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 2, 2009

Superintendent Selection

Tonight featured the long promised vote on the Superintendent selection. So that you don't have to read this whole entry, I'll cut to the chase: Dr. Alberto Rodriguez was selected.

Here's the longer story: on the first round of discussion, Michael Katz, Marianne Jorgenson, Elaine Brighty, Sonia Pope and Kathleen Anderson supported Dr. Rodriguez. Andy Churchill and I supported Dr. David Sklarz. Michael Hussin and Tracy Farnham abstained -- saying they thought we should re-open the search. Then, we took a brief break, and when we came back, Andy, Michael Katz and Michael Hussin had now decided they supported Alberto Rodriguez, meaning there were 7 votes in favor, my vote for Sklarz, and Tracy's abstention. I am posting the statement I read aloud below, for those who don't want to watch the whole thing on TV, but in brief, let me say that I am extremely disappointed in my colleagues on the School Committee -- who clearly were afraid of hiring a strong, experienced leader who frankly would have ruffled some feathers in our district and made some real change (which is why he so clearly had the support of the vast majority of parents in this district). This is apparently NOT what we are looking for ... and instead have chosen a person who is very nice, very likeable, and a good listener -- but one who has NEVER worked in a district other than Miami-Dade (a district about as different from ours as I could imagine) and has NEVER worked as a superintendent (1 year as a "region superintendent" but not the overall superintendent; 1 year as assistant/associate superintendent; 1 year as "assistant superintendent for human resources" -- although his CURRENT job is as a high school principal).

I want to say that I do respect Tracy's decision to abstain -- I do agree that there wasn't a "perfect candidate" and in that sense, she made a good call if she felt that having no one was better than having the wrong choice. And I'm very, very disappointed in Andy's behavior -- I think the decision to vote first for David Sklarz, and THEN for Alberto Rodriguez was a deliberate attempt to please all sides (the parents in the audience actually applauded when he said he supported Sklarz, but then ultimately he gets to be on the winning side and vote for Rodriguez). It strikes me as very similar to a comment he made when we voted for an electronic suggestion box -- he said he was in favor of it, but then concerned about, so he voted against it. This is not the time to play politics -- it is the time to make a decision and hold with your convictions, even if they are unpopular.

The following is the statement I read at the meeting regarding the selection (obviously to no avail):

This is a critical time in the Amherst Regional Public Schools. We are facing massive budget cuts, an urgent need for redistricting our elementary schools, and continuing challenges with reducing our achievement gap. The selection of an experienced and proven superintendent who can lead our district forward during this trying time is essential, and thus I believe we have only one choice: Dr. David Sklarz. He is the only candidate we saw who has extensive experience as a superintendent, a demonstrated ability to help all children succeed, and clear support from the community.

Dr. Sklarz has served as a superintendent in West Hartford for 14 years. The West Hartford district is very similar to our own in many ways, including the percentage of low income students and children of color as well as the presence of demanding and involved parents. He therefore knows what he is getting into and will arrive on July 1st ready to hit the ground running. This is simply not the time or place for hiring a superintendent who will require extensive on-the-job training.

Dr. Sklarz has demonstrated his ability to help all children succeed. A colleague of mine looked up the performance (% meeting No Child Left Behind proficiency level) for 10th grade students in different sub-groups in West Hartford and Connecticut as a whole for each of the MCAS tests (math, science, reading, writing). These subgroups were low income students, ELL students, and students of color (black, Hispanic). Students in West Hartford public high schools are doing substantially better than those in the state of CT as a whole for every sub-group. In some cases, students in these sub-groups in West Hartford are out-performing stage averages by as much as 20 to 25%. In addition, both high schools in West Hartford appear on the Newsweek list of best high schools in the United States, and both appear on the list of Top 35 public high schools in Connecticut.

These qualities are not just recognized by me: almost all of the numerous parents, teachers, and community members who have contacted me over the last few days (by phone, by email, in person) have expressed their strong view that the Amherst schools are in need of precisely the type of leadership Dr. Sklarz provides and have strongly urged me to vote accordingly. They recognize that this is not a time in which we as a community should take a “leap of faith” and select a candidate based on personal likeability, and were inspired by the ideas and vision offered by Dr. Sklarz during his visit to Amherst.

In sum, although I liked and admired aspects of both the other candidates, Dr. Sklarz is the only candidate we saw who has demonstrated through his 18 years as a superintendent that he can create top-notch public schools we’d like to have for all students and is prepared to meet each and every one of the challenges we currently face. Although choosing a strong leader, who may by necessity ruffle some feathers in order to make some much-needed changes in our schools, is scary to some, at this critical time we desperately need a decisive, experienced, and proven superintendent who can provide vision, create curriculum alignment, and demand excellence from students, teachers, and administrators. I therefore urge my fellow School Committee members to join me in voting unanimously for Dr. David Sklarz.


Anonymous said...

Dr.David Sklarz has retired. He can't wait to get away from school issues- be glad we did not get stuck with him!

Neil said...

I liked Sklarz 14 years experience as super in West Hartford and his Phd in Policy Analysis from Teachers’ College at Columbia University, as well as his experience in Ridgefeld CT and Marblehead MA. That said Dr. Isabellina Rodriguez has four years experience in Northampton as super working on closing the achievement gap plus we'll save on relocation costs. Decision made. Now we commit to making it work.

Ed said...

First, since the "M" in MCAS stands for "Massachusetts", I somehow doubt that the Connecticut state assessment test is called the MCAS. On a more serious note, each state's test is different and Connecticut's appears to be quite different from ours.

