Former Gov. Jane Swift tells Drury High students about work she did to create the MCAS legislation. Her talk was part of a government day of Friday to prepare eighth-graders for the MCAS civics exam.

Drury Hosts Inaugural Government Appreciation Day

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff
01:17PM / Sunday, May 05, 2024

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Eighth-grade students learned about civics firsthand during the school's inaugural Massachusetts Government Appreciation Day.


"Government is strongest when every individual feels as though they are part of the process," said civics teacher Patrick Boulger, before introducing the Friday's guest speakers. "Today is the day when you have an opportunity to be part of this process and learn from individuals who have dedicated their lives to government service."


The event is a new addition to the eighth-grade civics curriculum, to provide students with a deeper understanding of state and local governance before they take Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System's civics exam


Mayor Jennifer Macksey, former Gov. Jane Swift, state Rep. John Barrett III, Assessor Jessica Lincourt and the mayor's executive assistant Lindsay Randall all addressed students in breakout sessions and explained their role in government.


Mayor Jennifer Macksey tells the students about how she started in municipal service and what a day in the life of a mayor is like.Mayor Jennifer Macksey tells the students about how she started in municipal service and what a day in the life of a mayor is like.

Macksey started her presentation by telling her own story starting as a Drury High School graduate. 


She said her first job in government was a little less glamorous.


"My first job with the city truly was at the dump," she said pointing out the window toward where the city dump used to be. "I sold composting bins, and I did such a good job I was able to get a part-time job in the public service department at City Hall."


After bouncing around a few different career paths, Macksey said she came back to the city becoming the director of finance and procurement and later the chief financial officer. Eventually, she decided to run for mayor.


She then went through her day-to-day schedule saying she likes to be as hands-on as possible. Just Thursday, she said, after hearing that school buses were having trouble navigating downtown with all of the utility work taking place, she decided to hitch a ride.


"The bus company was calling, the neighbors were calling so I jumped on the next bus that went by City Hall, and I rode with the kids to school and it was so much fun," she said. "But I could see the problem from the bus driver's perspective, and we resolved it. But sometimes you just have to do that. You have to be hands-on."


She then spoke about how the mayor works with the City Council as well as various city projects including the proposed new Greylock School and new public safety buildings as well as pothole repair. She said she is currently working on the budget 


"So I do a lot of stuff, and the good part of my job is, I love building programs and building projects and implementing them," she said. "The hard part of my job is I need money to do that. So, I touch a lot of different projects every single day. My day is never the same. I start my day with a to-do list, and if I get through two or three things on that to-do list, I am happy."


Swift, also a Drury High graduate and the state's first woman governor, focused on state government, specifically funding education. Students were surprised to find out that school is not actually free.


Swift said the federal government pays for about 10 percent of the education budget. The state works differently, using MCAS as a major tool to determine funding.


"How many of you love MCAS?" she asked only to be answered by silence. "All right, I'm gonna out myself. Guess what? In 1993, when I was 27 years old, I was in the state Senate, the legislative branch. The legislative branch writes the laws, and they created MCAS. I was one of six people who did it. Who said they hated it?"


Like Macksey, she returned her story to a familiar place and said when she graduated from Drury she was a good student and went to a good college with hopes of becoming a sports journalist.


"Do you think they all said, 'Oh my god, you are going to be the future governor you are so smart.' Yeah no," she said. "…. I was going to major in English, and I was really good in English and almost every other kid at that school was a better student than me."


She said even then she saw this inequality between schools as a problem.


"We had unequal spending between districts in Massachusetts and that resulted in a lot of times in unequal quality around the country," she said. "It was one of the single things I wanted to change, I wanted to make schools better."


MCAS was a way for the state to see which schools needed more money and to pinpoint which communities needed a little more help in an attempt to close wealth disparities, she said, while also calling for accountability.


She then explained the relationship between the governor and Legislature and the difference between a state and a commonwealth, noting that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, anyone can write a bill to be considered by the government.

State Rep. John Barrett III explains his role in the state Legislature to students during Government Appreciation Day at Drury on Friday.State Rep. John Barrett III explains his role in the state Legislature to students during Government Appreciation Day at Drury on Friday.


Barrett, longtime former mayor of the city, talked about the importance of understanding how government works and of voting to instill change or fight injustice. 


He told the story Brittney Griner, the professional basketball player who spent nearly a year detained in Russia in 2022 after Russian authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage. 


"We don't have that government in America; we have democracy. That's why it's so important that you learn about what you can do to bring about change and prevent that from happening," he said. "The strongest area that you can do it is the ballot box."


He said important changes such as the federal Title IX (which prohibits sex discrimination in education) and texting and driving laws have all come from citizens coming together and demanding change.


Barrett said if the state was planning to change the age of driving from 16 to 18, his door should be the first students should knock on. 


"I'm the representative of the district. So, you're going to want to say to me, 'We're not for this,'" he said. "You're going to all get together and say, 'Hey, listen, buddy, We're opposed to that'. And how are you going to get my attention? What do I have to do? Every two years I have to get elected … and I need your vote someday."

Assessor Jessica Lincourt and the mayor's executive assistant Lindsay Randall tell students about their roles and responsibilities.Assessor Jessica Lincourt and the mayor's executive assistant Lindsay Randall tell students about their roles and responsibilities.


Lincourt and Randall held their session together.


Lincourt, another Drury graduate, spoke about some of the careers she had before taking the job as the city assessor. She started as the assessor's administrative assistant but after 10 months of working in the office by herself, she applied for the assessor position.


"I had no idea what I was doing, but I powered through," she said. "There is no manual, you're not going to know what you're doing a lot of the time. You have to learn by making mistakes, and you have to learn as you go. It is super scary, but at the same time, it's pretty rewarding because you find yourself being able to do things that you didn't think you could do."


Randall, a McCann Technical School graduate, told her own story and her developing passion for hospitality and event planning, one of her duties in the city. She said planning an event isn't as easy as just setting a date and hoping for good weather. 


"It costs $20,000 to do the fireworks show, and it is a very coordinated and planned out event," she said. I have to work with the fire marshal as well as our Fire Department as well as get the proper permits. I never knew how complicated these things were. Going through municipal government there are certain things that you have to do to do events."


She asked what the students wanted to see in North Adams and many simply wanted more things to do.


Randall said she related and that when she was younger, she was part of the Unity group that helped drive the skate park project. 


"We always talked about how there's nothing to do in North Adams … but when I was in high school we really wanted to have a skate park," she said. "Well fast forward 15 years later, they actually installed the skate park downtown, and that was something that we started when I was in high school in Unity."


Groups of students rotated between the speakers in various classrooms. The event ran from 8 to around 10 a.m.