My Goal in Blogging

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mark's Meadow looks to navigate 'uncharted waters'

By NICK GRABBE - Hampshire Gazette
Thursday, June 18, 2009

AMHERST - Now that the School Committee has decided to close Mark's Meadow School a year from now, the next challenges are how to help the children deal with the upheaval and what school they will attend in 2010.

Principal Nick Yaffe told the committee Thursday that he wants next year to be "a celebratory, meaningful time." He wants to find out what children are saying and feeling about their school closing, and then discern how to make it a positive transition, he said.

"We are moving together into uncharted waters," he said. "As far as I know, there is not a manual describing how to guide a school through a closing year."

Yaffe said that when children ask him about the closing, he responds that there's still a lot of time left for learning and having fun at Mark's Meadow.

"Rather than thinking of next year as one in which the closing of our school is looming over our heads like a foreboding cloud, I would like it to be a year of celebrating who we are as a community," he said.

He hopes that children, families and staff can think about revitalizing "the Mark's Meadow spirit," and next spring ask how it can be transferred to new schools.

The School Governance Council will coordinate the transition. This fall there will be new staff members at Mark's Meadow coming from the other three elementary schools who can serve as "bridge-builders," he said.

"We have started to brainstorm other ways, such as #buddy classrooms,' to connect and familiarize our students with the other schools," Yaffe said. "While there will inevitably be a sense of sadness and loss, this can also be a time of coming together to create a memorable year."

He urged anyone with ideas about how to handle the transition to contact him at

Incoming Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez has experience in closing a school, said Maria Geryk, the interim superintendent.

The schools have hired DeJong-Healy of Dublin, Ohio to review a preliminary proposal for redrawing the elementary district lines and make recommendations. Their work is to be completed next week.

One of the goals of the redistricting is to equalize the percentage of students in each school who come from low-income households. Currently, Crocker Farm School has a much higher percentage than the others.

Other goals should include minimizing busing and keeping friends and neighborhoods together, said School Committee member Steve Rivkin.

Nick Grabbe can be reached at


Ed said...

"He wants to find out what children are saying and feeling about their school closing, and then discern how to make it a positive transition"

0r will he and his be spending the entire year indoctrinating the children into how terrible this is going to be and how evil those who wish to do it are?

Chapter 51A comes to mind, and I hope that someone in that school system sits down with the Mark's Meadow activists and explains the concept of professionalism and professional responsibility.

And any district employee who attempts to sabotage the transition should be fired. For cause. If the Mafia can leave the children out of things, I like to think that trained educational professionals can as well...

Anonymous said...

It sure was nice when you were on your sabbatical from posting here, Ed. Your comments always make me want to skip the blogs.

Anonymous said...

Ed's right. The less the entire school admin says about it the better. Same for the parents. Schools close all the time.

Anonymous said...

Ed is NOT right. Frankly I find his comments insulting to the hard working Mark's Meadow teachers and principal. On what does he base his idea that somehow the teachers and principal will spend the year indoctrinating students. The teacher and principal bashing must end.

Anonymous said...

Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior possibly?

Megan Rosa said...

I can not believe that I came on here and found these comments to read!!! Ed, we at Mark's Meadow, are working extremely hard to come as many positive things to do to help the children, not only in MM, but in the other 3 schools as well. Yes, Nick, as well as lots of others, love the school. Some have fought very passionately in the meetings and other public venues about the closure. I have to say that if you were to come into the school, the vast MAJORITY of people there are moving on and working on ways to make this as easy as possible for the kids.

We have come up with several ideas in which to help kids in this town with the transition. Buddy days at their new schools, once the new lines are finalized we can start planning these. All School events, several times next year, and beyond to connect this town in new ways it is not now. Invite each school to events in the other schools. The families are blended some in sports, but it would make things a lot better for them to be blended within the schools as well.

That is the kind of ideas Nick asked for last night at the School Committee meeting. Ways to become Amherst Elementary Families, instead of 3/4 indiv. schools.

