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 20, 2009

Amherst School Committee Approves Motion to Redistrict

On Tuesday, May 19th, the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously to approve the motion made in March 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. This difficult decision was made after months of budget planning during the ever-worsening state and national fiscal crisis, as well as a two month period spent considering input from the community.

Understandably, this is a challenging and potentially emotional time for our students, staff, families and community. Now that the decision has been made, we must work together to develop a transition plan that best supports our students during the process of closing a school and redistricting. This process must be comprehensive, taking into account a multitude of details, and must be clearly articulated in an action plan.

The District will immediately begin developing this detailed plan to support the process of major restructuring. This includes formation of an oversight committee to oversee the work as a whole, as well as establishing multiple, single-purpose teams to address the following:

  • Redistricting—This team will work with consultants to establish new school zones within the next few months. The consultant(s) will analyze and finalize our preliminary work on redistricting to ensure it is educationally sound and equitable.
  • Student Support—This team of district and school leaders will create a plan to support the educational and emotional needs of all students who are making school transitions.
  • Staff Support—This team will develop a district plan to redesign building staffing to minimize disruption to transitioning students and to thoughtfully reassign Mark’s Meadow staff.
  • Moving—This team will develop and implement a staged, year-long plan for relocating educational materials, furniture and fixtures to other district locations.
  • Communication—This team will ensure that students, families and the broader community are kept up-to-date on progress throughout the redistricting process.

Community members are needed in many capacities to assist the district with this work. Those who are interested in helping with this process should contact Debbie Westmoreland, Assistant to the Superintendent, at westmorelandd@arps.org or by phone at 362-1823.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Staff Support—This team will develop a district plan to redesign building staffing to minimize disruption to transitioning students and to thoughtfully reassign Mark’s Meadow staff."

I am sorry, but aren't most staff being reassigned to go with their kids? It won't be just MM staff but to do a good transition for the children, the staff (maybe not all but some at least) will move on with the children.

This is what it sounded like in all the meetings we have had up until now.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:29 - this was also my understanding ... and I believe that it will indeed be more than just the MM staff, which seems important to help the transition for ALL kids.

Anonymous said...

Just keep convincing yourself and trying to convince others that what you have created, this choas and devastation to families and teachers and all others involved who will be forced to bump into positions held by those with less seniority, has been done for the better of ALL kids and maybe you will be able to sleep better each night...
It is nothing less than amazing how far people will go to protect money. It is nothing less than amazing how far slected people of our community will go to protect this money and coruptness. Each stakeholder who will profit after MM closes by fattening their own pockets at the expense of tearing apart a well established community of educators and learners must have consciences of steel--a sadder picture I have yet to see...
struggling to make sense....

Anonymous said...

1:07...
Who on earth is going to fatten their own pockets and profit over this??? Be specific please!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:07 - just to be clear ... when you cut $700,000 out of a budget that is 80% staff, those cuts involve people, and that involves seniority and bumping. It doesn't matter if you cut that amount by closing a school or increasing class size or cutting art/music/PE. So, you can blame me for choosing to close MM to accomplish this cut, but you can't blame me for the budget problem or for the reality that we are going to have to make cuts to teachers/staff. We have to choose how to spend the money we have, and I felt, and feel, that this was the best choice. Who profits? Well, I'd say 100% of the kids in Amherst, who now will have smaller classes and more art/music as a result. And I have every confidence that the great teachers and staff at MM will be able to work with the great teachers and staff at the other schools to create a feeling of community.

Rick said...

Anon 1:07:

“Each stakeholder who will profit after MM closes by fattening their own pockets...”

Assuming you pay property taxes in Amherst, and state income taxes to MA, this would be YOU who is profiting. It’s YOUR wallet, and mine, that is fatter because we as voters refuse to pay the state and local taxes necessary to fund things like elementary schools.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the courage it took to take make this difficult decision. There is not enough money coming in to keep our schools the way they look now. Everyone who is horrified by program cuts and school closings needs to recognize that the school cannot legally run a deficit. The SC needed to do something. Frankly, I'm more surprised that people are not upset and demanding action in regards to teacher contracts. As I understand, the Union has refused to even sit down with the SC and re-open their 3.5% raise to discussion. That would save $1 Million if they just took a pay freeze. I love teachers and think they do an amazing job. We need them to make a small sacrifice to help the town out. They are the largest Union in town and set the tone for everyone else. UMass has already enacted a pay freeze as have many privet businesses. Our teachers have to step up to the plate and acknowledge that shared sacrifice will be the only way we get out of this global financial disaster with schools and services that meet the needs of all.

