Residents of Monterey, Massachusetts, convened to discuss the future of the town’s one-room schoolhouse Tuesday night.
The sparsely attended but impassioned meeting may have provided the southern Berkshire County town with a next step as it contemplates the future of its one-room schoolhouse. In the wake of the Berkshire Regional School District’s February 21st vote to pursue the closure of the school, the town of 957 must decide whether to accept the decision. Tuesday’s meeting was the first public discussion on how to move forward with a decaying building, a disapproving school district, and internal divisions. Those who spoke expressed mistrust of the school committee, with residents voicing feelings that any excuse to discontinue education in Monterey would win out.
Carol Edelman, of the Monterey Select Board, held the meeting with the intention of supporting the school committee’s decision. She feels the changing demographics of the town are unavoidable.
“I have history, you know, as kindergarten teacher. I don’t think a program with a handful of kids is as valuable as a program with at least a dozen children. I think we have some very good programs in the schools that exist nearby. I loved having my kids here in Monterey in the kindergarten, but I don’t think we have enough kids in town to create a program,” Edelman said.
But the majority of attendees did not share her view. Many memories of the town’s more populous heyday were shared, and some newer residents cited the small school as what drew them.
“I wanted to fight for it if there was a chance,” said Amanda Chmielinski. She has lived in Monterey with her family for the past two years, and wants a local option for her children. The building would need hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades. Chmielinski would like to see education continue Monterey without the school itself.
“I think that the building is too far gone," said Chmielinski. "I think that it would be not a great decision for the school district to spend money to put back into that school but I do think that a program for local kids is what the option should be.”
Residents complained of long bus rides and the negative effects of consolidating the district on the town.
“I think that we are really losing something in education by moving towards a Wal Mart model of schools," said Monterey resident Tika Synder. Snyder, 47, saw both her children go through the town’s kindergarten.
“A lot is being lost in Monterey. Currently there is no school. This year they discontinued the baseball program. There’s no attachment for kids to their community, there’s not going to be a reason for them to stay or for them to come back, and there’s nothing to draw new families in, so we’re going to wind up with a second home owner retirement community if things continue to go down this road,” Snyder said.
Maryellen Brown, former town business administrator who is in her second year as the town’s representative to the school committee, suggested using the town’s Community Center property as the site for a portable classroom.
“There’s a road, a long driveway in, and there’s lots of land there. It would be ideal for a portable classroom,” said Brown.
By the meeting’s end, a consensus had emerged. A plan for Monterey to assume financial responsibility for the maintenance of the school building was adopted as a stopgap measure for the town to figure out what’s next.
“We’re going to move ahead with what was decided at the end of the meeting with asking the school committee to give us more time," said Select board member Kenneth Basler.