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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Another School District's Take on Electronic Suggestion Boxes

Since the School Committees aren't meeting for a few weeks over break, I thought I would blog instead about a school-related issue that grabbed some attention this fall -- the issue of whether the Amherst Regional Schools should have an electronic suggestion box on the district website. As you may recall, this issue was discussed at a School Committee meeting on December 2, 2008, and was voted down 4 to 2 (Kathleen Anderson and I voted for it; Andy Churchill, Elaine Brighty, Marianne Jorgensen and Tracy Farnham voted against it; Sonia Pope abstained). This issue was then taken up both officially (the Amherst Bulletin editorial on December 18th was in favor of such a suggestion box) and unofficially (Larry Kelley's Only in the Republic of Amherst blog was also in favor).

As I stated at the meeting, I think the schools need to hear from the community (what we are doing well, what we are not doing well, ideas of things we could do better, etc.), and an eletronic suggestion box is just another way for us to get that information (and this item was on the agenda because two different parents had written to me suggesting it). This seems like a particularly easy decision since there are currently suggestion boxes in all of the schools ... we apparently are fine with suggestions ... we just don't want them electronically?

Anyway, I was amused to then receive an email from a friend with a link to a decision made by a School Committee in another small, New England college town that they should have an electronic suggestion box (that would be Williamstown, MA) -- here's the link:

I was particularly struck by the following comments:

"For many years there has been a real suggestion box physically at the Williamstown library and the Lanesborough Public Library for the Mount Greylock School Committee. I think the days of note cards and written suggestions are now sort of dated by the electronic age, and this was a chance to do it," Mount Greylock Superintendent William D. Travis said Friday.

Travis said having the online box is one more avenue for the school committee to gather information from people who make up the school district.

"I think because we don't draw a large attendance at our monthly meetings, it may in fact be a way to get communication from parents, students and members of the community that we might not be getting," he said.

He said he also sees the online suggestion box as a more efficient way for information to be shared between the Mount Greylock community and the school committee.

So, in Williamstown, the School Committee requests an electronic suggestion box, and the Superintendent is in favor ... because it allows community members to communicate their thoughts and ideas about the schools in an effective way. In Amherst, a majority of the School Committee and the Superintendent were against such a box.

If you are in favor of an electronic suggestion box for our schools, I've got two suggestions:

1. Head in right now to your local school (all of the schools have them) and submit a hand-written suggestion that you'd like an electronic suggestion box.

2. Ask each candidate who runs for School Committee this spring whether they would support such a box (there are two Amherst seats up this spring for re-election, and I believe open seats in Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett as well). This seems like a pretty easy issue for candidates to have an opinion on - and it seems like something voters should want to know.


Neil said...

There is no doubt that an e-mail suggestion box requires skillful handling.

"Suggestions" must be shared with board members; and one of the members must take on the responsibility of routing some "suggestions" to administrative staff for response.

That said, how is facilitating communication from parents and others to the school board a bad thing?

This facility is commonplace throughout our society.

You present good ideas on how we could have this in Amherst.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Neil,

Yeah, this idea seemed to me like a total no-brainer ... and I was very willing to do the administrative work to route/organize/compile suggestions. The vote against it on the part of most of my School Committee colleagues was disappointing ... and I do hope people will ask candidates who run for School Committee from now on what they think of this idea and whether they'd vote for it!