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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Out of Line" to Blog?!?

As many of you will read in today's Bulletin, a letter from John Keins, a teacher at Marks Meadow, resoundly criticizes my use of this blog as a "bully pulpit to further the agenda of those associated with it." He raises two main points to make his case:

1. I make the claim on my blog that "the vast majority of families now attending Marks Meadow do so because it is their assigned school, not because they necessarily chose it because it is small."

2. I also make the claim on my blog that "I have heard from families at Marks Meadow who are feeling pressured to speak against the closing but are actually hoping we close it and their kids get to go to Wildwood."

He also, more generally, blames me for "erroneous conjecturing" and taking an "improper stance by blatantly espousing her opinions with little solid data to back them up." He also believes that public officials are supposed to be objective.

So, let me now give my response to each of these concerns.

First, as it states clearly at the top of my blog, my blog is "MY BLOG." I am giving my opinions, and certainly even elected officials are allowed to have, and even give, opinions. (And there are no other people associated with my blog, for the record). This is precisely the same way in which teachers and families at Marks Meadow can give opinions, and as other School Committee members have given their opinions on many issues that come before the committee. But more importantly, what is very clear for those who read through my multiple postings, is that I am giving data throughout -- I'm giving projected class sizes in each school, I'm giving projected enrollments by grade at each school, and I'm giving projected cost savings for each model. These numbers aren't just "my opinions" -- they were created by a team of school leaders, and presented at a large and public meeting (which representatives from Marks Meadow attended, including the principal) on Wednesday, January 7th. In fact, many people have actually praised my blog for providing this type of data that is often hard to find in this district. Now, it is MY OPINION that given the cost savings associated with each model and the relative costs/benefits of various ways of reaching a balanced budget that closing Marks Meadow is the best solution. That is indeed entirely my own opinion, but it is based on the objective data that I have seen -- and that, I would say, is precisely the role of an elected official -- to make sure that data is presented, to examine the accuracy of that data, and to then reach an opinion (which I'll have to do when I vote on the budget later this year). Perhaps Mr. Keins and other MM families are concerned that I have reached my opinions sooner than they would like -- because certainly final cost savings numbers are still coming in (as is our funding from the state). But while some small adjustments may appear in the final budget projections in the next month or so, the reality is that the cost savings to be realized from closing MM are immense, and are always going to be immense. As I have written REPEATEDLY, the cost savings from closing MM are achieved by increasing cost efficiencies in class size and thereby reducing need for about 7 teachers (which either of the pairing plans would also accomplish), coupled with the administrative cost savings (principal, secretary, nurse, librarian, music, art, guidance counselor, etc. -- which are ONLY achieved in this plan), and those two types of costs added up are just too important to disregard in the face of a projected million+ budget gap. Mr. Keins and some Marks Meadow families may disagree with my opinion -- they may believe that the community should prioritize having a small school, and that the benefits of having this option outweigh the high cost to all kids of keeping this school open (because we will then obviously have to reach these cost savings in other ways). But that is their opinion, just like my opinion is that closing MM is the best way to reach these cost savings -- we are just weighing the information differently in reaching our opinions.

2. I've looked at the data on School Choice ... and 92% of the kids in Amherst go to their assigned school -- so my statement that the vast majority of kids go to their assigned school seems accurate (92% is, in my opinion, a vast majority). So, Mr. Keins may believe that many families are choosing to go to Marks Meadow, but the reality is that 27% of the families at MM live in U Mass student housing. This is rental housing, meaning that those families haven't made the decision that many people have in this district to buy a house in a particular district so our kids could go to a particular school. I'm quite willing to bet (even without a survey) that when families are arriving to attend graduate school at U Mass, they choose that housing because it is convenient, relatively inexpensive, and is easy to find even from a distance -- not because they are particularly interested in having their children attend a particular elementary school. Do some families buy/rent houses in the MM district so their kids can attend that school? I'm sure that does happen -- I bought my house in the Fort River district so my kids could attend that school. But in my opinion, the fact that 9% of families might prefer a small school (because the MM kids represent only 9% of elementary school kids in our four schools -- and again, at least SOME of these are at this school simply because it is their district) just doesn't justify spending a million a year keeping it open precisely at a time in which we are trying to save a million. That just doesn't seem fair to me to ALL the kids in the district (including those now at MM) who are going to have to pay for music, pay bus fees, have large class sizes, etc., if we don't close MM and hence have to find other ways to balance the budget. And I'm frankly particularly concerned because I see ALL of those solutions as placing a disproportionate burden on low income families -- who do make up 31% of our district (who won't be able to pay for private music lessons, who will find paying for the bus very onerous, and so on).

3. Mr. Keins may or may not believe me ... but the reality is, I have been contacted by MM families who would prefer to have their kids in a larger environment. This is not a slight against the principals or staff or teachers at MM in any way ... it is just that some families feel that their child would benefit from having a broader interaction with more kids, particularly at a school with a very high turn-over rate of kids each year (30%). So when Mr. Keins challenges me to "spend a morning in the Mark's Meadow school" to find a single parent who would prefer for their child to go to a different school -- I haven't needed to spend a morning to find such a family ... because those families have found me. Some of those families are now choosing to not attend Marks Meadow (in some cases because their child had to go to a different school for kindergarten, given the space constraints at MM, and they preferred for their child to stay at the new school; in other cases their child is now at MM, but they are recognizing that the peer group is just very small, and they have serious concerns about that). Mr. Keins should recognize that it is hard for families to share these concerns honestly with teachers and PTO leaders at MM when the public norm at MM is so strongly tilted in one direction. And hence those families are approaching me privately with their concerns.

In sum, let me be very clear about one thing: I am not in favor of closing Marks Meadow. I am, however, strongly in favor of maintaining what I believe most parents value about the Amherst schools: small class sizes, appropriate support staff for kids who need it (guidance counselors, therapeutic aids, etc.), a rich music and art program, FREE buses, and so on. And I have run the numbers the very best way that I can -- and I can't see another way to cut a million from our budget and preserve those things I want to see in our schools. This is indeed my opinion ... and if Mr. Keins or any Marks Meadow parents have specific ideas for ways we can save a million from our schools without closing MM--and without disadvantaging the poorest kids in our district (by charging for buses and music, eliminating support staff who work with kids who are in need, etc.), I'd love to hear them.

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it is very hard for many at Marks Meadow who fear losing their school and/or jobs, and the prospect of closing the school must be frightening for them. But every option impacts or hurts our students and district in some way, so that the goal becomes choosing the best option. I laud Catherine for being one of the few to analyze the situation in a thoughtful, data driven way and to arrive at an informed opinion. Under the circumstances, that is the best we can do.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I, for one, am thrilled that Catherine is blogging about the School Committee! I can't always make the meetings and can't always watch the ACTV recording. Just as I applaud Stephanie O'Keeffee for blogging the Select Board experience (www.stephanieokeeffe.com), I applaud Catherine.

I also want to say that one of the things I like about Catherine is that she DOES include data! This is a huge decision and cannot be made without data. I attended both elementary reorganization meetings and the contentious SC meeting where this was discussed and am very familiar with the data. Any way you slice it, the cost savings from closing MM is clearly the option that will save the most money and the only reorganization option that will even get us CLOSE to the necessarily amount needed to close the budget gap next year.

Catherine makes excellent points--backed up with data--about the relatively few families who attend MM, the fact that 27% of them live in UMass housing (and thus, are getting their education for FREE as UMass does not pay taxes...try multiplying that by the ~$15,000 per pupil expenditure that Amherst spends per year!), and the fact that the majority of MM families did not choose MM specifically but are there by geography.

Big changes are coming. They will affect all our children. Under all of the reorganization scenarios, the majority of our children will be making some kind of school move next year, NOT JUST MM kids. Yes, MM is facing its closing, but under the K-4 and 5-6 model, WW would effectively be losing its school, and ~400 kids attend WW!

And let us not forget what Kathleen Anderson brought up at the SC meeting...MM is a UMass building and there is nothing written in stone that says MM is "ours" for as long as we want it. In my opinion, we are playing with all our children's futures if we ignore that fact.

Finally, I disagree 100% with Mr. Kleins who apparently believes that our elected officials should keep their opinions to themselves. This is what keeps people from being informed! The next time I step into that voting booth, I want to KNOW where the candidates stand on all the issues. You may not agree on Catherine's stance on various things but at least you, as a citizen of Amherst, know where your elected official stands. If all our elected officials blogged as thoroughly and openly as Catherine, we might actually see some change around town. Until then, Catherine, thank you for leading the charge.

John Keins said...

Well, after all that, I’m sure it is quite clear to all those tuning in that this is in fact YOUR blog. But forgive me if I seem condescending. It’s just that you have completely missed the point of my objection, and frankly, with this being your blog and all, I can’t say I’m surprised. You state that “this is precisely the same way in which teachers and families at Marks Meadow can give opinions” and that you are “entitled to my opinion”. I’m going to disagree with you on those two counts with some reservation on the second.

One. I don’t have a blog myself, and I’m guessing that some of the MM families (maybe even some of those who live in the rental housing you mentioned) don’t either, so we can’t freely share and influence opinions as you do, which quite frankly, weigh heavily with those in the district who are concerned with their own children’s welfare and likely don’t mind seeing Marks Meadow serve as a scapegoat, if it means these cuts won’t greatly affect their child and, let’s be honest, that’s what closing MM would amount to. I apologize if that seems insensitive but hey, we’re all concerned about our own kids first. One thing we do all have in common is the right to the best educational experience we can obtain for our children. That’s easier to get hold of if you have a public forum from which to espouse your opinions and harbor your interests.

Two. Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not, you have a responsibility to at least offer the pretense of impartiality and you don’t strike me as doing so on your blog. You work to sway public opinion with the limited pretext that you are educating us when in fact you are also pushing your agenda. I’m sorry, but in my opinion, that is not tolerable or conscientious. You know. Like when you feel free to hypothesize repeatedly in YOUR blog about what you think are my opinions while grouping me with a number of other families, (“Mr. Keins and other MM families”) when in fact you have no true understanding about which way I weigh on the issue of closing Marks Meadow (Yes, I’ll still have a job, and no, my kids don’t go there). As well, you insinuate that I’m calling you a liar “Mr. Keins may or may not believe me” simply because I question with whom you have spoken at Marks Meadow or because I inquire about the level of your contact with MM parents. You presume that because I called you out on your foregone conclusions that I disagree with your take on these issues and so feel free to assail my intentions. Let me be clear. I disagree with the concept of your blog because it is inherently unfair to the voices which cannot be heard, not because I have much interest in your opinions, which I believe need to be filtered at the very least, considering your position and influence. In my estimation, you gave up some of the freedom of being a completely private citizen and being able to blithely state your opinions when you took on the school committee role and thus have a level of accountability with regard to how you are presenting information. That’s the point I was making in my letter to the Amherst Bulletin.

With regard to your statement that the “vast majority” of Marks Meadow families only go there because it is their assigned school. (You DID say vast majority of MM families originally, NOT vast majority of Amherst students as you now state), I still don’t get it, or maybe you don’t. Didn’t you just report that only 27% of the families at MM live in U Mass student housing? How does the remaining 70% or so not translate into a “vast majority” that are there BECAUSE of the school? I’m willing to bet (without a survey, of course) that grad student families moving to U Mass (just like regular families) also look at the ratings for schools their children might possibly attend and even alter their choice of where they will live if need be. Do some grad student families buy/rent houses in the MM district so their kids can attend that school? I'm sure that happens too.

