PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee is poised to adopt a curriculum for the planned new Taconic High School that includes 12 vocational-technical programs, down from the 15 approved last year.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, who delivered a recommendation on the courses, had warned that planning for a new or reconstructed Taconic High could become stalled if state officials balked at the number of courses versus enrollment and other factors.

"It is my firm belief that if we go with 15 programs, it will slow this process down," McCandless said.

The school system is working with a design firm and the Massachusetts School Building Authority to select and design a Taconic High project that will either replace or renovate the 45-year-old school. The state is expected to provide up to 80 percent of project funding.

In a report he prepared with staff members, McCandless recommended dropping engineering, information technology and office technology from the course list for the new school. None are currently offered as a certified vocational-technical course.

Retained will be auto refinishing, auto technology, health and medical assisting, carpentry, culinary arts, graphic communications, manufacturing and machine technology, metal fabrication, cosmetology, horticulture, electrical and early childhood care.

The 15-course list adopted last fall was approved only after months of debate and often passionate input from the public, teachers and business owners -- advocating for courses being considered for elimination.

"This has been a hot, hot debate," McCandless said.

The committee and school employees have "been studying, studying, studying" the options, he added, and there "has been weeping and gnashing of teeth."

But now, the superintendent said, the committee needed to come to a final decision. His recommendations were supported in comments from the board and no objections were raised.

McCandless said the recommended program, which also includes details of the academic courses and other aspects of how the new Taconic High will operate, should be adopted at the committee's May 28 meeting.

As for the courses eliminated, McCandless said they are offered in part through existing academic programs in the school system, and could be expanded if there is a need.

"You could make the case we already offer those programs," said committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon.

In addition, similar course options might be available at Berkshire Community College or McCann Technical School in North Adams, McCandless said.

"This is a real dynamic course offering," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, an ex officio member of the committee, adding that it is flexible and could be altered in the future.

Member Daniel Elias said the curriculum represented a common sense approach and "a wise direction going forward."

In projecting enrollment, McCandless estimated 452 students in the voc-tech courses initially with 500 or more over time. The total number of students at Taconic High is projected at 950.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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