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.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Why Redistricting Makes Sense

As of this fall, I will three kids in the Amherst schools -- a 6th grader, a 3rd grader, and a kindergartner. The older two attend Fort River, where they've gone since kindergarten. So, not surprisingly, they have a strong attachment to this school, their friends, the teachers, and staff. And I understand that redistricting may well move my kids (based on where we live, most likely to Crocker), and may well move some of their friends (to Wildwood, based on where they live). But as much as I'd like for my kids to stay at Fort River, with their friendship groups intact, I believe redistricting our elementary schools is essential.

As you can see on this map of our districts, many kids don't actually attend the school that is closest to their house (meaning we are probably spending more money on school buses than we need to and meaning some kids are spending more time on the bus than they should). The most glaring example of our districts being poorly configured is the cut-out that sends the kids who live in the apartment complexes closest to Crocker Farm to Crocker Farm (appropriately), but the kids who live in the houses surrounding these complexes to Wildwood (inappropriately, in my opinion). In turn, we now have four districts that look very different from one another in terms of the percent of kids on free and reduced lunch -- Wildwood has a low of 22% and Crocker Farm has a high of 54%. This is just a massive difference, and there is no way that it can't impact what occurs both in and outside of the classroom on a daily basis (again, this is no slight to the families or teachers at Crocker Farm -- or the excellent principal, Mike Morris -- a former student of mine at Amherst College!). But it just doesn't seem right or fair to have four elementary schools with such dramatically different populations.

This difference in socioeconomic population in the different schools is created in part by the way we have districted -- I can't imagine that there aren't more kids on free/reduced lunch who live in the apartments (and go to Crocker) than that live in the houses surrounding those apartments (and go to Wildwood). But is also is created in part by the decision to cluster children who speak particular languages together. As a few people have questioned in their comments on earlier postings, we cluster English Language Learners (ELL) by language into the different elementary schools -- Spanish at Crocker, Chinese at Wildwood, Khmer (Cambodian) at Fort River, and Korean at Marks Meadow. Although one may disagree or agree with this clustering (I'll talk more about this later), the reality is that MANY more of the ELL kids at Crocker are on free/reduced lunch than those at the other schools: 94% of the ELL kids at Crocker are on free/reduced lunch, compared to 65% of the ELL kids at Fort River, 62% of the ELL kids at Marks Meadow, and only 37.8% of the ELL kids at Wildwood. One more point: the % of kids who are ELL at each school also varies dramatically. At Crocker Farm, there are 265 students, and 55 ELL students, meaning 21%. At Marks Meadow, there are 191 students and 34 ELL students, meaning 18%. At Fort River, there are 454 kids and 59 ELL students, meaning 13%. And at Wildwood, there are 406 kids and 37 ELL kids, meaning 9%. Thus, the biggest gap seems to be between Crocker Farm (with 54% of kids on free/reduced lunch and 21% ELL kids) and Wildwood (with 22% of kids on free/reduced lunch and 9% ELL kids).

So, why do we cluster kids by language? This decision was driven in part by cost-efficiencies, meaning it is easier to have kids who speak the same language work with a single teacher. It has also meant that it is easier to make sure that Crocker (the school with the highest % of ELL students and families) has staff who are bilingual and the resources needed to translate school materials that get sent home into Spanish. However, it is not clear whether this plan (which requires some kids to be bused out of their home district -- 42 ELLs right now are transported, plus another 13 former ELLs) will continue. My understanding is that district staff is considering whether to continue this program of language clustering (based on both educationally and financial criteria). However, it seems very clear to me that the policy of clustering Spanish speaking kids at Crocker Farm has certainly increased the number of kids on free/reduced lunch at this school, and because Crocker Farm is a relatively small school (265 students -- somewhat more than MM, but many fewer than FR and WW), even a relatively small increase in kids on free/reduced lunch being moved to this school has a pretty significant impact on the % of kids on free/reduced lunch at the school (if the same number of kids were sent to WW or FR, it would just have a much smaller impact).

