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.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Public Forums Set Regarding Potential Redistricting of Amherst Public Schools

At their March 17th meeting, the Amherst School Committee made a motion to close Marks Meadow Elementary School at the end of the 2009-2010 school year and redistrict to create three elementary schools with proportionate numbers of children on free/reduced lunch for the start of the 2010-2011 school year. The following public meetings are scheduled to provide the community with opportunities to hear more about the educational and budgetary impact of redistricting, as well as to ask questions and provide feedback:
  • Wednesday, April 29th at 12:00 Noon: Wildwood PGO/Wildwood Community (location TBA)
  • Wednesday, April 29th at 5:00 p.m.: Fort River PGO/FR Community (location TBA)
  • Thursday, April 30th at 5:00 p.m.: Crocker Farm PGO/CF Community (CF library)
  • To be determined: Marks Meadow PGO/MM Community date is still being finalized. It will be posted ASAP.
  • Tuesday, May 5th at 7:00 p.m.: Community-Wide Forum (Middle School auditorium)

The Amherst School Committee plans to take a vote on the redistricting motion at their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 19th. Redistricting is not an agenda topic for the regular School Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 14th.


Neil said...

Has the board accumulated research associated with this decision in one place and made it available so that members of the district can read up an ask informed questions/challenge assumptions and make constructive counter arguments?

Anonymous said...

It appears this information is not available!! This must be some sort of control tactic to keep this information hidden. Honestly, I don't understand this, do you Neil??

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Neil/Anonymous 7:49 - the superintendent's office has been working very hard to gather all the appropriate numbers, including projections for class sizes at each grade, financial savings from reorganizing to three schools, and future enrollment projections. It takes a while, and of course, they are also in the midst of handling difficult budget times (meaning they are working on creating three levels of budgets for both the Amherst and Regional Committees). They will be presenting the information at the upcoming meetings (and also posting it on the web), and there will be opportunities for parents and community members to ask any questions and give feedback then. In addition, all of the PGO meetings and the community forum occur at least two weeks before the vote, so that members of the public will have ample opportunity to ask questions, request new information, and propose alternative ways to meet the financial realities even AFTER they learn this information. Much of the information is already known and has been presented already (e.g., at the February 10th meeting, at the March 3rd meeting -- both of these meetings included information on projected cost savings of closing Marks Meadow as well as information on class sizes). The information that will be presented in the next few weeks basically will provide an updated version of this information -- and as I'm sure everyone can imagine, there is a desire to not release information before it is fully ready. I don't really see what is "hidden" about presenting information in five public, well-announced forums ... I see the superintendent and many members of the administrative team working as hard as they can to gather and provide accurate information at a busy time. I believe they deserve appreciation, not criticism, for taking time to make sure the information is accurate BEFORE it is presented to the public.

Neil said...

members of the public will have ample opportunity to ask questions, request new information, and propose alternative ways to meet the financial realities even AFTER they learn this information

I am complete agreement with the approach the board and superintendent are taking. The research is detailed and structured, so having it presented with explanation is important and necessary, after which ample time is given for questions, subsequent evaluation and alternative approaches.

It's clear from Catherine's response, the information is not yet available but when it is, it will be presented with explanation and in context. That approach should minimize misinterpretation and allow the public to engage on the merits. Thank you die you direct and thorough response Catherine.

Anonymous, My question was asked in earnest. Your comment is transparently patronizing and inflammatory; if not inflammatory, sarcastic. You could do better than trying to recruit dupes to your anonymous cause... anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Either way...someone is holding this information....knows full well this information...has all along...and it is not the general public...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Neil - thanks for the kind words about the superintendent's approach. I agree that this is the right plan.

Anonymous - ummm, I have no idea what you mean. Information was presented to the public and posted on the web and televised on February 10th -- this information showed closing MM would save about $700,000 a year. Information was presented to the public and televised on March 3rd -- this information showed we could create three districts with reasonable class sizes and equity in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch. This information is readily available and answers the key questions. The superintendent's office is preparing a slightly revised version of this information -- there is nothing that is going to be really new or ground-breaking at all in the upcoming presentations ... it is a somewhat more fine-tuned analysis of information that has been presented for over 2 months to the public. You may not like the information, but to say that the public hasn't been given the information is just factually incorrect. Even right now, you can go on the ARPS website and see the projected cost savings from closing MM that were generated in February.

