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.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Amherst school redistricting forum draws questions, criticism

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Friday, October 9, 2009

AMHERST - The School Committee faced strong criticism Thursday of its plan to redraw the elementary school boundaries.

The first of two public forums was at Mark's Meadow School, whose closure next year necessitates the redistricting. The second forum will be at Crocker Farm School next Wednesday. The committee is due to vote on the plan Oct. 27.

Adrian Durlester, a Mark's Meadow parent, questioned the committee's major goal of equalizing the percentages of children from low-income families between the three remaining schools.

"A common fallacy equates the term ¿equal' with the word ¿fair,'" he said. "Getting the same percentages is a worthy goal, but it might not be best to have it as a top priority."

Derek Dassatti, who lives on East Leverett Road, has children who are among the few Mark's Meadow students who would not go to the same school as their classmates next year.

"Why should my kids lose their school and then also be totally split up from their community?" he asked. Economic equalization is a "noble goal," but the committee should not focus on it too narrowly, he said.

Nicholas Rege-Colt of Valley View Road said he has a fifth-grader who would have to go to new schools twice in the next two years. "Is this tragic? No. Is it ideal? Definitely not," he said, suggesting that open enrollment continue for one more year.

Alan Kellman, the parent of a Wildwood second-grader who would go to Crocker Farm under the plan, said the committee "has a lot of goals to balance, but minimizing the trauma of transferring kids has to be weighed heavily."

Michelle Dunch criticized the plan to bus children living at The Boulders and Mill Valley Estates out of the Crocker Farm district to achieve better balance.

"You should find some other way to draw the lines that doesn't unfairly burden low-income kids," she said. "Moving them in that way labels them."

Several speakers criticized the plan to break up children clustered at certain schools by language, especially at Fort River, where 33 students of Cambodian ancestry attend. Of those, 22 would be moved to new schools under the plan.

"Preserving the Cambodian cluster would be an affirmation of the district's commitments to academic success, culturally responsive education and loving connections with our families," said teacher Thomas Chang.

Vince O'Connor of Summer Street said that the schools have to convince voters of the need for a tax override next spring, and "a plan that's disruptive of kids' lives" doesn't help.

"This proposal is seen as the highway to heaven, but it's the road to perdition," he said. Of the plan to break up the language clusters, he said, "Kids who don't have identities don't have a future."

80 comments:

Gavin Andresen said...

"Kids who don't have an identity don't have a future?"

Gee, you mean like a kid who was born in Australia and went to six different schools in four different states by the time he was in sixth grade? (I think I turned out OK)

Redistricting will give us a better school system, and I hope that the school committee discounts the irrational, over-the-top rhetoric from folks like Mr. O'Connor.

Tom G said...

Vince O'Connor sets up the straw man, "This proposal is seen as the highway to heaven" and knocks it down with metaphysical force "but it's the road to perdition." Did he mean 'perdition' as in the loss of one's soul? I knew Vince was a concerned citizen but I didn't know he was so dramatic. Does he have kids in the school system or was he there to advocate against the override?

Going to a different school is an adjustment, which can just as easily be seen as an opportunity as opposed to a loss. In fact, it's both.

I went four schools in two languages from Pre-K through 6, then ARJHS, ARHS, and prep school for the last two years of high school. Changing schools was the least of my problems. It was an adjustment but it wasn't a problem.

That said, it's good to see the intensity parents have protecting their kids and their kids interests.

I think kids are far more capable of making adjustments than their parents know. I also think some of the expectations that might help them make the adjustment more easily comes from signals parents and friends give.

Maybe the schools should do open houses in the Spring for next years new attendees.

Anonymous said...

I understand the concerns of parents who are concerned with the breaking up of "cultural communities" like the Cambodian group at Fort River, but continuing that out-of-district placement could potentially negate the attempts to balance the schools with respect to low income students. Not to mention, once you continue to allow one cultural group, who is to decide what a legitimate cultural group is? For example, couldn't the Marks Meadows parents come forth and say that they are one cultural group and don't want to be split up?

Just as an aside, were there actually any Cambodian parents there protesting this change? The Cambodian parents I know speak English and are perfectly capable of grasping this issue but I have not heard them complaining.

Anonymous said...

The School Committee has said that the proposed redistricting boundaries are based on the data and the goal of wanting to be more balanced socio-economically. While the goal is admirable, not all important factors for this decision are quantifiable; the relationships of students in adjacent neighborhoods and cultural communities should also be considered. Additionally, isn't the data always changing? The current figures give very similar proportions of free/reduced lunch kids for each of the proposed new districts. Next year, the data could be different. As someone mentioned, with the current economic conditions, many families' economic circumstances have changed. Also, there are at least two new apartment complexes proposed for South Amherst (on Southeast Street and Longmeadow Drive) and some in-town neighborhoods experiencing great transitions for example, to more low-income families or more families with young children. When such changes occur, will the district boundaries be tweaked again to keep the numbers of low-income kids each school equal, or will the same boundaries remain. Have the staff/consultants behind the current proposed district map considered these types of trends?

Anonymous said...

Why not redistrict but allow a modified version of open enrollment to continue, one that looks a lot more like interdistrict school-choice. The superintendent and SC, in consultation with the principals of each school, determines how many school choice slots are available based on the amount of space at each school. Students are then chosen for those slots based on a lottery system. This seems to work reasonably well (although not perfectly) for the actual school choice system. The primary challenge is that some parents are more able to provide their own transportation than others, therefore making school choice more accessible to higher income parents. Negotiations with the PVTA to improve or amend some of their bus routes could help address this problem.

It seems this might solve a lot of the problems, and certainly address the issue of families feeling like this redistricting is being inflicted upon them without their having any recourse.

(Full disclosure: I'm not an Amherst parent, but rather a parent in a neighboring town who school choices my children to a school in another neighboring town.)

Seymour Butts said...

I find it funny the same people who wanted MM closed are now bitching because they have to send their kids to a different school.

Instead of spliting MV, South point and Boulders up. Why not divide Amhrest woods into 3 sections and bus children from AW to the 3 schools to help with equity?

Like that idea Catherine?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Gavin - thanks for the refreshing comment expressing support. It is striking to me, as it was last year when we closed MM, that for so many people, moving from one very good elementary school in a small town to another very good elementary school one or two miles away in the same small town (along with at least some of your current friends/classmates) is seen as so very traumatic. There were literally NO expressions of support for the plan (in its current configuration) expressed last night.

Tom G - I agree that moving schools can be a gain as well as a loss -- I would expect that kids would keep current friendships and establish new ones, and that is a good thing (and will serve them very well in MS!). The superintendent has already suggested holding open houses later this year for the "new families" at all schools -- I agree this is a great idea. And finally, yes, I think the messages parents/teachers send are very important -- and I would hope that children are hearing that this is an exciting opportunity, that they will make new friends, and that they will have an excellent new school (wherever that school is).

Anonymous 6:13 - two key things here. First, it is ILLEGAL to allow open enrollment and free busing based on race/ethnicity. This is illegal in the United States -- and we can't do it, and we are currently in violation of the law. So, the Cambodian program in its current configuration can't continue, and yes, it is a very slippery slope even if it was legal (e.g., should we cluster Jewish students? Irish students?). Second, there absolutely were Cambodian parents talking about how much they valued the program -- some who used translators. I understand that this program has been successful in many ways. However, since it is not legal and thus can't continue, I wish there could now be more focus on what programs/supports could LEGALLY be developed for this, and other, populations in need. Suggesting that the SC and the district continue to break the law is just not a viable option, and time spent pushing this suggestion is time spent not finding a solution.

