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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Revised Preliminary Redistricting Map

This is the most recent map proposed by the district for the redistricting. This map is still PRELIMINARY, and the School Committee will hear comments from the community regarding this map, and some revision could potentially occur. Please remember that commenting on my blog is not actually communicating with the School Committee in an official way -- official comments should be sent to the entire School Committee ( and/or can be made at the public forums. This map will be presented at the September 22nd Amherst School Committee Meeting.

To give a sense of the comparison to our current district, I've now added our current districts (which seem much less intuitive to me). For the record, the current breakdow in terms of % of kids on free/reduced lunch is: CF - 50.8%, FR - 32.2%, MM - 31.4%, WW - 24.4%.

The new map creates three much more equitable schools, as noted in the article posted below.


Abbie said...

Thanks Catherine for providing the proposed map so quickly. I wonder if it would be too much trouble to post the current map alongside the new proposed map so folks can see directly the changes. Too bad that there still has to be islands of kids to be bused. I suppose the map drawers tried very hard to solve that problem.

To Meg: while I appreciate that a difference for the MM kids not going to WW in that their old school is closing. But I think that there will be similarly small groups that will be moving to a new school. For example, my daughter would be moving to CF and I suspect that only about 15 kids would be in that larger neighborhood group to be moved. Its going to hard for a lot of families and I will have to explain to my daughter that while her present school isn't closing she still will have to move to another school that is vastly less convenient and where few of her friends will be...But I will explain to her why it is the right thing to do and CF will be just as good (and maybe better!) as WW. This is where parents should teach the social justice thing at home (which by the way, I think is lip service at the schools).

On the positive side, I have seen the principle of CF talk about the positive things happening at CF and it sounds really great! (Hope he sticks around...).

Anonymous said...

Any estimates of the proposed number of kids at each school? I didn't see that information in the newspaper article.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Abbie - good idea. I just revised my post to include the old map for comparison. I agree that it is too bad that there are islands -- but I think it is unavoidable given that kids on free/reduced lunch aren't spread equally across all areas of town. I believe kids from all schools will be being moved -- some in smaller groups than others. I know kids at Fort River now who will go to CF next year with this map, and others who will go to WW. I think the key thing to remember s that neighborhoods are being kept together, and that all schools will make an effort this year and next to make sure that all families/kids feel welcome.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:59 - the rough estimates are 450 at Fort River (same as now at Fort River), 360 at Crocker (a pretty big increase in terms of population at Crocker), and 430 at Wildwood (a bit larger than Wildwood now). These are still preliminary estimates, of course. But this map does create schools that are as equal in size as is possible (given that CF is smaller than the other two), which is very good in terms of finances. It also means that IF the 6th grade ever moves up, it would have a similar impact on all three buildings.

Anonymous said...

Draft map juxtaposed

Meg Rosa said...

Thank you for reminding me of that point!!! For me it is not so much where they end up, just how many familiar faces go with them. I do appreciate the reminder!!

Anonymous said...

How do you explain to a child that "it is the right thing to do"...when the "thing" you are talking about is to disrupt their young life? How silly this whole notion of ripping apart small communities of children has become. And even sillier the idea of closing Marks Meadow. How can a group of intellects be in charge of making such a foolish move? How can anyone close down a high performing elementary school and then leave us with having to possibly build another one in the very near future? Our communities are not shrinking as the SC may lead us to believe. Our children need and deserve the kind of high quality education MM has proven to deliver, the MCAS testing alone is one proof of this. CF--has failed another year of MCAS...positively!!

Abbie said...

To anon@4:13:

I simply disagree entirely with all you have written. I do not believe it is terribly disruptive to young lives to move schools, kids do it all the time. Its really up to the parents to ease the way (i.e. YOU need to step up and do it right).

Pretty much the entire effort for redistricting has as its goal to improve the performance of CF, whose present performance most likely results from its extremely high concentration of low-income kids. I guess you don't have an ethical problem with that? I do.

If this map is adopted our daughter will move to CF, we will help her in that transition, and we will work together with the CF community toward making CF excellent.

