My Goal in Blogging

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Regional Meeting, June 23, 2009

This was a really, really long meeting -- it lasted over 3 hours. In addition, ACTV was NOT there (probably due to taping Town Meeting), so I'm going to do my best to really summarize it ... but I'd strongly encourage you to also check out the full meeting minutes when they are posted on the ARPS website because by the end, my note taking abilities were likely falling short.

We started with a few announcements from the superintendent (who was leading, for the final time, a SC meeting). These included a thank you to Marianne Jorgensen (who served for 9 years, I believe, and attended her last meeting last night), enthusiasm about attending the ARHS graduation at few weeks ago, and an update on the special education review. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the special education review is nearly complete, and will be circulated to the SC and superintendent Rodriguez for comments before it goes out. Then, companies/groups put in bids to do the work, and a committee will meet to review the bids and choose who does the review. This review is being paid for out of funds from the economic stimulus package, and this review will include a cost-benefit analysis of our current programs. Information on the findings will be presented publicly. Finally, Dr. Rodriguez has hired a consultant to analyze some data on our district, and that person will be doing this work from July 3rd to 13th.

We then turned to the ARHS school improvement plan. I believe this report (power point) is being put on the ARPS website, so I'm not going to go over each of the slides. But here are the key things I took from the report: the high school has lost a lot of funds (8.2 teachers, lots of instructional supplies), there will be much less flexibility in moving between classes next year as a result of the loss of teachers, and the budgets for the future are dismal. This means that we need to make pretty major changes -- not just small cuts (like eliminating low enrolled classes/teams).

The faculty voted (49 to 25) to keep the trimester system, which is their right in the contract, but this has some major consequences -- with a change to a semester, students would only need to take one study hall whereas now they need to take two. The cost of moving to one study hall in a trimester is about 5.2 teachers -- or $270,000.

We also discussed course enrollment. Although the HS has a mean of 22 students per class, this number is pretty misleading because many of the electives have space only for 15 to 20 students, which brings the mean down. There are core academic classes (including math, social studies and world language) with class sizes as high as 27/28, and even 30. The SC asked for a report on class enrollments by all classes, which Mark Jackson said he would send to us.

We then discussed graduation requirements (which are lower, at least in math/science, in our high school than in many of our comparison districts). Some preliminary data on this issue has been gathered, and there is good news and bad news. The good news is that most students seem to be taking more than the minimum required (which is two years of math and two years of science). However, there are exceptions to this trend for students in some sub-groups (race, free/reduced lunch, gender, special ed), and Mark will do a report on this in the fall for the SC. Farshid noted that even if most students are taking more than the required, it still sends a message to students about our expectations. Mark also noted that taking more years of math/science opens doors for students in terms of future opportunities, and thus is important.

We then discussed Student Activities, and how all support for the clubs (teachers get a stipend of $544 per club they advise) has been dropped. The School Council/Parent Center are therefore running a campaign to raise $25,000 to add stipends for clubs next year. This campaign will get running this fall.

Next, Mark noted that all ARHS are now using PowerSchool, and that a parent portal to power school will be piloted next year.

He then reported on the two alternative high schools (South Amherst Campus and East Street), and his goal to increase alignment between these schools and the main campus. This will mean creating a program of studies for these schools, integrating students into the standard 9th grade curriculum (starting next year with world civilization), and increasing contact with guidance counselors.

Finally, he reported on the problem of students exceeding the absence limit -- as many as 263 students exceeded the absence limit in at least one course in the spring trimester, which means in theory they should not receive credit (but in reality are often earning an A or B). The HS is now contemplating making some type of change in their enforcement of this policy.


We then turned to the school improvement plan for the middle school. This presentation started with an overview of the model used in our middle school called "Turning Points" (which you can google to learn more about), and then turned towards the specific goals, process, and update of both the 2008-2009 year and the 2009-2010 year. The big issue (not surprisingly) is budget -- there are now 3 teams in both 7th and 8th, and next year there will be 2 1/2 teams in 7th and 2 teams in 8th. This means that teachers will have larger classes, and more grading.

Next, this presentation included information on outcomes -- related to MCAS data (English, math), Reading (as measured by the DRP), and discipline. The MCAS data reveal that most students in both English and math are scoring at the proficient level. The DRP data reveal that most kids show either greater than expected (nationally) or expected reading growth during the MS. The discipline data show that fewer kids are receiving suspensions from 2001 to 2009.