Anonymous said...

...hmmm....I was actually referring to the overlap in administrators... But, yours is an interesting take Rick...How can a town where its university is skyrocketing and daffodils are blooming everywhere be forced to close an elementary school? It just doesn't jive...
I think it took more ignorance, frankly, than courage to make this kind of decision. And to praise someone for devastating families and a whole community of people is quite incredibly unbelievable...I mean it's like thanking someone who just ran over your cat! After all the cat was getting old and not much use to you anyway...and think of all the money you save by not having to buy food for it anymore and ALL cats in town will have more food now!!!
struggling to make sense....

Anonymous said...

...are you kidding...global financial disaster with schools.... What planet are you living on??
And pah-leeze--why aren't the administrators being asked to forgo their inflated salary increases???
...such coruptness--and such support of this corupt behavior is mind boggling...

Anonymous said...

"I'm more surprised that people are not upset and demanding action in regards to teacher contracts."

Get real. How about the new Super showing leadership and refusing some of the frills he is receiving.

And how about the administrators, with their 6 figure salaries?

Why the underpaid teachers? Next you'll want the paraprofessionals (the ones getting what a shelf stocker at S&S gets) to take a pay cut. Anon. 4:32 you are amazing!

Anonymous said...

Why are people suggesting that the budget be balanced on the teachers backs? pay freeze comes up again and again but have you really thought what you are suggesting?

The very people on whom we depend on to do a very tough job are now supposed to forego their cost of living to balance a budget? Where were all the administrators and elected officials who are responsible for planning and managing resources?


If there is a deficit, asking one small percentage of the town (teachers, public sector employees) to sacrifice to correct it is selfish.

I'm not a teacher nor is my employer giving raises this year BUT I make a decent living wage and I place the responsiblity on the inept management that we have elected---and the administrators they appoint. Therefore it's all of our fault that town cannot manage its budgets.

I certainly would feel very selfish to ask our teachers, police and fire fighters and other public sector employees to shoulder the budget responsibility.

Elaine

Anonymous said...

I have a question. With the closing of MM, does that mean we will need one fewer Principal? I assume that it does.

What with the hiring of three new Principals this year, who goes?

Should be good for morale.

Anonymous said...

"Why are people suggesting that the budget be balanced on the teachers backs?"
I completely agree. However, I think asking the administrators to take some furlough days would be most appropriate and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Did I just read that " Our teachers have to step up to the plate...?"

They "step up to the plate" every day, trying to educate your children in an atmosphere lacking professional respect. "Step up to the plate"! That's stepping up to the plate.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - exactly! Well said.

Anonymous 4:32 - thanks for the support. I am not going to talk about teacher contract stuff and where it is/isn't. But I am going to say two things:

1. These are REALLY tough times (my husband who works for the state has been asked to consider a "voluntary forlough" and I'm certainly not getting any raise from Amherst College). So, some changes to salary are happening all over.

2. Teaching is a really hard job, and teachers tend to be underpaid.

Anonymous 4:37 - two quick points. First, the university is NOT "skyrocketing" -- it is laying off people and reorganizing! Second, there are lots of really tragic things in the world. Kids get cancer and die. A 2-year-old in our community was killed by a school bus THIS YEAR. Kids lose parents who are fighting in Iraq. So, it is just impossible for me to see how asking kids at MM to go to WW or FR (both excellent schools!) is "devastating families and a whole community of people" or that it compares AT ALL to killing a cat! Can you see how this attitude makes people who have kids at the other three schools feel divisive?!?

Anonymous 4:43 - are you saying we don't have a financial disaster in our schools? It is false? And how do you have information about what raises our adminstrators are or are not taking?

Anonymous 5:00 - I do not believe information about raises for administrators has been released.

Elaine 5:01 - see my response to Anonymous 4:42. And I certainly believe that school administrators are going to need to carefully think through how we allocate resources, including number of administrative positions and pay. I don't have an answer for HOW to do this -- but this seems like a key issue for the new superintendent to tackle fast.