Anonymous said...

I think some people want the information hand delivered and wrapped with a bow. No matter how well presented it is, it will never be good enough nor answer their questions to their satisfaction. It has all be told to those of us paying attention already.

Anonymous said...

Everything that we have been told has been "projections" meaning, not accurate. We need to absolute accurate information to make this decision. That is what everyone has been asking for.

JWolfe said...

Anon 4:44 wrote:

Everything that we have been told has been "projections" meaning, not accurate.

The costs are in the form of "projections" because that's how you make a budget. You know what salaries will be, but until you hear from your insurance provider, you don't necessarily know exactly how much benefits will cost. If energy costs go way up, then closing MM will save even more. If they go way down, closing it will save that much less. The district doesn't hedge all its energy costs. So, how can they do anything but project costs?

These objections and conspiracy theories are just getting more and more obtuse.

Please, try to get past your anger and disappointment. If we're going to do what's best for the town's children, the adults have to start acting like grownups.

JWolfe said...

One more thing about projections:

Do the folks on the blog imagine that those projections are off by 10%? 20%? For the sake of argument, let's assume they're the worst projections ever and they're off 50%.

So, if the projection says that closing MM saves $700,000 and you just can't bring yourself to believe it then you reply, "hey, those projections could be off by 50%!" Fair enough. That means that closing MM will save anywhere from $350,000 to $1,050,000. Either way, that's a lot of money. (Obviously, they'll be very close to the $700K figure, but some people insist on foisting their paranoid fantasies on the rest of us.)

So, where you going to come up with the $350K? $700K? A million dollars? No matter how you slice it, we have a deficit and closing MM is probably the most cost effective move the district can make.

Anonymous said...

To J. Wolfe.....FYI: The town will save NOTHING on utilities if Mark's Meadow closes because the town pays NOTHING for utilities at Mark's Meadow. It is the one school in Amherst where the utilities are not an expense, including the utilities for the portables which are air conditioned....UMASS pays. Hmmm....I wonder how much the town SAVES by having a "free building"????

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 2:40 - great point. Thanks!

Anonymous 4:44 - all of our costs associated for next year in all the schools are PROJECTIONS. We don't know how many new kids will move to the district. We don't know how many kindergarteners will enroll. We don't know how many subs will be needed, or which teacher will need a medical leave, or which kids will need out of district placement. The budget is always a projection based on the best information we have at the time. And that is what you will see at the forums on the cost savings involved in closing Marks Meadow, just as that is what you will see whenever the superintendent presents any budget.

JWolfe - exactly. Thanks!

Anonymous 8:59 - three quick points for you. First, we pay significantly less than $700,000 a year for the utilities at ALL of the schools, so keeping Marks Meadow at a cost of $700,000 a year to get "free utilities" would be silly, right? Second, if you move the MM kids into the other schools, their utilities' bills are basically the same -- you don't have more light or more heat in the buildings because there are a few more kids, right? Third, if you were to attend the superintendent's forums, you might find out about other potential uses for Marks Meadow, which would enable the schools/town to save money as well.

JWolfe said...

To Anon 8:59 or whatever your name is:

Fair enough on utilities, but my point is simply that the budgets for all the schools have to be projections at this point. Energy costs at Fort River are approximations, for example.

That utilities and some other costs are free at MM is great,but in a way proves my point. If even with those cost advantages keeping MM open forces us to decimate programs at the other elementary schools, then we have even more reason to close it.

Look, I've read tons of blog posts and letters to the editor in the Bulletin about the wonderful and small classes at MM. My fifth grader at Fort River has 26 kids in his class. The other fifth grade classes there are also very big-- there are three of them; no money to hire a fourth teacher to mitigate class size. Why should my kid move into an even bigger sixth grade class (and multiply that by K-6 at WW, Crocker, & FR) so your kid can be in a class of 12-15 at MM? Why doest the rest of the town owe you that?

The next time you run on about community and holistic solutions, take a minute, just a minute, and ask yourself what the rest of the community (the vast majority, btw) needs. The vast majority (what do the other 3 schools have, 80% of the total k-6 Amherst population?) wants smaller classes, music, art, and on and on and we're not going to let MM become a de facto small private school at the expense of 80% of the elementary age school kids in Amherst.

