Once again, this meeting started with thoughtful public comment from Steve Rivkin, who expressed concern about the brevity of the trimester report (now available on the district homepage) as well as the incomplete nature of the 9th grade science evaluation (also available on the district homepage). He expressed the view that if this district is really committed to data analysis and program evaluation, we need to be doing a more careful and thorough job. School Committee member Elaine Brighty expressed the view that it is not the responsibility of the School Committee to conduct such reviews, or to insist that such reviews are done. Steve then noted that he thought this was really unfortunate, given that the School Committee ultimately hires and monitors the Superintendent, and that one of the key jobs of the Superintendent is to make sure that programs and curricula in the district are working well -- thus, it seems as if the School Committee should in fact have an interest in and ability to oversee such evaluation work. I then echoed that point, noting that when all nine members of the School Committee voted unanimously for the new 9th grade science program in January, they assured concerned members of the public that of course a thorough review of this program would occur, and yet the review as it stands now, is incomplete and will make it impossible to tell whether this new program is working (and this review only occurred because following my election to School Committee, I insisted that an evaluation was done).
School Committee Chair Michael Hussin then expressed frustration with these comments, noting that it would be impossible to evaluate a program that has not yet occurred (given that the new 9th grade course is only in its first few weeks) and that of course such an evaluation would be done. I raised my hand to explain that one could not actually evaluate this new course without having good baseline data - meaning how 9th graders in biology versus earth science (the two courses previously offered to 9th graders) experienced those courses in particular — so that we could then see whether students experience the new ecology/ environmental science course as better, the same as, or worse than biology and earth sciences. This is the crucial issue that must be examined, and the report in its current form does not allow one to do this. However, Michael Hussin noted that as Chair, it is his prerogative to move the discussion along, and he chose not to call on me.
The meeting then focused on a review of the MCAS data for the district, a report on the tragic bus accident, and some voting on policies. We postponed a discussion on the "How are We Doing Committee." The last portion of the meeting focused on a retreat of the School Committee. As I've noted before, I'm not in favor of such a retreat, if the public will not be able to see the discussion during the retreat (which is what the other committee members have requested). However, the retreat will happen, and it will be private.
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.
Friday, October 10, 2008
This meeting focused largely on the superintendent search process (and more on this soon). The only real discussion that focused on academics was a result of the public comment section. Steve Rivkin asked a question about the 9th grade science review, and in particular expressed concern about the nature of that review. (I've read this review, and it is available on the district homepage -- and unfortunately the review fails to really examine the key question, which is to characterize the experience of 9th graders in honors biology versus earth science so that we have a good baseline with which to assess the new required ecology/environmental science course.) The Superintendent and School Committee Chair suggested all questions on this be referred to Mark Jackson, the high school principal. This advice frankly seems very surprising to me, given that it was the School Committee vote that brought this new required course -- and at the time, each member of the committee assured the public that this course would be evaluated. Again, it just seems like the high school principal should not be tasked with creating empirical evaluations, and I was surprised at the total lack of interest/support on the part of the School Committee for conducting a thorough evaluation.
We then heard an update on the district website and received information on the district MCAS scores. The bulk of the meeting (nearly two hours) focused on the superintendent search process, and in particular crafting an ad and a brochure for this position. The committee basically agreed on some text for both of these, and the ad will be submitted to Education Week by early October (with a deadline of mid-December). Hiring a new superintendent who is truly committed to academic excellence for all students is obviously the most important thing the School Committee will do this year, and I'm very hopeful that we can find someone great. It will be very important to have parent/community input on this process later this year, when we bring candidates to town for public visits -- please keep that in mind!
Posted by Catherine A. Sanderson at 9:41 AM
Saturday, October 4, 2008
As one who cares passionately about the future of Amherst, and in particular the quality of public education available for all kids in Amherst, I want to encourage all followers of this Blog to attend one of the very informative presentations made by the Community Choices committee, an outstanding non-partisan committee charged with educating the public about the current budget situation in Amherst, presenting alternative budget scenarios for each area of our budget, and soliciting public feedback with the ultimate goal of making recommendations to the Finance Committee and Town Meeting. They have put together an excellent presentation, and are very eager to get public feedback about our priorities for this town — you can see the presentation at many forums around town (dates/times/locations on their website) OR at their website (www.amherstchoices.org). You can also submit your feedback on line by going to this website — which is a great way of making YOUR voice heard. Getting lots of feedback from lots of voices is really crucial, so please take some time over the next month (they want the feedback by early November) to learn about the choices and complete the quick and easy on-line survey.
Posted by Catherine A. Sanderson at 6:27 PM