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.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why the Phrase "Strategic Planning" Scares Me

I've heard a lot over the last few weeks about the importance of having a "strategic plan" for our schools. Those who have emphasized the importance of having such a plan believe that we shouldn't make any decisions regarding the long-term future of our schools (such as closing a school and redistricting) until we have fully reviewed many different sources of data and reached out to the entire community to get "buy in." They also insist that hasty decisions will have long-term negative consequences for our district, our schools, and our community.

It is hard to oppose "strategic planning." Kind-of like it is hard to oppose most platforms Miss America contestants run on (e.g., anti-child abuse, pro-literacy, pro-environment, etc.). But I've got to say, I think we can actually do serious harm by refusing to make a decision until every possible piece of data is known and every person in the community has been individually consulted. This will be an extremely unpopular thing to say in Amherst, but I believe there is such a thing as too much talking/planning/discussing (if you don't believe this statement, I challenge you to sit through Town Meeting this spring).

I've pushed consistently over the last few months to close Marks Meadow as a way of starting to solve our structural deficit (though in fairness, let me point out that this idea as an effective way to save money was initially brought to me by several Town Meeting members, including parents with kids in the elementary schools, and that I only proposed that we seriously consider it AFTER then-superintendent Helen Vivian announced that she believed we had a major budget problem that would best be solved by pairing the elementary schools ... a "solution" which ended up costing $100,000 a year MORE than our current system). And some parents and community members have strongly resisted the idea of closing a school until we have done a "strategic plan" to make sure that this idea is really a good one. But here is what concerns me -- as we sit around and develop this plan, we are losing $687,000 a year (what it costs to maintain four elementary schools).

But here is the reality: we already have done a HUGE amount of planning. This planning includes:

1. In 2006, the School Committee paid for a report (issued April 2007) by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) which provided demographic and enrollment projections for our elementary schools. This report CLEARLY states that our projected enrollment in K to 6 through 2016-2017 varies from 1368 to 1417. The largest of these numbers, importantly, is the projection for the upcoming school year. And as was clearly indicated in the report given by Superintendent Maria Geryk at last Tuesday's meeting, three elementary schools can easily handle next year's projected enrollment. So, what do we know? We know we have the ability to educate all projected K to 6 grade students in three buildings at least through 2016-2017 (and that isn't even considering the option of moving 6th grade to the MS, which could always be done if enrollments suddenly increase dramatically).

2. In 2007, the Amherst School Committee put together the Amherst Schools Organization Committee, which included me (in my role as a parent -- prior to my election) as well as School Committee candidate Meg Rosa. This report is available (http://www.arps.org/node/453) and clearly indicates that we have a massive equity problem in our elementary schools (Wildwood is the wealthiest school, and Crocker Farm is the poorest, with a spread in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch from 22 to 60%!). So, what do we know? We know that the schools are massively different from each other, and that these differences almost certainly impact the educational experience.

3. In 2008, a town-wide group (FCCC), which included School Committee candidate Irv Rhodes, met for several months to examine the long-term financial situation in Amherst (and this group presented their findings to community groups and solicited considerable community feedback). Their report (http://www.amherstchoices.org) clearly states that we have a long-term fiscal problem (and one that will NOT be solved simply by an override or a one-time fix from the federal government). So, what do we know? We know we have a long-term problem in that our revenues are smaller than what we spend.

So, I guess I look at these three pieces of data that we do have -- knowledge that our current projected enrollment for the foreseeable future fits fully well into three elementary schools, knowledge that our schools have massive inequity, knowledge that we have an on-going serious structural deficit -- and I come pretty readily to the conclusion that closing Marks Meadow is the right decision ... and hey, this could be seen as the FIRST step in our strategic plan. Sure, we could--and knowing Amherst, we probably will--study this growing budget and equity problem for another 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 years. As School Committee member Elaine Brighty said at the last meeting, she is "delighted we're being so cautious and careful." But I've got to agree with School Committee member Kathleen Anderson, who spoke about the hazards of taking things really, really slowly ... because anyone who pushes for a strategic planning process that delays the decision to close Marks Meadow is actually making a decision to maintain the very real inequities in our schools and a decision to cut other valued programs (such as reducing instrumental music from 3.4 positions to 1.7 positions, and cutting 1.7 intervention teachers and 2 classroom teachers -- these are all only Tier 1 cuts).

