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.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Amherst Meeting, June 18, 2009

This meeting began with three announcements from the superintendent: she has been attending (and enjoying!) 6th grade graduations at the various elementary schools, the schools' budgets will be presented at Town Meeting starting on Monday (June 22nd), and the parents/staff surveys are continuing to come in from all schools (today is, I believe, the final deadline). She also noted that student surveys will be administered this fall. Mike Morris also thanked the Crocker Farm community for responding to a student in need.

We then turned to the School Improvement Plan for Fort River, which was presented by principal Ray Sharick. I don't want to give a long summary of this (because there were multiple handouts and I don't want to not do the presentation justice), but there were three specific goals noted: curriculum (across all areas, including an examination of data for how students in general and by subgroup were performing), instruction (with a particular emphasis on differentiation), and other (which included scheduling and communication). Members of the SC asked a few questions, including how consistent curriculum was both within different classrooms at Fort River and across the different schools (Steve), plans for hiring a new assistant principal (me), concern about the potentially negative impact of the word "subgroup" (Kathleen), how social justice was being implemented/seen (Kathleen), how data was being used (Andy), how science and social studies fit into the curriculum, given the lack of MCAS accountability on these subjects (me). The answers were (briefly) - consistency is a work in progress (some grades better than others), new assistant principal to be hired as soon as possible (probably July), "subgroup" is a widely-used term in MCAS but is problematic in a sense, social justice is seen in high achievement by all students (regardless of demographics), looking at data is just beginning, and science/social studies alternate throughout the year (unlike math/English) but time is always tight and limited.

Next, principal Nick Yaffe described the Mark's Meadow School Improvement Plan. This plan had five goals: inquiry, teaching/learning/curriculum, belonging and caring, social justice and anti-bias curriculum, and connections to our community. (Again, I'm not going to summarize ALL of the parts of this presentation but they will be summarized in the SC minutes, which will be posted on the web in a few weeks). Members of the SC then had various questions, including how science is implemented at MM (Steve), how the anti-bias curriculum ("Undoing Racism) was implemented (Kathleen) how the Investigations math curriculum works at MM (me), and how the major 6th grade UN trip works into the curriculum (me). The answers were (again, briefly) - there is a greater focus on consistency of science units across the district, thanks to the work of science coordinator Pat Cahill; the Undoing Racism workshops were presented to all staff/teachers on curriculum days (three days throughout the year) with homework in between; the Investigations math curriculum has worked OK for the English language learners but needed some revision by teachers and we need some more time to assess its effectiveness; and the UN trip is part of a 6th grade course of study on "world regions" and is very educational and enjoyable.

Nick then talked about the plans for the closing of Marks Meadow at the end of the 2009-2010 school year (this piece of the meeting was summarized in the Gazette article I posted last week). He has written a thoughtful letter which describes what he is sharing with the MM community, which includes focusing on "celebrating who we are as a community" and asking "ourselves what aspect of the Mark's Meadow spirit we will take with us when we go to a new school." I believe Nick spoke thoughtfully and sincerely about the type of leadership he will bring to the school, and indeed to the district, in the upcoming year (which will be a challenging one for all kids/families/staff/teachers/schools).

Next, and relatedly, the superintendent described the redistricting plan update. Proposals were requested from multiple firms which consult in educational redistricting and capacity analysis, and the services of a firm (DeJong-Healy) in Ohio have been secured (for $4,750). They will review the proposals made this far, and will develop a recommendation for how to redistrict (based on demographic projections and capacity at the three current schools). This work will be completed by June 29, 2009.

We then had some discussion on this process. Steve noted that other schools do close, and we should learn from schools/districts that have handled this transition well. He also noted that the community of MM is all facing the same challenge (e.g., their school is closing) together, whereas students at the other schools would face a less cohesive challenge (e.g., some students would be moving, others not). I then asked about whether we were considering the placement of 6th grade in these plans, given that redistricting 1300 students to three buildings has different implications than redistricting 1100 students (and hence lines might be drawn in different places). Maria noted that the proposal was to redistrict K to 6, and hence that was the focus of this firm, but it might be possible to also ask for lines to be drawn for K to 5. I noted that redistricting once K to 6 and then again (in a few years) K to 5 could involve having some kids have three transitions during elementary school, and hence we really needed to think through these issues at the same time. I felt this was particularly important since some MM families have been highly concerned about both very large schools (with 1300 kids, it would probably be 500 kids, 450 kids, 350 kids, whereas with 1100 kids, it would be 400-400-300) and the use of so many half-wall classrooms in the quads at FR and WW (we would need to use 23 or 24 quad classrooms in FR and WW with 1300 kids, but only 20 or so classrooms with 1100 kids, which means you'd almost eliminate the need for using the inner-most classrooms). Steve agreed with these points, and we asked to have this on the agenda for the regional meeting on June 23rd.