The MS then presented the two goals for the current year (which are the same as the goals for the upcoming year). These goals are (1) achievement and academic excellence and equity for every student, and (2) enhanced communication between home & school. In terms of the first goal, there is work occurring now and next year on differentiating of instruction, common assessments (not just waiting for MCAS scores), increasing rigor for students who need academic support, and inquiry groups. In terms of the second goal, students now learn of team assignments PRIOR to the start of school, there is much more contact between MS principals and elementary school principals as well as 6th grade teachers, there was an evening orientation presented in March which was attended by 240 (of the 260) 6th grade parents, and the Family-School Partnership has hosted coffees/lunches (although these were not well attended). There is also on-going work on keeping the website updated, although this will be hard with increasing budget cuts which reduce staff.

In terms of next year, there will be work in all core academic areas to examine the effectiveness of the challenges/extensions provided (are enough students getting to do this work?). Current and past students/parents are being surveyed, and focus groups may be held. There will also be a survey of families to determine what type of communication from school is most helpful. Currently, families have a single conference in 7th grade, and no conference in 8th grade, which may be inadequate in terms of keeping updated on students' progress. There will be more work on training teachers/students/parents to use on-line grading to improve information.

Finally, there was a brief discussion of whether Turning Points is the most effective model. The School Governance Council believes it is, because of its focus on relationships, and that we should continue to use this model (but make sure it is working well).

Members of the committee then asked a number of questions (which I tried to write down, though I may have missed some -- if so, apologies, and again, what for the official minutes). Andy asked two questions: could the parent portal be used to give parents information about homework assigned each night (which he would find helpful) and how well is the extensions model working for math? He also wondered why the MS has regular 8th grade math and honors algebra, instead of a regular algebra option (an excellent question that I've asked before -- and I still can't see the rationale for this). Answers to these are going to be provided later.

Farshid then noted that the issue of regular algebra as an 8th grade option was being discussed on the math curriculum council, and that, in theory, once Impact 1-2-3 is fully implemented (which is two years away), all 8th graders will have completed algebra.

Steve then asked a question about whether Turning Points was the right model to use, seeing as this is NOT a widely used model, and seeing as this is the only MSAN school that used this model. He noted that many middle schools do use teams, but that Turning Points is a particular approach that is not widely used. He also noted that we should be assessing the effectiveness of extensions, and that there are many middle schools that use tracked math in 6th or 7th grade. He specifically noted Princeton, NJ (a MSAN district, where I attended middle and high school) tracks students for math in 6th grade, and that their "low track" gets all kids through algebra in 8th grade, and that their "high track" gets kids through algebra in 7th grade (and the kids then do algebra II in 8th grade).

I then asked a question about whether there was data on differences in the DRP and/or MCAS scores as a function of team, based on the very different comments I heard from MS parents about the type of work/expectations/feedback provided by teachers on different teams. Glenda said this type of data was going to be analyzed next year. I also asked a question regarding the differences in how MCAS scores look in English (most kids are proficient) and math (some kids are proficient, but there is much more variability). Mike Hayes remarked that this trend is typical of state-wide scores -- and does not reflect the Amherst experience in particular.

Kathleen then asked how the district's commitment to social justice is being carried out. Glenda responded that she would prepare a written summary to answer this question, which she would send to the committee.

There was then a brief discussion of whether the SC would continue to take School Choice seats in 7th and 8th grade. The current recommendation is NOT to do so, given the increased class sizes already, but that final decisions will be made soon (as final enrollments in the MS become clearer over the summer). Tracy Farnham asked about the number of applications, and I asked about how many of those applications are from siblings of students currently in the district. We learned that there are 8 applications in total, and that two are from siblings.

The meeting then turned to the final presentation of the night, which was by Fran Ziperstein and Mike Hayes, on professional development and evaluation. This presentation was very thorough (and the SC had received copies of all materials in advance, so they were not reviewed again at the meeting), so we turned right away to questions (it was also VERY late by this point). There were a number of questions, including issues of how evaluations are conducted (a three-step process, in which a teacher describes the lesson he/she will do, then the observer watches it, and then they meet to discuss it), who does the evaluation (usually the principal, but could be the vice principal or department chair), and the challenge of doing professional development in the face of increasing budget cuts. It was noted that the superintendent really needs to take the lead on evaluations -- setting this as a priority and making sure it happens.