Last week I posted calculations of how much (approximately) we spend per student at each of the four elementary schools. An administrator then contacted me to let me know that CF receives Title 1 funds, which are given to schools serving a certain percentage of low income kids (MM also receives some Title 1 funds, but much less, since the percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch is much smaller at this school). So, just to clarify to all, Title 1 funds are given based on the % of kids on free/reduced lunch ... so clearly CF is getting these funds (and thus their per pupil costs are reduced by this amount -- perhaps as much as $1,000 per child). MM also benefits from Title 1 funds, but at a much smaller rate (CF serves 143 kids on free/reduced lunch, compared to 69 at MM).

One final thing -- several people have suggested (on my blog, on other blogs, and in School Committee meetings) that the push to close MM is really just a way for us to redistrict, and hence closing MM is just a strategy to accomplishing the bigger goal of redistricting. I both agree and disagree with this view. On the one hand, I do think we need to redistrict -- as I've pointed out throughout this entry. But if I thought it were fiscally responsible to keep MM open for the long-term (meaning the next 5 to 10 years, not just scrapping together money and cutting programs to find a way to keep it open NEXT year), then I'd be pushing for a careful look at how to redistrict into four districts that are more equitable. But given that I don't see the numbers (increasing budget crisis, flat or declining enrollment projections) as justifying keeping MM open, I think it would be a real mistake to redistrict into FOUR districts now. Let's say we decide to redistrict this year and move kids around (this would include moving kids at ALL the schools in some way). Then, let's say that in a year or two, it becomes increasingly clear that we just can't keep MM open (the numbers drop as projected, we pay more to Charter Schools, the budget gap increases even more -- as it is projected to do, etc.). Then, if we close MM, we'd have to redistrict AGAIN, which means that the younger kids could move to three different schools during their elementary school years (e.g., I could easily imagine a kid who goes to FR now gets redistricted to MM, then moves to WW when the redistricting occurs). That is why it is really important to NOT make a decision about how best to redistrict until we have a realistic sense of whether we can sustain MM for at least the next 5 years. I think moving kids three times in three to five years is wrong, and I worry that re-disctricting before we've made the decision about whether we can keep MM open long-term could have this very unfortunate result.


Ed said...


I had never really seen it laid out as cleanly as this, and yes, I know why you aren't teaching at UMass (heaven forbid we have such clarity presented).

A few thoughts:

First, about a decade ago we went from ESL (English Second Language) to ELL (English Language Learner) via fiat out of Boston and while I agreed(agree) with the fiat, it was resisted in places like Amherst. Everything that currently exists makes sense within the ESL context where all of your instruction (curriculum) has to be presented in the non-English language to students whom you never expect to learn English.

On the other hand, if you are expecting them to learn English and your educational efforts are along those lines, (a) it would benefit these students more to be with those whose first language is something other than their own (so they have to use English to communicate) and (b) it is cheaper to have one teacher drive between schools than to bus all the students across town.

Second, I am not so sure that the languages are even assigned to schools in a rational basis. The Kamir (Cambodian) population is (or was) centered around The Boulders complex and where are they being sent?

Third, I go back to the analogy of pregnant women. A woman who goes out on maternity leave costs her employer something, there is an expense for the temporary replacement worker, a recruitment expense if she decides not to come back after the child is born, and an expense in not knowing what she will do. Further, while not all female employees will become pregnant, some will and hence the cheapest (and most illegal) thing to do would be to simply only hire male employees.

So too with the ELL students. While it is cheaper to ghettoize them, I argue that the civil rights laws that preclude making distinctions on the basis of race or national origin are being violated here....

It also makes no sense to have three school buses go into North Village, each taking students of one language to a different locale. These children know each other, play with each other, and likely know a bit of each others' languages...

And as to the district map, all I can say is WOW...

So much for Amherst being the progressive bastion of liberalism......

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Catherine, although we have been a Fort River family for nine years now and we love our school, I agree with you both that redistricting makes sense with respect to equity and also that busing our ELL students might no longer be desirable either educationally or financially.