Finally, we accepted some gifts, discussed plans for upcoming meetings (including the potential of moving to a place in which we could have "live" meetings), and learned that the WW school improvement plan would be presented this fall.


Anonymous said...

I don't see the connect between redistricting and the possiblity of moving 6th graders to the middle school at some point. What effect does one have on the other? The town will still have 3 elemnentary schools and families don't just have 6th graders, so why would this affect where lines are drawn?

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you continue to talk about a move of 6th graders to the MS in terms of next year or a few years when there are still so many unanswered questions about the wisdom of such a move.

Anon 11:31 said...

11I agree, Anon 4:17. The Amherst schools and SC have an awful lot on their plate next year and I think it is premature to be thinking seriously of moving the sixth grade to the Middle School next year. Moving the 6th grade requires a thoughtful and careful analysis and process and should not be rushed to coincide with the elementary schools redistricting.

All students eventually move to the MS so even if we do ultimately decide to do the move at the 6th grade level rather than the 7th grade level you are not adding an additional transition - its only moving the transition up a year. So that is not really an argument for making the 6th grade move to the middle school next year.

The decision to move or not move the 6th grade to the middle school should only be made after careful thought and consideration.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 3:15 - the issue is that the schools are very different sizes: CF has only 19 classrooms, and both FR and WW have many more. So, if you redistrict to K to 6, and then move the 6th grade, CF is a really, really under-enrolled school (which is less efficient in terms of operating costs, which we've seen this year with tight budgets and MM). For example, if you redistrict and use all 19 classrooms at CF, then you have empty classrooms (2 or 3) at CF. If you are redistricting to equalize the numbers in the three schools, it matters a lot whether you have to have 6 grades (K to 5) or 7 grades (K to 6). In addition, and as I note in my post, there are MM families who are concerned about the size of the other schools. Moving the 6th grade would mean all schools would be smaller -- which I keep hearing is a desirable thing!

Anonymous 4:17 - I believe it is something that we should be discussing. That's it. It is what many districts do, and there is a lot of evidence that two-year schools have trouble -- and we have a middle school that was designed for three grades that we are using for two grades. I do think we need to study this. Hence I mentioned it.

Anonymous 11:31 - if you don't answer the question of where the 6th grade will be, you could move kids twice in 2 or 3 years IF a decision is made then to move the 6th grade up. A child could now go to FR, be moved to CF, and then move back to FR if you had to re-draw the lines. My point is that you really need to know the answer to this (whether it is we will NEVER move the 6th grade or we will NEED to move the 6th grade this year) before you draw lines. It is really that simple. I certainly agree that careful thought and consideration need to be given -- I'm just hoping that thought and consideration can begin soon. I certainly know people have strong feelings about it -- including many who believe this move would be very beneficial.

Anonymous said...

No MM parent ever said that if MM students moved to other schools
6th graders should be moved to the MS to make those schools a bit less populated. Throughout the discussion over the closing of MM you assured everyone that given enrollment projections for the coming years the 3 schools could easily accomodate all the students in our present 4 schools.
Please don't use statements by MM parents about the size of other schools to now support any attempt to move the 6th grade. MM parents have already been blamed for enough on this blog.

Ed said...

five goals: inquiry, teaching/learning/curriculum, belonging and caring, social justice and anti-bias curriculum, and connections to our community.

Ok, call me cynical, but you have two goals which are related to education and three related to indoctrination.

Is there a hard core cadre of bigots in the MM community? Don't give me this "we are all racists" stuff because that, itself, is inherently racist...

So you have the most politically correct school district in the most politically correct town in the Commonwealth and we still need to spend three days of workshops along with "homework." To what end?

Wouldn't it be better to actually spend these three workshop days teaching something that would be useful to the faculty -- say new approaches to dealing with ADHD or what Swine Flu is (and isn't) so teachers can answer student/parent concerns (as was done with AIDS in the late '80s) or something along these lines?

Other than feeling good, what are we getting for our money?

Anonymous said...

"including many who think this move would be very beneficial"

Your choice of wording is interesting. The first part of that sentence refers only obliquely to those who think it would be harmful and the word many is not attached to that group.
My conversations with friends who are teachers or parents of upper elementary grade students in three different schools tell me they are not among the group you refer to with the word many. They are near-unanimous in their oppositon to the idea. There must be a way you can better access these many voices.
Maybe you and I travel in different circles, but I wasn't elected to make decisions affecting hundreds of students
AFTER a fair and balanced hearing of all constituents.
Correct me if I am wrong but, I believe, months ago on this blog you said moving the 6th grade to the MS was "a no-brainer". Is your mind already made up about this?

Megan Rosa said...

The UnDoing Racism trainings were paid for by a grant which the Diversity Committee applied for and received. This was in addition to any trainings the schools were planning on doing and came out of a Diversity Study Circle we did at MM in 2007. The teachers agreed to and willing did this training at our request.