I don’t know if you intend to be patronizing, but some of us at Mark’s Meadow do understand the” issues associated with a smaller school and recognize that it is hard for families to share these concerns honestly with teachers and PTO leaders at MM” (for the record, it’s the PGG – you would know that if you had ever actually set foot in the building).. You also mentioned that you “haven't needed to spend a morning (at MM) because those families have found me”. What are we talking here? Five families? Ten? Out of what, a hundred and seventy five or so? Come on.
Firstly, you’re so vague about where your information is coming from that you are essentially free to claim anything. Second, how about trying to talk to families that don’t come to you with complaints about the school? That would result in a fair and impartial assessment of what MM families are actually experiencing. Just a thought.

Frankly, I resent the direct assertion that I’m out of touch with what MM families are thinking and the innuendo that I’m part of some secret alliance of MM families that are plotting to keep the school open at any cost. I have known many of these people for a long time, both in the school and otherwise, and if closing the school is the best thing for our town, so be it. I live here too. I, like many MM and I’m sure all Amherst families, just want to be sure that the process is one that reflects the best interests of all families and not heavily weighted by the few.

I am greatly enthusiastic of your efforts to educate those concerned about some of the speculative data with regard to the various options and the cost savings from closing MM and dealing with our budgetary problems. I must ask however: Isn’t there some crucial information missing? Let’s be honest, you may be “giving data throughout” your blog, but we all know that data can be presented in a way that accentuates and/or compromises a certain viewpoint. To wit:
I haven’t seen any information on how much is it going to cost to close Marks Meadow. It must be significant. I mean, we’re not just going to throw some stuff in a box and walk out the door, right? Has any of the cost regarding lengthier bus routes been analyzed or factored into the equation? What about paying to get that portable (you know, the one that was just installed with electrical and heating hookups last week?) classroom over to one of the other schools? Will this change affect the contract with the food services folks? As in, will we owe them money? I’m sure I must be missing something. By the same token, are you truly qualified to analyze this data? I mean, I have a doctorate too, but I wouldn’t know a trend cycle from an irregular component if my life depended on it. . Just wondering… Admittedly, I’m na├»ve about a great deal of the good work you and the committee has been doing to determine these needs but I’m sure of one other thing: the university is not likely to tell the district to “come on home” if we have a change of heart. And losing that setting, as well as the one diaphanous connection that the district has to the school of education, carries an inestimable price.

Well, that’s it. Sorry I couldn’t respond earlier or return your phone call but my wife works late on Thursday nights and I had kids to feed and put to bed. Thanks for the opportunity to respond in kind.

Following the Debate said...

Mr. Keins, if you feel strongly that the MM constituency is disadvantaged because it doesn't have a blog, I have two points for you:
1. Marks Meadow PGG DOES have a blog (http://marksmeadow.blogspot.com/) so there is an electronic venue already in place to help share information and encourage conversation. Information on the potential reorganization was last posted on December 21st and there were zero comments to that post.
2. Blogging is free (www.blogger.com) so any community member should feel free to start their own blog to cover this issue. I say, the more, the better! Tax dollars go to support computer access at our libraries, so there is a way for even those without computers at home to participate in the blogosphere. I would argue that MM parents are MORE at an advantage than others since a large proportion of them are students at UMass and thus also have access to extensive computer resources at the University.

Let's encourage more community participation...start your own blog! I have kids in the schools and our family is anxiously awaiting the outcome of the decision on reorganization. We are in FR and likely to be moving schools under any plan.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Mr. Keins,

I have no interest in escalating this discussion ... so I will make only a few points. And the most important of those is that I am trying my best to look out for all the children in Amherst -- not only those who go to my kids' school (Fort River), and not only those who go to Marks Meadow (or WW, or CF). So, as you note, you are concerned about the MM children first ... but I'm not, and I frankly can't be, as an elected official, any more than I can worry that my kids will have to move schools and lose their friends if I vote to close MM. I have to look out for all the kids, and I can't prioritize some kids over others (although I am going to -- and I'm being honest about this -- prioritize the neediest kids in our district, those on free/reduced lunch, more than others).

I have looked at the data ... it doesn't require a PhD. It requires a calculator. I have the budget for last year, so I can tell you exactly what we spent on each school (and this is public information). I also have the projected class enrollments for next year, so again, I can add up how many teachers would be needed under each of various plans (again, this information is all on my blog). Those two pieces of data together -- again, ALL of this is available to the public and NONE of this requires high level calculations/expertise -- lead me to conclude that closing MM is the most cost savings of all the approaches by far. That is my opinion, but it is based in data. Sure, there are other costs (e.g., moving the portables, moving furniture, etc.), but those are quite small and ONE TIME expenses. Keeping MM open is not cheap, and it incurs costs every year.

You describe closing MM as "scapegoating" the MM kids, and again, I just don't see this. They travel together, in one school. The kids at both FR and CF would be separated from friends when they move to a new school. If we don't close MM, all the kids in all the schools -- INCLUDING the kids in MM -- will incur costs (cuts in music, larger classes, bus fees). So, my decision is based on not wanting all the kids to incur those costs ... even though it means many kids (perhaps half the district) will have to change schools (again, NOT just the MM kids but many other kids).

I made the point that some families at MM would prefer not to be at that school in an earlier blog entry, based on the families who have contacted me. I can't and won't identify them because they are concerned about privacy -- as one said to me earlier this week, "if we don't close MM, I'm going to have to stay with these families next year so I can't tell them how I feel." Your letter in the Bulletin asked whether I could find one family -- and I have (more than 1, actually) -- who would like to move schools. I never said it was 10 or 20 or most -- but you challenged me to find 1, which is what I was responding to. I'm sorry if you feel I'm being vague -- if those families wanted to identify themselves, they could and they will -- I'm certainly not going to name names here to confirm to you that some MM families have these feelings.

One final point -- I have stepped foot in MM many times. My older son practices basketball there each Thursday, I have attended a PGG meeting (sorry about calling it a PTO - again, this hardly seems like a massive offensive), and I have worked closely with parents at MM (including Meg Rosa, Derek Shea, and Tracy Hightower) on various school-related communities over the years. But as an elected official, I can't make a decision based on emotional pulls of how special people feel about MM or the feelings at a community breakfast. I understand it is a special place. I believe all of the parents/teachers/staff at all of the four schools see their own school as very special, and they are all right. But ultimately, I think what is really special about Amherst education is what goes on in the classroom -- not where that classroom is located geographically. And thus, I need to make decisions based on data (including the impact of budget cuts on all kids), not emotions, and I need to do so in a way that supports the essential aspects of the on-going learning that occurs in all schools (including small classes, instrumental music, and free buses). If parents/teachers/community members disagree with my decision/analysis, they are free to let me know that at any time -- as you have in the Bulletin, and have many have on this blog. And obviously, people will be free to vote for my opponent in the next election.

As you may or may not know, I campaigned on a platform of making decisions based objective data and increasing the transparency with which the School Committee functions. My blog is an attempt to accomplish both of those goals -- to show people how I'm reaching my decisions and to give them a chance to communicate with me directly (as you, and others, have). Certainly MM families are free to write on this blog at any time --- and, as another writer commented, to start their own blogs to share their own views. I frankly like the dialogue that this blog has created, and I do plan to continue sharing my opinions and thought processes in this way.

Gavin Andresen said...

Mr. Keins says:
"you have a responsibility to at least offer the pretense of impartiality..."

I would much rather have honest school committee members that strive to tell me the truth, and tell me what they're thinking and what personal biases are or are not affecting their judgments.

The alternative is to have meaningless, polite discussions in which you can't tell whether or not the person you're talking to agrees with you. You know, like a typical conversation with a politician.

But you'll be disappointed when they turn around and do exactly the opposite of what you'd discussed...

John Keins said...

Ms. Sanderson
Nor do I want to escalate the discussion; because it is clearly overshadowing at this moment the meaningful work you are doing/have done for our schools, our children, and the families in Amherst. I want to point out however, that I never did nor ever would, ask you to identify MM families you have spoken with. What would that accomplish? I was indicating that because of the nature with which you present your interactions with them, we have no idea what it means. Is it one parent, two? There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t prefer the situation they are in.
At any rate, thank you for the opportunity to express my viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the issue with the blog is that it is called "My School Committee Blog" which gives the ownership of the SC to Catherine Sanderson, by using that statement. That is where the line gets a little fuzzy to me. Also, the fact that in order to read this blog and learn from it and question it and all of us benifit from it, YOU HAVE TO KNOW IT IS HERE! There is no link from the SC page to get here. You have to go looking for something like this or have someone tell you it is here. I haven't found other SC members with blogs, but I haven't looked to hard either yet. This does limit the decusiion to only those who know to come here, read and feel free enough to respond, even anonymously. Also the PTO Blogs must stay neutral. They can not be used in a polictical form. They might be able to point people in directions to find information, but can not publish their opinions on this matter. Honestly, to me, it seems like people are being steered in a paticular direction on here, which may end up being the right one, but we don't know for sure yet. There are a lot of assumptions about MM being made on here as well. We don't know how any parents are feeling about anything unless we have spoken with them directly. We should not be making assumptions that becasue we have talked to so many people, that makes the opinons for all parents clera. There are about 150 families in MM and to just pick out a handful that feel strong enough to say anything at all and use their opinions across the board is irresponsible of all of us. I am sure you could find people in ALL the schools who are there because that's where they were supposed to be, or they bought their house to be there, or they open-enrolled in. Some people like small schools, some like large. These opinions will vary with everyone you talk to. These opinions should not be used as an argument for any side of this issue.

Most people do seem to understand that we need the hard, factual numbers before making any decision. We do not have them yet. We are getting some state numbers today, which seem to look better for education. There are a lot of emotions that will go into peoples opinions about this, but this decision can not be made with emotions. It has to be made with the facts. All of our kids eduaction will look very different next year, regardless of where they go to school, who their classmates are, etc. I personally, like having a small school option in Amherst. There are definetly some children who do better in that environment than in lareger buildings. The opposite is also true. There are always two sides to a coin and we need to stop fighting back and forth about which option is the best for all children. based on our own opinions. We need to come together as one and fight to preserve ALL of our children's educations! What hurts one, hurts us all and what helps one, helps us all. We must take this step by step, with out rushing into a premade decision, look at all the real facts when we get them (we don't have them all yet) and make a decision that is the best across the board. If it is closing a school, so be it. Our kids will still be able to thrive. If we get to keep the schools open, even better. We must fix the equality of our district though. Please go back and take a look at the map. This is hurting all of our children. Maybe not at the elementary level, but it will in MS and High School when all those kids who are so far ahead, have to be slowed down to let the kids who didn;t have such a great start, catch up. We have to work as one for the longterm benifits of our kids.
Please stop with the "he said, she said" and please stop talking about numbers that have not been finalized yet. We are still dealing without the real numbers. Until the next SC meeting Feb 10, we won't have this information. Take a breath. Take a step back. Lower the emotional level and let's work together to come up with a solution that most benifits ALL of our children.
Thanks for your time.

Spread the Word said...

I agree that only those who know this blog is here will be reading it. So, spread the word! Let's get more readers! Informed voters benefit our entire community. I wish all of our School Committee members had blogs; I would really like to know what each and every one of them are thinking. Not only on this issue but on all issues vital to our children's education.

Marks Meadow Parents said...

Hi "Following the debate" we do have a venue On the Mark's Meadow PGG blogspot. We update information too...as it comes in. Sorry you haven't seen it. Please feel free. to add your comments.

All Comments are welcome.

amherstmom said...

Anonymous I agree 100%. No Back and Forth just some real numbers and a real strategic plan to benefit all our kids.

