Berkshire Compact fuels and fosters local education


Members of the Berkshire Compact for Education meet in North Adams. (Jenn Smith/Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Saturday March 2, 2013

NORTH ADAMS -- Now in its eighth year, an educational and economic initiative known as the Berkshire Compact for Education is setting new benchmarks and a 21st-century agenda for Berkshire County, from early childhood to higher education.

On Friday, about 35 members of the 91-member group gathered at the Massachusetts College for Liberal Arts for the Compact's first meeting of the year.

During the meeting, the Compact released its third major publication since the group's formation in 2005. "Collaboration, Opportunity, and Achievement" documents the Compact's work and evaluates progress in schools, from test scores to college access and enrollment to efforts to career readiness. It also outlines trends such as declining enrollment in Berkshire County, increase in college attendance among low-income students, the rise of 10th-grade English language arts and math scores and the struggle to raise third-grade reading scores on the state MCAS exams.

"We established the Berkshire Compact for Education to focus upon what this community must do educationally to transition successfully to this new century and to this new economy," wrote MCLA President Mary Grant and Berkshire Compact Chairman Andrew Mick in an introductory letter printed in the new publication.

Mick, who will be retiring as president and publisher of The Berkshire Eagle at the end of the month, will also be vacating the Compact's chairmanship. He will stay on through


the spring, until the group delegates a new chairperson.

On Friday, Compact subcommittees highlighted the latest developments in terms of connecting students with workforce development opportunities, marketing its programs and other work in the education field, and raising aspirations for higher and continuing education among Berkshire County residents.

Moving forward, the group also discussed the need to support and better inform the students and families of English language learners.

The Compact is also now partnered with the Berkshire Readiness Center and Berkshire STEM Pipeline to engage residents with early childhood education, educator training, and education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This spring, a new financial literacy program designed for high school students in partnership with Adams Community Bank and using state guidelines will be piloted at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School. BART students will also be participating in a focus group about college aspirations.

"We need to help families plan ahead and devise ways to put a college plan together as well as a financial plan for it," said Berkshire Readiness Center coordinator Doug McNally.

Berkshire Community College Dean of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development and Berkshire Applied Technology Council President Barbara Chaput described their roles in working with other vocational high schools, colleges and regional employment boards in Western Massachusetts on a new manufacturing jobs project to create program models for the state.

The BATC is also working with a $10,000 AMP It Up grant from the economic development agency MassDevelopment to promote advanced manufacturing as a career pathway. The campaign will be rolled out at the 14th annual Berkshire Robotics Challenge on March 23.

Also coming this spring will be more professional development training for early childhood educators.

Berkshire County Head Start Executive Director Eloise Stevens said pre-kindergarten and early childhood educators face a state push to further their education credentials and will also have to be able to conduct kindergarten entry assessments.

In April Wee Read Berkshire County, an early childhood literacy initiative, will sponsor activities and the reading of Eric Carle's book, "The Tiny Seed."

The Compact will reconvene in June.