PITTSFIELD -- The four new members of the Pittsfield School Committee seem fully aware they have a unique opportunity to effect positive changes.
"I am very much looking forward to working with the committee, and with the new people on the committee," said Cynthia Taylor, who along with other elected city officials will be sworn in on Jan. 6.
"When I retired, I thought about running for the School Committee," Taylor said, "but I never did it. This time, I said, ‘I'm doing it.' ‘'
After learning the ropes in her new role, Taylor said her prime objective will be to work toward closing the acknowledged achievement gap between the top students and those who are struggling.
"Ultimately, it breaks down to richer kids, who are doing very well in school, and poorer kids, who are falling behind," she said.
With four of seven committee members newly elected and new Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, who began in July, Taylor said there is "tremendous potential" to attack the causes behind the gap.
Taylor said she sees the problem as one the entire community, as well as the school system, must address, and she wants to look for ways to expand that involvement. She's encouraged by programs like those the United Way supports to reduce risky behaviors and pregnancy among students and hopes more such assistance can be brought into the schools.
Wider community involvement by businesses in an expanded vocational education program at Taconic High School and by arts organizations also appear a strong possibility, she said.
"The way I feel about it right now is genuinely excited," said Anthony Riello. "When I retired a year ago, I felt I wanted to be more involved."
Riello retired as chief of police in Falmouth and previously served as chief in the Pittsfield Police Department for 11 years.
"Right now, I want to become extremely familiar with the system," he said. "I want to listen, and I want to meet with people to hear what they are doing and what they want."
On the committee, incumbents Katherine Yon and Daniel Elias, as well as Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who serves a de facto member, provide "an incredible amount of institutional knowledge," Riello said.
That is true of the staff as well, he said, adding, "I think there are enough resources out there, and they are willing to share it."
The new committee members are "an impressive group, and I think we can work well together," Riello said. They all seem to have become "involved for the right reasons," he said.
On the committee, Riello said he would like to focus on the budget. "I have been involved in that over the years as an executive," he said, "and hopefully I can get involved in this budget process."
Overall, Riello said he believes "the key is leadership at all levels" of the school system, and he sees an opportunity for that with the selection of McCandless as superintendent following several years of turnover in that position. "I am very optimistic," he said.
Josh Cutler is the youngest of the new committee members, but he's already living a long-held dream.
"This is something I've sort of been trying for," he said. "I had every intention to run [for office]. I didn't think it would be so soon."
He added, "I really getting excited about the next few weeks."
Cutler is coming home in a sense, having graduated from Pittsfield High School in 2006. He's now a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, having majored in political science. His interest in politics actually goes back to his Advanced Placement civics courses while in high school, and earlier when, at the age of 12, he became "hooked on it" during the debate over a proposed new baseball stadium in the downtown to replace Wahconah Park -- which was defeated in a referendum vote.
Cutler said he wants to learn the job of committee member and then become "something of an advocate" for the school system. Having gone through the system from kindergarten to high school, he said "it will be great to be able to use my experience."
"It should certainly be a real challenging two years," Cutler said. "Most notably the issues will include the Taconic [building] project and [student] performance rates."
"I'm very excited," he said. "I think we have a real opportunity, with four new members. We haven't seen that for many years."
Pamela Farron, coordinator of the Disability Resource Center at Berkshire Community College, is another new committee member who got took advantage of her first good opportunity to run for office this year.
She thought about an attempt about a decade ago, she said, "but as a single mom with a son, I couldn't do it. But now my son has graduated [from Pittsfield High School] and is in college, so that freed up enough time."
Farron said the final motivation was the realization early in the campaign season that "they didn't have enough candidates [for the six committee openings]. If I was going to run, now was the time."
Her first priority, Farron said, "will be to listen to the school officials and be supportive. I need to learn."
But she believes "my biggest role will be in the area of special education," a field in which she has worked at BCC. Over the past 17 years, Farron said, she has seen a decline in student readiness to begin college, despite the implementation of standardized testing and related programs at the elementary and high school levels.
Addressing the new Common Core education standards and student testing will be crucial in every school district, she said.
"I'm just very excited to get started," Farron said.
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