Don’t back down in wake of school renovation’s failure

Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are very lucky. Up until now we have had one of the finest school systems in the country. It’s incumbent on us to make sure that we continue that tradition. To put it mildly, the system has done right by our children and we will always be grateful. Some of us are happy to do whatever we can to “pass it on” so that all the kids who come next will have the same excellent education our kids had.

In the recent election, Great Barrington voted down the money for the renovation of the high school. Stockbridge and West Stockbridge did not. We do have a world class high school but it simply can’t keep up with modern technical needs in the digital age, to say nothing about leaking roofs and lack of security at a time when school shootings have become all too common.

We have a wonderful faculty and a superb school board, all backed by the other town officials. Unfortunately, for the same reasons that reactionary forces in our country won the U.S. Senate, the recent vote on the high school renovation went down. The idea is to spread fear and misunderstanding and, in both cases, they won.

There seems to be a certain amount of buyer’s remorse among those who did everything they could to bring down the project. They organized, they spread propaganda and they fairly reeked of negativity. Now they are sending each other post-election messages that talk about the “need for new leadership.” I suspect that these words are not-so-subtle code for changing the people who are on the school board as well as the administrators like Peter Dillon who run the system. They talk about being part of the solution but the more I hear, the more worried I get. Some of these folks have been standing up at town meetings arguing against things the town absolutely needs but that cost money. Now it’s probably the most important of these, the place where our kids learn.

The sentiment among this group seems to be, “We won, now let’s go for it.” There is talk of bringing the group to school board meetings to impose their views on the first-rate citizens who serving on the board, doing a stressful job for no compensation.

There is a tradition in this country for the people of small-town America to band together to protect our schools from those who would do them harm. What we need now is an advocacy group that will commit to protecting the achievements of our high school, considered among the top cadre of high schools in our country.

To maintain that standing, we must remember our obligation and commitment. We have to keep going forward. We can’t let that stop. We need an advocacy group that will show up at school board meetings and make sure that candidates for school board seats are supported.

Look, this is hard. There are heroes and heroines here. Some are despondent after the high school loss but look at the support they are receiving from The Berkshire Eagle editorial page and columnists like Michelle Gillette. When you lose elections, you have options: You can either hide or you can follow Joe Hill’s advice and organize. You’ll win because in the end, you happen to be right.

Leigh Davis, a member of the Great Barrington Finance Committee, has distinguished herself in the fight to renovate the high school. It would be great if she could head the new Great Barrington Committee to Support Our Schools. Now is absolutely the time take back control from those would harm our schools. For some reason they have targeted me but I have bad news for them: I’m not going away. I have to pay back our schools for what they did for my kids.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/15/14

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