In Berkshire County the changes educational institutions face are abundant: Creating and implementing 21st-century curriculum; managing declining enrollments and school funding while incurring rising costs; developing students who are school- and college-ready; ensuring teachers and administrators can work with diverse student populations and families; creating opportunities that make people interested in teaching and learning, among myriad more specific issues.

The bottom line: Schools can't address them alone.

These days, groups of people -- students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members -- are working across sectors, connecting, planning and collaborating to improve outcomes for future generations.

David Hastings, superintendent of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District in Sheffield, says such partnerships are both natural and practical.

"Because schools are an extension of the communities they serve, two-way communication between the school and the community is really important," said Hastings.

"By partnering with local businesses, groups and local people, our children have the chance to get a better understanding of connection of what they learn in class to real-world outcomes. This connection often provides the students with a reason to learn, answering the question, ‘Why do we have to learn this?' At the same time, these partnerships with the local community helps the community to become invested in the district's children and schools," he said.


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The Housatonic-based Multicultural BRIDGE is an organization that's worked with schools and districts from Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, to Pittsfield High School, to Great Barrington in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

The Housatonic-based Multicultural BRIDGE is an organization that's worked with schools and districts from Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, to Pittsfield High School, to Great Barrington in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

Initially established to teach and promote cultural competence and understanding in schools and municipal workplaces, BRIDGE has expanded its mission to provide resources for understanding issues such as socioeconomic disparities, gender-based achievement gaps, special needs issues and other social issues.

Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, executive director and co-founder of Multicultural BRIDGE, said one consistent issue that keeps coming up is poverty in schools.

"Issues between the haves and the have-nots -- it comes up in all different districts in different ways. We're trying to acknowledge that and expand our programming to help schools address it," she said.

The percentage of students from low-income families increased an average of 4.8 percent in public school districts between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 academic years, according to state data. Twelve out of 19 school districts saw an increase of 5 percent or more among low-income students during this time frame.

In terms of racial diversity, though the majority of students in Berkshire County are white, there have been general increases in the number of African-American, Hispanic and Asian students over the past five years.

In Pittsfield, the county's largest public school district, 72 percent of its 5,879 students are white, 11 percent are African American and 8.9 percent are Hispanic.

Also on the uptick as a whole are the number of students with special learning needs.

Such trends impact schools and the community as students progress from early childhood to K-12 to higher education institutions.

Denise Richardello, executive vice president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams said collaborative entities, like the Berkshire Compact for Education, are working to address the changing student needs throughout the county through efforts like educator training and workshops, student support services and college readiness programs.

"We have to look inward and outward to support the success of our students," she said.