Anonymous 5:03 - it does mean we need one fewer principal. The superintendent would make that decision. And I think tough budgets are very bad for morale all around. That is one key reason why I think getting a hand on our structural deficit is essential.

Anonymous 5:07 - I can't comment on this idea officially ... but my state-worker husband has been asked already to consider a voluntarily furlough.

Anonymous 5:11 - I think teachers do step up to the plate. And I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how you twist what is being said here that contradicts what you believe in. There was not anything that I said about running down a cat(funny how you use the word kill) that had anything to do with children.
I was comparing the praise given to you to the praise one might give to someone who has just run down their cat. You are not just asking for a physical move here--you are destroying a well established educational program that has served families from around the world for many years. You are tearing apart lives in essence--and at the same time protecting a superintendent who oversaw a program where kids were locked in closets for hours. What is the true gain here...
And how on earth can you start a conversation about Iraq???
The university is most certainly skyrocketing with brand new buidlings. Let's see, at least 3 this past year, not counting the work on the bus barn.
And the salaries/increases of the school administrators have not been revealed yet...How can this be? What is the secret here???
Both FR and WW have air quality problems--serious air quality problems...Please try a little honesty, it works much better than assuming your public are morons!

Amh Mom said...

Oh, my god, could we stop with the hysterical hyperbole here?!?!

You don't get to say don't take the cost cutting measure of closing a school if you don't also say how to come up with the money to keep it open.

This is a gut-wrenching decision, who would want it if there were no other actual, factual, numerical alternatives?


I haven't heard a one. Just mindless anger.

obviously I meant to say... said...

who would want it if there WERE other actual, factual, numerical alternatives?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 7:29 - children move to new schools, new communities, new states, and new countries all the time -- this is not a weird or hideous thing to happen. It is not "tearing lives apart" to move from MM to FR or WW ... especially when you are moving WITH your friends and WITH some of your teachers. And 60% of the district currently attends WW or FR ... these are considered by many to be excellent schools. Surely if there were rampant problems with air quality, the parents would complain, right?

Anonymous 7:55/7:58 - thank you! I fully agree!

Anonymous said...

I completely empathize with the feelings of the MM community. I truly do. I can only imagine how sad it must be to know that such a special place will close. I know that I'd be furious and deeply saddened if my school was to close.

However, as has been continuously said, if MM stays open (and without any other viable money-saving/garnering ideas), ALL the kids in Amherst will suffer. They'll suffer with larger class sizes, less or no intervention, little or no music lessons, less technology and library instruction, etc.

The families at MM are and will continue to be sad and angry (justifiably so). However, the kids of MM will mimic the sentiments of their parents. If parents are resilient and teach the kids that these things are difficult but necessary, they'll eventually bounce back and be very happy at any of the other schools.

Furthermore, I know that some of the staff at the other schools feel offended by the comments of SOME MM parents. FR and WW are great schools with great communities and great staff. Sure, they aren't as small as or structured the same way as MM, but offer their own special and distinct cultures. MM kids will not suffer at these schools.

What many people fail to realize is that the schools are in trouble. Amherst has had a reputation for being one of the best school districts in Western Massachusetts. If the aforementioned services are cut, the level education in the town will diminish. The remaining staff will do all they can to continue the reputation, but it will much, much more difficult.

Where is $700,000 going to come from if not from sacrificing a school? People keep saying, "find another way," but no one is offering ideas that are practical and realistic. The rules of the game have completely changed and everyone has to realize that.

Until people start offering money-saving/garnering ideas, they should calm down and look at all the facts and all the kids in this town with an objective eye.

Anonymous said...

Some realities: Voluntary furloughs: in the cases that these have taken place previously at the Univesity, employees have been able to use accrued vacation time. So while it may sound dismal and so sacrificial, family income is not affected. Thus, sending that up as comparable to teachers and other public sector employees agreeing to balance the poorly-designed and managed budgets on their backs doesn't fly.

Secondly, the community should be aware that there have been other low or no COL's that did not keep up with actual cost of living in the past agreed upon by the public sector employees in other "bad" budget years. with promises fo the "future".