We then turned to a few small items of business: setting a date for the summer conference with leaders from the MA School Committee organization (July 22nd), accepting generous gifts from various sources, and postponing the report from the "How Are We Doing" Subcommittee (this will be a very interesting report -- I'm part of this subcommittee -- and I do hope we eventually get to address this!). We also delayed discussing a motion presented by Steve Rivkin to collect data related to the possibility of moving 6th grade to the MS -- it was noted that the hour was late and that it would be good to have the new superintendent in town to begin such discussions.


Anonymous said...

"The HS is now contemplating making some type of change in their enforcement of this policy."

How about changing this archaic policy?

Anonymous said...

263 students should of lost credit in at least 1 class? That is 1/4 of the school - which suggests there is a problem with the policy. My daughter points out that when she is late, it is better to be absent then late.

Anonymous said...

Problem with the POLICY?! How about a problem with truancy in the school? Are kids or are kids not showing up for class? What do you mean "it is better to be absent than late?"

Anonynous 4 said...

""What do you mean "it is better to be absent than late?""

It means that given the penalty for the two status, people choose to be absent rather than be tardy.

I don't know if that's true but I think that's what they mean.

Anonymous said...

my daughter once missed the bus and walked 4 miles to school and the secretary told her it is better to leave and be absent than to be late....what a thing, a policy to have after a student who could have stayed home took an intiative on her own walked for over an hopur and was told the consequenses would be harsher by doing that than just stay ing home....also the secretary told a 14 year old girl it would be better to leave school and "hang downtown" than to stay....
what kind of policies are these

Anonymous said...

Does anyone reading this blog know what the absence and tardy policies are? It certainly does seem odd that its better, penalty-wise, to be absent than to be tardy.

Anonymous said...

when you are tardy you get a detention. not exactly a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Can you please define what a 1/2 team would look like?! Does this mean a smaller team? If so, great!! If this means that this 1/2 team is the same size as the other two but receiving less (in terms of teacher resources, etc), that is a bad thing. And how does this 2 1/2 team thing affect looping from seventh to eigth grade? And what about looping this year for the rising eighth graders who had three teams this past year?!

Anonymous said...

A detention to a student can be the equivalent of a traffic ticket or a is a serious offense to some and personally if I knew I would get detention for being late I may not want to show up either... This is definitely a policy that needs looking into. When my son was in high school they first introduced this absence policy and I fought it tooth and nail--I told them if they were trying to encourage high school drop-outs then they were on the right path...otherwise if a student can carry his/her weight, keep up with homework, and pass exams--this absence policy needs serious looking into. Are we there to teach our children independence or to despise a system that demands something some can just not do? I read somewhere that the scientists know the teenage years are the years our bodies grow the most in our lives--teenagers need those early morning hours of sleep quite desperately and yet we drag our kids out of bed--jam breakfast down their throats,(those of us who can afford breakfast foods) and push them out the door to meet a bus that only comes so dang early because it has to meet a schedule for the next round of students... Think about private school they start at 9 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m. and sometimes keep even earlier schedules.
Who makes these policies anyway?? Who sets the school day hours and finally who profits from such an early school day (ms & hs)? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

To June 26, 2009 4:12 PM,

I don't know what private school you are talking about, both my boys attend private high school, and school starts at 7:45 am.

Anonymous said...

Here in Hadley our kids also start their day earlier than in Amherst and we don't have a serious absentee/tardy problem.

Ed said...

Why, exactly, can't the truancy laws be enforced?

If we have a police department that can keep track of every UMass student and fax all kinds of restricted stuff about UM students to the UM Dean of Students (much to the chagrin of the CORI folks in Chelsea who freaked when told about this), then why can't the police enforce the truancy LAWS. LAWS (which I believe are still on the books with the power of LAW).

If one doesn't want to use the harshness with which the APD deals with UM students (which *will*, not could, eventually lead to a Kent State type incident in town) then give the children a choice: "get back to school or wait in the police station for your parents."

1/4 of the school is truant and that is not ringing alarm bells in Malden? Or in Amherst? I may be overreacting but if 7000 UMass students were being arrested downtown each night (1/4 the UM student body) I am fairly certain it would get someone's attention....

Rick said...

Anon June 26, 2009 8:39 AM:

ARHS Policy:

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 5:54 - my understanding is that this policy is pretty standard at all high schools.

Anonymous 1:07 - yes, it is indeed problem (as was noted by the HS principals). It was also noted that some of these 263 could have lost credit in MORE than 1 class - -this just represents the total number of students, not the total number of classes.

Anonymous 1:18 - it certainly seems to me to be a problem if 1/4 of students in the spring trimester are missing more than 8 meetings of a given class.