Amherst decided to close MM because (A) the numbers of students in Amherst can be accommodated in the other 3 schools. You have no basis in fact in saying we will need to build another school in the future.

(B) We cannot afford to have a school that is not needed because of enrollment needs.

But I really don't want to go into the old and very tired arguments why or why not MM should close. Its over and its closing. How you deal with it is up to you.

TC said...

Any map the committee draws will make some people happy and others unhappy, but I agree 100% with Abbie. In a small town like Amherst it makes no sense to have one school with a much higher proportion of low-income kids than the others. In my opinion, the most important goal in this redistricting process should be correcting that disparity, so that we can have 3 excellent elementary schools. If we achieve this goal, no matter which school a child attends, his/her parents will know that they're in a wonderful school.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Abbie,
Please reread your post closely. Why do you put blame on CF's "present performance" (failing the MCAS yet another year) on the "extremely high concentration of low-income kids." Shame on you for pointing your finger this way. Did you just move to town? Do you think this disparity in the way the education has been distributed through out Amherst just happened? Closing MM is far from a done deal. A move so foolish and so mind boggling is far from settled. 3 excellent schools, yes--this would be great in lala land, but reality shows an entirely different picture. Close MM and shuffle the children around town and then feel good that you are doing the "right thing", at the expense of having destroyed a high achieving academic environment that can never be replaced.

kathleen said...

I cannot make any sense of this map at all - is there a map available with street names or a bit more detail so we can actually read it? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Catherine - will students in the "new" CF district be allowed to elect to attend a different school because of the "No child left behind" law in the upcoming school year (2009-2010) (due to low/failing MCAS scores at CF)?

Currently there are families in the CF district who have used this election for the current school year to attend Wildwood (even though school choice was CLOSED for Amherst elementary schools this year).

I am just wondering whether legally (not ethically, morally, or socially, but LEGALLY), the families of current WW kids who live in the "new-CF district" can use this law to have their kids stay at WW. In which case WW may end up really crowded.

Thanks for your help!

Anonymous said...

Oops - for "upcoming school year" I meant 2010-2011.

Anonymous said...

I am confused. Last year during the discussion around closing marks meadow, it was pointed out that 2009 was the year to make this decision because in 2010 our town would be redistricting the school and we only wanted kids to move schools once. The justification to vote last year was based, in part, on the upcoming redistricting.

This year we are told that the justification for redistricting is because marks meadow closed last year, which has resulted in an increase of about 100+ kids needing to be absorbed by the remaining three schools.

So does that mean if MM had not closed, we would have no need to redistrict this year?
Or was redistricting something that eventually needed to be done by the decision to close MM pushed it earlier than it needed to be? Would additional time to consider redistricting have improved the process? is it being rushed because of the MM decision? were SC members aware that their votes on the mm closing would impact the timing of redistricting decisions?

Tom the Independent said...

The map is very helpful, as has been your explanation of the process and impacts, so far.

Looking better to me.

Still, wouldn't it be simpler to keep all of the bus routes the same, and just have the upper, middle and lower income family's trade houses?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:26: I think the redistricting is occuring because it was voted upon and approved to close MM for financial reasons and because all the students could fit into the three other schools.

Had it not been voted to close MM for budget reasons last spring, then this year, we would NOT NECESSARILY be redistricting the elementary schools. The vote would NOT have occurred last May to redistrict based on financial inequity (unless someone on SC had proposed it).

Does this help? Anyways, this is the way I understood the rationale for voting to close MM at last spring's meeting. Closing MM last year is what is precipitating redistricting this year. But at the same time, the town is taking the opportunity to make the schools more financially equitable.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:26AM

MM has not closed yet. It is scheduled to close at the end of the current school year. There are about 200 children at that school. They will not just be sent to new school throughout the district, all schools will be redistricted to balance the current inequity issues.

I would not say that it is being rushed by the decision to close MM, but it is being included in the decision to close MM. The need to redistrict was here long before the decision to close MM came. So yes it is a separate issue happening at the same time as the closure of the school.

As for school choice for the 2010-2011 school year, the SC voted to not allow it the same day they voted to close MM at the end if this year. As well as not accepting any NEW school choice for the current year.

