Berkshire public schools to share $90K state grant for curriculum development


DALTON -- Ten Berkshire County public school districts are the co-recipients of a nearly $90,000 state grant to share curriculum planning resources.

Central Berkshire Regional School District is taking the lead on coordinating the new Berkshire County Curriculum Frameworks Project, which also includes the Adams-Cheshire, Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire regional school districts; Northern Berkshire Vocational Technical School District (McCann Tech), as well as the districts of Clarksburg, Florida, Savoy, Lee and Lenox.

"The need that we all have, that smaller districts in Berkshire County have, is for resources -- more so for manpower -- to help us develop our curriculum and instructional units to take account of the major changes in the educational landscape," said Central Berkshire Superintendent William Cameron.

As an example, he cited this year's implementation of the new Common Core national standards for English language arts and mathematics instruction adopted by the state.

Another such change is the development of guidelines and proposed new assessments under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, also known as PARCC.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Berkshire Compact for Education and the Berkshire Readiness Center have worked together to organize and host teacher training sessions on Common Core and PARCC to prepare for, among other things, the curricular changes.

Doug McNally, coordinator for the Berkshire Readiness Center, said this so-called curriculum mapping will change what's being taught grade by grade, the kinds of teaching materials used and the way students are asked to demonstrate and express their knowledge.

"We need to take into consideration the outcomes of the standards and ask what does that mean for curriculum? What should be the readings, the materials, what's the vocabulary, what the best assessment," said Cynthia Brown, MCLA's vice president of academic affairs.

"None of us has the in-house resources to do this [new work] well. We are looking for help from the state for fiscal support so we can share resources in a way that could create support for all our districts," Cameron said.

Initially the curriculum project group put in a request for $300,000 for support, but received $89,520 instead to do their shared work.

The commonwealth's administration has been encouraging municipalities and town departments to regionalize in various ways to promote cost-savings as the state budget constricts. Last fall, the state put out a request for proposals under its Community Innovation Challenge grant program designed to incentivize cities and towns to develop regional collaboratives for projects and services. A total of $2.25 million was awarded to 27 collaborative projects.

"Our new fiscal reality demands that government change the way it does business to stretch every taxpayer dollar as far as possible," said Glen Shor, the state's secretary of administration and finance.

McNally said that statewide, schools and districts can expect to participate in more of this kind of collaboration and regional directive from the state, whether it be mapping science curriculum, improving instruction for English language learners or screening children for early childhood education.

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