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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Welcome to School Committee, Irv and Steve

Rhodes, Rivkin top Amherst election

AMHERST - Irvin E. Rhodes was the big winner in the School Committee race in Tuesday's Annual Town Election, with Steven G. Rivkin finishing second in a three-way race for two seats.

Megan D. Rosa a parent who said she was running to ensure students get the best education they can finished third.

Incumbents Elaine L. Brighty and Sonia Correa Pope did not seek re-election.

Rhodes has been on the Finance Committee and most recently served on the town's Facilitation for Community Choices Committee.

He has taught, been a school librarian, and assistant superintendent at the former Belchertown State School.

"I want to bring all that experience" to the committee, he said. Serving on those financial committees gave him an insight into the financial workings of the town budget and he believes that the overriding issue is the budget.

Rivkin is chairman of the economics department at Amherst College. He specializes in the 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 (at School Committee meetings) to focus on data and evidence . . . and most of all to focus on the children."

Rhodes Tuesday night credited his committee for helping him win the seat. "I'm ready," he said. "I'm so ready."

School Committee

*Irvin E. Rhodes 1,564
*Steven G. Rivkin 1,240
Megan D. Rosa 890


Neil said...

Congratulations Irvin, Steve and Catherine.

Thank you Elaine L. Brighty, Sonia Correa and Megan D. Rosa.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Irvin, Steve, and Catherine.

And welcome to the Town pressure cooker, no longer the Select Board.

The announcement of the Super's compensation package awaits, in all its devilish details, with the corresponding popular response with torches and pitchforks.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like what this campaign (and Catherine's blog) has really brought to the forefront is the importance of the school committee in making real decisions that impact us all. A big thanks to all the candidates who ran - we can tell you all really care about the future of our school system.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Since the School Committee makes decisions regarding the majority of the budget for the town of Amherst, their actions really do affect everyone, not just those with children in the school system. I think both Steve and Irv knew beforehand that this was going to be a tough job with a lot of hard decisions in the near future. I know they are both up to the task and am looking forward to a positive change in the School Committee decision-making process.

Ed said...

I do not know the man - at all - and good people sometimes are dragged into bad situations. However:

and assistant superintendent at the former Belchertown State School.

That would be the place that a Federal Court shut down - if I am not mistaken - under the auspices of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution and prohibitions against "Cruel & Unusual Punishment." I never was over there when it was open so I can't say either way, but it was shut down by a judge who apparently thought that he had reason to do so.

And "Assistant Superintendent" strikes me as a position fairly close to being in charge of the place.

Now good people get dragged into bad things - I have myself - but that line caught my attention. Even without the allegations that the elementary school(s) are locking children in closets - which I hope someone in the school department is at least looking into.

So, like, ummm......

Oh, and as to why you gotta go check stuff out - to verify that you aren't locking children in closets if you aren't - let me tell you about when UMass decided to ignore student reports of a smelly dormitory hallway, in August. A week later they discovered that a suicide had occurred.... You gotta check things out.

Anonymous said...

All well and we have two new members to add to the mix.

I am curious to know their take on closing down an elementary school, padded closets, teachers getting their arms broken and other questionable goings on in the schools.

Good point Ed! Thanks for bringing it to the forefront about the state school and all...
How do you suppose when and how we will be enlightened as to whether or not anyone cares enough to check things out and change them? After all, that would mean acknowledging and accepting the resposnibilty that has indeed happened!

Anonymous said...

Ed Cutting get you nown blog

Anonymous said...

Ed, with all due respect, you speak of teachers like we're "less than." I have felt, through many of your comments, as if you lack any respect for the exceedingly difficult job we do. I can't speak for all teachers, but those that I know, work harder than you could even begin to imagine.

We are professionals. We are intelligent, dedicated and thoughtful and deserve more respect than what you often seem to provide.

Ed said...

The fact that I have never taught in an AMHERST school does not mean that I am not aware of the good and bad of the teaching profession.

People in my family, myself included, have been in the classroom since the Civil War....

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt you have "some" idea, but most of your comments about teaching and teachers in Amherst appear to focus on the bad and not the good.

Your comments only add to the disrespect of teachers in this community.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:42

Do you suggest he stop bringing his comments to the forefront? It sounds like you are attempting to silence him.

I know first hand what a demanding and selfless job most of our teachers perform daily--every minute they are in the classroom. But, there is a large number of those whose tactics I have often questioned. A teacher can single out a child and mark him/her for life. I have seen this happen. I believe I read this quote here,"A fourth grade teacher can determine where his/her student will be when the student is 20 years-old." I know this is true and sadly a lot of our teachers need to face their hidden bias and stop misdirecting children because of them.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

Neil - thanks for the congrats!

Anonymous 9:15 - Indeed on all fronts.

Anonymous 9:25 - I agree ... I see the SC as having made real progress in helping the community understand what this body dose -- and that it is important for all town citizens.

Alison - excellent point!

Ed - I don't know enough to comment here ... so I'm not!