Historically, if you look back Amherst public sector administrators and elected officials have cried "bad" budget years for most years that I can remember.

Yes, we're in a unique economic situation right now. But poor management and administration has been around this community for a very long time.

It's unfortunate but the admin and elected officials in the past have often been more concerned with appearing inclusive and alternative than with actually doing the jobs they sought (through election or for career).

So, I can only hope that the SC members that have inherited this mess can recognize that situations for public sector employees paid by the town are likely different than those the SC members are facing that are occurring only recently. Years and years of having contracts influenced by "bad budget years" and years and years of citizens who benefit from the services stating that town employees shouldn't get raises since the budget is bad. With no recognition that the very officials whom these citizens ELECTED and their appointees are responsible for management of the budgets...not the teachers nor the firefighters, the police nor the dpw or town offices employees.

And point in fact: the budget was obviously written to ensure we had enough $ to give a RAISE to the superintendent position.

--Elaine

Anonymous said...

OK, time to move on.
I am looking for info about next years math for 6th grade. Has a decision been made on the Impact 1 book or is it still being discussed? Where can I go for more information?
Thanks

Anonymous said...

It's curious that nobody has mentioned Crocker Farm in any of the postings. Regardless of the closing of Marks Meadow, Amherst School District has a huge problem of imbalance in the number of kids who are eligible for free/discounted lunch in each school. As a study published in the school district web page shows, concentration of poverty poses huge challenges to schools. Let's hope that with the redistricting this problem can be addresses and all schools in Amerhst can offer good quality intruction to all kids.

Anonymous said...

I find this so curious. Why does 'concentration of poverty' pose huge challenges to schools? Who decides this? Why does this happen? Are poor children being taught differently--If I had to answer this I might say, "Why yes--the research proves this."
Crocker Farm has always, for years and years, housed the poor kids in this fine town and just now--it has risen to the attention of the SC???? Amazing....it is nothing short of amazing.
The outgoing princiapl sited this fact, among others, for the MCAS failure of Crocker Farm....Sure--blame it on the poor people...The ones with no voice...the ones most abused by the system...

Anonymous said...

Anon. 6:17 p.m.
I don't think it is time to move on, not from the facts you so graciously state. I think it is time to look back at the track records of people who abuse their positions of authority that leave our teachers suffering low wages and no cost of living increases. I think it way past the time for this to be uncovered and dealt with!
Are you aware that the sitting superintendent, as much as she may be praised for her work, also directed a program, Building Blocks, where kids were locked in a closet during the school day? What is up with that?
I find it incredibly difficult to understand how, in this day and age, these practices even exist never mind in a public school.
It is terrible that families from MM have to go forth with the uncertainity of where their children will be next--it is a terrible thing for all families to try and cope with this interference in their lives.
Redistricting--just who will this serve anyway????
The poor child--whose Mom now has to put into her daily schedule the bus schedule?? Or the school administrator who will see a pay increase in his/her check because their building is now equal in who gets free lunch and who brings it from home???
Are you aware that in the middle school the lunch ladies there will not serve a child on free/reduced
lunch until the application process has gone through the food department office personnel and come out as approved--something the parent or child have absolutley no control over after s/he has submitted it. How would you like to be in line waiting to eat,among your peers, 12 years old, and be told this by the cashier???
The injustices that exist in a town that screams equality and multiculturalism are pretty difficult to deal with when you see your child having to go through stuff like this!
Redistrict--maybe--but will this play any part in the huge difference in the ways kids are educated? I can only hope it will...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:55 - very well said. Thank you. I agree with all.

Elaine - I can't do anything about any decisions that were made before I was on the school committee. I have to deal with where we are right now, and the reality is, teachers can give back some of their raises and save some jobs (of newer teachers/staff), or they can opt not to do that. I don't have an opinion about what they should do, because I understand the situation is complicated (e.g., there are years they should have gotten a raise and didn't, and so on). But the budget has to balance -- so either raises get reduced OR more people lose jobs. It isn't my decision -- and I trust the teachers' union will decide what makes sense, given the circumstances. Two more things. First, my husband does NOT work for U Mass, and is being asked to consider a voluntary furlough, which would be unpaid and not part of his vacation time (he works for the state, but not at the university). So, that is indeed occurring. Second, if the new superintendent made EXACTLY what Dr. Hochman left making, we would save $30,000. I voted against the salary (twice), but I think it isn't fair to say this is the cause of our budget problems. We are needing to cut a whole lot more than $30,000.

