My Goal in Blogging

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Amherst Meeting, September 22, 2009

NOTE: I am still finishing my entry for the regional meeting on September 15th, which will be posted soon (it was a LONG meeting). But I put this one up fast because I know there is a lot of interest regarding the redistricting. Check back later this week for the summary of the last regional meeting.

This meeting began with a series of public comments from parents and community members. These parents expressed concerns about closing Marks Meadow and redistributing low income kids to different schools to create equity among % of low-income kids in all the schools. There was a proposal made by a group to create an immersion (Spanish-English) school at Crocker Farm, which would keep Spanish-speaking kids together (with Spanish-speaking staff). A formal proposal will be submitted by this group in October.

We then turned to superintendent's update. Dr. Rodriguez made three announcements. First, he noted the there had been two open redistricting subcommittee meetings with time for public comment, and there will be two open forums for such discussions. Second, he noted that this is the first he has heard of an immersion school, and would need to learn more. Third, he encouraged all parents to attend the Open Houses being held on Wednesday, September 23rd, at all of the elementary schools.

Next, we heard a presentation by Kathy Mazur (head of HR) on the work of the redistricting subcommittee. A map was shown (already on my blog) -- which is still a draft in progress. This map may be revised some, when final district enrollments for the year are determined on October 1st (interestingly, the overall elementary enrollment is down by about 30 kids from projections last spring). Some changes are already likely to be made to two roads (given transportation issues): Strong Street will all stay within the Wildwood district (even though it is cut by the railroad tracks) and State Street will go to Wildwood (now shown as going to Fort River).

Several aspects of this map were noted, including:
  • no child is on a bus more than 30 to 35 minutes
  • language clustering will not occur
  • the % of low income kids is 32.3% at WW, 34.8% at CF, and 35.2% at FR
  • the size of the schools is within 100 kids at each (359 at CF, 454 at FR, 440 at WW)
  • class sizes are still low (average of 19.9 at CF, 19.7 at FR, and 20 at WW)
  • the plan follows natural borders (e.g., main roads, railroad tracks), with the exception of two apartment complexes off of East Hadley Road (one will move to FR, one to WW)
  • kids at all schools are moving (100% at MM, 40% at CF, 20% at FR, 38% at WW).
There will be two open forums to discuss the restricting plans (childcare provided at each): Tuesday, October 8th, 7 pm at Marks Meadow and Wednesday, October 14th, 7 pm at Crocker Farm. The maps and information on the plan (e.g., school size, class size, etc.) will be posted on the district website on Friday, October 2nd (after the final enrollment numbers are out).

The plan is for the SC to vote officially on this plan at the October 27th meeting. At this meeting, there will also be votes regarding several key issues, including:
  • whether to return the portables to the town (since they are not needed in any of these plans, and thus could be sold by the town to replenish reserves)
  • whether to eliminate differential programs (e.g., Chinese language at only one school)
  • whether to allow for open enrollment to a school not in one's district
  • whether to continue clustering students by language.
There was some discussion by the committee involving redistricting issues. Steve noted that kids would teachers/staff will change buildings along with kids, so that kids will recognize familiar adults in all buildings. I noted that kids now in different apartment complexes off East Hadley Road are NOW going to different schools, so this is not a change in what has been occurring in the district. Jim Oldham (audience member and parent) expressed his view that busing children in apartments to different schools than children who live in the houses across from apartments disrupts their ability to form friendships and make playmates with kids who live nearby and are going to a different school, and that we weren't splitting up any other neighborhoods like this. Kathleen then noted that in her experience, kids in apartments aren't playing with kids in houses anyway, and that kids in apartments made friendships and did playdates with other kids in apartments REGARDLESS of whether they were going to the same school. I then noted that kids who live in downtown Amherst (e.g., Lincoln, Dana, etc.) would be divided -- kids on one side of Amity will go to Wildwood and kids on the other side will go to Crocker Farm. Kathleen then asked if it was possible to switch which apartments went to which schools to try to keep as many kids at the same school as they now attend. Doug agreed to look into this.

The committee then turned to discuss a budget update, which included reviewing a memo from the Budget Coordinating Group (BCG) -- Andy and Irv are the SC members on this committee. This memo states the importance of having budgets ready early this year, so that the town services (town, schools, library) can coordinate the budget process and be ready in case the Select Board proposes an override at the March 23rd election. Steve stated his concern that the schools should be focusing on doing as well as possible with the resources we have, and that we should not be presenting dire scenarios (e.g., eliminating world language and instrumental music) to build support for an override. Andy stated that the issue was one of timing, and that we would of course look for cost-savings before asking for an override. I noted that the elementary school budget should actually be in good shape next year, since with the closure of MM, we would be operating with fewer teachers and an entire administrative team. Irv agreed with this, but noted that the structural deficit remained (as noted in the FCCC report) and that an override would likely be needed at some point. Dr. Rodriguez noted that we would certainly look into efficiencies and potential cost-savings.

Next, we turned to a discussion about district goals. Steve suggested adding a goal to conduct a thorough review of the elementary school math curriculum, particularly given the concerns expressed nationwide about the math curriculum we use (Investigations) and the movement of other districts to different math curriculum. I expressed support for this goal, and noted that a review of this curriculum had not ever been done (certainly not for 20 or so years). I also noted that it would not be hard to look into what other MSAN districts were using, and that Everyday Math was a curriculum used by many MSAN districts (and with demonstrated research success as described in the What Works Clearinghouse) and that Think Math! is a curriculum now being used in Brookline and Framingham, MA (and also has demonstrated success). Both Irv and Dr. Rodriguez expressed their support for adding this goal.

Kathleen suggested adding a goal to increase professional development on issues of race for teachers. There was some discussion about this, and ultimately the superintendent offered to bring his recommendations regarding this goal to the next meeting of the goals subcommittee.

We tabled the discussion of the elementary school survey results (it was quite late by this point), but will return to this discussion at the October meeting. Steve and I agreed to prepare a brief presentation of these results to guide the discussion.

We then accepted a few gifts, discussed items for upcoming meetings (including world language in elementary schools), and reviewed a calendar regarding upcoming meetings and a budget timeline.

111 comments:

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Question: how many kids will be doing 30-35 minutes under that map vs. now? (this shouldn't be hard for them to get out of the software they have) Is it the same number of kids, just a different group of kids, or are we (for example) doubling the number of kids who are on the bus for 30-35 minutes?

Margaret Burland said...

This is my second attempt to post a comment, after it looks like the first one disappeared in cyberspace. If it turns out that both comments are posted, please understand that I wrote the second one only because the first one seemed to be gone. I live in Mill Valley Estates, one of the apartment complexes off of East Hadley Rd. Under all three of the proposed redistricting plans, my children would be sent to Fort River, even though there would be no other Fort River students living within walking distance of us. We would be bused in from outside the otherwise cohesive Fort River district, from what appears as a tiny, isolated low-income enclave on all the redistricting maps. I have communicated many general and specific concerns about this in letters to both the School Committee and the Redistricting Subcommittee, and I am glad to hear that Jim Oldham also voiced this concern at the Sept 22 meeting. Apparently there was some discussion at the meeting about whether or not the children in the apartment complexes socialize with each other or with their house-dwelling neighbors across East Hadley Rd. I wish to state strongly that that is not the essential point to me: what matters to me is that the town is treating us differently from all of the other families in Amherst, and the reason is that we have less money. I believe that that is wrong and discriminatory, and I also believe that most people in town would agree with me. What I know for sure is that it hurts, and that my husband and I refuse to go along with it. We are planning to move rather than place our children in a situation where they would be so isolated both from their neighbors and from their classmates. We may even move into the Fort River district -- we have no problem with Fort River, but rather with our neighborhood being officially defined by the town as a ghetto (look it up in the dictionary -- the term refers primarily to isolation, not to income). What we hear the town saying to us is that we don't belong here -- what has actually been said in published statements is that children from low-income families are a burden to their schools. But what enrages me about the redistricting process today more than ever before is that the statistics cited in the blog summary of the Sept 22 meeting suggest clearly that Fort River does not need the Mill Valley children in order to achieve socioeconomic equity. Under this recently proposed third plan, Fort River would have more students than any other school, and more poor students than any other school. So that indicates to me that if the Mill Valley children went to school with their neighbors who attend either Crocker Farm or Wildwood, Fort River would still be fully enrolled and have plenty of low-income students. In other words, there is no data-driven reason to put our children through the misery of being a tiny, outsider population in a huge and unfamiliar school. Please look at the numbers some more and reconsider. Not for the sake of my family -- we can afford to move elsewhere, since we pay full market-value rent here -- but for the sake of the town's integrity, in both senses of the word.

Abbie said...

I hope that along with the updated proposed redistricting plan to be released on Oct 2 (using updated number projections), a better map, where actual roads can be identified clearly, will be provided. If the released map is similar to one currently available, it won't be much help to the discussion.

Thanks

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Alisa - I don't know if those numbers have been run (e.g., how many kids are going to be on the bus longer or shorter). But I'd say that most kids (maybe like 60 to 65%) are staying at their same school, and for these kids, the bus ride will very likely be the same (e.g., because neighborhoods are staying together, by and large those kids are going to be on the same bus and the same route as they are now). My kids aren't moving schools -- and they are one bus for about 30 minutes now. Bus arrives at our house at 8:05, gets to school at 8:35. I think it is very clear that they will be on the same bus, same time next year. So, a majority of kids will likely be on the same bus for the same time. Then, I imagine many kids will be on a new bus for shorter time (e.g., the kids who are now in the houses of off East Hadley Road will probably take less time to get to CF than they do now to get to WW). Other kids will be on the bus for longer (e.g., some kids who now are at MM and must go further to reach WW). However, I think it is important to make sure that we are asking staff to do only the work that is really essential before the vote occurs. If this plan means that 20% of kids will be on the bus 5 minutes longer each direction ... I am not sure if that is information that will influence the vote, because the issue is then compared to what alternative? Marks Meadow is closing, so kids who live in the north end of Amherst may indeed have to be on the bus a bit longer because WW is further from their house than is MM. But WW is still the closest school to their house, so it is not like sending those kids to FR or CF helps, right? I just don't know how this information is crucial for making a decision at this time.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

More responses:

Margaret - I don't think you posted twice (I know it is hard to post sometimes, so my apologies that you had difficulty with this). I think you raise a very good and valid point -- it is very much too bad that the new plan moves kids from the East Hadley Road area to three different schools. I really think that is a flaw in the plan ... as do all members of the SC, I believe. The question is -- what can we do about it? So, the situation is that the goal of the redistricting was to make sure that the schools are equitable in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch, which they very much are not now. The new plan does accomplish this, but it does so as you rightly point out by moving kids in this area to all three schools. The reality is that this is where the majority of low income kids in our district live ... so it is impossible to achieve equity without moving these kids to different schools. We could, as you suggest, send kids in the two apartment complexes in this area to CF ... but if we do so, that is about 80 kids. We then have to move 80 kids out of CF, and those kids would be from areas of town in which the majority of kids are NOT poor. So, we then have very inequitable schools again (I'd bet CF goes to 45% and WW stays at about 25%). Does that seem OK? That is really the alternative we are faced with, and I find that solution also pretty awful in terms of what we know about the NOT the "burden of low income kids" but rather the negative impact on achievement for kids from being in a school that is more than 40% low income kids. I also think that the elementary schools in Amherst should look like our town in terms of the population (and not have a "rich school" and a "poor school"), and ideally to have the schools provide as equitable an experience as possible. I'm open to all solutions/possibilities, but the reality here is that we can't put all the kids (about 80) from the two apartment complexes off of East Hadley Road without creating inequitable schools. If the community thinks inequitable schools is better than doing a district that moves kids to different schools to provide a balanced enrollment, then I think the SC would hear that preference. I do appreciate your expressing this concern, and I have forwarded your entire blog posting to the entire SC and the superintendent.

