Sorry for the long delay in posting this one -- I've been preparing for the start of my own semester, and hence just didn't get around to finishing this one for a while.
The meeting started, as always, with a call to order, agenda review, and announcements/public comment (no public comments were made).
We then turned to the Superintendent's update, which included two topics. The first topic was on the Marks Meadow closing and issue of redistricting. Kathy Mazur reported that the staff at Marks Meadow is already going through old materials and electronics to figure out what to toss and what to save/move. The intention is to ask U Mass to allow the district to use the building through December 30, 2010 to make sure that the final move can be done without disrupting kids. The intention is to have a vote on the final redistricting plan on October 27th. By this point, good enrollment data will be available (early data suggest that enrollments are lower than projected at the four elementary schools), and it is hoped that a final plan can be worked out by the subcommittee focusing on redistricting by early October. This plan involves people from IT (Doug Slaughter) and transportation (Ron Bohonowicz, Peter Crouse) as well as central administration (Kathy Mazur, Maria Geryk) and two School Committee members (Steve, Irv).
We then turned to some questions from the committee. Steve noted that the SC needs to set the criteria up-front in terms of the factors that will be considered in drawing the lines (e.g., what priority will be placed on moving as few children as possible versus bus times, etc.). He also stated that we need to make a decision soon on whether we are going to move the 6th grade -- because the lines could be drawn differently if schools needed to house 7 versus 6 grades. Finally, he noted that if you draw the lines for 7 grades, and then move 6th grade, CF becomes very under-enrolled, which again leads to a lack of equity in the schools. Kathy noted that these issues would be addressed by the redistricting subcommittee.
I then asked three questions: what is the timeline for community feedback, are we moving the portables, and will we be teaching language in any of the schools (as we now do in Wildwood only)? These questions will also be addressed by the redistricting subcommittee.
The superintendent then stated that the 6th grade issue can't slow us from drawing lines, so we need to proceed with keeping 6th grade in the elementary schools. He also stated the he believes we need to have community feedback on the maps, and that he intends to have a second "Open House" night to allow kids to see their "new school" once the lines are drawn and finalized.
A parent in the audience then asked whether there would be opportunities for public comment, and whether parents could attend the redistricting subcommittee meetings. There was some discussion about this, but following the meeting, it was clarified that parents ARE allowed to attend the meetings and hence those should be posted and announced (however, feedback will not necessarily be taken by parents and community members).
I then asked whether we intended to continue busing kids to different schools based on the language spoken at home. This question will apparently also be addressed by the redistricting subcommittee.
The superintendent then noted that his priority is "access and equity" and that he believes it is essential that the programs and curricula are the same high quality across all schools. He knows that not everyone will be happy with where the lines are drawn, but that he believes the key priority is making the three schools equitable in terms of the experience.
We will have a report from the redistricting subcommittee at our September 22nd meeting - and it is expected that a draft of a single redistricting map will be available in early October.
The next issue addressed in the superintendent's update was the position of Curriculum Director. He intends to re-open the search for an assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction in December, and to have curriculum work completed this year with current district staff. This work will focus on aligning the curriculum to the state standards and he has indentified a person to take on K to 6 alignment, and a number of people will work on MS alignment (including Mike Hayes, Marta Guavara, Maria Geryk). The goal of this work will be to focus on raising the rigor of the MS to make sure that more kids are ready for AP and honors classes in the high school. The high school will be dealt with separately--and that will start with a meeting between the superintendent and the HS math/science teachers to discuss the high school requirements and course sequences in these disciplines.
The committee then raised a number of questions.
Steve asked about the role of evidence, including evidence from other districts, in making decisions. He wondered whether the curriculum we have now is necessarily the best (in terms of the ordering and/or the pacing of classes). The superintendent stated he was taking a close look at all math curriculum, including Investigations (elementary), Impact (MS), and IMP (high school), and he was focusing on what other districts are using (both other districts in MA and other districts that are in MSAN). He stated he "doesn't want to make decisions in a silo" and will be looking outside. He is also working on developing a district strategic plan with a professor from Boston College, after realizing that our district's strategic plan is now 8 or 9 years old.