It was my understanding from the last Elementary School Committee meeting that someone (either in-house or contracted out) was redrawing our district maps for the four reorganizational scenarios under consideration. Will these maps be ready for the February 10th meeting? It seems to me that the School Committee cannot make their best decision about either the budget or about reorganization without seeing these new maps and understanding the new distributions of children across the four (or three) schools.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Ed and Allison,

Thanks for your comments. Here's my two cents:

1. I honestly don't know how I feel about the language clustering ... I have heard from teachers/staff/parents both good and bad things about it, and although I form opinions quickly, I'm still waiting to learn more about the reasons for it, costs/benefits, etc. (and that includes educational and fiscal costs/benefits). It is also important to note that families are not REQUIRED to attend a particular school based on language spoken at home -- it is an option (like School Choice, but with transportation provided).

What I do think is problematic is how the language clusters are divided -- with Spanish-speaking kids going to CF and Chinese-speaking kids going to WW. As noted in my post, the correlation between ELL and free/reduced lunch is 94% at CF, and 38% at WW. So, we are making the income inequity between the schools worse by our current clustering plan (which may help explain why CF has the most kids on free/reduced lunch and WW has the least).

2. There is a request for a redistricting plan (based on THREE districts), but that data was seen as second priority to the budget numbers, so I believe we aren't expecting to get that plan until March. I totally agree that this is essential information, and I look forward to getting it.

We did not ask for information on what four districts would look like, given that the issue of whether maintaining four elementary schools long-term makes sense. I assume that after the February 10th meeting, we will have a better sense of which plans are or are not on the table anymore, and if it turns out that we are leaning towards keeping four schools open for the long-term (something I personally think is a bad idea), then we could request a redistricting plan that involves four districts.

Ed said...

A few years back - several now - the UMass Minuteman Newspaper had a story written by a student teacher at one of the schools -- at the time the teachers were specifically assigning children to specific classrooms based on race.

Apparently, there was even a written memo on this. Hopefully the practice was ended, but....

Anonymous said...

Hey Catherine I have an idea why not take the next few months to create two plans with two budgets.

One for 4 schools and redistricting and one for 3 schools and redistricting, and start working the plan in School year 2010-2011.

Plans and budgets should include the costs for moving students, teachers and staff, and portables around the district.

Besides if we consider the unknown factors, regionalization the elementary schools, which might mean moving 6th graders to the Middle School, Federal Aid we might or might not receive and oh yes a study by educators on the impact it has on the Kid's education, maybe taking the time to make real educated transparent plans would relieve the stress that assumptions are creating in the district.

Financial Realist said...

But the town of Amherst was just told by the Governor that there would be a mid-year reduction of $978,278 worth of state aid to the town. Meaning THIS YEAR. And while this does not represent a reduction in Chapter 70 aid to schools, the largest share of the Amherst budget goes to our schools, so it is very likely that some of this $978,278 cut will have to come out of our school budgets. This year. By June 30th. And next year (which stars July 1), the reduction in state aid is proposed to be $1,735,783. There really is no time to delay. Information needs to be provided NOW so strategic planning can begin NOW, not for FY11.

Anonymous said...

Financial Realist. Thes totals still mean nothing because the School Committe is making assumptions on the cost of closing a school and that it is going to save us money without concrete NUMBERS or PLANSSSS! Like we have X $ and we need to cut Y $! Drastic decisions such as closing a school and redistricting children is going to cost money too! And no one is calculating that.

Take Staff, for instance, how are we going to redistrict or close a school without paying someone to do it, meaning staff that are usually school year staff (10 Months) and teachers (also 10 Months) are going to be working through the summer to make these changes, what is that going to cost? ($200,000??? $300,000). Then moving portables, ($maybe as much as $100,000 if not more) off UMass property to Crocker Farm to accommodate the kids when we push children into that school.

Bottom line yes we need to cut money and yes we may need to close a school and yes we absolutely need to redistrict, but are all of us taxpayers willing to do that without a plan and with a budget?

All of Catherine's number wonking is time consuming and we appreciate her efforts to come up with the RIGHT answers....but really, isn't she just grasping for answers in the midst of an ever moving abacus.
Number beads rolling one way or another as we toss the abacus into the air called this economy.