Following the Debate said...

Thanks, Marks Meadow parents, for creating another on-line forum! I think that's great. This new information wasn't up when I checked your site this morning (when I recommended it to Mr. Keins) but look forward to a good discussion.

Stefan Petrucha said...

As a public official Catherine has every right, and indeed a responsibility, to express her opinion in her blog. I applaud her for doing so and for keeping the conversation open.

That said, John makes some telling points about the ways in which her opinion dovetails facts and conjecture. Anytime Catherine, or any of us speak “without a survey” or guess about the motives of parents at UMASS, or assume that because one person has run the numbers “every which way” that all possibilities have therefore been taken into consideration, or so on and so forth, only marches us further away from the clarity important decisions require.

Catherine presents the closing of MM as a Hobson’s Choice (which is to say, no choice at all) -- close MM or lose all the arts and music, charge for the buses, etc. It seems so clear -- I for one would certainly opt to close MM if it would bring about peace in the Middle East.

Yet, even using the numbers presented here, all the plans lose between 6-7 teachers. Closing MM brings an additional savings of about $350k. $350k is a hefty sum, but not the “million” in savings Catherine continues to conflate it with.

To be totally clear, I don’t believe there’s anything nefarious about Catherine’s argument. I believe it’s her honest opinion that we face a Hobson’s choice. She may, in the end, be right. But it’s not the end yet.

At some point we’ll be presented with a professionally produced budget that spells out the options – what exactly would be lost if we cut $500k/$1M/$1.5M. Rather than draw battle lines prematurely, it seems this will be a more appropriate time to argue and discuss what to do.

For another POC, over the weekend, myself and several MM parents wrote an Op-Ed piece on the subject, which we’d hoped would be in today’s Bulletin, but wasn’t published. It’s now been posted at the Mark’s Meadow PGG Blog -- https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=1129138503337418059&postID=8233121606206728300&isPopup=true. I hope some of you will take a look and join in the discussion there.

MM parents fearful of identifying themselves can feel free to post anonymously!

Meg Rosa said...

I just want to say as the Co-Chair of the Marks Meadow PGG, I have had people come up me to and freely state their opinions of what they would like to see happen with the school, even when their opinion was closing the school. Personally I have not said that I am against closing MM. I have said that IF it needs to happen, it Needs to be done correctly and not with a rush decision. Yes, personally I would be upset by the school closing. I have a 6th grader who has been there since Kindergarten and now another son in 3rd and a daughter going into Kindergarten next year. I LOVE MM and yes I would hate to see it go! It has been a wonderful experience for my family. That being said, we could move on and adapt to whatever may come our way. I will give my children the education they may lack in school if the rooms are too crowded, if the sports are cut, if any of these things that have a chance (no matter how small the chance)of happening, do happen. I will be there and continue fighting for what my kids need to be the best they can be, whatever happens with this. That is my personal part. I am sure many parents in this community feel the same. I have a hard time hearing over and over again that parents are afraid to come to the PGG officers. We hear from lots of people with lots of different opinions. I am completely open to hearing any ideas, comments, suggestions, etc from anyone. I will not judge or try to push my personal opinions on any parent who may disagree with me. That is not my place to do that. I love hearing everyone's ideas. I love hearing that people are excited and thinking about this. I also love that people have different opinions than I do. That is what will make this work in the long run. People need to be willing to listen to each other and really think about what other people are saying. We, as the PGG, do not want to push anyone into feeling a certain way. We do want people to be able to be heard though. I, personally, feel like there needs to be some forums set up, maybe at each school, maybe a community one at the MS maybe all of those, but people need a way to let their voices be heard. Also, I believe a follow-up letter to all parents on where things stand right now. I feel that people need to hear how and when this decision will be made. Who will be making this decision. These things need to be made clear to all parents. Many may not be able to make it to the meetings. It should also be announced that you can watch the SC meetings on ACTV as well. Although they would not be able to participate in those discussions. I really feel that all parents need to be invited into these large discussions.
Please, for the record, I am open to any and all ideas! Please let me know. Thank you!! Meg Rosa

Ed said...

One fact that is relevant here:

There are 208 units in North Village. Of these, about 120 are small (~300 square feet) one bedroom units and the rest slightly larger (505 square feet) 2 bedroom units.

Right next door is Puffton, with about 463(?) units, many of them with *4* bedrooms, units 400-463 (Puffton IV) were built as subsidized and many of the people living there have Section 8 Vouchers. Across the street is Crestview and down the way is Hobart Lane, the whole area is rental. And the Amherst Housing Authority has a bunch of Section 508 duplexes across the street and one block back from Marks' Meadow.

So C. Sanderson's point about renters picking rental housing because it is available and somewhat affordable involves more than just the 208 NVA units.

And I would be cautious saying the 27% are all UMass Graduate Student's children. The question I would ask the parents is "how many of you are a member of a UMass labor union and a UM employee?"

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Stefan and Meg,

Thanks for your comments -- and just to clarify: the five members of the Amherst School Committee will vote on the budget, so the five members of the Amherst School Committee will vote on whether to close MM, reconfigure the schools, or massively slash the budgets. That vote will not happen in February (too soon) -- I believe it could happen in March (depending on when we could get a sense of what the new districts would be), and it could happen in April. Later would seem to me to be unlikely, given the planning that would need to take place (e.g., kindergarten registration). But I also think it is possible we keep MM open this year and then put this whole issue in the lap of the new superintendent next year -- so even a vote to keep MM open this year is unlikely to keep this possibility off the table, I'd imagine.

My understanding is that some PTOs are going to host forums for parents to give their thoughts in late February -- and certainly MM school leaders should/could organize one (the budget numbers will be in, or mostly in, on February 10th). I've also had a parent offer to make a "survey monkey" option for parents/teachers/community members to express views, which I think is a great idea (but again, this needs to wait until the numbers are out).

Meg: thank you for your openness to any and all solutions, and I think MM parents who are reading your comments will frankly feel relieved to hear your thoughtful words here. Thank you for making this public stand! Your three kids are almost exactly the same ages as mine (my sons will be in 6th and 3rd next year and my daughter will start kindergarten), and so I know first-hand that this whole situation is stressful to moms and kids (my kids certainly would prefer no music/art and bus fees to moving from FR to CF!).

Stefan: I know you are hoping the budget scenario is different than it will be ... but the reality is, closing MM saves $700,000 ish (between the teachers and the administrators), and I just don't see any other plan that gets us anywhere close to that (the other plans save half that, and increase bus times, lead to staggering of starts of schools, have more transition costs, etc.). And I see that for next year, and the year after, and so on (again, based on the FCCC report, the gap between revenue and spending is truly frightening and increasing year by year). I am not just thinking about can we muddle through with no music/art and bus fees next year -- I'm trying to find a way that gets us out of having this discussion again every spring so our teachers and parents can have some stability and predictability about their schools.

But once the numbers come in on February 10th, it will be very informative to hear what choices the community prefers ... and I certainly agree that those voices should be heard (though I have great confidence that those voices won't be unanimous, and in fact that the voices of those who would be most impacted by cutting music and charging bus fees will be least likely to be heard/expressed).

Anonymous said...

Abbie says:

The latest news from Boston "While Patrick said he would not cut state educational assistance to cities and towns for the remainder of this fiscal year, he revealed that his 2010 budget will level-fund education next year." Patrick is cutting $128 million in state aid from the remainder of this year's budget. He is NOT cutting Chapter 70 (local aid to Education). Next year we will not be so lucky. "He also proposed a far larger cut next year. Patrick also said he would recommend cutting local aid by $375 million from the budget he is developing for the 2010 fiscal year, which starts July 1."

So we don't need to "rush" and have a bit of time to carefully analyze the options in anticipation of the next round of cuts. Maybe a miracle will happen and we won't need to implement a solution but it sure is important to have some on the shelf!

This doesn't mean we won't still need to make more cuts (i.e. remember the school budget was supposed to be 2% increase but the superintendents created one at 3.7%). Just doesn't look like the 1-1.4 million we feared.

JWolfe said...

As I've posted about other threads on Catherine's blog, I'm heartened by the level of discourse and vigorous debate here. Thanks to everyone who posts.

But, as an educator myself, I have to admit to being truly stunned that a teacher believes a School Committee member is not supposed to express her opinions. That it is on her own blog is irrelevant.

Let's review:

Teachers are town employees. They're educators, not generally policy makers. They have every right and indeed an obligation to share their opinions. The one place they have to be careful about that is in the classroom. They have some checks on where and how they express opinions.

School Committee members are unpaid elected officials. Put another way, they're politicians. We vote for them, I hope, because we think they're competent. But we also vote for them because they take clear positions on the issues. I voted for Catherine because she supports many of the goals & ideals I support. Our elected officials not only don't have limits on where and how they express themselves, they are in fact morally obligated to tell us what they think about the issues.

Put another way, would you prefer smiles and public agreement and lots of happy talk and then having the SC vote to do things you find completely at odds with what you had thought they were going to do?

The question isn't why does Catherine tell us what she's thinking, it's why aren't the other SC members more forthcoming and honest about what they're planning to do?

This business about the SC speaking with one voice, etc. is also just wrong. Can you name an elected body in the US that behaves that way? Should John Olver have told us he supported everything the Republican-controlled House of Representatives did before the Democrats retook control? Does that make any sense at all?

This sort of feels like Civics 101, but elections aren't about putting bureaucrats in place. Elections are about some direct expression of the popular will. If the residents of Amherst disagree with Catherine or feel she didn't live up to her campaign promises, they get to vote her out in a couple of years. By expressing her opinions on her blog, Catherine is being open and honest about what she thinks about education in Amherst and plans to do on SC.

This blog is a THE place in Amherst to have an informed debate about education. The SC meetings are largely a farce and the public is treated shamefully.

I hope everyone continues to debate the issues, but let's never tell an elected official that she doesn't have a right to have and express publicly an opinion of her own.

Mary Zyskowski said...

I'm a Fort River parent, but from what I gather, many of the MM families want to continue to have the small school experience as an option. Regionalization was brought up at the SC meeting. Would there be enough room in the Shutesbury, Leverett or Pelham elementary schools for the MM families who want their kids to continue at a smaller venue?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Mary: Good idea! Pelham now takes School Choice students, and definitely that would be a good option for some MM families (if their school closes). I believe that Shutesbury and Leverett do NOT currently take School Choice students, but that could of course change if/when regionalization occurs.

Anonymous said...

Just remember everyone....cuts have to come regardless of what anyone thinks! One can "want" to keep something... but the honest reality is some things will be cut. The question will be what is in the best interest of the "town" as a whole...not just a select group who think they are above the rest of the town. Keep up the great blogging Catherine!

The Way I See It said...

Elected officials do have limits on what they can say-their First Amendment rights do have some boundaries, just like any private citizen, but public officials have more responsibilities since they owe a duty to the public that they serve. Although I believe that it is beneficial to receive information about what the School Committee is doing, it is even better if we receive accurate, unbiased information, and that is not always the case here. There is a fine line between Ms. Sanderson's personal opinions and informed opinions based upon hard numbers and facts that she needs to make as a public official. I think that we should step back, take a deep breath, and see that there should not be a rush to close Marks Meadow after Governor Patrick's news about the state budget, een if it ends up being the most viable solution after careful study and deliberation. At least things don't seem so desperate so everybody needs to slow down and carefully examine the data as it becomes available.

Ed Cutting said...

This is one of the times that I consider Amherst an alternate dimension of reality. It is the only concept I can use to explain just how surreal this community is at times.

