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, March 12, 2009

A New Blog with Amherst Education Numbers

For those of you who enjoy seeing/thinking about/discussing various issues regarding the Amherst schools on this blog, please check out the new blog by Amherst resident and parent Alison Donta-Venman at: Alison served on the Facilitation of Community Choices Committee, and is very focused on using data for long-term, strategic planning for both the town and the schools (she's already blogged about special education in the Amherst schools, for example). I'm delighted to have someone else sharing data, presenting numbers, and generating important discussion about town-wide priorities and values.


Anonymous said...

I took your suggestion and migrated over to her blog, finding her questions on Sped expenditures quite alarming. Fortunately, many others share my concern over her lack of empathy towards the Sped student and the services they require, to just make it through the day!

Hopefully, you do not share her views.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 1:56 - Why would questions be alarming, unless the answers are alarming? Any and all items on the budget should be open to public scrutiny. And they should all be justifiable. And no one should be alarmed unless they have something to hide.

Anonymous said...

I have been following the conversation on Alison's blog ab out SPED. I don't think its the questions that Alison asks that are alarming. No one should be fearful of questions. I don't even find it alarming that it is evident that Alison's has a total lack of knowledge of the SPED program and the students in it. She does not understand on any level what it takes for the average SPED student to even make it through the day at school. She seems to think (and I base this obersavtion on things she has written - I acknowledget that I may be wrong here because I have never actually spoken to her about this) but she seems to think that if the student would just work a little harder, or the parent would spend a little more time working with their child at home, or got the child a tutor or a therapist that they would not need an IEP. She seems to think that all a parent needs to do is ask for an IEP and they get it - and get everything they could possibly ask for their child. None of these things could be further from the truth.

I know because I was a SPED parent - and it was exhausting. SPED parents as a rule must fight every step of the way to get the tools their child needs to succeed at school.

But getting back to Alison - there is nothing wrong with not having an in depth knowledge of a topic that one is unfamiliar with - and Alison has admitted that she does not know much about SPED and that she appreciated how much has learned from the postings on her blog. I think we have all learned alot - I know I have.

What I do find alarming is that even after folks try to explain to her a little bit of what it is like to have a SPED student in school she still does not seem to understand how difficult it is to be that SPED student. And when she is called on her lack of understanding, or seeming unwillingness to see that many in the SPED program have real difficulties in learning, her response is to tell people that they don't have to read her blog if they don't want to. Which is true - but in my mind, a response like that proves the point. She has no empathy for the SPED kids who who bravely continue to go to school day in and day out and try as hard as they can to keep up with their peers. That is what I find alarming.

But I will continue to read her blog because I think it has provided some very useful information and provides another forum for folks to learn more about the schools and express their opinions. However, I am very disappointed in Alison's seeming unwillingness to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe the SPED kids need the services that are provided to them.

Lastly, this does not mean that I think SPED shoud be off the table in terms of trying to set a budget. If there are savings that can be found in the SPED budget then we should try to find them. But lets not do it at the expense of providing these childeren with the same quality of education that the other children in the school receive.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:55 - "Alarming" in that someone could demonstrate by the questions raised, such a lack of feeling for a "child in need", to equate the daily difficulties of such a child with those deemed "normal" or neurotypical, and to imply that both populations should compete on a level playing field for budgetary allocations, harkens back to the days of Social Darwinism. Or maybe I should not say "back".

Anonymous said...

To Anon 4:03 - Nicely put.

Anonymous said...

I see alot of assumption on how she "feels" and have not seen that there. Sometimes people go down a path that isn't there. Lighten up, answer the questions and educate instead of throwing stones.

Anonymous said...

Special ed spending increases while regular ed takes the cuts -- that is a fact. (Look at our budgets over the past 10 years.) That is not the fault of special ed kids and it doesn't mean special ed shouldn't be funded. It reflects faulty state and federal funding mechanisms and demands.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 4:03, 4:17, and 4:21: I read Alison's blog postings very differently than the way you have read them.

Alison and others are not questioning whether SPED kids need the services that they are alloted. They are merely raising questions about whether the services provided are provided effectively and in a fiscally-responsible manner. Many SPED insiders have mentioned that there are issues with some of the SPED programs. There is nothing wrong with asking for an evaluation of any program to see if it is effective for the kids and cost-effective.

Anon 5:30: I totally agree with you that peole are reading more into the posts about how she feels about SPED than what is actually written down. In fact, I read the opposite. I don't know her at all but I see her re-reading her words before she hits enter just to make sure she is not writing anything offensive. (I base this solely on how carefully I can see she has chosen her words).

What I see is a group of SPED parents who have fought tooth and nail for every service their child needs - and are coping with the difficulties their children go through everyday because of their SPED needs - and now they fear having to fight for them again against a group of people who are un-knowledgeable about the SPED world trying to balance a budget on their kids' backs. Not at all the case. People are merely questioning the effectiveness of the various SPED programs (Building Blocks in particular), not the need for the SPED services.