Migdalor Guy said...

Anonymous' response to Financial Realist is right on the mark. The numbers are a moving target, and anyone who pretends otherwise is one who is not being realistic.

Decisions, no matter how pressing and urgent, that are made in haste, and without enough forethought to potential issues down the road are a fool's bargain.

With all due respect, I don't know that I trust anyone's best guess-and-in the absence of hard numbers, I still believe it is irresponsible for a public official to spout such numbers as if they were certainties, and to reach a decision on that basis.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few responses to "anonymous" and "financial realist" and Migdalor Guy:

First, I've just come from a Budget Coordinating Group discussion ... and the numbers are grim. We also need to remember that the numbers are grim for this year, and they are grim for next year. That is the reality, and it is too bad, but it is the reality. With that in mind, here are my responses to the issues that have been raised.

Anonymous: At the February 10th meeting, specific numbers on the costs of various plans will be presented. We will then have our BEST GUESS as to what the costs/benefits of various options will be (including closing MM, pairing schools, keeping four K to 6 schools, etc.). That will be useful information, and as you point out, that will help us evaluate what will be saved/lost if we close MM, keep four schools, and pair -- so, hey, that is actually FOUR plans and FOUR budgets.

As I said in this initial posting, unless someone can really make the case that we can keep four schools open long-term (not just 2009-2010, or 2010-2011), we shouldn't redistrict into four districts. Moving kids repeatedly is a BAD idea, and so I don't think we should even consider a redistricting option for four schools UNLESS we become convinced that we can continue to have four schools financially. Now, if we get to that point, I'm all in favor of then drawing that map, but I don't think it makes sense to do it until that is a realistic option, given our fiscal realities. That is PARTICULARLY true because the push to move 6th grade to the MS would further reduce the numbers in all the schools, and make keeping MM open even less likely (as enrollment in the district would then drop by another 200 at the elementary school level). My understanding is that district staff are working on the three district model, and we hopefully would have that in March sometime. This work can be done by district staff -- it is not something we are paying extra for.

I absolutely agree that considering the educational benefits is essential -- and the evidence (as summarized in the Reconfiguration Report that is on the district homepage) strongly suggests that there is a "tipping point" in terms of % of kids on free/reduced lunch. That point is about 40% ... meaning Crocker is WELL over that point, and hence there are educational disadvantages for kids in that school (again, there are great teachers, great families, great principals -- but this is not how we should create a school in Amherst that varies so dramatically from the others). We aren't doing right by those kids.

I know some parents are now convinced that small schools are educationally superior -- and hence we should keep MM open. As I've noted before, I'm not convinced by the evidence that this is accurate (in part because most would not consider schools the size of WW and FR -- 400 to 500 -- as particularly LARGE). But even if one is convinced by this, I'm not sure how that would impact what we do as a community. Do we fight to build three more elementary schools so we can have 7 elementary schools (each with its own principal, staff, etc.) of 180 kids each? Do we hold a lottery each year and let 13% of the kids get to experience this superior environment? Do we rotate kids into this school for two years each, so that everyone can experience the benefits? Again, I'm not convinced that this is educationally superior to begin with, but I'm also concerned by the idea that we would have any school that is seen as "superior" to any of the others (educationally, income-wise, etc.). That is one of the reasons why I'm not in favor of having world language taught at ONLY one school (as we currently have with Chinese at Wildwood).

One final point -- I think the short-term costs are important to know, but I don't think we should make a decision on short-term costs. Sure, it will cost some $$ (staff time to come up with redistricting plans, costs to move the portables, staff time to reassign teachers, etc.), but again, the best estimates are that it costs us around a million a year to keep Marks Meadow open. That is a lot of money. So, we could stall another year and then close Marks Meadow, but we'd still incur the transition costs then -- we are just delaying taking the hit, while we spend a million to keep it open. That strikes me as focusing on the short-term, NOT the long-term.