I am a fourth generation teacher. Yes tenure and union protections have come in over the years, but I am still of the opinion that any teacher who published in the local newspaper a letter that started with the words that a board member was "out of line" would be fired.

Personally (and professionally) I think the teacher himself was "out of line" for resorting to an ad hominem attack on Dr. Sanderson.

In the K-12 world I grew up in, it is not considered good form for teachers to even publicly criticize school policy, even if it is in your town, even if your children are in the schools. (You get someone else to do it for you...)

Teachers are role models and if you publicly show disrespect then you are authorizing the students to do so and then things get really fun, particularly if you are teaching high school, which I did. And for the same reason you don't buy beer in the town you are teaching in -- you go an extra 10-20 miles or so to the next district so that you aren't buying it from your own students.

But to personally attack - in an ad hominem manner - a board member who is the appointing authority? There are districts where one would be fired - tenure notwithstanding - for just that. I like to think that Dr. Sanderson would never dream of doing something like that, but this is what happens in the reality that is the bubble which is Amherst.

The issue of if Marks' Meadow should remain open or be closed is a public policy debate, a complex one. (And yes, I do know why the UMass partnership abruptly ended a while back and the only reason it didn't make it into the MMan was the three children then in the Middle School and the fact that I have a conscience.)

The days of educational funding largess is over and we are going to have to make some tough choices. I like to think that we are going to have something resembling educational research involved, along with civil discourse and the like.

But as to the letter in the Bulletin, as a teacher I have no problem saying that it was inappropriate.

Ed Cutting, MEd, CAGS
Certified: Social Studies & English
Taught: English & Math

Ed said...

it is even better if we receive accurate, unbiased information, and that is not always the case here. There is a fine line between Ms. Sanderson's personal opinions and informed opinions based upon hard numbers and facts that she needs to make as a public official
----

Welcome to Alice in Wonderland....

Three points. First, an elected official has not only a right but a DUTY to state what the official thinks so that you can be an educated voter in the next election.

Second, and this is what so irritates me with the political left, the opinions you agree with and the facts cited to support them are no more inherently "informed" than those with which you disagree.

There are binary facts, the Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1789 (and Amherst voted against doing so). But in most cases the debates are over conflicting principles and the best way to achieve similar ends.

And, damn it, it really does help your case to cite evidence in support of it instead of simply attacking the other side.

Maybe Marks Meadow should be closed. Maybe not. Maybe there are third options, including going to multi-building principalships like other districts in this state have done -- each building has its vice principal but you can get rid of two principals and two nurses at (with benefits) what - $400K?

If Dr. Sanderson (or anyone) is lying or doing shoddy research or citing the wrong statistics then you call her on it, but please end this "accurate, unbiased" charade.

Neil said...

As a reader with no skin in the game other than being a former resident who loves his hometown, I see it this way.

The teacher is clearly dedicated to his work, the institution MM, and his students.

The board member is clearly dedicated to the quality of education Amherst public schools provide and the premise that a million dollar structural deficit in the budget must be addressed.

So the question is: How can we do so with minimal deleterious effect on the quality of the eduction. An important but subordinate issue, can it be done in such a way as to retain our best teaching and administrative talent?

The debate is a good one because the more good ideas and arguments asserted, the better the outcome. If the issues can be debated here, Good. If not here, then elsewhere in a way that makes them accessible to residents and interest parties.

The Way I See It said...

A public employee like John Keins has a right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern as long as it is not disruptive of the workplace. He is a citizen of Amherst who happens to be a teacher-he did raise some valid concerns and I do not know why he was attacked just because he disagrees with this blog.
If you want more information about this, google Pickering v. Bd. of Ed.,391 U.S 563 (1968).

Many towns and cities have very specific guidelines and rules for how public officials and employees can blog because of some of the legal implications. In most instances, a disclaimer that the blog is the personal opinion of the blogger is not usually enough. Does the Town of Amherst have a"blogging" policy?

Why do some people always resort to mudslinging against people who they perceive as liberals or the left especially when they do not know someone's political leanings and it really has nothing to do with the present issue?

I agree that a public official should voice her opinions but it is problematic when there seems to be a bias and she is debating constituents about matters that she is going to eventually vote on as a part of her official duties.

Discussion with constituents is a good thing, but why not reach out to those in the community who do not have a voice here and hold some public, in person discussions about this. I would like to hear from other School Committee members and I like to be able to gauge a person's true meaning by watching them and his or her body language. So much can be misinterpreted when you just read it online. I do commend you Ms. Sanderson for communicating with your constituents because other than School Committee meetings. When are the other voices on the School Committee heard? It would be great to have a public forum with all members of the committee and the community because there are limits on public participation at your meetings and everybody can not attend the meetings because of their schedules.

Ed, if there are hard numbers and detailed reportsabout alternatives(not just re: Marks Meadow but reconfiguring the schools too where can I find them? I never stated that Ms. Sanderson lied and if alternative numbers projections have not been made public, then I can not cite them. I and other constituents are asking for more information and usually when a government body or a corporation is going to make an informed decision, they get the data from experts in a particular area to help them make the best decision possible. I know that is what I want the School Committee to do when making decisions that will affect our children and their education.

I agree with Meg Rosa that we need to come together and find a solution that is good for our kids because this name calling is a bit disheartening and not very productive.

amherstmom said...

"The Way I see it" You are fantastic! Very clear, very concise.

I would like to also add this:
If we held our town as a Business and looked at the legal or ethical implications of what a Board Member were putting out into the public all of this blogging might go away.
The town (a business) would probably have a policy on what their board members could share with the public and the HR department would probably have an Employee contract that had a non-discloser agreement that might limited what an employee could share or not.

As shareholders (tax Payers) we would sit down and look at a solid report. It would have several options of the next move, which will impact the next few years of the company. The operations data, budgeting options, qualitative reports and then take a vote. In a business we would vote on the plan/model that would move our company forward. Companies have usually a budget that forecasts out at least 2 years and sometimes more. The School Committee is looking at one year and thankfully more than one scenario.

I think our company (Amherst Elementary School District) its employees the Superintendent all the way to the part-time administrator), and our Board (The School Committee), needs to take the time to look into the future and see what lies ahead, in redistricting, in the loss of an asset (a school campus), in the budgeting, new potential sources of income (School Choice), in the trend of the economy, and the overall moral of the companies employees as cuts are made and schools are reorganized.

I frankly would like to hear more from our employees. (Teachers, Superintendents, Town Manager!), however, I think our Board members (School Committee), should be “listening” and not spilling the beans before the plans are laid out.

Yes, give the forum for feed back on the plans, have all board members read the feedback, but don’t put plans with numbers until you are dead sure you are ready for the shareholders to vote.

Let us not forget what happened to John Mackey (the CEO of Wholefoods Market),
In January 2005, someone using the name "Rahodeb" went online to a Yahoo stock-market forum and posted this opinion: “No company would want to buy Wild Oats Markets Inc., at its price of $8 a share.”

The stock dropped to $5 a share after that comment and guess who swooped in to buy Wild Oats “Rahodeb” ie: John Mackey. Well the FTC had a problem with that and he was in a whole mess of trouble with both his board members and shareholders.

Ed Cutting said...

Should *a* Mark's Meadow school exist? Note the grammar, I am not asking if the current school should be closed or not, I am asking a far larger question.

First proposed to be named after the Governor's late (first) wife and then later named after him, Furculo Hall (and the attached Mark's Meadow school) was built a half century ago in a very different world.

UMass had a major (and growing) program in teacher certification. It was a time when women were fired upon their first pregnancy and I believe that female schoolteachers were not even permitted to be married. What you had was not only the baby boom swamping the schools of the era but a large number of women who went into elementary education knowing that they would be out of it, married and with children of their own, before they were 30. And this was before the community colleges were created.

And not all the women certified to teach actually ever did - it (like home economics) was a respectable thing for a girl to major in even if she fully intended to marry the month after she graduated, this in an era when most women didn't work.

With the median career of an elementary school teacher being maybe 5-7 years, and with enrollment increasing every year (particularly in Western Massachusetts as UMass expanded and hired junior faculty), you had to have a massive certification program to meet the needs of the schools, not just in Amherst.

And this was before FERPA (Buckley Amendment), before Human Subjects Research Review panels and the related ethical guidelines, and before we had to worry about creeps and perverts. It was the era of "better living through chemistry" and parents trusted academia.

The students at Marks Meadow were to be - essentially - lab rats. They were there for the UMass students learning to teach to observe and to practice on. It was like Tufts Dental Clinic -- the children there were being taught by student teachers but with the supervision of professors.

The undergraduate education major became less popular in the 1980s when teacher pay hit its nadar and jobs essentially unavailable with teacher layoffs an annual event. (The untold story is that reductions in class size were advocated, in part, as a means to save teacher jobs.)

When the Mass Education Reform Law was passed in the early '90s, UMass chose to abandon its undergraduate certification program and all of its elementary certification programs. The Dean at the time was from the Social Justice program and in the midst of budget cuts, the decision was made to save Social Justice at the expense of certification.

A few years later, UMass abandoned the "partnership" of the "lab school" and hence Amherst had a strings-free school in a UMass heated building. And someone nailed up a plywood wall to sorta separate the two buildings, but they really aren't separate...

There are many, MANY questions that need to be asked here, underlying policy questions that go far beyond the question of just closing or not closing the particular school. And it needs to be remembered that the unique nature of Marks' Meadow is a fluke of history and hence something that not only is unaffordable now but would have been unaffordable then were the district fully responsible for staffing the building (as it is now).

Anonymous said...

> A public employee like John
> Keins has a right as a citizen
> to speak... Pickering v. Bd.
> of Ed.,391 U.S 563 (1968).

365 UMass Resident Assistants (dorm supervisors) will be glad to know this because their contract states that they are not permitted to disagree with any UMass policy.

And they have a union, so if _Pickering_ applied, I am sure they would have sued...

Ed said...

> The town (a business) would
> probably have a policy on what
> their board members could share
> with the public

There is one difference here. A private business is trying to deceive both its competitors and the public. Things like "trade secrets" "propriety information" and the like are an inherent public policy acceptance of this, along with the fact that the FIOA doesn't apply to WalMart.

By contrast, the public inherently is the top management of any public sector operation. So what this person essentially is saying is that midlevel management ought to be able to regulate what top management is able to learn about operations and any top manager would flip out upon learning of such an effort.

What you are essentially saying is that Dr. Sanderson ought not to say anything until the board makes its final decision and it is too late for anyone to provide input to the decision. What if something she is basing her decisions on is simply wrong and if she would be willing to modify her views if shown it?

Case in point: the story is that the Nazis were not able to build an atomic bomb because one of their best scientists made a simple mistake in calculating the atomic weight of heavy water (simple addition mistake). No one dared question Herr Doctor Professor and hence no bomb.

A good thing there, but perhaps not here. What I am seeing is a debate that consists not of new evidence to counter hers but attacks on her for presenting hers. Well folks, where are your figures? YOUR projected enrollment numbers, et al?

Neil said...

The solution to "bad" free speech isn't less free speech, it's more free speech. (I am not calling this blog "bad" free speech just allowing others to make that argument.)

The benefits of expanding communications and testing them in open debate ought to be obvious.

In any case, the blog owner gets one vote on a board with five other members. Keep that in mind before you suggest restrictions on board members communications as a matter of policy.

Talking about more communications, I wonder if a constructive open forum to solicit input from the community could be structured.

Part of what will make this project successful is agreeing on the problem statement and principles to keep in mind while finding the solution.

Change management can also help prepare the constituency for the change determined by the school board.

Ed said...

I agree -- and let me take it one step further.