Maybe there are legal issues with that. I do not have that answer. Someone else might though. Or you can just ask the School Committee.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:53 - thanks for doing that!

Meg - We have close to a year before the move occurs ... a good time in which I hope families who are moving to new schools can come together with others at that school or who will be at that school. This is the advantage of having such a long lead time!

Anonymous 4:13 - kids go through lots of change in life ... and many of those changes are FAR more disruptive than moving from one elementary school in the same town to another elementary school in the same town! There is no scenario in which we have to build a new elementary school in the foreseeable future -- the kids fit in three buildings, and the class sizes look great (no projections going out as far as 10 years suggest we need a new school). Let's aim for three schools that are all excellent (MCAS-wise and other-wise). Not closing MM would have led to such dramatic budget cuts that education in all four of the schools would have suffered -- hence the UNANIMOUS School Committee vote, supported by then interim superintendent and the current superintendent.

Abbie - well said. Thanks.

TC - I agree completely with your statement. Thanks.

Anonymous 8:18 - a large body of research suggests that children who are low income do worse on standardized tests (through NO fault of their own), and that children in a school in which more than 40% of the kids are low income do worse academically (and CF is about 50%). Closing Marks Meadow is in fact a done deal -- there was a vote, it passed unanimously, and new lines will be voted on in a month. I believe we absolutely can have three excellent (high performing) elementary schools, and I can't see why you would suggest keeping MM open so that all kids in our schools experience major budget cuts and a reduced academic experience.

Kathleen -- sorry -- that is the only copy of the map I have. But (1) you can come to the SC meeting on Tuesday night, Sept. 22nd, to see a bigger version of the map, and (2) the boundaries are easy to understand because they are the major roads (e.g., Amity, Main) and the railroad tracks. If you have a specific question about where a specific street/house goes, email me privately and I can probably answer it (

Anonymous 3:59 - this is a good question. I believe it will be addressed at the SC meeting this Tuesday, but my strong understanding is that open enrollment will not be allowed. That would potentially interfere with the equity proportions, and also with class size estimates. I also believe the NCLB law won't be an issue, since by redistricting, it isn't the same "school" anymore.

Anonymous 8:26 - the SC has been aware for a LONG time (3 years, since before I was on SC in fact) that redistricting needed to occur, and it was going to occur soon. The issue of deciding whether MM was going to be closed or not was essential BEFORE redistricting happened, or you could end up having to redistrict twice. So, if you redistricted kids to four schools, and then in a year or two decided to close MM, you'd have to redistrict again. This would mean some kids would move to three schools in a short period of time. Thus, the SC was absolutely aware that redistricting was going to need to occur, and to avoid disrupting kids twice in a short period of time, the decision to close MM was made at the same time as the decision to redistrict. Does that help clarify?

Anonymous said...

Catherine- The new map is based on current demographics. Did the committee take into account the proposed low income housing projects that are slated for construction in the near future? The one on Longmeadow Drive is specifically for families with children. It seems to me that if we know that there will be more low income children coming into a neighborhood then the new map should probably take that into account.

Anonymous said...

This whole redistrciting thing is one big farce. The notion to close Marks Meadow is an autrocity and demoralizing for the teachers and all others in the building. There is no sane explanation to having made this decision except perhaps that a UNANIMOUS vote was reached by peer pressure of sorts, or "Hey if I stand alone no one will like me", or geeze I can't even begin to imagine the thought pattern behind this reasoning. You, Ms. Catherine, are so prejudice in the way you speak it simply is amazing that no one calls you out on it. You can hide behind your 'large body of research' and continue to appear as though you have a clue as to what you are talking about, but the bottom line is so very clear--you all but keep saying over and over--poor people are dumb...sad...
And voted on or not things can be reversed, especially when such a move as closing MM becomes obvious as to just how damaging it will become to ALL kids...
There was a surplus in the school budget--how do you explain this? There are still too many principals--school year reduced to or not--there are still too many, but then again these administrative positions seem more vital than our kids basic education. I like Tom's idea much better than this absurd map.=)It is making about as much as the same sense.

Anonymous said...

You're about as stupid as Tom. The closing of MM was long-term savings. Can you read?