Abbie - I will pass on your suggestion! That makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously thinking of forcing kids who open enroll at WW, FR or CF to change schools next year? How about 6th graders generally? Will you force many of them to switch schools for a single year? (Of course that's already planned for *all* MM students; unless, of course, a miracle occurs and you rethink MM's impending closure.)

And why are the projected enrollments down by 30%? Are parents with the ability to afford private schools now enrolling their kids there? This is the most salient point: why hasn't it been discussed more extensively (is the fallout from the MM too "radio-active" for you)?

Abbie said...

to anon@1108:

I think your math is wrong, perhaps you were too much in a hurry to swing your zinger (which falls flat to the ears of the vast majority of Amherst folks). The number is down by 30 students (not 30%)! That makes it about about 2.3% off the projection, not much (but still awaiting the final numbers). Careful "anonymous"- would you like to offer a correction/retraction?

Anonymous said...

Do you really intend to listen to Amherst families when you hold your hearings? Or will it be like closing Mark's Meadow, when you had already made up your mind and had no intention of seriously considering any opinions or information that didn't fit the decision you had already made? Have you surveyed MM families to find out how many are going to leave the district? It wouldn't take many going to the charter school to offset any projected savings. So you will have closed a wonderful, successful school and gained nothing.

Anonymous said...

A few comments:

I have a current 5th grader. We have discussed the possibility that she may have to switch schools for one year. We have talked about how some of her friends may not be at her school next year and some will but they will all be under one roof together for middle school and in the meantime they can have playdates. My 10 year old understands that redistricting is important and has no problem going with the flow for a year.

This goes with my next point which is I think many people are underestimating our kids. If they home lives are good stable and loving changing schools won't have a big impact overall. If their home lives are not (good, stable and loving) it doesn't really matter where they go to school. Yelling at the school committee is not really going to help.

Finally, there are a kids all over America who live on the borderline of a school district. This may mean that their neighborhood friend across the street goes to a different school because of the way the school districts fall out. I just don't see that it is such a big deal.

I get that there are lots of valid issues to consider when thinking about redistricting but lets have some faith in our kids and their ability to handle change.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:08 - the SC will vote on whether to continue open enrollment at the October meeting. The class size projections and equity considerations are based on the assumption that there will be no open enrollment -- so I think it would change the numbers potentially a lot if kids continue to open enroll at particular schools. I also don't see any reason why that would be necessary -- since the kids and teachers at the schools will change also! And yes, that would mean that some would switch schools for just a year, just as you note current MM 5th graders will have to attend a new school for 6th grade (and I know of no plans to rethink this decision).

Projected enrollments are done by 30 students, NOT 30%. I imagine, as I said last spring, that given the economic crisis, colleges/university are hiring fewer people, which means fewer kids. That's my guess.

I've asked repeatedly for numbers on the number of kids who go to private school -- and why. I agree that these would be important numbers (and motivations) to have.

Abbie - thanks for pointing out the math here!

Anonymous 11:30 - I can't speak for the entire committee, but personally, if people come with good suggestions that work for ALL kids and maintain equity in three schools, I'm very open to hearing suggestions. I'm much less persuaded by appeals that basically suggest the lines should be drawn to keep someone's own kids attending a particular school.

I have no idea how many MM families will choose to leave the district -- nor do I have any idea how many families in general would have left the district if we kept MM open and had giant class sizes, no instrumental music, etc. But let's say 50 MM families choose charter school (that is over 25% of MM families, which I think is a very high estimate -- and I'm quite sure there aren't 50 spaces in a nearby elementary charter school). That's $650,000 -- which is still less than what is saved by closing MM.

Anonymous 6:50 - very well said. Thank you for your rationale and wise comment!

Abbie said...

First off, I know that the redistricting committee is trying to do their best and really have the interests of the kids foremost in their proposal. However,

I have to agree with Margaret Burland. It seems that the proposal now risks marginalizing and stigmatizing those kids. I know if I were one of those kids it would tell me that I am very different from the kids that live next door in houses. I am not sure these kids (or parents) would understand that its (maybe) for their best interests (at least that's the intent). I couldn't blame them for feeling that way...I really hope we can keep these kids with their neighbors.

To anon@650: Have you actually looked at the map? The two islands of apartments in the sea of CF kids to be bused to 2 different schools is ENTIRELY different from being on a border, where kids on one side go to one school and kids on the other side go to another school. It IS a BIG deal. The more I think of it the better the old map was with the big WW dip into CF territory. If borders for the schools have to do big dips then I think it might be an improvement.

While I understand the redistricting committee has worked hard and the concentration of low income kids in one area is very challenging, I hope that a better solution can still be found. Don't get hung up on "natural boundaries". If buses have to cross RR tracks so what? Trains are infrequent and predictable here and buses already cross them without incidence...

It doesn't matter to me which school my family ends up in but I've got to say the map right now just isn't fair and seems cruel.

Anonymous said...

I see here again in your last post Catherine that the amount saved by closing of MM has inflated. Isn't the original amount $520,000, or somewhere in that ballpark? I know enrolling my child in a charter school is an option I have taken advantage of. I think this whole scam of closing a high performing elementary school, one of only one, in this district, is nothing more than that--a scam! It's awful....and I can only pray that someone sees the light soon...and reverses this decision. But in the meantime please-- stop inflating the savings--try a little honesty here. Thanks!

Abbie said...

to anon@936:

please explain what scam your mind came up with that underlies the closing of MM.

Really, I could use some entertainment...

If you actually listened and followed along instead of indulging in your fantasies of scams, you would know that the savings after the first year closure of MM, which has associated costs, is projected to be around the $650K mark.

Yes, go on and "pray" if you like, why don't you include world peace while you're at it, we all know how effective that's been...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Abbie - I agree that it is very much unfortunate to split kids from their neighbors ... however, propose a solution! One option is to divide up the apartments and houses surrounding them and send half to CF and half to WW (two closest schools). That leaves FR as the "wealthy school" compared to the other two. Another option is to move kids from those apartments with kids from the houses to all three schools -- that could be done, and I imagine that would be not so expensive. I would also bet the committee would hear a lot about dividing up this area of town (apartments AND houses) in three ways. I'm very open to solutions ... but the reality is, that area is where most of the low income kids in town live ... and hence there isn't a way to simultaneous achieve equity and keep kids completely in neighborhoods (this has nothing to do with train tracks/natural borders - just the reality of an inequal distribution of poverty in Amherst).

Anonymous 9:36 - thanks for checking my numbers -- you are very right that my figure was wrong. The annual savings from closing Marks Meadow are not $650,000 as I stated, but rather $673,000 (after the first transition year). And I think it is great that families are finding other good places that work for their children, such as charter schools, if they don't want their children to attend one of the three public schools.

Abbie said...

Catherine,

respectfully, I would work to suggest an alternative but I don't have the demographic information that the redistricting committee has.

Do you where I could find the date(s) for the next RD committee meeting (not the open forum), I think its Oct 1/2. I can't find it on the ARPS site (http://www.arps.org/node/977).

Anonymous said...

"Yes, go on and "pray" if you like, why don't you include world peace while you're at it, we all know how effective that's been..."

Abbie, you espouse to be something of a voice to be heard, a leader, in this town and you retort to someone's pain with this?

Pretty shallow leadership.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie -

1. Redistricting subcommittee meets from 10 to 12 on Friday, October 2nd. It is on the main ARPS webpage on the bottom right (upcoming meetings).

2. I don't have the demographic info either -- I just mean do you have -- and this is a serious suggestion -- an idea of how we can move 80 more kids into CF .... which is the number of kids now in those two apartment complexes that are moved to WW and FR. The issue is that if you move those 80 kids INTO CF, you have to then move 80 kids out. And since a smaller % of the kids you would move OUT of CF to make room for these kids are on free/reduced lunch, you end up with a major imbalance in terms of equity. I wasn't meaning a specific solution (e.g., draw the line right at Shay Street or whatever), but rather what would be a general solution, because honestly, I've looked and looked, as have district staff and other SC members, and this seems a bit like a puzzle that we've been unable to solve as well as we'd like to.

Anonymous said...

Will the re-districting hustle be similar to the Mark's Meadow power play?

I don't have kids at MM , never did, but I watched and listened with strong disdain to those who made that decision in such a short time.

Squeaky wheels get the grease folks. And that means that you have to become a real pain in the @#$ if you want your voice heard. Become obnoxious. Start talking as if only you had the truth and flail about in panic, on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the issue, much like our SC did on the mark's meadow issue.

Then maybe you'll get your way only because those listening will hope that if they give in, you'll shut up.

That was the model the SC showed over the MM issue.

All of the theatrics at SC meetings, the rolling of the eyes when someone says something a SC member doesn't like and on and on.

We all know the squeaky wheel and those of us who've observed how these kinds of people do business know the wheel simply bitches long and loud until she gets her way.

It often works with spoiled kids too.

Stand your ground Amherst or this school committee will continue to twists and maniupulate this district into its perfect child, which we'll no longer recognize as one of our own.

Margaret Burland said...

Just a quick comment this time, sorry about how long my last one became. I just want to state clearly that my objection is with the redistricting that results in islands, which is immensely different from the Cape Cod style dip that is the southern end of the Wildwood district on the current map. As it is now, we at Mill Valley are still included in a cohesive district, it simply has a funny shape at the bottom. The solution I would propose for redistricting would be to dip the Fort River district westward past the RR tracks between the top of the CF district and the bottom of the WW district (as they appear on the recent plan 3 map) to bring in more students from the center of town and/or near Amherst College, some of which is rental housing and potentially lower-income. Or if one of the earlier maps from the spring ends up being used, the whole house and apartment areas around East Hadley could be split between CF and WW, again maybe in a strange shape, but in order to form a single district with no islands.

Abbie said...

to anon@1017

I don't "espouse to be something of a voice to be heard, a leader, in this town and you retort to someone's pain with this". I offer my opinions and judgements, like anyone else. Take it or leave it.

