My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unanimous Vote to Close Marks Meadow

The School Committee voted tonight 5 to 0 on my motion of March 17 to close Marks Meadow at the end of NEXT school year and to redistrict into three elementary schools with proportionate numbers of kids on free and reduced lunch. I'll post the longer version of the meeting summary tomorrow -- but I know people will check my blog to find out the outcome of the vote, so I'm posting this quick note now.

It's been a long few days, but I just want to add three quick things:

First, I want to say that I'm really sorry to those who feel the closing of Marks Meadow will be detrimental for their child/family. I know that closing a school is always emotional, and I know that Marks Meadow has been a high performing and very successful school. I am sorry that the combination of a very tough budget time (this year and for the foreseeable future) and declining/stable enrollments have led this to seem like the best of many bad options that we faced. I do feel this was the right decision for maintaining education in Amherst for all kids, but I know this decision will negatively impact some kids/families, and for that, I am really sorry.

Second, I want to let any families (at Marks Meadow and elsewhere) know that I want to do everything in my power to make the move to three schools work as well as possible. I want to take time and care to redistrict well, I want to make sure kids move with friends, and I want to make sure we focus on creating three truly excellent schools. If there are things I should know about how your school works well, what you like, what your kid needs, etc., I'd like to hear them anytime. I hope we can spend the next few months working on creating three schools that work for all kids, and I hope the community can rally around building a truly excellent school system -- one in which we recognize that the core of our schools is the caring and dedicated staff, and not a particular building. I hope Marks Meadow families in particular will reach out to me to let me know what worked so well about their school, and what we need to do to bring this feeling and strength and success to all of our schools.

Finally, I want to thank all of those who have supported me over the last few months -- despite how it may appear to some who don't know me, receiving pretty unrelenting criticism at meetings and in the press and on my blog has been really, really tough. This is not an easy decision for me, and it was far harder in the face of the highly personal attacks I received, and continue to receive. I received a lot of support from friends, of course, but I also received a lot of support from people who don't know me at all -- and contacted me privately to thank me for having the courage to take this stance. I appreciated that a lot. I also want to really thank the Marks Meadow families who have sought me out and have supported me in this decision, and/or have accepted that I needed to make this decision even when they wished I had not made it, and/or have introduced yourselves and just made friendly connections (even after tonight's meeting!). Thanks to you all especially -- these gestures were and are tremendously meaningful to me, and I appreciate them more than you know.


FR Alum said...

Second, I want to let any families (at Marks Meadow and elsewhere) know that I want to do everything in my power to make the move to three schools work as well as possible. I want to take time and care to redistrict well, I want to make sure kids move with friends, and I want to make sure we focus on creating three truly excellent schools.

We shall see about that

but I know this decision will negatively impact some kids/families, and for that, I am really sorry.

I'm sure you are

I really hope you are as smart as you think you are or we'll all be in trouble

Andrea said...

I was at the meeting tonight where the School Committee UNANIMOUSLY voted to close MM. It was done with much thought, care and concern. The discussion was thoughtful and emotional. I am really upset and disappointed to see that the very first response to Catherine's blog is a nasty, mean spirited dig towards her. The decision was made UNANIMOUSLY. It was not Catherine's decision alone. I understand that people are upset and afraid of what changes might be coming. But can we please stop the Catherine bashing now? It only serves to divide our community. The decision was NOT divided. The SC came together and all, individually, decided to make this change. Can we now work together and try to heal? That can not happen and will not happen if we continue to beat each other up verbally on blogs. Let's start to see the best side of this town instead of its bitterness.

Jocelyn said...

MM families were not really considered in this process, so why should we trust you to take care of our kids' needs now? I am a reasonable person, but over the last few months, MM supporters have been patronized, ridiculed, demonized, and pitted against the rest of the Town, so if you really care, you need to proceed with more sensitivity and understanding than I have seen displayed here and elsewhere over the past few months. This decision is going to negatively impact many kids, not just MM kids! In the coming year, we will see what the real agenda is. This is such a short-sighted decision that will have long-term implications! You can not replicate what Mark's Meadow is and what Mark's Meadow has-the other elementary schools have their assets, but you will not be able to recreate the Mark's Meadow community. If you really wanted to redistrict well, we wouldn't have seen this rush to close MM, but it's a done deal, and most of us have known that it always has been a done deal. If we can't balance the budget in upcoming years, what are you and your colleagues going to do next? Close another school? How high are we willing to go regarding class sizes? Ms. Sanderson, I hope that you and your colleagues know what you are doing, but I do believe we will live to regret the actions of the Amherst School Committee and our children will have to suffer for it(and I don't just mean MM children)! I do hope and pray that you and your fellow school committee members' actions tonight will have the desired results, but I really doubt it. Now MM students, families, teachers, and staff have to get through a year with the dark cloud of closure hanging over our heads! I also wanted to note that when you take on a public role and put your own strong,personal opinions out there on your blog, in newspaper articles, at meetings, and in newspaper columns,, you should be prepared for people to disagree with you. It does not mean it is a personal attack if some of your constituents question your methodologies and ultimate agenda, especially in light of the manner in which your message has been delivered in the past.