Meg Rosa

Rick said...

Ed: Racism exists in the schools. Not the David Duke kind of racism, but the kind of racism where a white guy (like me) has NO CLUE what its like to be a black kid in a classroom full of white kids with a white teacher. So yes, its VERY important that teachers take workshops on this issue.

Caren Rotello said...

The argument would be more compelling if the district weren't 49% non-white. (Data from the 2008-2009 NCLB report, at the elementary school level.)

lise said...

Anon 11:35

I understand that many 6th grade parents and teachers may not like the idea of moving to the MS. However, I will say that MANY MS teachers and administrators have said that one of the biggest challenges of the MS is that it is only a two year school. MANY other districts (actually the vast majority) have 3 year middle schools. So, is it worth keeping 6th graders in the elementary school for a marginally better year, and then sacrificing the quality of the next two? Is that what is happening in our current system?

Ultimately we must make decisions based on the quality of the k-12 experience as a whole. I am pleased that the SC and administration are looking at this issue and hope that the the result will be a good decision based on an analysis of the best available data and research. How the sixth grade teachers and parents feel about it is one data point, so is how the 7th and 8th grade teachers and parents feel about it. There are also data points from educational research, and from analyzing student performance in our own district. Let's do the legwork and then decide.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your humility in referring to "white guys like me"
having NO CLUE about the experience of black students in predominantly white classrooms.

But I'm getting a little tired of the assumptions in it. (And I do not mean in any way to align myself with Ed on anything!)

Yes, I think it's at least theoretically worthwhile to do workshops on this subject. But, practically speaking, I've found this kind of workshop to be often utterly demeaning and degrading to those in the audience.

The problem lies here: to assume that white guys like you and me are clueless and that's there's racism in that is pretty damn reductive about the power of our educated sensitivity about others and our reflections on our own lives in all their dimensions. I'm not going to go so far as to call that another form of racism (because it just compounds the sloppy use of that word), but this particular conventional wisdom, especially prevalent in Amherst, really denies some decent folks a good chunk of their humanity.

It's as if there were no art, literature, poetry, photography, or even music on the planet, nothing that has spoken profoundly about the experience of that black kid, either directly or by analogy, to white guys like us in a way that registered on our brains. And, it's also as if white guys don't have a hunger for justice, as that word is understood in its broadest sense. (This is where Fox News and talk radio do us the biggest disservice.)

I went to the College that Catherine works at now, and that institution was already working on guys like me in the '70's before I attended any workshops in later life. That happened in all kinds of ways, including many that were far more subtle and effective than what goes on in diversity workshops.

I'm still learning and I'm still working it out but I don't think I'm just being defensive when I say that these narrow automatic assumptions based strictly on color about our experience, our imagination, our values, and our willingness to think about how other people live, are, quite frankly, crap.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

From anon 11:35

Regarding the feelings of parents of 7th and 8th graders, I don't doubt there are some, maybe many, who would hold hope that the presence of 6th graders in the MS would somehow produce magical results. On the other hand, I don't know any parents of present or former middle schoolers who would say, "Gee, I wish my child had spent his/her 6th grade year in the middle school instead of their elementary school." Maybe it's the circles I travel in.
Regarding educational research, please see the contribution by Anon 8:20 on 6/17 under "What Do Other Colleges/Universities Do?".
I've taken a look at that study, myself, and noted that the negative impacts related to test scores, discipline problems, etc. persist throughout the middle school years, so it seems like in that system (at least for some students) the quality of the 7th and 8th grade years are jeopardized by a move of 6th graders to a middle school setting.

Anonymous said...


please note that rasicsm is not limited to African-American students...It seems by your profile that you are into no means is this directed at you...i do not know who you are...but i am Jewish and was the only Jewish student in my class...We lived in an ocean town and the policy of the yacht club was no Jews as was a lot of things. i was not allowed to dances that other peoplke were allowed in to, my 6th grade teacher put me in tears by bmaking funof my religion in front of other students.
The point here is not only do African-American students suffer isolation, but so do other students because of their religion, other races, sexuality etc. And in this Town being a Republican or conservative a person can be isolated. We need to be accepting of all people. Your comments about being being the only black kid in a class are narrow minded, please think about being the only person of your belief in a classroom. You are actually very narrow minded in your post.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous June 26, 2009 6:51 AM

You are so right. Thank you for posting that so articulately. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:51

And in Amherst, or at least at Fort River, even white kids (regardless of their religion) can be made to feel inferior due to the aggressively "social justice" agenda of the former principal. Discrimination does, indeed, come in all forms.

Anonymous said...

to June 26, 2009 11:24 AM, been there, done that, got the t-shirt and moved my kids to a different school. You are absolutely right about the previous regime at Ft. River.

