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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Amherst official calls for survey of middle school

I'm pasting this article from today's Gazette which I thought might be of interest to readers of my blog. Let me just add a few points here. First, I agree with Irv that a survey of all schools should be done, and I'm hoping we will discuss that issue at next week's meeting. I made my motion because I do hear considerably more concerns from parents about the middle school than about either the elementary or the high schools, and was concerned about the district's ability to conduct multiple surveys in a relatively short amount of remaining time, but certainly agree with Irv that having that type of feedback about all of our schools is important (and if Irv wants to make a friendly amendment to my motion to cover all schools, I would gladly accept it). Second, although some members of the School Committee have suggested waiting on doing surveys until the arrival of our new superintendent and the to-be-hired assistant superintendent, I believe that it would actually be extremely helpful for both of these people to arrive and receive some current data on the strengths and areas of concern within our schools. That seems like it would be a very good basis on which they could choose how to concentrate their initial efforts, and would provide valuable information to the School Committee on what our goals for the superintendent should be for his first year. This issue will be discussed at the Regional School Committee Meeting on May 12th, and I strongly encourage those with interest in this topic to attend that meeting and/or to email the superintendent ( and school committee members ( with their thoughts on whether surveys should be conducted in the next month.

Amherst official calls for survey of middle school

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

AMHERST - School Committee member Catherine Sanderson is calling for an anonymous survey of Amherst Regional Middle School parents, teachers, students and staff to gauge how well the school is meeting the community's educational goals.

Parents have told her they are concerned about the education provided at the school, she said. School Committee member Steve Rivkin has said Amherst Regional Middle School is regarded by some people as a kind of "poor stepchild" of the school district.

Sanderson noted that her request is no reflection of how she thinks Glenda Cresto, the new principal, is doing, and said she appreciates the leadership Cresto has brought to the school.

The survey Sanderson envisions would include questions about each course of study at the middle school and would ask about satisfaction with their rigor. Respondents would be asked to indicate whether students receive an appropriate amount of feedback on written assignments and whether there is a "warm and supportive environment."

As there are only about eight weeks left in the school year, Sanderson asked the School Committee on Tuesday to vote to implement the survey in mid- to late-May and to compile the results in time to give to incoming Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez in July.

Committee members, however, voted to table discussion of the survey for another two weeks, with only Sanderson and Rivkin voting to endorse the idea of conducting one.

School Committee member Irvin Rhodes said surveys at all of the schools should be conducted every year to gather usable data and that the middle school shouldn't be singled out from the rest.

Rhodes explained his thinking further on Sanderson's blog, Rhodes said he would continue to post on Sanderson's blog any time he thinks another School Committee member's view in addition to hers should be represented.

"Catherine like any other citizen has a right to have a blog. If she has a blog as a School Committee member and she's going to make statements about her positions, how she looks at things, I don't want that to be the only voice out there. Since the School Committee doesn't have a blog, this is it."

Rhodes also said he plans to suggest the School Committee start its own blog, he said.

"This is 2009 here, we've got all these modern tools," he said. "Why not a blog?"

Mary Carey can be reached at


Anonymous said...

The middle school is very weak and needs attention and improvement. I've spoken to many parents, teachers and students who feel this way. It is long past time for the school board to take a hard look at the middle school, then ensure the superintendent takes specific steps to improve it.

The thoughts and ideas of parents, teachers and students should be sought.

A survey of the middle school parents (or a survey of parents of any of the schools) should include signifiant space for comments. The surveys that I've taken in the past seem overbroad with up or down questions that didn't allow one to give specific details or examples.

LarryK4 said...

A blog run by a committee? Now THAT should be interesting (a camel is a horse designed by committee)

Rick said...

It’s my opinion that surveys should be done of all schools, and that the School Council in each school is the right entity to do that, since they are charged with coming up with school improvement plans for their schools.

You can read about School Councils here (which seem like a great idea to me):

So if I were the SC I would simply say to the Superintendent:

1. Please make sure that all schools have a School Council.

2. Please make sure that as part of the activities of each School Council, that they include surveys of teachers, student and parents.

My understanding from what I have heard is that ARHS already does this and is doing it this year again. ARMS did it in the past via their parent organization last year, but this year is looking at the ARMS School Council doing it. I am encouraged by what I have heard on this and am glad there are dedicated people working on this.

I have no idea what goes on in the elementary schools as I have just not looked into that.

BTW I think it important what “flavor” we give to this survey initiative. It should not be looked at as a “gotcha” tool to find out what is bad about what’s going on, but rather we should look at it as “we are good and we want to continue to work at being better”. This is both just the right thing to do and is the way to get buy-in from everyone.