The anon@936 was accusing the SC of "scamming" Amherst and CS as lying about the projected savings. By extension this "anonymous" is accusing those who think we can't afford the cost of keeping MM open of like behavior. Sorry, but why should I respect that? I'd like to know what this "scam" could possibly consist of? Why should someone who is sad about MM closing get to publicly and anonymously accuse folks of dastardly deeds without question? It might be painful if my daughter is redistricted to CF (without the vast majority of her friends), but I won't be accusing the SC of perpetrating a "scam" or of dishonesty and certainly not anonymously.

Anonymous said...

"If their home lives are not (good, stable and loving) it doesn't really matter where they go to school."

How audacious of you to assume anything about these children and their families.

What if these children have found sanctuary and comfort in their school?

What if any number of other scenarios?

Did you think at all before writing that?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the $650,000 proposed savings by closing MM, do you have a breakdown of those numbers that we could see? Have any of the cuts that are included in the $650,000 already happened this year?

Anonymous said...

You have stated that people would rather close MM than do without art or music. Do you have any data to support that opinion? Was that question on the end of the year parent surveys?

Anonymous said...

The argument on this blog reminds me of a scene in Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days" in which his parents are shown arguing back and forth loudly and heatedly about "Which ocean is greater, the Atlantic or the Pacific?"

In Amherst, the motto is "I argue, therefore I am".

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:17 - Abbie is a parent responding to a post on my blog using her name ... and the post she responded to was pretty rude (e.g., it was all a big scam to close MM). I share Abbie's view in learning about the scam, and what those of us who perpetuated the scam gained (because I'm still waiting to get my personal gain).

Anonymous 10:26 - can you clarify the nature of the "Mark's Meadow power play" for me? If by "power play" you mean analyzing the numbers (enrollments, budgets) and figuring out that you can educate all the kids in our district in three schools for $700,000 a year less, than I guess this was a super power play!

The decision was made unanimously by 5 elected officials, including one whose two kids went to Marks Meadow. If we were paying attention to "squeaky wheels" the school would still be open -- so are you saying we SHOULD listen to them, or not? The "squeaky wheels" were definitely the MM families who continued to ask for the school to be kept open. But if you believe that you watched the five unanimously voting members of SC "flail about in panic, on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the issue", then vote us all out, and elect people who will in fact listen more closely to the squeaky wheels.

Margaret - you basically don't pick up ANY low-income kids in that area you describe. The rental properities near Amherst College are to students, not families, and the other houses aren't low income (past the RR tracks and in to the center of town). There just aren't low income kids living there (certainly not anywhere near the proportion in the apartments). You could divide the East Hadley Road area between CF and WW, but the problem is that you have to fit the MM families largely into WW. So, if we were keeping four schools, that plan would work -- but with three schools, there isn't enough room to put all the kids in the East Hadley Road area into just WW and CF AND fit the MM families largely into WW. The current "island" plan has 40 kids leaving for FR. Those kids can't fit in either of the other schools, and there isn't a way to do this without creating several islands in different parts of town.

Abbie at 10:30 - well said. Thanks.

Anonymous 10:33 - for the record, this is not my quote, which I assume you know. I do agree with your concerns about the statement and its implications.

Anonymous 10:42 - all the cost savings were broken down by the disrict in April prior to the vote. They are posted on my blog if you go to the April postings. And none of these have occurred yet, since they are only going to occur when the school closes.

Anonymous 11:31 - I believe this is clearly what the SC believed, and the superintendents' office. I believe it is also what many in Town Meeting believed, since there was an opportunity to raise concerns about closing MM and that didn't occur.

Anonymous 12:25 - agreed. Imagine what people did with their feelings about the schools before this blog?!?

Anonymous said...

You said, "And none of these have occurred yet, since they are only going to occur when the school closes." For instance, if one librarian position has been cut this year, you believe that another librarian position will be cut next year when you close MM?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 4:24 - here are the estimates of the savings:

o Reduction in district classrooms from 67 (FY10) to 64 (FY11) $162,000
o Reduction of principal and 2 secretaries $170,000
o 2.5 custodians $55,000
o 1.0 ELL teacher $54,000
o 1.0 Special Education teacher $54,000
o 1.0 Intervention teacher $54,000
o 1.13 paraprofessionals $15,000
o 1.0 LPN $35,000
o 1.0 librarian $54,000
o 1.0 IA paraprofessional $20,000

I do not know how staff will be allocated in all of the buildings after the move to three schools. I think that will be decided by central office in the months ahead. I do not know what the plans are in terms of library staffing.

Anonymous said...

You have stated that people would rather close MM than do without art or music. Do you have any data to support that opinion? Was that question on the end of the year parent surveys?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 5:00 - I believe you posted this question twice. I already answered it earlier today, and here is my response again:

Anonymous 11:31 - I believe this is clearly what the SC believed, and the superintendents' office. I believe it is also what many in Town Meeting believed, since there was an opportunity to raise concerns about closing MM and that didn't occur.

However, if you disagree with my assumption, run for SC this spring on a platform of reversing the vote, and if there is huge support for keeping MM open and instead having large class sizes and cutting music/art, you will win in a landslide.

amherstmom said...

Catherine. It will be interesting to see the number of how many kids have already opted out of our district. Kathy Mazur told me in mid October. This is when we will know if 30 or 50 students have left the district for charter, private or other area schools. And in the next year if more leave how much $$ will that take out of the district?

Just asking because this will change the cost effectiveness of closing a successful school, and there will be no way of knowing the educational qualitative losses of making 3 schools larger in numbers than they have been for years. (except FR). Larger class sizes are not as scary to me as larger schools.

Also I believe you did not mention that Kathy Mazur said that putting all the elementary kids into the 3 remaining schools in a K-6 setting leaves us with only 1 classroom in FR, 1 classroom in WW and 1 classroom in CF before we are at capacity. Wiggle room for the district to grow of roughly 60-75 kids. If regionalization does not happen and the 6th graders don’t end up in the Middle School in the next 2 to 3 years then this could be a problem for our district.

The MCAS results have been on the DOE sight since September 16th. The addresses is

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/mcas.aspx

As are the Adequate Yearly Progress Reports, which were spoken about in the SC briefly.

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/ayp/ayp_report/school.aspx?linkid=31&orgcode=00080030&fycode=2009&orgtypecode=6&

Closing of Marks Meadow, the only elementary school in the area besides Shutesbury to Pass the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), will be a loss to the district. Matter of fact Marks Meadow is the only school besides Shutesbury in the District or surrounding area that has Passed every year since 2001.

Marks meadow is the only school in our district with a high population of low-income children performing for them. This was not mentioned in the SC meeting. Some children who come to Marks Meadow from other countries are much poorer than many children in this town and have come from countries at war, countries with poverty we could not even imagine. They even sometimes have never gone to school until 2nd or 3rd grade when they come to Marks Meadow. They come into Marks Meadow and succeed in learning English AND score high on our standardized test

There were many things said at the School Committee meeting about goals and how we can do better in Math and subsequently Middle School science. How we could “pull up” the low-income kids by redistricting them into schools evenly. That we should look at other school districts similar to ours and see how we can perform as well as they do. I say look in our back yard. Look at Marks Meadow look at Shutesbury and see how they are performing well. It could be because they are small schools, it could be because they have effective teachers who have used an alignment of materials and processes from grade to grade. It could be because they integrate ELL students effectively, it could be that they have an active parent body both wealthy and poor, but are we looking at that? It seems not. Marks Meadow and its successes should not be overlooked by the SC or by our new Superintendent. Marks Meadow and it successes should be an example to us of what is possible in our community and in our three new schools configurations.

Respectfully: Tracy Hightower

TC said...

Reading the comments about this and the other post about the redistricting plan, I feel that I need to mention some things.
1) Some people have expressed concerns about kids being 30-35 minutes in the school bus. Well, this is already happening. The school bus picks up my daughter and her friends at 8:05, and they arrive at school at 8:35. Redistrcting won't create this situation. It already exists.
2) Another concern was about kids who live in the apartment complexes going to a school that is not the one closest to their home. I might be wrong, but I believe some kids who live in Mill Valley already go to Wildwood, which is not the school closest to their home. Again, redistricting wouldn't create a new situation. It's already happening.
3) If I understand correctly, the redistricting process might have been triggered by the closing of Marks Meadow, but it was already in the plans of the SC. The main goal of the process is to correct the inequality among the schools, since, as Catherine mentioned, concentration of poverty does affect school performance. The inequality problem is happening because there's a geographical concentration of low-income kids in one area of the town, so there's no way to correct the inequality without sending the kids in that area to different schools. Let's remember, though, that the individual apartment complexes are being kept in the same school, so the kids won't be separated from their next-door neighbors.
4) About the emphasis on one culture/language in each school, I strongly believe that this is a huge disservice to the kids. In our daily lives, we interact with people from various cultural backgrouds. The schools need to prepare our kids to live in society, sharing their lives with all kinds of people. A Cambodjian kid won't meet only other Cambodjian people, and a Spanish-speaking kid will not live surrounded only by other Spanish-speaking people. For the same reason I think girls-only or boys-only schools are a bad idea, I believe schools that stress only one ethnic/cultural group is also a bad idea. Our kids need diversity. They need to be surrounded by kids from all backgrounds and cultural groups.
My conclusion is that I hope the School Committee keeps the original goal of the redistricting process intact: create 3 schools that are more equitable, and as diverse as our city.

Rob Spence said...

I do have to disagree with Margaret that a thin, gerrymandered, wrap-around with no connecting road is "immensely" different than an island cut-out within a school district. Right now, Mill Valley Estate's only physical connection to the Wildwood district is by way of Whippletree Lane, to which there is no connecting road. If Whippletree Lane were instantly re-districted to Crocker Farm, Mill Valley would now be a small geographic island, but not much else would change, including the only access road to Mill Valley through the other apartments in the CF district. Having said this, I do understand the feeling of frustration in finding yourself in a small island cut-out within the CF district. I think that what is probably more frustrating to those who live there is the fact that the rest of the new proposed WW line moves much further to the north than it currently is on the north side of E. Hadley Road.

I am curious to know how many elementary school kids currently live at Mill Valley Estates? Margaret implied that there were no others, other than her kids. Is this the case?

Finally, I wanted to point out that small, island cut-outs exist in our current school districts. Specifically, there are small cut-outs of houses off of Pine Street, and ?condos or apartments off of Pulpit Hill Road within the current Marks Meadow district. I have no idea about the history of these cut-outs, or how they came to be, but I wanted to point out that the idea is not new to Amherst. I wonder if it has been horribly detrimental to these children to date, to be bussed to Wildwood?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Tracy - a few responses.

1. I agree that it will be interesting to see the number of kids who opt out of our district this year and next. However, let's remember that this may or may not be because of the closing of MM ... for example, the Chinese Charter school is enrolling two grades a year now, and some families would have chosen that regardless of whether MM stayed open. It is also important to note that we have NO way of knowing how many families would have left if we had kept MM open and massively increased class sizes, cut music/art, etc. One more thing -- if families leave for private school, the district doesn't lose money. If families leave for other districts (not charter), the district loses $5,000. It is very, very hard to see that those loses will tally $700,000 a year ... and if in fact many kids leave, we actually will need fewer teachers so we save money at a certain point.

