steadfast and passionate PTO advocates, Sarah Blaugrun and Danile Kelly; our wonderful and thoughtful teacher leader, Ms. Sarah Cooke; and her amazing ESP, Ms. Norma Drumm [who] have been instrumental in building this school/community in the eyes of her pupils and their respective families.”
Miller, in his characteristically effusive style, went on to add: “Finally, thank you to the kids; without them it is just a building (a bucolic building, that is). In short, we can’t wait! The kids will love it.”