Anonymous said...

Jocelyn, thank you.

My sentiments exactly.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:51 - if you have a suggestion, feel free to send it along. But this isn't moving us forward in any constructive way.

Andrea - thanks for your very thoughtful post! MUCH appreciated.

Jocelyn - the vote has happened, and if it was just my decision, it would be 1-4 and Marks Meadow would stay open. So, feel free to share your anger about the bad decision with other committee members as well. My post clearly offered to work with you, and any families from any of the schools to work through how to make the transition to three schools. You can choose to work with me, or you can choose to not work with me and to focus on the negativity (which has occurred on many different sides). The "agenda" is what is has always been -- to preserve education in Amherst for ALL kids and to achieve equity in our schools. I hope, in time, you'll choose to work with me and others to make the transition work as well as it can for all kids. But that is your choice, not mine.

Anonymous 11:14 - see my response to Jocelyn.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the results.
Thank you also for taking so much heat for trying to make our schools better. Hopefully you will not be the only vocal committee member in the future, it would be nice to know what the others are thinking too!
A very hard decision was made tonight, they just need someone to blame.

Anonymous said...

2010 might be a good year to move out of this town. The big-boxed education concept just doesn't really work for me.

FR parent said...

As a Fort River parent I find the term "big box education" ridiculous and offensive to the staff and graduates of an excellent school. I also find ridiculous and offensive the concept of comparing the closure of MM to an act of murder. If MM parents feels the town is (as Jocelyn states) "demonizing" them they need to look at their own actions and responses. I hope that these individuals are capable of helping their children adjust to the transition instead of infecting them with their venomous ideas.

Jocelyn said...

I have offered to work at bringing people together and I am willing to do what I can but it is a reality that the MM community has felt alienated. Yes, Catherine, your post offers to work with us, but I hope that you are sincere in this offer. And FR Parent, I can live with my own actions and responses and do want to bring the community together BUT I reiterate that, based on how this whole process has developed regarding the closure, I and many others are justifiably skeptical about offers of assistance in this transition period. I guess Ms. Sanderson and the rest of the School committee need to show us through their actions. As my grandmother used to say, "you can show me better than you can tell me!" and "actions speak louder than words"! The transition process is going to be hardest on the children despite their resilience-what are we going to do to ensure that this reshuffling is going to work for all Amherst elementary school children? Are there any concrete plans in the works? If so, I would like to hear from Ms. Sanderson and the rest of the School Committee.

Anonymous said...

It's all ABOUT your "power" right? I know I'm slow but I'm still having a hard time grasping the logic of planning to close a school a year before it might be needed without a careful analysis of the impact. Catherine got her way. That's what matters here.
I know she works hard but I think this is misguided and she got caught up in the rancor around this issue and wanted this to happen whether it's the best thing or not. Sorry if that seems mean or unfair but it needs to be stated. Just my opinion.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:27 - thanks for the post. I do appreciate it, in the sea of alternative views.

Anonymous 11:53 - 60% of the kids in this town now attend FR and WW, and believe it or not, those kids/families are really happy. The type of negativity towards those schools feeds the feelings of divisiveness. No one is saying MM is a bad school ... but you are saying two of the other schools are bad.

FR parent - very well-said. Thanks for adding such a thoughtful view.

Jocelyn - I've offered to work with you and any parents at any of the schools ... what would you like to do to work with me and the entire SC? The first plan will be working on issues of boundaries (for the redistricting), and that is something that the interim superintendent hopes to get into play soon. Over half the kids in Amherst will end up moving schools INCLUDING LIKELY MY OWN and so obviously we are all going to be working hard on making this transition smooth for all kids (again, not just those at MM are going to be impacted). If you have concrete suggestions about what would help kids transition and/or how you'd like to work with me/the SC, email me ( or post them on my blog.

Anonymous 7:56 - I did get "my way" -- which is they way that would preserve the best Amherst education for all kids (something that every single member of the SC agreed on, as did the current and upcoming superintendent). Even Andy Churchill, whose kids went to Marks Meadow and who is deeply attached to that school, voted to close it BECAUSE he believes this is the right thing to do for saving education in Amherst. We did not see another way, and I didn't hear another way over the last few months, despite 11 meetings and many emails/calls. The analysis of the impact was computed very carefully by the interim superintendent and her staff -- impact on cost savings, class size, etc. I don't know more what you would have wanted to see?