2. Wildwood has been above 400 kids for at least 10 years ... they are growing by maybe 20 or 30 kids, so that school is just not going to feel bigger to those kids/families. Crocker Farm will be growing, but that school has been VERY under-enrolled for a while. I know that some MM families find large schools "scary" -- but the experience of many in FR and WW (the current schools over 400 already) is NOT one of scariness. It is community and familiarity and security, much like I'm sure you experience now in MM.

It is absolutely right that each school has one extra classroom ... but again, that is what has existed for a long time. Fort River often only has one extra classroom, and again, even if the district goes by 60 to 75 kids, that is 20 to 25 kids per building, which is divided into 7 grades, which is the 3 or 4 kids per grade or 1 kid extra per classroom. That doesn't mean you need an extra classroom in each school! The class sizes right now are VERY reasonable (15 in some grades up to maybe 22 or 23 in other grades -- not a reason at all to feel that there couldn't be ONE extra kid in each classroom or that we'd outgrow the school in 2 or 3 years!).

3. The MCAS results will be discussed at the next meeting, but let's remember that there are at least three possibilities I can think of that explain the success of MM compared to the other schools.

1. Maybe MM kids are different (e.g., more likely to be children of academics who really value learning and work with their kids at home).

2. Maybe MM teachers are better than the other teachers.

3. Maybe the small size of MM leads to success.

OK, well if it is #1 or #2, we will all be better next year (MM kids will still have the same parents so they will be all set; MM teachers will go to other buildings and help train the teachers to be better in those buildings). If it is #3 ... what do you suggest we do? Go to the town of Amherst and suggest we need to build 4 more elementary schools really fast so we can have 7 schools all under 200 kids in size? Again, I'd love to know the answer to this question, but I think the number of variables involved makes it VERY different to draw a correlation-causation statement here.

Anonymous said...

I guess the answer is that no, there is no data to back up your belief that people would rather close MM than lose art and music, and that no, there was no effort to survey families to find out if they agree with you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

TC - I agree with each of your 4 points. Well said.

Rob - I think the frustration about the islands is exactly what you note -- that the houses are being districted to ONE school, and (some) apartments to other schools. I don't see a way around it (while keeping equity in the schools) -- it is just really a function of where you want the islands to be or how many islands you want.

I believe there are about 30 kids in Mill Valley/Hollister, and about 50 at the Boulders.

The islands that exist now represent new housing that was created at a time in which MM was full. I have not heard any complaints from families in those islands about being bussed to WW. Good point!

Anonymous said...

Excellent points, Tracy!

Catherine, if #3 is true, that small schools lead to success, why would we kill Amherst's one small public school, because it's not fair to the families in the other schools? That's ridiculous!

Also, you write -- but the experience of many in FR and WW (the current schools over 400 already) is NOT one of scariness. It is community and familiarity and security, much like I'm sure you experience now in MM.--

I work in each of these schools and what MM has going for it as far as community simply cannot be reproduced in larger schools. It simply cannot be duplicated. There's a very home-like, personal, relaxed, and comfortable feel to the MM school. It simply cannot be duplicated by moving MM staff/faculty and students to another building.

Abbie said...

to anon@8:11:

I would suggest that Steve Rivkin's election to the SC, when he made no secret of his support for the closure of MM due to financial considerations, shows that the voters of Amherst (and tax payers) supported the idea that we can no longer afford 4 schools when 3 schools can accommodate all the elementary kids in Amherst.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:36 - I offered two choices on this blog repeatedly to MM families PRIOR to the vote. First, let's keep MM open, but let's rotate all the kids in town through this school and rotate the current MM kids out to make sure that ALL kids have the opportunity to experience the superior learning environment you believe it is. Second, let's keep MM open, but then let's save the $700,000 by doing the following -- having class sizes of 25 in all grades, eliminating the principal (can be shared with another building), and cutting all art, music, librarian, and PE. Not a single MM family contacted me to express interest in either offer -- suggesting to me that MM families do prefer to experience this environment, but not for other kids to experience these benefits (and in fact, keeping MM open would have meant major cuts to the other elementary schools). The SC has to watch out for all the kids in Amherst, and make decisions that work best for the totality of the kids. Not just for the 13% who go to MM. But comments like yours are precisely the type that scare MM families into thinking the other schools are big and impersonal -- which is not the experience of a single family I've talked to from WW or FR.

Abbie at 9:53 - good point!

Anonymous said...

"I offered two choices on this blog repeatedly to MM families" .. How were MM families to know that your blog was the place where negotiations were to occur? And why would we think that you would pay any more attention to opinions we expressed on your blog than you did when we pleaded with you at public hearings not to destroy our school? Your mind was made up.

Ed said...

(interestingly, the overall elementary enrollment is down by about 30 kids from projections last spring)

And I told you so. Economics is increasingly gentrifying Amherst and the middle class/childbearing cadre is increasingly disappearing. And thus, I suggest, the real number you need to look at is not the free lunch but the 5-figure household income cadre and having an equal distribution of THESE folk.

Otherwise you basically wind up with segregation and that is bad. The Section 8 Children of Mill Valley (and if you understand how MVA prices apartments, you will understand that they ALL will be Section 8) playing with rich kids who aren't within walking distance -- not likely.

And I strongly urge you, in the absolute most strong terms possible, to keep school choice and permit kids to go to different schools if desired (albeit with parents responsible for transport).

I was denied this, and eventually wound up going to the private religious school of a faith other than my own for the 5th & 6th grades. A faith openly hostile to my own, although the teachers themselves weren't hostile because they practiced the teachings of their own faith and I openly call it the best 2 years of my K-12 experience.

And other aspects of that K-12 experience gave me worse reflexes than guys coming back from Iraq. They just back, me dealing with stuff from a quarter century ago...

You do NOT want to abandon the ability of students to go to any school... PLEASE do not do this!

Joel said...

To Anon 12:12

A couple of points:

This blog was filled with angry and sad comments from MM families. I have no idea what percentage of MM families commented, but I assume not every MM parent that read the blog then went on to comment. In other words, lots of MM families read the blog.

BUT, the fact is that MM parents commented and saw Catherine's proposals, which she offered multiple times. The response now is, "How did we even know you said that?" Unless the MM parents who read and commented extensively on the blog have "selective reading disorder" then they knew. So drop the incredulity.

Next, NO ONE who opposed closing MM offered on this blog or in public as far as I can see an explanation of why is was okay to lavish resources on 13% of our elementary school kids at the expense of the remaining, oh I don't know, wait for it, yes 87% of the town's kids. The vast majority of kids were supposed to literally pay for MM. How wonderfully egalitarian!

Finally, I have to agree with Abbie, that the people who voted for Steve Rivkin and many who voted for Irv Rhodes were voting for realists who were willing to have open and honest conversations about budgeting. We knew that that included closing MM.

How do you think a town referendum about closing MM would go over when it serves 13% of the kids and keeping it open can only be done at the expense of 87% of the kids? Do you really think the town would have supported keeping MM open for a tiny minority of kids at the expense of the vast majority?

Anonymous said...

Joel, you are one of the only sane voices on this blog. Thank you for your voice of reason.
Ali Burrow

amherstmom said...

Joel, Abbie and Catherine: I wish, in all of what I said, you would take this one part to heart.

"Marks Meadow and its successes should not be overlooked by the SC or by our new Superintendent. Marks Meadow and it successes should be an example to us of what is possible in our community and in our three new schools configurations."

Also, there is no response to the AYP and the MCAS results. Why is this? It was clearly stated in the SC meeting that we have 3 failing schools in our 4-school district, particularly with regards to our low-income students. What do we all have to say to this?

Joel
I am not an angry MM parent. I have never been hostile on this sight and I always tell you who I am when I write. I am simply asking questions and participating in the conversation, reviewing the situation as a parent and a tax payer who wants to contribute a perspective that, yes, some folks have. I continue to attend the SC meetings too, because I like to be fully informed.

Also, Joel, solutions were offered but never reviewed. Both in public and on blogs. They were not handled well, for lack of desire to look at other solutions, lack of personnel resources to evaluate other plans, lack of time... you name it. It would be nice if you didn't look at the all of the MM community as dissing the rest of the community and start looking at it as a percent of the population that has intelligent ideas. I respect what Catherine has to say and I tell her so, however not everyone who writes on this blog cares to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Thanks for your thoughts. Tracy

Abbie said...

To Joel:

I want to clarify and distance myself from your agreement with me. To my knowledge, S. Rivkin was the only candidate with a public opinion on MM, if I remember correctly both Irv and Meg did not offer an opinion/decision. I have the greatest respect for both Irv and Meg. I consider Meg (and Irv) to be very reasonable and realistic, and care a lot about the education of Amherst kids. My point was that the ONE person with the public decision of closing MM won the largest number of votes suggests that closing MM was something that the voters supported. I don't want to make any other conclusions about the election wrt individuals.

Joel said...

To"Amherstmom"

One issue is that I often have no idea to whom I'm responding because so many posts are done anonymously. Whenever some of us, who use our names and publish profiles, challenge something by an anonymous poster, so other anonymous poster calls us on our tone.

More to the point, I think a lot of people have discussed the reasons MM did well on the MCAS. The issues raised relate to how to replicate MM elsewhere. Some MM parents treated it like a publicly funded private school. MM succeeded with funding that kept the other three from receiving the money they need.

One thing Catherine raised is if MM is so successful as a PUBLIC school then doesn't every child in the community have the right to it? Wouldn't one solution be the creation of a lottery to get into MM?

Frankly, I think that even that's a bad idea because I would rather elevate all the schools. The big point is that I didn't hear MM parents discussing how to export what was so wonderful about their school to the three other schools. Instead I heard them call for me to pay higher taxes in the form of an override so that MM could stay the same while FR, WW, and CF were left with failing MCAS scores in math, etc.

Joel said...

Abbie,

Sure, only Steve said it publicly, but Irv never said he wouldn't support closing MM and indeed he voted to do so. My point is simply that Irv was very clear about looking at the data. The data, as opposed to just emotions about closing a neighborhood school, were so obvious that closing MM was unanimously supported.

So, no, Irv never said during the campaign he would vote to close MM. He did say he would follow the data. He did exactly that and voted to close MM.

My point is that Irv didn't embrace magical thinking and that earned him a lot of respect and votes in the community.

Anonymous said...

I think that all this discussion points to the fact the school lines are completely arbitrary constructions. The re-drawn maps no less so than the current ones. Why for example do the children of newer construction homes in North AMherst go to Ft. River when both WW and MM are closer? Why do the children on MIll Lane go to FT. River when Crocker Farm is much closer? Why do the kids in the Boulders, Southpoint and Mill Valley go to Crocker when the children across the street from them got to WW?

