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, August 31, 2009

PRESS RELEASE - Monday, August 31, 2009

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Alberto Rodriguez, announced the resignation this afternoon of Glenda Cresto, Principal of Amherst Regional Middle School. Ms. Cresto’s resignation takes effect today, August 31, 2009. We are grateful to Ms. Cresto for her contributions to our community and her service to our district and wish her well in her future endeavors.


Concurrent with this information, Dr. Rodriguez announces the temporary appointment of Mark Jackson as Principal of both the Regional High School and Regional Middle School. Michael Hayes will serve as Senior Assistant Principal during this interim period, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Middle School facility. As Mr. Jackson assumes temporary leadership of both buildings, Ms. Diane Chamberlain will be designated as temporary Assistant Principal, joining Annie Leonard and Miki Gromacki in support of High School matters.


As this is an interim leadership arrangement, we will plan to post and advertise for a permanent Middle School Principal in the coming months.

84 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best wishes to Ms Cresto. It's a tough time to be job hunting.

Dr. Rodriguez announces the temporary appointment of Mark Jackson as Principal of both the Regional High School and Regional Middle School. Michael Hayes will serve as Senior Assistant Principal during this interim period, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Middle School facility.

It looks like they've got the administration leadership covered.

Why not start the search immediately for a replacement?

What was the nature of the situation that made it a better choice to end Ms. Cresto's employment before initiating the process to find a successor?

Anonymous said...

Well maybe now we will get someone who can whip that middle school into shape!

Anonymous said...

Isn't Mike Hayes the one who watered down the math curriculum? Why on earth would anyone give him any power or a leadership role?

Anonymous said...

I'm very concerned about the current leadership void at the Middle School. This is a time when strong leadership and change is needed and instead it is being entrusted to someone who already has more than a full-time job of his own (Mark Jackson) and another who has shown weak ability (Michael Hayes). How can they be effective?

I understand the need to put a new team in place quickly, but a little more thought and time may have been necessary to get it right.

Anonymous said...

Glenda Cresto put a tremendous amount of time and effort into her work at the middle school. She is dedicated, down to earth, practical and caring. I'm sorry she left.

Anonymous said...

Many of us wish her the best. She had a tough job.

Dan Viederman said...

i was impressed by the questions that the Committee asked of Dr Rodriguez during the previous school committee meeting on the topic of sixth grade and the middle school. I very much hope that the Committee will conduct as useful an investigation of this disturbing and unsettling news at this most inopportune time. Those of us with kids at ARMS deserve an explanation for this.

Anonymous said...

WOW A-Rod knows how to build team spirit --- not!

Anonymous said...

Mark Jackson seems busy enough with the demands of the high school. Mike Hayes already interviewed for the middle school principal job and was denied as not qualified. He may be familiar with the middle school of 2 years ago.... but that is exactly the school that needs to be improved and changed. In the community interview of Mr. Hayes, he was asked to name his accomplishments as assistant principal. There were none.

Since arriving in town, the Superintendent has shown vision and courage to speak his mind and propose new ways of doing things. The decision on how to give coverage to the middle school, the exact school which is the source of such disappointment and frustration, needed to demonstrate greater thought and creativity. It's very disappointing that the Superintendent did not realize the need for interim leadership and ability at the middle school and consider a more creative solution to a surprising announcement.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Mike Hayes watered down the math curriculum. Yes, he applied for the job of middle school principal and was turned down... which I agree with. And yes, he is a weak and ineffective administrator.
Ali Burrow

Anonymous said...

Ms. Cresto was a vivacious leader and she appeared to pay attention to parents' concerns. My child was told, out loud, while in line for lunch, that she owed money to the lunch lady and after that she stopped eating the cafeteria food. I brought this to Ms. Cresto's attention and she immediately fixed the situation so that my child was no longer humiliated in this way around food for a situation which she had no control over. The paperwork for free and reduced lunch was held up in administration therefore creating a debt on my child's account. Ms. Cresto's resignation is disturbing news. One can't help but wonder, was she bullied out of her job? This sounds too much like the mysterious disappearance of the Wildwood principal. And who on earth is Mike Hayes related to that got him in this position? =)

Anonymous said...

Glenda's first wonderous year as principal was eased by the fact that the evil Mike Hayes had already created the class schedule by the time she got there.

If you have any questions as to why Glenda left her position, ask your incoming 7th grader.

Cathy C said...

Middle school should be a work in progress. Students are changing so much during those years that the school must continually re-evaluate and adjust. Under Ms. Cresto's leadership, the school made many positive changes. I always found her to be professional and helpful. I wish her the best.

In a time we were expecting continued improvements at ARMS, the absence of permanent leadership will not HELP it to flourish.

Rick said...

Seems like it's assumed this was a forced resignation. Anyone know if it was? It's possible she simply quit isn't it? It's a completely different situation if she quit than if she was forced out - would be good to know which it is.

Anonymous said...

This is what my kid who goes to ARMS told me last night.

The Superintendent doesn't think our school is good. School committee members don't think so either. Enough news about the quality of ours teachers. Now the principal resigns. I guess no reason for us to prove them otherwise....

Anonymous said...

Ms. Cresto was dedicated, caring and listened to students/parents concerns. She had no ego, was flexible and always put kids first.

Wish her the very best.

Anonymous said...

"...One can't help but wonder, was she bullied out of her job? This sounds too much like the mysterious disappearance of the Wildwood principal...."

which Wildwood principal do you mean?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:13- No one said Mike Hayes was evil- just that he is responsible for the mess that is the Math program at ARMS and that he is an ineffective leader. Both of which, IMO, are true.

I had children at ARMS during the last years of Cavalier, during the Hayes/Zipperstein interregnum and last year during MS. Cresto's 1st year. Last year was by far the best academically, socially and morale wise. The whole tone of the school changed when Ms. Cresto arrived.

Cathy E said...

I find these anecdotal negative judgments of Mike Hayes and others disturbing. I've only heard good things about him from several reliable sources. If this is how we treat our professionals, it's no wonder why they would leave for other opportunities. If we had hired him as principal for the MS he would still be here and we wouldn't be scrambling, rearranging and overworking our other administrators. Perhaps he would have needed time to get up to speed but at least we would know that he was committed to our district. If we provide clear and respectful guidance as well as dedicated support we could help our teachers and administrators succeed. Working in the Amh schools is like being thrown into a shark tank. Our town employees will do whatever we collectively and respectfully ask them to do. The most recent directive was to teach all subjects to heterogeneous classes -- which was basically asking teachers to come up with a completely new way of doing things. They did that and now they're being told that they aren't challenging students enough. Let's just get clear about what we want and be respectful and realistic in our requests and evaluations.

Anonymous said...

Looking at this blog alone might shed some light as to why someone would leave this district, or even more importantly why it will be VERY hard to convinvce someone to come and work here.

The potshots and personal attacks (for example at Mr Hayes) are uncalled for and unfounded. Statements and opinions are taken for facts and then run with. Perceptions become assumed to be reality and then some!

I believe that, of course, the MS could be doing more to challenge SOME students. Yes, they could probably be better aligned as well. Guess what...they are working on this and caring about this way more than all of the critics know, or else admit.