Anonymous 11:40 - Impact 1 has been adopted for 6th grade math next year -- the announcement was at the last SC meeting.

Anonymous 12:02 - I agree that this concentration of poverty is a huge problem ... and yes, the redistricting will specifically be done to create equitable schools. I hope people can pull together next year and understand that all of the schools can and will offer an excellent education.

Anonymous 12:35 - no one is blaming the poor kids for CF ... and CF is an excellent school. But when schools reach higher than 40% of kids on free/reduced lunch, there are negative impacts on kids (including the poor kids). This is documented in research, and I'm not sure why you think this is unimportant? Do you believe it is appropriate and/or desirable to maintain schools with such a dramatically different student body in terms of resources?

Anonymous 12:52 - I am not sure of the point of your post. Our teachers are well paid compared to those in surrounding districts, and are scheduled to receive generous cost of living increases. If you have a concern about any school program, you can contact me, using your name, privately via email (casanderson@amherst.edu) or you can contact the superintendent (gerykm@arps.org). Redistricting simply means that some kids, from ALL schools, will go to a new, also very good, school in the SAME TOWN. Many kids move to different towns, different states, and even different countries during childhood, and thus move schools. Moving from MM to WW or FR to CF just isn't that big a deal -- kids will move with neighborhood friends, staff/teachers will move with kids, and so on. And I believe redistricting serves ALL kids in town -- closing a school saves resources that benefit all kids, and having schools that are equitably balanced helps create an Amherst education in which all kids have similar opportunities and resources. I don't see why you assume redistricting leads to changes in bus schedules? Most kids now take the bus ... and they still will take the bus! No administrators are getting an increase in salary as a function of redistricting. Basically, I am not sure what you are opposed to in this post.

Anonymous said...

From another angle:

Would it be ok with all those asking teachers to give back their hard fought negotiated raise if in fatter times teachers came back and asked for more money, and you would heartily give it to them?

I doubt it. If that were the case teachers in general would not be paid as they are.

Anonymous said...

I thank you for responding to my concerns Catherine, I really do. The bus I was referring to was the PVTA bus that some Moms depend on to get back and forth to their child's school, not the school bus. When you "re-district" their child this shcedule has to be also taken into consideration to her day. This is all I am saying.
My question is, how did this "concentration of poverty" take place? Surely you realize it didn't happen yesterday? And yes--I think the outgoing principal just by stating that his school had the highest number of free/reduced lunch recipients as part of his statement about failing MCAS most certainly does open the door to shifting the responsibility, or at least some of it, of t/his failure onto poor people. Why jdid he feel the need to put that in writing??
Can you answer the question--Why do poor children perform lower when they are the majority of the students in the class??? Are they being taught differently that accounts for this low achievement? Do you honestly believe that once there is an 'equitable' distribution of free/reduced lunches in the schools all will be well? How did we get to this point and who saw it happening all along? I just don't think you can relate to poorness at all. I think you may observe poverty and read about it and then step in with ideas that really mess up people's lives much more than they do good.
"Closing a school saves resources..." But the tearing up of an excellent educational environment doesn't appear to weigh much in this decision...
The point of my posting is to try and figure why anyone can in good conscience close an elementary school? Without jumping down my throat and boldly capitlizing what you say here it just does not make sense, not today and not when I first heard it. But, I'll tell you what did make sense to me was the fact that once such an idea was tabled I knew it didn't matter how much people will suffer and lose or how great the sacrfice this entails--I knew it was going to happen...
And please, let me tell you this--name or no name--concerns about Buidling Blocks are as easily dismissed as concerns about closing MM have been, but I feel assured someone with a little clout will stop the abuses the children in that program have suffered.
Again thanks for the opportunity...

Anonymous said...

Administrators should be asked to take a cut before teachers. period. the School Committee should review all administrator positions, especially those created in the past 3-5 years when people thought we were in "good" (economic) times to see if any of those relative new positions are really needed. All administrative positions should be scrutinized, and those that don't meet the urgent criteria of the new economic climate should be eliminated.

