Cynthia Taylor: Innovative city schools ready for exciting year

PITTSFIELD — As a member of the Pittsfield School Committee for the past four years and as a retired teacher, I have witnessed the dynamic and strategic learning that takes place in all 12 of the schools that comprise Pittsfield Public Schools.

Under the steady guidance of Dr. Jason McCandless and the leadership team he has created, we are a strong and effective school district. We continue to adapt to the rapid changes occurring in Pittsfield and in public education across the state and the country. I feel that we are the best kept secret in Berkshire County.

We have dealt with budget cuts and we have tightened our finances as needed. We have learned to do more with less — and we have come out stronger and more determined to provide a high quality education at all 12 schools. That education effectively reaches the nearly 6,000 students who come to us from diverse backgrounds and who provide the richness that comes from 21 different spoken languages, many races, religions, sexual identities, as well as learning styles and needs. Pittsfield Public Schools successfully reflects the broad tapestry that is America

Pittsfield Public Schools boasts a caring, experienced faculty with 97 percent of our 468 teachers having achieved Master's Degrees and beyond. With grant funding available to Pittsfield, we deliver a robust mentoring program which provides guidance and encouragement to first year teachers. Our mentoring and professional development programs exemplify how Pittsfield uses its funding to provide unique opportunity.

Our student to teacher ratio is 11.8 to one. Some of the most recent updates in our schools include new elementary and middle school reading and literacy programs. Also, a new elementary and middle school math

curriculum will begin this fall. Both new curricula were chosen by a dedicated group of teachers who collaborated and studied many options.

This academic year we will pilot a new science curriculum in grades K-8. Our elementary and middle schools are strengthened through music, enrichment programs and academic challenges. It is a joy to witness the enthusiasm of The Battle of the Books in which students read on their own time, cooperate with a team of classmates and then compete in a fun-filled "battle" with students from across the city.

Courses reflect times

At the high school level new courses this year include: African-American Literature, Women's Studies, Protest Movements in America and Civil Rights. We have 21 Advanced Placement courses at the high school level, the second highest number in the state. All students are encouraged to take these college level courses.

We offer a wide variety of sports programs with 12 varsity sports for girls and 11 for boys. Taconic's Division 1 state championship baseball team is as well known for its spirit and sportsmanship as its athletic excellence.

Our arts programs are second to none. Both the PHS and THS theater productions are offered to the public and reflect the depth of the arts in this community. We are grateful for the strong partnerships with all of the theater companies in Pittsfield. Last year, Pittsfield High's 33-person string orchestra won 2nd place at a national competition held at

Lincoln Center. Music and visual arts are taught in a rich curriculum across all grade levels and complemented by our extended after school programs through our many community partners such as IS 183.

We offer four foreign languages — Italian, French, French, Latin, Spanish. Additionally, PHS has instituted the first bilingual certificate west of Springfield. This difficult to earn certificate saw its first 38 students graduate with this ribbon adorning their robes, reflecting a high level of proficiency in mastering the ability to speak, read and write in two languages. Next year this certificate will be offered at Taconic as well.

Last year our 137 English Language Learners in grades K-12 received the highest scores in English proficiency in the state. That is an enormous achievement and one that we can all be proud of.

We have a high level of family and community involvement and offer opportunities for expanded learning outside the school day for students and parents. Pittsfield Public Schools has an enhanced communication network for communicating with parents and guardians through our robust district website and also a state of the art app available to all.

In special education, we are able to offer services that smaller districts cannot such as our transitional program for students from ages 18 to 22. Our early diagnosis and intervention services for pre schoolers are highly effective and often result in minimizing the effect of a disability while optimizing a student's potential for future learning.

The new Taconic High School, opening in September of 2018, will offer central and southern Berkshire County students a full-scale vocational school in a state of the art setting; it will also offer students in Pittsfield the chance to learn and grow in a school designed from the ground up to meet their needs as 21st century learners. If you

haven't seen it yet, give your a heart a leap and drive by.

We know that Pittsfield's future is intrinsically linked to our children; the quality of their education moves Pittsfield forward into the 21st century. Each year Pittsfield graduates fully prepared, ambitious young scholars into both the world of higher education and the modern professional workplace. The challenges of the future are far from provincial. The future belongs to the multiculturally sophisticated lifetime learners and nowhere is that ideal aspired to more than in the Pittsfield Public Schools.

Cynthia Taylor is a member of the Pittsfield School Committee.


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