Northern Berkshire districts take reins, ensure future of North Berkshire Academy special ed. program

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NORTH ADAMS — Local school districts are solidifying the future of a shared public special education day school.

North Berkshire Academy, launched in 2018, marked a new era of educational collaboration in Northern Berkshire.

A new shared services agreement approved Tuesday by the North Adams School Committee gives the city school district fiduciary responsibility for the program, with four other Berkshire County school districts signing on to what is now an independent program.

"The success of the students in the program is a testament to the need for students in Berkshire County to have a program like this maintained," said North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

North Berkshire Academy — it's the only school of its kind in Berkshire County — brought special education services to an area where students previously had to be bused out of the area to receive those services.

The program, initially funded through a state grant and operated under the oversight of the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, opened to students between the seventh and 10th grades who have documented emotional disabilities and are on individual education plans.

The grant funding has run out. With an agreement of their own, North Adams and Northern Berkshire school districts are leaving the Collaborative for Educational Services umbrella and branching out on their own.

The school districts signing on are the North Berkshire School Union, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Central Berkshire Regional School District and Mount Greylock Regional School District.

The program currently has 10 students, seven of whom are from North Adams Public Schools.

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Under the new agreement, North Berkshire Academy staff — formerly employed by the Collaborative for Educational Services — will become employees of North Adams Public Schools.

The employees include a program coordinator, two teachers, two teaching assistants, a behavior technician, a school adjustment counselor, a part-time nurse and an administrative assistant.

Under the Collaborative for Educational Services, Berkshire schools were not able to take advantage of member tuition rates, which are 10 to 20 percent cheaper.

"In order for the [Collaborative] to make it sustainable under their agreement, the tuition rates have been higher than is cost-effective," Malkas said.

North Adams officials believe that they can find efficiencies and make the program sustainable.

"Looking at their budget, we felt that we could be more fiscally responsible as a shared service to the communities that are participating," Malkas said.

Fewer than two years elapsed from the initial concept of North Berkshire Academy to its opening day, aided with $148,000 in regionalization grant funding from the state.

The school found its home in the North Adams Armory building on Ashland Street, which the city spent years renovating as a multiuse facility. The building is now also home to the Drury High School E3 Academy, a specialized program for high school students at risk of dropping out.

The program is spearheaded by North Adams Public Schools, with the other districts opting in as subcontractors. Under the agreement, member districts pay tuition of $33,500 per student, while nonmember districts pay tuition of $41,500.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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