I have seen research that indicates the MA MCAS (and related aspects of the '94 Ed Reform Act) leading to us having much better basic skills than CT kids do. I am not so sure that evaluating him on the CT assessment would be as relevant as evaluating a Massachusetts Supt.

Having said that, three points:

First, how on earth do you manage to do searches in public? UMass does them in executive session, only going into public session to announce the decisions reached. This sounds like a Larry Springer event - and you do have my sympathy...

Second, The thought that crossed my mind was that the biggest challenge to the district *right now* (who knows about next week, we live in interesting times) is K-6 and the man is 7-12 and moreso high school. The fields are quite different and how much does he really know about K-6?

Third, Miami-Dade has (if I am not mistaken) the largest community college system in the country -- it must have one truly massive K-12 system to have this. And thus how much of a small-town generalist is this man?

On the other hand - notwithstanding the above - if someone is a good manager and makes good judgment calls and such - then that might actually be better because there won't be the "we did it that way then and hence we should do it here."

But this could be interesting...

Alison said...

Thanks, Catherine,for being willing to take a stand. I, too, thought Dr. Sklarz was, by far, the best candidate for the job. I admire the way both you and Tracy F. stuck to your guns.

I guess the good thing is that no one will be able to dwell on this today as you all now need to face the grim budget music tonight.

Joe said...

“It is the time to make a decision and hold with your convictions, even if they are unpopular”

I believe the most unpopular decision for the community would have been no decision. Personally, I was most disappointed in the School Committee members that praised the process, but then weren’t able to support one of the three finalists. We need to make difficult decisions if we are to move forward towards our goals in a responsible way. To suggest the best alternative was to conduct another similar search and hope an “ideal” or at least better candidate would emerge, without any suggestions for how the process might be improved is just that, hope.

Andy Churchill may have made an unpopular decision for those that supported the other candidates. But I think he deserves our thanks for standing by his belief that at this point in time, with the current circumstances and the final three candidates as our options, making a decision was better than no decision at all. It isn’t clear that without Andy‘s involvement last night the Committee would have made any decision.

I agree with Neil’s statement above, “decision made. Now we commit to making it work.” To do anything less than fully commit to support our new Superintendent would be a poor decision. This is not the time to play politics, so let’s see the community and especially the School Committee members work together to MAKE DECISIONS to support our conviction for creating the best school system for our kids.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that it should be known that the majority, by far, of parents or stakeholders, who came out to meet the superintendent candidates, chose Dr. Sklarz over the other two. This simple fact was all but ignored last night. The people who chose to ignore this fact, put their own opinions over the ones of the people who elected them. I applaud Catherine for standing up for her convictions and the rest of us, who really were ignored by this process. If they were going to ignore what the surveys said "we" wanted, then why bother to have those public interviews in the first place?

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the quislings among you were fearful of being called intolerant (or worse, racist). This choice makes them feel virtuous as symbolism in Amherst is well more important than fact.

Anonymous said...

If Ms. Jorgenson feels that Dr. Rodriguez is such an excellent fit for Amherst and so good for our children, will she now pull her child from Williston and enroll in the Amherst Public Schools? If not, in my mind, that shows her TRUE opinion of Dr. Rodriguez. But perhaps it is OK to experiment on other people's children.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses (after a very long night):

Anonymous 11:04 -- Sklarz applied for our job. Thus, I have to assume he wanted to be our superintendent.

Neil: I liked those aspects of Sklarz as well. And just for the record, we hired the Rodriguez from MIAMI, not the Rodriguez from Northampton (so we aren't really going to be saving on relocation costs).

Ed: Thanks for the sympathy about the public deliberation -- yes, awkward! I share your concerns about the very different district that Miami is compared to Amherst, and that Dr. Rodriguez has most experience by far working at the HS level. Those factors weighed heavily on my vote.

Alison: Thanks for the thanks. It wasn't easy. But it felt like the right thing to do.

Joe: I am mixed about your comments. I agree that having a superintendent is overall a good thing, but I do think fit matters -- we will live with a wrong choice for a while, and I've certainly heard from parents who were hoping, half-way through the meeting, that we failed the search. I also think it was clear that we were going to hire Alberto Rodriguez regardless of whether Andy changed his vote -- there were 5 (then 6, with Michael Hussin) votes for him already, meaning that Andy's vote for Sklarz wouldn't have mattered for the outcome. I certainly agree that we all have to now work to make this work -- and I will hope that my concerns are proven entirely wrong.

Anonymous 8:05: The SC received a lot of email, and virtually all of that was for Sklarz. The parent/community/teacher feedback I heard was very clearly for this candidate, and that did influence my vote -- in part because I believe it is better for a superintendent to arrive having the support of the community.

Anonymous 8:25: Good guess! I was called a racist by other committee members later that evening.

Anonymous 9:32: It did strike me as interesting that of the five people who initially voted for Rodriguez, only 1 (Sonia Pope) has children in the schools. Elaine and Michael K. don't have kids in the schools, Kathleen has a grandchild in the schools, and Marianne's child is in private school. So, of the five members with kids in the schools, two favored Sklarz (Andy, me) and two were torn (Tracy, Michael H.). Interesting, huh?

Anonymous said...

For me, last night further eroded my faith in this school committee to make well-reasoned decisions using data and public input. I found members comments that they had info we didn't condescending at best and devious at worst. If I had more faith in them, I might say it's OK for some info not to be public. But given the series of poor decisions they've made, I have no faith that they have properly looked at and analyzed the data.

