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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Amherst Meeting, September 9 2008

I want to start with two brief updates based on comments I've received from my past blog entries. First, the report from Glenda Cresto (the middle school principal) that I refer to in an earlier blog is now posted on the middle school website (or will be soon). I had so many requests for that report that I thought it would be easier for all interested parents to just be able to get it on the school website, and I'm delighted that Ms. Cresto and the Superintendents have made that happen. Second, I have received a number of comments about how a retreat of the Amherst Regional School Committee seems like not a particularly good use of time -- and of course I agree with this sentiment. But my favorite comment came from a friend, who pointed out the following:

Can you imagine the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Community Preservation Act Committee or the Conservation Commission going on retreat because they had disagreements? Of course they have disagreements--they are supposed to! This is how democracy works. Is it because education has been a historically female profession that people think that "getting along" and doing things by consensus is paramount? The School Committee is a government body not a gang of office staff charged with product development.

That pretty much sums it up for me ... I'd like to spend more time working on specific strategies for creating the best education system we can for our kids, and less time (or honestly, no time) working on discussing how we get along as a group.   But based on the vote at the last meeting, a retreat is indeed supposed to happen.

Now, on to the meeting ... which was, encouragingly, one of the best meetings I'd say we've had. The following issues related to academics were discussed:

1. Andy Churchill described his view of the "growing pains" of the current school committee. The most important point about this statement was that he believed we should set "a tone of inquiry based on data," which of course is something I whole-heartedly endorse. I very much appreciate his leadership on this (and more on this topic was discussed later in the meeting).

2. Steve Rivkin asked three questions about math in the district -- what types of support are provided for kids who need it (and how effective is that support), would the elementary schools adopt, for 6th graders, the Level 1 version of the new math textbooks that are being used in 7th and 8th grade (as levels 2 and 3), and what evidence is there about the effectiveness of the K to 5 math curriculum. As a member of the Math Curriculum Review Committee, I found these questions very useful, and am glad to see them raised. The Superintendent suggested we ask for a report on math in the district at the next meeting, which I think would be very useful.

3. We then discussed, as part of new business, an idea Andy shared from Jere Hochman, which is to form a "How're We Doing?" subcommittee. This subcommittee would look at identifying data to examine (e.g., school climate surveys, exit surveys, assessment data), identifying a set of benchmark districts with which to compare common data sets, and establishing the capacity to collect these data and produce an annual report. I think this is a great idea, and I'm delighted that the committee voted unanimously to move forward on forming this committee. I commented that I hoped such data could also include teachers' views (e.g., how are they supported, do they have adequate time/training/mentoring/resources, etc.), information on how the administrative structure of the Amherst schools is similar (or not) to other districts of our size and complexity (e.g., do we have too many administrators? too few? a comparison with other districts should be useful), and that the results of such an evaluation process should be clearly conveyed to the community (e.g., potential opportunities for the parents/community members/staff members to participate on the committee, reports of the committee available on line, etc.). The Superintendents will prepare a recommendation for how such a committee might be formed (e.g., should it include community members, teachers, administrators, etc.) at the next meeting. As Andy wrote in his proposal, this proposal should help us move to "a data-driven inquiry and improvement model." And I think this would be a good step for our district -- let's examine what works well, and what could work better, and then let's develop strategies for improving what could work better.  

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