|New Taconic Opens to Fanfare But Not Without Hiccups|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:48AM / Thursday, September 13, 2018
|Superintendent Jason McCandless provided an update on the opening day to the School Committee on Wednesday.|
The new Taconic High opened with 820 students, up more than 100 from last year.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The new Taconic High School opened on time, on budget, and with tremendous fanfare.
But not everything is perfect. The building isn't 100 percent complete yet and traffic on Valentine Road has become very problematic. But the doors are open and a ribbon-cutting featuring state officials is scheduled for Oct. 19.
"Taconic opened up on time. We are on budget. And we are done-ish," Superintendent Jason McCandless said.
The auditorium is still under construction and students haven't been allowed in there. That was eyed as the very last piece to be finished. Maybe more notably, some of the larger shops haven't opened yet. McCandless said the teachers have been able to provide enough engagement outside of the shops for now.
The second issue presenting itself is traffic at the end of the day. McCandless said there simply isn't enough parking on site. The old school is currently being demolished and once that is down, additional parking can be created — a priority McCandless said — but until then cars have been lining up on both sides of Valentine Road.
"We may need to do some adjusting of when our bus students leave," McCandless said.
The school is considering staggering the releases to help ease traffic burdens.
The superintendent is asking families to have some patience. But with a large number of students leaving at the same time, even the bus drivers are struggling to find enough of a lane to get to the school. With cars parked on both sides of the road, the space to get by is narrow.
"I think we are going to have to make one side of the street absolutely no-parking. Right now we have people lined up on both sides of the road," McCandless said.
Traffic around the school may be somewhat of a new issue for Taconic but certainly isn't a new one for the district. Nearly every city school has faced difficulties with traffic with the most recent being an effort at Herberg Middle School to restrict vehicles from parking on both sides of the street.
McCandless said mornings are problematic but because students can be dropped off at nearly any time, the flow is manageable. But in the afternoons, parents start lining up at the school to pick their children up some 45 minutes before the end of the school day. When the afternoon bell goes off, the traffic issues worsen.
"We'll keep attacking it," he said.
The public has been chomping at the bit to get into the new school as well. McCandless said the district is planning a number of public open houses following the Oct. 19 celebration.
Meanwhile, the School Committee appointed Tammy Gage as assistant superintendent for college and career readiness — a job that specifically has oversight of the vocational programs. She discussed with the committee her efforts to both engage with potential incoming students and to ensure the vocational programs offered remain relevant and rigorous.
Taconic opened with 820 students this year. McCandless said that is a far cry from five or six years ago when Taconic had some 707. He said the district has exceeded the 1,600 enrollment number of high school students overall for the first time in a long time. Those trends are positive for a district and a county that has continually seen its number of school-age children decline.
The district still has jobs open to serve the students. McCandless said right now the district is particularly looking for special education paraprofessionals and bus drivers.
The School Committee also reviewed the array of summer program offerings the district provides — from the high school summer school to elementary and middle school 21st Century programs to English language learners courses. In total, some 840 students were enrolled in summer programs.
"We served hundreds of kids this summer," McCandless said, adding that it got off to a late start because of snow days last year, which in turn shortens the end of summer programming and the start of a new school year.
The teachers who weren't running summer school were also involved in hundreds of professional development workshops, courses, and training.