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Chicopee teachers start new year at convocation

Aug. 29, 2014 | By G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – Part preview of the school year, part pep rally, the convocation for Chicopee schoolteachers on Aug. 26 was an opportunity for Mayor Richard Kos and School Superintendent Richard Rege Jr. to address the hundreds of educators gathered in the auditorium of the Edward Bellamy Middle School.
Rege offered his teachers a mantra for the upcoming year: “Keep calm and teach on.”
The mascot for the middle school, the Bellamy bulldog, opened the convocation with a dance to David Bowie’s song “Pressure,” and some well-received mime that illustrated some of the frustrations teachers feel from mandated testing and reporting.
Rege acknowledged in his remarks the growing demands made on the school district and its teachers.
“Everybody wants us to more, but never sends money attached to them,” he said of unfunded mandates.
He noted there are now just “under 8,000 students” in the district  “with varying degrees of baggage and issues.”
He said teachers should celebrate several accomplishments. The district now has three Level One schools. He said the Stefanik Memorial School went from a level Three to a Level One school in one year, which he added was “is almost unheard of.” The Lambert-Lavoie Memorial School progressed from a Level Two to a Level One school and the Anna E. Berry School maintained its Level One status.
Level One is the highest status based on test scores assigned by state educational officials.
He believes that other schools in the district will make improvements this year.
Rege said the district now has a dropout rate of 3.3 percent, the lowest in the past three years. He added the district also survived a $2.5 million shortfall in funds without resulting from layoffs.
There are 47 new teachers in the district, he said.
More good news will be the addition of a new middle school in the former Chicopee High School building, he said. That school will be open for the fall of 2015.
He said among the challenges facing teachers this year is attempting to push the district from its overall Level Three status to Level Two. Rege added there are large proficiency gaps in the student body.
In the 10 years he has served as superintendent he has seen a change in the poverty rate among students. A decade ago the poverty rate was 48 percent and today is 67 percent. The school district will be welcoming about 200 homeless students placed in Chicopee by the Commonwealth, Rege said. He believes that as the weather becomes colder and more people struggle to pay for heat, there would be an increase in the homeless population.
“We don’t get to chose [our students]. We don’t get to pre-select,” Rege said. “It is our duty and obligation to give them the best we possibly can.”
He added, “Keep remembering it’s always about the kids.”
In the address Kos delivered he recalled how education changed his life.
“My goal today is to remind you how important your role is and how you can change a child’s life,” Kos said.
He promised the teachers he would do everything he can to support them and their mission.
Kyler Viafara, a fourth grader at the Selser Memorial School, was selected to speak with the teacher and told his “ideal teacher was someone who doesn’t give up on me.”        

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