Honestly, I have had a really long couple of weeks with end of the year school stuff, 6th grade graduation, Town Meeting, etc. and I decided to come on here and check out what Catherine wrote about last night. I really thought it was a great meeting!! There were so many positive things that came out of it. But to come on here and the very first comment is so unbelievably negative, is truly hurtful. For you to think so little of Mark's Meadow's staff and families because they have fought for their school, it's just really wrong! The Mark's Meadow community is trying to find a way to move on in the best interest of the kids. There was a legitimate question raised of asking for help with this. Please try to help, instead of more hurt.

Megan Rosa said...

Anon 5:07

So what do you propose we do when children ask questions or express concerns about their school closing?

Really? I would like an answer to that. You said "Ed's right. The less the entire school admin says about it the better. Same for the parents. Schools close all the time."

What is your real suggestion as to how to handle this situation?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ed - I was at the meeting last night (and will do a blog posting on that soon), and I believe Nick is sincerely interested in helping make the transition work well for all kids. Which does strike me as exactly what he should do in terms of being professional in his role as leader of this school.

Anonymous 11:31 - again, the point of this blog is to to discuss education ... criticizing others' posts (from the safe anonymous perch) isn't helping the dialogue.

Anonymous 5:07 - schools do close ... and yet the closure can happen with more or less commotion/sadness. I hope the school leaders (including but not limited to Nick) will have a powerful role in making this transition as smooth as possible for all kids/families/staff.

Anonymous 6:45 - I believe that Nick is highly focused on making the transition smooth for all kids and teachers -- and he is to be commended for taking that position.

Anonymous 8:30 - I believe some things were said in the heat of emotion about the potential closing of a school ... and I believe it is more productive to now focus on present and future behavior.

Meg - I will do my posting about the meeting soon -- I had a busy day helping with Fort River graduation! And you are right that these comments are unfortunate ... those of us who attended the meeting (or now can watch it on TV) can see that Nick has a thoughtful plan about how to transition families (and staff) next year. But don't worry about anonymous blog postings (I don't!) -- keep focusing on the very good work you are doing at Marks Meadow to make sure this transition goes as smoothly as possible.

Anonymous said...

Ed is awful.


Anonymous said...

Anon 11:31 here:

Catherine, Ed's original post, though not posted anonymously, did not contribute anything useful to the dialogue either. And just because he uses a name - Ed - he is as anon as I am. I have no clue who he is other than his name is Ed.

His post did not contribute anything useful to anything. It was a nasty and unwarranted attack on people he does not know who are trying to make the best out of a lousy situation for all involved.

Ed said...

Three things:

First, Ed doesn't care who hates him. It is a survival skill at Planet UMass, a place where those who think differently are expected 'to go to the madhouse.' Well, I have some good lawyers on my cell phone if anyone tries to commit me and I say what I belive in.

Second, as to the indoctrination, well we have past history to look at.

And third, as to attacking me, I only say that the fact that small children might be reading this leads me to self-censorship.


Derek said...

I had taken a break from following this blog, and then the first comment I see is from Ed, who clearly knows nothing about what goes on every day at MM.

Right on, Meg! Ed obviously has no clue what a true leader Nick is. And Catherine, how does a comment like Ed's contribute to constructive dialogue about education? Please don't defend garbage like this.
His comments deserve attack. Way to kick a dog when it's down Ed! We're ready to move on, but it seems that you still have issues.

Anonymous said...

I have been following this blog for a while as I have others. I am surprised to read about a 51A as posted in Ed's comments, but I am also surprised to read how one person can think they can 'attack' Ed's post. I think this is an ouright form of bullying. I have studied bullying and the first way to stop someone from speaking is to insult them. This level of maturity is just a bit too much to try and absorb here.
MM's closing is just awful!! There is no two ways about it. I honestly believe the mistakes of this rash decision will soon be seen and much regretted, but that day is yet to come. In the meantime keeping our children feeling positive about this is definitely a challenge unlike no other my family has ever faced and all the positive support we can get and give can only help.
Ed--can you please explain what reference you were making to a 51A?? Do you know anyone, doing anything, in MM to warrant this kind of statement?
Just curious here--very curious. Thanks.
CS - I read that yet another group has been hired to look at the elementary reconfiguration. How can we claim to have no money, but yet keep pouring it out? How can one find the status of the sped evaluation? And finally what position will Ms. Geryk go into when the new superintendent takes over? Thanks...

Derek said...