A lot of important and wonderful things that happen for our kids at this school do not come under the category of rigor. Yes, academic rigor is good, but my point is a middle school is about so much more than that and the kind of blanket statements I see here criticizing the school are forgetting or ignoring all of the good things happening there.

What is happening there is a school full of incredibly hard-working, dedicated teachers and staff spending their day caring about, and for, our kids. Maybe they can't really do every student, every day. What school can? There are students at many, many levels, with a wide variety of needs and learning styles. They are trying to teach them ALL as EQUITABLY as they can. It may not work perfectly for each kid each day, but it is likely not due to teachers not trying or caring.


These teachers actually spend more time with our kids during a typical weekday than you get to. And I believe our kids are lucky to have such people to spend their day with. Not many people would choose to teach middle school (not to mention being a principal!)and I think we are very lucky we have the teachers we do.

What do they get out of it? They get criticized and insulted on blogs, they get to be inlcuded in misleading blanket statements like "the state of the MS" or it needs to be "whipped into shape", and then they get asked to pay a tax from their salary for the honor of teaching here!

If anyone is paying attention I think they could come to the conclusion that you would be crazy to want to work here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 10:38. It is not the ones in the trenches that warrant criticism. The underpaid, overworked, dedicated teachers and paraprofessionals receive my highest appreciation.

My issue is with those in positions of leadership. Those who are being paid quite handsomely to create an atmosphere in which the hands-on educators may perform their role. When morale is low, as it now is among those who work directly with the students, we the taxpayer and our children lose.

What we need now is not more research, reports, consultants, macho administrators, nor money. We need someone who knows how to build the concept of team spirit within the teaching staff. This is not rocket science, folks.

Anonymous said...

My thanks and best wishes go out to Glenda Cresto. The middle school was and is not perfect, but she was a caring professional who improved communications with parents and tried to make some headway in a time of enormous budget cuts and transition at the superintendent level.

Whether she jumped or was pushed is less important to me than what comes next. ARMS strikes me as not as bad as some parents make it out to be, though there is certainly room for improvement on the academic side. Whatever anyone may think of the new superintendent's personal style, I am heartened by the fact that he and the consultant he hired noticed the complete lack of coordination in the curriculum, both within individual schools and across the K-12 continuum. The repetition and gaps caused by allowing individual teachers to decide what they will teach at the elementary level (and, in a couple of cases, whether to teach an entire subject at all), in my opinion is at the root of much the lack of challenge we see at the middle school. When students come into 7th grade with wildly varying levels of literacy, math skills, and exposure to social studies and science, it's almost inevitable that 7th grade will become a big exercise in remediation.

I hope that in the wake of Ms. Cresto's resignation, we can all keep our eyes on the real prize--improving coordination, addressing weaknesses in the curriculum, and promoting educational opportunity for all students--rather than falling into the name-calling and kneejerk defensiveness that characterize so much of the public conversation about our schools. Broad-stroke blaming of high- maintenance parents, teachers, the proverbial "overpaid administrators", or the new guy in town solves very little.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating for me to hear from parents with kids in the school that Glenda Cristo worked hard, and provided leadership last year. That yours was a good experience in the school. Your voices have been drowned out. Until now the negativity in town had overwhelmed us with their pessimism.

Wonder if any of the hate-mongering crowd has actually had any experiences with Glenda Cristo or any of the MS staff, or if most of the loud, obnoxious lot simply chimes in when they read some other dirt on blogs like this.

Yeah, Mike Hayes is going to help the MS again by stepping into the breach, just like he and Fran did when Jere Hochman abruptly halted the Principal search. (By the way, the two gentlemen we had in our building as finalists to choose between for this difficult position, when JH stopped the search, are both now working for Longmeadow; each is a principal at a middle school. Way to go Jer.)

So, let's beat Mike up and trash him publicly for his willingness to help, and for his decision to teach children in the first place, especially those lovable but unique middle school teens.

Thanks, Mike. Had enough yet? I'm sure the good people of Amherst can continue to insult and condemn you for several more weeks.
It's nice to have a scapegoat. Makes this whole sordid business easier to not think about.

If you're lucky, your name will become synonymous with this whole era in our infamous, narcissistic history.

Anonymous said...

I find that last post absolutely ridiculous and insulting. Talk about divisive. Is it possible to have a conversation about ways to improve the MS (and let's face it, it was specifically mentioned in the outside evaluator's report) without succumbing to such nasty, sarcastic language?

Not everything about the MS is bad, but any criticism (and some criticism is warranted) is met with defensiveness rather than dialogue so that issues and emotions get even more polarized. Not helpful. Yes, many of us have interacted for many years with numerous MS administrators and teachers, and those interactions are mixed. Some MS teachers do a stellar job and deserve and have received public accolades. Others are simply not doing their jobs and have been protected by this defensive screen that doesn't allow criticism (even productive criticism). Bearers of bad news are routinely trashed like in the last blog rather than listened to. Is there any way parents can listen to teachers and teachers can listen to parents so that we can recognize strengths and weaknesses and work together to actually make some progress?

Enough of counterproductive and vicious posts!

Anonymous said...

Mark Prince--Wildwood principal

Anonymous said...

There was nothing mysterious about the end of Mark Prince's reign at Wildwood. Staff and parents rose up against his autocratic leadership style. The specifics were well publicized.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:15

As that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said: "It's like deja-vu, all over again." Only this time it's a Super.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses (again, to the best of my ability):

Anonymous 5:10 - I imagine a search for a replacement will start soon -- though it may be hard to hire a principal mid-year. I am unclear about the reasoning for the timing.

Anonymous 5:26 - not sure if your post is sarcastic ... and I saw signs that Glenda was in fact working on making some important changes in the MS.

Anonymous 5:29 - I think the plan for MS leadership was put together very quickly, and I imagine we will hear more about these plans in the upcoming days/weeks. Mike Hayes was heavily involved in creating the "extensions" math model used in the MS, which was seen positively by some, and less so by others.

Anonymous 8:19 - I believe that the superintendent was trying to put things into place quickly, and we may learn more about this or other plans in the days/weeks ahead. I also worry, however, that whoever is in charge of the MS in a temporary or interim way will have difficulty making real change.

Anonymous 8:41 - I share your view.

Anonymous 8:44 - I also share your view.

Dan - thank you for your kind words about the School Committee. I do believe the SC is concerned about this situation, and I expect it will be addressed at the next Regional SC meeting (Sept. 8th). I agree that a fuller explanation is owed to the community.

Anonymous 9:33 - not going to respond to this one.

Anonymous 9:39 - I believe the superintendent was trying to put plans for the MS into place quickly, and that those plans may be revised in the days/weeks ahead. I have certainly heard from HS parents who are concerned about Mark taking on too much. I also believe that the community feeling 18 months ago, when Glenda was hired over Mike, was that a new perspective on the MS would be useful.

Ali - Mike Hayes is heavily identified with the extensions math program ... again, which some saw as positive, and others as negative. As I note above, I think many in the community felt a person from outside the district might be a more effective change agent for the MS than someone inside the district.

Anonymous 7:40 - I share your positive view of Glenda's role in the MS. She will be greatly missed.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:13 - I'm not going to comment on this one.

Cathy C - I agree completely with your points.

Rick - you raise questions that many are asking. However, I'm just not sure how much more is going to be discussed involving the departure.