JWolfe said...

% Amherst Elementary School Kids at MM

Here's what's available from the district;

1) There are 1,310 elementary school students in Amherst.

2) There are 180 kids at MM

3) 180 is 13.7% of 1,310, so the Crocker Farm, Forth River and Willdwoood population is 86.3% of the elementary school population in town.

Really, this number alone should end these silly debates. Exactly how much bigger should classes be for the 1,130 kids in town so the 180 can have small ones? How many more programs should we take from the 1,130 kids so that the 180 can have small classes?

I understand and am sympathetic to worries and sadness about closing MM, but when that morphs into calls for further burdening the 1,130 so that the 180 don't have to move, I just can't hear any more about "community."

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I, too, understand the unhappiness about losing a community, but also realize the under the current proposal, Marks Meadow is closed and the entire town will be redistricted. Thus, many more than the 180 students (some of whom are going on to the middle school and some of whom were moving anyway) at Marks Meadow will be "losing" their elementary school. No, the other schools are not closing, but the end result will be the same--they will be unable to attend their "old" elementary school after Marks Meadow is closed. Even those who will not change schools face the possibility of their best friends and classmates leaving for other schools. In other words, the entire community of elementary students and their families are facing a change, not just those at Marks Meadow.

Anonymous said...

JWolfe is right. Why should my children have extreamly small class size while FR has 26? I know there are less than 20 in classes at CF, one only has 15! Our elementary schools should be balanced in ALL ways. Everyone will be making adjustments and all schools will be changing drasticly.

And how can anyone have issue with "projections" for a budget? Do any of us know EXACTLY what our household budget will be? We can come pretty close but what if the car breaks down or you have an unexpected illness or your kids feet grow 2 sizes in 6 months? Stop quibbling over such nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Did you actually say "...why should my your kid can...."
Wow! talk about self first approach....
And what does this town owe you or should I ask what do you own in this town that entitles you to jump on a throne and shout this way?

Do you honestly believe your kid will not be effected when and if MM closes???
Please--take a deeper look, ALL kids are going to be effected...

Anonymous said...

In response to J. Wolfe at 10:18:

Bravo! I have long been troubled by the attitude of some MM parents that their school was too special to close. That the small class size created a truly unique environment for learning, and how dare the rest of us intrude on that? If there is something magical about having classes of 15 students or less, then shouldn't all students in the district have that advantage? The fact is that we can't afford such small classes for *any* of our children.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

I look forward to these public forums providing the *entire* Amherst community -- those with kids currently in our schools and those without -- to develop a shared understanding of what we've examined, and whether any critical stones have been left unturned. We'll need to be patient with the folks who have NOT been following this conversation in any detail, or in some cases, at all, but whose voices do matter. The more people we hear from now, the less upset there will be later, whatever is decided.

Three points I provide to all the people out in the community who for some strange reason don't read the blogs:-) who come up to me on the street and say "so what's going on with the schools, anyway??" (& that I'm sure I've already said here before, but seem to circle back frequently):

1. Once it's gone, it's gone.

We have no reason to believe that once we "close MM" as an elementary school that we will have any right, as the Amherst schools, to control that space, space that UMass would eagerly take back for education faculty offices in the short run, if nothing else.

And couple that with the *fact* that there will *not* be any school renovation money coming our way for at least 10 years -- given the state economy, plus the relatively good condition of our buildings compared to others in the state competing for limited school renovation money -- we will not have nearly as much flexibility in planning for any future growth in enrollment or need to shift students if major repairs become critical if we have given up the UMass MM space, which is the equivalent of 12* classroom spaces *not* counting the 2 modular classrooms. Yes, we could make class sizes bigger in the remaining three schools if necessitated by enrollment growth or critical repairs, but there's not a lot of excess capacity there -- although moving the 6th graders to the Middle School would definitely help.