Anonymous 6:41 - the SC and the district understands that change occurs, and that the current populations won't always exist. That is one reason why getting the % of kids on free/reduced lunch to be as similar as possible is pretty important -- so that small changes then don't widen whatever existing differences occur. The new communities were indeed taken into account ... and I think our goal should not be creating a plan that works forever, but creating a plan that works for 7 to 10 years (and redistricting could well occur again, if population changes led to the dramatic inequity we see now).

Anonymous 7:05 - we could certainly do this, and we may do this. However, a limited school choice would create a problem and simultaneously NOT solve a problem. First, it means that some "lucky families" would get to stay at their school and others wouldn't (right now, that would likely be the downtown neighborhood going to WW now but slated to move to CF, the houses off of E. Hadley Road going to WW now and slated to move to CF, the Southeast Street houses now going to FR and slated to move to WW, and the E. Leverett Road houses that currently go to MM and are slated to go to FR). Maybe it is OK if we then divide these neighborhoods -- but it could also lead even to bad feelings on those blocks and fewer friends traveling to the "new schools" then in the current system. Second, this option would NOT solve the culture clusters since you can't give preference to Cambodian kids. Finally, as you note, it favors parents who can provide transportation over those who can't, which also seems unfortunate.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Seymour Butts - two things. I don't think the same people who wanted to close MM are now bitching because their kids have to go to a different school. Can you give me a single example of such a person, because I don't know of one. Second, although I'm sure you love the idea of dividing up Amherst Woods into three schools, and we could certainly do that just to make people feel that all neighborhoods were "sharing the pain", it does NOT solve the problem of dividing up the free/reduced lunch kids into different schools. The issue is that we need to have about 125/150 free/reduced lunch kids at each school to maintain equity. There are multiple ways of having non-free/reduced lunch kids divided; there are fewer ways of diving the free/reduced lunch kids (who largely live off of East Hadley Road). So, if you divide Amherst Woods into three groups, you then need to move more people out of CF and to Fort River (who would these people be?), and you need to move more people out of WW to Fort River (who would these people be?).

Rick said...

If this forum was for input from the public that would actually get taken into consideration, then I would suggest the SC ether adjust the map to address the concerns, or state specifically in each case why they are not.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts are the same as Mr. Seymour Butts...Why aren't the upper class residents suffering the imposition of having their neighborhoods invaded by 3 different busses every single morning and every single afternoon of the week?? And having their children split up from their community of friends and security of familiar faces in the school environment? It sounds a little unAmerican, to say the least, that any body of citizens (the SC) can do this to people....and then to top of their absolute control of power not allow open enrollement....and this is a free country?? Wait a minute...ah yes, free if you have money...

Anonymous said...

I would respectfully point out that Catherine did NOT design the map. And, she is not the only one on the SC - she is one vote in 5. And, not all the SC members live in Amherst Woods.

Instead of anger and not very helpful comments, perhaps folks could try to come up with a plan that would not entail islands. I am guessing that there are not enough kids in Amherst Woods to balance the number of kids in the apartments. And no, I do not live in Amherst Woods.

My question to Catherine is this - the vote on this issue is scheduled for the Oct 27th SC meeting. Is this date set in stone? Can it be moved to November to allow the SC to think about helpful suggestions they may hear at the forums and time to give more thought to possible tweaking of the plan? Is there a school planning reason that the vote has to happen on 10/27?

Rick said...

I agree with Anon 10:04. I believe the time constraint is getting a bus contract for 2010 in place, but can’t than happen in December/January?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:04
No anger here, funny maybe it is you getting angry when the plain simple truth is throw out there....and this comment (9:36) is not by any means directed soley at Ms. C--didn't even know where she lives....Just plain facts is all....just plain facts. A solution? Dang! This inequity, illegal stuff, has been going on for oh--more than 25 years now--why has it become such an urgent matter??? I think it is such a waste of time of time and energy and moeny that should be going elsewhere--like equity in the classroom! Like equity in the ways these teachers dish out xeroed paperwork and pay mind to the one who gets it moving the class along while the ones who don't get shuffled out into sped classes...
It is a shame that no one can see this--and the soltuion (to the map mess)is to "hire" another consultant--Give me that job!

Caren Rotello said...

Anon 9:36 and 10:56.

Under the current plan, my son will move from WW to CF, thus losing his "community of friends and security of familiar faces in the school environment." We are not low income and our son is not at all happy about changing schools. But, we are consistent in our message to him: redistricting is necessary and will increase "fairness" in the district.

And as for the number of buses "invading" your neighborhood: last year, 3 separate buses went past our stop. (Substitute drivers were often confused about whether to pick up our son.) This year, the number of buses is down to 2 (I think). So again, it's not just one south Amherst neighborhood that will be affected by redistricting.

Anonymous said...

I did not go to the meeting last night due to another commitment so my information is second hand through the blog and the newspaper however I am a bit disappointed in some of the threads. Having children bussed out of their neighborhood (island) and feeling labeled due to economic circumstances is indeed unfortunate and uncomfortable. It would be better to come up with another idea but I like Catherine have not seen a constructive alternative that would equalize the % of free/reduced lunch children among schools which I believe would be a positive move for the town. What I am disappointed in is the conversation around "don't move my kid" aka the Southeast, Dana St and East Leveret Road areas. At this point my child is not moving however it will not be the same school as friends will be. If he were to move that would be ok as well and he is a fifth grader. I think we are not giving our children enough credit. They are adaptable and will be fine provided the adults around them are positive role models and are not hysterical about the changes. Awhile ago when one of the maps was having my son move and be separated from several close friends we talked about how he would feel if he was to go to another school. His first response was"If they tell me to go to another school then that is where I will go" and he went on to say he would be fine, would miss seeing his friends on a day to day basis but would make new friends and have that many more friends in town. Maybe his perspective is a bit different as we moved to Amherst three years ago and at that time he left everything familiar for anew place, new school and new friends. It took both my kids about a week to feel comfortable, bring new friends home etc. I dare say that even the students who move will also make new friends while maintaining the old friendships outside of school. I wish we could keep this in perspective and focus on the more important issues of equity and how to achieve that without alienating those families and spend less time of listening to the squeaky wheel who does not want their child to make a change when it may actually be a positive. Change is never easy but it is not always a bad thing.....my children (who thought their lives were over when we moved) would not go back for anything.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick (9:33) - I think it is entirely appropriate for the SC to either change the map or explain why changes weren't made. I expect that will happen.

Anonymous 9:36 - I'll repeat what I said to your friend Mr. Butts: first, we are dividing up "wealthy" neighborhoods as well -- one bus will go down Lincoln on one side of Amity and another will go down Lincoln on the other side of Amity. We could certainly divide Amherst Woods (and all neighborhoods throughout the town) into three schools just to make people feel that all neighborhoods were "sharing the pain." However, dividing all neighborhoods up throughout town does NOT solve the problem of dividing up the free/reduced lunch kids into different schools. The issue is that we need to have about 125/150 free/reduced lunch kids at each school to maintain equity. There are multiple ways of having non-free/reduced lunch kids divided; there are fewer ways of diving the free/reduced lunch kids (who largely live off of East Hadley Road). So, if you divide Amherst Woods into three groups, you then need to move more people out of CF and to Fort River (who would these people be?), and you need to move more people out of WW to Fort River (who would these people be?).

Anonymous 10:04 - thank you for pointing out that i didn't design the maps! Two things: first, the vote could absolutely be delayed, and it will be if the SC feels it needs more time. Second, doing new maps actually doesn't take long -- it is a day or two (Doug is fast!). But once you do new maps, you just create other people who are now moved, and may not feel good about that (e.g., you make one group happy by moving their kids back to WW, but then another group is sad because they are moved out of WW to make room). So, eventually you are going to have to settle on some maps that make some people unhappy -- it is just a question of which people.