Financial Realist: You are absolutely right -- the numbers are bad, and the schools are going to take a big hit (it is even worse on the regional level than the elementary level). So, if we take a year to consider all options and investigate all plans and get all community feedback, we will be facing a year (2009-2010) in which the schools look really different (e.g., in terms of music, art, class size, computer instruction, math coaches, etc.). If the community wants to go that way, we could ... but it will be painful to some kids and teachers.

I am hopeful that we will all know more a week from tomorrow when we can put "official" numbers with each of the four plans. But I have to agree with "financial realist" that the current fiscal siutation means that we can't hold off on making big cuts for another year. That just isn't plausible.

Migdalor Guy: Not surprisingly, I disagree with your view that I shouldn't give projected numbers. I think more time to discuss and debate and question is good -- and I am providing a service for those who want to do that. We could certainly wait until the numbers on February 10th to have ANY of this information out, but again, those numbers won't even be fully solid because they are based on projections themselves. If we wait until all numbers are fully solid, school will have started (e.g., we don't and won't know how many kindergarteners will enroll next year).

What is the harm of presenting some plausible numbers so that people can understand and debate the types of choices we are likely going to be forced to make? I have never said "based on these numbers I've created, I'm going to vote to close MM." I've said, if the numbers turn out like they are appearing they will be (and I hold by this statement), closing MM would allow us IN MY OPINION to keep what I see as the core of our schools BETTER than any of the other plans. That is by nature a hypothetical -- I'm telling you HOW I AM GOING TO VOTE if the numbers turn out to be this bad. If the numbers turn out to be great (e.g., we are suddenly flush with extra funds), I promise I will NOT vote to close MM, and all I've done is waste my own time calculating some numbers and sharing my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Two quick questions just to clarify:

1- Catherine, you just stated that it costs $1 million to keep MM open every year. What happened to the $600K that it is supposed to save by closing? How did it jump from $600k to $1 million?

2- As I understand it, right now we are at the minimum of where we can be legally with arts and gym. We can't cut anymore from those services without running into issues with teachers contracts.

On another note- How are we going to pay the teachers to work through the summer to pack up and move their classrooms, and have all the furniture moved, etc? How does that fit into their contracts?

If it comes down to costs. When does the moving(including portables), closing costs become more than what we are saving?

Thank for your time

Stefan Petrucha said...

Catherine, two points:

"Do we fight to build three more elementary schools so we can have 7 elementary schools (each with its own principal, staff, etc.) of 180 kids each?"

No, and no to the other thoughts, but as I’ve suggested repeatedly, we keep MM open, increase it’s student size to its current capacity of 230, taking full advantage of (among other things) the free UMASS provided utilities, so that NONE of our schools exceed the 400 student cap generally agreed upon by scores of studies as the top end of an effective elementary school education.

"...all I've done is waste my own time calculating some numbers and sharing my opinion."

Actually, if your numbers turn out to be wildly incorrect, you’ve also contributed to a divisive, perhaps needless panic.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...


The best guess I've heard is that it costs about a million to keep MM open ... but if you close it you only save about $600/$700 because you still have to educate those kids (meaning we would need more teachers in the other buildings). So, the gap is that if you close MM, you don't realize ALL the savings -- hence the drop from a million minus about 7 teachers' salaries (you still need those -- you just lose the salaries for the principal, secretary, music, art, PE, nurse, librarian, custodian, etc.).

People are running numbers now on the transition costs, and we should have those in March sometime. But again, I believe those costs are going to be spent some time (e.g., if we pair the schools, move to 3 K to 4s and one 5-6 those also have costs; plus I believe we will still eventually close MM -- maybe not this year, but I still don't see it as sustainable long-term).

It really isn't clear how many teachers would have to move even if we close MM (although many, many more would move if we go with either of the pairing plan models) ... and remember, some teachers move classrooms EVERY year (this year at Fort River, I know we have two teachers who were at Wildwood last year). There are also teachers who move within buildings every year to different classrooms. So I don't see the transition costs associated with any of the plans in terms of teachers moving as being particularly large (with the exception of moving the portables -- which I believe we are getting an estimate on soon).