I just hope that the SC sticks with the plan and doesn't get bullied by a vocal few into backing down on this or postponing it's implementation.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:12 - let me make two clear points. First, I am one vote on the SC. I could have lost the vote on closing MM 1 to 4 if others disagree. Even if I had "made up my mind," surely the other people were more open-minded, right (like Andy Churchill, whose kids went to MM)? Second, I threw out tons of options on this blog, which were read by the PGO leaders -- both Tracy Hightower and Meg Rosa read this blog and hence saw my ideas. I emailed those ideas individually to EVERY family who wrote to me about closing MM. Not a single person ever said "sure, that sounds great, let me work on it!" Again, families in MM wanted their school to stay open with the same dedication of resources (a disproportionate share) ... and that would have been at the cost of the 87% of other families. That may well explain why the vote was unanimous.

Ed - the SC will certainly discuss the issue of school choice ... and I can imagine that there might be very unusual circumstances in which that might be allowed. I think the concern is that some families will choose to just try to have their child stay at his/her current school, and that of course would lead to continued issues with equity.

Joel (at 8:19) - well said on all fronts.

Ali - I agree that Joel adds much rationality and sanity (and humor).

Meg Rosa said...

Joel,
I have to ask. When did you ever hear me say anything about running to keep Mark's Meadow open? When did you ever hear me say or read that I would not look at the data? In fact, I told many people I would probably go with the vote to close MM. Not many people liked hearing me say that. On many levels I am completely torn with that. But I never once said I was running to keep MM open. Other people said that about me, but if you go back and read anything I wrote, you will know where I was coming from.

I am a MM and MS parent who is deeply concerned at the direction this town is going in. My biggest concern is how all these decisions are impacting the kids lives directly!!! I have legitimate concerns about all of these decision, Amherst and Regional. I ran for SC to make a difference for all kids. Please do not make assumptions as to what my priorities were or are. The kids come first for me, always have and always will.

Marks Meadow is doing a lot right. There is a need to study what is being done there, this year, before it is too late, and try to implement these practices into the other schools.

Marks Meadow was the ONLY school in Amherst Elementary to meet AYP in MCAS for last year. That is a fact. That is data. No one can say otherwise. There are many reasons that happened. Not just that there are Students kids in the school. There are families from all walks of life in that building.

The staff works hard to make sure the kids get what they need. They work together across grades. I am not saying this doesn't happen i the other schools. I am just saying this is what is happening in MM.

But please, when you are speaking about me, use correct information, not assumptions. Everyone knows what happens with assumptions....

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Tracy (AKA "AmherstMom" - two things.

First, Marks Meadow did not meet its performance goal this year for English: the target in English was 90.2, and MM scored in the aggregate 89.4. The only group in which this target was met for White students. MM did not reach this goal for ELL students, special ed students, or low income students (there are too few students of color to be considered subgroups at MM). In math, the aggregate reached the target (target was 84.3 and the aggregate was 84.4), but again, only white students met this target (not low income kids, ELL kids, or special ed kids). In addition, MM failed to make its improvement target goal (change from 2008) in both English and math. Because MM has so few kids relative to the other schools, there are no subgroups at MM (so, there are too few ELL, special ed, and low income kids to be counted in terms of MCAS). In other words, MM, because of its small size, can't EVER be in corrective status on MCAS. So, again, let's be careful about interpreting the success of MM based on these MCAS scores. In fact, in the aggregate English scores, two schools failed to make AYP (Marks Meadow and Crocker Farm) and two schools did make AYP (Fort River and Wildwood). In addition, if you compare just across white students (since this is the ONLY subgroup with adequate numbers to count as a subgroup at MM), Marks Meadow students are THIRD best of the four in English: Fort River is at 94.2, Crocker is at 93, Marks Meadow is at 91, and Wildwood is at 90.9. Similarly, if you look at math scores, Fort River is first (92.2), then Marks Meadow (89.2), then Crocker Farm (85.5), and finally Wildwood (84.8). So, again, it seems like the largest school, Fort River, is actually achieving the greatest MCAS scores for white students -- AGAIN, this is the ONLY subgroup large enough to count at all schools -- in both English and math. My point in illustrating these numbers is not to suggest that FR is better than the other schools ... it is to point out that looking at MCAS scores is very, very tricky, and that when I see these scores, I don't see MM students consistently out-performing other students in our district.

Second, the district looked at many other options than closing MM. The option of taking in School Choice students was considered (but this didn't make enough of a difference, since these only bring in $5,000 per child and even if you could bring in 140 school choice students (the savings from closing MM) at exactly the right grades and the right schools EVERY YEAR, you would then need extra teachers to teach them, so the savings are reduced further. The district looked at cutting assistant principals from the three large schools (again, this struck me as a great example of a plan that would have no impact on MM, but a giant impact on the other three schools), and this would have saved less than $200,000. The district looked into creating four equitable schools by redistricting, and this would have cost another $100,000 per year (not the direction you want to go). I am a reasonably intelligent person, and I gave other options a huge amount of thought. Other reasonably intelligent people also gave this a lot of thought, and still, to this day, I have not heard a SINGLE solution that saves $700,000 a year without severly compromising education for all kids (you could save this money by going to class sizes of 35 or so, and cutting instrumental music/art).

I do appreciate your willingness to be involved, and your willingness to sign your name -- which I think adds to the nature of this discussion in a constructive and positive way.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more responses:

Abbie (at 10:05) - for the record, Irv won with the most votes. Steve was second.

Joel - just FYI - Amherst Mom is Tracy Hightower, and she just signs her name at the end of her posts (but she is not anonymous). And I agree that what I heard from some MM families was basically "our school is great, don't close it" but without any plan for bringing what was great about their school to other schools OR any plan for reducing the resources consumed by THAT school. This made it difficult for some families at the other schools.

Joel (at 10:12) - Irv was also on the FCCC committee, and hence understood the consistent (bad) fiscal reality in our town. That made him more realistic about needing to reduce our structural deficit, which closing MM clearly helps with.

Anonymous 11:27 - you wisely point out that there are many odd things about our current district. I think the SC will vote a new plan within a month, and yes, we understand that WHATEVER plan it is, some people are going to be upset. I think the main goal of the SC has to be making sure that all schools provide a truly excellent education for all kids, so that it matters very little what school kids attend.

Meg - I believe I attended all of your public debates, and I certainly NEVER heard you say that you were running to keep MM open (and I'm sure that was hard for you on a personal level). I fully believe you ran because you care passionately about the education we are providing to all kids.

In terms of MM -- the advantage of having a small school is that it is much easier to provide vertical and horizontal alignment -- in many grades at MM, there is just one class (so hey, perfect horizontal alignment RIGHT THERE!). That is an issue that the larger schools have struggled with, and that is the fault of the school leadership -- the superintendent, the SC, and the principals. That needs to be solved, whether we have large schools or small schools, so that kids in 6th grade at FR are learning the same things as those in the class next door at FR and in the class at CF and WW.

However, it is NOT true that MM met AYP this year ... MM did NOT meet AYP in English this year in the aggregate (nor did Crocker Farm). MM did meet AYP in math, whereas the other three schools did not, but that is because the other three schools all have large enough sub-group populations to count for MCAS (MM does not). So, all four schools met AYP for WHITE students (the only subgroup that is large enough to count at all four schools) in both English and math. But the other three schools failed AYP in the OTHER sub-groups which are just too small to be counted at MM. So, let's be careful about how we use these MCAS numbers to indicate that MM is doing something better than the other schools - that just isn't clear from these data at all.

Joel said...

Hi Meg,

I don't think I said you ran to keep MM open. If so, please flag that post. I certainly didn't intend to say that because I don't believe it's true. Indeed, I heard from folks who heard you speak that you were open to all solutions and really dedicated to the Amherst schools as a whole.

Please show me where I said or even implied anything about your position on MM during the campaign. I apologize again if I said something like that because I certainly don't believe it and didn't mean to say it.

I mentioned Irv not being a captive of magical thinking because Abbie claimed that I had said he supported closing MM during the campaign. So, the Irv reference was in response to a specific comment.

I only referred to Irv and Steve because they're on the SC now and voted to close MM and are much better than some of their predecessors. From everything I've heard about you, you too would have been a wonderful addition to the SC.

Joel said...

Meg,

Your post really bothers me because I just cannot recall ever saying that about you.

Indeed, I now remember my personal thought process for deciding my votes. I was going to vote for Steve and I wasn't sure if I would vote for you or Irv or leave the second space blank. Irv then said something publicly that I found really odd and my wife told me how much she enjoyed meeting you and liked what you had to say, so I voted for you and Steve. I don't have your personal email, so I'll say it publicly on the blog. And, I heard from a lot of Fort River parents how much they liked you and were impressed by you.

I hope that clears up what I thought/think of you as someone who wants to improve all our schools.

Meg Rosa said...

Joel,
Thank you. I was not saying you had actually said anything about me. My reaction was more about how I was reading what you were saying about Steve, then Irv. I just got the feeling that you felt that I was running to save MM, by what you had said about Steve then Irv and not saying anything about me in there. I guess I was completely wrong, and I apologize. Thanks for voting for me and clearing that up!! If you do want to email me, megan.rosa@comcast.net is the best one to use. The soccer email is a different one. Sorry and thank you again!

Anonymous said...

I think we should move forward quickly with the planned redistricting. It looks reasonable. It looks good.

The most important thing is to ensure that everyone gets a good education. And, we have to remove the disparity in income levels between schools. And, language clustering is not good either.

Lets just move on with it. Is there an official way of letting the school committee know my sentiment on this (short going to the meetings)?

thanks

RS

Anonymous said...

The questioning of language clustering and whether it is fair, legal, logical, etc. needs review.
I thought that the reason the school district did it was to concentrate resources and save money.
My understanding was that the school district was required, by law, to provide services for non-English speaking students/families
when the number of students whose primary language was not English reached a certain threshold. I thoght that the reason the school district concentrated services in each school for a partiular language, and bused students to that school, was to save money
because providing staff proficient in each language in each school to welcome and assimilate each new student/family would have been very costly.
Am I mistaken?

Wondering about the reasons said...

Getting back to the original post, I want to challenge Vladimer Gonsalez to explain the benefits (real not just perceived) of having kids from Spanish-speaking families together in one school.

There is also a wave of people from Asian countries coming into Amherst and Massachusets. Should they be clustered in one elementary school -- or classes in the middle school and high school? What if people from Nothern European countries wanted this for their children?

One Hispanic parent wanted this type of grouping so his children wouldn't lose their culture, making if there are other ways to achieve this -- and knowing that part of the story of America is this loss, adaption, mixing, enhancement and opportunity.

If the school system was to follow this idea, would future enrollments, bus schedules, districting keep readjusting to new waves of immigration? When would the school system stop doing this for a group?