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying this open dialogue on 'racism.' I am a member of the MM Diversity Committee and frankly, I wondered just what that group did. It seemed at some meetings all that was discussed was when the next meetings would be held... The workshops on 'Undoing Racism'--ones I have sat in many times are most certainly demeaning in their approach. They assume one knows nothing about humanity, about what others feel and about a general sense of justice or, if I may, treating others as you would have them treat you... I appreciate the remarks from Rick but especially Rich. I think making a statement that as a white person we have no idea how it feels to be a black person is just a nowhere sentiment. Of course this is true, of course one can't know what it is to be a Jew or a black, or a white, or gay, or an Asian, if this is not their birth right. I think Amherst is way behind on their approach and work in this field....way a matter of fact I think those who have gone forward to 'battle' racism may have left some bad marks on this fight as was done at FR.
Thanks for this opportunity CS. I think the one good thing from this blog is the chance to communicate toward making a more sound community for our children.

Anonymous said...

to anom 9:25

excellent point...we are a community of many races, many religions, many beliefs. we do not know how it feels to be something we were not born or raised in. i agree with your statement, " I think Amherst is way behind on their approach and work in this field."
we should be teaching tolerance and acceptance of others. It is not a Caucasion & African-American issue. Amherst and the schools are caught up in this 'us and them' issue. It involves everybody because we are all different and all have different beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 3:15 PM
Moving the 6th graders to the middle school is going to happen sure as the closing of Marks Meadow. It may be in a talking stage now, but sooner than later it will happen. Our concerns about the effects this may have on our children is second to the fact that we have a SC who believes it is wiser than the majority voice and knows better what to do to fix our schools....sad, but a reality I am coming to face...

Ed said...

> The UnDoing Racism trainings
> were paid for by a grant which
> the Diversity Committee applied
> for and received

1: Teachers work a contracted and fixed number of days which includes both the instruction days, the conference days, and whatever first/end of year days there are.

2: Unless the grant included (a) additional pay for the teachers, (b) an amendment to the teaching contract requiring them to work 3 extra days, and (c) the teachers actually were paid for 3 more days -- unless you had all of this, YOU TOOK THREE DAYS AWAY FROM SOMETHING ELSE!!!!

Don't tell me about grants - the biggest expense of any conference is the salaries of those in attendence.

Oh, and Mr.Morse, *I* went to a state school. So if you want to talk about human oppression, we can start there....

Anonymous said...

...Ed--Let's talk about human oppression.
Let's begin with Amherst....Let's begin with town meeting okaying the school budget to remain struggling--while they plant daffodils and play golf...Let's talk about the child who gets his meals only at school who sits next to the child who dines with filet mignon on his/her plate each evening...
Human oppression--ah, yes alive and living well right under our noses!
I agree with you about the teachers attending the 'Undoing Racism' workshops having time taken away from something else--Most definitely....but this only reflects how defunct Amherst really is in its whole approach to equity...I mean how fair was this to other teachers in other buildings anyway?? And believe me these workshops start out assuming the audience doesn't have a clue about anything of any value about the world! I had a facilitator who nearly chopped my head off when I shared that when I join a group of my collegues in the teachers' room and they are not speaking English--when I know them all very well--I almost feel this is rude. S/he jumped down my throat and began this 'dominant culture' speal....and left me thinking it was all my fault that I couldn't understand them and I had one h*** of a nerve to even voice my thoughts...
Anyway--human oppression--it begins with denying the average joe/jane the access to money...
lots of it in Amherst....lots of it thrown all over the place except where it should to help our youth ensure their education, to keep their schools open...

Rick said...


Ok you got me. ;-)

I got carried away and my wording was too strong - I get what you’re saying. I was addressing people who, unlike you, are not saying “I'm still learning and I'm still working it out” but rather are saying “there is no way I am the least bit racist”.

In Amherst I sense that there are more than the average number of people who get indignant when you try to suggest they are being racist. But then on the other hand there are people accusing other people of being racist in very “unhelpful” ways. That may be a chicken and egg thing and I don’t know which came first.

You also said: "But, practically speaking, I've found this kind of workshop to be often utterly demeaning and degrading to those in the audience."

I would guess that how the training is done is everything. I can imagine training that actually makes things worse. But I can also imagine training that is done right and makes things better.

At any rate, the answer is certainly not no training, but rather, good training. Ideally, open discussions without fear of being attacked or labeled.

I have been involved with a group at ARHS this year where we have discussed how the students do this kind of discussion better than the adults usually do it, and ARHS is looking at ways of trying to bring these students discussions to the public somehow. I am pretty excited about that.

Rick said...

Also, to: Anon June 27, 2009 9:25 AM:

Well said, I agree.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:08 PM

Closing Marks Meadow and moving the 6th grade to the Middle School are two very different things. The closing of MM is supposed to save us well over a half million dollars a year. Moving the 6th grade will cost money, not save it. Those who favored closing MM assured one and all that the kids who had to change schools would do fine academically and socially in their new shcools. The North Carolina study mentioned here tells us it is highly likely some of our 6th graders, if moved to the MS, would suffer academically and/or behaviorally.