Anonymous 9:03 - I'm not really sure about the point of your post ... that we should pretend the school is excellent to make kids feel better? I think talking honestly about the strengths and weaknesses of all of our schools is really important in terms of making positive changes that benefit kids.

Anonymous 9:22 - I agree completely with your view.

Anonymous 9:36 - I think that refers to Mark Prince.

Anonymous 9:50 - I believe everyone thinks Mike Hayes is a very nice guy (which I think he is). He is, for better or for worse, heavily identified with the extensions math program, which some may view as a positive and others may view as a negative. I also believe the MS was better with Glenda than it had been without her ... and I'm sorry to see her go.

Anonymous said...

BTW, Mark Prince "voluntarily resigned". It was either that or be involuntarily dismissed.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand where some of these posts went, Catherine. You keep referring to some of them in your responses, but they are no longer there. Have they been deleted or removed by author? It is difficult to follow what is going on.

Anonymous said...

I have not heard of anyone -- except Mike Hayes and Fran Ziperstein -- who thought the notion and reality of math extensions was a good thing. I know of no parent whose child went through it who thought it had academic value. I know of no child whose math skills increased from doing it.

Math extensions is an innovation, certainly not an accomplishment. What does this portend for the middle school and the new Sup.'s decision making?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Cathy E - I share your concern about highly negative comments about district staff (particularly from anonymous sources). I do believe, however, that a search committee (incuding parents and teachers and administrators) looked for the best MS principal, and I have to believe they thought Glenda was the best choice, for whatever reason, of the applications they received. I believe the superintendent should indeed be providing the type of leadership you suggest for the district, and again, I think it is highly likely we would not be in this situation if Jere Hochman had remained in our district to support Glenda last year. I also believe that teaching heterogeneous classes in all MS subjects (esp. math) must be quite challenging, and it will be important for the superintendent, MS leadership, and SC to evaluate how well that particular directive (among others) is working for all kids.

Anonymous 10:38 - I agree that taking anonymous pot-shots at district staff isn't fair ... and I will hope that can stop. I also think, however, that parents and kids have the right to expect academic rigor and challenge in all subjects in a consistent way in the MS, just as I believe the MS needs to pay attention to making sure kids feel safe, comfortable, accepted, etc. I believe the MS does a great job in some of these areas (and surveys suggest this as well) ... and a less good job in other areas. I also believe that some teachers do a better job of this than others, but ultimately, the MS curriculum should be one that is consistently rigorous and challenging and engaging for all kids -- and it is not. That's the reality, and it is the reality even if all the teachers are caring and hard-working (we shouldn't be asking or requiring teachers to make up their own curriculum).

Anonymous 11:03 - I'm not a middle school teacher (obviously), but it is hard for me as a parent to see how building more team spirit and morale among MS teachers is going to work to increase academic rigor and challenge for kids. Is low morale impairing teachers from requiring a certain number/level of books to read, or providing feedback on written assignment? Is low morale leading teachers to show You Tube rap videos or CSI episodes during class? I am just not understanding the cause-effect relationship here. Frankly, I'd think the best way to increase morale/team spirit would be for teachers to push the administration hard to create a rigorous, academically challenging curriculum that makes parents and kids excited about "getting" to spend two years in the building, and then pushing to move up the 6th grade so that kids could have yet another year of the best educational experience in Amherst!

Anonymous 3:20 - I agree 100% with everything you said. Thank you.

Anonymous 3:55 - I'm honestly not sure of the point of your post. I do agree that anonymous bashing of district teachers/staff is unfortunate and inappropriate, and I hope that can stop (on my blog and elsewhere). I also haven't heard negative things about Glenda all year -- I think she arrived with the MS already seen in a pretty negative light by many parents, and the last year was described by many as change in a good direction. Concerns about the MS existed for a long time before her arrival, and no one thought she created these problems -- yet your post seems to imply that concerns about the MS last year were about her? I also am not sure why blaming Jere for failing a search 3 years ago is relevant ... can't go back, right? Finally, I don't think anyone is trashing Mike for being willing to help or teach (I heard he was a fabulous math teachers). The concerns are specifically about the extensions math program, which he is heavily identified with and which some parents in this district see as a problem. Let's be clear about what the concerns are, and are not.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses (still more):


Anonymous 7:29 - very well said. Thank you!

Anonymous 6:41 - yes.

Anonymous 7:15 - that is certainly what I heard.

Anonymous 7:30 - I have no idea what happened in this case, so I'm not going to speculate.

Anonymous 9:12 - no posts have been removed, by me or by others. I'm just responding to them in order in which they were received.

Anonymous 9:54 - I believe some MS teachers also think extensions was of value. I too have not heard from any parents who feel this way. As I think is clear, I find the concept of extensions troubling, in part because this type of innovation (without evidence or research to support it) typical in Amherst, and troubling. But I am willing to admit that others may feel differently.

Anonymous said...

Catherine-I totally agree with you about the rap video- not appropriate on so many levels. I think however, the the CSI episode is about engaging students in a discussion about the need for evaluating evidence and then drawing conclusions based on that evidence. My 7th grader had this teacher last year and LOVED the class, felt challenged and engaged. Maybe it's just a different way of getting 8th graders to think about history.

Anonymous said...

Is low morale impairing teachers from requiring a certain number/level of books to read, or providing feedback on written assignment?

My 8th graders are reading Of Mice and Men and The Jungle- what's not challenging about them?

Anonymous said...

Anon, Sept. 1, 8:13 AM

You seem to have inside information, so maybe you can enlighten others of us who are still puzzled.
With your "ask your incoming 7th grader" comment, are you suggesting that a primary reason Glenda left was the chaos surrounding schedules? Who was resonsible for creating the schedules this year, only Glenda? No help from asst. principal(s), guidance, teachers? Was Mr. Hayes not in a position to help this year?

Anonymous said...

Catherine- Can we get some info re: the class schedule at ARMS? My son ( an 8th grader) said that the schedules are going to change AGAIN after Labor Day.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there were some basic problems with the schedule that was rolled out at the start of school. A crew of people are working (tirelessly) to create a schedule that addresses ALL problems and will not announce changes until it is really ready. There may indeed be some changes in some kids schedules after Labor Day, (probably minor for most) but these will all be positive changes intended to create a good working schedule (as ideally would have been done in the first place).

Anonymous said...

"Catherine-I totally agree with you about the rap video- not appropriate on so many levels"

What rap video was shown? What wasn't appropriate about it? What are the "many levels" you are referring to?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else have a problem with a School Committee member commenting on the content of specific classes on a public blog? (eg, the rap video shown in my child's 8th grade English class)

Catherine--I voted for you because I liked you big picture ideas. Please do your job of setting policy for the schools, and leave the teaching to the teachers.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Anon 10:48. For years in this district, many teachers have been doing things in the classroom that are not always appropriate for teaching, or not doing much teaching at all. With the lack of a standardized curriculum it seems, in the MS and elementary schools (i.e. kids in the same grade/class get the same education)or oversight from principals? superintendents? it often feels like the Wild West in the classrooms. When a child gets a fabulous teacher, there is fabulous teaching and learning going on. But when a child gets a less than stellar teacher, not much happens, and then no one addresses it. When this occurs, I and many others I know, have gone through the channels and spoken up to a teacher, then a principal and then the superintendent -- and nothing changes, and the kids suffer. In the high school with courses with names and set content, this does not occur very often. Now, we have SC members who are willing to bring this out in the open, and now it may finally get addressed. Thank you Catherine for having the courage to do this.