There are about 200 other school districts in the Commonwealth. There are 49 other land grant colleges (in other states). There are four adjacent states which, while with different laws, may be relevant.

Essentially Amherst is stuck in time and is looking at changes that other communities were forced to make 15-20 years ago.

A: Going from many local elementary schools to fewer or one.

B: Declining enrollment. Started here in '94, started everywhere else in, well 1970 or so on the elementary level.

C: "Gentrification" -- I use the word here because that was the challenge elsewhere but I am talking about the shift from discrimination/segregation along strictly racial lines to being along economic ones.

I mention land grant colleges because UMass was not the only college to have a teacher certification program in the 1960s nor is Amherst the only "college town" in America. What did places like Framingham and Salem and Fitchburg do with *their* "lab schools" when EdReform passed 15 years back?

My point here is that those of good will who have strong opinion as to what Amherst should or shouldn't do ought to go out and do some research so as to find physical examples of other communities that have done what they would like to see here == and show that it worked.

Anonymous said...

I feel the Blogging is OK to do. It may or may not cross some lines. Specifically, I do not know any laws about Blogs and elected officers. I feel the biggest issue is with the name of the blog. "My School Committee Blog" sounds like Catherine Sanderson is saying that she "owns" the School Committee. Saying something like "My Experience On The School Committee" or something similar would sound better.

I also feel that there are some ways this blog may seem to be directed at certain people. I understand it is Catherine's view but it also seems like it is steering some people's views in her direction. Maybe I am reading it wrong.
After reading a lot of people's comments about how Marks Meadow is a "boutique school" or "quasi- private school" and that parents there are "romanticizing" the school, it really seems unfair and childish. Here we are supposed to be making an incredibly hard decision, and people are using this blog to put each others opinions down. We are all in this for the same cause. We should respect each other in the process.
Where does that really get us in the end? Does it help the kids at all to speak to each other that way? Everyone here is here to help their children succeed. Hearing over and over again about how much people want to close MM, or think it is a waste of money, or any of the other negative comments that don't seem to stop coming, is getting old. That helps nothing.
Why aren't people on here complaining at how bad the percent of free and reduce lunch is at CF? Why aren't people complaining that Wildwood is the "richest" school in the district? I mean a lot of the kids that are in Wildwood live much closer to CF!! (Long bus rides already, as well as unbalancing the schools!!)
Why aren't people making the suggestion that teacher get a salary freeze for a year? A lot of them are willing to do this. They need to be asked by the School Committee to renegotiate their contracts. Many of them are willing to do this, before they would like to see teachers laid off. I know that maybe be a temp. fix and not helps us in the long term, but it WILL help!!
How much longer are the bus rides that the kids may end up with are we talking about? I know kids that are on the bus for over 30 minutes already, first on and last off. That is what they do to get to their current home district. Seems too much to me already.
What kind of cuts in the arts are we talking about? What would that really look like? Everything I have heard so far has been very vague. I need to hear specifics (as much as possible for now). How often would they have art, music, gym, etc.? With keeping Marks Meadow open and with closing it. Even when we close it we are still looking at huge cuts, it seems.
Also, talking about having Spanish or Chinese at the elementary level seems crazy to me when we are in a place where we may have to close a school. I think that is not a good argument to close a school. I think that may really get some parents very upset.

For everyone out there who keeps putting down the Marks Meadow parents, think about it if it were your child's school. Put yourself in those parents position. They are hearing over and over again, about how the rest of the town thinks they are getting special treatment, and they have this "perfect small school" and it has to go, that their school is invaluable to the community. Seriously? That school has had some of the top MCAS scores in the state!! It must be doing something right to make that happen.
The parents may be new to the school, or they may have been there a long time, they may even have been a student there themselves. You are making personal attacks on these people. They are not saying we HAVE to keep MM open. I haven't heard anyone say that so far (where I have heard plenty of the people saying we MUST close it and also the Wildwood being gone for ever as we now know it). I have heard people say that they love their small school and would be hurt to see it go, but they would do what is necessary for the kids and the community.
Yes, we may lose some who decide to school choice out to Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury, etc. That may be a reality for some families. There are children who learn extremely better in a small setting, where they are with the same small group of kids every year and need that consistency. That is a reality. There are also children who need large classes.

All personal situations need to be respected. These kids are our future. Please treat this very difficult decision and all the people who feel up to posting comments on this blog, with respect.

JWolfe said...

A couple of quick comments and some of these may be repetitive:

1) Elected officials aren't anything like the equivalent of corporate board members. Different things, completely. Corporations are not run democratically. It is a terrible analogy. The fact is that the teacher (who didn't bother to identify himself as such in his Bulletin letter) is just flat out wrong about what public officials can and should say. Oh, and to First Amendment rights, this is of course a difference between liberty and license, but how does that apply to a political figure stating her political preference?

2) The folks who disagree with Catherine say she's biased. Maybe she is. Show it. Give us facts and figures that say something else. Simply making the accusation without anything backing it up is meaningless. It is particularly disheartening that a debate on the future of public education in a university town is so divorced from data, careful argumentation, and reason.

3) On facts and figures: Catherine is the ONLY SC member who lives in the world of data. I have heard the chair of the Amherst SC say, and this is close to an exact quote: "I hear stories of lots of families putting their kids in private schools, but I'm sure that just as many are coming back." He said this without reference to a single statistic. The numbers on this exist, but he didn't want to bother to check. He went with his feeling, which is probably wrong. I have heard the acting superintendents do the same thing. Indeed, their view of the budget shortfall seems to change by the day.

4) Someone accused Catherine's opponents as being typical leftists. God, get a grip. People of lots of different political orientations are on different sides of this issue. Let's try to stick to the issues at hand.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Well, I spent an entire day working for free on behalf of the Amherst schools ... and came back to many, many comments ... so, I'm not going to respond to all/most, but I do want to say the following:

1. I like data, I like numbers, I like information, and I will base my decisions on all matters that come before the SC on this type of objective analysis. And what you will see on this blog is that I am presenting numbers -- on class sizes, projected enrollments, and projected cost savings. These aren't my opinions -- these are the best estimates we have at this time that were given to the SC by members of the school administration. Could some of these numbers be wrong? Sure -- projections are precisely that. But we actually won't have "real numbers" on enrollments until the end of August, which is a little late to make a decision about how to configure/whether to close a school/how to balance a budget. So, I'm giving you the very best numbers that I've been given (in all cases, this is public information) at the earliest possible point because I believe information is good. I could certainly wait until we have the very, very final budget numbers much later this spring ... but I actually think the information is useful to families, parents, community members so they are able to contemplate the kind of choices we are going to have to make (and we are going to have to make some very tough choices).

2. I asked the superintendents to set up public forums in January so that these debates could happen in person, and I asked that an on-line survey be created to get public feedback. I was told that those things could not happen until the budget numbers were more final, and my understanding now is that those things will occur at the end of February/early March. So, some people might say "great, that is plenty of time with three months left in the school year and two months left before kindergarten registration to have such discussions." Those people shouldn't read my blog -- which will present preliminary numbers. I believe time is important -- time for people to contemplate options, choices, etc., and I think at least some people benefit from having some type of early information about the pros/cons of different plans (which I've now had up on my blog for over a month -- and three weeks before this information was discussed at a School Committee meeting).

3. Based on the numbers that I've been given, and based on the projections I've heard about the budget, I stated my opinion that I felt the best option for keeping what many parents love about the Amhert schools would be to close Marks Meadow. Others could, should, have, and will disagree with this. But I am an elected official, and I think I have a responsibility to share my views (even my opinions) with the public -- so that you will know why I have the beliefs I have -- and I certainly understand that reasonable people can reach a very different decision (some people may value keeping a small school open more than I do; I may value our music program and free buses more than other people). People who disagree with this approach -- either my values/opinions or my willingness to share them -- can definitely vote for my opponent if/when I run for re-election.

As I've said before, I ran for SC on a platform of data and transparency, and my blog gives me a chance to work on both of these goals. So, I'm going to continue blogging, and I do appreciate all the people who are sharing their thoughts/ideas/questions ... and even criticisms.

Anonymous said...

NIMBY John Keins, why don't you get your own blog?

BQHollander said...

Dr. Sanderson is an elected official, but she's not a politician. She got into this business of participating as a member of the SC not because she wanted to (I'd wager that she's at least as busy as anyone who has participated in this blog thus far), but because she felt that she had to. Dr. Sanderson is a product of an excellent public high school, and she firmly believes in public education. That's why she was willing to add to her already heaping plate -- full-time professor, mother to three children under the age of eleven, step-aerobics instructor, text-book writer -- to see if she could make a positive impact on the quality of the public educational experience of all of the children in this district. Is her hope to make this public school district work better for her three children? you bet. Does she lack impartiality because next year she will have three children in just one (assuming no changes in the current configuration) of our public schools? not by a long shot. Dr. Sanderson doesn't know how to do anything half-assed; that's simply not in her DNA. She is earnest and honest about her role as an elected official, just as she is about everything else that she does. This district is lucky to have Dr. Sanderson volunteering her time in her capacity as a SC member. I suspect that any number of folks who didn't quite know what to expect from her when she was elected last April have since learned that she is an intelligent, informed and honest voice (and decision-maker) on the
School Committee. And, she works hard, REALLY hard (so much so that it's become the stuff of local legend). You may disagree with any number of her viewpoints, but if you believe that Dr. Sanderson thinks that closing MM is the right choice among difficult options simply because she has no children enrolled there, then you're not paying attention. I guess this blogging-discourse thing is good as far as it goes, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the man or woman on record (whether it's on "HER blog" or anywhere else), who has opined that Dr. Sanderson is not conscientious; to borrow a phrase from Texas politics, "that dog don't hunt."

Meg Rosa said...

Well Catherine,
I want to respond quickly to the little note you sent me, but also want people to know how I feel.
Yes, I do think this blog has gotten a little crazy! Just a little!! LOL!! Honestly though, I truly love being able to come on here and read everything that people have said. I have learned a lot from what everyone on here has said. It really is a wonderful source of information that many of us would not have otherwise. Some might be hard to hear (specifically when people talk down about Marks Meadow) but it is a real good thing to know how people stand. What people think outside of Marks Meadow and inside from people I have not had the privilege to have a conversation about this with yet. This is a place that could be a little "safer" to say your feelings, ideas, etc. on things you may not feel comfortable having said in person, or in many cases it looks like, even your name attached to. I am very happy that I found this blog, this wonderful place to learn about how our community thinks and what they find most important in the education of their children.

One of the biggest things I am not a fan of is reading any kinds of personal attacks on anyone. Yes this is a very emotional topic, but there is no reason to be rude to anyone on here (or anywhere really). We are trying to come up with the best solution for all of our kids here. We are talking about the future of our children's education and the quality of that education. Yes, we very well may have to close a very special school. If we really don't have the money to keep it open, well then we can't. It wouldn't be fair to any families in this community. Our goal in this is to give the kids the best start we can. We do not need to put each other down in the process.

On another note, people may write things in a blog, text message, or email that have no real voice to them. You can not hear someone's tone of voice in an email. You can not see someone's body movement in the font on the screen in front of you. You can not hear if someone is happy or if they are so hurt by something said to or about them, that they are crying because of it. I believe this is something that we all need to take into account when we post anything on here, or any blog, email, etc.

Back to the positives again! I love this Blog! I love how people feel free enough to come on here and write there feelings, facts, ideas, etc. This is a wonderful thing for all of us to have here. Please keep this a respectful place to come and feel like we can be heard without feeling like we may be attacked.