Ed said...

Ed's Response:

while they plant daffodils and play golf...

As to golf, I would like to see the whole course bulldozed and used to provide badly-needed rental housing for UM students. That won't happen before the 2nd Coming so don't discuss Cherry Hill. As to the school budget, I hate to say it but I am NOT in favor of increasing the school budget. We already are paying about twice (per student, in inflation-adjusted dollars) what we were paying 35 years ago and we are getting far worse results.

We either have far more stupid kids, or we are wasting money.

I spent 5 years in public housing - I could have made more money fishing (the industry was having its good years then, not now) but I did it for social justice reasons. And I saw a *LOT*!

I don't want to hear about how children only get fed at school (although I do know it to be true) - it is an issue of poor parenting and not poverty. Those on public assistance actually have, in real value, a higher standard of living than the working poor -- one afternoon I did the numbers out and wondered why it was that I was actually working...

I can make the case that it would not only be cheaper to society but far better for the children if all single mothers lost custody of their children to state-run orphanages. I have my fun time stories and I am not creative to make them up - they are all true...

Ed said...

I agree with you about the teachers attending the 'Undoing Racism' workshops having time taken away from something

My point is that the time could have been better used for other stuff. Like how to deal with the fact that the average tenure of the father-figure in a single mother's home is 14 months and how that messes up boys (and girls). Or how to deal with drug issues, which start in the elementary schools now - sorry folks, facts matter....

I had a facilitator who nearly chopped my head off

Before the powers that be gave up on me, they used to hire two additional facilitators for events that I was required to attend. Those who don't know who I am, let me just say that my unvarnished opinions are based on years of actual objective facts that I neglect to mention...

teachers' room and they are not speaking English--when I know them all very well--I almost feel this is rude. S/he jumped down my throat and began this 'dominant culture' speal....

It is rude to converse in a manner to exclude those present to the conversation. I speak two dialects of the English language, "American" (what Europeans call what we call "English") and "Yankee" which is an archaic version of the language, often called the "Maine accent" but it is more.

And the social expectation is that you speak the language of the community, which in Amherst is American. I don't speak Yankee here, in Maine I slow down my cadence for the same reason - language is a social norm with accepted rules.

Driving on the right side of the road is the same type of thing. Much of the world drives on the left, but try doing that here and if you don't wind up dead, convincing the nice police officer that you have the right to do so because of multiculturalism or whatever...

Ed said...

and left me thinking it was all my fault that I couldn't understand them and I had one h*** of a nerve to even voice my thoughts...

Been there, dealt with a similar schumck. My attitude has always been that those present who know me are going to enjoy the show and I really don't care what others think of me -- you start out doing something like praising Hitler and keep going straight downrange in a slightly curving manner until you have the facilitator(s) spinning inside a tightening vortex.

There is a reason why I am not required to go to these things anymore....

Anyway--human oppression--it begins with denying the average joe/jane the access to money...
lots of it in Amherst....lots of it thrown all over the place except where it should to help our youth ensure their education, to keep their schools open...

I still say that the schools of the '70s managed to teach children how to read and write and spent a whole lot less dollars per child (remember that there were more children then) in inflation-adjusted dollars than now.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:10 - I have certainly heard from MM (and other) parents who believe that closing MM means we should move the 6th grade to the MS to reduce size. Several MM parents have noted that they are concerned about schools that are large, and the open classrooms at FR/WW, and moving 6th grade would help with both of these concerns. I do believe the other schools could EASILY handle the enrollments -- we used 70 classrooms across the district this year, and the projection is that we would use 63 or 64 classrooms. If you take away the 10 classrooms in use at MM, that is just 3 or 4 extra classrooms in use, and there are currently empty classrooms at all schools. But the potential move of the 6th grade isn't about space (at least not for me -- my kids go to the largest elementary school with open classrooms, and we are fine with this school and this size). It is about education -- and I was struck that virtually all of the superintendent candidates noted problems with a two-year school (and noted that this model is VERY rare). I don't see this as "blaming MM parents" -- I see this as trying to do right by all of our kids, and that may well mean that the MS should go to 6 to 8.

Ed - I think the key point you raise is that we have limited time
in our curriculum days -- so, time spent on something is time that is not spent on something else. And the district should be considering its priorities at a given time in terms of how that time is spent -- we certainly know there are few opportunities for professional development these days.