*12 because we have 10 spaces set up as classrooms, plus two dedicated classrooms used for art & music. (You can imagine my mentioning this will serve to increase my popularity with the wonderful school my children have attended since September 1999)

2. Life is not fair.

I'd like us all to agree to stop comparing our kids class sizes and the blame we seem to attach to that. For every class that's big at one school this year, I can point to another year at another school. MM has NOT had traditionally smaller class sizes over time than has CF, FR, or WW. Some years it's 14 one place (not for a long time now), some years it's 28, some years it's 21 or 25 or 18. Some years that variability exists within a school itself. Probably each of us has had a kid in a large class that hasn't gone particularly well. But that *hasn't* been the result of having four elementary schools instead of three.

3. Change is already coming for 2010-2011

Everyone who reads the blogs, plus even a bunch of folks who don't read the blogs but do hear regional news, has heard that the state would love for us to have fewer school districts, aka "regionalization." To get out in front of any sticks associated with "regionalization", the Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett communities have each sent representatives to a Regionalization committee who will -- with more meetings (we've had two) and a lot of intervening homework and data gathering -- have actual proposals ready for the communities to examine, *and implement*, for the 2010-2011 school year.

If, *for example,* all four communities agreed to become a preK-12 system, then "boundary" lines could expand and include the edges of Amherst closer to Shutesbury, Leverett, and Pelham, and if in addition to becoming a preK-12 system we *also* decided to move the 6th graders to the middle school, a lot of who goes where could change just 2 years from now.

Given the firm expectation -- that *something* different is likely to come about in 2010-2011 -- there's a lot of hesitancy about how many changes people are willing to go through before change starts having a serious effect on morale, both within the funding communities and within the staff of each building (not just the whiny parents). You can *say* people shouldn't cop an attitude, but that doesn't mean they won't.

Thanks for considering this info.

JWolfe said...

To Anon 1:19

First of all, what's with all the anonymous posting? How seriously should we take community input if I don't even know if you're in my community?

You wrote:

"Did you actually say "...why should my your kid can...."
Wow! talk about self first approach....
And what does this town owe you or should I ask what do you own in this town that entitles you to jump on a throne and shout this way?"

Get a grip. My kid has 26 kids in his class. 26 has led to two teachers at MM. So, you say it's selfish of me not to want my kid to have large classes, no art, no music, etc. so someone else's kid can be in a small class, maybe half its size.

You know what you sound like? The worst sort of rich Republican. Why should multimillionaires pay additional taxes so that ordinary people can have healthcare too? Isn't it incredibly selfish to want everyone to have access to quality healthcare? Shouldn't just a tiny minority have it, say 13%? It's almost as if people were asking that all the kids in a small town had similar class size. Can you imagine the nerve of that?

I would like to think that more equity is in order. How about 20-22 kids per class in all the schools not just your precious little school?

JWolfe said...

Alisa writes, "Life is not Fair," but of course this isn't happenstance, these are policy decisions and our town leaders have a responsibility to work hard to make access to our public schools as equitable as possible. Dismissing criticism with "Life is not Fair" is a bit cavalier and a little too dismissive of those of us whose kids have been in large classes every year they've been in the Amherst public schools.

Two more things: The anecdotal stuff about remembering when other schools were smaller and bigger is of little value. What are the enrollment numbers going forward? In a budget crisis does it make sense to pay for the same number of nurses, principals, etc. for 180 kids as for the much larger populations at the other schools? Does it make economic sense to keep MM open? And, no matter how much you may not care about economic sense, we do have to pay real money for salaries, benefits, etc.

And finally: Where's the money? Keep MM open, create a space program, and hand out checks for a million dollars to every resident IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY. How exactly will we pay our teachers next year and every year after if we don't cover the structural deficit?

Please, start with that. Tell us how we can afford to keep MM open and where the other cuts will come. Then we can have a reasoned conversation.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry Mr. Wolfe--but, this should not be a head on head debate here and may I back up a bit to say I am neither rich nor a republican, quite the very opposite, that said, I honestly believe we need to all be on the same page here looking at the numbers--the money, the salaries, the overlaps in administrators, etc. This is the one way, once we all have access to this information, that we can all make educated and informed suggestions as to where and how the money can be shifted, (for lack of a better word) to make it possible to keep all our elementaty schools open.
This is where I stand, and somehow underneath all your high posted words I believe you may as well.

Anonymous said...

