Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
  Overcoming Fear
A teacher speaks up and asks some questions: (reprinted in full, but click on the link to help The Transcript's circulation numbers)
To the editor:

I have never used this vehicle as an avenue to pose questions or express my views regarding an issue or event that might need commentary. I would like to use it now to contemplate the philosophical debates that occur each year when the North Adams School Committee is faced with deciding the budget for the North Adams Public Schools.

I recommend to my students that they make an inquiry when they are in doubt or need feedback, even though they may suffer an angry or disagreeable response. However, it is important to make the inquiry in any case. Having said this, I would like to ascertain what the difference is between cutting positions that impact programs and letting programs die by not replacing staff who retire or move away.

I have heard it said that the North Adams Public Schools have not had a budget cut in many, many years. If this is true, then why is there no longer a French program or an exploratory French and Spanish program at Conte? Why do we have fewer programs in business and family and consumer science? Pourquoi?

I would like to know what has happened to other programs that have been affected by attrition. Adonde han ido? Do we manage to educate the youth of North Adams in spite of the erosion of programs? Are we succeeding according to our students' successes on their MCAS? Yes we are. Is it enough to just get by?

Our students make us proud, yet I wonder what might we be sacrificing by letting teachers and support staff leave our system, either by retiring or moving away, and then not replacing them? Do we compromise our programs? All programs are not mandated by the state, but does that mean they are not vital to our students' education?

Our school system, besides job opportunities, is the single most important asset to our community. Any family with young children moving to the area will research our school system before housing to determine in which community to settle. We must offer outstanding programs with choices above and beyond the necessary. We must invest in the fodder our students need to grow their brains to their fullest potential. We can settle for nothing less, and if it means seeking answers "outside the box" and being financially creative, then we must do that.

I support physical fitness and participation in organized sports wholeheartedly, but I have to ask the question about funding our extracurricular sports programs. When do we take a hard look at it, and how it is funded? These are the questions that I contemplate. They are few but difficult to answer. It is time to assess how many teachers, support staff and curricula will be let go or "cut" before it has gone too far. Capisce?

Susan Chilson

North Adams

May 25
I've written in this space about the fear that keeps folks from speaking up in our little neck of the woods. Without breaching any journalistic ethics regarding confidential sources, I can say that I have had conversations with dozens (yes, dozens) of teachers who have voiced frustrations over many different subjects in the past couple years. Despite my overt encouragement of them to join the public discourse, none have done so.

I do not think I know Susan Chilson, at least not by name. However her questions are a an excellent response to some of the political rhetoric that surrounds almost every open discussion of the North Adams Public Schools.

And my guess is that nothing bad will happen to her.

Maybe, with Ms. Chilson's example leading the way, more members of the community will bring their concerns to the table.
Well done Ms. Chilson, well done - Greg, nice close.
Mrs. Chilson was a heck of Spanish teacher when I was a student of hers twenty years ago*. It did my heart proud to see her name on this letter.

*20 years? @#$%; now I'm depressed as all get out.
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