I asked two questions. First, I asked how we would know if something was working, since often the people who design or create a curriculum/program then speak to how well it is working without any objective evidence. The superintendent noted that ideally there are outside evaluations, but this is costly. Second, I asked for an update on the status of the RFP for a review of the special education program. I was told that this will go out soon, and that the committee is still meeting to work on this.
(THE REST OF THE MEETING IS NOW SUMMARIZED)
Irv then asked a question about the districts' preparation for the H1N1 virus. Maria Geryk answered this question, explaining that there is a protocol in place that has been reviewed by all the principals. Irv also wondered if there is a set time at which a school closes (e.g., if a certain % of kids are infected). Maria said there is not a set limit -- it varies by district and by state.
We then turned to unfinished and continuing business. First, Rob Detweiler presented the final 2009 budget results, which revealed that the Amherst schools returned $220,379 to the town in unspent funds at the end of the year. Information on the final year end budget is also now presented on the ARPS website. The superintendent stated that he has asked Rob to prepare monthly budget reports now to show where we are fiscally at all times, which Irv supports.
Next, we discussed how the Amherst School Committee and the Regional School Committee subcommittee assignments could work together. It was noted that Steve and Kathleen are already on the curriculum subcommittee (and will serve in this way for Amherst as well as Region), that Irv and Andy are on the budget subcommittee (again, for both districts), and that I am now alone on the Policy subcommittee (it was later decided that Andy would join me on this committee at both the Region and Amherst levels). In addition, Irv and Steve are on the redistricting subcommittee, and Andy, Irv, and I are all on the district goals/evaluation subcommittee. We discussed whether we should have separate or combined subcommittees (Amherst and Region) and decided we needed separate subcommittees to work on Amherst specific issues. This may involve some consecutive meetings (e.g., curriculum committee could meet for an hour just as Amherst, then an hour with Region ), or separate meetings (e.g., it may be too much to do budget subcommittee meetings for Amherst and Region on the same day/night).
Steve then brought up the question of what the curriculum subcommittee should examine. He suggested that math might be a place to start, and brought along some information collected from the other districts suggested by the "how are we doing" subcommittee on math curriculum used in elementary and middle school. There was then a long discussion about whether curriculum work should fall into the School Committee domain, or whether that is really the domain of administrator/teachers. Steve noted that this is really a policy issue -- on the use of data -- and that the policy subcommittee should be writing policy to express the procedures that should be used.
We then brainstormed about some Amherst-specific goals. Steve suggested three: how well do we do interventions for struggling kids, how well have we implemented literacy programs across the elementary schools, and how much science is being taught K to 6. Kathleen suggested we examine how well the district is implementing the social justice/becoming a multi-cultural school system initiatives.
Our next topic was new business. We approve the reaccreditation of the Common School. Then we turned to a discussion of the policy in our district on facility rental (e.g., use of schools after school hours). Ron Bohonowicz discussed the current use of the schools, and in particular that there has been a lack of consistency in charging fees for such use. In some cases, non-profit afterschool programs have paid no rental fees at all for afterschool use, but they are receiving fees from families. In other cases, teachers (such as music teachers) are not paying rental fees, but are charging kids for private lessons. The issue is that we need to make sure that the policy is written in a way that is fair and equitably applied.
There was then a pretty long discussion about whether it was fair to have LSSE (a town-sponsored organization) running the Wildwood afterschool program (in which generous subsidies are available to low income kids), whereas such subsidies are NOT available to kids at other schools (although some may be able to use vouchers). The committee ultimately decided that we needed some more information--such as what is the actual cost to the schools of staying open after hours (e.g., are we paying for heat/electricity and/or custodian services, etc.), how much kids at different income levels are being asked to pay at different schools (e.g., it would be unfortunate if low income kids at Wildwood paid very little, given the LSSE policies, whereas students at other schools had to pay much more). That information will be gathered and reported back. In addition, the policy subcommittee will examine the policy on the use of schools by outside groups and update as needed (and the administration will make sure the policy is enforced consistently).
Finally, we discussed items for upcoming meetings. These include the discussion of a new policy on facility use, a brief from our lawyer (Gini Tate) on legal issues involved in restructing/redistricting, a report on the survey data, and a report from the redistricting subcommittee on their work thus far.
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.