The logic of the timing was two-fold. First, redrawing lines takes time to do well, and we really need a year to plan that out. If we waited and voted next fall/winter, we would have had that much less time to line up a consultant and start thinking seriously about how to redistrict the entire community. Many communities do close schools much faster -- Wayland, Agawam, several Cape Cod schools have closed last year or this, and those decisions are made and then a few months later, the school closes (not a year+ later). But all of those schools just take the kids at the closed school and divide them into the other schools. That is pretty easy, and if we had wanted to do that, it wouldn't have taken a year (and frankly, should be done now, in terms of the cost savings). What takes a year is doing a very careful redistricting of all four schools -- something that hasn't occurred since 1972. The other piece of the logic about doing the vote now is that the Finance Committee has indicated that it will consider using reserves to cover THIS YEAR's budget IF we have agreed upon a new way of achieving cost-efficiency (such as closing a school). So, making the decision in September would have given us NO chance of getting this money, which is a crucial part of maintaining current services, programs, class sizes for the upcoming school year. I am sorry if both of those things weren't really clear all along -- that was precisely why I made the motion when I did - to get a vote this year, so that we could plan either way.

Emily said...

It really is sad that MM will close next year. Even though I expected the decision, and support the decision, I wish it had been otherwise.

I also -so- wish the other School Committee members had blogs, so that Catherine wasn't the only one taking the heat here (and we could see if other members, forced to articulate their reasons for voting one way or another at each meeting, would be treated with more respect than Catherine is).

Closing MM is not a choice anyone would have made if there was enough money in the budget--so please, if you're enraged, be enraged at that situation and the way it came about. The way people go on in the comments, it's as if they believe that were the town flush with cash, Catherine would've advocated closing MM just for fun, or out of spite, or... ?!? Honestly, I don't know what the notion is, but anyone looking at the numbers will see that there was no way around this decision. Catherine just happened to see it clearly and say it first.

Again, I'm truly saddened by this reality. Catherine, keep up the good work in these very tough times.

FRAlum said...

FR Parent

If MM parents feels the town is (as Jocelyn states) "demonizing" them they need to look at their own actions and responses.

Oh yeah it MM fault Amhertst is 1.5 in debt. If the SC was attepting to close your son/daughter school. How would you react?

" hope that these individuals are capable of helping their children adjust to the transition instead of infecting them with their venomous ideas."

F U!
U worry about you and your kids transition to CF hopefully.

Venomous ideas ,lol you must be talking about your pal Catherine

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Amherst is not $1.5M in debt--the elementary school budget alone needs to cut ~$1.2M next year to balance the budget. Overall, the town as a whole will need to cut a lot more. This is not the fault of our current Elementary School Committee, most of whom are recently-elected.

Irv Rhodes had it right last night when he stated that his vote to close Marks Meadow was just one of the steps he felt were necessary to take in order to stem this growing gap between revenue and expenses. This gap is present in ALL the town budgets, and the Elementary School Committee is doing the best it can to address the gap in its own budget. I commend them for taking action rather than just waiting for some other solution to come along and solve the problem for them. Such lack of planning in the past has, in my opinion, contributed to the problem our town is currently facing.

I realize that people are reacting to the news right now and are understandably upset. As Catherine points out, almost half our our children will be changing schools in Fall 2010 and this is a huge deal to families from all schools. Even those who are not changing schools face the loss of their friends and the task of welcoming new children and teachers into their school.

If you can step back and listen again to the comments made by members of the School Committee last night, though, I think you will hear some real long-term planning in their comments. I think there is a good mix of personalities and experience on the School Committee right now and trust that they will be able to continue to address the larger budgetary issue through this sort of consideration of long-term issues.

Cathy Eden said...

If I ignore all the rancor, I can imagine that many MM parents are afraid of the unknown now that their school is slated to be closed. We need accurate first-hand information about CF, WW, and FR. I can comment in regard to the accusations about the air quality at FR...
Before my child started elem school she was diagnosed with mild, intermittent asthma. I decided to send her to FR after hearing that many remediation steps had recently been taken to address the air quality issues. She started at FR in kindergarten and is now a 6th grader and has had no more than one cold virus each winter -- she has never needed any kind of daily medication for her asthma and is even showing signs of starting to out-grow the asthma. Yes, this is anecdotal information -- but since my daughter's asthma episodes have become less frequent and less severe over time I can say that the air quality at FR has not had a negative affect on her.

Additionally, my daughters teachers (every one - every year) were caring, dedicated, and professional.

To make a comment that FR and WW are "big box" schools is immature at best. The staff in each of these schools know the students well -- there are no anonymous kids at any school in Amherst. That is an insult to our teachers and staff.