To Anon 11:08,
Sorry, shouldn't have used the word 'attack'. What I meant was criticize. And how is Ed not a bully for ignorantly blasting Nick and MM staff and bringing up 51A? They are all handling this professionally and should be commended.
Oh, and since when does critical discussion equal immaturity?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:21 - again, can we focus on education, and not criticizing (from the anonymous perch) other posters?

Anonymous 11:31/9:28 - two things. First, Ed is using his actual name, and using any name allows people to track who is saying a given thing (e.g., you could be "frustrated blog reader" and we could then track your comments, even if anonymous). Ed's comments, while certainly a critique, were reflecting his belief about Nick's comments as reported in the paper. I responded to the substance of those comments. I just think focusing on the comments themselves is more important and valuable than criticizing the poster.

Ed - thank you for clarifying.

Derek - I believe Ed's comments reflected what he has observed in the press and at meetings (and probably on my blog) from MM staff/teachers/parents over the last few months. I responded to his comments to clarify that I felt Nick's comments and behavior at the meeting were very thoughtful and respectful, and I hope a sign of what is going to be the tone and focus in the upcoming year. Again, I don't think criticizing Ed helps the dialogue move forward.

Anonymous 11:08 - I agree that the insulting should stop. Let's respond to ideas (pro or con), and not make personal attacks. Thanks! I know that some people continue to believe that closing MM is a mistake -- I don't, but I recognize that others do. But regardless, the vote has happened, and it was unanimous and with the support of the current and incoming superintendents, so it certainly seems to me that we should all be pulling together as a community to make this transition (closing a school, redistricting ALL schools) happen in as good a way as possible. I'm not sure what you mean by the phrase "yet another group has been hired to look at the elementary reconfiguration" -- this is the FIRST group that has been hired to do this, and this group was repeatedly asked for (e.g., an outside, independent firm to check the district lines). This costs less than $5,000, which seems like a real bargain (not exactly "pouring out"). The best way for finding out the status of the special ed review would be to come to the meeting tomorrow night and ask about it during the "public comment" section at the beginning of the meeting. I believe Ms. Geryk will return to her prior position (director of student services, perhaps?) as of July 1st.

Anon 11:31 said...

"Again, I don't think critizing Ed helps the dialogue move forward."

And Ed's criticisms do move the dialogue forward????? He all but accuses the school personnel of child abuse (its actually M.G.L. Chapter 119, Section 51A). How does that move the discussion forward? It's ok for Ed to criticize and make outlandish statements but not for anyone else to call him on the outrageousness of his comments?

I think we need a little balance here. If there is an unwritten rule against criticism then it should apply to all. How do you distinguish between criticsm of comments and criticsm of a person? Doesn' a person's comments reflect on that person?

I am puzzled and very disappointed by your defense of Ed's comments. I'll say it again, they were hurtful and totally unwarranted and contributed nothing to the dialogue or the process of closing MM and redistricting the other schools.

Anonymous said...

By saying yet 'another group' has been hired I did not mean specifically for figuring out the elementary problem--I meant I just don't get how on the one hand you can say there is no money--am I correct in believing this is the current stand of the school budget? no money....firing teachers left and right?? because of no money?? closing a high performing school because of no money?? And then we read stuff like a decision to hire an assistant superintendent, the hiring of a group, from Ohio I believe it was, to look at the mess the elementary schools are now facing...So which is there money to be used or not?? Are we in a structural deficit or only when that applies to certain things and not everything..??
Critical discussion is certainly a far cry from bullying, but attempting to silence someone is the strongest form of bullying among 'professional' people I have seen on this or any other blog yet.
And I don't even agree with much of what Ed says... But, having said it I think he has a right to explain himself and tell us just what he is talking about.
CS-How we can get a definite answer as to just exactly what position Ms. Geryk will return to? Who has been performing those duties while she has been acting as superintendent??

Derek said...

Thank you anon 11:31!!

Catherine, I realize that moving the dialogue forward is the goal, but Ed's suggestions are extremely offensive and severe, and yet, like anon 11:31 and many of us see, you refuse to call folks out unless they are on the opposite side of the fence from you!!
Disappointing and unfair.

Do you at least agree that accusing MM staff of some form of abuse is way, way out of line?

Ed is a tool said...

Hey Mr Ed. Pull your head out your ass. Wash all the shit off your face and in your mouth and open your eyes.

