There has been a lot of discussion about what decisions are within the domain of the School Committee -- closing a school, choosing curricula, etc. So, I am devoting this posting to just let readers of this blog understand the power that School Boards actually do have to choose curricula. The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee voted in January 2008 to eliminate the option for any 9th graders to take biology, and instead to require all 9th graders to take ecology and environmental science. Whether you agree or disagree with this decision, this decision was made and voted on by the Committee -- had a majority voted "no," 9th graders would now be allowed to take biology (and let me be clear -- not a single person on the committee voted to allow interested 9th graders to continue taking biology). This is one example of why who is on the School Committee really matters.
Although Amherst is the only district to my knowledge that has faced controversy for requiring students to take ecology/environmental science, science instruction is certainly part of controversial School Board votes in many districts. You might remember a controversial school board vote in Cobb County, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta): in 2002, the Cobb County School Board adopted a policy requiring stickers to be placed in biology textbooks which stated, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” (This decision was then overturned by the courts). You might also remember a controversial decision by the School Board in Dover, Pennsylvania: this district became the first in the United States to require teaching “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power. This change was seen as a veiled attempt to require students to learn creationism, a biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, or at least to present this view as on the same level as the more scientifically-validated theory of evolution (this decision was also overturned).
Don't worry -- I'm not suggesting that the Amherst-Pelham School Committee push for adding stickers promoting intelligent design on our biology textbooks or providing instruction on "intelligent design." But I am suggesting that School Committees in Amherst and elsewhere have real power to influence what is being taught in our schools. The reality is that schools matter a lot -- even for those who don't have kids in the public schools. Schools consume approximately 2/3rds of the Amherst Town budget ... and the quality of our schools impacts housing values. Amherst residents should therefore take the time to educate themselves on who is running for School Committee seats at each election, and should vote for candidates whose vision best fits what they would like to see in our schools.
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.