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North Adams Schools Use $1M in Grants to Prepare for School Year
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:43PM / Wednesday, September 02, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Public Schools has received more than $1 million grants to aid it in shifting to remote learning or, later on, a hybrid model of learning. 
The grants will fund a range of technology and support materials as well as a coordinator of digital learning and instructional technology.
"North Adams was recently the recipient of a rather large remote-learning grant that has allowed us to really think about how we would utilize that those funds to support our teachers this year, knowing that we will be highly dependent on remote learning, whether it's hybrid or fully remote," Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the committee on Tuesday, adding that the grant also allowed the school system to bring back all the teaching assistants that had been reduced because of the level-fund budget. 
Business Administrator Carrie Burnett said the grants totaled $1,013,392. The major grants included:
  • Remote Learning Technology Essentials grant for $61,293 to purchase Chromebooks and hotspots.
  • Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief of $491,049
  • Coronavirus Relief Fund school reopening grant for $304,425, which was used to bring back all the TAs. 
The total grants, including from the city's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, are funding support for video for remot instruction on the Canvas online learning platform; webcams for Zoom and Google Meet sessions for conferencing; short-throw projectors for remote learning and to ensure social distancing within classrooms; the use of  Zonar Systems, a bus tracking software; insulated food bags for serving in the classrooms; device carts, dashboard management, warranties, licenses, Chromebooks, internet and broadband upgrades; and cloud-based services. 
"This has allowed us to officially be a one-to-one device district," Burnett said. 
"I just want to acknowledge the incredible work of Dr. Kimberly Roberts Morandi, Miss Kimberlee Chappell, and Ms. Carrie Burnett," said Malkas, also adding in Thomas Simon, director of student support services. "We were getting grant RFPs very, very quickly, and many other districts chose not to even pursue some of the competitive grants, because they felt that they just didn't have the bandwidth to do this. ...
"I really want to acknowledge their work and their contributions because they have really allowed us to be in a place where we feel very confident in providing a really safe, as well as appropriate supported education, as we go into the 2020-2021 school year."
The school year began on Monday for staff and faculty, as teachers began professional development for the remote-learning model that begins on Sept. 15 for all students. The state Department of Education has allowed schools to reduce the number of required school days from 180 to 170 if those 10 days are used for teacher professional development and preparation. 
Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger asked what the timeline was for transitioning from remote to hybrid — having students at least part time in the classroom. 
"We voted at the last meeting to start the school remotely, but we neglected to have a timeline associated with that," she said. "And I was wondering what that timeline is. I know that there's lots of parents and teachers and community people that are very anxious to get things started."
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman, said the negotiations subcommittee is currently in talks with the North Adams Teachers Association on that issue. 
"I know that everybody's impatient, everybody's got a lot to balance, and I know we're doing this as other districts are, trying to be respectful of all constituencies," he said. 
Boulger said she was wanted to make sure that parents were fully informed of the process and that any agreements be communicated as quickly as possible. 
"I just wanted to say that I know that everybody's working really, really hard," she said. "So as soon as we can get that information out to the public that would be greatly appreciated."
School districts around the state have been separately negotiating with teachers on how instruction will be delivered. The position of a coalition of school workers that includes the Massachusetts Teachers Association is that health concerns should take priority in any reopening plans — including such issues as sanitation, ventilation, and rapid testing.  
About a third of teachers in the North Adams Public Schools have opted to work completely remotely. 
"As of right now our percentage for teachers who have been asked to be completely remote is 32.6 percent of our teachers," Malkas told the committee. "However, I have recently received another two requests that are being processed so that percentage would actually be closer to 33."
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