Anonymous said...

May I second the motion.

Anonymous said...

Could anyone please explain the posts about Building Blocks? I don't know what the program is, and since it seems to be something really negative, I'd like to hear more about it.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 3:34 p.m.
Buidling Blocks (BB) is a program formally run by Hampshire Educational Collaborative, but taken over by the Amherst Public Schools. It is a program for special needs students in grades K-6, who do not fit into the 'regular'classroom. Within this program they use techniques I have always questioned such as confining students in padded closets where they bang, kick, scream and cry for hours on end. I thought we were past this time in our history where such barbaric practices take place, but obviously not. This program had been housed in Crocker Farm school but relocated to Ft. River last year. It is currently run by Mr. Brent Neilsen and I believe it falls under the special education programs formally directed by our current superintendent Ms. Geryk.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 2:40 - as I said before, there are two choices. Teachers/staff can give up raises, or more teachers/staff can lose their jobs. It isn't my decision, and I don't know which is "right." But those are the options given the budget cuts we are facing.

Anonymous 3:09 - I am going to try to respond to all of your concerns. First, the PVTA bus goes to FR and CF ... I don't know about WW. If you think that is important, tell the SC to make sure to consider moving low income kids to those two schools ONLY. There will be lots of discussion about how to draw the lines, so this could be something to consider. But kids who live in apartments NOW do go to WW, so I think this may already be an issue? The concentration of poverty took place over time -- in part as changing demographics occurred, in part as families started selecting OUT of CF because of the lower MCAS scores and concentration of poverty. It was gradual ... but I think has now reached a "tipping point." My understanding is that it has gotten much worse over the last five years, and the SC has been studying it for two years (I was on a committee that studied it even before I was on SC). I don't know the quote you are describing from a principal, so I can't comment on that. Lots of research suggests that poor children do better when they are NOT the majority -- Richard Kahlenberg (you can google him) has done a lot of this work. I don't think they are taught in a different way (though I suppose this is possible) -- my understanding is that lower income students benefit from schools that have more resources, such as greater parental involvement (financial support, in-class support, etc.). I just think it is very odd in Amherst to have schools that very from 22% low income kids to 50% ... that just doesn't seem like a good approach to providing a similar education in all schools. And I do believe that having an equitable distribution of free/reduced kids will benefit ALL kids and create a more equitable experience in our three schools (and many other districts feel similarly -- there are districts that now specifically have policies that prohibit a school from becoming more than 40% free/reduced lunch). I am not living in poverty ... but it is hard for me to see how having a low income child attend a school with fewer low income kids than he/she might now is going to mess up their lives. Can you elaborate on this? Do you think it is good if we maintain such inequitable schools? I think you may be confusing closing MM with redistricting ... they are two different things (we could keep MM open and STILL redistrict -- are you opposed to both, or just one of these?). I believe that all the schools can provide "excellent educational environment" -- I don't believe this environment is provided by a BUILDING ... I think it is provided by teachers and staff! Do you believe that ONLY MM has an excellent environment? Or that those teachers/staff will be unable to teach well in another building? Do you think it would be better to keep four schools open, not redistrict, and have really large class sizes? If so, say so -- that's a fair choice one could make. But there are limited resources, so keeping MM open would have meant larger class sizes, and I didn't think that was the right choice for all kids. Do you? Again, I am sad that you feel having kids move from MM to FR or WW is described as how much "people will suffer and lose or how great the sacrfice this entails" -- it also is insulting to the excellent staff/teachers at the other schools! If you have concerns about Building Blocks, or any other program -- send me an email using your real name (casanderson@amherst.edu) or email the superintendent (gerykM@arps.org).

Anonymous 3:09 - this is a good idea, but not in the domain of the SC. It is an idea we can pursue with the new superintendent.

Anonymous 5:54 - again, send me an email with your real name, or send an email to the superintendent to express any concerns you have about Building Blocks or other programs.

Anonymous said...

this is the best piece i have ever read!!!! from today's bulletin..