I agree that there are other budget issues in our schools that need to be solved, and ideally these issues could be examined in a strategic planning process. But I can't see how delaying a decision on closing Marks Meadow helps solve our budget OR equity crisis -- in fact, it will lead to a GREATER budget crisis because the delay will cost us $687,000! I may well be in the minority on this committee and in this community -- but I guess I'm all for studying a situation (as we've done with the projected enrollments study, and the school organization committee, and the FCCC), and then just making a decision and moving forward ... In sum, I'm a "rip the band-aid off" kind of girl.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are in the minority on the budget issues. In my discussions with parents in Amherst (albeit a non-random sample), there is a lot of respect for your analysis and an agreement that closing Marks Meadow appears the most expeditious plan. Perhaps the school committee should poll the public to really find out and to know that you are really pushing the public's agenda and not just your own.

Neil said...

We can all support a deliberative process that yields the best result. The questions are; what information is needed, how long should it take to evaluate and deliberate policy, and what conditions exist that might change our time frame. (You don’t wait for the delivery of a cost quote for a new fire truck to put out a raging fire, you grab buckets and any other applicable tool you have on hand but I digress.)

If I read you correctly strategic planning advocates are communicating that they want more information and a much longer deliberative process, which in your opinion is unnecessary and indeed counterproductive in managing the fiscal issue.

Now here’s my take, it sounds like strategic planning advocates on the school board have no confidence in the board’s ability to do the research, properly interpret the results, evaluate alternative policies thoroughly and to identify the best solutions. They want the new superintendent to lead the process. Am I right?

I would ask “strategic planning” advocates to identify additional information they require, whether it is derived from further study or a compilation of data available to the acting superintendent, and to estimate their time line for evaluation, deliberation and a vote on new policy. If their time frame puts us into the red based on the current conditions, then they’ll have to scale back the evaluative process to fit actual budgetary constraints.

We have the time to make the right decisions. We do not have the time to be leisurely about it or delegate policy making to the new superintendent, who cannot be reasonably expected to come up to speed on all relevant factors fast enough. We do not have the luxury of a process that goes like this “Aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, shoot.” We have a situation in which we can have a process that looks like this “Aim, aim, shoot.”

Rick said...

“…and one that will NOT be solved simply by an override…”

This may be true in 2009 (mainly because one could apparently not be passed now) but it’s worth remembering that had the 2007 override passed, we would either have no problem now, or much less of one.

Since it did not pass, it is what is, and we have only bad choices of what cuts to make. No amount of extra study will change those choices in the short time we have to make them, will it?

When companies out there in the real world are confronted with budget problems, they don’t start strategic plans, they take whatever action they need to in order to stay alive.

This is no different. Catherine is right.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

If an override had passed in 2007, we might have had less of a problem today (and I say might because who is to say that the override money would not have been spent on things that created even more of a structural deficit than we already have?), but even if that were the case, it would not even have begun to address the long-term problem with our school or town budgets. On the FCCC, we factored in the effect of an override of various sized ($1M, $2M, and $3M) and illustrated how that would change the gap between expected revenue and projected expenses from FY10 to FY15. Even at the $3M level, it did not close the gap. It's in the materials Catherine references.

Cathy Eden said...

I find it disingenuous that the SC claims that it wants to wait on the big decisions in order to get more community/parent input. Especially since their most recent decision (superintendent choice) was in complete disregard of parent input. This seems more like avoidance to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't get all this "talk" about overrides or even strategic planning. (Sounds like putting off a decision to me). And I am sorry to be so naive on these things. But, I do get the truth about Wildwood being the richest school and Crocker Farm being the poorest. What amazes me is this information being treated as something new in town. Like it just happened last night. It also strikes me as a sort of threat to your support in closing Marks Meadow. It's like you are saying, Catherine, that if we close Marks Meadow, this disparity in the ways our kids are educated will suddenly disappear. You are putting it out on the table that closing this school will then make it that all students will receive the same education in town. Sorry--but I find this almost laughable. WA LA--close MM and the problem of inequity in our shcools is solved.

