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Yon chairs her final school committee meeting, capping 50 years of work in Pittsfield’s public schools

Katherine Yon.
City of Pittsfield
Katherine Yon.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts school committee chair Katherine Yon ended her 50-year tenure in the city’s public education system Wednesday night at the body’s final meeting of 2021.

After decades working in the city’s public schools as a teacher and a dozen years as an elected official on the school committee, Yon’s final meeting offered an opportunity for her friends, fans and former colleagues to sing her praises.

“Kathy was my teacher for four years. It was a wonderful time period of my life. Really got tuned into English and the importance of it, reading and writing. That was at Pittsfield High School. After that, for some of you, you may not be aware, which is understandable, Kathy and I served as colleagues for four years on this illustrious school committee. And those are some good times. We were colleagues for sure, sisters in arms occasionally for some of the battles we fought – mostly successful – and most importantly, friends. And it means a lot to me. So I felt like it was my obligation to come here and my duty and my pleasure to express this to Kathy directly," said former Pittsfield school committee chair Alf Barbalunga. “A lot of people in the municipalities – in this occasion, the city of Pittsfield – don't realize how challenging these jobs are, being the leader of a school committee or city council or a city. But for many of us, it doesn't go unnoticed. And whether it's a paid or volunteer position, a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and angst go into these jobs. And she's done yeoman's work throughout the years. And she's not someone that asked for credit, but she surely deserves it. A lot of people could have done the job better than I did. But she did it much better than I did.”

“Madam Chair, Mrs. Yon, Kathy. You are teacher, leader, friend. I am so honored that I have gotten to know you and to serve with you in so many different ways," said Mayor Linda Tyer. “Every meeting, you are gracious and kind and heartfelt. Always, always putting students and families, teachers, staff, from top to bottom, superintendent to bus driver, always thinking how do we do better for everyone. You've been a steady hand yet decisive all of the characters of leadership. Generations of students and families are better because of you. We are better because of you.”

“I've spent my entire career in education Pittsfield – this is what kills me – 38 years as an educator, and 12 as a school committee member. I add up those two numbers and I nearly choke on the answer. How can it be? But I guess it is," said Yon. “It is due to a strange twist of fate that I find myself in a position to say goodbye to my membership on the school committee. I'm now leaving because I wanted to, and leaving because of health concerns that precluded my ability to run for office. At the time nomination papers were due. A strange twist of fate comes in when I saw a specialist at the end of August, and his treatment had a major impact on improving my condition. Had I known then what I know now, I would have run for reelection. But that was not to be. So here I am.”

After thanking her colleagues on the school committee, Yon turned to the city students who work with the body.

“I'm sorry that I'm not going to be able to work further with you on the committee," she said. "As I always made sure to say at every graduation, you are what we are all about. We are so pleased that you chose to join the school committee. And I would say not only to you, but to all students, be actively engaged in your education. You can make a difference. To all of our staff, from central office, to teachers, to paraprofessionals, to bus drivers, to secretaries, to cafeteria workers, to custodians, none of this would work if it weren't for all of you. Be proud that you work in education.”

Her thanks included recently installed Superintendent Joseph Curtis and Deputy Superintendent Marisa Mendonsa, as well as PCTV for allowing remote participation in school committee meetings.

“To all my supporters, those out there, those of you out there who voted for me over the years, thank you for putting your trust in me," said Yon. "It's truly been an honor and a privilege to serve on the school committee. Education has been my life's work. I believe in public education. I believe in Pittsfield, and I believe in all of you. Thank you.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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