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.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Springfield Republican Article on School Committee Candidates

3 seek Amherst school slots

Sunday, March 22, 2009

AMHERST - The three candidates seeking two School Committee seats all talk passionately about the schools. All have been involved with the schools on myriad levels.

They all want to help the schools get through the budget challenges and thrive. And they are all running for office in the March 31 election.

Irvin E. Rhodes has run for Select Board, been on the Finance Committee and most recently served on the town's Facilitation for Community Choices Committee. He also has taught, been a school librarian, and assistant superintendent at the former Belchertown State School. He said he's making his first School Committee bid because, "I want to bring all that experience" to the committee.

He said working on the finance and facilitation committees "has given me an insight into the financial workings of the town budget." The overriding issue is the budget, he said.

The town has four elementary schools, and this year committee members have discussed the potential closing of Marks Meadow. No decisions have been made, and initially Helen L. Vivian, one of the former interim co-superintendents, recommended against that or any other changes to the configuration of the elementary schools. Some have proposed closing that school as a way to save money.

Rhodes said he doesn't think the school should be closed next year and instead thinks the school closing "needs to be (considered) within a comprehensive plan." Closing that school is not addressing the school budget structural deficit, which would be addressed in a comprehensive plan.

He said the community needs to get involved in creating the plan, and it needs to be ready and implemented in fiscal 2011. That plan needs to set goals and objectives. People want to go for easy solutions. They glom onto something that makes very little sense."

Rhodes said he can work collaboratively and looks forward to doing so with the committee.

Steven G. Rivkin, is the chairman of the economics department at Amherst College and said he wants to see good policy decisions in the schools. His specialty is economics of education.

Rivkin, along with current School Committee member Catherine A. Sanderson, co-founded the Amherst Committee for Excellence in 2007 in an attempt to ensure academic excellence for all children.

As a committee member he wants to ensure that all students are "intellectually engaged." And he also wants "to bring a sense of open debate and discussion to focus on data and evidence ... and most of all to focus on the children."

Rivkin said he believes that given the financial shortfall for fiscal 2010, the committee does need to consider closing Mark's Meadow for the fall. He realizes September is soon, but "we should not rule it out given the crisis."

He said, "We can't get caught up in the budget. The way in which the schools are structured has a huge impact on the quality of education in the schools."

He sees that redistricting is imperative "to eliminate the substantial disparities in the schools."

He said it's unfair that about 66 percent of the students at Crocker Farm are eligible for free lunch while only about 20 percent are eligible at the Wildwood and Fort River schools.

Redistricting the schools would create a balanced student population at all the schools.

As a committee member he said he would "focus on evidence," and he hopes the committee will be a forum where "people can disagree respectfully openly and move forward." With the committee, "there's a tendency to not disagree" or not ask the administration tough questions because the meeting is open.

Megan D. Rosa said she couldn't look at herself in the mirror if she wasn't going to try to help the students.

She said diversity issues are important and like Rivkin she wants to ensure greater diversity and equality among the elementary schools. She, too, would like to see redistricting.

"The bigger piece is the kids ... to do what I can to so each of these kids gets the best education we can give them to get the tools (they need) in life" to either work, or go on to college.

That drive "is so deep in me ... to make a difference in these kids' lives. We can't lose the focus of what these kids need."

She believes it's essential "to keep those core classes, services, making sure we have the core really strong."

Rosa has two children at Marks Meadow but contrary to what some think, "I'm not running to save Marks Meadow," she said. "If the numbers show the best thing is to close Marks Meadow, that's what we would have to do. (But) I don't see it being able to happen this year.

"We have to follow the advice of the administration and principals to make sure the kids have exactly what they need."

She also praised the administration for doing a good job with the budget and "putting the kids first."


A Realist said...

Dear Dr. Rhodes, How does closing Marks Meadow NOT address our structural deficit? Part of the reason why our budget continues to surpass our revenue is due to rising personnel cost, and the elimination of multiple positions through the closing of Marks Meadow would reduce the number of personnel we carry foward (along with their substantial raises) into the future. I would argue that closing Marks Meadow THIS YEAR would go a LONG WAY toward addressing our structural deficit problem.

Neil said...

Last night on 60 minutes Bill and Melinda Gates answered questions about the work their foundation is doing. The foundation has selected malaria, HIV, and US education as the areas it wants to make a big difference in the world. Their foundation studies problems and studies the efficacy of solutions applied at prior times and presently. They try to make decisions based on empirical data from well designed studies (there is a science to designing studies). This is how Bill ran Microsoft and this is how Bill and Melida are running their foundation.

Of the three areas of focus they have accessed that US education is the biggest challenge because the schools have not measured the efficacy of their curriculum and school districts have not developed as "learning organizations," organizations that study their own performance and learn from it. It seems to me this approach is the approach Sanderson and Rivkin are advocating. Count me in.

Does Irving know enough about recent SB meetings to declare the the SB is not in a position to make a decision about moving from 4 to 3 elementary schools without more "comprehensive study". It's hard for me to say what he does or doesn't know but he seems definitive about not deciding about cost control measures in the near term.

Administration is what we hire the super to lead. Educational policy and budget priorities is what we elect the school board to decide.

Neil said...

accessed = assessed

Ed said...

On this "free lunch" thing - I know why you are using that statistic (you have it) but I think it is based on a false premise -- that the income distribution in Amherst is a bell curve with the ~$55K median being somewhere near the mode.

My gut feeling - and it is just a gut feeling - is that you are going to see a strong distribution in the $100/$200K family income (two professionals) and a strong distribution in the >$40K family income range, but a big dip where the peak of the curve should be.

I may be wrong, but I wonder how many parents with children there are with family incomes from $40/$100K. And you need to be careful to equally distribute these people as well.

Otherwise you could have a school where everyone either comes from high or low income and that would not be good either....