Anonymous 11:35 - there are obviously mixed views about where 6th grade should be -- I know friends/teachers who believe it should be in the elementary schools and I know other friends/teachers who believe it should be in the MS. But I don't think the decision about where to put the 6th grade should be made based on a popularity vote -- so I should focus on "accessing their voices"! Obviously people feel very attached to their elementary schools (myself included), and I've been vocal (on this blog and elsewhere) about the criticisms I've heard about the MS (which makes it harder for people to say "sure, let's move the 6th grade."). I think the decision about where to put the 6th grade should be an educationally-based one ... and thus the voice I'm most interested in hearing from is the superintendent, and I assume that he will gather information from many voices (including MS teachers and administrators). I'm delighted that Steve Rivkin has put forth a motion requesting the superintendent to review data on where to put the 6th grade, and I plan to vote for such a motion.

Meg - thanks for clarifying this funding.

Rick - I don't think Ed was suggesting that this type of training isn't important ... I read it as saying that we make decisions about how to spend teachers' limited professional development time, and we should make sure, as a district, that we are using this time wisely. That would mean considering (a) is undoing racism more important than another topic, and (b) are there other opportunities in which undoing racism is addressed?

Caren - thanks for noting the diversity of our district!

Lise - thank you for your post. I think you raise two key points. First, I too hear from many MS teachers/administrators that having a two-year school creates problems (and that may well be creating some of the problems or perception of problems with the MS). Second, we do need to be thinking through things as a K to 12 district ... not just what do some 6th grade teachers/parents want, but rather what is good for our entire system. I am looking forward to hearing Dr. Alberto Rodriguez's views on this soon.

Rich - I agree with much of what you said. Thanks for the thoughtful eloquence!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:39/11:35 - I think we should indeed look to the research. But the study you point to examined kids in ONE state, and examined kids who went to a traditional junior high. That is not the model used in our MS, nor would it be the model used in our MS if 6th grade were added to the building. I've also heard that in many districts (such as Northampton), the 6th graders are in homerooms much of the day (like in our elementary schools), and on a different wing of the building with no contact with the 7th/8th graders. Again, looking to research is great -- however, finding one study in one state that uses a very different model than ours and then concluding that moving the 6th grade would be bad is NOT looking to research!

Anonymous 6:51 - well said. Thanks. I also hear from low income families that CLASS in our town (and elsewhere) is the invisible (often) issue ... and we don't address this as much as race at all. So, I think it is possible that a wealthy black kid with two professor parents sitting in a classroom taught by a white teacher (who has clearly graduated from college) feels better than a low income white kid with two parents who haven't graduated from high school. But we "see" race much easier than we "see" class.

Anonymous 8:17/11:24/8:22 - I hear this a lot ... and as a Fort River parent, certainly understand what you are describing.

Anonymous 9:25 - I too am delighted that so many people are getting a chance to have this dialogue! I agree with much of what you said.

Anonymous 11:32 - thanks -- I agree with much of what you said as well.

Anonymous 4:08 - I believe that the 6th grade may well move to the MS - and I believe the person in the best place to recommend such a decision would be our new superintendent. You may have concerns -- but this is the model used in most districts, and this is the model that virtually all of the superintendent candidates thought was preferable. The SC was elected to make decisions -- and if you believe my decisions, or the decisions of other members, are bad (remember, the MM decision was UNANIMOUS!), then you should run for SC -- there are two open seats this March!

Ed - the key point you make is that "YOU TOOK THREE DAYS AWAY FROM SOMETHING ELSE!!!!" That does seem highly relevant to me -- now, maybe this was the exact right decision, but it is important to note that time is limited, and thus time devoted to one topic takes time away from another one.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:25 here
I taught the child(ren) whose only meals were in school. S/he and his/her sister came to the school steps for snack food, long after the closing bell rang, that the principal had managed to save for them knowing full well this would be their dinner. This was in the Amherst/Pelham schools.
I can talk about this from actual experience and observation as well as you claim to be as fortunate to do.
~Single Moms--I can talk about that from the top of the shelf too and I believe--you seem to have a 'blame the victim' attitude going on, but perhaps I am reading you wrong. The state (of Massachusetts) pays a foster parent more than they pay/paid out for welfare benefits to the single Mom to raise her child....not making much sense there...The joke was, among us poor Moms, that we should trade off our kids with the department of social services to get a higher check...and believe me this was only a joke. We love and respect our children as much as any other household who loves and respects theirs. You are right when you compare those on benefits to the working poor. They do seem to 'make' more especially where children are involved... When we rallied in Boston at the state house steps to leave children and their mothers alone the working poor hated us!! Do you see this as the optimum work of the greater oppression in action??
Catherine--you think class is invisible?? Where have you been living?? Invisible? or easier to keep your eyes closed to it? Race and class are so tightly knitted together you can hardly find one issue of concern without the other highly present.
The schools of the 70's raised okay kids for the most part and so didn't the schools of the 60's, but they were small and K-6 were in the same building each grade in its own room. The teacher gave each child the attention and care s/he needed to learn in a safe environment. This whole quad mentality is simply wrong. Someone had a mistaken notion, a silly one, that managed to place more children in less space--Have you ever been in FR or WW?? I'm not asking for more money to educate kids--I'm asking to leave the kids alone and let MM continue teaching them in the excellent manner they are known for. I would also ask to look closer at FR and WW and see how one child needing the bathroom disrupts the whole class--and one child yelling from last night's household drama disrupts the whole quad and the one next to them...While I am at it--Catherine, where we can find the air quality report about the mold found in Wildwood?? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

