This was our second meeting of the school year, and it was jam-packed with information/discussion -- which I really appreciated.
First, we started with the overall welcome, which includes the agenda review and approval of minutes. There is a new feature called "Student/Teacher Spotlight" for all meetings, in which the high school art department (and their student show of this spring) was featured. Seemed like a very impressive show of a range of student art.
Second, we turned to announcements and public comment -- there were none.
Third, we had the superintendent's update, which include a thank you to Maria Geryk for serving an interim superintendent, as well as various now departed SC members, and members (parents/teachers/community members) of the math and social studies curricular review committees. Dr. Rodriguez announced that the survey results will be presented at the next regional meeting (Tuesday, September 8th). The superintendent then turned to the 6th grade report, which has now been well-publicized in the paper (and on this blog). The committee discussed a few different issues/concerns, including: why not consider a K to 8 model (Kristen), general support for a three-year school in terms of parent buy-in (Andy), belief that our MS facility is under-utilized so moving the 6th grade would be good for the Amherst 1st to 5th graders, but also concern that teacher speciality in a subject does NOT mean rigorous/good quality teaching and belief that the MS (and the Turning Points model) needs work (Steve), concerns about the timing of the decision about where to put the 6th grade in terms of the redistricting in Amherst (Irv), concerns about the rigor/challenge of the MS which should be resolved PRIOR to adding a new grade (me), questions about timing and budgetary implications (Debbie), questions about timing and space allocation (Farshid). The superintendent noted the MS needs some work, and that an outside review might be helpful. He believes that this issue will continue to be discussed, and that he will make a recommendation in the future.
We then had other questions to the superintendent from the committee. Steve asked about whether the curriculum review committees consider perspectives from outside the district, and believed that this approach would be useful. He expressed concerns that some of what we do in our district is very, very unique (and potentially inferior), such as the use of the extensions approach in 7th grade math and the requirement of ecology in 9th grade. He would like more information on the protocol of these committees to make sure that they are worth the time/investment of all those involved as well as the resources we spend doing these committees. I asked two questions: first, I wondered when MS team assignments would be given (apparently these are now out), and second, I asked whether the SC could have enrollment data for all HS classes (which other members of the SC also were interested in receiving and the superintendent believes can be provided to us soon).
Fourth, we turned to unfinished/continuing business, which involved appointing chairs of each of the subcommittees: Steve is chair of the curriculum subcommittee, Debbie is chair of the budget/finance committee, and Farshid is chair of the policy subcommittee.
Fifth, we turned to new business. This included approving the revised MS and HS handbooks (the big piece of note here is that the HS is now going to try to help students make good decisions involving attendance by having conversations early in the semester when absences occur, and field trips will now be considered excused), establishment of a subcommittee to propose district goals and the superintendent's evaluation (members will be Farshid, Irv, Andy, me, and Tracy -- the chairs/vice chairs of the three committees), and briefly discussing whether high school graduation requirements should be changed (in anticipation that this issue will come up at the next SC meeting). The issue of high school graduation requirements was used to illustrate how subcommittees could be useful -- this issue would impact curriculum (what curriculum are we using/requiring), policy (what is our policy on graduation requirements), and budget (what is the financial impact of changing requirements).
Sixth, we then turned to the long awaited report from the How Are We Doing Subcommittee (which included me, Andy, Marianne, and Elaine). I have already posted the whole report on my blog, but briefly, the committee report did two things: first, it proposed a list of criteria by which we could evaluate both how we as a district are doing over time (e.g., do things change in good or bad directions) and how we are doing compared to other similar districts (e.g., are students in our schools doing better or worse than those in other similar districts), and second, it proposed a set of 12 districts by which we could compare our performance on these measures (these schools were chosen largely through their association with MSAN and/or presence in Massachusetts). We had a good discussion about these districts, and it was proposed that Longmeadow be removed from the list (since that is a virtually all white and wealthy district). That would leave us with 11 districts with which to compare ourselves, which seems like a manageable number. The superintendent expressed his support for benchmarking ourselves and our performance with other districts, which I really appreciated (this is certainly a new idea for Amherst, as far as I can tell).
Finally, we discussed items for upcoming meetings. I asked whether the survey data would be posted on the website (it will be), and whether the SC would receive not such quantitative data, but also a summary of qualitative data (we will). Dr. Rodriguez noted that anyone with questions about the survey data and how it should be presented should email him.
All in all, it was a very, very productive and informative meeting!
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.