Rick (at 10:29) - sure, you can delay the vote. Again, however, time isn't the issue here ... new maps can be created in a matter of days. The issue is that (a) the law doesn't allow different treatment for some than others based on ethnicity/race (that won't change from October to January) and (b) moving some kids into a school makes those families happy and other families sad. Time is not going to create a plan that everyone loves ... and I don't think time is the biggest problem here.

Anonymous said...

I think one thing we can all agree on is that redistricting is hard and painful. For everyone!! This is why it has not been done for 30 or 40 years!!!! Some kids will move and will miss their old school. Other kids will stay in their school and miss their friends who are leaving. Small local communities will be broken up. Alot of people will be asked to leave their "comfort zone." Change is ALWAYS hard!!!! But one thing that is for certain is that in life things are always changing.

This is hard. No matter what the SC does there will be some who will be happy and some who will be unhappy. This is a given. It may be possible to tweak the maps. It may be possible to totally overhaul the maps. But no matter what map the SC ultimately approves, some will be happy and some will be unhappy.

I do not envy the SC. Perhpas we should think about redistriting more often so not so many are affected at one time.

This must be done. I agree with a few who have spoken before...kids are resilient. They will adapt to whatever change that confronts them - if their parents are supportive the period of adjustment will be easier for them.

Anonymous said...

In responding to Anon 6:41, Catherine wrote that "I think our goal should not be creating a plan that works forever, but creating a plan that works for 7 to 10 years (and redistricting could well occur again, if population changes led to the dramatic inequity we see now)."
I would hate to think that we would have to go through this all again in a decade or so.

Catherine, you also wrote that at last night's forum, no one expressed support for the plan as it stands. I generally support the plan, and others do as well, and it was clear from looking at the hodgepodge current district boundaries that improvements were needed. The concept of improving equity and equality among the schools is also important. I think that people, myself included, have concerns about some of the details of the current proposal. The public forums are a good venue for expressing those concerns.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:04/10:56 - I agree that the inequity and illegal stuff has been going on a LONG time. Too long, obviously. But we have now closed a school, which requires redistricting. So, are we going to redistrict in a way that maintains the current inequity, or as we going to redistrict in a way that reduces it? That's the only decision here. I do not believe this is the only part of our school system that isn't working as well as it could, nor the only part that isn't equitable. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve this issue NOW, given that we are closing a school and must therefore redistrict in some way.

Caren - thank you for pointing out that (a) many families are being impacted (not just those who live in apartments), and (b) kids are resilient and will also have a good experience at their new school. Even families who aren't moving schools are being impacted -- one friend may be staying at a school and his/her best friends may be moving to another school. Again, isn't about making every single family happy ... it is about doing what is best for all the kids as a whole. Thank you for adding that much-needed perspective.

Anonymous 11:34 - thank you for your very wise post. As you point out, many kids move to entirely different elementary schools/towns/countries during childhood ... and those kids do NOT do so with ANY other kids they know and without teachers/staff they know! The kids who will move will make new friends AND keep old friends ... my 3rd grader is not moving (though his very best friend is) to a new school, but he is currently on a soccer team with kids from WW and MM. Similarly, my kindergartener doesn't move, but her two best friends from preschool (who she still sees and keeps in touch with) go to CF and WW! Again, the kids who move schools will know many kids across town, and this will be a great thing. I would imagine parents could even set up playdates and things over the next 9 months so that kids would MAKE new friends in their new school prior to August.

Anonymous 12:02 - thank you for pointing out kids' resilience! I think change is indeed hard, and I can guarantee that we will not be coming up with a map that everyone loves. It is not going to happen - -it is just a question of which parents don't like it, because yes, change is hard! I also agree that redistricting should happen more often ... and after my experience this year, I can really see why other SCs haven't taken this on (because it sucks). But I'd say we should frankly redistrict every 8 to 10 years IF there are issues (e.g., equity in income, over-crowding). That would mean some kids would get redistricted, but no kids would get redistricted more than once in their elementary school years.

Rick said...

"...time isn't the issue here ... new maps can be created in a matter of days."

OK that's good. No delay needed then and forums are not too late - good to hear. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Are all income levels being equally distributed amongst the schools?

TC said...

I'm glad we're seeing some positive comments about the redistricting process now. I think everybody agrees it's a tough job, and there'll be unhappy people, no matter how many times the map is redrawn. What I wished it was clear to everybody was the reason why this process is being conducted. I don't see how anybody could argue that the current situation is defensible. How can anybody think it's fair and fine to have one school in town that concentrates low-income kids and two that don't? How can it not be desirable to have three more equitable schools? Aside from the already mentioned studies that show how concentration of poverty affects school results, for me it kind destroys the reason why I think a public education is something valuable to a kid. When you go to a public school, you meet people from all cultural/socioeconomical/religious backgrounds. If you have a school full of rich kids and another one full of poor kids, that kills diversity. Ditto for language/culture clustering. I've been making this point over and over again, and I'll continue to do so: I think our schools should be as diverse as our town. We shouldn't have one school for the poor, one for the rich, one for the cambodjans, one for the hispanics, and so on...we should have 3 great schools for the kids of Amherst, who come from different socioeconomic/cultural/ religious backgrounds. That would teach them acceptance, tolerance and respect for others.
As for sending kids in the apartment complexes to different schools, it is already happening. Part of the kids in Mill Valley attend Wildwood, not Crocker Farm. Under the new plan, the kids in the same apartment complexes will all go together to the same school. They won't be separated from their neighboors. The only reason why the different apartments are being districted to different schools is geographical. There's a concentration of low-income families in that area. Nobody is saying that people who live there are bad, dumb or anything. It's only a geographical problem. If low-income families in Amherst were not concentrated geographically, there wouldn't be any reason for redistricting.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:33 - I think that when populations in a town change, redistricting should occur (to avoid overcrowding at one school and/or avoid massive inequity). That isn't going to be easy, but it also isn't easy to have schools that are overcrowded (if popluation growth happens differently in different parts of town) or inequity (as we have now). I'm glad you can see some things that are good about the map -- and the SC is listening carefully to what changes are possible (and what impact such changes would have on the other schools).

Rick (12:43) - yep ... time is not the issue at all. I think it is possible a new map or two will be created as early as the next forum. A new map could certainly be created between the 14th (last scheduled forum) and the 27th (scheduled vote), and the vote could be delayed if needed (e.g., if there is a new map and we need to get feedback about that one).

Anonymous 12:51 - the school district doesn't get income data on anyone UNLESS they are low income (and hence apply for free/reduced lunch), so it isn't possible to distribute equal % of high/moderate/low income throughout the town. Also, there isn't any data suggesting that thee are benefits of having a certain % of high income (or moderate income) kids in a school, so there wouldn't be a rationale for doing so educationally even if we could.

TC - I agree whole-heartedly with every thing you say ... but I will tell you, it is amazing to me how many people have now said "why are you trying to create equity" and "this is horrible discrimination to have poor kids divided up into different schools." That has been shocking to me that people actually do oppose equity or think it is a BAD thing!

lucy2shoes said...

No one has spoken about how children who are currently struggling in school and on IEPs will be affected with the redistricting changes. While some people think kids are resilient...good for you, and nice for your children, count yourself blessed. Some special needs children regardless of race or ecomomic status just don't fair transitions well and that's why IEPs are put into place. Children that have IEPs need to be provided with secure scaffolding that enable them to learn or learning will just not take place. Learning disablilites, developmental delays, and behavioral disorders can effect a child's ablility to cope with transitions in any or all of their environment. For some people who have resilient children they are generalizing that all kids have that ablility which is false. Have we done the numbers on how many IEP children are effected and how their plans and teams of specialists that know and have long term history with these children would be effected? I have not seen any greater plan to ensure that children who have intensive needs currently in the struggling percentage would be moved to a proven program of success because everything will be changed. While the Amherst SC does a great job of "trying" to make things fair and equitable in this plan, most perceptions are data driven from the SC without well rounded, experienced knowledge of the repercussions of a shortsighted plan. Let's not look hindsight and wish we would have heeded the voices of information firsthand from parents, experienced teachers and advocates regarding community, emotional well being and the consequences could be staggeringly devastating for at risk children.