For those of you interested here is the link to the Duke study:

Catherine- I believe the researchers controlled for different configurations within schools across districts. Nowhere in the study that I could see did it mention that the model they were looking at was a typical JHS model. They did say that a typical MS has the 6th graders assigned to a team of teachers ( that's what we do at ARMS) and that they travel to classes with a slightly different group of students in each ( do that at ARMS too) So how are we that different?
Granted, it is just one study, but a pretty through analysis of the data.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:03 - I hear from parents that class is often seen as invisible in our schools -- it isn't mentioned as much as issues of race, and is less visible. I didn't say it wasn't a problem, nor did I say it was always invisible! You can email the superintendent ( to get the air quality report.

Anonymous 9:34 - I'm saying I think we should get the data (including fiscal costs and educational benefits/costs) for moving the 6th grade, and I expect the SC will ask the new superintendent to do that. If the costs are as negative as you clearly believe, he will obviously recommend against moving the 6th grade, right?!? But let's be clear - the NC study was ONE study, in ONE state, over ONE year. It is not a definitive study of the outcoming. And the report specifically notes that moving 6th grade to the MS involves teams of teachers, but that is NOT necessarily the model we would follow in this district (I've heard administrators describe the potential of having 6th graders in a separate wing with just homeroom teachers). Again, I'm just asking for the data.

Anonymous said...

From Anon 12:39/11:35

I didn't intentionaly limit myself to one study in one state. It's the only study on the subject mentioned anywhere on this blog and also the only one I could find after some serious digging on the internet. I'd be happy to read any other research studies on the subject you could lead me to.
Unfortunately, as one of the authors of the report said in a Duke newsletter in Feb.'07 "What's been lacking in the debate is any real data on how school configuration affects student behavior and performance."
As to its stand-alone value, I thought it was impressive in its size and scope, it represented a diverse population of students including some from prominent college towns, it garnered praise in periodical reports about it, and it came from a pretty reputable source (Duke & UCBerkeley).
The undesirable behaviors it reported also rang a bell for me.
Having had my own children go through our secondary schools I have personal knowledge of some of their classmates who first became involved in increased disruptive behavior, sex and drug activity, faltering academic performance,and truancy during their 7th and 8th grade years. I'm not convinced a separate hallway in the MS will effectively shield 6th graders from influences that lead to these behaviors, because there is always the bathrooms, buses, other hallways, after-school hours downtown, after-school and evening events, etc, etc.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- you're right this is just one study and it is certainly not definitive. But it is a large, comprehensive and award-winning study by reputable researchers. I can only conclude ( based on my limited data ) that you dismiss the findings because they conflict with your own desire to move the 6th grade to the MS.

And as Anon 10:23 pointed out insulating the 6th graders from the older kids will be next to impossible. As a matter of fact, they'll be riding the bus with high schoolers too.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:23/10:43 - two quick things. First, I read a lot of research (when I was on the reorganization committee) about school configuration. Much of that research (MUCH more than 1 study, 1 year, 1 state) points to the hazards of 2-year schools. These schools have serious problems -- which is why I thought the plan proposed last year by the then superintendents to move from K to 6 to K to 2 and 3 to 6 schools was potentially problematic educationally. So, I've still got to believe (and I hear this from MS teachers/administrators) that a 7-8 school is problematic. Second, I'm asking for the data -- what would it cost to move the 6th to the MS, and what would the educational benefits/costs be. Surely you think this is important information to have, right? Or do you think that because one study (even one from a prestige source) suggests there may be problems we should just not even look into this as an option? I have three young kids -- two of whom who move into the MS a year earlier IF we moved the 6th grade to the MS -- so I'm as invested as anyone in figuring out if this would or would not be a good idea. I'm just asking for the data to be examined, fully, by our new superintendent. If, as you clearly believe, the data shows this is a BAD idea (as the Duke study suggests), then he will note that, he will oppose the move, and the SC won't vote for it, right? I just think a full consideration of all of the costs/benefits is in order.

Anonymous said...

Not really sure on your stand that race and class are most definitely intertwined. Perhaps because of your advantage--class is not just something you often need to think about--sitting well above the rest of us. But as far as visibility look at a classroom (any classroom, any school building) and the differences in the ways the kids dress, eat lunch from home or not, carry backpacks or not, bring in ipods or not, will you tell you an awful lot about the class differences in this town. At any rate--why won't you discuss the health issues at FR and WW here? (poor air quality, poor air circulation, teachers getting sick, leaving the buildings etc...) Isn't the health of our kids vital to their education?? How can anyone be expected to learn in an environment that is stuffy, moldy, and just plain risky to be in? One of your own members announced how dreadful the air quality was in the middle school cafeteria during a sc meeting just recently and requested to please never schedule another meeting there..s/he announced the mold in the air!! Yet this environment is okay to serve our children food in every day???