Anonymous 2:05 - I know Irv and Steve and neither is quiet. I think you'll hear what they think soon on all matters that come before the board.

And I'm going to hold off on engaging in the dialogue between Ed and the Anonymous posters.

Anonymous said...

"People in my family, myself included, have been in the classroom since the Civil War...." - Ed

If you're talking about the US Civil War that would make you and these alleged people in your family 148 years old. I'm calling your bluff. Beyond that, your response to a concern about your statements about Amherst School teachers was a defensive bullshit excuse, quoted above. Having teachers in your family (148 year old ones at that) is hardly a qualification for speaking about Amherst school teachers in derogatory and critical ways without substantiation. You're a gossip and you're far too educated to write unsubstantiated bullshit on public blogs. If there had been blogs in Salam, MA, people like you would have unsubstantiated public statements about the witches living down the street. Sometimes, you should just listen and stop when you're behind. But you can't help yourself, can you?

Take your cue from Sanderson:
"Ed - I don't know enough to comment here ... so I'm not!"

It might have been more than a statement. It might have been a suggestion too.

Anonymous said...

It too bad a thread about election result for the School Committee was turned into a witch hunt by Ed Cutting. He really does have a hard time staying on topic. Maybe he should think about getting his own blog (their free) and posting (substantiated) assertions (or just gossip) about teachers abusing and scaring school children in Amherst Schools.

Anonymous said...

Will the new superintendent salary be announced at the next School Committee meeting? The letter in the Bulletin has me concerned that it is very high. Thank you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, once again:

Anonymous 6:41 - I actually don't konw the answer to this question about when the superintendent's salary will be released. We are waiting for a signed contract, and some background checks. But my understanding is that the contract is a public document once it is signed, so I do believe it will be released.

interesting info said...

I have to add something about the election that had been brought up before the election happened. Bullet voting. This seems to be exactly what happened in the School Committee election. Here are the BLANK VOTE numbers for each precinct only for the School Committee race:

1: 47
2: 78
3: 34
4: 31
5: 68
6: 135
7: 70
8: 137
9: 63
10: 38

So out of the 2207 total votes cast, 701 people "Bullet voted". It wasn't bad enough that so few people went out and voted, but that 701 people decided to only vote for one person!!!!

What would the results look like if those people voted for 2 people instead of just one? I guess we will never know. There certainly was a thought put out there and followed!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Interesting Info:

Yes, that is interesting -- thanks for posting. I have always believed that Irv was going to win -- he was the "middle candidate" so it was clear that there would be considerable overlap between Irv and Steve and between Irv and Meg ... but very little overlap between Steve and Meg. The bullet voting statistics basically mirror the voter turn-out by precinct, which was as follows:

1 - 11%
2 - 16%
3 - 11%
4 - 9%
5 - 12%
6 - 17%
7 - 13.5%
8 - 17.3%
9 - 9.3%
10 - 7.33%

Overall turn-out was 12.73%. So, the three precincts with the highest voter turn-out were 2 (Meg got second place), 6 (Steve won), and 8 (Steve got second place). These are the same three precincts with the highest number of bullet votes, so I'd have to guess that people who REALLY wanted a particular candidate to win and/or knew much more about one candidate than the others were more likely to bullet vote just for that candidate. But I bet very few people bullet voted for Irv (compared to the other two), so I think bullet voting probably just decreased his overall vote total. And therefore I doubt that bullet voting influenced the election outcome. If all of Meg's supporters and all of Steve's supporters just added Irv as their second vote, he just wins by more -- Steve still comes in second, Meg still comes in third. I also think that Meg overall did well (as in, came in second place) ONLY in those precincts that are within the MM district (1, 2, 3). Steve did best in the precincts that are in FR district (he won 6, came in second in 8), but also got second in "neutral precincts" and/or are "Irv precincts" (4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10). Thus, I think Meg had strong support within the MM community, but that support didn't seem to carry outside of "her" district. Steve's support was broader across the town -- as was, of course Irv's support (he won 9 of the 10 precincts). Again, I don't see bullet voting as influencing the final outcome.

interesting info said...

One follow up question. Why do you say that it was Steve and Irv or Meg and Irv and not Steve and Meg?

Anonymous said...