Anonymous said...

After awhile, every elected leader is gun-shy about decisionmaking that might leave him or her vulnerable to the charge that the process was not inclusive enough. And so the wheels of government grind to a halt.

When you argue that there has been enough planning and discussion and consultation to go forward, you are steering straight into the whirlwind, straight into the eye of the storm that is the political culture in Amherst.

Good luck. Because whenever you don't like the substance of a governmental decision in Amherst, you can always argue that the process was deficient and pick up some extra support. It's never over until it's over in Amherst, and even then it's not always over.

We elect leaders in Amherst not to make the tough calls, but to oversee the process that results in stalemate and inertia, and make sure that no one, but no one, has been left out. And if someone has not been heard from, the leaders are on the hook for not trying hard enough to include them.

The proponents of the systemic status quo in Amherst always remind us: true democracy is messy, slow, cumberous, ponderous, and costly. If it's not all those things, it's not true democracy.

Rich Morse

Joe said...

The problem with "Strategic Planning" is the emphasis on planning. Maybe if we change the terminolgy to "Strategic Decisions" we will make some progress. I know, hopeful thinking, but at least it is more focused on the appropriate issue.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Catherine because the realities of the state, national and global economy are not pretty and only getting worse. In order to educate all children in this town, with the best possible resources Marks Meadow needs to close.

As a community if we hem, haw, deliberate and discuss until its too late for action it will be sad because over $600k will be gone and it could have gone towards making our schools better for all (IEP, language, music etc).

For me, the most compelling evidence to close MM is that if we were to start fresh and plan elementary schools for Amherst we would have 3 not 4.

If we weren't facing a dire budget situation it would be one thing, but if we are fearful of the 2009-2010 budget, I imagine those numbers will only get worse for at least several years.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

Anonymous 4:27 - I've asked Andy Churchill to set up a Survey Monkey to get more community input on this ... but yes, I hear from many that although it is hard to close a school and redistrict, it is also hard to lose instrumental music, intervention teachers, etc. It seems like the right fiscal and educational decision to me, and I am growing to believe many others.

Neil - I think many people in this community, on and off the board, really like to mull over all details for years and years ... and I think we just need to acknowledge that that approach has costs (because we ARE going to make cuts while we ponder all aspects of a decision). I agree that those who want to do a long strategic planning process should identify (a) the information/timeline they'll need to gather such data, and (b) priorities of how they'll handle the very real budget crisis right NOW (and yes, that just can't wait until the new superintendent starts July 1st, nor can we expect that he will arrive fully aware of all the issues and challenges the community immediately expects him to take on).

Rick -- I LOVED this line: When companies out there in the real world are confronted with budget problems, they don’t start strategic plans, they take whatever action they need to in order to stay alive. Could not agree more. As someone emailed me privately, I'm really a "first stop the bleeding" kind of girl.

Alison - as you note, regardless of the override in 2007 (which Rick and I worked hard on), we now have a very real structural deficit, and it won't get better without action. So, I say, let's act sooner rather than later so we don't get even further behind next year.

Cathy - You are NOT the only person who has pointed out this irony to me!

Anonymous 10:03 - I agree that this "need for more information" seems like just delaying making a decision (so no one has to be the "bad guy" -- except me?), and that the massive inequity in our schools did NOT occur over night. But I can't fix what happened before I was on SC ... I can only try to fix it now -- and I do believe that the new redistricting plan would go a long way towards creating three basically equal schools, yes?

Rich - OK, now I'm so depressed about Amherst politics that I may step down from SC tomorrow. I don't think I have the temperament for the "democracy" you describe!

Joe - Agreed. And maybe "strategic decision-making" could have a set time line (e.g., we will spend 2 months fully engaging the community and gathering data and then on X date we will take a FIRM vote and move on?).