"sabotage the transition"



"0r will he and his be spending the entire year indoctrinating the children into how terrible this is going to be and how evil those who wish to do it are?"

Ignorance at it finest

Mark's Meadow activists

we have moved on why dont you

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:31 - I read Ed's comments, and I reacted to them by pointing out what I observed at the meeting. I do believe Ed's point about whether the year would be spent "indoctrinating" the children into how terrible it would be reflects the types of things that I have heard, and I'm sure Ed has heard, in meetings and in the press and on my blog from MM parents and staff. Not all, but some -- there have certainly been comments about how all the schools will be larger if MM closes, and how that is bad, and how closing a school ruins lives (in fact, one MM parent chose to compare it to killing a member of the family). I believe that Ed's comments reflected his awareness of such messages that were being seen by children at MM, and I responded to those concerns by clarifying that I did feel Nick was talking the right professional role and tone. That's it.

Anonymous 3:48 - the budget is very, very tight -- however, the cost of the redistricting consultant was $5,000. Not spending this money would NOT pay for a teacher! And yes, we are closing a high performing school because we can't afford to continue to operate a school we don't need -- to save money (and to save classroom teaching positions). As I've said repeatedly, the decision to hire an assistant superintendent came from eliminating TWO other positions -- it is not "new money"! The group from Ohio is to make sure the lines are drawn well -- and it was a total of $5,000 -- do you not believe that we need to make sure the lines are drawn well?!? We are in a massive structural deficit -- hence we are closing a school. The only expense you point to here is spending $5,000 on a redistricting consultant -- and this seems like money very, very well spent! As I think I've said several times now, Maria Geryk will return to the job she had prior to becoming superintendent, and her tasks, while she was serving as superintendent, were divided up among several different district employees.

Derek - I don't know what side of the line Ed is on, or you are on, for that matter. I do believe that it is out of line to accuse MM staff of abuse. I do believe it is appropriate to question the ramifications (including making the transition harder on children) some of the public statements made at meetings and in the press about the closing of the school by MM staff and parents -- which is what I read in Ed's post.

Ed is a tool - again, I just don't see what this adds to the discussion. Which is supposed to be about education.

Derek said...

Sorry Catherine, but Ed's attacks were at Nick and MM staff, none of whom have, to my knowledge, made public statements that would make a transition harder.
Yes, Some MM parents have made comments that could make things harder, but not the school employees. You are lumping all parties together, and in doing so, you seem to refuse to call Ed out, rather, you defend him by finding his questions appropriate, because that's "how you read" his post. Seems like all of us "read his post" a bit differently.

Anonymous said...

OMG!! If you can seriously say that 'Ed is a tool'....than that seals for me for just what kind of fearful, nonsensical tactics you yourself are capable of using to get whatever it is you think necessary to keep this system running as you see fit! Like I said OMG!! You can't be serious Ms. Sanderson....what kind of tool is it that can make such an outlandish accusation??? And what on earth are you building with these kinds of 'tools'???
I have been to meetings, been to MM, talked with parents, teachers, Nick, kids, and nowhere in any conversation either written or spoken was a single word uttered or written that would even come close to warrant such an asinine comment as the opening point of discussion here. And for you to defend this comment speaks low to your character...sorry but,....I am just calling it like it is...
And since when is $5,000 a sum of money that can be used for something we should be doing ourselves?? You talk as though it is a dispensable amount, not good to pay a teacher salary so let's just use it to hire some outside group to do work that we can't?? Don't you think anyone on the school staff or any administrator is capable of drawing lines???

Anonymous said...

she was responding to the person who posted using the identity of "Ed is a tool.". Kind of flew off the handle on that one didn't you?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the misunderstanding CS. Truly...
Can I ask though if you feel Ed poses no threat in what he says here--or do you agree with any part of what he says?...Just curious. I know education is the focal point of this blog, but knowing how one feels about the people educating our children is a pretty important part of this whole picture. Thanks.
and anon 10:11 a.m. thanks for bringing that to light...=)

Anonymous said...

What district employees were Maria Geryk's tasks divided up amongst?
What is the name of the consultant(s) hired to evaluate the special education department? Who is the assitant pricipal being considered for hire and at what school? Thank you.