I am confident that we can successfully make this transition if the childish and uncooperative few can stop kicking and screaming for a few minutes and listen. Our children can handle the changes if we are truly committed to making the best of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Some people seem to think that if they don't get their way, they weren't heard.

That's not the way a discussion works. That kind of sentiment reveals that you never had an open mind in the first place.

I thank Catherine and the remainder of the board for their courageous decision to embrace change.

Anonymous said...

Why not close Mark's Meadow this year, instead? Saves half a million dollars and gives all the kids in the schools a better, broader education.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that last night, Andy and Irv talked to us the best. They made their feelings known, we knew how hard it was for them to make this decision. It seemed much more sincere coming from them. Esp. Andy. This was a personal vote for him, more so than anyone else on the board. I do feel the correct vote was made, but they had a much better way of making their votes. Tone was a big issue in this process and everyone was not respected, esp. the people losing the most.

Anonymous said...

Tone and body language really do matter. I actually agree with most of what Catherine believes in and espouses. However, I must say, I am very disappointed in the way she says it. Catherine, tone does matter. And even your supporters are at times disappointed in how you treat people. I am disappointed that you won't ever take a step back and think about how you come across or re-read some of the things you have written here. It reminds me of George Bush - when asked to name a mistake he had made or something he would do differently he could not think of a thing.

I do agree with you Catherine, almost across the board and I think you have shaken things up in a good way. But you really need to seriously think about your people skills. If you don't care how you come across that's one thing. But if you do care, then perhpas you could take a few moments to reflect. It does not need to be done here and I do not expect you to comment on this comment - but in the quiet and the solitude just take a moment.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Emily - thanks much for your thoughtful post. I too agree that it would be good if all SC members had blogs so that I was not the only one on the receiving end. But I also think, in fairness, I proposed this motion, and I did so knowing that it was the only way it was going to happen -- and because I thought it was the right thing to do. So, in that sense, I deserve (some) of the heat.

FR Alum - I know many parents and teachers have felt really offended by some of the things said about their schools by MM parents and staff ... those things make people feel bad, which I think is understandable. And I still fail to understand why it is different to have your school stay open and have to move from it than if your school closes. I've had emails already from families who really want their child to stay at FR/WW, and understand that they may not be able to, with redistricting. I think it was and is hard for some (not all) MM families to see that this decision effects other families and kids, too. Moving to a new school is hard -- regardless of whether your school stays open or not.

Alison - thanks for your post ... as Irv and Andy pointed out last night, this is the first step in what will have to be other changes to make the fiscal realities. I hope the community can now pull together to make the transition to three schools work as smoothly as possible for all kids.

Cathy Eden - thanks so much for your post -- and for sharing your daughter's story. I was at Fort River today for my daughter's kindergarten screening and was struck by what a small, caring, and dedicated community it is ... which I hope some of the MM families can get a chance to experience over the next year. The other schools are REALLY all excellent, and I have every confidence that much of what has been special at MM will be able to be found, or created by MM staff/teachers/families, at the other schools. I'd like to start pulling people together to share information and strategies and ideas on making this work well for all kids.

Anonymous 9:38 - very true ... after 11 meetings and countless emails and phone calls, I didn't feel that I was going to hear any new strategies or approaches ... and thus I continued to believe that closing MM was the best of the many bad options we have. But I do believe no matter the tone, language, style, time, etc., people who don't agree with that decision were going to loudly oppose it.

Anonymous 9:42 - I believe this is what we should have done. But it was impossible to get all of the data together to see the numbers in time to really redistrict well, and we also need to redistrict for equity. So, in many towns in which a school closes, the kids at that school are just divided into the other schools -- and that would frankly have been very easy to do fast, but that would have meant moving those kids twice (e.g., again AFTER redistricting), and that really would put the burden of change entirely on what set of kids/families/teachers. Thus, I do think that given the timeline, we needed to keep the school open for one more year to really redistrict right.

Anonymous 2:38 - I agree that Andy and Irv were very eloquently last night, and I'm glad you and others found their words helpful and sincere.

Anonymous 2:47 - as noted before, I'm going to talk about issues that matter in terms of education for Amherst kids, and not my tone/personality/style. I do appreciate the tone of your post, however, so thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

as noted before, I'm going to talk about issues that matter in terms of education for Amherst kids, and not my tone/personality/style. I do appreciate the tone of your post, however, so thanks for that!