Anonymous 7:52 - Fully agreed with all you said. Thanks!

Alison Donta-Venman said...

You need a community survey on Survey Monkey? Not a problem. I design these things all the time and would be happy to donate my time and fund the required month for data collection. The offer stands...let me know.

Rick said...

There are only two solutions to a deficit – structural or otherwise: increase income or decrease spending. Duh.

Since increasing income is off the table, decreasing spending is the only solution – at least for this year.

You’ve all heard the options. Unless somebody now has new ones to offer that are REAL options – not flaky ones – then all that is left to do is decide.

Unless the numbers presented on MM closing savings is wrong, it’s a no brainer to do that – nothing comes to saving that much. And on redistricting – just do it. No matter when you do it won't be perfect. It needs to be done, JUST DO IT.

What Rich Morse said above is so true.

Ed said...

Increasing revenue is not an option.

I think it is time for folk to start asking some real questions about how much Amherst spends (overall) for education - along with the very real need for cost savings.

A principal AND an assistant principal AND a nurse AND a librarian in each school? Come on now.

And what about the staff:student ratio -- are all of these aides really needed? REALLY needed?

A Realist said...

The REAL problem through all of this is that the folks who have the real, ground-level, living-in-the-trenches-every-day FACTS about where money's being wasted due to inefficiencies, where there are extra/under-worked staff to be found, how positions could be consolidated, etc. are so busy running for cover - for fear of losing their jobs - that there's no way they're going to be willing to step forward and share any of that information. What a shame.

And please don't tell me that information such as this doesn't exist because I have worked for School districts as well as Town governments (no, not in Amherst) in the past. Trust me when I say that there are a bunch of folks sitting in their foxholes as we speak, hoping that the budgetary axe doesn't come down on their heads, and they are holding on to a treasure trove of inside information that could save the Town/Schools a boatload of money if only they could be convinced to climb out of their hiding places long enough to talk AND be guaranteed that there would be no reprisals against them for their efforts.

It's a shame that our governments have been set up this way, but that is truly the way it is: it just doesn't pay to be a "hero" when it comes to things like this because the knife you hand to the bean-counters may eventually be the knife that is used to slit your throat. Sad, but true.

Anonymous said...

Ed: A Principal, an Assistant Principal, A Nurse, and a Librarian
(who TEACHES, not just shuffles books) in a school. Absolutely!
Especially one with several humndred kids. If you don't know why, you should really do some serious inquiry.
Catherine: I sure hope you know why.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but we are not "losing" $687,000 a year. It is being spent on quality education at an exemplary elementary school. I also think that $687,000 is a very speculative and probably higher than realistic figures when you add in so many other variable costs.

R Thelan. said...

"If you don't know why, you should really do some serious inquiry. "

Instead of lecturing, you might dedicate a few sentences regarding the value added by having this resource.

Also instead of casting doubt on the numbers without providing a reason, you might offer your estimate reasons.

What do you know anon?

Ed said...

if only they could be convinced to climb out of their hiding places long enough to talk AND be guaranteed that there would be no reprisals against them for their efforts

The worst part about all of this is that the waste is not only protected but will never even be touched in any draconian budget cut. There are always protected empires which will never be touched...

Sad, but true.

Ed said...

Ed: A Principal, an Assistant Principal, A Nurse, and a Librarian

No. There is NO NEED for all of these people to be there on a full time basis for any school less than 1000 students.

I did my student teaching in a high school where there was a DISTRICT nurse (singular) and she wasn't even headquartered in the same COUNTY. And I had a girl in the 9th month of pregnancy in my US History course, although another teacher had helped his wife give birth and volunteered to help if needed -- and in that district, he could leave his class unattended because no student would dare do anything - a point to be made.

One nurse for a school district the size of the entire Pioneer Valley (seriously) was stretching it - one nurse for all the elementary schools in the 25 square miles of Amherst is quite reasonable. So to with one librarian who goes from school to school. And as to needing four princials, why don't we need forty? Please explain why four is the right number and forty is not, or four hundred is not?

