PITTSFIELD -- Meeting for the first time since the Nov. 5 election, the School Committee on Wednesday unanimously elected longtime board member Katherine Yon chairwoman.

The committee then named Daniel Elias, another veteran board member as vice chairman and Cynthia Taylor as clerk.

"I am honored to be elected," Yon said, adding that she looks forward to working with the committee, school and city officials in the coming year.

"And I'm really excited to have four new elected board members," she said. "All bring enthusiasm and valuable expertise, Yon said, and a willingness "to work hard to get things done."

That is fortunate, she said, as the system faces a number of challenges, including closing an achievement gap between the highest and lowest performing students, shepherding a major Taconic High School building project toward reality, and hiring the best possible staff members with the goal of making Pittsfield schools the system "parents choose for their children."

Speaking of the Taconic project, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, a de facto board member, said he, former committee member Kathleen Amuso -- now a city councilor and member of the School Building Needs Commission -- and Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless will travel to Boston on Jan. 14 for interviews for three finalist project design firms.


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A Massachusetts School Building Authority design review committee and the local officials will interview three firms, and Bianchi said a finalist could be chosen at that time. The firm will undertake a feasibility and preliminary design study and provide examples of a new and a renovated Taconic High.

Committee members, McCandless and several staff members who spoke during the meeting offered praise for a last-minute decision to provide bus transportation to students who normally walk to school during frigid temperatures on Monday and Tuesday.

McCandless said it was one of those situations when his best decision was "just to say yes." He said Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, and Sue Wendling, director of bus operations, suggested the step around 4:45 a.m. They then organized staff volunteers who rode along on the buses and the drivers to provide the rides to those usually ineligible for rides amid plummeting temperatures and wind chill, McCandless said.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, McCandless said, and plans are underway to implement such as system when it's again needed.

More than 100 children were provided rides in the second wave of bus trips on Tuesday.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
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