Alisa has pointed out that MM classrooms are not smaller on average than those in any other schools. In fact one of my daughters at MM is in one of the largest elementary classrooms in the entire elementary district; at times because of changing enrollment it has been THE largest. My other 2 daughters have been in classrooms of 18-22 students at MM. If MM is closed the children will move into the other schools and all the classrooms would be somewhat larger. Keeping MM open does not make other schools' classrooms larger and is not the basis for an argument to close MM.

If we were to leverage the free building and redistrict to fill MM to capacity (I think I've read capacity is 230 students) wouldn't the reverse be true: other classrooms in other schools would be somewhat smaller. Is having smaller classroom sizes "core" to the district? If so, then MM could play a role in bettering all district students, in a free building to boot.

Unfortunately, no matter what we decide is "core" to the district (math, about english and history and languages...?) there will be cuts because of the budget crisis; even if MM closes, there will be cuts we won't like.

I agree that given the changes to come, it's reasonable to take full measure of how all these changes together will impact the budget AND learning and morale across all constituencies throughout the community - teachers, students, administrators, and parents, as well as others not in the schools. The goal should be to minimize the negative effects of coming change as much as we can afford to.

Thanks for considering these points.
Jenny Fabrizi

Anonymous said...

I may be wrong here, but I think there should be someone to point out that with the plans to close MM and redistrict, the Amherst Woods families get to put their kids in the best building in the district!!! Crocker Farm. With real walls, small school, small classes, (I bet a playground would be built within a year!!) newest of all the buildings. I have a big feeling house values in South Amherst will increase dramatically!!! That will be the ideal school to be in once the redistricting plans take effect! I have no doubt that people will have a hard time walking away from Fort River- the building which needs the most work done on it! The kids will all be fine in a new school, so people can say that will bother them, but there are always playdates and sports, lots of time to make plans with other kids!! I can already predict the responses to this. Something like "my child will be separated from their friends who they have know for years" "we built that playground" (you can and most likely will build another one, which someone should have been fighting for at CF long before FR got a new one) "the school's will all be equal for equity" (really? What about the kids who need a small school building and not a larger, most likely noisier one like WW or FR?) and I am sure there are a lot more highly predictable responses, but that does not take away the reality that there is definitely a fight to get the Amherst Woods kids into the best building we have in this town.

Anonymous said...

If CF is the best school in town why have we had so many children school choice out of it to other schools for many years? That is one of the reasons the class sizes are so small there, they've all left for Pelham, FR and WW!
I don't see any "fighting" to get in and they don't need MM to close to do that if all they want is a better building.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know who has talked to the families in Crocker Farm? I am not talking about the people who show up to the meetings. I am talking about the families who live in the apartments, who may not even be aware there are meetings and if so, do not understand they can have any kind of input to the decisions that will be happening. Who has PROACTIVELY sought out their opinions, encouraged them to come to the meetings, given them accurate information?

There are so many so called facts out there that people think they know, but turn out to be completely false. The most accurate information needs to be presented to ALL communities. Crocker Farm families may not want to be split up. There is a strong community there. It may be the poorest of our schools, but they are a community. Maybe we should step up and help them more. Maybe the town should come together and build them a play ground we all can be proud of. Maybe we can offer that school some extra services, like dual language learners. Crocker Farm and Marks Meadow are the two schools who will end up being most disrupted in any of these changes.

I would really like to see community meetings in South Point, for example. I would like these families to feel welcome. I would like to see this done proactively, more than an invitation to the school parent group meetings and regular SC meetings. I would like to see the SC got to these families and get them involved. This is a huge decision and EVERYONE needs to be heard.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:29 to Anon 11:33,
Exactly what I just said. With the redistricting that solves the equity issues and it would not be such a high concentration of low income. They are not choicing out of the building, they are choicing out of the situation in the building currently. With redistricting, that solves that problem.

Anonymous said...

CF is very good at communicating with these families and trying to get their input. You can't force participation.

Anonymous said...

Oh BTW, a large percentage of them leave for MM!