Anonymous 4 - yes, that's how I see that comment as well (though I don't know about the punishment for tardiness).

Anonymous 6:43 - I agree that being late is better than being absent! So, then the question is, is the punishment for late too severe, or is the punishment for absent too lenient (and/or not enforced)?

Anonymous 8:39 - I don't know the punishment for tardiness, and I agree with your intuition on the relative problem with late versus tardy.

Anonymous 9:46 - OK ... good to know. But if students would rather not have a detention, and they "get" 7 absences ... I can see some making the choice to just not attend class, right?

Anonymous 3:50 - a 1/2 team does NOT mean 1/2 the resources! I am not totally clear, but it means something like on one team, the same teacher doing English and Social Studies, and a different teacher doing Math and Science. So, the 1/2 team requires 2 teachers, not 4. The 8th grade will have 2 teams, so there isn't going to be looping (or at least not perfect looping), because they have to go from 3 teams to 2 teams. I don't think anyone has thought far enough ahead budget-wise to be able to guess how/whether the 2 1/2 teams will loop the next year.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 4:12 - I think it is clear that the attendance policy needs to be examined. One thing that really concerned me was that many of the students who miss more than 8 classes are apparently getting As and Bs in the class - so then not giving credit seems silly (they've clearly mastered the material). But then the question becomes for me, how is it possible to miss so much class and still do so well (e.g., is there lots of grade inflation, so everyone is doing well? do kids who study the material/read at home not really need to come to class?)? I'd like to learn more about the explanation for this, and whether the lack of attendance is seen in particularly departments/courses/class years, and/or (as you suggest) times of day. I think the issue of start/end time of the HS is an important one -- and I know Northampton was looking into a change a few years ago (to starting later). But this is complicated for many reasons -- in some families, older kids watch the younger ones after school, it can mess up athletic schedules if schools get out later than other local schools (and/or daylight limits practice time after school), and it limits kids' ability to have afterschool jobs. If you/others think the SC should look into a change in schedule, you should send an email to the SC and the superintendent. It is certainly something that other districts have done.

Anonymous 6:04 - thanks for noting this!

Anonymous said...

The problem with the tardy policy is that is you are even 1 minute late it counts towards your allotment of absences. That's a problem and a policy that needs to be looked at.

Ed said...

I still want to know why the truancy laws can't be enforced?

Maybe we should go to what Maine has -- if a child doesn't go to school every day, the mother looses some of her public assistance.

It *is* effective - creates other problems (children who want to be expelled and increasingly act out in attempts to be expelled) but is it time to consider it?

It could be done locally - the same association of local landlords that negotiated the rules regarding UM students could also negotiate them relative to Sect 8 tenants -- require a letter from the school principal(s) much as a letter from the UM Dean of Students is required before annual lease signing.

And then tack a 10% surcharge on the property tax bill for each child who is truant, remember that this is a percentage so the more prosperous the family, the more expensive the property and the higher the actual cash bite.

This would work. Overnight.

The civil libertarian in me has issues with it, but then I equally have issues with requiring UM students to waive their FERPA rights, and the related Sherman Act issues.

But back to the more serious issue - is there anyone in either the school or police departments who is serious about enforcing the truancy laws? Everyone with 20/20 vision can see that those kids are downtown all day...

Anonymous said...

to ed

i would change that 20/200 vision

Anonymous said...

How is it that students can miss so much class (up to 8 absences a trimester) and still get A's and B's? Well, Honors level classes are really not all that challenging for bright kids. The classes at the AP level, really begin to work these students hard, for the first time.

One of many frustrated parents said...

Catherine, I think you should devote a blog entry to middle school math and the odd extensions program. The school board also should hear all the details and complaints about this program. As my 7th grader went though math, the program made less and less sense. I wonder if extensions could be tested by allowing 7th graders who did well on the regular math go onto to algebra, as well as the kids who did well on extensions and the kids who passed the extensions test at the end of the year with a high enough grade. My sense is that all would do well in 8th grade algebra, if well taught, since 5th, 6th and 7th graders all do algebra as part of the regular math program.

Rick said...

I’m sorry but this discussion about tardiness/absence is pointless. The rules are clear. Just follow the rules. It’s not hard.

BTW dealing with tardiness/absence is the single biggest thing that gets in the way of teachers doing their jobs. I recall an ARHS Parent Center meeting we had a couple of years ago where three teachers came to talk to us about their jobs. I asked them “what is the single biggest thing that gets in the way of your doing your job?” They all said without a doubt it was dealing with tardiness and absence.