I applaud Catherine for casting a solid vote based on known facts and being the only one on the committee to admit that the public favors Sklarz.

The gaffe of the evening goes to Andy Churchill for his badly choreographed attempt to look good to everyone by saying he supports Sklarz (he, too, knows the public supports him) and then voting otherwise. If he had any balls he'd stick to his convictions.

Sue Cairn said...

I appreciate Catherine's articulate statement outlining her rationale for voting for Dr. Sklarz. I would like to have similar statements from all school committee members as we move forward with continued important decisions and votes regarding school budgets. Statements that outline a set of criteria or rationale for why a particular vote is being considered or cast. We are about to elect two new School Committee members...that is 1/3 of the School Committee. I think it has become clear to most everyone in Amherst how decisions made by School Committee have lasting impact on the school system. Make your views known to School Committee members and candidates... and be an informed voter!

Anonymous said...

I must, whole heartedly, agree with Anonymous posting 8:25 a.m. ..."that the quislings among you were fearful of being called intolerant (or worst racist)." It is simply amazing that a decision of this magnitude was made based on this misguided sense of practicing what one believes to be a non-racist move. I could not have said it better! "The choice makes them feel virtuous as symbolism in Amherst is
well more important than fact."

Where do we go from here?

Anonymous said...

Where do we go from here? For my family, it will be school choice OUT of Amherst!

Emily said...

Who will be making the trip down to Miami? What sort of information is gathered on these trips? Might it be an opportunity to rethink the decision?

And Catherine, I'm so disappointed to hear that you were called a racist last night. And I'm really looking forward to the next SC election.

Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed with the outcome of last nights superintendent selection. Its clear that with the exception of Katherine, the rest of the school committee voted with their own interest at heart, ignoring the expressed desire of the majority of the people in this town and ignoring the best interest of children in the schools. For now we must move forward and hope for the best but it is clear that we must all think carefully before the next school committee election.

Katherine this blog is terrific and I thank you for putting yourself out there and getting the discussion going. With 3 children in the Amherst public schools I hope for an improved school committee after the election later this month, and hope that we can focus on the critical issues in our schools such as budget and curriculum.

Anonymous said...

> Anonymous 8:25: Good guess! I was
> called a racist by other committee
> members later that evening.

Well, this *is* racist, but also accurate: in any decision like this, you should pick the white male.

The white male has had to be perfect. He has had to be effective in dealing with women's issues, in dealing with minority issues, if he is not gay, also in dealing with LGBAQ concerns.
Being a white male, he has been much more throughly vetted -- knowing they will be called names (or worse) those who have hired him in the past have had to be sure he was MUCH better than everyone else.

Given my choice of physicians, I will take a black doctor over age 65, a female doctor over 55 (who went to med school right out of college) and a white male doctor under age 45. These are people who were not popular in med schools at the time and hence had to be better than everyone else...

> I was called a racist by other
> committee members later that
> evening.

What part of "content of their character and not color of their skin" do these clowns not understand -- not that I honestly believe they could place the aforementioned quote....

Anonymous said...

I hope the camera caught Ms. Brighty's smirks and side comments while others were supporting Sklar. Very, very rude of her!

And Ms. Anderson needs to stop expecting others to bring "those missing" to the meetings and insinuating that they are not welcome. She should lead that cause with action instead of finger pointing.

I surely hope the candidates will be vocal in their opinions so we can be informed! I want to know what to expect from them!

Neil said...

At this risk of losing focusing, which is mainly that we have a new superintendent and it is time to queue up the next decision making process and procede with a sound and deliberate approach that will yield a good outcome if not the best outcome.

Sanderson, would you be willing to recount the words spoken up to and including the assertion that you are a racist?

If you have been accused of being a racist by a member of the school board or parent in the context of choosing a Superintendent, I would like to know who made the assertion and the context so that I can make better choices voting for school board members.

At the very least, such an assertion requires a full explanation from the accuser.

It appears to me that the school board is broken by the same problems that affect our other government institutions (although I will say that under O'Keefe's leadership much has begun to change for the better.)

The accusations of "racist" in the context of selecting a school superintendent from a pool of three is
1) a highly-charged, serious charge
2) one that cannot be ignored
3) often used disingenuously by a member who wants to silence debate
4) completely inappropriate unless it is absolutely true

I am hopping made about this because it has the earmarks of a bad decision making process and maybe more group think. Our school children deserve better process and I think taxpayers do, too.

I would like to know more about the incident, more about the decision making process. I would like the accuser to defend the accusation. I would like to see a better decision making process.

Neil said...

hopping mad

Anonymous said...

If you read Clare Bertrand's blog, you will see that we accomplished something last night: we've established our multicultural bona fides.

We've talked the talk for years.

Now we're walking the walk with this hire.

It's not my logic, but it seems to be important to a lot of voters in town: so we've got that behind us, we've scratched our multicultural itch, and we can move on.

I have come to a corollary conclusion as a result of this exercise and recent other experiences in town: no more consecutive third terms for either Select Board or School Committee.

An elected official in Amherst in his/her eighth or ninth consecutive year of thankless service is not a happy person.

So I won't vote for anyone, not Catherine, not Andy Churchill, not Mother Teresa, not Warren Buffett, for a third consecutive term: it's simply not a good idea.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Last night was a huge disappoinment. We have elected these members and they are there to answer to the public. I think they ignored our input. The majority of them gave absolutely no concrete justification for Alberto Rodriguez being chosen the one for the position. Stunning!!

