North Adams, MA — Deciding on a perfect site for the new special education public day school at the Armory Building in North Adams was only the beginning. North Berkshire Academy Director Jodi Drury is now immersed in permits and applications, furniture and supplies, materials, technology and curriculum decisions. “You never know what may come up in this process,” Drury said. “For example, we recently realized that installing front door security wouldn’t be straightforward, because the building is an historic landmark. There are things you can’t do to the facility, so it requires some creative thinking to figure it out.” The building has been newly renovated, so she points with pride to the beautiful spaces within.
Right now, hiring the right teaching and clinical staff is at the top of the list. It’s a challenging time for recruiting and hiring all across the state Says Drury, “We are looking for excellent educators, but also teachers who truly believe these students can be successful. That’s a critical piece, and goes to the heart of the program. For students to believe in themselves, they need a learning community that believes in them.”
She is not alone in the process of creating the new school. The project has the support of a Task Force of Superintendents, Special Education Directors, and community partners from several school districts in the Berkshires. Seeing the need for a locally based special education public day school, Superintendents Barbara Malkas (North Adams), Jon Lev (Northern Berkshire School Union), and Rob Putnam (Adams-Cheshire) sought the help and advice of the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) in Northampton, MA a year ago. From the start, it was hoped that a program designed with a similar approach to that of CES’ HEC Academy would offer high school students both high quality academic and therapeutic supports. CES agreed to design and create the new school, and the organization will manage the school itself on behalf of the school districts. Once open, the school will continue to benefit from the support and advice of the special education experts at CES.
It’s expected that districts from across the Berkshires will send students to North Berkshire Academy.
Wherever possible, students will be transitioned back to their sending schools when they are ready. To ensure that transition is smooth, Jodi has been working closely with local schools to align the proposed curriculum with their own. Project based and therapeutic outdoor activities will also build students skills around positive relationships. Says Jodi, “When students transition back to their schools or into the community, they need to understand how to build relationships and respectfully self-advocate in order to create a supportive community for themselves. Students don’t always believe that they have the power to ask for what they need to learn. We hope to help with that.” Like CES’ HEC Academy in Northampton, North Berkshire will also promote personal and social growth through a commitment to social justice.
It was CES’ first decision in the journey to bring Drury on board to direct the school.
“It was not a hard decision,” said William Diehl, Executive Director at CES. “Jodi is no stranger to what it takes to create a high quality special education program. Before joining CES, she served as the Department Head for the Special Education Department and Student Support Team at Berkshire Hills Regional School District, coordinated special education services for Springfield Public Schools, and was a special education teacher for the Pittsfield Public Schools. She’s also a native of the Berkshires, born and raised in Pittsfield, MA. And she has unlimited energy, talent, and a real love for the students.”
Drury holds Massachusetts licenses as a special education teacher, a Director of Special Education, and a High School Principal, and is finishing her Ph.D. in Special Education Leadership. In addition to her work as Director of the new Academy, she provides CES professional development for educators across the state, co-facilitates the Special Education Team Leaders Institute, and teaches graduate licensure courses in special education.
Recognizing that there are students who would benefit from this program now, Jodi, CES, and the partnering Superintendents are working hard to try to have the program open in January, 2018. That timeframe does depend on all the parts coming together. If necessary, the program will definitely be enrolling students for the fall 2018 semester. The important thing for Drury right now is to remember to look beyond the hurdles. “It’s been important to keep the final goal in mind,” said Drury. “I want to get to opening day for the students and families, because we’re going to do amazing things.”
To learn more about job openings at North Berkshire Academy, or about special education programs at the Collaborative for Educational Services, please visit www.collaborative.org.