If we had a principal for each and every student we could, in theory, improve instruction. As to justifying it in terms of cost, well that is another issue...

ed said...

One other thing: we have a very good ambulance service here in town and hence much of the stuff that the school nurse is really needed for isn't as pressing here.

Sorry folks, but finances are limited. And there is instructional resources (teachers) and everything else...

Anonymous said...

This part is to Ed: What does "need" mean? You could also say we can have 40 kids in a class because we don't "need" smaller ratios. We certainly don't "need" instrumental music, or frankly, any specials classes like art or music. You could say that we don't "need" guidance counselors at each school. We don't "need" lots of things. In fact, in Belchertown they have one principal for 2 of their elementary schools--so I guess for our 2 smallest elementary schools, we only "need" 1 principal, too.
One thing we surely do "need" is more thoughtful, informed dialog about our schools.

I have to say that it "scares" me that a school committee member is scared by the term "strategic planning." Yes, Amherst can talk something to death and often does. But there's a relatively limited sample of bloggers on this site, even inclusing those community members that they claim to talk to. that leaves out a LARGE portion of parents in this town overall, and specifically a large number of parents in more disempowered communities whose children are the most academically needy overall, and who are not likely to call school committee members--or post on blogs like this. Who asks them anything? This blog (any blog) by definition self-selects the type of information and analysis that gets talked about, and wthose who talk about it. Within that limited scope, decisions may seem quite "obvious" as well as having powerful "majority" support behind them. But is it really that obvious when we just talk to and with eachother?

Take the professsed desire to make the schools more equitable. Is that for our own consciences, or really what we think is in the best interests of the students involved? On this blog, people talk like they know de facto what's best for the students at Crocker. But maybe many Crocker parents would prefer a shift of more resources to that school to moving their children away from their neighborhood school. And maybe that's the best educational response, too! Who can assert with any degree of certainty that those students would do better at Wildwood, Fort River or Marks Meadow? The question is how instruction and the curriculoum get shaped for that community of learners, not who they get mixed in with, or where it happens.

I say all this as a teacher of 20+ years in our elementary school system.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Alison - Thank you for the offer! I have an email out to Andy Churchill, and I'm waiting to hear his response!

Rick - I agree whole-heartedly with your comments ... feel free to share them with the entire SC anytime!

Ed - I think seriously looking into our staffing is important ... but I've got to say, those sound like some pretty crucial people to me (though I do think some elementary schools will be sharing librarians next year, and the middle school will likely ONLY have a library paraprofessional).

A Realist - this is depressing ... can you send even an anonymous email and point some administrators into where to look?!? This is of course everyone's fears about our schools, and if it is happening at any sort of level, it is a real problem. Suggestions on how to sovle this?

Anonymous 8:37 - Yes, I agree!

Anonymous 11:53 - You are right: I should not have used the term "losing." Let me put it a different way - we are SPENDING $687,000 a year, and actually, the amount saved is very likely more than that amount, based on the last numbers presented. But here's what I see as the key point: we don't HAVE to spend that money to educate the 1300 kids in K to 6 in our district, so that is money we COULD use in other ways. On the other hand, we can't provide instrumental music in the 3rd to 6th grade for less then $172,000. It goes to what is the core mission -- is it four schools (maybe you think it is), or having a small school (maybe you think it is), or is it having instrumental music/science coordinators/librarians, etc. in all schools (that's what I think it is).

Anonymous 11:18 - I've got to say, it scares me that a teacher for 20+ years in the Amherst system would say that our current balance of school populations makes sense ... when all four of our principals, and our superintendent, and I believe all School Committee members see this as a serious problem. Research strongly suggests that you can't solve problems of massive inequities in the schools by throwing money at the problem -- and also that schools that have greater than 40% low income kids don't do as well by THOSE KIDS as those with a smaller percentage. And don't mistake this blog for a voting booth ... I am not weighing the pro/cons of any particular point to make up my mind or decide how I'm going to vote -- if I was doing that, I would vote to save Marks Meadow, save Russian, save instrumental music, and maintain the current districts (and cut all intervention teachers and special education programs to do it, because yes, I don't really hear much from those constituencies). I think it is irresponsible to sit and stare at a serious problem, which I see both the massive structual deficit in our schools and the massive inequity in our schools, and to spend two or three year figuring out how to solve it, when we could in fact do some things very quickly that would help both situations. Yes, that is just my opinion -- but at least you know what it is. And as I've said many times, people who don't like this opinion, or even the fact that I share it, can look forward to voting against me IF (that would be a big IF right now) I run for re-election.

