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Pittsfield Discusses Taconic Transition to Vocational Focus
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
04:53AM / Friday, September 16, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee discussed the concerns raised by community members regarding Taconic High School transition to vocational focus. 
Committee members on Wednesday said residents have been expressing their unease about the decision, questioning how this would affect the students' lives if they decide to go to college instead of continuing the vocational path. 
Multiple committee members noted that although the school would focus on vocational, this decision would not harm the students’ opportunity of attending college.
"There is certainly a perception, I would assume from long ago, that if a student chooses a vocational path, they may not go on or will not have the opportunity to go on to college. And certainly, that option is strong and open to any vocational student," Superintendent Joseph Curtis said.
Many students who chose to participate in the vocational courses at Pittsfield High School were able to go on to postsecondary education. 
Curtis mentioned that his son participated in vocational education in high school and has gone on to college.
"I know Principal [Maggie Harrington-Esko] has a strong desire, and certainly would be a collaborative effort with the students and the families of Pittsfield High School to identify pathways, if you will, that the students of Pittsfield High School can also engage in." Curtis said. 
Committee member Vicky Smith reached out to students, parents, and guardians to ask them what they think Pittsfield High School should be known for. 
"I've been asking students around town. Some of them who are athletes wanted to be known for sports. Some who are actors wanted to be known for drama and arts," Smith said. 
"So it will be interesting to see how their culture emerges. And what they will be known for. Sometimes that's not something the school controls."
The committee also accepted a $20,000 donation from the Gilson Family Foundation to fund the PHS Latin Club's trip to Italy in spring 2023.
The funds have been distributed to the students based on financial need but the foundation also requested that some funds be made available to students who achieved high honors designations. 
The foundation is also working with PHS administration to establish a permanent fund for student travel in honor of long time PHS teacher Charles "Chuck" Gilson, "whose life was enriched by his many international trips throughout his life." 
"I just think this is an incredibly generous and incredibly insightful and enlightened way to support students for international travel. I can't even thank the family enough for this generosity, and the hope that we would have an actual foundation for the future is amazing," Mayor Linda Tyer said.
"And what other school would have this kind of opportunity for students who wouldn't be able to travel internationally to have this resource available to them."
The committee also accepted a donation to PHS in the amount of $8,000 in memory of PHS graduate Lucille Hughes to go toward music education. 
Hughes started playing the cello while at PHS and went on to graduate from the New England Conservatory of Music. She taught and conducted the orchestra at Herberg, previously South Junior High School. 
She passed away last spring. The donation letter said she always held PHS in her heart for sparking her love of music. 
The committee mentioned that these donations will provide many opportunities for PHS students and may also influence the image the school will undertake once Taconic transitions to vocational focus. 
"Another example of how something beyond academics, something beyond athletics is being supported by the generosity of a family and how important music education and art education is to a well rounded experience for our students, '' one committee member said.
"And having this in the funding toolkit for the music program at PHS is just another amazing gift,"
In other news: 
The School Committee approved the revision of the Wellness Policy to bring it up to date with the federal regulations. These were minor changes that the school has already been following for many years and includes using local grown foods.
A couple of federal regulations received push back such as not using food as a reward and the transition to healthier foods. 
"It's a change of belief systems. I know because as a principal when I tried to implement healthier stuff there was pushback from parents as well as kids, you know, oh, you're taking all the fun stuff away from them," member Vicky Smith said. 
"I think it's just part of a shift because what we saw from COVID is people who are healthy otherwise, we're not as likely to have more severe symptoms or die from COVID as people who are keeping themselves healthy the whole time."
• The committee appointed Jacqueline King as a school nurse. 
• The committee also approved referring the discussion of academic credit for student participation on the School Committee. 
Many members agreed that a change like this would be useful and encourage more participation.
"I like the suggestion and the idea of reinforcing when we do have students who are actively engaged, and especially if they're committed to being a part of it," member said.
Some questions were raised regarding how this would be implemented. A discussion would have to be done to determine how they would make it fit with the curriculum. 
"There will have to be a teacher of record that obviously follows the curriculum or and then monitors the students participation and curricular requirements provides the grade, whether it's a, I would assume, it would be a semester, full year course," Curtis said.
"And there would have to be some discussions about implication on teaching load, because each teacher has by contract a certain teaching load that must be followed.
• The committee went into executive session discuss approval of a memorandum of agreement with United Educators of Pittsfield.
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