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Task Force proposed to address Berkshire Hills school district improvements

In his presentation to the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, Dave Long of Housatonic proposes the formation of a task force to address educational and infrastructure needs within the school district, including the renovation of Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Editor’s Note: Housatonic resident Dave Long has prepared the following scenario for addressing educational and infrastructure needs within the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, including the rehabilitation of Monument Mountain Regional High School. It was the rejection last November of a proposed $51 million high school renovation that has prompted vigorous debate about the community’s commitment to public education. His proposal is based upon Monument High School Principal Marianne Young’s “three-track approach” to dealing with the high school’s facility needs: educational vision, funding, and facility repairs and improvements. He has presented his concept to the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee.

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Introduction

The following is a rough outline of an organizational structure that could initiate an open master planning process for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District including the Monument Mountain renovation. It is designed expressly to support and extend Marianne Young’s document entitled “Three Track approach to addressing MMRHS facility   needs” dated 2/6/2015. Since many issues she addresses in her document are tied to the budget issues that face the entire district, I have expanded the scope to include district-wide master planning.

Additionally, given the potentially controversial nature of issues attached to the original document; and given the public response to the renovation plan and next year’s budget; any approach at this point demands a very public display of action. The task force model addresses public concern while providing “arm’s length” distance from any fractious issues that may arise while providing tight control by the District and School Committee.

 

The BHRSD Action Task Force

Purpose of the Task Force

The objective of the “BHRSD Action Task Force” is to create an organizational structure that can bring together the District, the School Committee, and committed residents to address the issues facing BHRSD in a productive and orderly fashion. It should be considered created by but separate from and operating under the auspice of the School Committee. At appropriate times, the task force will make public presentations of proposals and research for review by the Committee. Only the full School Committee can enact or adopt the recommendations of the Task Force.

The singular purpose of the Task Force is to enlist the help and support of the larger school community in developing practical and strategic solutions within working groups and in turn, funnel actionable ideas back to the School Committee for public debate and implementation.

Furthermore, the Task Force would be charged with laying the preconditions of a District Master Plan in the course of its work. Thus, the work of the task force would be organized within Marianne Young’s tripartite planning document.

“Task Force” vs “ Subcommittee” Nomenclature

The “Task Force” model emphasizes an aggressive approach to searching out solutions while denoting a clear separation from the School Committee proper (and its subcommittees) that remain responsible for regular District business.

Using the word “Action” in the title emphasizes the commitment to develop actionable results that will address the fundamental issues facing the district. It is important to declare this commitment to residents as a means for building support for the process.

The words “Action” and “Task Force” together acknowledges the dire circumstances of the district while delivering a pro-active, “can do” message to the community at large.

Lastly, like all task forces, it is intended to have a limited lifespan. Once the work of the Task Force is done, it is expected that any remaining useful functions would be folded back into other parts of the District administration or reformed as a standing subcommittee of the School Committee.

Creation of the task force

On a procedural basis, I would suggest passing a motion to adopt this document (or a document like it) as the committee’s framework for action. Then pass a motion to revise this document for particulars (exact composition, duration, member selection, etc.). In the following committee meeting, pass a motion to adopt the revised document and thus create the Task force. At that time an organizational meeting should be scheduled and community members should be invited to volunteer.

In the meantime, the Committee leadership should poll likely participants and committee members in order to identify specific people and talents for specific seats on the Task Force or its workgroups.

Since most of the likely players should be in the room at the night of the vote, impanel the obvious participants right away, leaving room for other to be added at the following Task Force Meeting.

It should be made clear to residents that there are three levels of participation specifically designed to maximize the contributions of the community at large:

  1. Full Task Force membership: A member can participate at all levels of the process. This assignment requires a large time commitment.
  1. Working Group membership: These folks participate in working group meetings and projects, but not full Task Force meetings. Since each workgroup is focused on one of three areas, working group membership requires a serious but targeted participation somewhat less demanding that full Task Force Membership.
  2. Project Participant: Each workgroup will divide their charge into specific tasks or projects. The working group will assign projects and recruit people from within their group and the community at large. Projects are intended to be highly targeted and relatively short duration. Projects are an excellent place for a resident with specific talents but little time to make an important contribution.

Functioning as a Joint Task Force

At its core, the Task Force would be divided into three working groups corresponding to each of Mrs. Young’s three areas of focus. The primary job of the full Task Force is to synthesize the results of the working groups for presentation to the School Committee at public meeting — Thus, functioning like a “joint task force” of the working groups in the traditional sense.

The Task Force should be composed of a cross section of stakeholders including residents, administrators, faculty, and School Committee members. The exact composition is still to be determined but there are obvious requirements.

  1. There should be at least three but no more than six School Committee members on the full Task Force to ensure participation in both full Task Force meetings and each of the three working groups.
  2. There should be at least three but no more than six residents on the full Task Force to ensure adequate representation. In the best case, the resident leadership from each working group holds a seat on the Task Force.
  3. There should be at least three faculty representatives on the Task Force to ensure that the insights and issues from inside the existing schools are injected into the discussions of the Task force.
  1. The superintendent will hold a seat on the Task Force.