Anonymous said...

I have to laugh about the point someone made that it is the "poor" kids who have the most tardies and absenses!! Are you kidding me? It is the kids who's parents take them out of school to go on vacation, or to sports events (if they happen to be coaches kids) or other various parent-minded events. Those kids are absent FAR more often than kids who live in Sec8 housing!!! For a lot of these kids, school is where they can get food, so YES they will come to school!!!!

That is also like saying the drug problem in Amherst is in the apartment complexes!!! LOL! The serious drugs are with the "rich" kids!!! Think about that one for a few minutes!!!

Anonymous said...

To Anon. 4:47

You speak the raw truth. Not too many people on this blog want to hear that, tho. Much more comfortable writing about "those" people, than looking at home. But I hear you.

Anonymous said...

to anon 4:47
you got that right

Abbie said...

to anon$447 and anons thereafter:

The only reference I found correlating "poorness and tardiness/absentees" was from Ed. I think its unlikely that many folks contributing or reading this blog agree with Ed or think he is some sort of expert. I discount pretty much all Ed says (including the stuff I don't understand...)

you are ever so fast to judge folks' opinions/beliefs. Give us a break, you might find not everyone is awful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Abbie.

Ed said...

Ed writes about that which he knows and or which he has read valid research into.

I have personally observed the low income single parent children home or downtown (i.e. not in school) and have personally observed the drug culture in the low income communities.

If I personally know certain young people, I am going to recognize them downtown, others may be young-looking college students...

I had presumed that the customers were college students, but that well may not be true. I will admit that.

And as to the tenure of men in the homes of low income single female parents, that was a Pioneer Institute study

Pioneer has the resources and the credentials to do something like this accurately, and hence I consider it valid. Now is there similar turnover in males in the households with more income? Evidence thereof???

And I still ask, why can't the truancy laws be enforced?

Anonymous said...


How dare you suggest what you say to be of any value or any truth!!
I personally know that drugs and truacny cross all lines of income and class... Wake up Ed, how dare you suggest that in order for a mother to keep the privilege of housing her children after the dead beat dad left the scene lose her housing?? One of the basic neccessities of life?? Who are you anyway?? One sad person...
Do you sup with Larry Kelley?

Anonymous said...

Just the facts:
David J. Fein
Wang S. Lee
E. Christina Schofield
Abt Associates Inc.
4800 Montgomery Lane
Bethesda, MD 20814
Presented at the Annual Meeting of the
National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics

Many state welfare programs include school attendance
Education is seen as a promising way to break the cycle of dependency.
Sanctions imposed when parents do not cooperate with efforts to address attendance problems.

Absenteeism is a problem for a significant number of welfare children.

Finding #1: Absenteeism is higher for welfare children than for other children.

Anonymous said...

And who answers these surveys--people like Ed?

poor white guy said...

"Finding #1: Absenteeism is higher for welfare children than for other children.

Damm White people get ya kids off welfare,lol

Anonymous said...

Who said anything (other than you) about color?

Anonymous said...

Spare me the garbage. I know excactly what Ed and the others were implying and its wrong.

Ed said
"I have personally observed the low income single parent children home or downtown (i.e. not in school) and have personally observed the drug culture in the low income communities."

I ask u what "race " of people he might have bben talking about

give me a break and stop trying to be captain save a ho

Fed Up Parent said...

I don't know if it is a race issue or a class issue but suspect the problems cross all racial and class boundaries. There are way too many young teenagers hanging around downtown, especially in the cemetery smoking pot, even during school hours. What happened to the truant officers of the past?

Why are our schools so concerned with making all our students "feel good about themselves" yet not concerned about them getting a great and rigorous education? What kind of message does it send to our young teenagers when they are required to sit in multiple study halls, have lower graduation requirements than all other local schools, and have tardy/absent policies that are not enforced??

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that I'm a bit off-topic here, but weren't we supposed to hear from the consultants about the redistricting plan this week? There's nothing about it on the school district webpage. Does anybody has any info about it? Thanks.

Ed said...

Ed's Response:

First, Abt Associates are LEFT OF CENTER. Look at the campaign donations of their employees -- 100% to Obama, 0% to McCain. They were part of the Obama transition. Not my kind of people, so that means objective.

Second, when you live in a community as multiracial as the one I do, you truly stop noticing things like race and start noticing individuals. And hence I honestly can't answer the question of what race(s) the truant children are but still resent the question.