Anonymous said...

If an Amherst College trustee started blogging (negatively) about the content of Catherine Sanderson's psychology course, would we think that's OK?

Of course not.

Abbie said...

I think that the coordination of curricula within grades (horizontal) and between (vertical) is the MOST important and addressable education issue facing our schools.

It is inconceivable to me that individual teachers are given (or take) the freedom they are in deciding what and how much material they will teach each year. This, in my opinion, is probably the BIGGEST preventable cause of an achievement gap.

Imagine this scenario: Teacher A decides to teach very little math while their colleagues teach the "book". The next year, the students of teacher A are at a very real disadvantage to the other kids. The new teacher has to spend a lot of time getting all the kids to the same "level" and this is precious time that could have been spent on learning new material. But worse those kids from class "A" whose home doesn't provide an environment for "catch-up" (for whatever reason) might NOT able to catch up... And on it will go and who could blame the student for feeling like a failure and giving up.

Hip Hop Head #1 said...

Re: Anon September 4, 2009 7:22 AM

"I disagree with Anon 10:48. For years in this district, many teachers have been doing things in the classroom that are not always appropriate for teaching"

AND

Re: Anon September 3, 2009 10:49 AM

"Catherine-I totally agree with you about the rap video- not appropriate on so many levels."

AND

Ms. Sanderson "Is low morale leading teachers to show You Tube rap videos...during class?"


What is the problem with showing a rap video as part of a class lesson?

Surely you are all not arguing that rap music is an illegitimate art form, are you? If so, that is disturbing.

Any teacher under the age of 38 or so, has listened to rap music in some form for a good part of their life, particlarly when they were younger.

There are many forms of rap music. The "old school" rap of the 70's and 80's (with, for the most part, squeaky-clean lyrics)like the "Sugar Hill Gang", "Kurtis Blow" and "Run D.M.C", the criminally minded gangster rap that started to emerge in the late 80's that was first popularized by "N.W.A" and "Ice T", the provoctive "dirty lyric" rap of "2 live crew" and their ilk, the politically aware and provocative popular rap of "Public Enemy" and "K.R.S. One", the mass marketed booty-shaking materialistic rap that emerged this century, the "club rap" of the late 80's like "M.C. Haammer", and the "alternative" and virtoustic rap which emerged in the 1990s and continues today such as that perfomed by "Eric D. and Rakim", "A Tribe Called Quest", "De La Soul", "Common", "Blackalicious", and Amherst's own "Cold Duck Complex".

This is just a slice of what has been out there in the popular culture for over three decades.

Now, assuming a teacher didn't use a video by "Snoop Dog" or something similar as part of a lesson and used a song by a "socially concious" rapper instead, there is NO REASON to complain. Unless, as I stated before, you believe rap as entire genre is "inappropriate", which I hope I successfully illustrated by my foregoing explanation, is erroneous and born of ignorance.

Would you complain if a teacher used an appropriatee piece of music from (presumably) your generation, such as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, etc? Because if you wouldn't, then you shouldn't be compaing in this case either.

Music can be great way to illustrate an example in class, pull in reluctant learners, or just have a bit of fun with the students. And that is totally appropriate, particularly in humanities classes like social studies, English, civics, and so forth.

I believe that Ms. Sanderson should publicly retract her previous public statent maligning rap music.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:49 - I have heard from parent who found the content of the rap video problematic ... and I think both of these examples point to the concerns parents have about the school -- that it lacks consistent rigor and challenge for all kids. Showing TV shows (even very good ones) and You Tube videos reinforce concerns parents have about the school's academic climate.

Anonymous 10:55 - here are my questions to you: 1. Are ALL the kids in ALL of the 8th grade classes reading those books, or does your child just have the "right" teacher? 2. Are those the only books being read this year? 3. Is your child writing about those books and receiving feedback? I look forward to your answers.

Anonymous 4:48 - I believe final schedule adjustments will be made and released on Tuesday -- and then all problems should be sorted out.

Anonymous 8:17 - that is my understanding as well.

Anonymous 9:07 - a rap video on You Tube was shown in class, which some parents felt contained anti-semitic sentiments (and they also weren't sure of what educational value the video had).

Anonymous 10:48 - I think one of the most important roles of the SC is to listen to the voices in the community -- we are, after all, the representatives of the community! I have heard from parents who have concerns about content of class material in the MS (and indeed in other schools). That strikes me as important -- I'm sorry you disagree. I am certainly focusing on the "big picture" -- which to me means making sure that all of our schools provide a consistently aligned (vertically and horizontally) curriculum that is challenging and engaging for all kids. And I believe the CONTENT of what occurs in classrooms indeed reflects how well the schools are meeting this goal.

Anonymous 7:22 - thank you ... that is precisely how I feel.

Anonymous 8:19 - I think if the trustees of Amherst College had serious concerns about the content of classes the faculty would indeed hear about it (through the president and dean of faculty, and perhaps in other ways). Please note, however, that I did not (a) identify the teacher or subject matter or grade, and (b) did not do a blog posting on this information, but rather used this information to respond to what I imagine was a posting by a teacher suggesting that low morale was the bulk of the problem in the MS (which I think is unrealistic).

Abbie - exactly. And I think the superintendent recognizes this as a real problem, and is working seriously to change it.

Hip Hop - as I have stated earlier in this response, parents were concerned NOT that a rap video had been shown ... but that a rap video that included anti-semitic references was shown. So, let me state by clear view for all the fans of rap videos out there -- I do believe that some rap videos could potentially have some educational value in a middle school classroom. I also believe that anti-semitic material should not appear in a middle school classroom. Does that help clarify?

Anonymous said...

"Does that help clarify?"
No it doesn't. Organizations work if everyone understands their roles and boundaries. You say in this example:
"Amherst College had serious concerns about the content of classes the faculty would indeed hear about it (through the president and dean of faculty, and perhaps in other ways). "

Systems break down when roles are misunderstood and boundaries are violated.

If you want to be the ARMS principal (and oversee the content of my son's 8th grade English class, where the rap video was shown), please apply for the job.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:13 - your anger seems extreme, given that the example I used that you find so offensive was brought to me by a parent. However, let me clarify once again a few things. School curriculum is not determined by any one member's blog -- so a statement that I make on a blog is actually not a directive to the teacher, principal, or superintendent about what to teach. Don't mistake my view on a blog for a district policy - as I believe it clearly states at the start of my blog, this blog is presenting my opinion. If you don't want to know my opinion, don't read my blog. In my opinion, the middle school curriculum needs to be more consistently challenging and rigorous for all kids. This doesn't mean that some kids in some classes with some teachers aren't have a great (rigorous, challenging, engaging) experience. But I do not believe that we should have such different experiences for kids as a function of the particular teacher or team a child gets -- I believe all kids should experience an academically rich and engaging and challenging environment in the middle school. I'm glad that your child is having such a good experience that you would not want that experience changed in any way. But that is not the experience that all kids are having in that building. Finally, I believe that the single most important ROLE of the SC is to evaluate the superintendent (this is precisely the role of the SC) -- and I also believe that one of the ways in which the SC will evaluate Dr. Rodriguez is through his ability to create a more consistently (vertically and horizontally aligned) academically engaging and challenging experience in the MS that works for all kids (and that could even include changing content of what is required or taught in a given class). If you disagree that this should be a goal of the district, you should voice your concerns to the entire committee (schoolcommittee@arps.org) using your actual name.

