GREAT BARRINGTON -- Berkshire Hills Regional School District has been chosen as one of six public school districts to participate in a state pilot project aimed at boosting student learning by improving and streamlining labor-management communications.

Berkshire Hills joins Boylston, Fall River, Leominster, Malden and Springfield in participating in the new District Capacity Project (DCP), a program of the Massachusetts Education Partnership, which also launched this year.

The District Capacity Project is an education reform measure supported with experts from the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. The DCP is a two-year venture that will actively foster and facilitate collaboration between management, labor and school committee leaders.

"By participating in the DCP, we are building on our strengths by bringing teachers, administrators, School Committee and community members together to support student growth, close gaps and refine our professional practices," said Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon.

Steve Estelle, president of the Berkshire Hills Education Association and a full-time math teacher at Monument Mountain Regional High School, is among the eight-member DCP leadership team formed by the district.

"From an association and education perspective, we can get stuck in the monotony of trying to solve the small stuff," he said. "This project encourages us to work together in a collaborative spirit. We haven't had enough time to do that in the past."

Each district DCP team is assigned a facilitator. Mary Ellen Shea of Amherst, a collective bargaining specialist, now serves Berkshire Hills.

In addition to a facilitator, who will offer bargaining techniques and coaching, DCP benefits include access to training institutes three times a year, bringing all six districts together, and participation in a statewide network of K-12 labor-management collaboration leaders.

Dillon said the team meets within the district every two weeks, and is currently developing a focus on how teams of teachers, staff, administrators and others can better collaborate to support student growth and success.

"This could be a horizontal team of second-grade math teachers working on Common Core curriculum, or it could be a vertical team of math teachers from pre-K through Grade 12," Dillon said as an example.

The goal for DCP school districts is to collaborate across groups to focus on a specific, pressing challenge based on their own local needs.

"It can be challenging to move beyond labor-management issues that, at their worst, create a paralyzing stalemate in some school districts," said Chad D'Entremont, executive director of The Rennie Center. "Berkshire Hills and other DCP participants were selected in part because of their demonstrated commitment and accomplishments in this difficult space."

D'Entremont said the strengths of the new labor-management initiative include the fact that all the work is done in-district, with support and access to resources from the Massachusetts Education Partnership.

He cited the recent labor conflict in Wisconsin and the Michigan right-to-work clash as examples of how labor and management negotiations can stall progress.

"There's a whole host of reforms happening in Massachusetts right now, from Innovation Schools to teacher evaluations, Common Core standards and a new assessment in development which will require people with competing agendas to find compromise," he said. "This is why the DCP is doing what it is. It's important to build capacity to take on reforms in a productive manner."

To reach Jenn Smith:
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