Derek Dassatti said...

To Anon 11:34,
Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm one of those "aka East Leverett Rd. area" families, and in case you haven't heard, my kids ARE moving because their school is closing. Which, as I pointed out last night, we have accepted. I also stated that as a family we are speaking positively about changing schools. We are not hysterical or negative. But when your kid is in tears when she finds out that no friends are moving with you, and they are all moving together somewhere else, it's painful. I'm not asking not to be moved. I have no choice. All I am asking is why are only 16-20 kids from MM going to FR and the rest to WW? Double whammy to my kids, no?
And yes, kids are resilient, but are these 16-20 kids going to make WW burst at the seems?

I love how you state that "my kid's not moving, but if he was............" Yes, it's always easy to imagine yourself in a situation, but perhaps you'd feel a bit of concern if you were actually in it. Or maybe I'm just a whiner.

Anonymous said...

Mary May

I attended numerous meetings last spring on the closing of Mark's Meadow School. I was also on the Reconfiguring Schools Committee two years ago along with Catherine, Andy and two principals. Though I never wanted to see MM close (this is my 25th year teaching there) I understand why it is happening, and I absolutely support redistricting in order to create equity. However, at many of the meetings last year when someone would bring up the fact that MM was closing, the comment that came back from SC members along with parents from other schools was as follows. "At least the Mark's Meadow students will be kept together. Other students from other schools will have to move." I guess that was supposed to be the consolation prize for having our school shut down. The MM community was lead to believe that these kids would move as a group. Now, we find out MOST kids will move together ....except those unlucky ones who live on E. Leverett and Leverett Rd. I agree with Derek Dassatti. It seems like a double whammy for those few kids who don't get to go with the rest of the school. It is also NOT what was promised. It does seem like the SC should consider backing up the initial statement of "MM kids will move together".

Rick said...

“I think it is possible a new map or two will be created as early as the next forum.” Thanks, that’s great to hear.

East Leverett Rd. people, I bet your situation gets looked at closely and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s fixed in the next map. If spending a bit more for transportation is required to do that, I hope we would all accept that, since closing MM saved so much money.

Rick said...

I apologize for my comment way above that included “input from the public that would actually get taken into consideration” which sounds pretty snarky. Sorry about that.

Derek Dassatti said...

Mary and Rick,
I appreciate your understanding.

Anonymous said...

"First, it is ILLEGAL to allow open enrollment and free busing based on race/ethnicity. This is illegal in the United States -- and we can't do it, and we are currently in violation of the law." Could you tell us just where to find the law you are referring to? Or actually print the law in your blog? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This redistricting episode going in was a no-win for the School Committee. Can anyone imagine a scenario that would not have resulted in controversy?

Perhaps I make the initial mistake of taking Mr. O'Connor too seriously but: it is just plain wrong to try to link the unhappiness with the redistricting to the analysis we will each have to do as voters when the override comes up. I hope that people will stop and think: just what do those two things have to do with each other? I would submit: not much.

Friends, we live in a perpetual noise machine.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

I would guess the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution would stop any government action based on race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. Remember that one?

None of this is the fault of the current School Committee. Shame on past School Committees for letting so many problems pile up unresolved. They have a lot to answer for.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Lucy2shoes - the SC has stated MANY times that as soon as the lines are drawn, and we know which kids are going where, we are going to work on a transition plan. This will include support for all kids who need it, including kids on IEPs, and I'm certain that advice from teachers/staff/parents will be sought regularly to assist with this.

Derek - I thought you spoke eloquently last night, and I understand that the expectation was that all MM kids would move together - that may still occur. I think the redistricting committee has struggled with is whether the MM families should be treated differently than other families. So, about 23 of the 170 kids at MM are slated to go to FR -- that is 13 or 14%. Now, there are 20 or so kids living on Blue Hills/Lincoln/Dana slated to go to CF from WW, and they would be probably 5% of the WW population, and there are about 20 or 25 kids from Southeast Street who now go to FR and would go to CF, and they would be about 5% of the FR population. So, in this sense, kids from MM on your streets are traveling in a much larger group then other kids from other schools who are leaving ... so, the question becomes do we treat MM kids differently than other kids because their school is closing? I imagine you would say "yes" and you may well be right ... I do think this is going to be given serious consideration as the plan gets tweaked. I'm just trying to explain the reasoning that I imagine was involved (I'm not personally on the redistricting committee, however).

Mary May - I believe the assumption was that most MM kids would travel together ... I'm not sure if I, or other members of the SC, said "all" ... but the reality is 85% of MM will stay together ... and that is higher than the % who stay together at any of the other schools (and I'm not saying that serious consideration shouldn't be given to those on E. Leverett Road). I think for MM families, being in the 13/14% that doesn't move with the rest of the school feels very bad, and it feels worse because the school is closing. I think for families at the other schools that are moving, it also feels bad -- and it doesn't necessarily feel better knowing their old school is still there, and most of their old friends are attending that school, but they don't get to. The families on Blue Hills/Dana/Lincoln who are supposed to leave WW and the families on Southewast who are supposed to leave FR are also feeling pretty sad -- and the SC then has to balance whether families at MM should be given special consideration over other families. I am certain this will be given considerable thought in the days/weeks ahead.

Rick (at 6:51) - I think there may be changes ... and I don't think $$ is the issue. I think the issue is in part who do you take out of WW (which is at capacity largely at 446 in the new plan) to make room for 20-25 more kids? That strikes me as the key issue.

Rick (at 7:00) - yes, it was kind of snarky! Thanks for the apology!

Derek - thank you for using your name! I think name-calling (whiny) is always unfortunate ... and more likely from the safe perch of the anonymous poster.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:


Anonymous 8:39 - the district asked for, and received, a legal opinion regarding what we can and can't do in terms of clustering by ethnicity/race/language. It cited several laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and Massachusetts General Law (c. 76 §5). But I think the gist is that we just aren't allowed, as a public school system, to treat people differently based on their race/ethnicity.

Rich - well said. The head of the MA School Committee warned the committee this summer - the two worst things you ever have to do as a SC member are close a school and redistrict. And he was right. It was never going to be pretty, and there is no way everyone was going to be happy. I'm just hoping we can do the best we can for all kids, and I believe a lot of people are trying really hard to make that happen.

Anonymous 9:46 - yes, it sounds like the US Constitution would also be informative in this instance! And I certainly agree that a number of issues have lingered that should have been long resolved ... we shouldn't have been providing services based entirely on race/ethnicity, and we shouldn't have let the schools become so unequal in % of low income kids, and we shouldn't have bought two really expensive and not-very-portable portables we don't need! However, I'm here and on SC now and we can't undo the past ... we just have to make this situation we are now in, for whatever reason, work out as best as we can.

Derek Dassatti said...

Catherine,
Thank you.
I just went through the brand new MM directory. Not to get too picky about numbers, but I count 21 MM students, which would be 12%, from the E. Leverett area.

Ed said...

"one bus will go down Lincoln on one side of Amity and another will go down Lincoln on the other side of Amity."

Anyone care to explain why I saw two buses, one just a bit behind the other, BOTH headed north on Lincoln and BOTH picking up children of the same size (and hence I presume age)? Shouldn't elementary school kids who live on the same side of the same street in the same block be going to the same school? Seemed a waste to have two buses.

"...there are fewer ways of diving the free/reduced lunch kids (who largely live off of East Hadley Road)"

Blame the Amherst Housing Authority for that one. They are SUPPOSED TO have geographic diversity in assignment of Sect 8 vouchers, yet they create these "pockets of poverty" in violation of HUD regs.