Anonymous said...

thats BS, they have been equally spread around over the years

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

JWolfe - the key issue you raise is that the SC is trying to do the most good for the most kids in town with few resources. There are some kids (including some at MM) who will be worse off in the new system -- they will be at a larger school that their parents don't prefer, and with a somewhat larger class size. There are other kids (including some at MM) who will be better off in the new system -- they may be at a new school that provides more social opportunities or better options for teacher matching. But the reality is, if we don't close MM, all kids in the district, including those at at MM, will be hurt -- they will have larger class sizes (because we'll have to cut even more classroom teachers to pay for four administrative staffs), fewer specials options (art/music/instrumental music/librarians), and fewer intervention teachers. That hurts all kids.

Alison -- agreed. All kids will be impacted by closing MM and redistricting. All kids and all families.

Anonymous 11:55 -- thank you! Great point!

Anonymous 1:19 -- I believe JWolfe and others have acknowledged that all kids will be impacted if MM closes ... and in fact, are also impacted if it doesn't.

Anonymous 2:32 - Good point -- thanks.

Alisa - thank you for your support of holding the community forums. I notice that the ONLY school that has yet to schedule their forum is in fact Marks Meadow! Perhaps you can encourage the school leadership there to schedule one?!?

In terms of your points:

1. My motion delayed the closing for a year to give the superintendent options to discuss the use of MM for another purpose. This will be discussed at the community forums. Similarly, the issue of how to house our students if/when renovations occur to the other schools will be discussed at the community forum.

2. Although the existence of MM doesn't create larger class sizes at the other schools, it does mean that we have more variability in class size at all of the schools. It is simply easier to even out class sizes between three schools than four. Closing MM would help create a more equitable class sizes for all kids in all grades.

3. Change is indeed happening. And my motion gives the other town information on what Amherst is doing, so that they can plan accordingly. But we can't just continue to spend $700,000 a year to keep open a school that we don't need in case regionalization occurs.

Anonymous 6:13 - I'm not sure of the type of information you are looking for ... can you clarify?

Jenny - it is true that the motivation for closing MM is NOT to make other class sizes smaller ... but the reality is, if you redistrict to keep four schools (and use the extra space at MM), you end up spending an extra $100,000 per year than you now spend ... and we are in a structural deficit, meaning that we have to find ways to reduce long-term costs. So, we can keep MM open, but have larger class sizes at all schools (because we'll have to eliminate teachers). Or we can close MM and then have somewhat smaller class sizes than we would otherwise (because some of the cuts then go to administration/staff/non-classroom teachers). That is the choice we have to make.

Anonymous 10:29 - district maps haven't been finalized ... I've seen versions that move Amherst Woods to CF, and versions that don't. My motion delays the closing for ONE YEAR to give the district time to work with an outside consultant to finalize the district maps, and I don't believe we'll know exactly where all kids will go for several months still. If you were to ask families in Amherst Woods (of which I am one), their strong preference is NOT to move -- believe it or not, we actually love Fort River -- great staff, fabulous teachers, wonderful principal, and yes, new playground. But I understand, as do many families across the district, that change is about all the kids, not just some of the kids. So, don't assume that this whole close MM idea is some tricky way to get Amherst Woods families "the best" school -- the reality is, ALL the schools are great -- and that is why it really doesn't matter to me where my kids go. The building isn't essential to me -- it is staff, principals, and teachers. Those are good at all the schools. One more thing --families who want a small school can choice into Pelham or Leverett. Both of those schools accept School Choice kids.

Anonymous 11:33 - thank you -- well said.

Anonymous 11:33 -- the meetings have been well publicized at all the schools, and I'm sure the CF staff is encouraging all families to learn about the proposed plans. But the reality is, the vote isn't up to any community -- let's say the FR and WW families said "we like our schools just as they are, without a lot of free/reduced lunch kids." That doesn't mean that is how the SC should vote! Much research shows that when a school is over 40% kids on free and reduced lunch, it disadvantages those kids -- I take that seriously. And the disadvantages of this type of an educational climate can't be made up with extra funding/new playground, etc. You need a more balanced and equitable school population (parents and kids). In terms of how many kids will be effected -- many, many kids at all schools will be impacted and moved to new schools. It is NOT just the kids at CF or MM.

Anonymous 11:37 -- I've had kids at Fort River for 6 years. The building is in fine shape -- we have NO DESIRE to leave it. And I hear from MM families ALL THE TIME that their building is in bad shape! Again, this is not about buildings -- it is about the financial realities of keeping four schools open.

