Southern Berkshire schools fielding public input on district's future

Thursday October 11, 2012

SHEFFIELD -- The first in a series of public input forums took place Wednesday to determine the future of the outlying schools and elementary education in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District.

The district’s new Elemen tary Task Force was appointed by the Southern Berkshire Regional School Committee and first met in June. It includes representatives from each of the five towns in the district.

The suggestion of an ad hoc committee arose back in the spring after a proposal was made by district leaders to consolidate elementary programming at the main campus in Sheffield and close the schools in Monterey, New Marlbor ough and South Egremont.

"Our goal is to get as much input from the community as possible so their ideas for the future and hopes for their children’s education is integrated into [the district’s] plan," said Elementary Task Force chairwoman Louise Yohalem, a retired school administrator who worked for other schools.

She said the task force has been charged to consider how the district "might be configured to attract and retain interested and engaged students and serve the needs of all students" from pre-kindergarten through Grade 6. The group is also charged to "consider the capital needs of the district, the changing demographics of the area and the financial impact on each of the five towns in the district."

The task force was also intentionally formed without including member towns’ elected or appointed officials to allow a different community perspective, said Yohalem.

She said the group met every other week in July and on a weekly basis in August and September. The task force conducted research and met with elementary school education experts during these times to help formulate a plan for the elementary schools. This included meeting with Erin Woodsome, elementary principal, and Superintendent Michael Singleton, in addition to a focus group of teachers.

Yohalem said the task force will incorporate public input into the plan, which will be drafted in October and submitted to the school committee for review on Dec. 1.

"I think this demonstrates the kind of commitment this group has to this process and the great enthusiasm they have to care for this," Yohalem said.

She said the group initially had 12 members and has been reduced to nine members, since some members either moved or resigned, leaving the group without a representative from South Egremont. Yoha lem said she hoped Wednesday night’s forum held at the South Egremont Fire Station would help keep the group connected with the town.

The next public forum will be held Sunday at Dewey Hall in Sheffield.

"We want as many people as possible to come and bring us their ideas," Yohalem said.

To reach Jenn Smith:,
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On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

Elementary Task Force forum discussion questions:

n What do you want for your child that your school does not provide?

n What do you want the school to do for you? How would you like to interact with the school?

n How do we maintain a sense of community and make parents want to stay and help to maintain their community?

n What role do you want the community to play in the school/district? What do you want the school/district to do for the community?

n How would you prioritize what you want for the schools?


Southern Berkshire Elementary Task Force members: Louise Yohalem (chairwoman), Jean Chapin Emberlin, David B. Hastings, Eric Martin, David Mickelwright, Michele Shalaby, E. Bonnie Silvers, Anne Sommers, Susan Struzziero.


Southern Berkshire Elementary Task Force public input forums:

n Sunday: 7:30 p.m. at Dewey Hall in Sheffield.

n Tuesday: 6:30 p.m. at Monterey Town Hall.

n Oct. 22: 6:30 p.m. at Alford Town Hall.

n Oct. 24: 6:30 p.m. at New Marlborough Town Hall.

Forums will last no longer than two hours and will include a PowerPoint overview of the task force goals.


On the Web: For meeting minutes, agendas and more information about the task force, visit


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