It’s called the MCLA Leadership Academy.
This is a program designed to help those with aspirations to be a school principal or superintendent take the next steps in their career in education. It blends academic content with practical skill and knowledge development. As students earn 31 credits, they engage in activities that include reading, writing, discussion, group projects, case studies, simulations, lectures by prominent thinkers, project-based tasks, fieldwork, and more.
“This is an area that school district leaders have identified as a critical need — they’re losing so many principals, assistant principals, and superintendents to retirement,” said Joshua Mendel, associate dean of Graduate and Continuing Education for Partnerships and Programs at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, adding that this is one of many initiatives at MCLA that fall into the broad realm of professional development — and also address an identified, and often serious, need for trained professionals.
Others include everything from programs for those desiring careers in ‘outdoor leadership’ — managing a ski resort, perhaps — to those seeking to become nurses and radiologists; from teachers needing licensure to would-be entrepreneurs.
“This is an area that school district leaders have identified as a critical need — they’re losing so many principals, assistant principals, and superintendents to retirement.”
Summing up this ever-growing, always-evolving portfolio of programs, Mendel said they’ve been designed with several goals in mind, but primarily to address the needs of employers across several sectors, all of whom are challenged to find sufficient talent in this difficult job market, and to help individuals find not simply jobs, but careers, or take the next big step in their career.
For this, the latest installment of its series on professional-development programs and initiatives in the region, we visit MCLA and examine the many offerings it has developed over the years and continues to hone to meet the changing needs of employers and job seekers alike.
Courses of Action
Mendel said the graduate and continuing-education programs at MCLA essentially focus on needs and opportunities identified by the Berkshire Skills Cabinet, led by MassHire Berkshire, Berkshire Community College, and 1Berkshire and created with the goal of addressing the skills gap by bringing together regional teams of educators, workforce entities, and economic-development leaders to create a blueprint for growth strategies.
“Through the Skills Cabinet, four areas have been identified as having critical growth potential and need,” he said, listing healthcare, education, tourism, and advanced technology. “These are the areas that are seeing a major increase in interest from outside corporations coming into the Berkshires, but are also our strengths when it comes to economic development in the region.”
And these are the areas that MCLA, the public, four-year college in the Berkshires, is focusing on primarily, he said, adding that the school not only serves residents of the Berkshires, but draws students from outside the area, with some of them staying in the region after graduation and starting careers there.
In healthcare, initiatives include the school’s new bachelor’s degree in nursing program that started last fall, as well as a degree program in radiologic technology, a program that resulted from the closure of Southern Vermont College and MCLA stepping in to become that school’s official teach-out partner to enable students to complete their degrees.
MCLA now offers the program, and it is helping to meet a recognized need within the community for such professionals, said Mendel, adding that interest in the program is strong and continues to grow.
The same is true for many of the programs in education, he said, noting that MCLA is helping to meet a critical need for teachers resulting from the retirement of Baby Boomers and other factors.
Elaborating, he said there are many now teaching under emergency licensure, which enables them to teach without a master’s degree. However, this is set to expire within the next year. MCLA has strategically positioned itself to address this situation through a fully online master’s program now being ramped up, with some students starting in the spring and more expected in the summer and fall.
Meanwhile, MCLA has created another new program, a +1 (bachelor’s degree and online master of education degree) program designed as an accelerated pathway for those students who seek to earn a teaching license and undergraduate degree, a second initial license in moderate disabilities, and a master’s degree in education.
“This was an area that was introduced to by the superintendents of this region at our superintendents’ roundtable,” Mendel noted. “They said, ‘we have such a demand for teachers with a background in moderate disabilities that we’ll hire 100% of the students that come out with that discipline.”
As for the Leadership Academy, launched 20 years ago, it enables students to earn their principal or superintendent licensure in Massachusetts, New York, or Vermont.
“It’s a robust program,” Mendel said, adding that about 40 students enrolled this past year, a number that could increase following the closing of the College of Saint Rose, which also has a leadership-academy program for New York’s Capital District.
A third sector that has become a focus at MCLA is tourism, an all-important sector in the Berkshires, one that has been a steady supplier of jobs and one also hamstrung in many ways by the ongoing workforce crisis. Many of the school’s MBA students enter this field, he said, adding that MCLA has created something somewhat unique, an outdoor leadership program that will be a minor within the environmental studies program starting next fall.
“There will courses in environmental studies and courses in leadership that will help students embrace the opportunities they have in the Berkshires for outdoor education and outdoor leadership,” he said, adding that there are career opportunities at ski areas, hiking programs, and related fields.
The fourth area of focus is advanced technologies, specifically a partnership with the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield, whereby the school’s MBA program is run out of that facility.
“The Innovation Center is doing an amazing job of bringing in entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and advanced technologies,” Mendel explained. “So we’ve created a partnership program with them; our MBA program meets in the cohort model, one class at a time but two classes a semester for 18 months straight, and those classes are both online and in-person, a hybrid model.
“And when they meet in person, they meet at the Innovation Center,” he went on. “The Innovation Center allows our students to meet with local CEOs that are doing amazing things in the area, it allows our students to do research with their companies and organizations, and it’s enabling them to do capstone projects with these new entrepreneurs and learning about new technologies. It’s about elevating our MBA program to focus on the critical needs within these new technology businesses.”
There are many other new initiatives as well, from a minor in entrepreneurship within the business program to address a surge in interest in starting new businesses to a minor in data science, to an Early College program created in conjunction with Drury High School in North Adams that enables students to earn up to 30 college credits before they graduate from high school.
The common denominator with all these programs is a desire to meet those needs identified by employers and economic-development leaders by creating pathways, Mendel said, and then getting individuals on those paths.