This is a wonderful gift that Catherine has given to all of us. So, please there should be no regrets with having this here!! I wish all the School Committee members had one as well. It is great to know where you stand and it is also even better that we have a place where we can come and find information.
Most Sincerely,
Meg Rosa
Marks Meadow PGG Co-Chair, SGC member, Diversity Committee member, Reorganization Committee member, and M3K!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Meg -- thanks for the thoughtful posting ... and the kind words. I too agree that the key thing to remember is that I sincerely believe we are all trying to reach the best solution for ALL the kids in Amherst. The MM families are lucky to have you as their leader ... and hey, if MM closes, you can then lead an even bigger parent/guardian community at another school! Thank you, Facebook Friend!

Catherine

p.s. I agree that all SC members should have a blog ... discussion, dialogue, debate is healthy. Although sometimes exhausting for the blogger.

p.p.s. And thank you to BQHollander, who is my spouse coming to my defense!

Anonymous said...

Abbie says:

Thanks Catherine! It's tough being being the messenger. I would hope that those folks who are being so very critical of Catherine would go and read past blog entries instead of just the current one. Often a blog is in response to a particular event. In order to understand the intent, I think that, at the least, the blog on reorganization should be read.

My take is that Catherine isn't PUSHING to close MM. She is asking for the data for what would be saved if we closed MM. If we need to close the budget gap (see http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/01/25/cities_towns_expect_to_fire_thousands/)
it may be our only viable option.

As I've suggested before I would love to hear other suggestions of how we could save $1-1.4 million without having class sizes over 30 kids. I have not read many suggestions, with the exception of donations (good try) but those can't contribute to the core (i.e. teachers).

While I suppose its understandable, why don't MM families criticize the other options? Surely turning MM into a K-1 (or 2) is just as disruptive to the current MM community? (And it saves almost no money, like the 3 K-4 with WW5-6 model). I would also be surprised that if regionalization were to happen that the other districts involved would allow MM to stay open at considerable cost to the "region" if there is open capacity at the other schools- its just not economical.

I understand all the arguments being made that MM is an excellent school and I could also come up with lots of alternative hypotheses as to why (other than its size) but that is irrelevant to our likely need to come up with $1-1.5 million.

The BIGGEST positive impact on learning is the quality of teachers (not class size, not school size).

AmherstBasketballMom said...

Catherine, I am glad that you disclosed that BQHollander is your spouse. I am sure that he sees how hard you work because he is there with you everyday. BQ, I don't think that anybody said that she was a slacker or not conscientious, and although she does provide data, more data should be provided to everybody that details the different options. We are not the ones who have access to the information, so people who question any opinions and decisions should not be denigrated by other posters for not supporting these stances with data. And since BQHollander chastised John Keins for not disclosing that he was a teacher, BQHollander's full disclosure of his status as Catherine's husband would have been in order also. Some people, like me, do not know the family personally and might not have that information. That being said, Catherine you are lucky to hae a supportive spouse and most people would not have taken on such a difficult, volunteer position.

People also need to remember that in any reconfiguration or closing plan, there will be teachers at schools other than MM who will lose jobs, especially since there are many veteran teachers who probably have more seniority than some of the teachers at CF,WW, and FR. So although some MM teachers and staff might lose jobs, I think that some of their seniority might trump the seniority of some teachers at other schools. I am not sure, but I believe that under the teachers' contract, seniority is determined by years in the district, not years in a particular school building (please correct me if I am wrong).

We and our children are loyal to our schools, teachers, and staff and there are positives and negatives at every school. Please let's work together to find the best solution for our kids and keep open minds until all the data has been collected to make the best decisions for our community.

Anonymous said...

Abbie says:

AmherstBasketballMom offers a good example of this go-around when folks don't read past blogs and comments...

The topic of teachers losing their jobs has already come up. If comparing teacher numbers wrt keeping the schools as is vs closing MM and making a $1-1.5 million cut- Catherine already gave us the information responding to this. Every year we need to hire new teachers due to retirements, moves, etc. If we close MM those teachers would likely take the positions of those that retire, etc. If we keep things as is the number of teachers needed to be cut would likely be around 20-28!!! We don't have near that many positions open each year due to retirements, etc.

I ask folks to please read the blog on reorganization and its comments (lots of info in there)...

John Keins said...

May I respond to JWolfe?
My role at MM is clearly stated in my letter to the Bulletin. I'm a teacher there, not trying to hide it- am proud of it.
I apologize if my opinion stunned you but whether we are both teachers or not is neither here nor there.
I never said the the owner of this blog could not express her opinion (read: "Of course you are entitled to your opinion"). My value had to do with my (I repeat: My) belief that Ms. Sanderson needs to be more ... selective, in the way it is presented due to her role, responsibility as a public official, you name it. No, I don't desire that she be smiley and pretend to lean one way or another. I just sensed some bias that may or may not exist and my concern remains for those who are unheard.
That's just my view. I'm not foisting it upon her, just naming it.
The response post I put on this blog probably...no did, carry a tone that reflects my reaction to finding my name plastered all over it. Felt a bit denigrating to be truthful. I'm sure it wasn't intended as such.
At any rate, my respect and appreciation for Ms. Sanderson's efforts on behalf of the schools remains intact. I sincerely doubt I could shoulder the burden she takes on.

interested observer said...

Among the people who are included in the staff cost savings should MM close(principal, secretary, lirarian, counselor, art, music, etc. etc.) how many have bumping rights that would allow them to displace a staff member in another school. What would be the process? Who would make final decisions?

The Way I See It said...

Although Anonymous made some good points about reading past blog posts and comments, the reality is that in the world of blogging, most people do not go back and read every entry and comment posted in the past. I think that is a primary reason why information needs to made available to the public in a central location, in print and online, so that people do not have to search for the information as it is made available. I think that the blog is a good start, but everyone does not have a computer or Internet access and everybody does not have time to revisit every blog posting. I think that Amherst Basketball Mom brought up some valid points and although some of it may have been discussed in the reorganization post on this blog, it talked more about MM teachers replacing retiring teachers at other schools but I think the reality is, that MM teachers and staff might replace non-retiring teachers and staff with less seniority at other schools.

I think John Keins has a right to defend his opinions, just like Ms. Sanderson has a right to defend hers. However, as an elected official, I think that she should try to avoid the appearance of singling out one of her constituents in such a way that other people who oppose Mr. Keins' view attack him.Even if that was not your intent, that was the result and again, that is the danger of reading and interpreting the writings on a blog without being able to gauge a person's true intentions through body language, tone of voice, etc.

I thank you, Ms. Sanderson for looking into the possibility of public fora to include more community members in the process and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Interested Observer had some good questions that need to be answered and I think that is part of the problem here: there is a lot of speculation without enough solid information that is supported by data and facts. These are some of the reasons that some people feel like their voices are not being heard and that they are being excluded from the process.

I also wanted to clarify something from one of my past posts. I questioned whether Amherst had a "blogging" policy, not because I believe that Ms. Sanderson should not blog, but because blogging, especially by a public official or public employees can have legal and ethical implications. Amherst already has major budget issues, and litigation should not add to the problem. Although there may not be specific statutes on the books to cover this fairly new blogging explosion, there have been court cases that have addressed the issue. In response to this type of litigation and in order to avoid it, some towns and cities have written policies on blogging and other types of electronic media. Maybe our Town Counsel could answer this question for us.

Ed said...

Amherst: 25.27 square miles surrounded by reality....

Folks, FACTS MATTER.

> "My School Committee Blog"
> sounds like Catherine Sanderson
> is saying that she "owns" the
> School Committee.

Words mean things, and grammar specifies meaning of things. So let us look at the proper noun

My - School Committee - Blog

"Blog" is the actual noun, it represents a specific person, place or (in this case) thing.

"School Committee" modifies "Blog." It serves to distinguish it from other "blogs" of which there may be more than one. (Which man did the police officer arrest, the officer arrested the one who broke the window. Children understand that, non-native English speakers understand that...)

The possessive "My" indicates ownership, not of the "School Committee" but of the base noun "Blog."

Now if you were to write "The Blog of My School Committee" then the possessive applies to "School Committee" and not "Blog" -- and the meaning is that this is the neutral blog of a school committee personally owned by Dr. Sanderson.

Lets be realistic: "My School Committee Blog" distinguishes it from "My Educ505 Blog" or "My StepArobics Blog" or even "My Blog on the Cute Things My 2-year-old Said/Did This Week." It serves to distinguish it from the larger group of "My Blogs" -- of all the men standing there, the officer arrested the one man who broke the window - and not the others...

> Saying something like "My
> Experience On The School
> Committee" or something similar
> would sound better.

This is (at least outside Amherst) a free country and people who own things can -- within certain limits -- call them any damn thing they want to. Now if she was to set up a blog saying it was the "Official Blog of the Marks' Meadow Teachers" *then* you would have a point. But not here.

And further, "My School Committee Blog" would be less accurate because her blog is not only *just* about *her* "experience" on the School Committe but also larger issues of public policy relating to the schools.

> I understand it is Catherine's
> view but it also seems like it
> is steering some people's views
> in her direction.

And what, exactly, is the purpose of communication of any sort? Bluntly, be it a lover addressing a partner or Obama addressing the nation, it is not only (a) to convey factual information but to (b) convince the listener/viewer that you are right. To "steer people's views" in your direction...

> We should respect each other
> in the process.

A letter in the paper saying that another is "out of line" in expressing her views doesn't quite strike me as "respectful."

A letter in the paper saying that specific facts are wrong or misinterperted for specific reasons I could respect, one that starts out as this one did, no...

> Why aren't people on here
> complaining at how bad the
> percent of free and reduce
> lunch is at CF?

I seem to recollect that people did/are. I seem to recollect sitting in a room at something called a School Committee meeting and hearing subsidized meal percentages being thrown around as a concern.

> Why aren't people complaining
> that Wildwood is the "richest"
> school in the district?

I seem to remember Dr. Sanderson herself saying that the school district lines were "likely illegal" and seem to remember that Diane Liderman not only also apparently heard it, but saw fit to quote her statements about this in the newspaper.

In fact, I seem to remember that one of the arguments for closing Mark's Meadow (in addition to the pressing economic crisis) *WAS* because of the economic disparities between the school zones and as a means to desegregate them.

January 25, 2009 11:46 AM

Ed said...

> because blogging, especially
> by a public official or public
> employees can have legal and
> ethical implications.

Only in Amherst....

There are three issues with such a policy and this concept as a whole because there are three categories of people: Employees, officials, and legislators.

An employee is someone who works for the governmental body, but who has no policy making authority, e.g. teacher.

An official is the person designated to speak *for* the governmental body, the executive officer of it, e.g. Superintendent, Town Manager.

A legislator is the person who trys to convince other legislators to agree with her as to what actions the body should take - e.g. school committee members, select board members, town meeting members. (NOTE the word 'member' in the titles...)

Now a policy regarding public disclosure of opinion - which is what this would be - gets interesting because of the public meeting law.

IF more than two members of a body communicate in unison to discuss policy that is by definition a public meeting and the public must be given the right to hear what they say (not to comment or debate them, but to hear it).

A blog is inherently public. Any reporter who desired can simply read it, in real time if desired, and hence in posting her opinions here, Dr. Sanderson is meeting the letter of the public meeting law. By contrast, were she simply to email the other SC members as a group, arguably *that* would be illegal. And the Amherst Selectboard has gotten into a bit of trouble recently for something along the lines of the latter.

So, were Amherst to set up a blog policy, it would be that employees (i.e. teachers) couldn't say ANYTHING, that executives had to have prior approval for saying things BUT THAT School Committee members can say anything they desire.