OK, ACE's goals are reasonable, perhaps even desirable. The committee lacks only a few things: humility, civility, empathy, sympathy, understanding, gentility, wit, spelling and grammar. Sanderson and Rivkin are professors at Amherst College, a $48,400-plus per year school that, unlike Amherst Regional High School, has no math or science requirements at all. One wonders if Sanderson and Rivkin have attacked their employers for their lack of standards with the same strident zeal they have employed in their crusade against the Amherst schools.

Abbie said...

To anon@9:29

if this is the best piece you have ever read, you need to read more...broaden your horizons a bit. Lots of !great! (much better) stuff to read out there.

Anonymous said...

"I believe that all the schools can provide "excellent educational environment" -- I don't believe this environment is provided by a BUILDING ... I think it is provided by teachers and staff!"

Agreed! It's not the building. MM's success may in fact be, at least in part, the result of it being such a neighborhood school.

In Bowling Alone, The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam writes of the importance of social capital in education. This quality of social capital apparently trumps even poverty as an influence on student test scores:

"In fact, our analysis suggests that for some outcomes -particularly SAT scores- the impact of race, poverty, and adult education levels is only indirect. These factors seem to influence the level of social capital in a state, and social capital -not poverty or demographic characteristics per se- drives test scores."
-Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone.

This is a great read, as is his follow-up, Better Together: Restoring the American Community.

Anonymous said...

I fully understand the fact that redistricting and closing MM are two different issues separate of themselves. I also understand that by your forcibly going forward to close MM you truly have no idea of what you are doing. You just don't get it! You also don't get the insult of your repetitive use of "low" as you continue to refer to poor people's income. If we are low than one must figure that you consider yourself high. hmm.... Just like the person's ridiculous use of separating the ways kids are educated by calling the every day classroom 'regular.' Leaving you to wonder--are the rest of our kids 'irregular?'
I am not opposed to an equal mingle of incomes among the kids in our schools. What I am opposed to is your suggestion that somehow the poor kids will benefit from this. What do the rich kids or their parents have to offer that poor ones are missing out on?? And why can't the focus be as equally on how much poor people may have to offer to this fine pot of gold?? Like I said--you just don't get it, but if you'd like some consultation in proper etiquette when dealing with the majority of the people your decision to close MM is hurting and your attitude towards poor people I suggest you start reading up on that...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 9:29 - thank you for agreeing that ACE's goals are "reasonable, even desirable." I appreciate the support.

Abbie - indeed!

Anonymous 11:12 - thanks for the cite -- I love Putnam's work. I agree that MM's success may be in part a result of the feeling of a neighborhood school it cultivated -- and thus I hope that with three neighborhood schools, instead of 4, we can create that same feeling at all of the schools. I also wonder if it is easier to create vertical alignment in a school with largely one class per grade ... which is something that we could push harder for in the other schools. Definitely we should try to figure out what "worked" at MM to create such a good environment, and then try to replicate this in all three schools so that all kids benefit.

Anonymous 9:05 - Explain to me what I "don't get" -- the budget gap? Or my solution to solving it? Again, tell me what you would do in this situation to save $700,000 a year -- don't just attack me for not "getting it." I didn't create the term "low income" nor did I create the term kids on "free/reduced lunch" or "regular classroom" -- feel free to share your concern about these terms with the wider community. How would you like me to characterize people with LOWER income than other people? Research clearly indicates that poor kids (I'm using your term here) do benefit from being in schools that are more equitable in terms of income (not "rich kids" but "middle income kids" as well -- and indeed their parents). I haven't conducted this research, but I've read it, and it is pretty compelling - hence many districts are now developing policies that redistrict based on income (as I believe would should). But again, don't confuse closing MM with redistricting ... again, even if MM stayed open, we were still going to redistrict (and would you still be against redistricting then?).

Anonymous said...