In terms of what are the likely cuts to music/arts -- it is INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC (meaning the group band/orchestra lessons, afterschool orchestra) that would be first on the chopping block, in my opinion. Then we would cut world language (drop the Chinese at WW, not add language to the other schools). Then we'd cut other "extras" -- math resource teachers, paraprofessionals, etc. Kids would still have some music/art/PE as a weekly "specials".


1. Although I dispute your number of "400 is the maximum size of a good elementary school," here's a more cost effective way we could create this ideal: move the 6th graders to the MS, close MM, then have 1100 kids in three schools (which we could do by moving the portables to CF) -- an average of 375 or so kids per school. I assume this plan would meet with your approval, right?

2. If I am wrong on the numbers, I will fully apologize on this blog and at a public, televised School Committee meeting for creating excess panic. But I think it is far, far more irresponsible to just pretend (in the face of projections from the Finance Committee and the FCCC report and the school's budget office -- the budget professionals we should trust, right?) that things are going to be fine, and that we can solve this budget crisis by just wishing and hoping that Obama will save the day. So, I would far rather be wrong by creating "excess worry" (based on all reasonable projections from every source imaginable) than by putting my head in the sand and hoping the budget problem magically disappears (even though that approach would clearly have saved me a huge amount of time and avoided many personal attacks on my own blog and in the press). So, I guess now you know where I am going to err -- on the side of caution. And I'll truly hope that I'm proven totally wrong on all my projections -- because it will mean our schools for next year are in much better shape than I fear they will be. Maybe you and I can now unite around the ferverent hope that I'm completely wrong?

ed said...

The problem with research models:

Perhaps Dr. Sanderson will care to comment in that her field (psychology) has a worse track history with "human subjects" than mine (education) but past abuses have been addressed with some very serious rules regarding the use of so-called "human subjects" in research.

And in terms of education, the issue is that you simply can't ethically abandon half a group to failure so as to show the benefits of your approach. It would be like the AFD going out and ignoring the victims of auto wrecks where the plate ended in an even digit so as to show their effectiveness via treatment of those with odd digit plates.

The problem I have with the micro-school model (any school measured in 3 digits is inherently "small") is that the comparisions have been made to failing schools.

Back to the issue of ambulances, the Amherst Ambulance can go save lives while those given the other "treatment" die and this would show the effectivness of the ambulance treatement while raising other serious ones.

The AFD could all go dance naked (or worse) on the roof of the ambulance prior to providing services at an accident scene and the issue would not be the "treatment" (dancing naked on the roof) as much as other issues.

So, bluntly, I am not convinced on the merits of the small classroom and/or small school. If you take a district that is failing and compare the (FAILING) larger schools to your smaller ones, well which do you think is going to look better?

Any proof of small class or school sizes will have to include a competnet and effective larger school which none of these studies have cited....

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear from Wildwood parents sometime. So far, they have been pretty quiet.

As far as I can tell, generally all MM kids would be redistricted to Wildwood, then that would push kids to the other schools, so essentially, that would in turn, redistrict the entire district. Most of the children will be moved around.

So, for all the FR parents that are pushing to close MM, this directly effects your family as well. Closing MM, is not a quick and easy fix. It effects every family in this town. I think people are taking that fact a little too lightly.

CF district needs to be taken care of. We, as a town, are doing a huge disservice to those families, and that will have lasting consequences on all the children in this town. All the schools need to be working together and not against each other. We are all in this together.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...


I've indeed heard from many WW families ... and FR families. And of course closing MM influences everyone, because yes, it would lead to redistricting many kids in all of the schools. But remember, keeping MM open ALSO influences all kids -- MM would stay open, redistricting wouldn't occur, and all kids in all the schools would feel the effects of what is lost to save the needed money (e.g., instrumental music, world language that is now at WW, larger class sizes, etc.).

And I certainly agree with you that what we are doing at CF is awful, and should not continue.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying, but you seemed to immediately jump to thinking I was for keeping MM open. That is not what I was saying. I was saying that if we close MM, it will have a much larger impact on families in this town than people are acknowledging. There seems to be this immediate jump to saving the instruments, arts, language (really? Closing a school to then offer language to all elementary kids?)etc.