Anonymous 11:38 - yes -- thanks for making this point.

Anonymous 11:39 - I've never seen these statistics -- where did you find them?

Anonymous 11:41 - I agree with your intuition, but again, I've never seen the numbers on this.

Anonymous said...

In the end what matters is the teachers in the classroom. As a sub. in the Amherst schools I have worked at 3 of the 4 schools (No CF) IMO by far MM teachers seemed to engage and deal with their students better. Whether that was due to class size I dont know but I hope the GREAT teachers of MM are placed around Amherst and dont take jobs elsewhere.

Side note C. Sanderson IMO is a nut and because of her power I will remain anonymous. Went to 1 meeting and was offended at how you spoke to the Amherst community. So nice to those that share your views and harsh and rude to others.


Neil said...

I fail to see how her alleged rudeness is related your fear, your choice to speak anonymously, or the policies being discussed. How is her alleged rudeness relevant to the policy decisions? In one only way: alleged.

It appears this information is not available!! This must be some sort of control tactic to keep this information hidden. Honestly, I don't understand this, do you Neil??

April 10, 2009 7:49 PM
You're patronizing. Does that make your arguments invalid or does it just make you an arrogant jackass?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 10:37 - if MM closes, these teachers (with seniority) would have the option to move to other schools in the district. I believe there are strong, good, and dedicated teachers in all of our schools.

I am glad to know that I have so much power that you feel it is safer to call me a "nut" anonymously ... please let me know what that power is sometime, which of course requires that you anonymously choose to call me names (and FYI, the School Committee has no control over personnel decisions whatsoever -- unless you are the superintendent?). Interesting to choose to criticize me for being rude to people -- when obviously it was known who I was -- but then feel free to be rude to me anonymously -- and based on an entire sample of ONE meeting!

Anonymous said...

One meeting was all it took for you to disgust me. I was all the way in back and keep wondering who is the asshole being so rude and cutting people off mid sentance. Only later did I find out who you were and what your represented.

Not sure who got Amherst in such a budget crisis that a school has to close because of past mistakes. Closing MM is just another mistake.

To me the problems seems that many WW parents are sending their kids there when in fact CF is closer to there home.

If these stuck up parents put there kids where they belonged their would be more equality amongst the 4 schools. Thats why CF get poorer and poorer each year. Thats the only good thing I feel about redistricting is that hopefully schools will be more balanced even if its only 3 schools instead of 4

Something tells me we close MM 5 years from now, were building a new school and people will be fighing to get in the "new' School

As far as power dont play silly. You hold clout in Amherst even though many despise you. I lived in Amherst long enough to know the politics

For now I remain anonymous because I dont have a generic name like Neil or John. But in due time I am sure you'll find out who this "anonymous" poster is , as if it really makes a difference

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you haven't subbed at CF. Please don't.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I'm glad to hear you haven't subbed at CF. Please don't.

Funny you say. Actually the schools and kids love me
Especially at WW and MM. And while I havent subbed there a lot of community events I have been part of allowed me to know many of the CF students and even teachers. Actually Paul Wiley was a counselor at MM when I went there back in 1980's.

How I teach and my personal feelings remain seperate. Not only do I teach I have a child in the Amherst Schools system currently and another next year

I realize the schools closing will affect all kids and parents of Amherst. My anger is at how the SC is going about it. I feel like MM students and parents are being viewed unfairly. I see comments on here about how the turnover level is high, most students are Umass parents, blah blah blah all reasons to justify closing it.

Personally I went to MM and FR as a youth growing up. My mom moved to Amherst because of the high level of education. It is scary to me to see a school close and it makes me even more concerned about the future.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I know who you are.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I know who you are.

That's fine. I am not trying to hide rather not give out my name via the internet.