Anonymous said...

Catherine,

I have gotten very good results (MCAS and otherwise) with some of the academically neediest kids in our district, so perhaps it's symbolic of our district's present challenges that what I say as a teacher scares you as a school committee member.

Maybe teachers should be directly engaged more by this district, school committee included. Our previous superintendant (no matter how fantastic some school committee members may have found him) accelerated a process of marginalizing teacher voices to this system's detriment.

Did I say that the imbalance in our schools "makes sense?" I don't believe I did. What I said was that the solution of reconfiguring schools to even out student populations will not solve the underachievement challenge of certain populations of learners, of which Crocker simply has a bigger concentration. So if that's the goal (otherwise, what is?), nothing may be gained by large redistricting plans other than angst and upheaval.

There are schools called "90-90-90" schools that are 90% kids of color, 90% on free and reduced lunch, and 90% passing state testing, and these exist in some of the worst areas in the country. Just as research shows that throwing money at education challenges doesn't work, it also shows that social engineering doesn't either. Research also doesn't show either that money has NOTHING to do with helping solve problems. It's the thinking we do about the problem that matters.

I realize the point of the blog and your perspective on it. But I think it is worth reminding visitors to this site that there are many equally valid voices and points of view that they don't/won't hear. And I was stating a fact, that the school committee doesn't do enough to solicit the input of parents who are not likely to contact school committee members, come to school committee meetings or certainly to post on blogs, and their children have as much stake in decisions as anyone--and may be more likley to be affected by them.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, can you share with us some of your ideas about how to solicit information from these parents you say are missing from the equation? What else can our school administrators and/or our school committee members do? Would providing free on-site babysitting for school committee meetings help? Would an on-line suggestion box? Would sending a paper survey home help? Is language the barrier? Would translated materials help?

In my experience, most entities in Amherst have gone out of their way to solicit public opinion (witness the exhaustive Amehrst Plan). But, as the saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water..." How would you propose increasing input from parents who are unwilling/unable/uninterested in contributing to the discussion at this point?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to address the inequities in the ways kids in this town receive their educations. It is a big issue. Bigger than one entity or person to address and fix. It starts with the way the poor peoples of this town are housed. Crocker Farm has the poorest kids because of the apartment complexes and the ways the housing vouchers are distributed there. 26 years ago the superintendent's secretary told me that the apartment complexes (kids)attended Crocker Farm and the nighborhood houses (kids) attended Wildwood. I am not kidding. I looked up the street name of our apartment complex and my daughter was enrolled in Wildwood. You want to hear the voice of the disempowered?? Then please address this blog or whatever you call it.
The 'special education' kids in my daughter's pulled out of the room group were all poor. Did you read this correctly? All poor.
And among this group of pre-selected kids there was a disproportionate number of nonwhite children. I was told by an outraged friend that they were leading my daughter to work at McDonald's and the burden of educating her (or not) was lifted from the powers that be because she was labled 'learning disabled.' After teaching for over ten years in Amherst this practice is still going strong. These are the kids that need the most support from our system to learn the basics, like reading, writing and arithmetic. I know it to be true, but what can be done about it is another story.

