PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Public School Committee voted unanimously to offer a $126,000 contract to deputy superintendent candidate Marisa Mendonsa.
Mendonsa was selected for the deputy superintendent position in early August following a series of interviews over the summer with a search committee and the school committee. She currently serves as the principal of Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Shelburne Falls.
The committee approved a three-year contract with Mendonsa during its Monday night meeting. Under the terms of the agreement, which is expected to be signed by Mendonsa Tuesday, the new deputy superintendent would be eligible for a merit-based raise every year.
School Committee Chair Kathy Yon said that if Mendonsa’s annual performance evaluation results are “proficient” or “exemplary” then Superintendent Joe Curtis would come to the School Committee with a proposal for a salary increase. Those increases would be granted each July.
Curtis told the committee that Mendonsa still has a 60-day commitment with Mohawk Regional Schools and that she will give notice once the contract is signed. Curtis said that he expects that Mendonsa will start sometime in November.
Mendonsa will take over for Pittsfield High School Principal Henry Duval, who has served in the interim deputy superintendent role since November.
The School Committee also voted unanimously to approve a one-year agreement with the United Educators of Pittsfield over the working conditions for teachers in the Pittsfield Public Schools Virtual Academy.
The virtual academy enrolled 216 students from kindergarten to twelfth-grade this year — down from the 259 that had registered for the online school in early August.
The memorandum of understanding between the district and teachers union re-establishes some of the mainstays of the teachers’ contract for brick-and-mortar schools like class size limits and work hours but it also has new clauses specifically for the online nature of the program.
In the new agreement, the district agrees to provide the virtual academy teachers with “a ‘hot spot’ back-up in case the teacher’s internet connection is interrupted,” a zoom telephone number, a computer, at least one external monitor and an external camera.
The agreement also says that the district “shall prioritize the technical support for virtual school teachers’ equipment above any other in the school system to the extent feasible.”
The relationship between the district and parents of students at the virtual academy is laid out as well in clauses that says the district will create a Help Desk for family tech support, an orientation on the way to establish the best home environment for virtual leaning and regular training on the hardware and software used by the students.
The school committee voted to continue the PVA on June 23, allocating about $3 million out of $13 million in state-allocated Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III money the district received for the 2021-2022 school year. These funds are intended to help sustain “safe operations” of schools during the pandemic.
During Monday’s meeting the committee voted to allocate $13,000 from the district’s ESSER II allocation to cover the cost of adding the ST Math Program to Allendale and Williams elementary schools. The district was allocated about $5.86 million from the state in ESSER II funds and has claimed about $586,000 of that allocation to date.
Director of Curriculum Judy Rush told the school committee that ST Math, which the district piloted last year in Crosby Elementary and Morningside Community School, was helping to bridge the gap in the math performance of special education and English learners. The elementary math education program focuses on visual elements and games to help develop math skills.
Rush and a curriculum team created last year to study the accelerated learning in middle schools got the approval from the school committee to adopt a more “fluid” model for the accelerate courses this year in order to include teachers and parents in the curriculum discussion and give students time to catch up on missed learning opportunities from the pandemic.
This year, middle school administrators created an assessment that all seventh-graders could take to determine whether or not they were ready for the advanced math program. Students who weren’t deemed eligible for the course were allowed to work on additional math skills over the summer and retake the entrance exam for Algebra I.
“In mathematics, to summarize it means that more students will have the opportunity to take Algebra I in grade 8,” Rush said. “We felt this was important on many levels but especially with the potential of unfinished learning due to the pandemic, we didn’t want to close the door on any student taking Algebra I.”
For English Language Arts all students are in a core course that covers the district’s Into Literature curriculum and “targeted” course that is based on each student’s specific needs. The program spans from basic skill building to honors and high honors courses in smaller targeted student groups. Administrators expect to check in on students’ language arts abilities every 10-12 weeks and move students to the course that meets their current needs.
“We wanted to be able to provide instruction in the areas where the learning was unfinished or in the standards but continue to accelerate the learning at the same time,” Rush said.
Equity of Learning District Data Coordinator Ryan Buggy told the school committee that the program changes are already improving the equity of the courses.
Buggy presented data that showed that last year, white students made up about 80 percent of honors students, even though they accounted for about 64 percent of all middle school students.
Black students represented about 15 percent and Latinx students represented about 5 percent of students in the honors programs, despite accounting for about 22 and 13 percent, respectively, of the middle school population.
After the changes to the math program at Herberg Middle School, Buggy said the enrollment data for the algebra course came closer to being representative of the school population.
In the data for enrollment in the Algebra I course this year, the percentage of Black students in the class was almost identical to their representation in the student body of both middle schools. Buggy did recognize that work still needs to be done to increase the percentage of Latinx students who are in Algebra I.