September 15, 2009
By NICK GRABBE
AMHERST - A group charged with redrawing the elementary school district lines now has a proposed map to present to parents and the School Committee.
The map would have students who live north of Amity/Main streets and west of the railroad tracks attend Wildwood School, while those living east of the tracks attend Fort River School and all others south of Amity/Main and west of the tracks attend Crocker Farm School.
The only exception would be an island of three apartment complexes near East Hadley Road. About 28 children living at The Boulders would attend Wildwood, while about 47 at Mill Valley Estates and Hollister Apartments would attend Fort River. Children living in the nearby houses would attend Crocker Farm.
The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the district maps Oct. 27, but before that, there will be two opportunities for public comment, tentatively scheduled at Mark's Meadow School Oct. 8 and at Crocker Farm Oct. 14, with bus transportation and child care provided.
The trigger for the redistricting is the closure of Mark's Meadow next fall. Most of its current students would go to Wildwood next year, except for those living on Leverett and East Leverett Roads, who would attend Fort River.
Another goal of the redistricting is to equalize the percentage of children from low-income homes, as defined by those receiving free and reduced-price lunches. Currently, Crocker Farm has 50.8 percent low-income students, Fort River 32.2 percent, Mark's Meadow 31.4 percent, and Wildwood 24.4 percent.
Under the proposal, the percentages would be: Crocker Farm, 34.8 percent; Fort River, 35.2 percent; Wildwood 32.3 percent. The apartment complexes, which have much higher percentages of low-income parents than single-family houses, were placed in schools other than Crocker Farm to help equalize these numbers.
When new demographic information becomes available Oct. 1, the numbers will be adjusted.
The island in the middle of the Crocker Farm district looks "bizarre" and could spark some parent comments, said School Committee member Irv Rhodes. But the rationale of equalizing low-income students "has a large amount of support on the School Committee and the community. The rationale is defensible and conforms with the values we have."
The school district should provide money for emergency transportation for parents who live in these apartment complexes who don't have cars and have to get to their children's schools, he said.
"Concentrated poverty is a bad thing," said School Committee member Steve Rivkin. He spoke highly of the new map, as did Douglas Slaughter and Maria Geryk, two other members of the redistricting group.
Under the proposed map, the number of children switching schools next year would be much higher at Crocker Farm and Wildwood than at Fort River.
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.