Functional Considerations

  1. One member would be selected as the official liaison to the Committee. This person should not be a Committee member to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest and allow the Committee more freedom to criticize controversial ideas that may be put forth by the task force. Presentations can be delegated to other participants by the liaison when appropriate.
  2. The full Task Force should meet no more than once a month to focus energy into the working groups.
  3. The Task Force is charged with ensuring that all working groups are adequately populated and functioning well. If necessary, the Task Force may take action to correct deficiencies within working groups.
  4. The Task Force must offer all of its official documents, white papers, and study results in a publicly accessible online archive.
  5. All meetings of the Task Force and its working groups shall operate in accordance with the open meeting rules. The public will be encouraged to attend and will be accommodated in a matter appropriate to the work at hand.

Working Groups

The working groups are where Marianne’s tripartite approach becomes codified. Initially there would be three working group that correspond to her document that would undertake the work that she describes.

Working groups are responsible for investigating and formulating specific proposals within their subject area.

Functional Considerations:

  1. Each working group will contain at least three members of the Task Force: a School Committee member, a resident, and a faculty member.
  2. The superintendent and principals may hold a seat on any working group and are invited to every meeting regardless of membership status.
  3. The superintendent may assign a proxy to attend meetings.
  4. The administration can ask and will be granted opportunities to present material that it believes is important to the success of a working group.
  5. A chairperson for each working group will be elected from the Task Force representatives.
  6. Working group chairpersons are responsible for presenting progress to the full Task Force.
  1. Interested residents can become members of a working group. Rules for participation will be determined by the working group.
  2. Working Groups should meet approximately every two weeks to review progress, make course corrections, and prepare results for the Task Force.
  3. All working group meetings shall operate in accordance with the open meeting rules. The public will be encouraged to attend and will be accommodated in a matter appropriate to the work at hand.
  1. Working groups will break complex issues into a collection of smaller “projects” for execution. Working groups will assign at least one working group member to each project. Additionally, the working groups can enlist the help of residents or other community members to help complete the task at hand.
  2. The working groups will combine the products of each their projects in a form that the Task Force can use in their presentations to the School Committee.

Educational Vision and Goals Working Group

The primary goal of this group is to clearly articulate the central mission of the District and its individual schools and then systematically use that articulated mission to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of existing programing and proposals.

The primary deliverable will be a planning white paper that defines the key values and objectives that the larger institution and individual departments need to consider in their own planning and curriculum development.

Additionally, the working group will identify areas where improvements can be made and present specific recommendations.

The Renovation and Facilities Working Group will use the work of this group to guide their decision making.

Subjects to address will include:

  • A clearly articulated vision statement
  • A clear and concise definition of “21st Century learning and teaching”
  • Key objectives for college and career readiness for all students
  • Graduation requirements
  • How DESE/Common Core relates to curriculum design
  • Efficient/Adequate staffing requirements
  • Resource allocation/deficits
  • Using community resources

Finance and Institution Working Group

This working group is charged with helping the administration formulate financial and institutional strategies that will improve the District’s operation in the long run and search out cost savings in the short run. Additionally, this working group will review proposals from the other working groups and identify financial implications before presentation to the School Committee.

Subjects to be addressed include:

  • Equity within the District Agreement
  • Equity and tuition agreements
  • Consolidation scenarios
  • School Choice
  • Collaborative/Shared services
  • Development and Fundraising
  • Local sourcing of resources

Renovation and Facilities Working Group

This working group will primarily focus on the High School renovation but will look at facilities holistically in order to maximize the benefits that the campus provides to programming.

Central to this effort will be the development of a new approach to the renovation and the delivery of a rewritten SOI that is consistent with the findings of the Task Force. An important part of a successful effort to renovate the High School is voter support. Some issues are particularly controversial or misunderstood generally. This is particularly true of security, which was the single biggest cost driver of the last plan. If the working group can work with the District and the community at large to define an acceptable security model that does not interfere with the entire structure, it become much more possible to keep renovation costs under control. Thus, this working group will need to reach out to voters as early as possible to understand voter sentiment and forestall resistance down the road. In addition, this will compile relevant documents required for master plan development as a byproduct of their work.

Subjects to be addressed include:

  • Review and investigate the existing SOI and SMMA feasibility study in preparation of a revised approach to renovating the high school.
  • Prioritize needed repairs and formulate a management strategy with the Director of Operations and the Building and Grounds Subcommittee
  • Draft a new SOI for District submission to the SMBA.
  • Redraft the existing feasibility study to meet current circumstances.
  • Identify an appropriate Owner/Manager for the high school project.
  • Define and propose a reasonable security strategy for district approval.
  • Generate schematic designs that illustrate space allocation and renovation options for discussion.
  • Align renovation plan with the findings of the Educational Vision and Goals working group.
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