Is this what you folk really want?????

JWolfe said...

First off, an apology to Mr. Keins. He does identify himself as a teacher in the text of the letter. My mistake.

Okay, I'm still not persuaded of two things: 1) that our elected officials have to be "more selective" in how they discuss the issues. They have to be open and honest and share their opinions with the community. The problem here is that Catherine's and your opinions diverge. Fair enough, but that doesn't mean she should censor herself in any way because her analysis and positions upset some people.

And, 2), sorry Bart: Run for office, become politician. Maybe Obama can rescue the word, but it's an important word. In a representative democracy we elect people to full and part-time posts in which they make policy, etc. To be fair, Catherine is clearly a part-time, non-professional politician, but politics are involved here and that's a good thing. It's the essence of democracy.

The Way I See It said...

No Ed, not "only in Amherst". Why is it that when you disagree with an opinion, you seem to condescendingly say "only in Amherst" or "Alice in Wonderland"? Do an online search and see for yourself whether there have been any legal or ethical implications to blogging.

I understand the differences between legislators, employees, and officials and there can be legal and ethical implications of people in any of these categories who blog but I do not have the time right now to break it down for you. I think that Catherine Sanderson should continue to blog but I also believe that she has more responsibility to the public than your everyday, citizen blogger as a member of the school committee, even though she asserts that this is her own, private blog, not the Town's or the School Committee's blog. It is one thing for somebody to speak out solely as a citizen, but it is another for a person to speak out as a member of the school committee who happens to be a citizen. I believe in hearing as many voices as possible on the issues that the Town of Amherst faces, even those voices that I do not agree with. Howeer, the exercise of the freedom of speech is a right that should be used in a responsible way by everybody.

I was just asking about whether there was a policy, not that there should be one. Most towns and cities have policies and procedures for almost everything that you can think of! The bottom line is that I asked a simple question that should have a clear answer.I do not think that most people would want such a Draconian policy re: blogging and I know that is not what I was asking, so do not put words in my mouth please.

As I said before, everybody can not attend School Committee meetings or have access to the Internet, so even if it was covered at a meeting, more of these discussions need to be held in public fora so that more citizens can be reached.

ed said...

> I was just asking about whether
> there was a policy

And I would argue that applying such a form of censorship to elected officials would be inherently unconstitutional (a point I keep trying to explain to the UMass SGA who insist on "approving" all campaign speech prior to publication).

In order to apply it to elected officials, you have to apply it to all candidates for those offices and I am fairly certain that Amherst would be on the receiving end of a lawsuit should it try that.

Applying it to employees, maybe, but to elected officials????

> As I said before, everybody can
> not attend School Committee
> meetings or have access to
> the Internet

Bulls***!

The Jones Library has nice computers (I have used them) and the folks there are quite helpful. WalMart is selling $350 laptops and you can - with a $12 power inverter - literally run it off your cigarette lighter and connect to the internet while sitting in a car parked downtown.

North Village has a computer lab, it isn't much, but it does connect to the internet. And the UMass Tower Library has 25 "public" computer terminals that anyone can use, and they connect to the internet as well.

And as to the meetings themselves, minutes are taken and I somehow suspect that if you politely asked any one of at least a dozen people you could get a copy (if they aren't posted on the web anyway).

Anonymous said...

To Ed,
You like to respond to specifics on peoples posts on here, except that as you respond to them, you take things out of context and it does change the meaning of the sentence, in some cases.

Also the response to the thought of people needing to be respectful of each other, came after the newspaper article and was said because of the article!! (Along with other comments made on this blog.)

As a side note, the issue of closing MM because of the equality of the districts was never brought up. Keeping MM open would only help the ability to even the district out.

People are on here to find information. Information that is hard to find within the town. People may have a hard time getting to the meetings, viewing the tape on ACTV (which can also be found online) or even being able to get online. When people come on here, they are looking for facts and answers to their questions or concerns. They are probably not looking for their posts to be dissected. To have there questions not be answered by those able to answer, but sent to other posts to find them (in a seemingly rude way). Maybe someone just found this blog and has not had the time to go through it all and all the comments.

Again, all I would be asking for is respecting all people who come on here. (In this post, it may not be coming out great, but I really have a hard time reading your posts over and over. They just have a superior attitude to them, which comes off as being disrespectful sometimes- not all.)

Anonymous said...

My objection to what Ms. Sanderson is doing is less about what she says than how she says it. I'm sorry but I have seen enough at School Committee meetings and read enough to say that her arrogance and lack of respect for the Mark's Meadow community is appalling. At the end of the day, I have no problem facing budget facts. But where is the qualitative data? Ms. Sanderson is passing off here-say as some kind of quasi evidence when there has been no effort to actually collect qualitative data to support the quantitative data and provide a more accurate understanding. If the fullness of all the data actually shows that closing Mark's Meadow is the best course of action, then so be it. But simply saying that it would save the most money is not enough data. That is a much too narrow understanding of what would really be saved and what would really be lost.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Once again, I've spent all day working on School Committee stuff, and once again, my blog has been busy. I won't respond to all the responses, but here are the things I do want to say:

1. Abbie: Thanks for pointing out that I have indeed been presenting numbers for SOME time in multiple posts. I just went through my old posts, and in fact, I first discussed the reorganization plan in a summary of the December 6th Amherst School Committee Meeting (posted December 9th), then I posted a separate blog entry about various options (posted December 12th), then I posted the Superintendent's statement (December 16th). I don't give an opinion during any of those posts, because I did not have one -- I was still going through the numbers and gathering information.

So, when does my opinion appear? In the fourth blog posting about this issue -- posted on Tuesday, January 6th (which followed a meeting on Monday, December 29th, with all of the leadership teams, superintendents, principals, etc.). That is when I felt confident enough about the numbers/facts I'd seen that I could form a reasonable opinion. So, I do not feel that I rushed to an opinion -- I spent a month talking to people (including numerous school administrators) and reading information on this year and future budget and enrollment projections. I then came to an opinion, which I posted.

2. The facts are actually very clear -- the numbers (cost savings and enrollments) may change slightly, but the numbers themselves just aren't (e.g., we know about what a teacher is paid, so it is pretty easy to figure out what not having that teacher next year will save us). So, then the issue becomes how do we prioritize things in our district? How do we rank keeping a small school open, providing instrumental music lessons, having math coaches and paraprofessionals, teaching world language in elementary school, etc.? Those are the key issues -- and I imagine each person reading this blog would prioritize those items in somewhat different ways. This blog just tells you my priorities -- and you are free to tell me whether you agree or disagree, but at least you know where I stand.

3. John Keins and Anonymous Poster: In all honesty, I believe far, far more people read the Bulletin than read my blog! I have never attacked a teacher or a principal or a parent in this blog, and I was pretty surprised to read such a hostile letter about me in the Bulletin (as were a number of other people, including Marks Meadow families, who have contacted me privately). That strikes me as an un-called for act -- hence my decision to respond on my blog (again, recognizing that most Bulletin readers don't read my blog).

4. Many of the negative postings about me seem to imply that I have some evil intent -- my whole goal in running for School Committee was the opportunity to close a school, I've just been waiting for this chance, and this is what I've always hoped for (and hey, I'm going to aim to close Wildwood next year). No matter what you think of my opinion, remember that I am trying to make the best decision I can as a member of School Committee -- in recognition that we have to cut about a million (and the number will be very close to this), we can do it by chopping multiple programs/teachers and adding fees (cutting $100,000 here and here and here, adding $100,000 here and here and here), OR we can do something big and major that saves much of this amount (75% or so) in one fell swoop. I have a preference for the major cut option, because I believe it preserves more of what most families want in our schools (not all families, not all things, but I still believe this decision will have the best possible outcome for the majority of kids in our district -- INCLUDING THE LOW INCOME KIDS WHO I BELIEVE WILL BE MOST HURT BY LARGE CLASSES, BUS FEES, AND THE LOSS OF INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC -- or I wouldn't choose it).

5. Ed: Thank you for defending my right to blog!

6. Anonymous: As others have now pointed out, it is not that the MM staff/teachers/principal would be fired if we close that school. Those teachers/staff members are hired by the district, NOT the school, and hence would simply work in other buildings (again, I assume that with retirements/moves, we would likely to be able to keep most people who want to stay).

7. Anonymous and Ed (again): Closing MM would allow us to redistrict, which I think would be good (and yes, I think the current districts are really not fair and, as I was quoted as saying, seem illegal). We could (obviously) redistrict and keep MM open, but we could only do that if we felt that MM would stay open for a while -- otherwise we could redistrict now, and move some kids (including some kids now in MM to other schools and other kids into MM from other schools), and then have to redistrict and move kids again in a year or two if closing MM occurs then (and the budget numbers aren't good now ... and look worse for the next few years, as we face increasingly larger and larger payments to the Chinese Charter School). And even if we manage to keep MM open this year (by doing many, many small cuts), the reality is that this option would likely have to be considered again next year (with, hopefully, our new superintendent!) when we would have even more difficulty finding extra things to cut. So, I just don't think redistricting four schools makes any sense at all until we know whether we have a long-term ability/commitment to keeping four elementary schools.

OK, I think that is all -- I am glad that at least for some of you, this Blog is providing useful reading and occasionally some actual information.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous: I have attended three School Committee meetings a month since last April (with the exception of July, when we didn't meet), and I have mentioned closing MM at exactly one School Committee meeting ... so I think characterizing my comments during "enough of the SC meetings" that you've seen reveal that I am arrogant and have a lack of respect for the MM community is pretty extreme. Is asking for information on the cost savings for closing that school arrogant? Is stating that most families I've talked to have told me they prefer a K to 6 model showing a lack of respect? I believe that requesting data is appropriate, expected, and even required in my role as a School Committee member, which is exactly what I did at the last Amherst School Committee Meeting (watch the tape).

I'm also not sure what kind of qualitative data you think we should gather -- we should ask MM what they think of closing their school? Or we should ask the 87% of families with kids who attend the other three elementary schools how they feel about a loss of instrumental music or how they'd feel about paying bus fees? Again, I'm just not sure what type of data you think we should be looking at to make this difficult FINANCIAL decision. As others have pointed out, maybe instead of attacking me (anonymously) for being arrogant and showing a lack of respect, you could give me specific suggestions for how you think we could best save a million dollars next year OR you could ask for the specific type of data that you think we should be collecting/analyzing to make a decision. Either of those approaches would be demonstrating the respect that you've indicated you'd like to see in my behavior, and I'd welcome either of these much more than anonymous and personal attacks -- which actually don't get us anywhere closer towards reaching a solution that benefits all kids.

Meg Rosa said...

Catherine and others on the Reorganization Committee,

I just remembered when we were first talking about all the different options last year. We all agreed that once these ideas became public knowledge, there would be an emotional response. Well, here we are, I think!! We're now in the place of trying to react as parents and also react as community members and a lot of emotions are in play, regardless if we are aware of that or not. This is a hugely emotional, personal issue for each and every one of us. We are trying, I hope, to turn down the emotion, when in reality, we can only so much. We can try to shut them off and think about this only with the facts. That may be easier for those of us on that committee who have had more time to process all of these options and research them over the course of that school year.
But, when it comes down to it, we are talking about our kids future. That is as personal as it gets. We are deciding what is more important for our children's education. Even saying that, it is really the School Committee deciding this. Hopefully with as much input from the community as possible. These are our kids. These are our schools where they have been going to, where we are comfortable. These schools are a large part of families identities. That is huge for all of us. We are all in for some serious changes here. This will not be easy for anyone. With that being said though, it can be done. We can get through this. We can make new schools for our kids. We can give each and every one of those kids the best education we possibly can. We can take control of this and work together and come up with a plan that works. Isn't that what this should be about. So we have to make cuts, yes. We are well aware of that by now. So let's do it right!! Let's do it with positive feelings, knowing that we are going to be able to come out on top! We are Amherst! We have a big title to look up to. We have a wonderful history and we can make an even better future. We did it nationally by electing Barack Obama! Why not do it right here in our little town? Why not get past the hurt together and heal and build something great for our kids? WE CAN!!! WE MUST!!! These kids are our future. Let's make it right for them!
How's that for cheerleading?!?!?!!!

annfmcl said...

