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, December 12, 2008

Amherst Meeting, December 9, 2008

This meeting began with several questions from the audience regarding academics. First, Julia Rueschemeyer asked about whether a decision about adopting the Impact I math books for 6th grade had been reached (following the last Curriculum Day at which such time this discussion was to have occurred). I have been in contact with Mike Hayes about this issue, and thus was able to respond that the decision will be reached in March, following a recommendation from a subcommittee that will be reviewing the options this winter (January to March). I know there is considerable interest in the parent community about this issue, largely from parenst of current middle school students who are delighted to finally have a math textbook, and I do hope that this recommendation will be made. Janet McGowan then asked a question about who approves this decision--and the answer is that the superintendents have the option to approve (or reject) the recommendation made by the subcommittee. Joel Wolfe then asked a question about the plans underway at Fort River to make sure the school is on track to avoid failing to make AYP for a second year (in the language arts). Andy Churchill noted that the School Council at Fort River would be making recommendations about this plan, which was echoed by Principal Ray Sharick, who was at the meeting. Finally, Steve Rivkin asked a question about the cost of the current ELL program in which children are bused out of their neighborhood school based on language. He was assured that this issue was indeed being considered, especially in light of the impending budget cuts.

Superintendent Vivian then noted the seriousness of the budget situation for the upcoming year, and indeed in future years as well. She therefore said that the school leadership wanted to investigate one of the reorganization models discussed by the Reorganization Committee (which included me, Andy Churchill, Ray Sharick, and Crocker Farm principal Mike Morris): the pairing of Marks Meadow-Wildwood and Crocker Farm-Fort River (so that children would go to one school for K to 2 and then other in their pair for 3 to 6). Her plan was to appoint a committee to investigate this model to meet on December 29th and 30th to develop a recommendation, hold public hearings in January, and hold a vote of the School Committee on this proposal at the February 10th meeting.

This proposal was a complete surprise to me, particularly because I was on the committee that looked into these models, and we did not emerge with a particular favorite. In addition, this committee recognized the importance of engaging the community (including parents as well as teachers) prior to making a decision, which clearly has not occurred. Finally, this committee never considered the budget implications of any of these models, which seems like a very important thing to do (Superintendent Vivian suggested this model might save $300,000 to $350,000, which would help somewhat towards the estimated $1,000,000 in cuts we need to make).

Several questions were raised by School Committee members and members of the audience. One of the most important ones was raised by a parent in the audience, who noted that another cost-savings measure would be to close Marks Meadow (an idea that I've now received from several parents, even before this most recent announcement). The Superintendent noted that this was not feasible, given issues of over-crowding already in the elementary schools (but I'm going to return to this issue in a separate blog entry -- so stay tuned!). Another parent noted the possible increased costs of transportation, since presumably two buses would have to go to many houses (of those with kids at the two schools who would now attend the same school) -- or alternatively, kids would have to stay on a bus for a very long time (if buses were to drop off at two different schools). I also raised a question about the balance of low income students in these models -- my rough calculations indicate that Fort River - Crocker Farm would have about 37% kids on free/reduced lunch, compared to 26% in the other pairing.

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