My Goal in Blogging

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Board opts for 'Map 5' to balance Amherst schools

Hampshire Gazette
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

AMHERST - The Amherst School Committee voted Tuesday to create a new map for determining which elementary school children will attend next fall, closing a rancorous debate about ethnicity, poverty and achievement.

The redistricting, necessitated by the closure of Mark's Meadow School next year, will equalize the percentages of children from low-income families at the three remaining schools. It will also equalize the percentage of children who are "struggling," as determined by test scores and teachers.

Currently, students at Crocker Farm School are twice as likely to receive free or reduced-price lunch as are those at Wildwood School. "Having one poor school was an injustice that has held us back," said committee chairman Andy Churchill in voting for the change.

Four of the five committee members voted for "Map #5," which will send all 185 Mark's Meadow students to Wildwood, and sets Amity Street as the boundary of the Wildwood and Crocker Farm districts. To achieve socioeconomic balance, children living in apartment complexes off East Hadley Road will go to all three schools.

Committee member Kathleen Anderson cast the sole no vote. She favored "Map #6," which would have sent children at Mill Valley Estates and The Boulders to Fort River School.

"We have a responsibility to make sure we're giving all kids a similar opportunity to succeed," Churchill said. Map #5 will enable children to "go to a school a few miles from their homes that reflects the composition of the town they live in," he said. "It's the job of each school to create a supportive culture for all students."

The vote will end the clusters of Latino students at Crocker Farm and Cambodian students at Fort River.

The current practice of busing students to schools outside their districts because a cluster of students with their ethnic backgrounds were there is a violation of state and federal law, said committee member Catherine Sanderson. That policy had to end even without redistricting, she said.

"I'm not attempting to sabotage communities; I'm for obeying the law," she said. "I'm not convinced it's better to cluster low-income kids at one school." Crocker Farm is "not performing as well as it should for all kids," she said.

Committee member Irv Rhodes called the process "gut-wrenching and painful." But he said he is "100 percent certain of its educational soundness."

"I know this decision won't be welcomed by everyone," Rhodes said. "I hope everyone will think about how we can go about implementing it so we do the best for all our kids."

The redistricting will also mean that teachers will change schools. A survey is going out today asking them for their first and second choices of buildings next year, said Kathleen Mazur, director of human resources.

There will be meetings with principals and counselors this week, and by mid-November, meetings in the individual schools, and in December in apartment complexes, she said. Open houses and "celebrations for transitioning students" are planned for January, she said.

Jim Oldham of East Hadley Road said these discussions should have taken place six months ago. He warned the School Committee that it will be their responsibility if the district is sued, if more parents choose to send their children to out-of-town schools, or "if the override fails because people don't trust the way schools are being run."

On Tuesday afternoon, about 40 people gathered on the town common to protest the redistricting plan.

Nelson Acosta of Riverglade Drive said the plan "will segregate people based on low income and establish quotas." Elementary schools "should be about keeping kids close to home and creating special communities."

He questioned how the plan to create classrooms that are more economically heterogeneous will help low-income children. "Just because they're hanging with more affluent kids, they will benefit? How? By osmosis?" he said.

Laura Quinn of Shays Street told the rally that research showing that inner-city, low-income students benefit from being in middle-class suburban schools doesn't apply to Amherst.

Adrian Durlester of Valley Lane said the financial crisis that spurred the School Committee to close Mark's Meadow is "an excuse for empowering a classist and racist agenda." He said he's lived in town for a year and is no longer sure Amherst is where he wants to be.

He urged those at the rally to summon "that patriotic spirit that's willing to stand up to tyranny."


Ed said...

The end of open enrollment is going to raise a problem that no one has thought of yet.

Low income people tend to be highly mobile. The Sect 8 voucher is renewed annually (rolling based on when it was initially issued) and the tenant may move at this point - many do. There usually are about four reasons for this: move to a nicer place (e.g. from Southpoint to Mill Valley), move because relationship with landlord has gone bad, move hoping that new surroundings will improve things, and move to remove a child from a specific situation (usually involving gangs/drugs).