I believe that the school district keeps racial statistics on its subsidized meal program and that statistic ought to be public if one really wanted to know.

And then as to this:

how dare you suggest that in order for a mother to keep the privilege of housing her children after the dead beat dad left the scene lose her housing??

I am tired of feeling sorry for wayward women (aka 'single mothers'). Are there who make mistakes in marriage - absolutely. Are there couples who suffer a failure of birth control - absolutely.

But we now have three generations of single welfare mothers living in adjacent apartments, all subsidized, and now we are looking at how to deal with the fourth...

Yes, men abandon women, but when you see a woman with 2-3-4 kids by at least as many different men, when you keep seeing this, you kinda gotta start asking questions.

And my personal favorite: the number of cases where the father's name is "unknown." Not just current address, but his NAME! And the reason for this is that she goes directly to the father (while visibly pregnant) and tells him that if she names him, the state will make him pay $X in child support (more than it actually would be) but if he faithfully gives her a lesser amount in cash each week, she will forget who he is.

She then goes and tells the various welfare people (TA, WIC, Sect 8, etc.) that she doesn't know who the father is (wink, wink) and they base her payments on the presumption that she isn't receiving anything from the father, even though he is.

It gets better - as explained to be by one such woman who emphasised that she didn't go this far -- a woman may be, umm, "intimate" with multiple men. She, in her very visibly pregnant condition, goes to each and offers this deal. (Remember she knows what kind of job each has and his access to money.)

It works because guys first are too macho to think that there were other possible fathers. Further men really can't tell if a woman is 5 months pregnant or 9 months pregnant, and if these guys even see the baby, every child has some sort of characteristic that looks like any adult.

And even if the guys know they have been had, whom can they turn to? If they go to the state, they will get hit for all the back "official" child support (even though they have already paid) and exactly how many people would give them a friendly audience anyway?

Welcome to reality, folks.

And then the other little trick is that since the woman has a clean CORI (no criminal record in her name) she gets the apartment and then lets the drug dealing boyfriend move in. And when the cops get wise to him, she then takes out a 209A (easier than taking a book out of the library), gets to keep all of his stuff, and then invites in the next drug dealing boyfriend for a repeat of this...

Ed said...

There are way too many young teenagers hanging around downtown, especially in the cemetery smoking pot, even during school hours.

Two concerns. First, this is real close to a hate crime. A cemetery is a sacred place and disrespecting it in this manner is not unlike equally disrespecting other similar sensitive areas.

Second, both beer and pot (now) are essentially legal products. Yet the town can have an ordinance against drinking in public that passes legal muster -- why can't this be amended to include smoking pot?

Third, why (exactly) aren't the police going down to that cemetery with ticket books and issuing $100 tickets to each and every one of the pot smokers? It isn't like the town can't use the money.....

There is a lack of willingness to enforce the law. Lack of willingness to enforce the truancy laws, the pot smoking laws, the child neglect laws, etc......


Anonymous said...

Because it's Amherst. That's why. They'd rather make excuses for these kids (criminals) than actually enforce any laws on them.

Anonymous said...

Ed, Please,
You are babbling. Try to remember what you learned in expository writing. State your point. Explicate your point. Conclude your point. This is not so difficult, Ed. After 25 years of higher education, you should be able to grasp it.

Ed said...

Ed, Please,
You are babbling. Try to remember what you learned in expository writing. State your point. Explicate your point. Conclude your point.

Have you read an education journal recently?

Or read Bill Cosby's thesis - it is in the UM library and anyone can read it.

And you complain about ME and MY writing style????

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed,
What soap opera have you been I said how dare you pile all the single moms into this neat little file of yours....after all Ed, no matter how ignorant this line of thinking may be or even true for that matter the children should not suffer any consquences of their parents actions...
Wayward women or takes two to make a child and as statistics or a close look at the households of the Amherst school kids will show...mothers are running these households...and it's work--hard work, long days, lots of laundry, cooking, driving, etc....and the next generation is coming of age hopefully spared of narrowed minded people like you...sorry Ed, but all you know or claim to have observed is to what point anyway???

Worried Parent said...

Sorry to be off-topic, but has the redistricting team completed its work? When will the results be released?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:42 - thanks for noting this ... I agree that the issue of tardy versus absent needs to be considered.