Anonymous said...

You're right, I am angry. The highly respected principal of my child's school just resigned, possibly because she could not effectively in a community where due process is not respected.

You have heard from, what, maybe one parent that a possibly offensive video was shown in 8th grade English? That doesn't make it fact.

You are in a tremendous position of power-- you are on the School Committee, and you operate a widely read blog.

Look at the responses that your sidebar comment about the video have created.

Please use your power wisely.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:47 - I met with Glenda on numerous occasions. I liked her and I respected her and the work she was doing. I share your frustration about the events of this week probably more than you know. But I'm certainly not seeing the lesson from this week as "we should shut up about the middle school and let teachers do whatever they want in class." I did hear from parents with concerns about the video, which was shown during class (that is a fact). I have seen the video myself, and I share those concerns. I don't have any idea who else shares or does not share those concerns, nor have I moved in anyway to have a policy adopted to prohibit You Tube use or whatever. The You Tube video is NOT the problem. The problem is, as I have continued to say, that not all kids experience the MS as a challenging and engaging place. I believe that -- you may not -- but I do believe that, and those beliefs are shared by some parents. That's it.

I am one person on a 9 member committee. There is absolutely nothing that I can get done myself. Nothing (just look at what I didn't get done in my first year on the board for proof of that). So, if I have crazy ideas, which violate boundaries and destroy education, they will get voted down 8 to 1.

I believe that I have a responsibility as a member of the SC to be honest and transparent and communicative -- you may not like what I'm writing, but at least you know where I stand (and I'm not writing anonymously, whereas you are). And if you don't like my view and my positions, you can run for SC yourself (two seats open this March!), and/or run against me (if I decide to run again) in 2011.

Nina Koch said...

Dear Catherine,

I'm afraid you can't wriggle out of this one. Here is your original statement above:

"Is low morale leading teachers to show You Tube rap videos or CSI episodes during class?"

Note the plural on "teachers" and the attempt to present a characterization of middle school classes. You suggest that this is a typical activity at the middle school. You do not have data to support that. Instead you have what I believe is perhaps one instance of this event, which you heard about at maybe a soccer game or a birthday party. To take a single instance and present it as a general characterization is unscientific.

But even if it were true that multiple teachers had chosen to show a video, you still don't have enough information. You can't judge the educational value of the activity because you don't know what the intent was. Perhaps the rap was delivered in iambic pentameter and the kids were asked to analyze the meter. Perhaps the class was having a debate on censorship. Perhaps the students were being taught how to view media images with a critical eye. Perhaps the class was examining gender roles as reflected in popular culture. All of these are legitimate educational activities. They help to create members of society who know how to think about the world around them.

While it is up to the school administration to establish standards for curriculum and to monitor that those standards are being met, it is the classroom teacher who implements that curriculum. If the curriculum map for 8th grade English included iambic pentameter and a teacher chose to use a video as one device for teaching that topic, then everything is working the way that it should. It is decidedly not up to a school committee member to make a judgment about a particular method of teaching a topic.

Now you are attempting to deflect attention away from your original mistake by mentioning possible anti-Semitic content in the video. I would contend that anti-Semitic content is problematic whether it appears in a rap video or a Shakespeare play. It's the message not the medium. And it has nothing to do with the issue of rigor and challenge. Reading "Mein Kampf" in the original German would be very challenging.

Okay, I am going to turn on MTV now and look for a video that I can use to teach Fibonacci sequences. Any parent who has a concern about me showing a video is welcome to contact me directly and ask me about the educational intent. I would be happy to discuss it with the parents. 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34...

Anonymous said...

Both my kids were shown videos in language classes in the middle school. Don't YOU wiggle out of it. There is no group of people more hyper sensitive to consructive criticism or change than teachers as a group.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Nina - First, I'm disappointed that your tone would start with "you can't wiggle out of this one," which seems to imply that that approach is my typical style (surely a challenging goal when one has a BLOG that maintains a perfect summary of all of my statements). But regardless of your intent, let me clarify -- the parent who first contacted me did so to specifically complain about the anti-Semitic nature of the clip and that parent noted that certainly some videos could be educational and some rap videos in particular. However, I felt that focusing on the anti-semitism in the You Tube clip in my response was much more accusatory (e.g., a MS teacher is anti-semitic) than describing this as an EXAMPLE of an activity that was seen by parents (and kids) as one that perhaps lacked rigor. Would this be an example that concerned a parent if it didn't include anti-semitism? I have no idea, although of course I also heard concern about the CSI episode and that (to the best of my knowledge) wasn't anti-semitic. You can focus on "not letting me wiggle out of my words" or you can focus on defending the immense educational value of videos, You Tube clips, television episodes, etc. And you will convince perhaps a few people who read this blog that these are the best educational techniques around, and that we are lucky to have teachers in our district who are so skilled in using such creative pedagogy. But the reality will remain, no matter how much I try to wiggle out of my words, that parents have real and consistent concerns about the academic rigor and challenge in the middle school, and thus I imagine that they are highly attentive to things that fit into their (now well-established) theory that the MS isn't acaemically rigorous (like a You Tube video -- anti-Semitic or not -- or a CSI video) -- whether that is fair or not. You can blame me and my wiggling nature for maligning the teachers, the entire MS, the valuable educational techniques used in Amherst, etc. But that doesn't change the way parents feel about the academic experience in the MS. That's the only issue here ... because people have concerns about whether their child is experiencing academic rigor and challenge in the MS, and I'm willing to say that using my actual name -- even with the understanding that this means I face criticism on my blog and in the press for daring to say what many parents say -- yes, at birthday parties and soccer practice and so on.

Anonymous 6:55 - I believe I'm agreeing with you ... yes?!? That your children didn't feel like the videos they were shown in MS language class were of great educational benefit? I share the belief that SOME teachers have been extremely defensive about any criticism. In fairness, I also want to acknowledge that many teachers, across buildings, have reached out to me privately, and have expressed things to me that they wish could be better in our district that could help them be better teachers. Just want to acknowledge that not all teachers share this resistance to any criticism.

Anonymous said...

Brava Nina!
What are the numbers referring to at the end of your fantastic comment?
Catherine, Can you please tell us the name of the rappers and the name of the video that was shown? To what grade was this video shown, and what class? for example: was it English, Music,etc...? Thanks!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 7:57 - it was shown in 8th grade English. And here it is: http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=XBa55sDTIiA.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:57 Obviously, you and I went to a much less rigorous MS than ARMS! I asked my kids- those numbers are a Fibonacci sequence.

Hip Hop Head #1 said...

Thank you for posting this video. It is for a song called "I have a dream" by the rapper "Common".

The song was on the soundtrack for a film called "Freedom Writers".

Here's a bit of the movies's plot from the wikipedia entry

"At school, Gruwell intercepts a racist drawing of one of her students and uses it to teach them about the Holocaust. She gradually begins to earn their trust and buys them composition books to record their diaries, in which they talk about their experiences of being abused, seeing their friends die, and being evicted. She invites several Holocaust survivors to talk with her class about their experiences and takes them on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance.