The tone/personality/style is a recurring theme on this and other blog responses. In each case, no one is asking you to talk about about your tone/personality/style, just reflect. I can think of no one that does not want the best education for their children. Agreeing to disagree but working together toward that common goal will ultimately be the only way to move forward.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 4:47 - to be perfectly clear to you and others who are reading this and encouraging self-reflection ... I reflect on many, many things about this whole School Committee volunteer job -- the time I spend attending meetings and reporting on them, the time I spend personally responding to blog posts and emails, the time I spend researching questions, the energy with which I pursue gathering and reporting data, the rancor with which some people post anonymously, the degree to which people feel comfortable anonymously giving me advice on tone and style, and so on. So, all readers of this blog should be aware that I spend lots of time reflecting on virtual all aspects of my SC work, even when I'm not specifically encouraged to do so by anonymous posters. I hope that is helpful. In sum, I am doing the very best job I can do, given who I am and the situation I'm in.

Neil said...

I am thrilled with the outcome. Now let's make this year and next the best two years yet for setting the course and implementing the finest primary education in the state (top 5%). That brings up an interesting question. How many years will it take and what should be done first (second, third, fourth)?

Anonymous said...

Tone is not something to be glossed over. If any of Ms. Sanderson's children's teachers spoke to her children in the same manner and tone she often uses, or used the over the top body language she uses, those teachers would be in for it. God help them.

I think the comparison to Bush is right on point. Just like that administration, Ms. Sanderson believes she can bully her way through.

You are losing as many people as you think you are gaining.

Rumsfeld didn't think anyone was as smart as he was either.

Would you tolerate such behavior and confrontatoin from your children's teachers, Ms. Sanderson?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Neil - great question! The SC is taking up "goals" at the next meeting, and for the new superintendent, and I look forward to an active and engaging discussion about the future of Amherst.

Anonymous 11:39 - it is interesting to me that anonymous posters seem to feel rules of tone don't apply to them. But two key points here. First, you are assuming I bullied the other four SC members to voting with me ... which seems pretty insulting to each of them (all adults, and I think I'm the youngest!). Second, since I'm losing so many people, you only have to worry about my bullying and tone for less than 2 years -- surely I won't get re-elected.

JWolfe said...

Anon 11:39 wrote:

"Tone is not something to be glossed over. If any of Ms. Sanderson's children's teachers spoke to her children in the same manner and tone she often uses, or used the over the top body language she uses, those teachers would be in for it. God help them."

My initial reactions are 1) give us your real name so we can inflict our noxious body language in front of you in town; and 2) grow the f up.

You are not a child (at least I hope not,but then how do I know "Anon"?), so what's the point there? Do you need to be spoken to as if you were a child? Is that your point?

Prepare yourself for my harsh tone. . . . That's unbelievably pathetic. (I am at this moment in an aggressive and truly awful pose. My body language is by all accounts very bad right now.)

And Catherine's kids' teachers wouldn't speak to them in harsh ways because, believe it or not, the big box school they attend is filled with caring teachers. Oh, and Catherine and her kids wouldn't attack those teachers as racist, classist bullies, etc. the way Catherine and her supporters have been attacked.

Let's be clear about a couple of things back here on planet earth: Catherine's tone matters about as much as your over sensitive nature. Right? Maybe your inability to face reality is the problem. Maybe you're the problem. Feel insulted? That's how a lot of non-MM parents feel whenever we're criticized for our tone when we try to inject a tiny bit of reality into these debates, e.g., where are we going to get the MONEY to keep MM open.

So, maybe we should use hand puppets give out candy when we talk about the budget. Or better yet, maybe we should all cry in public about it. I don't really care.

We have wonderful teachers in all our schools, but we can't pay them with empathy and sweet talk.

Anonymous said...

Thank you JWolfe! Ive been sitting at all kinds of kid events, etc. the last few weeks listening to the tirades of the CS haters. If they could only hear themselves.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's getting really nasty here!!! I really enjoy this blog for the incredible amount of information and debate of the issues. But the over-the-top nastiness by folks on both sides of the MM debate is really turning me off.

As much as I enjoy this blog and am thankful for it, I am taking a temporary leave from reading it until I hope the reality of the closure of MM sinks in and we can get past the worst of the nastiness and get on to the incredible difficult tasks that lie ahead all of us with a direct stake in the schools.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

JWolfe - I'm actually able to look beyond tone and body language to the essence of what someone is saying ... and I think you are experiencing the same frustration I am ... as one who is attacked repeatedly (you are racist, classist, elitist, bullying, your kids' school is awful), then reacts, and then is accused of using a bad "tone". This isn't about tone or style or body language. It is about how we want to do education in Amherst for all kids with the resources we have. And I'd love to hear the thoughts of Anonymous 11:39 on that front, in whatever tone/style she/he uses.

Anonymous 12:45 - agreed. Thanks.

Anonymous 12:46 - my motion was designed to have us get through the emotions BEFORE the arrival of our new superintendent so that we could move on to discuss other things that matter in terms of education, and was made when it was because I feared (and I believe rightly so) that we would spend another year re-discussing the same topic (high performing school, dismal budget, etc.). I too hope the emotions will now start to die down so we can move on to focusing on how to do education for all kids with increasingly limited resources.

