I'd like to start this posting by thanking the many people who have written me to thank me for my blog entries and/or commented on how they've watched the meetings on TV (and then inevitably noted how sorry for me they feel!). I'm very pleased to know that so many people in our community are paying attention to the work of the school committee during this critical time -- as we face massive budget cuts and the challenge of hiring a new superintendent. During the meetings, I often feel as if I am standing alone (or nearly alone), so it is indeed encouraging to know that at least some people in the community appreciate my efforts (as someone said to me last week, "Every time you take a stand, I think that is exactly the stand I would take."). Someone who wrote me privately said that my work on School Committee reminds her of a recent quote by David Brooks in the New York Times: "Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so." So, for the record, let me say that I do believe the future for our schools can be better than the present -- there is certainly much that is good in our schools now, but yes, our schools could, and should, be better. But in all honesty, I do NOT have the power to make the future for our schools better entirely on my own -- I need other School Committee members who share my commitment to evidence-based decision-making and a transparent, communicative process. There are two seats open on the Amherst School Committee this spring -- and several more open at the regional level (for residents of Shutesbury, Leverett, Pelham). So, think about good people who are willing to run (feel free to contact me if YOU are considering a run!) ... and please make sure to VOTE for candidates who want a School Committee that is strongly committed to having our schools become a model of excellent public education for all students.
One more thing -- if you'd like to get an email letting you know whenever I've added a new blog entry, send me your email address and I'll add you to my "automatic response" option on my blog (email@example.com).
Now on the summary of this week's meeting: The meeting began with a brief announcement regarding the budget situation for the current year. A parent, Julia Rueschemeyer, asked a question about the district's legal fees, and in particular whether the district is pursuing litigation in special education cases rather than mediation (I've also heard this rumor from parents). She specifically asked if we could get a break-down of what the district spends on legal fees, and how much of that is for special education expenses. I agreed that this seems like important information, and the Superintendent agreed that that information could be provided at the next meeting (by Rob Detweiler).
The meeting than largely focused on the district's affirmative action report, which focused on the percentage of staff of color, effectiveness of hiring staff of color, and reasons why staff of color leave the district. This report is available (I believe it was included with an earlier set of School Committee meeting minutes -- the December 2nd set), so I won't describe all of the different pieces of information included, other than to say that Amherst is apparently 11th of 392 Massachusetts districts in terms of staff of color (and 2nd when you don't include large cities), and that we are clearly taking a number of steps to increase the percentage of teachers of color in our district. For example, the district is hiring a greater percentage of applicants of color than White candidates (for last year, the school district hired 17% of Latino/a applicants, 20% of Asian applicants, and 41% of African American applicants, compared to only 12% of White applicants).
There are certainly people in our community, and indeed on the School Committee, who believe that we should have a greater percentage of staff of color (in part because we have a higher percentage of students of color in the district than staff of color -- 48% students of color versus 19% staff of color). But one of the key issues in trying to have a staff that is as diverse as our students is frankly how many teachers of color there are in Massachusetts -- because if there aren't enough qualified teachers for districts to have a staff/faculty as diverse as their student population, then Amherst is not alone in this struggle. And most importantly, efforts to increase the diversity of our teaching staff should focus more on increasing the percentage of students of color in education schools than simply trying to more effectively recruit existing teachers of color to come to Amherst.
Here's a statement from a report issued by the U Mass - Amherst chancellor, David K. Scott, in 2000: "The dearth of education students of color is a looming problem in teacher preparation. Of 3,500 candidates in the first three administrations of the Massachusetts test, only 2 percent (65 students) declared themselves to be African American, and another 2 percent to be Hispanic American. At a time when Massachusetts is becoming more diverse (25 percent of K-12 students are of color), and when the United States is heading to 50 percent people of color, there is a desperate need for teachers of color to serve as role models." (You can read the whole report at: http://www.umass.edu/pastchancellors/scott/papers/puttothetest.html).
The other important topic discussed at this meeting was the superintendent search. There are 20 applicants for the position (it was initially reported as 22, but the final number of completed applications is 20). The School Committee will meet on January 6th (in Executive Session) to choose semi-finalists to interview, and those interviews will take place later in January. Finalists will then be chosen (probably 3 or 4) and brought to town for public forums in February. I strongly encourage everyone who cares about the future of public education in Amherst to attend each of the public forums -- both to provide feedback about the candidates to the School Committee and to show the candidates that parents and community members in Amherst care passionately about having an academically excellent school system (remember, the interviews work both ways -- we are evaluating the candidates, but we are also showing the candidates what this town cares about and expects in their school leaders).
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.