Anonymous said...

I, too, want to hear more about the circumstances of Catherine being called racist. It is a nasty, usually cowardly way of avoiding the real issues. And I think when members of the school committee don't stand up to people who make such slurs (and they tend not to), they are guilty of condoning the statement).

So, let's talk about the behavior of school committee members last night. The clown of the evening, as noted, was clearly Elaine Brighty with her smirks and attitude. When she spoke, she kept looking and lecturing condescendingly at Catherine, which was quite unseemly. Doesn't she know that Catherine was the highest vote getter in the last election and has garnered even more community support since then? Brighty's behavior only serves to make herself look petty. When will she get the message?

Alison said...

Elaine is stepping down so has nothing to lose and undoubtedly didn't care that she was smirking for ACTV. But Neil and Anonymous March 3, 1:19PM make a good would be nice to know who made that accusation of "racist" so we can all be informed voters the next time he/she comes up for re-election (if he/she does). But I understand this puts you, Catherine, in the awkward position of having to discuss this, compounding the insult of calling you racist--an insult that is clearly undeserved. Let's hope you get an apology from the offending party so you can all concentrate on the monumental task of the budget ahead of you.

Anonymous said...

I think the school committee made a poor and unwise decision. I am not satisfied by their assessment that Rodriguez would be a better "fit". Clearly, the community felt that Sklarz is the better fit, so on what are they basing their assessment?

For me, the school committee has crossed the final line. This is too big of a clumsy decision to ignore. There needs to be public outrage....

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:04: I agree that the community seems to have lost faith in the SC. Or at least the community that communicates with me. In fairness, I'm also hearing that many people (on and off the committee) find me confrontational and divisive ... and hey, maybe those people think my standing alone was bad. I just felt it was something I had to do to be able to look myself in the mirror.

Sue: as you note, most SC members didn't explain their votes on the superintendent, and haven't on the budget. I'd certainly push for such opinions from candidates for SC as people make decisions about voting.

Anonymous 10:11: I think from here, we work the very best we can to help this superintendent succeed ... and we vote for SC candidates who share our vision of what the schools should be AND how the SC can best serve to get the schools to this place.

Anonymous 10:29: You are NOT the only person who has said this to me. Which is really sad.

Emily: I believe the two chairs are going to Miami. I do not believe it will lead to a re-thinking of the decision. I too am sorry I was called a racist, and am looking forward to the election -- 4 weeks!

Anonymous 11:21: Thank you for the appreciation. I wish I could have done more. Again, become very informed about the different candidates and how they see the SC and what it should be doing. I know there is a lot of background discussion going on already about the election, and I just hope people will become educated and vote. The SC election matters A LOT.

Anonymous 11:44: Love the quote and example. Thanks.

Anonymous 11:54: I didn't see any of the other SC members -- focused on the audience. But that sounds really bad. I echo your belief about really finding out what the candidates feel/will do if elected.

Neil: I said something during the Executive Session following the SC meeting and another member of the committee said "that's racist." I can't say who it was or what it was regarding because it happened in Executive Session. However, the accusation was affirmed by other members of the SC, and it was not refuted by a single person on the committee. I stood up and left the room for a while (without saying a word), and then returned. It was disheartening and a cheap (and unfair) attack. I 100% stand behind what I said, which was not racist. It was about qualifications of the candidate, NOT race/ethnicity.

Rich: Interestingly, I was just interviewed by the Springfield Republican about the topic of our superintendent. And what I said is that as a white person, I care about the achievement gap. And that I think it is offensive to assume that the achievement gap is only seen as a problem by people of color, and that it is a problem that can only be solved by people of color. As I said at last night's meeting, I voted for Sklarz in part because he has DEMONSTRATED an ability to reduce the achievement gap -- even though he is a white man. But I agree that two terms is enough -- basically anyone running for three terms for SB or SC should be declared legally insane and be confined in an institution anyway. That could certainly have changed last night's vote (Elaine, Michael K., Michael H., Marianne are all on third or fourth terms). I hereby promise not to run for a third term -- of course, I am also not committing to running for a second term (nor would I be likely to win, based on my out-spoken, divisive, bullying behavior anyway).

Anonymous 12:59: Stunning is one word. I would say disappointing, but in all honesty, not surprising.

Anonymous 1:19: I've talked about the accusation above - yes, I found it very upsetting (it is such an easy way to get someone to shut up in this town). And I'm discouraged to hear about this behavior on the part of other SC members. In all honesty, I do wonder if I have more support for my behavior -- I've now heard from several people who accuse me of being divisive, etc. But again, I'm being myself -- and I really do feel like I have to stand up for what I believe in, even if that rubs some people the wrong way (and in an essence, that's precisely why this SC didn't hire Sklarz).

Alison: I describe the accusation above. I seriously doubt an apology is forthcoming.

Anonymous 2:13: I don't know if you were there last night, or have seen the meeting on ACTV. But in sum, the vote speaks to what this committee wants -- they prize someone who can get along more than someone who will act decisively and sometimes ruffle feathers in the process. It is why the committee by and large doesn't like me ... I am not focused on being friendly and collegial and unanimous -- as indicated by my decision to stand by my Sklarz vote KNOWING THAT I WOULD LOSE and Andy's decision to change his vote to fit with the other members of the committee. I am trying to make a difference, but I'm clearly failing completely -- because other members of the committee just don't like me and don't want to support me. Voters now need to decide what type of committee they want and should elect SC candidates who share their view of what the SC should be.

Mike & Navneet said...

