After earning her bachelor’s degree in mass communications, master of education, and completing Leadership Academy, Hoosac Valley High School Principal Colleen Byrd is back at MCLA, working toward her special education director’s license.
Byrd, who grew up in Adams, Mass., started her career as a broadcast journalist in Albany, N.Y., before moving back to the Berkshires and shifting her focus to education, becoming an English teacher at HVHS in 2007. Before becoming principal at HVHS, she was the school’s dean of students.
“I had a great undergrad experience at MCLA—and that experience allowed me to get a job at Channel 10 in Albany before I graduated. It felt like a family,” she said. So when she returned to the area, MCLA’s Master of Education program “fit perfectly,” she said. “Everyone was so wonderful and helpful, and they still are to this day.”
Why continue to pursue educational goals after becoming a principal? “Every good educator does a lot of self-reflection,” she said. “While I do a lot of this on my own, I felt I needed more information in the area of special education. So many students are coming to us with so many things that are going on, so many different traumas in their lives. I needed to tap into the experts at MCLA to gain that knowledge and work with other teachers and other students so I can help my own students here.”
About one-third of the 337 students have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), meaning they qualify for special education, or a 504 Plan, for students who don’t necessarily qualify for special education but do require some specific accommodations.
“What we’re noticing now is because of the pandemic, we have more and more students falling into what we consider to be at-risk,” Byrd said. “We’ve been trying to think outside the box—another reason why it was the perfect time to start taking some courses. It’s about accessibility, and about equity.”
Byrd, who regularly sits in on classrooms and is big on offering feedback, is working with her teachers and sitting in on Zoom classes, keeping track of what’s being taught and the kind of tools being used during the pandemic. “We still look at the rubric, talk about focus indicators, and talk about how to get students engaged in the middle of a pandemic when you’re Zooming all day long,” she said. That includes multiple options for students to demonstrate they’re learning and connecting with the material—and a lot of hands-on work to keep them actively involved.
In her MCLA coursework, Byrd’s fellow students pursuing their licensures are able to share their experience and reflect—and, like her high schoolers, they get plenty of options to engage with their coursework.
“The teachers are high-quality experts—they give us, as students, enough information about an assignment while also giving us the autonomy to decide what direction they’re going to go in,” Byrd said. “I get the opportunity to make this experience as meaningful as possible for me as an individual student.”