Ed - with respect to truancy laws ... I think it can be difficult to figure out when/why a student is absent. So, let's say a student was sick for a few days, then missed school due to Jewish holidays, then had a family emergency (e.g., death of a grandparent). These things COULD all happen in one trimester ... and COULD lead a student to miss 8 classes. That seems different to me than a student just skipping school. I think the other issue is WHY are we enforcing the absent policy IF students are still doing well ... I'm just struck by the idea of kids missing more than 8 classes and still getting an A!

Anonymous 7:06 - if kids can miss 8 or more classes and get an A, then I do think the classes need to be more challenging ... this seems like kids are basically just teaching themselves OR the expectations for what students learn are very low? I'm wondering if there are differences in how missing class effects grades by subject -- I mean, surely you can't complete your AP biology lab at home or get credit for participation in a world language class?!?

One of many frustrated parents - the issue of middle school math and the extensions program has come up repeatedly on my blog, and I do believe this is something that the new superintendent needs to look into. I'm wondering if these concerns were expressed in the surverys parents completed this spring? If so, he will learn soon about this as an area of concern. I've raised the issue of extensions at several SC meetings, and I'm not sure how other members of the committee feel. It would be useful for parents who have concerns (which I understand and agree with) to share those concerns directly with the superintendent and SC via email. I'm not sure when this topic would naturally appear on a SC agenda again. You have a good idea for how to test their effectiveness - but again, I think a more fundamental question is why are we doing something that no other district does ... and why do we have 8th grade honors algebra but not regular algebra?

Rick - the hard thing for me is how do you enforce the policy WHEN students are doing well? I mean, can you really fail a child who is getting an A?!? And do you make him/her retake the class ... when obviously he/she has mastered the material? That seems to me to be the tricky thing here.

Anonymous 4:47 - for the record, I've seen no data on who these kids are in terms of income ... and for me, the questions are (1) how many of these kids are doing well in the class (which strikes me as important to know), and (2) what classes are these (does it vary by course/discipline)? I certainly believe there are many reasons for absences -- including illness, family emergencies, vacations, etc.

*I'm skipping the many comments between Ed and Anonymous posters which seem to be debating between themselves!*

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Fed Up Parent - I agree that the high school needs to be more rigorous ... we have lower graduation requirements than many high schools and apparently students can do quite well without attending class (at least in some disciplines/some students). I am also concerned that we have a policy that isn't being enforced -- seems like it should be enforced OR changed! But most importantly, let's be clear -- the two study hall requirement is ENTIRELY a result of the teachers choosing to continue with a trimester system ... had they chosen to move to a semester system (like virtually all other schools), the students who have just one study hall next year (still too many, but at least better than 2).

Anonymous 9:45 (and Worried Parent) - the redistricting plan was due on June 29th, and I understand it has arrived. I'm sure the new superintendent is taking some time looking at it, and it will be presented to the SC and the public later this summer/early fall.

Ed said...

[t]he two study hall requirement is ENTIRELY a result of the teachers choosing to continue with a trimester system ... had they chosen to move to a semester system (like virtually all other schools), the students who have just one study hall next year

Exactly who is running the school?

Shouldn't, at some point, it become the case of "teachers, you will do what you are told or you will be fired"?

Tenure exists so that teachers aren't dragged into school board politics. The Superintendent has a contract so that he can execute school board policies with some assurance that he/she/it won't be fired *tomorrow* for doing so.

The flip side of this is that they don't set policy, the board does. And if the board wants to cancel school on every full moon so everyone can go howl at it, absent DoE policy to the contrary, they can do that. Likely wouldn't get re-elected, but they can do this.

TEACHERS DO NOT SET POLICY. And the teacher's union needs to be reminded that it doesn't either...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ed - just FYI ... the teacher contract gives them control of the schedule. So, this was negotiated and agreed to, and thus it is in fact something we now how to live with through the end of this contract.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- I don't think it is fair to blame the teachers (once again) for an issue that is only an issue because of the woeful state of district's finances. Students wouldn't be forced to have study halls if we had the money to actually pay teachers to teach something during those times.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:06 - there are many reasons for the bad finances of our district, the state of MA, and indeed the USA. Amherst can't solve all of them! However, the teachers voted - they had a choice, and the recommendation of the high school principal was to move to a semester system, so that kids could spend only 7% of their year in study hall as opposed to 13% of their year. The teachers voted ... and chose to continue with the trimester system. But let's say the district finances improved, and we only then had to have 1 study hall a year -- even then, if the teachers were willing to move to a semester system, we would have NO study halls! So, it is hard for me to see how this is anything other than the teachers' choice, and it is hard for me to see how it is in the best interest of kids (hence, I imagine, the recommendation of the high school principal to make the switch).