Never have I felt so unrepresented as I do today. This decision flies in the face of reason and more importantly, overwhelming public opinion. I moved to Amherst in part for the education system. The deeper my involvement becomes the more it is obvious that we have no leadership, no vision, and a system driven to satisfy everyone, which in the end leaves us only with mediocrity. The school committee is our elected representatives and they have chosen to blatantly ignore our interests and needs. Amherst had a chance to reach for greatness and has let it slip away by not choosing Dr. Sklarz for our school superintendent. It is time to hold the school committee members accountable.

Neil said...

"...basically anyone running for three terms for SB or SC should be declared legally insane and be confined in an institution anyway."

This is really funny, especially coming from a person with the doctorate in social psychology who teaches at one of the finest undergraduate liberal arts institutions in the country ... it also clearly demonstrates your frustration with the process. I don't feel the same as Rich about term limits. I think some people have the capacity to remain principled, energetic, engaged, critical thinkers and good advisors over long periods of time becuase they love the work (which is how I bet Rich does his job.) That said, your influence on the school board while not decisive at this time is still extremely valuable to me and many others.

I am trying to make a difference ... Voters now need to decide what type of committee they want and should elect SC candidates who share their view of what the SC should be.

You are making a difference, a big difference, but the difference you are making is not decisive, yet. Please, continue.

Is the ballot set for the election? Can you point me to information about seats and candidates.

The deliberation process must have revealed the currency values and priorities of your colleagues on the school board. How can that help inform your approach with the next round of decisions to be deliberated?

Neil said...

The fact we are having this dialogue, the fact that I am informed about the process, the fact that you hear my opinion, these are all things that I and many others have not had before. I have no doubt that your influence will be decisive as you set your mind to working through the obstacles. Please let me know how I can help.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I understand how anyone can call someone a 'racist' and then be protected because it happened in "Executive Session". This is not okay. Excuse my naivety here, but this needs to be addressed not swept away under the rug of executive session.
I am sorry Catherine that you had to experience this. I too was once called a 'racist' when I wouldn't allow my daughter to sleep over at her friend's house. Race had absolutley nothing to do with my decision that night since she had slept at this friend's house many times before.
I was dealing with 12 year olds not grown adults.
What a cowardly thing to do. S/he must have known that the closed doors would protect them from coming forward and apologizing to you which makes it even harder to accept.

Anonymous said...


I'm talking about third terms in Amherst, not in some theoretical place. If you thumb through your mental inventory of third terms in Amherst, including the recent example of Ms. Awad (she was completely out of gas), it's not a pretty picture.

Thank you for the kind words, but my job is far less thankless, thank you very much, than service in elected office in Amherst.

In short, if the official wants to keep going, a sabbatical year is in order between year #6 and year #7. I am suggesting this course to voters in the future: stop them before they serve again without a break.

I think that there's some mental exhaustion on that School Committee, and people are not at their best in that condition. The first thing to go is the mutual respect.

Rich Morse

Ed said...

I said something during the Executive Session following the SC meeting and another member of the committee said "that's racist." I can't say who it was or what it was regarding because it happened in Executive Session.

I am not so sure about this -- I am not so sure that it was a legal topic for executive session (the requirements for which are quite explicit) and hence that you are under any obligation to not discuss it.

For example, if one of your colleagues pulled a Mac10 (gun) out of his/her/its briefcase and handed it around along with a "hit list" of persons to be shot with it the next day, not only would you be able to give that list to the police but under some moral if not legal obligation to do so. Likewise there could be legal liability for the person who handed back the gun.

Technically they should have gone back into public session to call you a racist.

However, the accusation was affirmed by other members of the SC, and it was not refuted by a single person on the committee. I stood up and left the room for a while (without saying a word), and then returned.

I would talk to a lawyer. There are issues of defamation involved. Also, arguing that it (defaming a board member) is not a legal topic for an executive session, it would be interesting to see what the Sec of State's office response would be were you to request that section of the minutes to be declared a public record.

Two other things - evaluate the level of criticism within the context of respect that you may or may not have for the person's judgment. And there is no reason why you even have to affirm the insults -- I say this as a UMass conservative and you can imagine what I mean by that....


Who is "transphobic" which - as best I can tell, means that I am afraid of ghosts.... I only wish I could make this up....

Glen Bertrand said...

I have never commented on a blog before, but after reading your posting and the comments of your readers, I have to admit that I'm feeling out of place in my hometown of 45 years. As a "townie," I have always considered myself to be a blend of well-educated perspective and blue-collar sensibilities. While embracing good ol'-fashioned New England liberalism, I have also remained guarded about buying in to this town's self-proclamations of being the global center of "diversity," "tolerance," "peace," and "democracy," understanding that these are the noble goals, but not necessarily the present-day realities. Despite this, however, I have to say that I am completely discouraged by the tone and substance of this conversation. Some how, this process of hiring a superintendent has become a forum for personal, and yes, ANONYMOUS attacks. We hear of individuals (men I suppose) lacking "balls" (hello ANONYMOUS), of women "smirking" and of people unfit to serve on the committee because they either do not have school-aged children or because their children attend other schools. And, oh yes, "racism." For you, Catherine, to bring up this issue is both irresponsible and self-serving. This discussion has now officially become a communal tirade of victimized white people; people who we know are not racist, but by God, were called racist by either angry, inarticulate, or foolish people. Instead of simply ignoring such stupidity, however, many of us have concluded, "what the hell," let's use it if has legs. Perhaps we can make this about "us" after all, and ignore the fact that the folks who voted for Dr.Rodriguez actually believe he is the right person for this job at this time. And yes, people in a democracy have different and sometimes opposing values. This even comes into play when hiring a superintendent and that's OK. For God's sake, change the tone people. It's beginning to sound like Rush Limbaugh in here.