But it seems to me that the bigger problem is the extent to which poverty is concentrated in town.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Derek - of the 21, are any 6th graders (e.g., wouldn't be going to Fort River next year)? It does seem like 12% is a very small number to have separated ... seems like this should be something we could fix.

Ed - I don't know why two buses go down Lincoln, but we are busing different kids to different schools (e.g., by language, by culture, by special needs) so it could be this as an issue. Does anyone else have an answer to this? And yes, I agree that the problem with redistricting is the problem with how housing is distributed across Amherst. Solving THAT would actually take care of the redistricting issue quickly.

Mary May said...

Catherine,

Thanks for considering changing the Leverett/E.Leverett Road issue. I know most folks think closing a school is just no big deal. Typically, the comments on this blog tend to move in the direction of "get over it and move on" etc. However, if you are one of the students or staff AT that school, it's not as simple as folks seem to believe. It's actually a rather strange way to live...you're supposed to "get over it" at the same time as being totally immersed in it making it seem like every other year. At MM, and I would suspect at other schools in town, kids return year after year to visit teachers, attend traditional events like the Multicultural Fair, picnics, musicals etc. The one thing that will now happen to MM kids is that there is no place to which they can return. Presumably the staff will be spread out all over the town since it's unlikely we will all be sent to one building. For the students who attend MM, this does feel different. So, somehow the original promise of "moving as a school" seemed to dilute the pain of closing and give some sense of security to preserving the MM community in new way. I do strongly believe that we ARE in a different situation than any other school in town, and though people seem to think it's no big deal, that's not how it feels to those of us who are in it. If there's ANY way we can make it easier for those few kids who at this point, don't get to go with the rest of their school, I believe we would be doing what is fair and right for this community, given that it is the ONLY school where EVERY single person has to move. Thanks for listening.

Derek Dassatti said...

Catherine,
No, I only counted K-5 for that reason, so the number is 21. Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

In Amherst, as in the wider society these days, if you don't have a grievance, you're Nobody.

Nobody

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous 8:39 - the district asked for, and received, a legal opinion regarding what we can and can't do in terms of clustering by ethnicity/race/language. It cited several laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and Massachusetts General Law (c. 76 §5). But I think the gist is that we just aren't allowed, as a public school system, to treat people differently based on their race/ethnicity." Could this legal opinion be posted on the district website? It is my understanding that when the clustering occured, it was to be in compliance with the laws at that time.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Mary May - your blog posting was the most compelling reason I've heard to keep the MM kids together. I think you should actually send that to the whole SC, because I think that is the essential difference, and it is a reason why one could say "yes, we SHOULD treat these kids differently than other kids."

Derek - OK ... still would represent only 12% going elsewhere, which is a small % than we have moving from any other school. Might want to make that point yourself in an email to the whole SC? I think it is convincing.

Anonymous 9:48 - wow, I think you are the ONLY person in Amherst without a grievance. Congrats!

Anonymous 10:36 - I have asked for the legal opinion to be sent to all principals for distribution to all staff. I don't know if that has happened. I will ask for it to be posted on the website, but I'm not sure if that will happen. However, let me clarify something. First, when the clustering happened, it was/is legally as long as (a) open enrollment was provided for all kids (which it is right now), and (b) we didn't provide special services, like busing based on race/ethnicity (I don't know if that was originally part of the program or not). However, these laws are NOT new, so if the busing was free from the beginning for only these kids, then we were actually in violation of the law at that time. The law that I think you are thinking of is the 2002 law on how to teach bilingual education ... that is a state law that changed in 2002, which is different then the federal/state laws about special services based on race/ethnicity.

Meg Rosa said...

I just want to chime in about the Leverett Rd/E.Leverett Rd part. There are currently 19 children (many of these are siblings) going to MM on these 2 streets. (5th grade and down)

This is the class by class break down of how many kids per grade will go to FR from MM:

K- 4
1st-3
2nd-2
3rd-1
4th-7
5th-2

The 4th grade class makes out pretty well with 7 kids out of the 22 in that class.

I have to agree with Derek and Mary May on this. It is too much. These kids are losing their school, and have to go thru a year of "this is the last (fill in the blank) at Mark's Meadow"

I am not, by any means, saying that other kids are not going thru things similar to this. I am only saying that it is probably more profound for these kids.

This is coming from someone who is planning a lot of these "last" events. It is HARD!!! This Spring we will have to shut our school down, completely. Come June, these kids will be walking out of those doors, as the last students of Mark's Meadow. Period.

As far as I am concerned, that is enough for them. I asked the question the other night,"Why can't we take those 19 kids and put them in WW, OR add more kids from MM to FR instead of WW?"

I was not asking for them all to be going together, but just more going together.

I am not trying to come on here and whine about a small group that I want special treatment for. I understand that A LOT of kids, actually, ALL of the kids in this Town will have "new" schools next year. I was on the ASOC with Catherine, Mary May, Andy, amongst many others. I know that these changes MUST be made to make all schools more equitable. I agree that redistricting for equity to should happen.

We all new it would not be easy, and it is far from it. We are hearing that now. Somethings have to change for us to become a better Town though. This is one of those things.

I am curious about one other question. What happens if the amount of kids receiving Free and Reduced Lunch increases? Jobs are being cut. (Our family is dealing with this now) Those numbers will rise as more people get laid off. (Sorry, not trying to sound so dismal here, but just realistic) How will this impact the new lines and would there be anyway to account for this in the new maps? I am not talking about people living in low income housing, but people living in houses, where they are typically looked at as higher income levels. I know this is not the same as permanent low income housing, but this could effect the percentages in each school. This may have no impact at all, but I wanted to ask.

Thank you all for a respectful conversation!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Meg - Hey, it has indeed been a good and respectful conversation of late, huh?!? I think that is in part because a lot of people have been using their names! Anyway, to answer your questions:

1. I agree the kids from MM should be kept together. I didn't feel that way necessarily before, but I do now -- and that breakdown by grade is actually really powerful. And although you could pull more MM kids into FR, that doesn't seem fair somehow either (e.g., then you have like 70/80 kids in each school, but then there is a lot of turn-over at MM, so kids at this school might be less likely to have a consistent classmate or two in a new class in a new school). It seems like a very easy move to pull those 21 into WW, and we just have to figure out who to pull out -- and if we can go from two islands to one island in the process, we should do it. I've asked for those numbers to be run, and I think we'll get them (probably at the Wednesday night event, if not before).

In terms of your second point -- I know things are really hard for many families right now (my husband works for the state of Massachusetts, and he is now required to take off one day a month without pay to help with that budget crisis). But it is hard to know how that is going to impact us. On the one hand, there may be more families who qualify for FRL if/when jobs are lost. On the other hand, there may be families who are on FRL now who move to cheaper communities if a job loss occurs. I believe we actually have fewer kids on FRL this year at CF (it is "down" to 46% from about 50 or even a bit more last year) in part because I've heard some families have had to relocate. So, basically, it is just hard to predict how the economy is going to play out and how will be most effected.

Meg Rosa said...

Sorry, I messed up on some of the numbers per grade. Here are the correct ones:

K-5
1st-3
2nd-3 (out of 2 classes)
3rd-0
4th-7
5th-2
Total of 20 children

Rob Spence said...

Was there a school committee vote that determined that when redistricting occurred, that the whole of the current Marks Meadow district would be incorporated into a single district (such as Wildwood)?