Anonymous said...

A question about the absences policy.

Is it the case still that kids HAVE to be in school a certain amount of days, required by the state, in order to pass classes/school?

Not based on how well they do in said classes/school. If children are not in school a certain amount of days DSS can be called in for parent neglect? You would then have to go into why the child was absent, ie sick, grandparent died, Holidays.

Somethings are acceptable but for the families who CHOOSE to take their children out of school to go on vacations of other events not related to family emergencies, this would count in my book and the child should be penalized for this (also the parents).

Rick said...

"the hard thing for me is how do you enforce the policy WHEN students are doing well? I mean, can you really fail a child who is getting an A?!?"

Don't fail them, just take points off the grade. Part of the grade should be based on showing up, not just on test and homework scores.

Anonymous said...

Again I say that the motivation for the change is financial not educational. When the schools were flush, no study hall was required and no one was talking about changing back to a semester system. Blaming the teachers for this is just ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Can you list the many reasons for the bad finances in the Amherst schools? or at least a few... And when can we know what the redistrciting plan is? Why is there such a long wait? How much did it cost the school to hire the agency to do this work and why couldn't the school adminsitrators do it themselves? Also what is the status of the special education department inquiry? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

If the teachers decide to keep a trimester system, aren't they responsible for that decision? It's not blame, it's accountability.

If there is a high school absentee policy that is not enforced, that failure to enforce it is the responsibility of the high school principal.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:51 - I don't think it IS required that a child is in school 180 days ... it is required that school MEET for 180 days. I'm also not sure how much luck the state would have going after parents who take their kids on vacation WHEN those kids are getting good grades ... so, it is really up to the district/high school how more than 8 absences are treated (and again, what is an "excused" absence -- Jewish holiday? illness? family emergency?). It gets to be a slippery slope fast.

Rick - you could certainly have this policy ... and teachers could therefore be in control of how they counted attendance in terms of the grade (this happens a lot at the college level). But again, you still are in a slippery slope -- if a student misses class for being ill, you can't penalize him/her, right? How about for a death in the family? Again, it doesn't solve the whole issue of who makes these calls.

Anonymous 7:45 - most high schools are on the semester system. Lots of research suggests that continuous study of material is educationally better (e.g., instead of having 3 month breaks in content). So, this seems to me to be a choice with both financial and educational downsides. But regardless of WHY we are in this fiscal situation -- we are in it, so that is the reality. The teachers then get to choose how to handle this reality. One choice, as recommended by the principal, was to move to a semester system to reduce the amount of time kids spent in study hall. This choice was voted down. That sounds very clearly like a choice, yes?

Anonymous 9:40 - The big reason for the bad finances in the Amherst schools is that the state is doing very poorly financially -- surely you know this, yes? And the state's poor finances reflect the country's poor finances. Now, what causes this recession is way beyond the scope of my blog or my knowledge! I imagine the redistrciting plan will be presented as a school committee meeting later this summer/early fall -- I don't have any idea why you consider this "a long wait"! The report from the outside committee was due June 29th -- it was 2 weeks ago! The SC doesn't meet (often) in the summer, and there is a new superintendent. And the redistricting doesn't go into effect for over a year, so I'm not sure why you are feeling such a rush? The cost was $5,000, as I've noted earlier in my blog. The school administrators did in fact do two sample redistricting proposals, but multiple parents asked for an outside company -- with a specialty in this -- to also weigh in, which I think was the right decision. The special education review will occur next year -- a company has not yet been chosen to do this.

Anonymous 11:49 - I agree with both of your points. Thanks!

Ed said...

Three things.

First, the teacher contract gives them control of the schedule.

What if the teacher contract said that the district would not hire Jews? Clearly, that would be in violation of public policy and not relevant. I do not believe that the board can legally delegate this authority to the union and hence this is the exact same thing as the racist clause in a contract -- both not enforcable.

As to being absent for religious holidays, Massachusetts law is clear - (a) the student must be given the day(s) off, (b) the student MUST MAKE UP THE WORK and (c) doing so must not create an unreasonable burden on the school. See, for example,

So the Jewish Holiday absences may not legally be considered absences under any attendance policy - BUT the kids have to make up the work.

And the other thing is that the parents have to come into the school AHEAD OF TIME and tell the school when the holidays are and make arrangements BEFORE the absences....