In many cases, the landlord wants the tenant to move, sometimes this is agreed to before the 12 month Section 8 lease is completed. In some cases the tenant (or her boyfriend who "doesn't live there") is problematic, becomes problematic in the next unit, and in the next three after that. In other cases, it is a personality conflict - sometimes the open bigotry of the management employee towards low income people.

It doesn't matter - the family needs to move to a new complex. And there is an awful lot of movement within the town.

Then you have custody of the children being bounced around - often to and from grandparents due to jail, detox and such - I am not making value judgments here, I am just saying what is.

And sometimes you have women going to detox with their children, coming out (i.e. a certain illegal women-only complex on Bridge Street), and then taking the voucher somewhere else in town -- often within 10 weeks.

And it is a good thing for a child to finish a school year in the same school that the child started the year in.

The new closed enrollment policy will mean that we will have children being bounced around between the three schools like ping pong balls as their parent(s) move around town. And this could well be a statistically significant portion of the low income cadre.

It is not good for any child to keep changing schools midyear - and really not good for those children who need the stability of the school to balance a chaotic home life.

There needs to be a fix here - although it also needs to reflect the fact that sometimes the child is being moved to get away from a bad environment and a change of school is also needed.

Anonymous said...

There are good comments in this article that echo letters that were in the Bulletin a few months back and maybe everyone hasn't seen the answers for.

1. How exactly will the "opportunity" change after the children make this move?
Remember the burden is on the families who live in the East Hadley Road area who have to move to change the "composition" and not those who live in Amherst Woods and are staying at Fort River.
We have a responsibility to make sure we're giving all kids a similar opportunity to succeed," Churchill said. Map #5 will enable children to "go to a school a few miles from their homes that reflects the composition of the town they live in," he said.

2. Again, the same,good question phrased another way, but important given that kids in more affluent neighborhoods don't have to be bused away to get educational benefits.

Nelson Acosta of Riverglade Drive said the plan "will segregate people based on low income and establish quotas." Elementary schools "should be about keeping kids close to home and creating special communities."

He questioned how the plan to create classrooms that are more economically heterogeneous will help low-income children. "Just because they're hanging with more affluent kids, they will benefit? How? By osmosis?" he said.

3. Has the following been considered?
Laura Quinn of Shays Street told the rally that research showing that inner-city, low-income students benefit from being in middle-class suburban schools doesn't apply to Amherst.

Anonymous said...

To Ed,

I believe there may be a policy for situations such as you describe about children in transition (ie: temporary shelter housing, or homeless) under which they are able to remain at their assigned school. I also agree that children living in "unstable" home life situations benefit and rely on the stability provided by services they access at their schools. However, I disagree that the open enrollment policy is the answer.

We currently have children, registered through the open enrollment policy, that are attending "the richer" school when they live in the "poorest" schools district. I am not referring to children that are enrolled for language clustering. I am referring to those families that know WW has more resources and prefer to have their children have access to those experiences. Wouldn't we all like the same opportunity for our children? I have pointed this out to some parents and they have responded, "WW doesn't get more money.. it is the PGO". Well it doesn't take much to figure out that the PGO can flourish and provide more because the population that they support has the resources to contribute. CF has an outstanding PGO with very committed hard working members. They, however, need to be much more creative and resourceful in their fund raising efforts because of the great percentage of families that are not able to contribute.

I understand the transitions that will be happening next year will be a challenge for many. I don't discount that fact. I am, however, glad that the children of Amherst will be moving towards a more "equitable" educational experience. The elitist system currently in place has gone on too long.

Let's be supportive of our kids and focus on building relationships and positive attitudes towards their schools. Regardless of your opinion as to whether you are happy with the school your child will be attending in the fall or not, you owe it to your child to give them a positive outlook toward a successful transition. Parents can have doubts and misgivings about this process but the decisions have been made. Children do not need to be aware of the apprehension of their parents. They look to their parents for guidance and to gauge how to interpret situations. If parents are hostile and resentful so too will be their children. Please give the kids a chance. Let's move forward and build bridges not walls.

Anonymous said...

Does open enrollment preclude kids who start at one school at the beginning of the year from staying through the end of the school year? Right now, that occurs all the time - just quietly, or with the principal's verbal OK, not through an official open enrollment request.