I strongly feel that decisions concerning school district lines that might stand for 30 or 40 years should be made with primary consideration of balance in numbers and equitable distribution of free/reduced lunch students as projected into the future. I do not think that it would be the best idea to draw these semi-permanent lines based on my child's current friendships. I also do not feel that it is automatically true that being redistricted away from your friends is more difficult if your current school is closing. An argument could even be made that is more difficult to be redistricted away from your friends, knowing that your old school is still there with all of your friends still in it. The bottom line is, it is hard on any small group of friends to be redistricted away from a larger group of friends with whom they currently share a district. I do not think that it would be fair or prudent to change proposed lines specifically for current Marks Meadow residences. Geographically, Leverett Road and East Leverett Road are physically closest to each other, and to Market Hill Road. All are proposed to be in the Fort River district. Also, as Ms. Rosa's numbers illustrate, in three years, nine of these former Marks Meadow students from Leverett and East Leverett Road will remain at Fort River. In seven years, none.

I imagine a conversation between Amherst residents thirty years from now, where one asks, "why does this school district wrap around in a funny way?" or "why is this street included in this other school district over here?" Would the other answer,

"Well, back in '09 they closed one of the elementary schools due to decreasing enrollment. If some of those families didn't like the new district they were in, they changed it and drew the lines around them."

"Wow. And then they drew the permanent lines that way?"

"Yep."

"Did they let other families or streets in town do that too?"

"Nope. Only if they currently had kids in the school that was closing."

"Wow."

So does that make sense in terms of fairness or planning?

I am also shocked at the number of people who have recently stated that equitable income distributions across schools as can best be projected should not be a priority for the committee, but current elementary school friendships should be.

Equal may not always be fair, but unequal is unfair way more often.

Anonymous said...

Here's another solution for the 20 MM kids in the FR district: Let them, and only them, attend WW. Let them be grandfathered in. Any future kids, including siblings of those currently in school, will have to go to FR. Families can then decide whether to send their elementary kids to WW and their current preschoolers to FR in the future, or to have the whole family attend FR.

I agree with Rob Spence that it is ridiculous that are our town lines be drawn permanently because of the discomfort of a few kids (20 out 1300-1400?) However, this is a solution that will grant these families a reprieve while not making the solution permanent.

Meg Rosa said...

Rob,
I am wondering why it looks like adding Leverett and E.Leverett Rds into the WW district makes that look strange in your future question? They are 2 roads, kind of off on their own, out here in N.Amherst. Market Hill Rd, yes is close by, but those kids currently attend FR and really have no bearing on this. Historically, there just aren't a lot of families with children who have lived out here and I am not sure if anyone can predict if it will change at all, but I don't think it will that much.

WW is 2.6 miles from here and FR is 3.5 miles (MM is 2.7 miles).

I will never complain about a longer bus ride because for years my kids have been on the bus for approx 40+ minutes in the afternoons anyways, always at the beginning of the route in the AM and end of the route in PM.

These are also a small portion of kids who have little impact on the equity issues. Maybe the idea of grandfathering these kids in would be fine.

I also know that a couple of the current families are looking to move away before the start of the new school year (actively looking for other places to live) making the amount of kids coming from MM even less.

This is not talking about breaking up neighborhoods, as these are 2 long streets, that people drive way too fast on, that the kids can never play on. The kids who get together up here, are usually driven to each other's houses. The only other areas of Town that I think are good comparisons are Bay Rd and N.East/S.East Sts and maybe West St. (but at least there are sidewalks there)

This is a unique area of the Town when you look at in with all this info. When you add in the fact that their school is closing, it makes more sense to keep these kids together. I have already said that it is not about keeping them all in one school, but maybe adding more to the split. As Catherine explained, that may not work out well.

I do understand and respect what you are saying. I hope you do the same for me.

Rick said...

Anon 6:11’s idea seems like a practical solution.

But it brings up the possibility that many other requests might come in for similar grandfathering. I would understand if the committee just says 'no' to this to avoid unfairly saying 'yes' to some and 'no' to others.

It would seem to be better if Leverett Road could be permanently placed within the WW area in a way that does not upset the close-to-33% goal, which I believe is possible.

So, what Meg said makes sense to me.

Derek Dassatti said...

Well said, Meg.
Rob, respectfully, any curve or weird shape in the map lines could be viewed as drawn in a "funny way". There's a "funny" curve in the current district map that we live in now, and because of that curve, we are in the Mark's Meadow district. So this same curve in a redrawn map really isn't all that "funny".
I too understand the point you are trying to make, but the fact that our school is closing should be considered when placing us. Sorry if you disagree.

Anonymous said...

Equitable incomes are not being looked at as Catherine pointed out. The only income that can be distributed equitably is low income. And it is only possible to look at that because there is data available due to reduced/free lunch program. [Note: some families who qualify choose NOT to take advantage of the program]

It does beg the question of whether we may end up with a school comprised of upper middle class incomes and some low income...I haven't seen this idea discussed. Combine that with being bused to different schools than one's neighborhood playmates: could that create an unfavorable learning environment?

In the desire to create an equitable environment how can we truly do that with the knowledge of only a portion of the incomes?

-Elaine

Anonymous said...

Even if we distributed FRL equally, the population of the FRL kids will still be different. The FRL kids at WW will be comprised of quite a few children of UMASS graduate students whereas the FRL at CF and FR (or wherever the islands in South Amherst go) - will be an entirely different population in terms of how prepared they are for school. However, a large population of Amherst College professors' families will be moving from WW to CF, thus infusing the school with children from academic families.

There'a also more transience in the population of MM students that are coming to WW, than there are in the CF/FR populations. And the transience that does exist will be for different reasons: the transient WW/MM kids will be those whose parents have graduated and are moving on to bigger and better whereas the transience in the islands might be due to people moving out of town due to worsening economic crises.

Not making a criticism or a suggestion - just an observation. I think a child's interest in education can be very influenced by the family's view of education.

Margaret Burland said...

In response to the last post contrasting the East Hadley apartment families with the low-income Marks Meadow families associated with U Mass: Please don't assume anything about the families who live in the apartments near East Hadley Rd -- there are simply too many of us here for anyone to make generalizations about us. My family lives in Mill Valley Estates because my husband is a U Mass graduate student. He is working on his 2nd PhD, and I was a college professor for nine years before we realized that the needs of our particular children called for me to stay out of the work force to be with them for a while. We have a dog, so there are few other places we can rent in Amherst. These apartments are well managed and offer better amenities than others in our price range. That's why we're here. There are other families like us, with well-credentialed stay at home moms, both here and in other low-income apartment complexes all over town. There are also families here who are unlike us except for one thing: they are dedicated to their children's education and therefore their children are not bringing down the test scores at their schools. Some families here don't really care about school that much, as you imagined, but others of us are here precisely because we have made the pursuit of education the center of our lives as individuals and as families.

Anonymous said...

Nice, Margaret!

I think it's rude to be pointing-out the socioeconomic standing of a neighborhood full of kids like we have been. As a low-income graduate student, we also receive free lunch and my child excels in school.

Instead of redistricting, maybe we should be working to get struggling children the help they need to be successful students. Redistricting might make us more comfortable with the numbers, but I don't think we're doing anyone any favors with this. Struggling students, no matter what their class standing, will remain struggling students unless receiving appropriate services. They just might not be as noticeably concentrated.

Anonymous said...

I am also concerned about the impact of redistricting on the special needs population. It takes the speech, OT, physical therapist, autism specialist, etc. a good while to get to know your child and get a support program that works in place. Moreover, what will happen to the therapists case loads as Mark's Meadows closes. The quality of support declines as the numbers they serve goes up, no matter how skilled the individuals are. Will the Mark's Meadows special needs team supplement those at other schools (as floaters, etc.) or will kids with special needs just see the therapists overwhelmed by more students the same year that they take on a large number of new cases (due to redistricting)?

Meg Rosa said...

Catherine,
I am not sure if you would have the answer to this or not, but wanted to ask. Are there going to be sheets for parents at Wednesday night's forum with some answers from questions (FAQs) asked at last week's meeting? It seems that would be helpful, so there are no repeated questions asked.