Our priorities, in this town, need to be coming together and working this thru for the long term. These decisions can not be made in a Blog, or in emails, etc. There needs to be town wide meetings held, in an orderly, well thought out manner. This is not happening. This is border-line chaos!! This was not the intentions of the committee that met last year to discuss the equity issues. As far as I can tell, there was a lot said about planning ahead of time, how to introduce these ideas to the public.

The announcement made in Dec has thrown everything into total chaos here. People are making opinions based on possible false, premature information. There is so much negativity happening out there, people are verbally attacking each other. People are becoming so emotionally distraught, which makes sense for what the budget looks like for the upcoming years and how it will impact there families lives, but that does not need to be exaggerated by premature facts, that then are changed and changed again.

I can't wait to find out the real information that hopefully will be presented tonight!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...


I think you and I agree on many points:

1. The December announcement -- recommendation by the interim Superintendent -- was a shock to me (as a member of the School Committee!), and yes, that announcement led to chaos. But that announcement about the severe budget crisis has led to some important discussions about how we handle a crisis.

2. I believe that more community input is important -- I've asked for that input on repeated occasions, but the reality is, no one wants to go to the community until the budget numbers are solid, and by then, we are tight on time in terms of voting on a budget. So, it is a bit of a Catch-22 ... do you announce possible cuts (and blog about them) even before all the information is solid, or do you wait until the information is solid and then you have a few weeks to reach a decision about the cuts?

And I'd love to hear BROADLY from people in the community about how we best spend our resources -- let's say it costs (and this is a very good guess) $700,000 to keep a fourth elementary school open. Alternatively, we could fund world language K to 6 for all kids (that's $100,000), AND fund instrumental music (that's $200,000), AND fund some summer school/after school programs (again, this could vary). To me, that choice would be easy ... but I'm willing to acknowledge that others in the community might have different priorities (but I'd like to hear broadly from people -- not just MM families).

3. I was on the reorganization committee, and we all talked about the importance of public comment. But the plan of closing a school was never discussed in that group, NOR did the group ever get any numbers of any type (e.g., budget numbers, class sizes, cost savings, etc.). That group focused entirely on equity issues, which are important, but aren't the same as cost savings. If we didn't have the budget situation, obviously we could then pay attention ONLY to equity (and then just redistrict into four schools) ... but the sad reality is that we do have a budget crisis, and we will for some time. But that group wasn't at all focused on weighing priorities of what we want in our schools.

4. Sorry to disappoint ... but NUMBERS will not be presented tonight ... just reviewing the numbers we WANT for the meeting next week!

Anonymous said...

Abbie says to Anonymous seeking WW community input:

I am a parent of a WW second grader and have been involved in the discussion of closing MM and redistricting. I suspect that other WW parents (and CF and FR) have also blogged here. Do folks really need to state their school in order to participate and have valid input?

I support redistricting. I see it as a moral obligation. We are talking about a public school and to me, their mission is to educate (first and foremost) to the best of their abilities and resources. This mission should be equitable across economic class, race, and student abilities.

I don't think Catherine has been premature. I am a person who looks forward to the future and is prepared for as many "reasonable" possibilities that are likely to arise. This year it is likely that we will face enormous cuts and the same is likely next year (and perhaps beyond). I think it would be irresponsible to ignore that likelihood and hope for the unrealistic best. That said we can derive multiple solutions based on the projections (i.e. huge cuts, small cuts, no cuts). This, I believe, is what Catherine has been saying.

I understand that big changes are likely to happen. Who knows where my daughter will go to school? We can and will adapt to any new situation. My guess is that lots of parents agree with this. We simply don't have the resources to get everything we want. Right now we need to find solutions to get what our children need, a GOOD (hopefully, excellent) education.

As far a world languages go, I have never been a fan of the Chinese program at WW. I attended last years SC mtg when it was discussed and was shocked that there were few plans to see whether it was a good thing for the kids. But I thought, well if its free then ok, but know I find we need to chip in. Whats with that? Its not so much that they are learning a language but while they are learning it during that 2-3hrs/week of language class what are they NOT learning? Math, science, writing? There are only so many instruction hours/week. There was no plan to examine MCAS scores before and after language instruction, for example...