I figured based on the info I disclosed some would figure it out. Besides just becasue someome says there is name Kathy or John doesnt mean that is there name.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, for the last time:

To the anonymous poster who has now pretty well been identified by at least some blog readers -- you may not care that some people have identified you -- but since you have identified yourself as a teacher in our schools at times, I think you should recognize that what you are writing impacts people's perceptions of all teachers. Your writing is very angry -- calling me (and I don't believe we've ever met) a nut and an asshole and saying many people despise me, for example. Your writing is also full of grammatical and wording errors (e.g., using "there" and "their" incorrectly, no use of apostrophes, incomplete sentences, etc.). You may not care how you come across (again, because you are posting anonymously), but it does reflect poorly on other teachers, and I hope you are at least aware of this. If you have suggestions for what you'd like me to do differently, or how you'd like me to keep MM open (what things to cut), send them along -- but calling me names and criticizing me isn't helping you or the schools or the kids in anyway.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ. For one I dont spell check my blog comments, nor attach them from a wp. I just write, finish and post them. I didnt realize I was being graded by my blog grammar! nor do people have to read it if they can't understand it.

I still love to free write and thats what I consider this

In addition I never said anything bad about teachers at all just what I have seen!! I just stated that MM has many great teachers and they need to be kept in the Amherst system. I can name off many great teachers from both FR and WW.My whole thing is get the best of the best if you cut to three schools.

Yes I am angry at the whole situation and I am sorry if you feel like I am singling you out, but your the only one with a blog

I will refrain from foul language but in all honesty hearing you at a SC meeting back in Feb. (which was my 1st) that's what was running through my mind. Personally I dont know you, and have no issue with you. Its the way you came across to me that left me sour, and I guess I havent gotten over it.

Me being a teacher is a non issue. I came to that SC meeting as a parent. My feelings are my feelings no one else. I am not representing anyone except myself.

I feel bad for the teachers at all of the schools because I see the underfunding that currently exists. I see teachers from all schools spending their (is that better) money on OUR kids.

I like your last line though not to critcize you, while thats what you do all day on your post to others just nicer,lol

Anonymous said...

Not only have your critical, negative remarks impacted people's perceptions of all teachers, you have impacted their perceptions of the MM community and its supporters. Such name calling is counterproductive to the issue. We are trying to solve a budget crisis.

Anonymous said...

Not only have your critical, negative remarks impacted people's perceptions of all teachers, you have impacted their perceptions of the MM community and its supporters. Such name calling is counterproductive to the issue. We are trying to solve a budget crisis.

I now represent all teachers?
I guess "teachers" arent entitled to have an opinion.

As far as perceptions of the MM community its clear from this blog the opinion many share.

That is its only 180 kids, somehow MM is selfish and the rest of town is sufferring because of it. Its mostly Umass families who dont stay long term in Amherst. I could go on with all the negative remarks made by other bloggers and Catherine herself. Last I heard she declined a visit to go and tour MM.

Anonymous said...

Funny how the SC can find 158,000 to pay the new superintendent the same week they are voting to close MM.

Ever consider keeping that money putting it in the schools and figure out a way to get by until we can afford to pay this guy. I'd rather the kids not have to suffer by cuts and somehow amherst could survive w/o a superintendent for a yr or so. Its not like we really have had one anyway

Migdalor Guy said...

I think all, including, with all due respect, you, Catherine, are entirely missing the point of what was learned at last Tuesday's meeting.

Things are likely to be much worse than we thought. Closing MM is NOT going to preserve instrumental music or any other program. It's time to drop that MM vs music charade and admit that now our Hobson's choice is far worse that that. Every aspect of our school program is going to suffer. Is now really the time to cast off one member of the family?

When times are really dire, that's the time when a family, in this case, a family of 4 schools, should all pull together to weather the storm. Closing Mark's Meadow is taking the "Sparta-esque" solution (and it's not really a good analogy, because MM is not a "defective" child, just the smallest.)

It's time to pull together as one family with all four of our elementary schools.
I've amplified these thoughts on my blog at

Adrian A. Durlester aka Migdalor Guy

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Adrian: Thanks for inspiring me! I have just done a new blog post that precisely shows how at Tier 3, closing Marks Meadow could totally save instrumental music. That may not be your choice, which I understand, but we should be clear that this would indeed be a choice. The Tier 3 scenario is based on having four schools -- moving to three schools would in fact enable us to move things off the cuts list. I agree completely that we should band together -- and I think that the Marks Meadow community should think seriously about whether keeping that school open is really worth the cost -- loss of instrumental music and larger class sizes across the district. Maybe it is worth it ... but you should at least acknowledge that this is a choice we are making.