Also, I believe I read this on your blog somewhere in the last few days, but is there a way that anyone can put together an info sheet as to WHY the decision to redistrict for equity was made (not about MM closing)? More about what the concerns are about having too many lower income kids in the same schools, what kind of issues this may cause, etc.

I think there are a lot of people who are having a hard time understand the reason this is a problem, so being able to give some solid answers seems like it would help.
Thanks :)

Tracy said...

At last week's public hearing, Doug S. presented figures on the the percentage of children at each school next year who will have switched schools from this year due to MM closing and the redistricting. I believe the percentages were about 38% WW, 38% CF, and 23% FR.

I don't recall ever seeing figures on the percentage of K-5 students at each school who would be switching schools between this school and next with the proposed changes? (100% obviously for MM). Does the district have those figures? It seems useful to know how many current WW, CF, and FR students will still be at the same schools next year.

Anonymous said...

People have mentioned some of the neighborhoods that will affected by the redistricting, including SE St children who will switch from FR to CF, and Lincoln/Dana/Blue Hills/Charles kids who will switch from WW to CF. Is there agreement in these neighborhoods that people don't want these changes? I know some families -- from these areas & elsewhere in town -- who would love for their kids to switch to CF.

Rick said...

Meg,

There is this: http://www.arps.org/node/654 and this http://www.arps.org/node/453 where it says this:

“The ASOC looked at research on impact of concentrations of poverty on school effectiveness, grade-span configuration, magnet schools/controlled choice, and transitions. Kahlenberg’s work indicating that majority-low income schools face disproportionate challenges in generating student achievement was seen as compelling.” I don’t know if there is more than this posted somewhere.

I have asked for the same thing you are asking for and Catherine responded (here http://myschoolcommitteeblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/in-our-opinion-school-lines-in-amherst.html):

“I DON'T KNOW IF ANYONE IS UP FOR DOING THIS. I THINK THE COMMITTEE FEELS STRONGLY THAT THIS IS RIGHT, AND THAT WE HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING THIS ISSUE AS A CONCERN FOR 2 OR 3 YEARS NOW. I ALSO THINK THAT EVEN IF THERE WAS NO DATA SHOWING THIS, IT IS QUITE CLEAR THAT THE EXPERIENCE IN THE SCHOOLS IS VERY DIFFERENT BECAUSE OF IT…” (her caps, not mine)

Apparently “everyone” believes this is a problem, based on years of experience with the way it is. It seems to be true, they do. So, personally I kind of gave up, thinking “if all these people think so, I guess it’s true”.

This may be an example of not-so-hot communication where people on “the inside” completely understand an issue, but don’t really explain it well enough to people on “the outside”.

I tend to agree with Anon 7:20 above who said “Instead of redistricting, maybe we should be working to get struggling children the help they need to be successful students.”

But I don’t feel I know enough about the history of all of this to say all these other folks are wrong – including one or more Principals of those schools.

Anonymous said...

Catherine,
We don't oppose equity. It is so presumptious of you to think so. What we do oppose is the uneccessary upheaval and disturbance by having children bussed to different schools, children who live next door to each other. You are destroying a basic security, a basic right of childhood...going to school with your friends... This is what is being opposed. Also--the whole idea that if a rich child sit beside a poor child the 'inequity' problem is now solved. It would be nice if it were this simple.
The focus has always been and should still be on teachers, and what and how and to who they teach. This (redistricting nonsense) is such a sidetrack and a very big WASTE of money and time and energy....And at a time where you claim we are in a 'structual deifict'...
And while this blog is a great place to express one's view....it doesn't really seem to matter because the powers that be have spoken and sadly from the side of their motuhs.

Abbie said...

to ANONYMOUS@654:

Could you tell me where in the Bill of Rights is the part that covers "a basic right of childhood...going to school with your friends." Folks get confused about rights. "Rights" are provided by laws and legislation.

THE fundamental function of PUBLIC schools is education. It isn't to provide a "culture", a "community" or even "friends". Those can all happen secondarily to EDUCATION but the absolute primary role of public school is to educate all kids to the best of their abilities and resources.

Gee, sorry if working towards fulfilling that obligation is inconviencing you or causing any upheaval, but you know what- its not always about YOU (there are about 1300 kids involved). And calling the redistricting and the purpose behind it as nonsense is simply stupid unless you provide specific reasons or data why. And explain how this redistricting is costing money?

Personally, I think the Amherst elementary schools need close examination and improvement, and clearly the MCAS scores reflect that. I guess you think the status quo is fine and fair.

We will be redistricted (WW to CF) with the proposed map and I support that move because I believe its fair and kids will adjust quickly.

Given how many anonymous posting appear so immature, I wonder how many are actually posted by adults?...and not just some disaffected youths.

Joel said...

Abbie, you new around here?

Educating all the kids is way down the priority list in Amherst. There are way too many other agendas in the way.

Anonymous said...

O.K., so here's a totally uneducated question. In the research on equity and school performance, do findings indicate that FRL kids actually make gains in educational performance when placed with a higher percentage of non-FRL kids, or is it just that the mean performance in the school itself improves with a more equitable socioeconomic distribution? In other words, I think that what we're hoping for in this redistricting effort is to increase the performance level of a greater number of individual students who are struggling--not just the performance level of the schools themselves (by configuring them differently). I think that this is where some of the questions are coming from related to HOW/WHY kids who are struggling now, will presumably struggle less when learning within differently configured schools/classrooms. Am I making sense? We could end up feeling great about all of our schools meeting mandated performance goals without changing much in terms of numbers of individual children who have made gains. That's where comments such as: “Instead of redistricting, maybe we should be working to get struggling children the help they need to be successful students.” seem to be coming from. I happen to think it's a both/and rather than either/or scenario, but if there's evidence out there about the ways in which equitable distribution affects individual student gains it would be useful to the conversation.

Anonymous said...

“Instead of redistricting, maybe we should be working to get struggling children the help they need to be successful students.”


This is not possible in Amherst because for some reason this town does not allow differentiated learning programs. This works well in other communities and allows kids to work at the pace they need to learn necessary material, and for the kids who move at a quicker pace to be able to move on in a subject rather than feeling frustrated that their classmate is struggling to learn a concept.

Meg Rosa said...

Rick,
Thanks for finding those links!! I was part of that committee that worked on this issue, so I remember all of that first hand. I am just thinking it would be really GREAT to be able to give people who don't understand why this is such an issue, a sheet with the explanations on it. When I was explained all this a few years ago, it made sense to me at the time, so I worked on the ASOC along with 2 of our current principles, Catherine and many others.

I have heard from a lot of people who are frustrated there is not something easy to find about why this "research" is accurate.

Anonymous said...

Of all the people making claims, criticisms, witticisms and accusations about education...how many are actually teachers of public school children? And college kids are a COMPLETELY different breed, so don't equate the two.

Anonymous said...

Why has everyone ignored the obvious answer which is to go to a system similar to Belchertown. One school for prek and kindergarten, one for first to third and one for fourth to sixth.
Everyone goes to the same school, solves problems related to friends, community etc. Could greatly help curriculum coordination (or the lack there of, which is currently the situation). It also automatically compensates for future demographic changes, without ever having to go through redistricting again.

Rick said...

Meg,

Yes I totally agree: "it would be really GREAT to be able to give people who don't understand why this is such an issue, a sheet with the explanations on it."

Rick said...

Anon 10:33 asks a really good question. I'm sure they considered it; would be good to hear why it was rejected.

Abbie said...

to anon@1033:

your plan is similar to one proposed by the former Sups. It was looked at and broadly rejected. Costs lots more money in transport, many more transitions for kids to make (exactly the thing folks are most vocal about now). It doesn't solve the curriculum alignment, at WW there is very little between the classes at each grade (let alone between), teachers get to do pretty much what they want, it seems. Amherst is all about creativity...

Meg Rosa said...

