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Giving the annual State of the Schools address on Monday to a lunchtime gathering of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, North Adams Community Schools Superintendent Wylie Sirk quoted famous television news anchor and author Tom Brokaw about the importance of education.
"There is a place in America to take a stand: public education," Sirk said. "It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education, after all, is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny. It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape."
Sirk allied his district to Brokaw's views with just seven words: "We believe that firmly in North Adams."
Facing about 45 community leaders at Woodcrest Retirement Community, Sirk spoke about "where we have been and where we are headed," noting that excellence in education and economic development of society go hand-in-hand.
He referred to "three strong school districts working together" in Adams County and listed North Adams' two central goals: all students graduating from high school and ready for college and schools "committed to high levels of achievement with great teachers, staff, and administrators."
He added, "We know we must work more efficiently and effectively at using our resources. This is a requirement now."
Sirk cited "two major drivers for change" locally, nationally, and even globally: one is the worldwide web and the other is the recession. The Internet, he said, can create "frustration" and an "overwhelmed feeling" with many challenges due to the content that gushes into the public domain from all parts of the planet 24 hours a day.
The recession, he said, "changed how we do business" due to a lack of money and to redistribution of what funds remain. There are multiple impacts from the economic slide, such as the more than $2 million that North Adams Schools lost in 2009, 2010, and 2011, according to figures that Sirk made public. An information sheet he gave out says there will be an estimated shortfall of more than $1.1 million in 2012.
To cope with that large monetary loss, the NA school board closed Monmouth Elementary School, realigned grades at Southeast and Northwest elementaries and at Bellmont Middle School, and reduced the number of personnel by more than 40 in four years: teachers, administrators, instructional assistants, assistant coaches, secretaries, and custodians.
The superintendent said North Adams made "a smooth transition" by consolidating four schools into three to make more efficient use of resources and space, create more formal and informal teacher collaboration, set up greater chances to work with students who have differing abilities, and have uniform classroom populations.
Even closing Monmouth School, Sirk said, turned out well as the Region Eight Education Service Center took it over and hired two local residents as part-time staffers. Region Eight "is pleased to be a part of the community," he stated.
He summed up by saying, "We must continue to seek responsible ways to build our financial budget and support our excellent programs. North Adams Community Schools is committed to high-level achievement through great teachers and staff, with exceptional programming designed to meet the unique learning needs and interests for all students."