Anonymous said...

More from Anon 12:25 -

Sorry - I meant to add... "if the family moves mid-year" to the above post. So the sentence should read

Does open enrollment preclude kids who start at one school at the beginning of the year from staying through the end of the school year (if their families move midyear to another school district in Amherst?)

We even know of people who start the year in Amherst and move OUT OF TOWN and yet continue to attend Amherst schools. They just don't mention it to anyone official, but the kids all know who they are.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 12:20p, you just don't get it. A poor, segregated school does not serve the students well. The research is clear, *all* the children's achievement suffers when the RFL population exceeds 40%. Why don't you understand that? Why would this not apply to Amherst? Give me a break. Of course it applies. My child is at CF and she does not benefit from being around kids with bad manners who don't respect teachers, and whose families don't value education. Not all RFL kids are like that, I don't mean that they are. But the enthusiastic and respectful learners are not in the majority in the RFL population either. Let's just face reality. That's what we are talking about here.

There are nice neighborhoods in south Amherst as well and those children attend CF. What's the deal with this town and Amherst Woods? Give those people a break. Don't you realize those people work just as hard or harder than anyone else to buy their homes and parent their children? You're just jealous!

The reason the kids in Amherst Woods don't need to be bussed away from there, is simple. They are the reason FR is a good school! They are bringing up that school, the level of respect in the classroom, the level of enthusiasm for learning, the level of achievement on tests. Those are the kids we should want all our children to be around! Guess what, Nelson Acosta, you do learn by osmosis. Hang out with pot-smoking, sexually promiscuous high school dropouts, and the chances that you'll end up the same way are higher. Anybody who has moved away from Holyoke or Springfield knows that lesson. Come on! Hang out with kids who are hard working, and respectful, who understand that their chances of getting a good job are best if they work hard in school and do their homework, then guess what, your odds of becoming someone like that improve too! And of course, your parents having more money does not automatically mean that you will be respectful and hard working, with a healthy respect for academic achievement. But the odds are higher, because to get to a point where your parents have earned more money, chances are they worked hard to get there and they were successful academically or in business or at a trade or *something.* Sitting around, feeling entitled, waiting for the government to pay your bills, and to parent *and* educate your kids, and simultaneously give you a sense of community and empowerment, never amounts to any kind of success in my experience.

In Amherst, you don't even know what real affluence is anyway. There are no really, really nice neighborhoods here! Have you ever been to Westport, Connecticut or Greenwich?

Tom G said...

Andy, Catherine and Irv deserve great credit for their observations (quoted in this article) and their leadership. They are extraordinary people who we have chosen to direct the agenda and lead its implementation.

What's lost in the din of complaints is a recognition of their efforts, the open process they embraced, their desire to incorporate feedback, and the quality of the result.

On the comments offered by Amherst town residents who oppose the plan (using rhetoric like tyranny and litigation) I'm going to be brief.
Stage Two

Anonymous said...

To 12:55

I have to strongly disagree with your comment about there not being any really nice neighborhoods in Amherst. "Nice" neighborhoods, in my opinion, are communities where people are friendly, appreciate each other, enjoy activities together, lend a hand to one another and everyone feels safe. There are many of these neighborhoods in Amherst. Nice isn't only defined by the monetary value of the real estate in a given area or the luxury items that a family can afford.

Ed said...

In Amherst, you don't even know what real affluence is anyway. There are no really, really nice neighborhoods here! Have you ever been to Westport, Connecticut or Greenwich?

There are pockets of Amherst that would be considered equal. My first definition would be any piece of property that sells for 7 figures and there is such a place on Lincoln Avenue - possibly more.

Amherst is a town of pockets, an eclectic patchwork but there are places of true affluence and places indistinguishable from the Holyoke Flats.

Bear in mind one other thing, though: people who have money in Amherst tend to spend it less on the type of things that those in CT do because of political values. By contrast I sometimes wonder how much the people in CT actually have and how close to the margins they are living....

Anonymous said...