In class, when reading The Diary of a Young Girl, they invite Miep Gies to talk to them. After they raise the money to bring her over, she tells them her experiences hiding Anne Frank. When Marcus tells her that she is his hero, she denies it, claiming she was merely doing the right thing"

Here are the some of the lyrics from the song:

My Dream Is To Be Free


The world's seen me lookin' in the mirror,
Images of me, gettin' much clearer,
Dear Self, I wrote a letter just to better my soul,
If I don't express it then forever I'll hold, inside
I'm from a side where we out of control,
Rap music in the 'hood played a fatherly role,
My story's like yours, yo it gotta be told,
Tryna make it from a gangsta to a godlier role,
Read scrolls and stow slaves,
And Jewish people in cold cage,
Hate has no color or age, flip the page,
Now my rage became freedom,
Writin' dreams in the dark, they far but I can see 'em,
I believe in Heaven more than Hell,
Blessings more than jail,
In the ghetto let love prevail,
With a story to tell, my eyes see the glory and well,
The world waitin' for me to yell "I Have a Dream"


The bit that deals with the Jewish experience is:

"Read scrolls and stow slaves,
And Jewish people in cold cage,
Hate has no color or age"

and

"My dream is to be free"

So it looks like this song's lyrics are equating the hypocrisy of the religious slavetraders(the "scrolls" in the lyric refer to the bible surely) and the hypocrisy of the religious german in allowing the slave trade and the holocaust respectively. "Hate has no color or age" makes it clear that the rapper here is comdemning the Holocaust. This jives with the video content of the victims and survivors of the holocaust as well as the plot of the movie whose soundtrack the song was included in.

This song is clearly THE OPPOSITE of anti-semitic, based on the song's lyrical content alone. But the movie's plot sheds alot of light on why the video includes the imagery it does.

Sometimes one parent's perception is unfortunately a mis-perception. Granted, holocaust imagery is disturbingly powerful which is guaranteed to elicit a powerful response. However one should look beyond the emotional response and thoroughly study what is going on in the work of art before rushing to judgement.

I find it troublesome that Ms. Sanderson would not stop to verify a parent's serious acccusations of anti-semitism in classroom materieals before spreading that accusation throughout the community on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hip Hop:
Thank you for your post. It is very clear that the message of the song was the OPPOSITE of anti-Semitic. I don't know what the lesson was in which the song was used but I imagine it sent a very strong message in the class that used it. I would have no trouble with my child being in that class and in fact would count myself fortunate that my child had such an innovative teacher. And the movie whose soundtrack this song is in sounds like a great movie! I am going to look it up on Netflix.

Finally, this whole episode here on this blog about this "anti-Semitic" rap video has finally convinced me of one thing - its time to stop reading this blog. People who read this blog come away with a very distorted, one sided view of the schools that I think is harmful to our community. Without people like you, Hip Hop, to set the record straight, people get a very distorted view of the schools here. I am done with this propaganda.

Rick said...

Yes thanks so much to Hip Hop Head #1 for all that info. I agree that “This song is clearly THE OPPOSITE of anti-semitic”. Comments like that make this blog worth reading. Like any blog there is good stuff and bad stuff on it. I find the good stuff to be worth having to read the bad stuff.

I watched the video and thought it was great and perfectly fine for a class to watch. Whether watching it is “rigorous” completely depends on what the teacher does with it in his or her class – there is no way to judge that just by watching the video.

What this “video episode” tells me is this: We can react too quickly to one parent’s complaint. One parent’s complaint does not equal a problem. Of course one should listen to and understand all complaints, but not all complaints are valid.

Joel said...

I watched the video closely and most of it is lovely. The images of the Holocaust were jarring and out of place without reference to the movie. Did the class watch the movie? My understanding is no, and that makes this a very odd thing to watch out of context.

Moreover, I have two serious worries about this little controversy.

First, it is really sad that when a Jew feels something is anti-Semitic he/she gest an argument. We are apparently wrong and touchy. Well, I reserve the right to be touchy, especially when images of the Holocaust are thrown about out of context.

Second, the bit about reading scrolls and stowing slaves is really bad. The scrolls part is not about religion broadly. You want to invoke religion in the USA, you mention church or a cross. Jews read from scrolls in synagogue. I've been to Christian churches and never seen a scroll. Scrolls = Jews. Jews did not finance the slave trade. That claim is part of the anti-Semitic arsenal. It's ahistorical and wrong.

So, excuse me, but in a town that thinks of itself as progressive and literate and part of the reality based community, the least we can do is take seriously how Jewish kids feel about being linked to the slave trade in class.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I'm not going to get into whether the video/song was or was not anti-Semitic. What matters to me is that a parent whose child saw this video in class found it problematic. This was a Jewish parent. Other Jewish parents have also expressed concerns to me about NOT the video per se but the LYRICS of the video. So, I guess I'm puzzled that a parent who came to a School Committee member with a concern that a video shown in class was anti-Semitic (and that parent used his/her name -- not an anonymous post on a blog) and yet Hip Hop and Hip Hop #1 and Rick can also say with certainty that this video doesn't contain anti-Semitic references --although Joel, who I believe is in fact Jewish and is NOT the parent who brought this to my attention, believes it is. Perhaps Rick and Hip Hop and Hip Hop #1 are all Jewish, and thus we have a difference of opinion even among Jewish people. Or perhaps Hip Hop and Hop Hop #1 and Rick are NOT Jewish, and hence we have a case in which the same material is seen in different ways by Jewish and non-Jewish people.

But I'm willing to bet that if a parent of color complained to a SC member about a video that contained what he or she saw as racist material, I seriously, seriously doubt whether people (on this blog and elsewhere) would feel comfortable saying "oh, that is just one person of color's view about what is racist -- I've seen the video and I don't think it is racist at all." And that distinction, which I fully believe exists, is in fact ... anti-Semitic.

Joel said...

Catherine,

Well said.

Rick said...

To Joel:
Sorry, I should not have said “not all complaints are valid” because that made it sound like that person’s feeling about the video was invalid.

I’m not sure this passage is specific enough to interpret accurately, as is the case with much poetry:

“Read scrolls and stow slaves,
And Jewish people in cold cage,
Hate has no color or age.”

How you interpret it may well depend on who you are. I’m not Jewish. I interpreted it the same way that Hip Hop Head #1 did. That’s doesn’t mean it’s the right interpretation – I would argue there is no “right” interpretation.

You could interpret the use of “scrolls” to be strictly a Jewish thing, as it is today. Or you could interpret it to mean biblical writing in general, since all bible writings were scrolls at one point in time. Certainly biblical writings were used as justification for slavery:

“Both the Old and New Testaments recognize the institution of slavery. Historically, passages in the Old Testament of the Bible have been used as justification of the keeping of slaves, and for guidance in how it should be done.”

“Nearly all Christian leaders before the late 17th century regarded slavery, within specific Biblical limitations, as consistent with Christian theology.”

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Christianity).


To Catherine:
Just a reminder that the original issue raised by you was about rigor:

“Is low morale leading teachers to show You Tube rap videos or CSI episodes during class?”