I've seen the immediate benefits to new non-English-speaking students having a kid in their class speak their language in my kids' classes. It was a comfort to the new kid, who stuck to that other student like lint. But I'm not sure if that helped them or made any difference in the long run over years.

Also, the Cambodian situation may be unique since these people were refugees from a war zone, with few poeple around with any thing close to their backgrounds and a need for some special help because of their experiences.

Rick said...

There is some good info on the ARPS site on ELL:
http://www.arps.org/node/49

Here is ELL FAQ:
http://www.arps.org/node/731

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

The second link Rick provides has some very worrisome information on it. Moreover, it neglects the actual state mandate that all ELL students receive instruction in all subjects in English, but with ELL support. 



Its answers on busing in #2 are truly mystifying. It more or less says the district doesn't know what its doing or how much it costs, but that it does sort of know that it's actually violating some of the busing regs. Bad stuff.



The assertions on #3 are very troubling. As an academic who deals with competing interpretations of scholarly work I found the analysis here to be horribly done. It's so bad it almost seems as if they're trying to make a case that wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. In other words, they're trying to bully the reader into believing a very controversial argument.


At one point it says, "Research clearly shows." This is a huge red flag. Reasoned arguments don't use this sort of language, they go through the competing interpretations an show why one is preferred. Very few things in field like this one are black and white. Here there is an assertion that nuance does not even exist.

The argument they say cannot be assailed is that it takes 5-7 years (a broad range) for kids entering an English speaking environment at all levels to become proficient in academic English. Are we to believe that the experiences of kids from all age ranges ( 5 to 17) are the same? Are we to believe that kids who don't know our alphabet or who speak tonal languages have the same experiences as kids who speak a European original languages with our alphabet? And, class and parents' education background don't factor into the 5-7 year assertion. This just smells wrong.

At one point the argument is that "3 [years] is a totally bogus number." I wouldn't give a passing grade to such reasoning. Who says some is "a totally bogus number"? It sounds like something from the movie "Slackers."


But what's really troubling about the answer in #3 is that no other, contradictory research is cited. The correctness of the Amherst position is asserted not demonstrated.



Later on one expert is cited. We are told that if you read this guy you're done. There is no debate, there is no field. This one expert is right and everyone else is wrong. That is not a sober assessment of a field, it's a poorly presented argument for the Amherst status quo, which is very different from MOST other districts. I pointed out in another post that one national education newsletter flagged Amherst as a bizarre outlier in how it groups students by language.



Just to be clear, what those other experts, the ones no one in the Amherst schools are citing, said was that they couldn't believe a school district in the 21st century was so clearly practicing "segregation"

 by clustering kids by language, especially when so many of the Spanish speaking kids came from poor and working-class families.

Segregation, but you know, for the left.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I looked at the two ARPS websites and couldn't find anything that addresses Wondering's question. The ARPS website talks about ELL is not the idea of clustering groups into schools. Could you be more clear?

Anonymous said...

Hey Joel. I did read the article on-line that you referred to, and it wasn't surprising to me. I think the mentality here in Amherst is, I'm right, don't even think about questioning me. Very sad statement about the school administration here. Also, when I went back to look at your post where you mention that article, it had been removed. You keep it up, you're a breath of fresh air. AKB

Rick said...

Anon 4:44

I didn’t put those links to answer any particular question. It’s just that ELL was being talked about so thought it would be helpful.

I have yet to read it all. It’s confusing to me. I do not (yet) see an answer to Wondering’s question.

One of the links on the above pages goes to a summary of the law:

http://www.arps.org/node/732

Anyone who reads that and totally understands it is a better person than I am. But again, this is state law, not created by Amherst.

And there is this for even more reading enjoyment!

http://www.doe.mass.edu/ell/

Rick said...

Maybe I should just have provided the one top link – you really have to read all the links underneath that main page get everything. For example, Joel said “it neglects the actual state mandate that all ELL students receive instruction in all subjects in English, but with ELL support”

It does say that on the legal summary page:

http://www.arps.org/node/732

“6. Place LEP students in SEI classrooms either (1) ESL/ELD classrooms or (2) sheltered content classrooms in which materials and instruction are in English but “with the curriculum and presentation designed for students who are learning the language. Teachers may use an ELL’s native language for clarification purposes. Districts may also modify general education classes …so that the instruction in those classes provide sheltered English instruction to LEP students.” (GLc71A 2,4,7: Title VI)”

This seems to be really complicated stuff and I would be a little careful about jumping to any conclusions as it seems like you really need to study this stuff a lot before figuring out what it all means.

Joel said...

Rick is right, the mandate for the state vote is included in a very convoluted way.

The information is presented in poorly written, horribly organized, and seemingly contradictory ways. Not too inspiring for a school system.

My basic criticisms remain. The fact sheet admits the district doesn't really even know what its doing in terms of transportation.

And, more importantly, the district is trying to make a case for a particular program, but it makes it so badly that it has me wondering how unique our program is.

The bottom line is that the ELL fact sheet/webpage is another example of something that diminishes my confidence in how our schools are being run.

Nina Koch said...

Joel,

The legal information that you refer to as convoluted is actually taken verbatim from state law (note the quotation marks and the legal citation). So if you want to complain about that language, direct your comments considerably eastward.

I agree that some of the material on the site could use a rewrite but as I am sure you realize, good writing takes a lot of time. When I write for the site, I spend a ridiculous amount of time on it and even then I don't always get it right the first time I post it.

That is probably what happened with the response to the busing question. You read it as the district doesn't know what it's doing. I read it to say that the same physical buses are used for multiple purposes, so it is hard to tease out the costs that are associated with just one of those purposes. The "not supposed to" comment refers to open enrollment students, where the district allowed open enrollment but did not agree to provide transportation for it. It has nothing to do with the ELL clustering. But I understand why the writing would leave people with questions.

What I hope is that if my writing leaves people with questions, they will ask those questions. I would rather have someone ask us to clarify than to speculate about the meaning or to complain about the lack of clarity. Just ask. There is contact information given on the ELL page. Use it.

It's amazing to me all of the conversations that are conducted on this blog with speculation about "gee I wonder what this means--does anybody know?" and nobody asks the people who are most likely to know.

Of course, you need to ask from a posture of inquiry, a genuine desire to know. If you use the same tone as you use on this blog, you will get less of a response.

Right now, you don't sound like you want to know. You sound like you want to criticize.

Joel said...

Nina,

I worked my way through college driving a bus. No bus company, no bus company cannot compute its per route costs. You do it for budgets and taxes.

Also, I could take the most perfect writing and make it convoluted by quoting it partially or in an odd context.

Moreover, the fact sheet shouldn't just quote a statute, it should explain it, as teachers explain things to students.

Finally, for now, the fact that so many parents, taxpayers, students et cetera in this town are frustrated and at times angry with our central administration should lead people in the district to think about making things better, looking at best practices, and taking criticism to heart as opposed to simply taking a defensive posture. That's how you improve things. Unless of course you think there isn't room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

I think we all should agree that all writing put out by our school system should be well thought out, simply written and clear. Do I have to say why? The reasons should be obvious. (Remember how every elementary teacher you wrote on the blackboard beautifully?)

Also, there are many parents in this district who don't have advanced degrees (and we're confused by the website explanation) or don't speak or read English well. Have mercy on all of us and set a very high standard -- like all the great teachers that I've had and my kids have had.

vannnnoch said...

I’ve only had a chance to read a handful of the questions, so I'm not sure if mine has already been answered; if so, I apologize for the redundancy.

I know a lot of kids who attend Fort River now that live in South Amherst as kids from the apartment complexes are currently being bused to three or all four different elementary schools. As I understand, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but this is being done voluntarily by parents as part of the bilingual education requirements: how do you provide bilingual education to a town as large and diverse as Amherst where there are four different schools?

How will redistricting affect the bilingual programs and these kids?

Rick said...

On the bus routes: I’m sure its not calculating the cost of the routes that is difficult, it’s calculating the DIFFERENCE in cost between busing to cluster and not busing to cluster. I can see that being very complicated.

On the quality of writing on the website: One way to look at some of these pages is, yes they could be better written. The way I look at them is “wow, this is great they are being so open”. If you want total transparency, you are not going to get totally perfect writing. I’ll take the transparency over quality writing any day.

The main page with the problem is the FAQ page where these are honest answers from teachers and administrators in the ELL system. We want that, don’t we?

In some cases, these highllight problems – that’s a good thing not a bad thing – do we want the problems to remain hidden? Or do we want them brought into the open to be discussed and fixed?

If ARPS “exposes” itself and then gets blasted, don’t be surprised if it stops exposing itself.

Rick said...

And also on the bus routes, this is being fixed by redistricting, right? So if we are fixing the problem, that’s good right? We can complain about it not being fixed long ago, or we can say “great we are fixing it now”.

But note also the complaints arising because we are fixing it. There are parents who want to keep clusters in place, right?

This is VERY hard.

Joel said...

Okay, on the buses maybe this is easier to me because I was such a wonderful employee that I became the dispatcher -- the 5:00 AM dispatcher, so maybe that was more of a punishment than a prize.

But, seriously, Rick, it isn't complicated. I don't think any of the regular buses these kids should be on are full, so the only additional costs are the new routes for the kids being bused from what should be their school to another school because of language. How is calculating the cost of that complex? Indeed, I have heard people from the district throw around various amounts of money that we'll save by being in compliance with state law.

My main point was that the fact sheet/web page read like a very defensive explanation of some policies that run counter to state laws, guidelines, and best practices. It was yet another example of the "Amherst way," not always good, but truly unique.

Also, I refuse to praise the town for its transparency. First, it's their job to tell the residents and tax payers what they're doing. Second, it's their job to do it better than they're doing it. One reason things have deteriorated in our schools is that there have been such low expectations -- not just for our kids but for the schools themselves.

There are some parents who want to keep the clusters, but that isn't going to happen.

It's annoying to me that the problem is being fixed because new members of the SC stood up and demanded that we follow state guidelines and laws and embrace best practices. I'm thrilled that the SC is getting better, but it's awful that our highly paid administrators have to be forced into following laws, guidelines, and best practices. Shouldn't they be doing that without being forced to by the arrival of competent and assertive SC members?

Rick said...

Hi Joel,

I think it’s a good exercise to examine what you said above versus how I view the same things, to help see why there is such divisiveness.

Cost of busing to cluster:

You look at it this way: it’s easy to figure this out and should have done it by now.

I look at it this way: it seems complicated to me, but I don’t care because it’s in the process of getting fixed now anyways.

On defensiveness:

You look at it this way: ARPS is defending the way they are doing things.

I look at it this way: Yes, I see that to some extent, but they think what they are doing is right, so its not so that horrible or abnormal to be stating things the way the state it.

On action due to new SC members pushing for change:

You look at it this way: it’s ridiculous that it took this to get some action.

I look at it this way: there is action, that’s good.

I don’t look at it as odd that we might have to elect SC members we think will cause the action we want to see happen – that’s the whole idea. Its SC members job to push for change where it’s needed and it’s our job to vote for SC members we think will make the changes we want.