Catherine...I understand that cultural clusters are illegal. But I haven't read anywhere about eliminating the cluster of Chinese students at Wildwood. I would assume that would be illegal, as well. Could your clarify? And, thanks, Catherine.

ben said...

I hope the agenda of the School Committee's redistricting is not to turn Amherst into a place that has "really nice neighboorhoods" like Greenwich CT.

The Salvadorian kids are some of the hardest working and most respectful in the Amherst School system. I know this as I have worked in the system. Making economic "equality" of the three schools the main criteria is misguided. Talk to the families and childre first. It appears to me that the school commitee is out of touch trying to make Amherst into Greenwich CT or Riverdale NY.

Abbie said...

to Ben:

The SC has made their agenda crystal clear and no where does it include "trying to make Amherst into Greenwich CT or Riverdale NY." Don't confuse what bloggers post (and twist it) vs the SC.

I am sure the SC has heard from lots of parents- all who deserve the best education possible with our ever decreasing means.

I am glad to hear that "The Salvadorian kids are some of the hardest working and most respectful in the Amherst School system." I don't believe anyone has said otherwise (or if they have then they reflect the opinion of that particular person and please don't extrapolate to the entire Amherst community). I hope my daughter has the opportunity to learn from those kids and make new friendships.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Abbie.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:55p here again. Sorry about putting that part in about Greenwich and Westport. I agree with you Anon 1:19p and Ed too. Sorry about that, I got carried away and I wholeheartedly agree that "nice neigborhood" cannot and should not just be defined by the property values of the homes. I do think it's unfortunate that my opinion could be twisted around and associated with anything the SC stands for or aspires to do.

I don't think the SC has any goal other than equalizing the RFL population and then ultimately, working to focus on a high quality education for all the children in Amherst public schools. I don't know them and I don't work for them. But I do admire them because they have got to be some of the most gracious people in the world, given how irreverent some of the speakers are at the meetings.

After reading this blog I do feel that there is some prejudice against the Amherst Woods neighborhood, and it seems misplaced and unjust in my view.

Anonymous said...

This is a misguided attempt at 'equity'. So a school fails year after year the MCAS (CF)--the solution--redistribute the children. Wrong--just plain wrong--the focus needs to be elsewhere--the curriculum--the teaching methods--the principal leadership...Not what a child is eating--or how the child's family pays for what s/he eats...
And yes--Many children today do disrespect their teachers--it's awful and it comes from ALL incomes. Children from ALL different kinds of family backgrounds disrespect teachers left and right....I have seen it--This is where the focus needs to be--What school allows the children to address adults by their first name? Not right--the adults in a child's life are not their friends, respect needs to be instilled and ALL schools need to adapt the same policies--Mr. Mrs. Miss or Ms. works a lot better than Jack or Jane.
I am sad that a group of highly educated individuals (SC) cannot see this and cannot understand that once the dust has settled from all this redistricting the core issues behind the dysfunction of the public schools remains.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:32

Interesting question, hope you get an answer re. WW Chinese cluster.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ed - you raise an interesting issue, which I'm sure is frankly already occurring in our schools. The issue is that bus service is provided from one's home to the school in one's district ... so, if parents move and choose not to update an address, the child would not have to change schools but bus service would no longer be provided (but that is also true now).

Anonymous 12:20 - to answer your three questions:

1. I've posted extensively on how reducing the % of student on free/reduced lunch is beneficial -- see my post earlier in October on this issue describing Kahlenberg's research. I don't see why you are describing the "burden" on only families on East Hadley Road, since many families are moving (e.g., there is a burden on the Blue Hills families, a burden on the Marks Meadow families, etc.), and many children living off of East Hadley Road will go to the same school they now attend! Amherst Woods isn't moving ... neither is Ochard Valley or the Emily/Cherry neighborhood or Bay Road or Echo Hill or downtown neighbors north of Amity. So, some people are moving schools (some of these are low income, some are not), and some people are staying (some of these are low income and some are not).