I, for one, am somewhat insulted when you say "People are making opinions based on possible false, premature information." This is not rocket science (and requires spread sheets) and I'm a big girl who can see the situation and form an "educated opinion". It is logic, If X=Y, then this plan A might work, If X=Z then this plan B might work. Catherine and others have been pushing to get the Ys and Zs, so we can begin to plan accordingly.

ed said...

Big schools versus Little schools.

OK, the dancing naked on the roof of the ambulance is a better analogy for a methods class than here (and the next like is having all the teachers wear purple polka dots on their clothes).

The point is that if you put all the people enthuastic about education into one school, that school will do better than its peers; if you tell everyone that some "treatment" (having teachers wear purple polka dots) will result in better education and convince the students they will learn more, they will.

In the 19th Century, we didn't have (or need) school buses because we had one room schoolhouses. In the 1960s we went toward consolidation -- I suspect that before the district was formed, Pelham, Shutesbury & Leverett had their own high schools.

And there were advantages of having the big schools, specilization of teachers into areas of expertise, etc. Now we have the converse, people championing small schools.

I wonder if neither was right -- I wonder if this was all placebo effect, people in the first bigger and now smaller schools doing better only because everyone thought they would do so.

Further, those schools employing the latest educational theories have the resources and willingness to do so -- and this is not a reflection on the theories as much as the underlying qality of the resources provided to the school.

Further, it must be remembered that in those cases were it is one person per school, the time of that person (music teacher, etc) is inversely proportional to the number of students in the school.

Notwithstanding all of this, I honestly wonder if Mark's Meadow's qualities consist of things other than it small size. Extent of parental involvement comes to mind.

As well as the fact that if half of your parents have advanced graduate degrees their children are going to have a different attitude toward education than if they never completed high school.

married to a cutter said...

Catherine-in the future please do not refer to paraprofessionals as "extras". Many paraprofessionals are essentials as the are a requirement of a student's IEP. Paraprofessionals who work for the Amherst Public Schools do many essential tasks for very little money.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

"Married to a Cutter" -- much apologies ... I actually think paras ARE essential -- but they are being described in the budget talks as "extras" (the "easy" cuts). I'll try to be clearer in the future -- I think the paras, math coaches, guidance counselors, music/art/computers are ALL pretty central ... and as I've said many times, I do prioritize keeping those "extras" (which make a huge difference in the day to day life of some kids) over having four elementary schools.

Anonymous said...

I was a put off after reading the info for CF's new Wednesday after school clubs. They are offering ONE bus home that only serves East Hadley Rd. If they are offering transportation it should be for all areas. Do they realize what this is saying about that area?

Anonymous said...

I have read about as much as I can on this blog without straining my eyes too greatly and I have this to say;
It appears pretty clear to me that now, in the year 2009, instead of 'educating' children in an equitable manner regardless of their income as Amherst has become infamous for doing they are 'educating' children according to their 'language.' Both practices sound fishy to me. Both practices have been going on for many, years now and many, children have fallen prey to this.
I hear words being used like socioeconomic and I wonder how many years of schooling did it take to come up with that word? I hear words like redistricting, reconfiguration, 'Oh my!' Makes me think of being lost in the woods somewhere... ;-)
What this all boils down to is if you have 'money' you needn't worry about your child's education but, if you don't you'd better have a loud voice and plenty of community members to back you up because it won't be long before MM is razed.

Anonymous said...

Excuse the last blog to read... instead of "regardless of their income" should read..."according to their income". Thanks

Anonymous said...

That "one bus" thing is saying that the apartments is the only area low income people live and thus the only ones deserving a ride home. Not true.

Anonymous said...

I wonder Ms. Sanders if during the next School Committee meeting you might show respect to those parents and employees of the schools by appearing to be interested in what they have to say. At the Feb. 10 meeting you sat in your chair with your feet up bobbing your head in what appeared to be approval to comments that suited your agenda. I am speaking for the many people that I personally have heard comment on your behavior at that meeting. You may want to think about the way you carry yourself.