He's Not A Mark's Meadow Parent! said...

From this week's Amherst Bulletin:

Anonymous said...

JWolfe--who the **** are you???

Anonymous said...

Anon. 5:39 p.m. Thank you so much for the lead to this piece. =)

Wow! Mr. Teresi I love your article, every single word.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

He's Not a Marks Meadow Parent - I am glad you found this article informative. Do you feel it moved the discussion on education in Amherst forward in an important way? At a time of massive budget crisis, I guess I'm surprised that our TOP concern is correcting spelling/grammar on a website and ridiculing parents who dare to want challenge for their kids. But I'm glad you agree with his opinion that ACE's goals are worthwhile and that he agrees.

Anonymous 5:59 - JWolfe is someone who signed his own name. Which you did not.

Anonymous 6:08 - Mr. Teresi is also someone who signed his own name. Impressive! But thanks for joining in his support of the ACE goals.

LClarkson said...

"JWolfe is someone who signed his own name. Which you did not."

JWolfe is someone who wrote one of the nastiest and meanest posts that I have read so far on this or any of the Amherst blogs. To support and approve of that post brings this blog down into the gutter. How does JWolfe's post or your support of it further the dialogue about the dire straits of education in Amherst and how we can fix it? Is it ok for JWolfe to say those things because it was not an anonymous post? Does that make nastiness ok? Or is it ok because the nasty post supports you? Only nasty posts that don't support you are denigrated.

What started out as a wonderful resource (this blog) has degenerated into childish sniping back and forth on both sides of the MM question. How unfortunate.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

LClarkson - thanks for signing your name! Many people have posted things that were highly critical or me and others on all sides ... but virtually all of those posts are anonymous. I think if you are going to write something highly critical (such as calling someone elitist, racist, classist, having a hidden agenda, etc.), you should use your name so that you own those comments. I own whatever I say, and I respect that JWolfe has signed his name. His post was in response to many highly critical, and personal attacks, that were delivered anonymously. Do you have more outrage at his post because it wasn't delivered anonymously, and you aren't similarly annoyed at Anonymous 5:59 for attacking him? I think all posts that are highly critical, on whatever side, should have a name attached -- and if you read my responses to highly critical posts from MM parents about me, you will note that I was also appreciative when they used their names (as some have). In sum, if you have a legitimate question or concern or praise, post it anonymously. But if you want to attack or just be mean (to me or another poster), have the courage to sign your name and own your comments. I hope LClarkson is indeed your name -- JWolfe is a real name.

Jocelyn said...

I believe that many people choose to post anonymously, because even if they are not nasty to you but just disagree with you, you and your supporters attack them-especially if they are MM parents or MM supporters. I and other Amherst citizens do not have an obligation to the public to "own" our comments and opinions, but you, as a elected official, most certainly do! I will stand by whatever I say, but people have good reasons not to print their real names when they are constantly called names or berated. I remember being called childish and close-minded and I am neither of those things-I chose not to respond to the people who made those comments because belittling them after they tried to belittle me is a waste of time. The problem here on this blog is when the line between your personal opinion and opinion as a public official gets blurred. It is a problem that you praise people for their nasty comments and thank them for those comments as long as those comments are not directed against you. Why did you attack He is not a MM Parent? He just posted a link without commentary and just because it did not support you or Steve Rivkin, Mr. Teresi has the right to his opinion and he DID sign his name-the Amherst Bulletin should not be just an "all Sanderson and Rivkin, all the time" newspaper-other opinions are just as valid and should be heard. And I am signing my name-yes it is just my first name but I think that I am the only Jocelyn who is a parent at Mark's Meadow School and since there are not that many Jocelyns in Amherst, I am not hard to find. If this were my blog (and it is not thankfully!), if I found a post to be too negative, critical, or incendiary, I just would not respond. There has been a lot of discussion about tone and people skills-well the current tone of the posts on this blog do not encourage people to work together. Ms. Sanderson,I encourage you to set the tone and to try to bring the community together in a positive way in the effort to ensure that our children receive a good education.

LClarkson said...

"Do you have more outrage at his post because it wasn't delivered anonymously"

Not once in my post did I say I was outraged. I do not get angry over blog entries. My post was simply an observation of what seems to be happening and an expression of my disappointment. Is there some way you can bring this blog back to a discussion of the issues?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Joceyln and LClarkson - OK, let's return to the issues. The budget is bad -- really bad. What would you prioritize for cutting for the upcoming year?

Meg Rosa said...

So in addition to MM closing, how much are we looking at cutting?

How much could we receive from the reserves? Elementary and Regional?

What is still being looked at for cuts for this coming year? (again for both, if you don't mind)

How many of this year's cuts would we be able to get back next year after MM closes? If any.