“I have heard from parent who found the content of the rap video problematic ... and I think both of these examples point to the concerns parents have about the school -- that it lacks consistent rigor and challenge for all kids. Showing TV shows (even very good ones) and You Tube videos reinforce concerns parents have about the school's academic climate.”

I get the idea that although not offensive to me, that I’m not Jewish, so maybe it is offensive to somebody who is Jewish.

I don’t get where the evidence is that this was in some way not rigorous. I don’t see any evidence one way or the other on that.

At any rate, this video thing is one small issue in the larger picture of whether or not ARMS is doing a good job – so it’s probably blown way out of proportion.

Anonymous said...

"But I'm willing to bet that if a parent of color complained to a SC member about a video that contained what he or she saw as racist material, I seriously, seriously doubt whether people (on this blog and elsewhere) would feel comfortable saying "oh, that is just one person of color's view about what is racist -- I've seen the video and I don't think it is racist at all." And that distinction, which I fully believe exists, is in fact ... anti-Semitic."

So even a polite reasoned argument that contradicts your statements is anti-semitic? Sounds to me like you are just trying to shut down the discussion by this very very convoluted argument.

And you DO realize that you are employing a "straw man" argument in this statement? It is fully hypothetical and holds no water.

Plus, and most distressingly, it sounds like you are pitting the Blacks against the Jews here- not smart at all. This has been a danger throughout this entire discussion of course, but YOU are the only one to come right out and play that card.

Anonymous said...

I didn't associate the scrolls line with Jewish people and didn't make the associaion of blaming Jews for enslaving Africans. I took that line as with meaning that "good people" who followered the Bible also enslaved people. I thought the later lyrics linked slaves and Jews killed in the Holocasut as both being victims. After reading Joel's post though, I can completely see his perspective on these lyrics and why he found them anti-Semetic.

Anonymous said...

It's important that we take the time to discuss matters such as this - a video shown in class, how it is interpreted by various individuals & groups, whether it is reflective of an attempt by teachers to stretch kids' minds, etc.
But........the original thread had to do with the sudden,unexpected
departure of Ms Cresto.
Can we have closure on one subject before jumping to another? Or, is it convenient to move on and leave many questions unanswered?

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 7:49l. I am Jewish and I did not find the video anti-Semitic. And you do not need the movie to understand the meaning of the video...just listen to or read the lyrics.

Anonymous said...

"Freedom Writers" is a great movie and with an even greater message to educators. It mainly deals with kids that fall out of the main stream classroom and a determined teacher who dedicates herself to teaching them fairly. I am sorry to read about hard feelings over the lyrics that were listened to/shown in the MS. I hope this situation is resolved and soon so that there are no hard feelings left. I really would never have made such a connection to slavery and Jewish people with the word "scroll." Joel could you explain a little more clearly why this is understood to be so? Who wrote the song? Not the singer, but the writer.
Catherine, can you tell us exactly what was taken offense to and how you handled this complaint? Who was the teacher who used this material? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess people want to continue to focus on a situation that originated in one teacher's classroom that may or may not have had a negative impact on the students in that class.
In the meantime, a situation that had an impact on every kid in the school goes to the back burner.
It's fascinating how things work in Amherst.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses (for what I hope is the last time on this post?!?):

Rick - I agree with much of what you said, including (a) the real issue that I raised in my response was a concern about rigor, and (b) different people can interpret the same situation in different ways (e.g., as anti-Semitic). I wasn't in the room when the clip was shown, and I don't believe any one person (including a single parent or a SC member) is the single arbiter of whether content is appropriate. HOWEVER, the key thing to me is that I think this concern about the You Tube clip (and the CSI clip) raised some concerns among some parents because they "fit" with the theory that "the MS lacks rigor." This doesn't mean that showing videos is bad. This doesn't mean that showing You Tube clips is bad. But it means that if parents ALREADY have concerns about the level of academic rigor and challenge present in an environment, these type of examples reinforce that concern (because they, rightly or wrongly, have the appearance to at least some of being "light-weight"). I don't think these would be concerns if the general feeling in the community was that the MS was a total academic pressure-cooker that encouraged ridiculously high amounts of homework and held kids to ridiculously high academic standards (in that case, these videos would probably be seen as a good way to have kids have a little fun/relaxation). And yes, that was the overall concern the first parent brought to my attention (although also expressing concern about what that parent felt about the anti-Semitic nature).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 8:18 - I stand by my original statement ... people feel very free to dispute whether something is or is not anti-Semitic based on their own feelings in a way that simply wouldn't happen if a parent raised concerns about race. I guarantee that if I said, hey, I'm white and I saw this clip and it isn't racist, you are wrong, people would be writing letters to the Bulletin. You can certainly call that playing the race card -- because that is your interpretation of my response. I don't see it that way, which again, shows how reasonable people can disagree (even if one of them makes a statement using their actual name and one of them makes a statement as an anonymous poster).

Anonymous 8:41 - the parent who first contacted me was NOT Joel (who does not have MS age kids) ... and that parent expressed concerns in a way that was very similar to what Joel has now posted.

Anonymous 9:02 - good point! I believe that some anonymous posters wanted to use this blog posting as an opportunity to criticize me for criticizing the MS, which is why I believe the rap video comment I made (in response to a posting stating that what the MS teachers need most is morale building or something) has generated so much attention ... it is easier to attack me on this front than focus on the real issue.

I think Glenda's departure is a real tragedy -- I think she was part of the solution to fixing some of the problems in the MS and I think in her first year as principal she made parents feel more welcome and informed than they had experienced in a long time. I believe she was chosen after a thorough search, involving parents and teachers and administrators, and that she will be hard to replace (and that it isn't clear to me how much change can occur at the MS this year with yet ANOTHER year of temporary leadership -- which will be, I believe, the third year of transitional leadership in the last four). So, I feel very sad -- as a SC member and as a parent of a 6th grader -- about the events of this week for the kids in our district (those in 7th and 8th particularly, but also those in 6th and 5th, who I was hoping would benefit from some important changes that could have developed this year and next).

Anonymous 9:11 - I believe there are Jewish people who find these lyrics anti-Semitic and those who don't (I have heard both sides from Jewish people privately to my email account). I also believe there are women who believe calling female college students "girls" isn't offensive and those who believe it is (e.g., that the term should be women since no one really calls male college students boys). Again, reasonable people can disagree.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My FINAL Responses:

Anonymous 9:12 - to answer your questions:

1. The complaint was about the lyrics (which again, were seen in a way that is very similar to what Joel described) AND that the content of the class in reference/discussion of this video didn't help clarify the point/nature/educational value of the clip (again, as reported by that person's child).

2. I received the complaint on Monday night ... and I encouraged the parent to contact Mark Jackson (in charge of 7 to 12), Mike Hayes (senior assistant principal of the MS), and/or Alberto Rodriguez (superintendent). I do not know if the parent did so. I also offered to forward their concern directly to any of these people if they wished to remain anonymous (as I have found some people prefer if they worry that the teacher could then react negatively to them or their child). The parent did not ask me to do so.

3. I am not going to name the teacher on this blog -- I have never done so, and I just don't think it is appropriate or fair of me to do so. Again, I think the key issue here is that this type of material may have been entirely appropriate to show (meaning a You Tube video, not, of course, anti-semitic material), but that it was seen in a less than positive way by SOME parents given what I believe are already preexisting concerns about the academic rigor of the MS. That's really the key issue (for me anyway).

