Berkshire Compact for Higher Education tackles education goals


by Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle staff


NORTH ADAMS - "Partnerships, programs and progress," was the theme as the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education convened to release a three-year overview of its milestones.


The compact is a countywide initiative focused on promoting learning in the Berkshires, urging residents to pursue 16 years of education to better meet the rigors of the evolving economy.


State Secretary of Education Paul Reville was present for the meeting held on the campus of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Friday as the 16-page document was released. The update provides a three-year overview of the initiative since the release of its original prospectus in 2006.


"We come together today to celebrate the hard work we did to get to this point but also acknowledge that we need to roll up our sleeves and recommit to doing all the hard - but vitally important - work it will take to move forward," said Andrew H. Mick, chairman of the Berkshire Compact and also publisher of The Eagle and president of its parent company, New England Newspapers.


The compact's primary purpose is to encourage high school students to pursue a college education while urging all residents to view a minimum of 16 years of education or additional career training as a social norm.


Its goals include encouraging students and families to value and invest in education, raising high school and college graduation rates, and narrowing the gap between people and opportunities.


Since its foundation, the compact and its affiliates have launched more than a dozen programs and efforts, from the opening of the Intermodal Education Center in Pittsfield, to taking student opinion surveys, to the upcoming "Berkshire County Goes to College Day," which will bring hundreds of sixth-grade students onto all four of the county's college campuses.


Compact leader and MCLA President Mary Grant said it will take more time and resources to collect data and determine whether the efforts are making a difference in students' lives.


Still, she said, there are already signs of success. According to compact data, more than 18,000 individuals have been served by its programs to date.


Doug McNally, principal of Taconic High School in Pittsfield, said "applications (to college) are up significantly. Students who were not applying to college before are applying" now.


Berkshire Community College President Paul Raverta said that, since the opening of the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield last year, more than 600 people have participated in educational and work force development courses there.


Michael Supranowicz, a compact member and president and chief executive officer of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber has secured $50,000 to launch a new project called the Berkshire Youth Leadership Program, which will involve 30 high school juniors. The program is set to launch in the summer of 2010.


In addition, since its launch in February 2005, the Compact has grown from 40 to 70 member-leaders drawn from the Berkshires' education, business, legislative, cultural, municipal, health and human services sectors, and is still growing.


The interest in the initiative is partly driven by economics: Berkshire County employers want educated, well-trained workers.


Secretary of Education Paul Reville acknowledged that the compact's activities are well-aligned with the state's goals for 21st century learning and the governor's Readiness Project Action Agenda for state standards of education.


Said MCLA's President Grant to Reville, "You have a crew right here in the Berkshires that's ready, willing and able to move forward."