Thank you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:48 - I think there are many reasons to redistrict, and it is not just solving the problem with under-achievement. If we as a community want truly diverse schools, then redistricting helps accomplish that. If we as a community want children from the different schools to have more equitable experiences (e.g., field trips, parent involvement, effective fundraising for school activities), then redistricting helps accomplish that. There are important social and educational experiences that occur outside of the classroom setting, and redistricting would help equalize the experience of all kids in all schools, which I think is good (and I hope I'm not alone in this community in thinking that). And while schools that are high poverty have been shown to be effective, they've done that in rather extreme ways that we are NOT moving towards in Amherst (e.g., uniforms, extended day, very small classes, admission standards, different teachers, etc.). I'm not saying that certain teachers aren't doing a great job of working with disadvantaged kids ... but I am saying that I think the current imbalance of our schools is problematic, and I think that redistricting is a STEP (not the only step) in the direction towards increasing the equitable experience for all kids. I also agree that we don't hear from all members of the community -- but what are your solutions towards that end? But I also don't think the School Committee should be relying on the democratic proces -- let's count up how many people favor redistricting and I bet there is NO WAY that would "win." I think the SC has to remember, and I try to do this all the time, that there is a broader group of people that we need to be considering, but that seeking everyone's opinion is not necessarily the right approach. That is one reason why I'm a big fan of looking at what the RESEARCH says and looking at what other DISTRICTS do to help inform our decisions.

Anonymous 9:42 - Yes, good point! Practical suggestions would be very welcome!

Anonymous 10:47 - I have heard the houses to Wildwood, apartments to Crocker story many times. It is one of the reasons I think we need to redistrict. I agree that we need to carefully look at Special Education -- who is in, why, for how long, to what effect. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

"accelerated a process to marginalize teacher voices"
Amen!

Anonymous said...

What a powerful commentary in today's Bulletin 3/12. The words spoken in this commentary (by, Michael Jaques and his wife) ring of such a deep truth that I fear it will be ignored as so many people are who dare to contradict or speak out to what the SC is doing as a whole.
I read somewhere on this blog another true posting from Ed where he said, what we 'have here (in Amherst) is an educational apartheid.' I have been saying this all along. To read another's conviction just reaffirms its truth.
It's enough to make one shake their head in wonder...

LPavlova said...

Ms. Sanderson claims she is a "rip-the-band-aid" kind of girl and recommends that the Amherst School Committee forego strategic planning and charge ahead with closing Mark’s Meadow elementary school. She openly acknowledges that strategic planning scares her and is confident that, based on three pieces of data, closing MM can be seen as a first step in a strategic plan. She looks at the multiple facets of our public education exclusively through three viewpoints – demographic data, program evaluation data and operating budget deficits. One can see why she fears strategic planning – it is likely to topple her tripod of decision making by opening up the doors to additional floods of inconvenient data, some of which might be facility condition assessment, capital and operational budget analysis, risk assessment and student performance as correlated against class size.

By ripping off the “band-aid” protection that Mark’s Meadow provides to the town of Amherst she instead plans to unleash a flood of misery that is likely to result in larger class sizes, students and teachers who will be forced to occupy deteriorating facilities in larger numbers, and the inability of the town to adequately repair and renovate buildings occupied at full capacity (see Community Facilities document as part of the Amherst Comprehensive Planning process, chapter 8).

When I voted for Ms. Sanderson in the last election I was attracted to her focus on academic excellence and hopeful that she might use her academic experience and credentials as an asset to provide new ideas and energy in raising the bar for the education of our children. Unfortunately, it appears that her academic experience is accompanied by equal if not greater arrogance. She has chosen to disregard the data that is the purview of the school committee (i.e. the New England School Development Council’s report on the overcrowded conditions of the Amherst elementary schools that motivated the purchase of the MM portable classrooms) in favor of one-year demographic data that suggests that all of the elementary students can fit within the three large elementary schools, even if that indicates greatly increased class sizes and overcrowded conditions. This is poor judgment not only by a school committee member, but by an academic as well.

Our school children are educated in facilities that are part of a greater network of community and environmental assets, infrastructure and multiple resources that are being stressed to critical levels. Whenever difficult decisions have to be made we should apply systems thinking in such a way as to provide savings or benefits that come from the network as a whole. The Superintendents’ Report of 1/13/09 proposed that school restructuring be considered in a systemic way by professionals who are trained to evaluate the complex issues of public education in a manner that is inclusive of the larger community. We should heed their advice.