Here’s my main point:

Maybe I am cutting ARPS too much slack – I do so because I see things happening – moving in a good direction. But OK I accept that maybe I do cut too much slack sometimes.

But I think you and others don’t cut ARPS enough slack and do too much bashing.

Somewhere in between is probably the right place to be – it usually is.

Really though, let’s not bash, let’s build. I really think that is happening and can continue to.

Joel said...

Rick,

Years ago, conservatives used to say, "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."

Then, Tom Wolfe (in Bonfire of the Vanities) wrote that a liberal was "a conservative who's been arrested."

Let me add that an ARPS basher is a parent who had a kid at Fort River when RVJ was the principal. Or an ARPS basher is someone who watched the 9th grade science curriculum change without much thought or analysis.

Or, more recently, an ARPS basher is someone whose property taxes went up in part to fund raises for first year principals.

Or, from very personal experience, an ARPS basher is someone who gave up multiple full days to sit on the Social Studies Curriculum Review Committee, which accomplished nothing, but at great cost to the system -- in substitute teacher pay, etc.

Oh, we did have an entire morning of "role playing" exercises. Despite that mind numbing exercise we managed to do absolutely nothing to align the curriculum or change it in any way. Ask the parents from the Math curriculum committee, they had a similar experience.

I am hopeful that we're moving in the right direction, but to continue that momentum we'll need near constant scrutiny and often harsh criticism of the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Right on Joel!!!
akb

Abbie said...

Joel,

I believe this statement "more recently, an ARPS basher is someone whose property taxes went up in part to fund raises for first year principals" is incorrect.

Taxes went up the usual percent as limited by Prop 2.5. You can argue with the appropriation, but if the $ hadn't been used for that purpose it would have been used for another (I would have preferred it went to public safety, for example, or to keep a teacher or two in the MS)! Also, I believe that the SC unanimously supported those raises (to which I disagreed).

Joel said...

Abbie,

You're right. My taxes went up because the town decided my house was worth more.

To be more exact then, I bash the leadership of ARPS because they chose to use extremely scarce resources on those raises. I think you agree with that.

I tied it to my circumstances because neither my wife (an Amherst College employee) nor I (a UMass employee) received a raise last year. Our taxes went up, our incomes stayed the same (and declined in purchasing power), but the leadership of the schools decided to reward some of the leadership of the schools with raises.

Yes, you are absolutely right, they didn't explicitly raise my taxes for those raises. They are talking about an override (i.e., raising my taxes again) to pay for things that could have been paid for with the raise money, the money spent on the modulars, the money spent buses kids to cluster ELL programs, and on and on.

I apologize for the inexactitude of my comment. The reality of what's happening, however, is enough to make an ARPS basher out of most of us.

Anonymous said...

The tension and divisiveness exists because past school committee members, superintendents and administrators avoided serious problems, letting them fester and fester without resolution. And now we-- and especially our kids -- are all paying the price. Think about how people with young kids in the school system must feel right now.

Anonymous said...

i think the saddest part is that in the chaos of opposition and hurt feelings with the closing of MM, we need to do a better job of hearing the MM families whose kids now face not only being moved to another school, but doing so without friends or neighbors. i think it would be a bad idea to dismiss these concerns and just tell Amherst parents to suck it up. MM families, CR families, FR families and WW families all have the right to be concerned about how change will affect their child/student and to express those concerns to the SC, prior to the needed redistricting. They should not be belittled for doing so.

i think all SC members could be doing a better job of respecting their constituents (which include those families that challenge them)and their expression of concerns.

i am not convinced that having a blog about some of these emotional issues is productive. it seems to allow hurt and angry feelings to solidify, make mediation more difficult, and ultimately makes political discussion about an issue like redistricting even more hostile.

i am concerned about the tone of discussion in Amherst. And i'm beginning to think that a blog outlet does not help.

And i am anonymous for my own sense of personal safety.

Anonymous said...

Did you hear that Hadley added two classes at the last minute this year. So are people choosing to live in Hadley vs Amherst for financial or good school reasons.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we tried to get school choice slots in Hadley but were told there was a huge waiting list.

Anonymous said...

I've spent quite a bit of time in the Hadley Elementary School. They have a great teaching staff, and a beautiful new building! There is of course, FAR less diversity, as well as a real sense of many families/staff having known one another for generations. One of its greatest attributes though, in my opinion, is the building's overall sense of spaciousness. The building houses closed classrooms, so there is no ongoing buzz of background noise or sense of overcrowding, despite some large class-sizes. The school does maintain a more traditional approach to education, however. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited each morning and few would raise an eyebrow in handing an international student say, a coloring worksheet stating, "The United States is the best country in the world." School lunches are different too, than what Amherst schools seem to have succeeded in improving upon. Great school, though definitely a very different environment from Amherst, despite being just next door.

Joel said...

Regarding the Pledge of Allegiance: Whatever you think of it, reciting is the law, which means we violate the law every day, with no good reason or any explanation.

I don't care so much about the Pledge itself, but it's another example of how some of our educators insist that they know best and that there is some sort of magical Amherst way, which is always the best way -- even though there's no evidence of that.

Anonymous said...

You're right again Joel. I spoke to my kids' teachers about this. They said the pledge would never be said in their classrooms. Great, just great. Even tho there are international students here, maybe they need to be thankful for the flag and the constitution that allows them to be here, speak freely, and go to college in such a wonderful country. Oh...I forgot, that's not politically correct in Amherst. Oooops, my bad! akb

Joel said...

Agreed, but to me the bigger point is that a teacher cannot by him or herself choose which laws to follow. It is, in fact, a law. If they want to violate the law, publicly proclaim that they have done so, and then accept the appropriate penalty -- that is the essence of civil disobedience -- then fine. But, just picking and choosing which laws apply to you is simply wrong. It's also a horrible lesson for a teacher to teach young students.

Anonymous said...

I agree Joel. That's why I moved my kids out of the Amherst Schools.
akb

Anonymous said...

Catherine, why did you vote to allow a few dissidents to hyjack the September 22 school committee meeting? It's a school committee meeting with a specific agenda to be followed for that evening. To listen to one woman speaking in spanish, WTF??? And then have Jim Oldham yammer on and on rehashing old stuff that's already been decided on??? Didn't we all agree that too much talking, and discussion had been going on in the past, and not enough action? akb

Anonymous said...

whose decision is reciting the pledge? i don't care to have my child reciting it because i think it encourages nationalism and we allow our child to explore and celebrate different spiritual traditions, not all of them theistic. in this day and age of increasing interconnectedness, and with Amherst's pledged commitment to multiculturalism, asking children to pledge to "one nation, under god", shouldn't and needn't be part of a quality education.

Joel said...

It's state law. The individual teachers and principals have NO authority in this matter.

see here:

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/71-69.htm

We violate it and should be paying the fine. What bothers me is the mindlessness of just breaking a law you don't like.

There are a lot of laws I don't like, but if I break them I have to face the consequences.

I don't particularly like the Pledge, although I think it can serve a nice purpose in a multicultural town. What I really can't wrap my mind around is the decision to do whatever we like because we seem to think we know best.

Quite clearly we don't know best because increasing numbers of town residents are sending their kids to the Chinese Charter School, trying to school choice to Hadley, and/or looking into private schools.

The other issue the failure to recite the Pledge raises for me is, how many other laws and regulations do the Amherst Schools ignore out of our sense of specialness and that we someone know more than everyone else?

Rick said...

Boy this has gotten way off the original topic. ;-)

Further to what Joel said, there have also been a bunch of cases ruling on this, which you can see at bottom of the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance but none that seems to strikes down this law, although the 2006 case in Florida ruled that you cannot force a student to recite it.

Here is a possible solution:

1. Do the Pledge, so that you’re not breaking the MA law.

2. Tell the kids it’s voluntary, and on two levels:

a. Don’t say it at all if you don’t want to.
b. Say it without the under God part if you want.

3. Explain to them what the issue is – separation of church and state – which is a learning experience. I think if its done right, even Kindergarten kids would understand.

4. Send something home to parents so they can explain same to their kids.

5. Don’t start the Pledge until 2nd week of school to give parents time to talk to their kids.

Joel said...

Everything Rick says makes sense and he deals with the issue head on.

Right now, we're just breaking the law.

What bothers me as I've noted, and I think gets back to the issues at hand, is that the district has had truly awful leadership from our previous superintendent to the previous FR principal to some of the long serving members of the SC. They made things up as they went along, often more concerned with not offended one particular group or another rather than providing thoughtful leadership.

Clearly, the Pledge bothers some people and we need to come up with ways to deal with that and stay within the law.

Ignoring the law and having a political bias against something that is legally mandated isn't too far off from what we hear from the far right. They reject the legitimacy of the national government now that Obama is president, so they just choose to ignore some laws and denounce the federal government. Few people in Amherst don't see that as crazy, but they never examine how their actions seem to the rest of the country.

You want to break the law for political reasons, then do so. But, do so in a politically responsible and ethical way. Announce why you're breaking the law and face the consequences. Don't just act like the mirror image of the right wing jerks.

Anonymous said...

Better be careful Joel, I'm going to write you in as a candidate for school committee. Although you make too much sense. That probably won't fly here in Amherst. akb

Anonymous said...

To inject a note of sanity concerning the pledge of allegiance and the Massachusetts General Laws:

Chapter 71, Section 69 of the MGL requiring each teacher to "lead the class in a group recitation" of the pledge would almost certainly be struck down on first-amendment grounds, if someone had the time and money to bother to challenge it. The relevant 1943 Supreme Court decision is quite clear on this issue, not on religious grounds, but on the grounds of free speech and the inadmissibility of compelled speech and oaths. That decision is the standing precedent and the settled law of the land on this matter.

Ah, but the law, the law! We must respect state law! To do anything else would by irresponsible, unethical, hypocritical! Shouldn't we just turn ourselves in and pay the fine for not reciting the pledge in our schools?

Well, it may come as a surprise to some, but there are thousands of state laws in this country that are no longer enforced or enforceable but for a variety of reasons have remained on the books. Chapter 272 of the MGL, concerning "Crimes against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order" makes for enlightening reading in this regard. Section 14 outlaws adultery, Section 18 fornication, Section 36 blasphemy (towards God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost or "the holy word of God"), Section 21/21A providing contraception to unmarried individuals, and Section 35 "the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast," an act specifically identified as "sodomy, etc." in Chapter 277, Section 79. Yes, in enlightened Massachusetts, first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriages, sodomy is illegal and punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

If these laws were enforced with the kind of severity demanded by previous posters concerning the pledge of allegiance, perhaps 90% or more of the Commonwealth's population would find itself behind bars (since all of these crimes are punishable by imprisonment). Those who have the time, money and inclination might want to challenge them and get them officially repealed. More power to them. Few people will fall into this category, however. That doesn't mean that those who commit these "crimes" are irresponsible or unethical, or that they deserve to be mindlessly condemned as "just breaking the law."