Anon 10:33

Here is the link that shows everything we looked into as far as optional school configurations.

http://www.arps.org/node/453

This is the list of options we came up with:

Alternative district organization options

* Keep current configuration, but add extra resources for Crocker Farm
* Keep current configuration, but adjust attendance zone boundaries so that the schools are more similar in their percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
* “Pair” existing schools (e.g., Crocker/Fort River and Marks Meadow/Wildwood), so that half of the children in Amherst would go from one primary school to one intermediate school together.
* Combine grades 5 & 6 in one school (known as upper elementary school); three K-4 schools (known as lower elementary schools)
* Move the 6th Grade to the Middle School (not considered, but maybe should be)


The idea you are talking about, closely matches the pairing model. It just would not save any money for the district and could end up causing more issues, esp for families. Dismissal times, transportation, number of transitions, etc.

lucy2shoes said...

Catherine, All schools are not equitable in their ability to meet all kid's IEP's needs currently and that is my concern mainly with my kids moving. What would happened if a child had to move via the district lines and it was recommended under their IEP that the child be moved back to Fort River or Wildwood because of the specialized program that best suited their needs? Wouldn't this be a waste of time and anxiety for that child especially?

I can accept my kids moving to another school but not multiple times a year- which is what happens for many kids who have behavior IEPs. I already moved my child out of a charter school because they did not have the resources to deal with his IEP and WW and FR to my knowledge are heralded as the best schools for a behavior program. How is the transition plan going to support kids with IEPs such as this if they currently do not have a good program? I would encourage the SC to think heavily about this issue before closing open enrollment to all.

On a different note- on Blue Hills Rd area, we are not a high income neighborhood as some would think. Our homes are smaller and many multigenerational multicultural families live within our area. The financial situation last year caused several of our families on our street have had to receive free lunch and other state funded aid. I think linking our street to high income perceptions are inaccurate unless people know what our tax returns look like.

I for one as others in my street don't have any family in this area, and rely heavily on my direct neighbors for help, especially in times of hardship. Being on the same bus with local neighbors help ease this burden, that is what makes a community work together for success. That is why we feel our community is split down the middle. We have a close knit community that includes Amity Place and homes on the other side of Amity, and on Dana. We may not be a cul- du- sac planned street but our relationships and community are what make Blue Hills Rd one of the best streets to live on in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Great point. We rely on our neighbors for rides and help getting through all of the challenges that families face such as snow days, early dismissal days and so on. When people are reacting to neighborhoods being divided it probably has as much to do with the family support aspect or more than their kids' friendships. And why is Amity considered to divide a neighborhood and a street running through Amherst woods is not?

Another good point is that while people keep arguing over whether kids are resilient, change will be much harder for some kids/families than for others. You have to respect that and can't argue that b/c your kids will be fine, so will everyone else's.

lucy2shoes said...

Anon- thanks for the support.I serve as an IEP advocate for a friend that went to MM last year, transfered to FR under a special program then the parent had to move to Northampton and has made TWO more transitions since the beginning of the year because the school can not service his emotional needs. This child has had much turmoil and kids like him can not and should not go through uneccessary moves. He's one of several non resilient ones that I seem to know...it's not a pretty matter, one that limited income limits options.I do think "children in general" are resilient- but it's the at risk children that I am talking about not your run of the mill child. Kids like this, show how our system fail them not only locally but federally in not putting funding in theraputic programs to truly help these kids.

I am curious how they will build new teams for each individual of the IEP children in that they have no idea which teachers will be where or which programs will be successful.

This process is like starting our schools from scratch- so, at this time can we get rid of some of the wacko wednesday day and early release days so working parents can actually work?

Anonymous said...

I was just driving through town and realized how close wildwood and fort river schools are to each other. If MM kids are going to move en masse, could they move to FR and let some of the WW kids stay where they are? If CF was filled to capacity with FR kids who lived close enough to move to CF, would that make the FRL percentages at the 3 schools closer?

Abbie said...

to lucy2shoes:

I am confused by your post. On the one hand you are arguing for open enrollment for IEP kids (i.e. your child(ren) with an IEP should stay at WW) but on the other hand you argue that your larger neighborhood should stay together (i.e. Blue hills + Amity Place). If you were granted your first request (i.e. your IEP child stays at WW, while the rest of Blue Hills went to CF) wouldn't that split your child from your "community" as much as (more than) splitting Blue Hills and Amity Place? I presume that you would provide transportation if allowed open enrollment? I can't see the schools being able to afford that...

There will always be lines somewhere in our town where on one side of a street kids go to a school different from those on the other side.

I'd like to repeat my understanding that it is NOT a mission of public schools to keep communities together or provide a community. Their mission is to educate ALL kids to the best of there abilities and resources.

Marcy Sala said...

Abbie,
I would agree that it's not the "mission", per se, of schools to create community. But (ironically perhaps) it is quite demonstrable that the creation of community does enhance a school's ability to achieve its mission (educationally as well as socially). I think that it is that fact that is making it so hard for so many people to accept both the closing of Mark's Meadow and certain components of the redistricting proposal. For many, the community aspect of school is the connective tissue, so to speak, that enables them to feel plugged in and engaged-which has obvious repercussions in terms of educational performance. I think it would be wrong for the School Committee to ignore this factor in their implementation of redistricting goals (which I generally agree with). I have a problem with the way the word "trauma" is being thrown around so cavalierly in all of this. Preserving a small cohort of children descending from a recent refugee population (who have experienced unspeakable trauma as well as attempts at cultural annihilation) is quite a different priority to me than preserving a cohort of children who happen to live across the street from each other (within their intact culture and family). These are two extremes, of course, but there are gradations of severity in the disruptions being proposed within this redistricting proposal that I hope the School Committee can take into consideration. A blanket, "no exceptions to the rules" approach to drawing district lines may be the less messy way to go, but I don't think it's the most educationally sound.

Abbie said...

Marcy,

as I understand it, it is simply illegal what we are doing with the clustering of Cambodians (and other ethnicities), which uses school resources (i.e. $), so we have to stop. That said, there is no one (or law) stopping any of these families from MOVING into one school district in order to stay with those of their own ethnic group, if they think its really important.

Marcy said...

I agree with the sentiment of lets first see if there IS a legal way we can proceed with preserving a program that is working (especially given that this particular one is serving an at risk population). I don't subscribe to the sentiment that we should only preserve or fund programs (or create policies) that serve ALL kids equally because ALL kids don't have needs that are equal. Certainly some balancing needs to be done to create greater equity across the board but this program seems to be doing really good work, according to those most involved and affected by it. Aren't there ways to be creative with this and perhaps other pockets of the population who have needs outside the norm? I always assumed that that was what was behind the system's motto of "every child, every day"; providing what was needed, not just what was most straightforward or convenient.

Anonymous said...

Marcy.
I am going to say what I believe that many are thinking. I agree that funding for programs and students do not have to be equal … because certainly the children do not equal needs. However, the Cambodian program serves only one of the many at risk populations in our town. I think what many of us want to understand is why this group’s needs have been so highly prioritized and resourced. There is plenty of trauma and tragedy to go around, so why is this particular need greater than others?

In addition, thinking creatively cannot mean applying the law creatively. The SC went to great effort to get a legal opinion, which came back saying that clearly the program in its current form violates the law. That makes it an unacceptable program for the Amherst public schools. If it is not eliminated it needs to be changed so that it is not preferentially assigning schools or providing transportation.

You say that * this program seems to be doing really good work, according to those most involved and affected by it.* Those involved and affected are the least able to judge the effectiveness of the program. We all are very biased in evaluating the programs we create, just like we are biased in our view of the children we create. If the town prioritizes spending resources on this program, there needs to be some objective evidence of both the need and the effectiveness. Otherwise, it is just another arbitrary pet project, and in our current economic crisis we can no longer afford that.