I find her blog extremely useful and educational. She's very good with presenting numbers - and then asking - what are these numbers (FTE, dollars) used for?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to comment on this blog. I found it very interesting in that its view is quite innocent. It takes a lot to educate a "SPED" kid. It takes a lot to educate a "REGULAR" kid too. I see Alison's and others' views on her blog as innocent because I truly do not believe she has a clue as to what goes on in the programs they attempt to discuss with numbers and figures and initials that are only privy to a small group of people, for example FTE?? Administrators running some of these programs have become overwhlemed with the life situations that a lot of our kids are being forced to deal with.
She, or others interested, might want to watch "Freedom Writers." It's a great place to start...
At any rate, if Amherst is not hiding the South Amherst Campus and the East Street Alternative High then I ask why is it not listed on their website? Why can one not find it spoken on their school directory telephone line? Are people, in this community, aware that this building can not be entered unless one is 'buzzed' in and the students attending this campus need to be 'wanded' down before entering? And yet, it is claimed to not be a lock-down facility--then what should we call it? I am not saying this is not a neccessity. But, what I am saying is why is it hidden?
On the elementary level; are people aware of Buidling Blocks and just what this program entails?
You too might be overwhelmed to know.
After reading "Mediocrity: Not in our schools" in Friday, March 13, 2009, Amherst Bulletin, I find it encouraging that someone can see just what a farce the SC has become.
Catherine, I do not say this with malice and I do not expect to be shot down with sarcastic answers from you. I have always believed that the Amherst school system takes a 'more educated than though' standpoint towards too many of our parents and kids from neighborhoods that don't look like the average one you or others may come from and I think this is coming to a head.
I thank you for this opportunity. It's time for us all to get on the same page here...

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:36:

I'm sorry, I am not sure what you are trying to get at. I think there is so much sarcasm (and then followed by fact) in your post that I am having a tough time discerning your real point.

Is it that people who are not involved in SPED should not discuss the SPED budget, FTE, # of administrators - because the horrible life issues that are afflicting the SPED kids makes it so no one can talk about it unless one is an insider? Or are you saying the opposite, that these figures that are privy to just a few should be more transparent to the entire public?

Is it that you think "hidden facilities" like East Street Annex and Building Blocks SHOULD be out in the open more?

I'm trying to figure out what you mean when you say that the SC treats others (who are not from neighborhoods like Catherine;s) with a holier than THOU attitude. Who are you talking about? Is it that the SC is favoring regular ed vs SPED and you think that they should not?

I'm not trying to mock you - I really did have a hard time understanding your point(s).

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:32.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify myself.
I am saying that programs that held within our schools should not be hidden. None of them. I am saying that if I were the parent of a kindergartener in the same building where Buidling Blocks is I would want to know and have a right to know about it because the children in this program can and do behave in violent and unpredictable ways that may place my own child in harm's way either by seeing the ways the teachers tackle them or lead them to the infamous padded closet or getting in the way of their path of possible destruction.
I am saying that only insiders are privy to this information and that simply is not right. When I worked alongside this program I often wondered if I should enlighten my friends whose children were attending school in the same building and knew nothing of it. My job, of course, I feared, would have been at risk. Do you understand what I am trying to say?
How many people know about East Street or think that South Amherst Campus is for the 'bad' kids in town? Who is to blame for this conception? Why do SPED administrators make such, high, high salaries? How does a child get led down this path? I am not belittling the work being done for some of these kids, but I am questioning it. You see I believe that we have an educational aparthied going on. I believe and have even experienced how the system listens to two parent, wealthy families versus poor, single parent families.

I am sorry that I went off on a whole different subject here talking about neighborhoods and the inequities one receives because of not living in Amherst Woods or the like, but this is real. Let me attempt to give you an example. I requested in my own child's IEP for her to be givien a male teacher because of being raised in a single mom's household. I so thought the school would hear and honor my request especially since 6th grade was the only grade where a male was teaching at that time and the last opportunity for my daughter to have a positive male role model who she would interact with every day in her elementary experience. Well--they did not respect my wish. They did place her best friend in this classroom however at her parents' request. The child of a two-parented, wealthy neighborhood, home. What else could I come to beleive, but the voice of the disenfranchsied is ignored?

I am also confused by administrators, or anyone for that matter, profitting from the horrible life situations of anyone, never mind the struggles some of our kids face. And I believe SPED is a prime example of this. I also question whose bright idea it was to refer to kids outside the SPED program as regular? Let me end by saying the last time I used the opposite of regular I was referring to a bodily function. And so has anyone thought about what one may be left to think that kids who do not get regualr education get?? Something irregualr??
Does that make better sense? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that people are dividing themselves and others into factions such as "SPED parents/students", "single parents", "wealthy parents", etc, etc.

Let's work together and keep reminding ourselves that no one wants to take things away from any one particular group -- we all just want to negotiate a system that works as best as it can for everyone with the limited and dwindling resources that we have.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:01 PM