Anonymous said...

How interesting that you bring up the pledge. About a week ago I heard my child talking with friends, all 6th and 7th graders, about it. Most said they didn't even KNOW it. I found that amazing.

Joel said...

To Anon 7:26,

I find this to be a fairly common Amherst-Left and Texas-Right response. You find some other law that isn't enforced or that's silly, etc. and say, well I have no problem ignoring this one.

The public schools aren't in the business of flaunting state laws. If our district wants to go to court, and waste a ton of money and time, then it should do so. Short of that, it should follow the law.

The obvious question for you is where do you draw the line? At what point is ignoring a law a problem?

And, although I share your skepticism about the efficacy of the Pledge itself, I have a much less sanguine view of the U.S. Supreme Court. I would happily bet $100 that the Roberts court would either refuse to hear the case or rule 5-4 to allow the enforcement of the Pledge. Frankly, I don't have a hard time imaging our newest Justice going on about the immigrant experience and the importance of assimilation.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing left or right about it. Antiquated laws that have become unenforceable because of Supreme Court decisions that have overruled them need not be obeyed.

Joel said...

Exactly. It isn't progressive or conservative, it's a disregard for both common practice and the law of the land because someone feels he/she knows best, via their far left or far right politics. They knew what is truly right and wrong no matter what.

Okay, so which Supreme Court decision explicitly speaks to Commonwealth law regarding the Pledge? Which ruling, not a law or ruling that you see as precedent, but an explicit rejection of our law or any state's law requiring the Pledge of Allegiance applies? If one existed, then the law requiring the Pledge wouldn't be on the books.

You're right, it isn't left or right, that was my point. I see a lot of people in Amherst acting and talking like a lot of very conservative people in Texas. We talk about "social justice" without ever really defining it and they talk about Jesus in equally bizarre ways.

My point is that the behavior of some on the left here in Amherst is just as strange and, frankly, ridiculous, as the behavior I witnessed during 9 long years living in Texas. I much prefer it here, but I'm often amused and put off by the similarities in the thought processes and utter disregard for reality I find among the folks in both places.

Joel said...

One more thing:

If we had a vote in the Commonwealth ending some antiquated anti-sodomy law, or if the legislature wiped it off the books, would there be a broad outcry beyond Christian conservatives? My guess is no.

But, do you honestly think politicians in this state and a majority of its residents oppose reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? If so, you might want to spend some time beyond our town's borders. Lots of people like the Pledge and my guess is that very few would be in favor of getting rid of it as a part of the school day.

What's fascinating is that many of the things we do and say in Amherst confuse, amuse, and horrify sensible, literate, and progressive people throughout the region.

That matters to me not in discussing the Pledge, but in how easily our schools have ignored best practices, state regs, and effective forms of education because some people believe there is a magical Amherst way of doing things, which must be better than everything else everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I see you have no substantive counter-arguments to my points (rants about extremist behavior don't fit the bill), so I'll limit myself to the following observations:

-- Concerning the pragmatic issue of the town running the risk of having to go to court and waste "a ton of money and time," you assume that having the school district follow MGL 71/69 would be the safest option, but that is far from clear. Expensive lawsuits can come from many unforeseen directions, and in a town like Amherst, it may be far riskier financially to follow this law than to ignore it.

-- You seem to think it's a compelling argument to assert that a majority of Massachusetts residents would be against getting rid of the pledge in the schools. In fact, though, I never said anything about getting rid of the pledge. I was discussing a specific law that requires teachers to "lead the class in a group recitation of the pledge" and punishes them for failing to do so. Between the clearly unconstitutional position taken by this law and an outright ban on the pledge there are a range of possible positions that would neither compel the pledge nor ban it, some of which would no doubt pass constitutional muster. Of course, the Supreme Court is free to take up the issue again and change the rules of the game as they have been established by the 1943 decision and the subsequent decisions affirming and clarifying it, but for now that decision is the law of the land (just as the Supreme Court's more recent striking down of sodomy laws is the law of the land, not MGL 272/35, even though the Supreme Court didn't specifically mention 272/35 in its ruling, and even though this obsolete relic remains on the books).

Joel said...

Okay, so I looked up the supreme court cases and you've been incredibly deceptive in your arguments. It seems as though most of the decisions protect students from being forced to recite the Pledge, although the 2002 Nedow case surely reveals a much more conservative court than the one that ruled in the West Virginia 1943 case.

That's not what we're talking about here. We're discussing the fact that it's not being said at all in Amherst schools.

In both those cases the issue was the state *forcing students* to say something. They don't forbid a school system of having the Pledge. Mass law requires us to have that and I didn't see any ruling in our federal district changing that.

So, how would those rulings and the Mass law handle students who feel ostracized because the teacher refuses to recite the Pledge?

No one should be compelled to do it, but here in Amherst we're making it impossible to do it.

I actually don't care about the Pledge per se. My main point remains that we're doing something unique, we've had no public discussion or debate, and the justification, which is offered on this blog not by the schools, is a series of court rulings that we're assured apply.

I'm just tired of Amherst insisting it's unique and special and having no evidence that it's actually doing the job it should be doing educating our kids.

Decisions have been made for ideological reasons. Those decisions are often made in private and are not openly debated in the community. The Pledge issue is just another example of that.

Joel said...

More on the Pledge and what the debate here says about education in Amherst:

Although an anonymous poster promised all of us that there is a black letter law that's crystal clear that prevents the state from mandating reciting the Pledge, today the US Supreme Court let stand a Federal District Court ruling in Florida that allows the state to compel students to recite the Pledge. It's a very complicated issue. The Court let stand the idea that the Free Speech right to ignore the Pledge is an adult right that belongs to parents and not children.

I've never cared much about the Pledge per se, but I found the debate on this blog to be so typically Amherst. Someone with some limited expertise opines with great authority about how obvious and clear and beyond debate Amherst policy is even though practically every other school district in the country does something else. And then, out of the blue, a serious authority -- in this case the ultimate authority of what is legal, the US Supreme Court -- says something completely at odds with what was said by our local "experts."

I'm sure we'll hear about how we get to ignore the US Supreme Court -- just as the Birthers ignore it and every other authority on Obama's birth in Hawaii.

Again, beyond the Pledge, this sort of attitude got us a system of segregating poor Spanish speaking students in one school and a new mandatory science curriculum that is so wonderful and so cutting edge that it's the envy of, well, no one, because we're the only place in the country that anyone can locate that uses it.

Joel said...

For anyone who cares to read about the ability of the state to compel students to recite the Pledge:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1005/p02s07-usju.html

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Whether you agree with or like the Pledge personally, I feel as if we are doing our kids a disservice by not reciting it in school; it sets them apart as "different" from other schoolchildren in our country.

I will never forget when I took my little Daisy Girl Scouts (all students in Amherst schools) to a larger gathering of scouts and the day began with the Pledge. The girls were confused and embarrassed when everyone around them rose at once, put their hands to their hearts, and began to recite the Pledge. They felt very left out and had no idea what was going on. I apologized to them later for not anticipating that, explained the Pledge, and taught it to them so they would be prepared for other Scout group events. At the time, I thought it was only my daughter's teacher who, for some personal reason, was not teaching them the Pledge. I soon learned that it was rarely taught in Amherst.

Rick said...

First, just backing up a bit: has it been established as a fact that the Pledge is not recited – and in all elementary schools and classes? Probably, but just want to make sure.

At any rate, Alison makes a really good point, and I suggest again a rational proposal – see 15 comments above, October 3, 2009 9:45 AM.

Joel mentioned “the debate on this blog to be so typically Amherst.” I would say the problem is that people are sometimes more interested in arguing their views than in coming up with practical solutions that might work for everyone. Instead of thinking “what might work for me and you” it’s “here is why you are wrong”. That doesn’t work.

Sometimes it is really hard to come up with a practical solution; the redistricting plan seems like such a case. The redistricting map looks really weird with those two pockets around East Hadley Road.

http://www.arps.org/node/1031

but apparently there is no other way to achieve the result. I pity the folks working on this because they are trying to do the right thing, but they are going to get hammered no matter what they do.

But in this case – the Pledge – it just seems so easy. I suggest that we shouldn’t waste time on the easy ones, but rather just suggest and implement easy, practical solutions.

Joel said...

I don't disagree with Rick on the solution to this issue. My point about a typical Amherst argument was the assertion of case law and Supreme Court rulings by someone with limited expertise. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the issues, but the anonymous poster assured the readers of the blog that it was beyond debate. Then, the US Supreme Court, within days of the anonymous posts, said the exact opposite of what we were told was the law.

Too many educational policies have been made by people in town who claim some pedagogical expertise but who are often acting from more of an ideological perspective than real expertise. That was my point.

Anonymous said...

Joel, I think you and I might be the only ones who "get it". It's not the pledge, it's the fact that as a group, Amherst thinks they know better, and just does what they want. I don't know how many times you've stated this, but it seems be lost on a lot of people here. Not surprising tho. akb

Rick said...

Changing the subject back to the original post:

If you re-read the post from Margaret way up top (September 24, 2009 12:49 PM ) and Catherine’s thoughtful response to her (September 24, 2009 5:36 PM ) that highlights a real dilemma in the redistricting plan.

I think those are worth re-reading before the forums taking place starting on Thursday.

Anonymous said...

In response to this: "You could divide the East Hadley Road area between CF and WW, but the problem is that you have to fit the MM families largely into WW. So, if we were keeping four schools, that plan would work -- but with three schools, there isn't enough room to put all the kids in the East Hadley Road area into just WW and CF AND fit the MM families largely into WW. The current "island" plan has 40 kids leaving for FR. Those kids can't fit in either of the other schools, and there isn't a way to do this without creating several islands in different parts of town. "

Isn't not discriminating against lower-income families -which is what the island plan does- more important than not creating other islands?

Anonymous said...

To bus the most vulnerable population out of their neighborhoods in the name of "equity" simply cannot be the answer. To have two buses arrive each morning at WW and FR, each filled mainly with young children of color who are clearly from the poor part of town, is not a solution. The arguments FOR this plan-cost and bus schedule- guarantee that those with the least will be asked to sacrifice the most. If we truly believe in equity, then let's see similar islands in east Amherst and north/central Amherst. Let's have "island" buses make the rounds in all 3 areas, putting together diverse groups of children at the IMMEDIATE start of their school day, and drop them off at the 3 different elementary schools. And to all of you who would raise an objection to this plan, your objections are EXACTLY what is wrong with the original one.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason for redistricting is to help the kids who you are so worried about discriminating against. The key issue is getting these kids the best education and this will happen in schools that don't concentrate poverty. Who cares what a bus full of kids looks like? What matters is what happens inside the building, not how it looks to you. That will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Also, for the record,the poor kids probaby know they are poor (I was) but don't care about it as much as adults.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:59 PM,
What do you think is being done now? They are already rounding up the kids and busing them out of their neighborhoods and dropping them off at Crocker Farm!