NORTH ADAMS — It began with a chat between three superintendents over a cup of coffee about ways to provide better educational services with dwindling resources.
"We started to explore the concept of doing a [special education] collaborative," Superintendent Barbara Malkas said.
Fewer than two years later, the Northern Berkshires opened its first special education collaborative, allowing local districts to provide local services to students who had previously been forced to travel elsewhere.
The North Berkshire Academy, which opened in the North Adams Armory building earlier this year, was celebrated in the building's gymnasium on Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured numerous state and local officials.
The North Berkshire Academy is a special education public day school that serves students between seventh and 10th grade with a documented emotional disability and are on individual education plans.
By December of 2016, school officials announced that they had won a $148,000 state grant through Gov. Charlie Baker's office.
"We played a small part, and look what you were able to do with those dollars," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
Director Jodi Drury has made clear the goal of the program is to provide students the skills they need to reintegrate into the traditional classroom, with an inclusive guiding philosophy that "all children can learn and be successful," she said.
"There's an innovative educational movement that is solidly up and moving in Berkshire County," Drury said.
The aim of the program is to provide a better education for students, but also to streamline the service for the districts.
"We want to help our kids, and we also want to help our schools do better for these kids," Drury said.
The academy was formed under the framework and umbrella of the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton. It's executive director, William Diehl, said the collaborative intends to expand its services in the Berkshires.
Present at the ceremony on Thursday were three of the city's mayors — former mayor and current state Rep. John Barrett III, former Mayor Richard Alcombright, and Mayor Thomas Bernard — all attended the meeting.
After years of efforts to revitalize the North Adams Armory and multiple phases of development, the center has begun to take shape as a hub of community-focused services.
The building now also hosts the E3 Academy, an alternative program in North Adams Public Schools that serves high school students in danger of dropping out.
"This building is a new armory now — it reminds us all that when we work together we can create amazing programs and supports for our students and families that need it most," Drury said. "Nothing is impossible."
Adam Shanks can be reached at email@example.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.