Anonymous 9:39 - I agree completely with your statement. Though I don't think the resignation of Glenda last Monday is yet on the back burner (at least based on what I continue to hear from concerned parents)!

Rick said...

Catherine:

Thanks for your thoughtful response above. I would throw this out for consideration:

I think this stuff snowballs as follows:

1. For various reasons, there is the perception by some (or many) that ARMS is not rigorous.

2. Then specific things happen – like the YouTube thing – and because of #1 people immediately assume its bad. This is what you are saying happens in your comment above.

3. This in turn reinforces #1, when probably it shouldn’t.

I think what would help is that for #2, we need to stop and think “is this really bad”?

This also happens from the other side:

1. Teachers hear complaints – like YouTube video – which are sometimes overblown and think “what are they talking about?”

2. This reinforces a perception that they may have that parents are reactionary.

So you end up with both parents and teachers having an overblown impression of what the real problems are, which discourages them from working together to fix them.

This YouTube thing got us way off topic here, but to me it’s been an interesting discussion anyhow and I learned something.

Anonymous said...

"I stand by my original statement ... people feel very free to dispute whether something is or is not anti-Semitic based on their own feelings in a way that simply wouldn't happen if a parent raised concerns about race."

Allow me to offer another hypothetical situation tailor-made to absolutely refute this.

Suppose an African-Amerian parent's student in Amherst had a High School teacher (who for whatever reason the parent believed was not rigorous enough) and, that teacher was teaching Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, AND that parent complained directly to a SC member that the book was racist due to the use of the N-word by a white author, AND that SC member shared that complaint on a public blog.

It is entirely plausible that there would be a reasonable disagreement on the blog from its readership about the racist nature of this text. They would argue that this was in fact not a racist text and they would use a host of excellent examples to support that position.

This COULD happen.

I'd like to read Catherine's response, though she may choose to ignore it. We'll see.

One final point. This is in the context of a discussion about rigor and what goes on in blogs. It is a respectful refutation of a politician's argument and not a personal attack against that politician.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:43 - as I've said, I'm done with discussing a very side issue on this post. If you'd like to continue the dialogue and hear my response, my private email is casanderson@amherst.edu and I'm glad for the two of us to discuss this at length, if this seems to be the key issue (e.g., whether complaints about race are taken as serious as complaints about anti-semitism in Amherst) facing the schools. This, to me, is very much a side issue that is less essential to the well-being of education in our district than (a) losing the MS principal on the third day of school, and (b) a relatively widespread and long-standing perception in our town that the MS lacks academic rigor and challenge for all kids. But again, my offer holds for you anytime -- email me privately and we can discuss any topic you like, person to person with both parties using their real names. I look forward to hearing from you soon, Anonymous 9:43!

Rick said...

A couple of Anons above wanted to get back to the subject of Glenda Cresto's resignation. In my view the more recent post does this pretty well. See the post “Middle school principal quits amid criticism” which is a reprint of the Nick Grabbe article.

It’s not totally clear, but you can pretty easily get from that article that Cresto resigned on her own - not forced to resign. That makes sense as this is the last thing Rodriguez would want. If he did not think she was the right person, no way would he fire her right now and surely he did his best to try to get her to stay. If you were him, would you want this to happen right now?

Also there was this quote from Rodriguez:

"I'm sure that there were not ideal working conditions," he said. ”You don't want to be clubbed over the head morning, noon and night. It's hard to work with that kind of criticism."

which indicates that perhaps she just couldn’t take the criticism anymore.

The other part of this – “what now” – I think will unfold over the next weeks. Put yourself in Rodriguez’ shoes – this is tough – he probably is working it through himself trying to figure out the best way to go forward. He has something in place with Mark Jackson, but I’m sure will be monitoring closely how that is working.

Rick said...

Anon 9:43

On the one hand I think Catherine made a good point in that we are probably less inclined to disagree with an African American’s view that something is racist than we are with disagreeing with a Jewish person that something is anti-Semitic. I have to admit I am guilty of that myself in this case. Had the subject been racism, I would have thought twice.

On the other hand, in the specific example you raised, I think there would be disagreement voiced. Whether your example is equivalent to this YouTube video issue, I’m not sure, but I get your point.

Anonymous said...

Where did Ms. Cresto go? And why do we not know why she left?
Also--at the risk of jumping subject and getting back to the "Freedom Writers" theme song that some parent(s), student(s) found offensive--what about the main theme of that movie? What about the Amherst child who fits the description of the Freedom writers....What about those kids?? Amherst has got klots of them. Has the Sped department been as highly scrutinized as the Middle School? Perhaps not I fear....with Ms. Geryk, its former leader, still at the helm... Leaves this parent pretty worried overall!!

Anonymous said...

We will never know what went on prior to the resignation due to the fact of fairness and to protect Ms. Cresto's privacy and the school department's privacy. Just like in the private sector certain policies and rights have to be adheared. I find it offensive that people would critisize, "take pop shots" at other teachers" Also to critisize on this blog something they do not agree with about what a teacher teaches or shows in a classroom. Speak to the teacher, the teacher's supervisor, the administration.
Also, as far as the rap video goes, no one is ever going to agree on a teachers way of instucting...
Remember what happens when a person ASSUMES!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Rick

That quote you repeat from Rodriquez, "Im not sure...that kind of criticism." appears to make things clearer to you. I'm more confused because of it.
Yes, the MS has been subjected to much scrutiny and criticism, but just about every piece of it I've read and heard on this blog and elsewhere, whether from parents or SC members, specifically absolved Ms Cresto from personal responsibility whenever her name was mentioned in anyone's comments.
So, Im left with questions. What are the sources of noon and night criticism that Dr Rodriquez refers to? Does he think Ms Cresto took personally criticism not meant for her? Being that her resignation came out of the blue at the same time as the scheduling mess, could anything he said to her then been part of the criticism she couldn't take any more?

Anonymous said...

Yes, in comments made by Dr Rodriquez why couldn't something have shown up that went something like this, "The criticisms of the MS are largely the result of perceptions of practices and patterns that developed long before Ms Cresto arrived. In her year here she worked diligently noon and night to address those concerns."

Rick said...

Anon 6:39:

My guess - and it's only a guess - is that the criticism that Rodriguez refers to is perhaps about ARMS not Cresto. But when people are in charge of running something, and that something is getting heavily criticized, the person doesn't have to feel like the criticism is about them in order to want to resign.

She could genuinely have felt overwhelmed and didn't think she was up to fixing everything that was being criticized.

I am not sure how the article makes things less clear - but I certainly agree that does not answer all questions for sure.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:39:

One of the most important acts that any department head can perform to instill a feeling of "team", is to go to bat for an employee who for no fault of her own, is receiving undue criticism. That's just a basic mechanism of personnel support, one which creates a good feeling among the staff. One could even say it is a favorable leadership style, one which is presently absent in our system.

Anonymous said...

Two weeks ago, Dr. Rodriquez said his proposal to move 6th grade to the Middle School was part of a
"transformation to make the system the best in the country". Now, Ms. Cresto is moving on "to bigger and better things." Huh?