Please, why do you feel attacked? Who is attacking???
The decision you made to close Marks Meadow is something you will truly never understand Ms. Sanderson, because you have never been touched by the unique experience of having and knowing children who have gone through this school and come out confident leaders of our wider community. And spare me the phrase that all our schools can accomplish this same goal.
What you appear to not get is the diverse, global approach to education that MM has embraced and passed on to their children. As a chaperone on one of their field trips I was simply amazed at the confidence of the children in an environment where I was a bit firghtened of as an adult! This doesn't come along in any school often and this is only a small part of what you have managed to destroy. I am sad for someone who can contribute to this kind of decision and even sadder for greater loss.
And to touch on your total oblivion to being poor...keep reading, better yet spend a day on the streets downtown pan handling...see what it's like...;-)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 11:27 - 1. Email all of the SC members with your feelings about what we have destroyed, since if it was only my vote, it would have lost 1 to 4 (and the other four members, including Andy Churchill who did indeed have personal experience with the school ALSO voted to close it). 2. Explain to me clearly how the MM staff can only create such an environment in that building -- and that their views, education, goals, etc. will be totally lost if they move to a new building. 3. Only vote for SC candidates from now on who are poor -- or have personal experience pan-handling. Or, better yet, run yourself -- there are two seats open this spring!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous 11:27. MM cannot be reproduced in another building. What makes this school so successful and unique will be dissolved by the majority culture of the larger schools MM staff and students will be joining. All of these schools are great. MM though offers a very rare and special environment and it'd be difficult to fully understand this from the outside, looking-in.

It's too bad that MM's MCAS scores don't even speak for its value. MM had the top 6th grade MCAS scores in the state last year, despite its large percentage of international students. So what do we do to acknowledge its success? We close it.

What a tremendous loss.

Anonymous said...

As I read the torrent of utterly irrational hostility that follows upon this one decision, directed at a person who is trying to serve her community as she sees fit, who was joined in her decision unanimously by four other members of the School Committee of differing philosophies, I have to wonder, why would anyone in his or her right mind run for public office in Amherst?

It goes beyond patriotism and borders on pure masochism. And it costs relatively large sums of money to run.

And I suspect that we are going to find at some point very soon that no one in his or her right mind will run.

Oh, but we'll still have candidates alright. Look out.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

"...utterly irrational..." . It really is too bad the world is not as rational as you. I am curious as to what standpoint those who are devastated in the closing of MM might take that you might consider rational Mr. Morse. Methinks this is just another tactic of the upper class bully....

Anonymous said...

Getting back to redistricting here, I wonder if there is a way to redistrict so that kids entering 6th grade in 2010-2011 don't wind up going to a new elementary school for one year, then getting shipped off to the middle school for the next year as 7th graders. Two new schools in two years seems like a lot of transition for a kid. Is there a way for them to stay in their current school and finish out sixth grade, then go onto the middle school?

Megan Rosa said...

Anon 5:07

This transition has the most impact on the current 3rd grade class. These kids will be in their current school for next year, move on to their new school the following year, then to the MS for 6th grade the year after. (which it seems would most likely happen) The current 4th graders would move on to the MS with the current 5th graders.

But regardless of 6th grade moving up to the MS or not, one class will have to deal with a one year transition into a new school. We could not hold those particular kids in their current school, because not all schools will still be there.

This is something I am sure everyone will be working hard to help the children, teachers and families deal with. It will be a one time transition which will definitely effect some children more than others. Those children will need to be taken care of as I am sure will happen.

Anonymous said...

as I said before, there are two choices. Teachers/staff can give up raises, or more teachers/staff can lose their jobs. It isn't my decision, and I don't know which is "right." But those are the options given the budget cuts we are facing.


This is a false choice.

#1 there is no guarantee that if the teachers give up raises, as they did a few years ago, that the savings will be used to retain more teachers

#2 MM could close one year early, instead of prolonging the pain and dread of its students about the move for an entire year. Rip off the band-aid and get the kids acclimated to their new schools right away. Give summer orientations, etc, and save that approximately $700,000 now. The redistricting plans are already in the works, and can't take THAT long to figure out. This is not a big town.

#3 Close the Golf course. Not sure how much savings that would be, but we can't afford it this year. Give the schools the money.

#4 Cut administration first.

#5 Use town reserves.

These are some of the issues and choices that spring to my mind within 5 minutes. I'm sure that the sc and fc could come up with lots of others.

Remember that teachers took a year-long salary cut a few years ago when the health care trust fund was out of money, and they took a cut under the previous contract(or the one before,can't remember) when the town was hurting.
The understanding was that the town would make it up in the future, which is what hochman did with the current contract. Teacher salaries have been chipped away in Amherst, and if the town wants to "attract excellent teachers" that needs to stop. If one uses that argument in regards to a super, it needs to be acknowledged that it applies to teachers too.