Anonymous said...

I think the flavor should be what do parents think about the school, what have been their children's experience, what are the school's strengths and weaknesses. I also think we should ask the kids and teachers these questions.

Make sure it's done correctly said...

A sat survey should not be misconstrued to represent efficacy of curricula or instruction. A prioritization of desired metrics must come before jumping to a sat survey. The full picture would include metrics on efficacy and satisfaction with the goal of uncovering a correlation between the two. Also, a good survey design must be used for valid and reliable data, both in terms of using a RANDOMIZED sample frame and in ensuring no biases are present. This is not a volunteer effort as it involves quite a bit of skill and experience.

Anonymous said...

A middle school survey should include a survey of recent graduates and should specifically ask them about their academic experience and in what ways they felt prepared or not prepared for high school. We should also be asking current and former students for THEIR suggestions on ways to improve the school. Providing student participants with some sort of "incentives" to participating in this survey (thinking a lottery that gives away donated certificates to local places) might be a good way to ensure their involvement.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, middle-school parents-to-be,

Consider taking your kids out for seventh and eighth grades and educating them elsewhere where they will be challenged academically,

then consider bringing them back to ARHS for 9th thru 12th.

Anonymous said...

And why aren't you pushing for an anonymous survey of the special education department? Might it be your friendship with Ms.Geryk? How on earth is the BB program allowed to run and under whose direction, while it was in CF, did the atrocities the kids suffered go unnoticed?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:15 - this is what I have heard repeatedly, which is why I suggested the motion. It is discouraging to me that others on the committee don't feel the same urgency.

Larry - ummm, yes, it is hard for me to imagine how this might work.

Rick - I agree that surveys should be done of all schools, but I also think that the School Committee should be able to add some questions if needed. One of the big reasons I made this motion was to be able to get feedback to the superintendent so that the SC can work on effectively setting goals for his first year, and I think it might be helpful if the surveys shared some common language/topics/questions (obviously these would have to differ somewhat by different school). I also think it would be good for the surveys to include some information about WHO is responding (e.g., race, gender, free/reduced lunch) for two reasons: first, it will let us know if we are reaching a representative group of parents, and second, it will let us know if different parents/kids are experiencing a school in different ways. I've seen the surveys that have been done by School Councils in the past, and this type of information was not included. I agree that it should not be "gotcha" -- my assumption is that all surveys would reveal both strengths and areas of concern in al schools, and we could then know how to focus our efforts (elementary school surveys last year certainly revealed this).

Anonymous 11:22 - Yes, I agree completely.

Make sure it's done correctly - I think you raise a good point (I'm a researcher!), but I also think we should remember this is not a survey that is going to be publishable or used to hire/fire people (I also don't think statistics such as correlations wlil be computed). It is to give feedback to the principal and the superintendent and the SC, which I think we can accomplish with a pretty simple survey, as do lots of other districts.

Anonymous 6:06 - very creative ideas! I don't know how we could provide an incentive (ummm, certainly not if it is MONEY!), but yes, that's a clever idea. I also like the idea of surveying students some years later -- that might be a good future goal.

Anonymous 8:24 - this is precisely why I think we need a survey ... so we can figure out what to fix so that people don't have this feeling.

Anonymous 7:49 - I think you are new to my blog? I've pushed repeatedly for a survey of special ed parents (and an evaluation of the special ed program), and Ms. Geryk has already announced AT A SCHOOL COMMITTEE meeting that this will happen!

Anonymous said...

What you fail to inform your readers of is that Ms. Geryk has been given the task of finding this "evaluator" herself, if what I have heard is correct. This reeks of suspicion. Will there be anonymous surveys for the many, many parents who have been mistreated by her department to fill out and submit anonymously? Or will the person(s) of her choice talk with her administrators and come up with an evaluation this way? Just curious here...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 7:39 - Ms. Geryk is preparing a request for proposals to see what the cost would be from different sources -- this is not simply "choosing" one herself. In addition, I'm certain anonymous surveys of parents will be conducted. I've asked for this, as have many others.

Anonymous said...

I have a smart middle school student who is completing two successful years there. It's true that the math and science curricula are not as advanced as we'd like, but overall, my student has encountered energized, inventive teachers who find ways to challenge the kids. The assumption on this blog is that the school is terrible. We do not find that to be the case at all.
Also - SURVEYS, in Amherst?!! That will get us exactly nowhere.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 7:56 - I'm glad to hear your experience is great ... as you can tell from the comments on this blog, that is not everyone's experience (I hear it varies a lot by team and by course). But again, a survey would help tell us what is the most typical experience, and that would be valuable to me in terms of thinking about goals for our new superintendent for his first year.