Ed said...

If the Supt is a Cuban-American from Miami there is a fairly good chance that he is -- perish the thought -- a REPUBLICAN...

Yes, folks, the Cuban community in Miami is a fairly solid Republican stronghold for a variety of reasons starting with JFK and the Bay of Pigs and extending into their personal values. Also quite socially conservative in things like gender roles and such.

Remember Elian Gonzalez???

The powers that be may have picked someone whom they don't know quite as much as they think they might know him....

Could be fun, particularly the next time they try to do the Vagina Monologue and he says "no"...

Anonymous said...

I too, want to thank Catherine for her tireless efforts to do what is best for the children in the Amherst public schools. Though last night's vote did not go as we wanted, to the detriment of all students, I believe you are making inroads. You bring up issues and questions about data, evaluation and research that need to be addressed. And yes, this makes those who make important decisions on gut instincts uncomfortable. Catherine, we support you, we need you, and I don't care if you ruffle feathers. I want them ruffled. I want to see data on how Chinese language instruction is fairing at WW. I want data on the new 9th grade science curriculum to see if it is achieving what they thought it would. Is it?
Last night's losers, in addition to our children, were Andy Churchill and Elaine Brighty. I think Andy may have lost the base of his support when he switched his initial support of Sklarz, and moved to the other side, when it looked like Dr. A. Rodriguez was going to get the vote. E. Brighty's totally condescending manner and tone was really disgusting to watch and listen to.

Lastly, among the many disappointments last night, I am so angry that our SC members selected one superintendent candidate over another without outlining their reasons, the way Catherine clearly outlined hers. How they get away with this is beyond me.

Ed said...

For you, Catherine, to bring up this issue is both irresponsible and self-serving.

The hell it is....

This discussion has now officially become a communal tirade of victimized white people; people who we know are not racist, but by God, were called racist by either angry, inarticulate, or foolish people.

Let me put this in a manner that folk can understand: what exactly is the harm in someone burning a cross on the town oommon? The land is kinda swampy (when there isn't snow on it) and there aren't any trees or anything nearby. So why would we care if someone burned a cross on the common?

Accusations of racism have the same emotional and psychological damage as the burning Klan cross. It is that simple - and if someone burned a cross on the front lawn of Member Anderson, I trust people would not call her "self serving" in expressing her concern, so how is Member Sanderson any more "self serving" in doing the same thing under similar circumstances?

Let say that the entire board decided to use the nasty "n" word to describe a member in executive session. Would that be problematic? (Would it even stay within executive session????)

Enough said?

amherstmom said...

Wow, Can I say "Thank you Glen".

And also say I was with Catherine for Sklarz.

I have restrained from this blog for many reasons but I need to say this.....

And yes, I was there last night when I listened to all the comments, one being Andy Churchill's saying "that the Principals like Alberto Rodriguez."

So with all due respect. Catherine Great job.

and... Andy Great job.

Looking at what we are up against I wanted Sklarz badly, he has produced results.

Looking at the respect I have for the Principals I like A. Rodriguez.

I was one who met with all the candidates, either in the evening sessions or the PGO/SGC lunchtime meetings. I was thrown to Sklarz for his business acumen. So I am with Catherine on this side.

But... I was writhing in my seat last night at the prospect of NO leadership. Therefore, thank you Andy for asking for a break and coming back with a solution for our district.

Another year without a leader would have driven us to craziness. No disrespect to Maria Geryk our interim. (Understaffed and thrown to the wolves).

SO enough with the speculation. Get to work solve the issues and be at the meeting tonight to see what we can do to collaborate in person and support our School Committee to move forward.

With respect and dedication to our kids, Tracy Hightower

Ed said...

Three questions for Catherine:

0: What was the stated purpose of the executive session? (NB: this is *public* and not only has to be announced in a public session but VOTED ON in public session by the members)?

1: Did the meeting actually conform to the stated purpose(s) of going into executive session?

2: Did the discussion of you being a racist have anything logically to do with the aforementioned? If not, the chair should have (and was required to) rule it out of order and a subject for the OPEN meeting (or to go back into open meeting for that and then come back to the exec session).

The more I think about this, the more I would be inclined to write to the Secretary of State's Office and inquire if your body violated the open meeting law last night. If done correctly, you neither are breaking any rules nor acting inappropriately...

And if the Secretary of State demands that the minutes be published, then they are public documents and you can put them up on every lightpole in town if desired...

Anonymous said...

More than one entry on this blog has suggested that teachers could help lessen the damage to our schools by renegotiating their contract with the school committee. To agree to open renegotiations, teachers would have to feel some level of trust with the school committee. Did last night help in that regard?

Anonymous said...

What a turn of events last evening. Hussin - head of the board shows up without a vote. Ridiculous. What has he been doing over the last few weeks? Letting Sklarz get away is a huge loss for our schools.

Anonymous said...

"let me say that I am extremely disappointed in my colleagues on the School Committee -- who clearly were afraid of hiring a strong, experienced leader"

Are you kidding? Of course your fellow members want a good, experienced Superintendent! And, all of them besides you and the one member who abstained, voted for Rodriquez. They feel that he IS the best man for the job. The way you talk about them makes it sound as if your fellow members are out to hurt the school. These are not evil people! They are citizens who, like you, volunteer their time to help the school district. Just because they do not agree with you, does NOT mean they are out to damage the schools. What interests me, is that they seem to unanimously oppose you one many of your ideas. What does that say? You aren't the only one who is trying to help Amherst Schools. The words "sore loser" come to mind, but I've gone to far there. All the Best.

Anonymous said...

Hey Catherine, when you say...

"I am trying to make a difference, but I'm clearly failing completely -- because other members of the committee just don't like me and don't want to support me. Voters now need to decide what type of committee they want and should elect SC candidates who share their view of what the SC should be."

- I want to tell you that you DO make a difference.

I am new in town (just here a few years) and while I voted for you during the last SC election, I had no idea what the position entailed. Your blog and your description of this process has made me understand exactly what the SC can and cannot do - so I realize now WHY my vote is really important. That if I want more of 'your type of voice' on the committee, I need to vote for people who will stand up for what I want, I need to vote for people who want what I want. If I want transparency, I will have to look for that in a candidate.

Really, for a newcomer in town (especially a small town run by town meeting), I don't think these things are obvious.

So - THANK YOU! You're doing the super-human - you know that, right? You are impervious to bullets, you can go without sleep (apparently!), and you are a super-mom and super SC member!

6th grade parent said...

A side question here:
Do you know anything about the Pipeline program at Amherst College and if so can you explain it a little more please?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I think today was a record -- I believe 500 hits on this blog (or just one person who is obsessed?). Anyway, my responses:

Mike/Navneet: SC members should be held accountable. That is the beauty of the election process. Everyone should remember this vote (and other votes), and vote accordingly for (or against) SC members accordingly. I hope that people will have a much more educated view about who I am, for better or for worse, through this blog -- hold me accountable.

Neil: Thanks for the support -- it is appreciated. And I'll do a blog post next week on the three candidates for SC (yes, they are set), and on what I see as the key issues for voters to decide for themselves (the most important of these, to me, is how the SC should interact).

Anonymous 4:25: Thanks for the kind words. I am a big girl, and I am OK. But I do think the racist label is used too readily to shut down dialogue, in many situations, and that is unfortunate.

Rich: Hey, I have mental exhaustion, and I've been on a year! Less than, actually.

Ed: You are probably right -- but I can let this go. It is not the key issue facing the SC right now -- which is actually the budget (see my next blog posting!).

Glen: Well, thanks for allowing me to be your FIRST ever blog posting! I agree that fewer people posting as "anonymous" would be good -- I mean, I'm certainly taking the hits under my own name -- but I also think that this blog can allow people to ask questions that they woudldn't feel comfortable asking otherwise, and I'm OK with that. I want to be clear that I don't believe that others acted in bad faith in their choice -- I disagreed with their choice, for the reasons I have noted. But I really, really hope they are right and I am wrong, since he will be our superintendent. I also am not sure why saying that I was called a racist is self-serving. I didn't post about that last night (because it seemed irrelevant, frankly) -- but I relayed this accusation in response to a blog posting that stated this was likely (which I then confirmed).

Ed: I imagine all superintendent candidates GOOGLED Amherst ... and thus hopefully sort of know what they are getting into?!?

Anonymous 5:22: Thanks for the vote of confidence. And I will continue to press for real evaluation -- because I think that is right for ALL kids. We just have to know if what we are doing is working!

Ed: Good analogy. Thanks.

Tracy: Thanks for the thanks! As I said to you tonight, I really appreciate it, for many reasons.

Ed: I'm letting it go ... though I agree that it probably could be shared without a violation. I just want to keep the focus on the budget/schools/kids.

Anonymous 7:37: I think this would be a question for TEACHERS, right? I don't think I can answer it?

Anonymous 8:03: You know how I feel -- we agree completely.

Anonymous 8:45: I fully agree that my fellow committee members are not out to damage the schools, and I'm sorry if my emotions led me to imply this. I agree that they believe they are doing what is right and good. But I believe that they are wrong -- and yes, I'm just one person, so maybe I'm wrong. But I also continue to hear from many people in the community that they see things are not working well in our schools -- and they are frustrated and want someone to try to fix them. That is basically the campaign I ran (e.g., data, transparency, communication, evaluation, comparison), and for some reason, like 2300 people voted for me. So, I now find that most other members on the SC aren't so interested in these things ... what am I supposed to do? It would be dishonest for me to now decide I wasn't going to care about these things either, when people voted for me hoping I would do these things. If people want me to NOT push for evaluation, etc. (and yes, I believe the Superintendent vote was right in line with an over-emphasis on people who are collegial, non-boat-rockers, etc.), then they can let me know that -- but then I want a personal email to my personal email account (, and not an anonymous blog posting saying that I'm wrong and alone. I might be -- you may well be right. But it is also possible that I'm doing exactly what some members of this community want me to do, and am just not getting others on the committee to agree. I will also note that while 7 of the 9 of us did vote for Dr. Rodriguez, I do find it interesting that of the five WITH KIDS IN OUR SCHOOLS, only 1 of those people initially voted for me (2 others voted for Sklarz, and 2 abstained).

Anonymous 9:07: Thanks for the thanks ... I do know that this blog would be VERY useful to me if I were trying to figure out who to support in an election ... and I figure there are probably as many people who now are thrilled with me as there are people who this blog has convinced they will campaign against me at every occasion. That is frankly the beauty of elections!

6th grade parent: I know some, and I'm doing an analysis of this program now with a thesis student. In brief, it is designed to help kids who are not performing at proficiency levels in elementary school receive some extra tutoring/mentoring from 6th to 9th to help them manage the "pipeline" elementary to high school. Email me privately if you want more info, OK?

Anonymous said...

pipeline info:

Neil said...

Rich @ 4:26. I see. Point taken.

Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed in the process and who was ultimately hired as the new super. It seems no one out there but you, Catherine, is listening to what we, the parents want. This district really troubles me. I worry for the future of my kids in Amherst's public school system.

Rick said...

My two cents is in email to SC:

From: Richard Hood []
Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 3:10 PM
To: ''
Subject: Superintendent Choice

Thanks again for all your hard work on this!

Some comments:

1. Since the finalists were not good enough for two of you (at first) – why bring them forward for a final vote? Why not extend the search until you find 3 (or less) finalists that contain at least one candidate that each you could all vote for? I think that confused people.

2. Did you look at internal people? (I think Mark Jackson would make a great Superintendent)

3. I was disappointed that members who liked Alberto Rodriguez were not real specific as to why they felt that way – it was more “he’s a good fit” type of thing, whereas Andy and Catherine made very specific points regarding Sklarz. I totally get that “good fit” is important but I would like to hear specifics about why he was a good fit. Toward the end of the meeting it was actually Andy who got most specific about what was good about Rodriguez, which was somewhat helpful.

4. I think any choice was better than no choice so I am glad you made a choice.

I thought Sklarz was the best candidate for the same reasons that Andy and Catherine stated. However, only you had enough time with these candidates to really know them and I am totally open to the idea that Sklarz was perhaps not the best. Also there were personal qualities of Rodriguez that I liked better than Sklarz (humility). We’ll see.

Finally there was a lot of talk about how great Hochman was. I have not met anyone outside of the school committee who thought he was effective. I am not saying he wasn’t – just saying that is the view “out there” and you might want to look at why that is the view (if it is).

Thanks again,

Rick Hood

Bob Ackermann said...

I should know better by now than to post on a blog, but sometimes the sheer silliness of events causes me to lose control. The Superintendent search passed me by in that I did not see or hear any of the interviews, and consequently I have no opinion as to how I would have ranked the candidates had I paid attention to the search. But last night, Olberman was tap dancing with nothing, and I decided to surf a bit and hit upon the School Committee rerun just before the last vote was taken to choose the finalist. I heard three arguments offered for the choice of the winner:
1) school principals had found him the best of the three candidates. (I learned later that the SC member who said that had voted for someone else on the first round. Hello?)
2) the winning candidate wants to live in Massachusetts, and
3) the winning candidate deserves a chance to be Superintendent in a classy system like ours after having been in exile in a low performing district elsewhere most of his career.
As I only partly heard #1, the discussion sounded more like beds were being filled in a retirement home for old school administrators than that an exciting choice for an exciting school district was being made. In fact, 2) and 3) are such absurd reasons for voting, that it seems clear the SC has offered up another of its incoherent decisions. Not really all that newsworthy, I suppose.

Bob Ackermann

Bob Ackermann said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I must agree with Rick that the general view of Hochman was that he was not a very effective superintendent. He worked with a mercenary approach more than anything else. This being evident in his choice to leave Amherst and go to a district where he was offered twice the salary!

Catherine--has Maria, our acting superintendent, been asked to forgo her raise? Has she been asked to continue working at her present salary to help the mess our school budget is in?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I want to know what is being done about your being called a racist. I read the Amherst Bulletin article about this meeting, not a thing was mentioned about it. I watched this meeting on ACTV, not a thing was mentioned. As a matter of fact, the meeting ended with a comment about going to meet--I guess this was referring to the "Executive Session" where this unacceptable incident occurred. What is being done to address the seriousness of the situation?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Again, here I am:

Anonymous 12:14 - Thanks for the Pipeline link!

Anonymous 3:17 - Alberto Rodriguez is now our superintendent, so we need to pull together to support him, even if we were not pleased with the decision. And we should also elect people to the SC who share our view about the direction of the schools and how we get there (see the next blog posting I did for my thoughts on the SC race).

Rick - Good questions, as always. I don't think I can respond to #1 and #2 (why bring these forward without committee support and whether internal candidates were considered) without violating executive session. I would say that sometimes we learn more about candidates after hearing from more voices in a community and seeing them in different settings, however. In terms of #3, I too would have liked to have heard more specifics about WHY the good fit from those who supported Alberto Rodriguez. I hope that you are right that having this choice is better than having a new search ... I just think I'm pretty cautious in terms of making a decision that isn't a good fit since a BAD fit is worse than hiring again. And I hear what you hear about Hochman -- good to note that.

Bob - I share your frustration about the clarity of reasons people gave for supporting their preferred candidate (as has been noted by others).

(I deleted the next comment because it had already been posted -- it was just a repeat, and the person who wrote it emailed me to ask me to remove it).

Anonymous 8:04: I actually don't know whether Maria's salary has changed ... but I think this is public record (yes?), as a superintendent, so I bet the answer will become clear. I do think she is doing a GREAT job in a very difficult situation.

Anonymous 9:16: Yes, the racist accusation was made during executive session. And I'm moving beyond it!

Anonymous said...


I want to echo your sentiments that Maria is doing a great job!!! I was VERY impressed with her presentation last Tuesday, along with the others who presented with her. The school district is lucky to have someone with her talents ready and able to step forward at a moment's notice. Thank you, Maria, for stepping up to the plate and doing a wonderful job in such difficult circumstances!!

MaryAnn Grim