What are the Regional cuts looking like now for this coming year?

It would be nice to have these answers laid out in one place. It can be hard to follow if you are not at every meeting, or talking to people who are.

I am not sure what to say about what we can cut. They are all almost impossible decisions.

Can we get the colleges involved more, in the classrooms, with programs, anything?

Do we restructure how we teach the arts and gym somehow?

These are just some thoughts that have been popping in my head. I had taken a break from the blogs for awhile (from right before the election to recently). I have really not liked the way things have been going and how people are treating each other on here in the past few days. I saw an invitation tonight to restart the conversation, so that is what I am trying to do.

This is a very difficult time. Emotions are all over the place. I will be honest, my kids are very upset over MM closing, and so am I. BUT, I will take care of them, no matter where they end up in 2 years. I will help other people take care of their kids too. We all will need to come together and hold on tight to what we do have in our town. We have amazing schools. We have schools that people choose to come to from all over the world!!!! We have a great town full of people with strong opinions, who are not afraid to share them! We have a wonderful sense of community here.

It is very hard to let go of something that is working. It would be much easier if MM was not succeeding. Money is scarce. We have to make decisions now that will allow our children and those children who will come, the opportunity for a wonderful "Amherst education". We need to hold on to as much of what we hold dear as we can. We must work together to move through this crisis and make it out on the other side, as close as we can to what we have now. I am not saying this will be easy. But it is necessary to get thru this together.

We are Amherst Elementary Families!!

We are Amherst Regional Families!

We are in this together!!!

Jocelyn said...

Thanks Meg for helping to change the tone of the conversation!

I have some questions and concerns about the redistricting plan The focus has been on free and reduced lunch-I understand the push to even out the distribution of children economically, but shouldn't other factors be examined too when the lines are redrawn? Isn't it confidential information about which children receive free and reduced lunch? Well, it is not so confidential when we talk about the numbers of children who receive f&r lunch at CF-how is this going to be addressed? Are parents and interested community members going to be able to be a part of redistricting plans? How does regionalization fit into our redistricting plans?

Even with the pending closure of MM at the end of 2009-2010, how are we going to be able to maintain and/or improve the quality of an Amherst elementary education including music, computer, and art?

Jocelyn said...

I meant to thank you too, Catherine for trying to change the tone of the conversation! I really do appreciate it! I will have to think about it more re: priorities for cuts and there are a lot of unknowns at this point-Meg brought up some good questions about these issues.

JWolfe said...

To all the Anons out there, my name is Joel Wolfe

Here's some more information, although I need to update it:

I am a parent of two Fort River kids and I'm sick and tired of some MM parents maligning their teachers and referring to it as a "big box" school.

No anon outrage at that.

I'm a dues paying proud member of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association and I'm livid at the way some MM parents have denigrated my fellow union members who happen to teach at WW, FR, & Crocker.

I'm a parent who volunteers at Fort River and for the district and I'm outraged that some MM parents have viciously and personally attacked Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin, who I am proud to call my friends.

Finally, I lost my cool in that post for one reason. The person writing it actually compared him/herself to Catherine's children. Read the post. It asks Catherine how she would feel if a teacher spoke to her 5th grader, 2nd grader, and pre-schooler the way Catherine is seen by that anonymous poster as speaking to adults in the community.

How seriously should any of us take a question like that?

So, if you want to discuss education without referring to those of us who signed the ACE letter as racists, etc., then send me an email. I've never hidden my identity. That's who the f I am.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Meg - it is really, really bad. The Senate budget is worse than the House's budget, and rumors are that the final budget (when we get the June numbers) will be even worse. It will likely mean cutting BELOW a level services budget. We don't have the final numbers, but the Finance Committee votes their budget this Thursday (May 28th) ... and that will include how much they are willing to give us from reserves (but I also know that reserves are really limited, so I don't know how much we can realistically expect). I don't know what else the superintendent is considering cutting ... but I think it is safe to assume that we are below Level 2 in both Amherst and Regional -- I don't see how we can stay at Level 2, given the latest news, and that means cuts we are ALL going to fill at both levels. My understanding is that the Finance Committee may consider our vote to close MM and give us "credit" for that vote (e.g., about $700,000, given that we are going to close it but need a year to do it well). That was one of the reasons why we needed the vote now -- and not next year -- so that we would be more likely to get reserves. I am going to try to get answers as soon as I can -- but probably we won't know officially what the schools will look like until the FC makes their decision AND we get the June state budget.

Personally, I think we need to think seriously about whether we cut/reduce programs (e.g., instrumental music, art, etc.), or whether we want to increase class size. Those seem like really the only elementary school budget savings options. At the regional level, there is less to cut ... I can't see that it doesn't come to class size/course offerings (but it is POSSIBLE that the regional cuts won't be as bad as the elementary cuts IF the other three towns vote a Tier 1 or 2 budget and then Amherst is required to fund at this level). It is complicated.