Needs analysis and discussion
To the Bulletin:
The School Committee is planning to vote on closing Marks Meadow Elementary School as a fisrt step in a strategic plan, the goal of which is to reduce a structural deficit and redistrict the elementary schools so that each carries a proportionate number of children on free/reduced lunch. Many documents attempting to quantify the operational costs and savings attached to a number of different options have been circulating since December 2008, but none have studied the effect that closing Marks Meadow will have on both capital and operating budgets.
The New England School Development Council 2007 report (that is often cited for its student enrollment projections) and the adopted Facilitation of Community Choices Committee objectives both note that the town needs to undertake major capital projects such as the replacement and renovation of three elementary schools. These recommendations acknowledge that much of the overcrowding observable in our elementary schools is because of deteriorating condition of the buildings. All of the elementay schools except for Crocker Farm, which recently had a new addition and renovation, are about 40 years old--an age when major exterior envelope, systems and buidling-code-related modifications become necessary. UMass has been addressing some of the system upgrades of Furcolo Hall and Marks Meadow, but Fort River and Wildwood have not seen any significant capital investment. Amherst now owns modular classrooms, but they are not insitutional buidlings, and they provide only a temporary fix (about five to 10 year life cycle) for a long-term problem. The proposed loss of Marks Meadow elementary classrooms will: 1) severely hamper the town's future ability to house its current student population, 2) increase the overcrowding in our remaining schools, and 3) exacerbate existing facility defeciencies.
I appreciate the fact that the School Committee is looking to address the fincial problems created by Proposition 2 1/2, which limits the tax levy below core inflation rates. It's an impossible equation to resolve. However, making a decision to close Marks Meadow will, undoubtedly, result in the return of the Marks Meadow facility to exclusive UMass ownership, and therfore severely diminish our facilities inventory. Without further systematic analysis and discussion with appropriate agencies of the larger community--such as the Joint Capital Planning Committee--closing Marks Meadow might very well result in the creation of even larger systemic and financial problems in the coming years than what we face today.
Ludmilla Pavlova-Gillham

Please heed these words.
Thank you!

JWolfe said...

There's another explanation for the high rate of bullet voting. It doesn't explain it all, but it explains part of it.

The narrative about two of the candidates was that one wanted to keep MM open no matter what (Meg) and the other wanted to close it no matter what (Steve). These weren't in fact their positions. They are barely caricatures of their positions, but I do think that a good number of people in town read them this way.

Irv didn't take a position beyond wanting to study it and hope that stimulus money would come. He was a safe vote because he's a good man, but his candidacy didn't speak to the budget deficit.

If you wanted to keep MM open no matter what, you bullet voted Meg.

If you worried that keeping MM open would hurt the other three elementary schools, then getting Steve elected became paramount to you. Therefore you bullet voted Steve.

This false narrative of extremes -- with Irv being in a way without a position -- may have increased bullet voting and there's nothing wrong with that. Elections are about people voting for what they believe in.

The sad part is how a lot of white hot rhetoric about MM colored how people read Meg and Steve, who are both terrific from what I can see.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Interesting Information: Two pieces of data point me to this conclusion. First, if you look at the endorsement lists posted on each candidate's website, there were a number of overlapping endorsements for Meg/Irv and Irv/Steve, but NONE for Meg/Steve. For example, Alisa Brewer and Erika Zekos and Becky Demling endorsed Meg/Irv, whereas Baer Tierkel, Stan Gawle, and Julia Rusechemeyer endorsed Irv/Steve. Again, there was not a single overlap between Meg and Steve (as indicated by the endorsements). Second, Meg is highly identified as a MM parent ... and Steve is highly identified as someone who suggested we need to close MM (Irv said we should consider closing MM, but never that it should be done). So, I think most of the second votes for the Steve/Meg supporters would have gone to Irv, NOT the other candidate. And I'd guess Irv's supporters were basically split between Steve/Meg, with more of them overall supporting Steve (in precincts 4-5-7-8-9-10) than Meg (only in precincts 1-2-3).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

To Ludmilla Pavlova-Gillham - Thank you for posting your letter from the Bulletin. I very much hope you will make a point to attend the upcoming sessions at ALL schools to learn about the impact if Marks Meadow was closed (the Superintendent will present many, many details). You will be pleased to know that the Superintendent's office has now conducted a careful analysis of how much closing Marks Meadow would have on the budget (short-term and long-term). When renovations occurred to Crocker Farm, these occurred entirely during the summer, and that is precisely the plan when renovations occur to WW and FR -- we would NOT move those kids to other buildings (the work is planned and carried out on a very strict time line, and sometimes school gets out a week early or starts a week late to allow the work to be done during this time frame). You will also see numbers presented by the superintendent on the state of our schools in terms of crowding (including information on class rooms and class sizes). Finally, you will also hear information about the possible use of MM in other ways by the school district, as was noted at the March 17th Amherst School Committee meeting by the superintendent. I believe that these forums will help answer your questions and concerns -- and the information will also be posted on line soon (mid-April, I imagine) for people to read that way. Please let me know if you have other questions or concerns about the impact of potentially closing MM.

To Joel W - nice summary of the Meg/Steve distinction. I agree completely.

Anonymous said...

Another positive reason for bullet voting: I'm exagerrating to make a point, but let's say that half the town really wants Meg and the other half really wants Steve (and everyone is fine with Irv as second choice) - then people SHOULD just vote for one candidate. This way, both Meg and Steve-supporters would get their first choice candidate in office. By voting for your second choice candidate in addition to your first, both sides ensure that either one of Meg or Steve would not have won.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 3:17 -- excellent point ... bullet voting can indeed be a very effective strategy.