Saturday November 10, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- Seven years since its formation, the Berkshire Compact for Educa tion has reached a critical mass.

"If you go back from the very beginning, it’s amazing what’s been done," said Andy Mick, the Berkshire Compact chairman, president of New England Newspapers Inc. and publisher of The Eagle.

The Berkshire Compact initiative began as higher education campaign to strategize how to get more citizens of the county to complete a college degree or pursue additional vocational and career training.

Today, its reach has expanded to include early childhood, elementary, middle and high school initiatives and programs, with the ultimate goal of getting kids on a pathway to higher education. The group of volunteers includes more than 80 members from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, from education to business to local legislative delegates. Mick said all of Berkshire County’s school superintendents also are on board.

"I think our compact is in the right place doing the right thing," Mick said.

During Friday’s Berkshire Com pact meeting, held at its founding host site, the Massa chusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, updates of the group’s work in the subcommittee areas of workforce, ad vanced manufacturing, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), aspirations and marketing.


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Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berk shire Chamber of Com merce, said McCann Tech nical School in North Adams is currently piloting a financial literacy curriculum, developed by area banks and educators, that will be implemented in county high schools next year.

MCLA President Mary Grant also highlighted the fact that the college graduated its first cohort of 10 students from its professional MBA program -- a graduate-level offering that was created as a result of the research of the Berkshire Compact group.

In terms of advanced manufacturing, Bill Mulholland, dean of lifelong learning and workforce development at Berkshire Community College, spoke of the progress of another Compact-inspired initiative. BCC partners with vocational and technical schools to give students the opportunity to earn 16 college credits while training to use specialized CNC (computer numerical control) automated milling machines and 3D manufacturing aids, among other processes.

"You can’t paint manufacturing with the same broad brush of the past," Mul holland told his colleagues. He said today’s advanced manufacturing jobs require specialized skills and yield higher pay.

Mulholland said because of this outlook, BCC and other schools are joining in a statewide program to design an advanced manufacturing curriculum and a campaign to attract middle and high school students to consider this career field.

MCLA Dean of Academic Affairs Monica Joslin said Berkshire County STEM offerings include the upcoming middle and high school spring science fairs, a new STEM Summit, and the 10th year of the Upper Housatonic River Valley Experience course for teachers.

Twelve Berkshire educators traveled to Gillette Stadium on Oct. 18 for a statewide STEM summit for educators and three group members made presentations there. From this, she said the subcommittee is working to further create additional local opportunities for educators to receive more STEM re sources and training, such as workshops and a lending library.

Rob Putnam, assistant sup erintendent for the Central Berkshire Regional School District, said a challenge to student aspirations is the cost and access to college. He said the committee is working on resources from compiling websites to creating community cable access television shows to better help explain financial aid and the application process. He also said the Compact is now partnered with a countywide literacy initiative to engage young children and families.

MCLA President Mary Grant said though the efforts of the Berkshire Compact are still more qualitative than quantitative, the county is seeing gains.

"We’ve seen more lower-income students coming to college, an increase in test scores and a lower number of dropouts. An area we’re worried about making gains in is literacy," she said. "We have to take faith that the work we’re doing is making a difference."

To learn more, visit www.berkshirecompact.org or www.facebook.com/BerkshireCompact.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink