The bulk of the School Committee action in May and June focused on hiring an interim superintendent, and hence I haven't updated my blog in some time. But now the year is starting again, and this will be a crucial one for the future of the Amherst schools -- with four new principals plus a search for a new superintendent -- and hence I will be blogging regularly after each meeting.
I was on vacation and hence missed the August 5th Regional Meeting -- thus, my entry will reflect the minutes from this meeting, newspaper reports of this meeting, and information I learned from friends who attended the meeting.
First, I was delighted to learn that many parents had attended the meeting and had asked important questions (the School Committee clearly needs to be more responsive to parent/community concerns than they have been at times, and having people attend meetings and ask questions is an important step in the right direction). These questions included concerns about learning about middle school teams prior to the first day of school (which is understandably very anxiety-provoking for kids) and information on math placement procedures used in the middle school. I am delighted to report that Glenda Cresto, the new principal of the middle school, has already tackled each of these issues -- she has sent information home to each family on middle school team assignment and has produced a memo for the School Committee and interested parents on the math placement procedures. (Side note: This type of responsiveness and follow through on the part of a principal who has been on the job for less than two months is impressive -- and I've received several very positive emails from parents already). The math placement issue is one that the district still needs to work on more -- as part of my work on the Math Curriculum Review Committee, I'll try to help with providing more clarity on procedures (and making sure that families all have appropriate information). I was, however, very disturbed to learn that a fellow member of the School Committee said the following: "These are not new (parent) comments ... The math placement has never been clear in my 11 years on this committee. I'm very concerned that it has not been dealt with." I believe that if there is a problem like this in the schools for 11 years, then the School Committee hasn't been doing their job -- this seems like a ridiculously long period of time for such a situation to continue.
Second, the co-superintendents (Al Sprague and Helen Vivian) provided a good update on their transition activities, including their entry plan and work on curriculum guides). Two other issues were raised by Marianne Jorgensen (acting as Chair of the Committee in Michael Hussin's absence) that I see as very important -- an update on the trimester schedule used in the high school (this will be presented at the next meeting) and an update on the website upgrade (this work seems to be on-going, but hopefully can happen soon).
Third, Glenda Cresto presented a report on the middle school. In particular, I think two very important issues were raised in this report.
1. This report included information on the Middle School climate survey, which was sent to all parents in June. The report revealed that only half of parent respondents thinks the school seeks their opinion on important issues and less than half think their children are given challenging homework. I don't see either of these findings as surprising, but I'm delighted that the new principal has created an action plan to try to address them.
2. This report included information on the number of kids (8) who left the Amherst schools for the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley -- which Glenda Cresto thought was a lot (I agree -- especially because many kids who apply aren't accepted, so this probably underestimates the true interest/demand). As I've said before, I'd like the schools to start formally tracking the number of kids who opt out of the public schools at each grade, and where these kids go, and why. Using some type of exit survey when families request their records to be sent elsewhere would be very informative for the district -- if the public schools aren't meeting the needs of all kids, we need to know that, and we need to know why.
Those were the highlights of this meeting -- and my big take from this meeting is how glad we should all be to have Glenda Cresto on board!
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.