Abbie said...

To anon@1243:

I can only speak for myself but I have spent time at WW (classrooms and cafeteria, etc) and was also at the SC mtg at the middle school when Kathleen Anderson complained about the air. I did not perceive an air problem at any of those places. At the SC mtg lots of folks were perplexed by K. Anderson's reaction. My kid has never complained about air quality issues and has never been sick due to poor air quality at WW. Yes, been bored and wished for better instruction but never air...and currently enthusiastically sprinting through her math book because they weren't provided the time during the school year.

I have just got to wonder whether this issue isn't an issue of making a mountain out of a molehill when there are clearly many "real" issues with more importance.

Anonymous said...

Dear Abbie,
But don't you believe that our children's health is certainly a great issue of concern? I have a child in the middle school and she is aware of the bad 'smells' in the cafeteria and other places in the middle school. WW did find mold in their buidling, just recently,but these findings are kept secret somehow. Also there was a teacher there who left the building a while ago because she was just too sick to continue her work....please if the health of our children isn't a mountain of concern, quite next to their education, I can't imagine what else is.

Abbie said...

To anon@7:30:

To my knowledge the smell of mold is not dangerous. There are all kinds of molds, the VAST majority of which are benign. Just because a teacher CLAIMED that the building was making her sick doesn't mean the building was the culprit. One person "getting" sick(?) in a building housing hundreds does not compel me to worry. So, to answer your question, the "building" doesn't worry me. What worries me is that we have some teachers who are fantastic and we have other teachers that are not so great, and the system seems to offer no way to get rid of the not so great teachers and keep the fantastic ones...

There is mold just about everywhere, not to mention bacteria (your body is covered with it and it happily lives in your gut). It doesn't keep me up at night.

Anonymous said...

Dear Abbie,
You have a fine sense of humor...I applaud you.
I also totally agree with you that there does not seem to be a venue in place to get rid of the not so great teachers....I have witnessed teachers humiliate and make cry students, make fun of their names--thinking it was somehow acceptable to do this, and even call the kids', who they teach every day, moms names. Yes--Amherst contnues to keep these not so great teachers happily employed.
What would you suggest be a way to keep the fantastic ones and get rid of the not so?

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:05

I'm wondering what school you
"witnessed" this injustice in.
I've witnessed, in the school I work in, teachers seeking out help before the first day of school to make sure they pronounce a student's name correctly from day one, knowing how important that is.
Just one, of many, indicators of sensitivty.
You are throwing slime at all teachers. After all, you use the plural "teachers"
What's with you?

Anonymous said...

At Crocker Farm- thankfully she is no longer there because she resigned NOT because the district got rid of her. As a matter of fact she had the full support of the equally incompetent former principal.

Anonymous said...

This is just my own personal experience, but in the case of incompetent teachers...who parents think is incompetent, and who teachers/administrators think is incompetent are often completely different. Who decides who is incompetent?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, a suggestion:

When the SC considers a motion to have the Superintendent review data about where the 6th grade should be I think the wording should include more than just
"benefits/costs". The connotation of benefits is clear. Costs is ambiguous. Some could read it narrowly to mean money. Why not include in the wording of the motion "risks" and "disadvantages" as there seem to be some of each?
That would ensure a more complete airing of ALL pertinent issues.
Seems it might also be a good idea to have an "unanswered questions" box.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout "things to be lost" as opposed to "disadvantages"?

Anonymous said...

No slime throwing here...just calling it what it is...
Amherst employs many, many fine teachers. Over the decades I have had the experience of working with some of the finest teachers around and sadly missed them when they retired, but the few who make a mockery of the living conditions of some kids homes should be ashamed of themselves, and the few who mock kids' names should not be able to do this so freely. And my own kids have come home with stories of being made to well my seeing this over and over in the classroom! Now where in the teachers' job description does this fit in?? And why should a child, any child, ever be left to cry in school?

Anonymous said...

To: "Anonymous said...
No slime throwing here..."

Just a thought here, 10 years ago one of my son's teachers said: "I'll believe half of what your kids tell me what goes on at home, if you'll believe half of what they tell you that goes on in school".
I'm not saying what happened to your kids isn't true, but kids, especially really young ones, can exagerate what really happened.

Anonymous said...

To: " Anonymous said...
No slime throwing here..."

About ten years ago one of my son's teachers said to the parents at a Ft River Parent's Night:
"I'll believe half of what your kids tell me of what goes on at home, if you'll believe half of what they say goes on in school".

I'm not saying what your kids said happened isn't true, but kids have a different perspective than adults, that's all.