I would like to add my two cents to the discussion in defense of Catherine. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Fort River parent and have worked closely with Catherine for two of her years as President of the Fort River Parent Council. I did not know her at all before that time. As I got to know her, I quickly became impressed by her intelligence, judgment, work ethic, organizational skills and sheer energy. As Parent Council president, Catherine showed impressive leadership as she tackled many different issues, activities and projects. She was well-informed and fair-minded, and always had as her priority the well-being of ALL the kids at Fort River. She always strove to make equitable, fair decisions that would benefit the largest number of kids, and often came up with clever ways to do so. As you can see by the amount of work she has put into this blog, she is extremely responsive to questions and input from all types of people. In her dealings with me on Parent Council, she was always supportive of my efforts and took the time to thank me on many, many occasions. I would like to publicly return the favor and thank her for sticking her neck out and taking a leadership role in this extremely sensitive and difficult situation. Catherine, you have my admiration and support! -- Ann McLaughlin

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

After spending the weekend (literally the weekend) interviewing the semi-finalists for the superintendent position, I want to share two things with the community of my blog readers:

1. We are going to have some EXCELLENT finalists for the community to meet, and I'm really, really excited about all of the candidates who will be coming (official announcement of names/dates will come sometime this week and be posted on our website and then on my blog) -- please try to make some time for the public forums.

2. It is a DISTINCT possibility that superintendent candidates will be reading this blog ... which comes up pretty easily if you google "Amherst School Committee." So, maybe we could all remember that these posts (even under anonymous names) could be read by someone who we'd like to bring to our district to lead us.

Catherine

p.s. Meg: I totally agree that this is an emotional time for many ... and also a time in which we can hopefully pull together as a community to make the right decisions for all our kids.

p.p.s. Ann: Thanks for the thoughtful comment about my work (and neck-sticking-out)! It is truly much appreciated.

ed said...

Four things:

First, for those who haven't done it, conducting interviews for the top position in a public organization is an incredibly intense and exhausing thing to do. I spent spring break in a Boston hotel doing the same thing last March and it is VERY exhausting.

Second, I am so tired of this "you aren't respecting me" stuff. Folks, respect is *earned* and I have never really suffered fools graciously. If you want to see "arrogance and lack of respect" I suggest you walk in my shoes for a day or two, not only at UMass but as a UMass student in Amherst itself. But worse, I have found this to be part of a general ad hominem insult and I am tired of it. No, words don't mean whatever you intend them to mean, words have very clear and objective meanings, necessary to facilitate conversation.

> Also the response to the thought
> of people needing to be
> respectful of each other, came
> after the newspaper article and
> was said because of the
> article!! (Along with other
> comments made on this blog.)

I have been trying to understand what it was that people were trying to write for more than 20 years now, but this truly stumps me. It isn't that neither sentence is a complete one as much as the fact that it equally leads toward two different interpertations.

If it means that the newspaper OpEd letter was inappropriate, I concur; if it means that Dr. Sanderson deserved to be disrespected because of her perceived disrespect, I ask what would happen were she to respond in kind?

Third, has anyone done any research into the practical effects of a bus fee? Look at what happened in Eastern Massachusetts when they went to them a decade ago -- *massive* traffic jams around all the schools, parents having to trust their children with sometimes sketchy circumstances and sometimes tragedy. For example in Stoneham a grandfather(?) lost control of a car and pinned a couple of children into the brick wall of the school, seriously injuring them.

And most affected would be the poor who don't have the understanding employers, the extra gas money or sometimes even a car. So the children start becomign absent more often and that makes things even worse when we get into later grades -- there is a very real race/class educational outcome problem.

Fourth, this isn't just about the children. Resources are limited because, in part, they are needed for other equally valuable things. For example, we could dismantle the fire department, but folks kinda need to have that at times. Streets don't get plowed without trucks and someone driving them.

The public wants to see good schools, but there are limits to what the public can (and will) pay for. The economy of Amherst is shrinking and that means that the school budget of Amherst is going to shrink too, it can do so rationally now or irrationally later but it will happen.

interested observer said...

I understand that MM classroom teachers could likely find work in one of our other shcools without bumping anyone due to retirements, moves, etc.
I'm not sure the same can be said for a considerable number of MM staff (principal, librarian,nurse, counselor, art, music, phy ed, secretary, possibly some SPED staff,custodians,lunch staff,and others). Bumping seems inevitable.
So, again. What's the process? Is it strictly seniority or are other factors going to come into play? If so, what are they? Who makes final decisions? Do the savings projections mean that none of these positions will have to be added at other schools, even part-time, to help each of those schools deal with an influx of at least several dozen new students?

Ed said...

A related question involves wondering about what is the appropriate staffing numbers related to the number of children in a school.

Back in "the day" (1950-1978 or so) we (nationally) had classes of 28-30 and just one teacher, no aides. One principal, one secretary and a part-time nurse (if that). Everyone in the classroom was a teacher.

We brought in the para-professionals, first with the children who in earlier days went to the Belchertown State School, and then with the classes in general and we found this was good.

Then as the class sizes truly shrank (nationally) in the '80, we reduced the class sizes arguing that children got a better education in smaller classes -- I question the research because the control group has been districts with large classroom sizes due to other issues (usually fiscal crisis), but I digress.

And let us never forget: teachers had a very financial interest in small class sizes because it requires more teachers to be kept on (or fewer laid off).

So we get to 1990. And Amherst has a certain number of children and a certain number of principals, vice principals, secretaries, janitors, teachers, paraprofessionals and the like.

We get to 2008 and Amherst has about 25% fewer children in the system. (All the young parents bought houses in Belchertown or South Hadley -- and school enrollment there reflects that.) And now all the colleges have a hirign freeze or worse - UMass has already laid off 31 lecturers (as of next August).

25% fewer children should mean 25% less of everything else -- and the schools are now overstaffed. Sorry folks, they are -- and that means that some jobs are going to have to be eliminated.

Information Seeker said...

I wrote this on the Marks Meadow blog after reading this post copied below. The Anonymous poster said there were negative comments made, specially by Marks Meadow parents, towards Catherine Sanderson. I have also read similar comments on here. Could someone please copy and paste some specific quotes, made by Marks Meadow PARENTS (not teachers/staff) that are actually negative towards Catherine?
Please read the below letter from the other blog and respond. It has just been said over and over again that parents there are making all these negative comments towards her and I have not found anything like that. It seems like people are almost trying to put the MM parents on the defensive and by doing so, are almost attacking them. All they are seeking is information and the requests for those that can, go about getting that information and releasing it to the public. Please clarify this for me. Thank you very much!!


Dear Anonymous,
You have stated:
"I also REALLY hope that people can lay off Catherine Sanderson, who actually seems to be trying to find a solution based in data that lets all kids in Amherst (including MM kids) keep things like instrumental music (which my kid LOVES, and would probably hate to lose more than he's hate going to WW!). I think it seems a bit like shoot the messenger! And when MM parents engage in personal attacks against her on this blog (and her own blog) and MM teachers slam her in the paper, it makes us all look bad."
Can you please give one or more examples of when Marks Meadow parents have engaged in personal attacks on Catherine Sanderson? (I am not speaking about teachers, but specifically the parents)
As far as anything I have read on here (which there are NO attacks on her at all) or on her Blog, I can not find anything negative said BY a Marks Meadow parent.
I have seen lots of request of the facts. I have read that some people are thankful for her Blog. I have seen lots of questions asked. But NO WHERE have I found a single negative comment made about her by a Marks Meadow parent.
Kindly, please give specific examples of what you are talking about.

It truly seems to me like the Marks Meadow parents, overall, want to make sure this decision is made with the most accurate information, as clearly as possible, and open to the public. Asking for this to happen IS NOT a personal attack, by any means, on Catherine. This is purely a request for more information. This would also not be solely directed just to Catherine, but all of the School Committee AND the Superintendents office!!!

We all, no matter which school our children attend, should demand that those conditions are met. The outcome of this decision effects all of the families in Amherst equally. There is no one family or school that could say that this effects them more than any other family or school. There will be a lot of personal issues that will come out of this, and they all need to be treated fairly.

Again, I would just like to know exactly what you have read by MM parents that attack Catherine Sanderson. Please copy and paste these negative comments along with where you read them.
Thank you

To Information Seeker said...

From the Marks Meadow PGG Blog:
"Anonymous: The comments left yesterday by Jenny Fabrizi, a MM parent, were an attack against Catherine:

It's very unfortunate that one School Committee member in particular seems to have a lack of communication skills. The effect of this is a perception of arrogance and lack of compassion.

Then someone defended Catherine (well, at least her communication skills), and then Jenny Fabrizi again wrote:

I am talking about the ability or lack of ability to engender trust, show compassion, and help move a group to a mutually-beneficial and inclusive decision-making process.

That is all about Catherine, and after the really rude letter IN THE BULLETIN by one of our teachers, I think it crosses the line.

I think we should hold all School Board members AND the superintendents (who I do think really bungled all this by starting with their first idea in December to pair the schools WITHOUT any data) accountable. But personal atatcks on ONE member just seems rude (and I still think Jenny Fabrizi's comments were rude)."

Anonymous said...

> I am talking about the ability
> or lack of ability to engender
> trust, show compassion, and
> help move a group to a mutually-
> beneficial and inclusive
> decision-making process.

All Sheep and No Shepherd.
Everyone is the Same
Everyone wants to Be the same.
Anyone who is different goes voluntarially to the madhouse. Thus spoke Zarasthutha....

Anonymous said...

I have been a student at UMass for three years total though have never lived in UMass housing. I actually pushed for my child to be placed at MM over FR because I value the quality of education accompanying a small school environment. (I attended large public schools myself and felt anonymous in a sea of other children.) I choose to live in north Amherst now so my child can attend MM and I don't know one MM parent who would ever choose to end the sense of community we share at our small school.

Anonymous said...

I heard an NPR piece on this not too long ago. The topic being Obama's aim to create an Americorps program for elementary schools, engaging college graduates to teach art and music.

There are intelligent people in this community. I wish we could think through and dream a way for this crisis to be an opportunity.

And I'm just trying to think creatively here in offering-up the article at this link. I was once an Americorps*VISTA and so this caught my attention.

In Obama Era, National's Service Time has Come. (Roll Call Opinion)

>>What Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, referred to as “the armies of compassion” may at last be mobilized in huge numbers to tackle the country’s social problems — and on a cost-effective basis, at that.

The centerpiece of the process will be passage — its advocates hope, in Obama’s first 100 days — of the Serve America Act, sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to expand Americorps, the nation’s civilian service force, from 75,000 personnel to 250,000 per year over five years.

Earning $12,500 a year, plus a $4,700 scholarship, Americorps volunteers do direct service at low-income schools, clinics, boys and girls clubs, environmental projects and disaster sites, and help organize the work of around 60 million unpaid volunteers.>>

http://tinyurl.com/d53tzw