I think getting the colleges involved would be good ... but they can't replace what we REALLY need (e.g., teachers!). I also think having AEF do some MAJOR fundraising would be helpful.

I agree with you that this blog is most useful if everyone is respectful -- agreeing to disagreeing, disagreeing but not being disagreeable, etc. I think posting with names helps that -- as you do/did!

I know that closing MM is a big deal ... my kids are also upset that they may well go to another school, and will clearly be separated from some of their friends. But I think you have a great attitude about making sure for your kids, and others' kids, that it will be OK -- and I hope we can work together (me and you, specifically, but also me and you and others more broadly) to make that happen in a way that works for all kids. I certainly agree that "We are in this together!!!"!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Jocelyn - the focus is on redistricting based on free/reduced lunch ... and, yes, it is totally confidential who is on free/reduced lunch ... so, in that sense, it is not like community members (or SC members!) can draw the lines. But the district people have ran through various scenarios that compute this information (as will a consultant) so that we can see what different plans would look like in terms of this equity. What other things do you think we should be considering? I know the superintendent has already asked for assistance from those who want to help -- and at a minimum, I think a plan will be presented, and then people can give feedback about what is good/bad so that it can be revised. I don't think regionalization matters much -- my understanding is that all of the small towns want to keep THEIR school, in part to avoid having their kids on the bus for a really long time into Amherst, and in part to maintain control over their schools. But I think the big issue with regionalization will be whether the other schools want their 6th graders to come to our MS IF we move our 6th graders (and that does impact our redistricting because it means you are considering how to handle 1100 versus 1300 kids!). I think they are getting some cost estimates of various plans in about a month -- end of June. I'll report anything I hear on this front on this blog. Finally, I think the BEST way to preserve an Amherst education is to increase the tax base in our town -- more economic development!!! We just need more money, and there aren't a lot of other ways to get it. I also am hopeful that the state will give us some more funding options (e.g., sales tax, meals/lodging tax). So, maybe the economic picture won't look as bad in a few years as it does now.

Jocelyn - thanks for the thanks!

JWolfe - you are expressing the frustration, using your name, that many have felt. There have been a lot of pointed (and anonymous) attacks on this blog towards me, towards parents/staff/teachers at non-MM elementary schools, towards those who signed ACE, etc. Eventually that really can get to someone ... another reason why maybe the personal attacks on this blog should cease.

Anonymous said...

What is the legal limit on class size? I think it is important for us to know this if we are to choose between larger classes and losing art, music, etc.

Meg Rosa said...

I am brainstorming a few thoughts here. They may not be realistic, but I am trying to come up with anything I can.

I have to agree about class size being smaller. Children really need to be able to understand what they are needing to learn. It is much easier to teach things right the first time, than to go back and reteach. Smaller class sizes will allow teaches the ability to do this.

Can we go to the colleges and find some grad students to also help within the classrooms, in place of or in conjunction with Paras? I am not sure if all schools have this, but at MM, there are student teachers in there all the time. Are there more ways to play around with this idea, that will help our budget?

What about having college students come in to do art projects, maybe in addition to limited regular art classes? If we had a art major come in and do a specific project with kids over a semester, that would give the kids more art time. This may be applied to music as well. I went to WW for the Art Forum they held in March and was completely impressed. The music I got to hear was amazing. If we can get creative projects into all the schools like this, it will enrich these children's lives!

I know this touches on contracts, but we need to find every penny we can, and also give these kids as much as we can. Times are tough and we need to be creative.

Are there parents who can set up after school clubs in each school? Alyssa Melnick does an amazing job with MM's Science Club, which concludes with the Science Fair. I am sure there are many more parents like her in all of our schools. Maybe curriculum could be reinforced in clubs like this. Clubs that could be run with funding from the parent groups, maybe.

Could this be done at the Regional level as well? (I don't know if it is already)

On another note. I am wondering about getting HS kids into classes at the colleges for AP classes. Is the main drawback to this the Trimester schedule?

What about looking into teachers and staff taking college classes, at local schools, for trainings and development, with tuition waivers?

This could be one more way the colleges can give back to our town, if they can't afford cash right now. Services could also help a lot!

So these may not be perfect, probably don't add up to $700K, may not be usable at all, but I am trying to find any solutions I can think of to help the situation. With the money as tight as it is, I really feel like we need to come up with as many plans as possible to try to keep things as close to what we have now. These kids deserve us trying really hard for them. I feel like we are at a time when we need to be looking out of the box. We can't have what we are used to, and it only looks worse for years to come. Lets find other ways to get the same, or better services to our kids!

Good night!