2. Again, I don't get this point -- to equalize the % of free/reduced lunch (and given the closure of MM), kids in more affluent neighborhoods are indeeded getting bused to new schools (NOT just those in apartments)! I would think some of the houses on Lincoln/Dana are pretty nice ... and those kids are moving to new schools! The odd thing about
Nelson Acosta's quote is that the current school plan segregate's people based on income -- have you seen the current map, in which the Wildwood district carefully sweeps down, collecting all of the people living in HOUSES off of East Hadley Road and avoiding people who live in apartments?!? But I do agree with Mr. Acosta's statements that elementary schools "should be about keeping kids close to home and creating special communities." That is why I'm so glad we voted a plan in which ALL kids in a given community (apartment complex) will go to the same school, and not be divided into three different schools, as occurs now.

3. I find it very interesting that one speaker at one rally could say "that research showing that inner-city, low-income students benefit from being in middle-class suburban schools doesn't apply to Amherst." Ummm, why doesn't it apply? Are low income kids in Amherst different from low income kids elsewhere? If so, I'd love to see that research.

Anonymous 12:22 - good point re. kids in transition (and as I pointed out above, these kids won't change schools unless the new addresses are registered, and I believe there are some exceptions made in the case of kids in transition -- such as when families are buying a house in a new district but haven't moved yet). I think the very fact that we have 'rich' school and a "poor" school is really awful -- and yes, that includes the amount of money the PGO has to spend. I share your belief that "the children of Amherst will be moving towards a more 'equitable' educational experience" AND that "The elitist system currently in place has gone on too long." I also share your hope that parents convey a positive and supportive attitude to this transition.

Anonymous said...

It's time to keep track of who the actors are in these little dramas and begin to locate them on your precinct's Town Meeting ballot.

For example, Laura Quinn, she of the "that research don't apply here" quote, has been a Precinct 7 Town Meeting member.

Vote her up or down at your discretion.

But the problem is voters are not sufficiently informed when they go in and try to make choices for TM. So we get what voter ignorance provides us.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:25 - ending the open enrollment policy should make the type of thing you are describing less possible, because principals will understand that only kids with a given address are eligible to attend a particular school.

Anonymous 12:25/12:33 - there are certainly families who are lying about where they live ... and the ending of the open enrollment policy can't get around that (and it is really awful that people do this). However, there is a policy in which if a family moves AFTER January 1st, the child is allowed to stay at his/her school (even if the move is outside of Amherst).

Anonymous 12:55 - I certainly share your belief that a "poor, segregated school does not serve the students well," and I continue to be amazed that people believe that the research showing all children's achievement suffers when the RFL population exceeds 40% somehow doesn't apply in Amherst. I have heard from many CF parents who do not see this school as working as well as it could for all children, but these voices are less angry and loud at meetings and hence are not recognized.

I also share your belief that there are nice neighborhoods all over Amherst (south Amherst as well as North Amherst) -- and many homes throughout Amherst that cost as much or more than homes in Amherst Woods! Moreover, and as I keep repeating, there are people whose children are moving to new schools that live in houses and people whose children are not moving who live in apartments and/or are on free/reduced lunch! It is NOT that the only kids who are moving are low income kids. Orchard Valley is all staying at Crocker Farm, just as Amherst Woods is all staying at Fort River. Popele in houses off of East Hadley Road are moving from Wildwood to Crocker Farm, and people in some apartments off of East Hadley Road are staying at preciely the school they attend now (Fort River in some cases, Crocker Farm in others).

Tom G - thank you for your kind remarks, and I share your belief that the opposition is using rhetoric (and misrepresentation). As a psychologist, I very much like your link to Stage 2! When do you think we will move to Stage 5?!?

Anonymous 1:19 - excellent point re. nice neighborhoods! I think that is really well-said, and yes, there are MANY nice neighborhoods (and in fact, nice streets/blocks) in Amherst!

Ed (at 1:47) - so, if we define true affluence as homes selling for 7 figures, I think Amherst Woods is off the hook! I think the interesting thing is that there are clearly people who are living in Amherst would could afford to live in Greenwich or Westport (I'm actually not one of them), but who choose to live here ... because they like being in a diverse community (in all senses of that word, except perhaps politically!). I hope that with our new redistricting plan, all of our schools can now represent the diversity of our town.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 2:32 - all cultural clusters are being eliminated ... so yes, that would include the Chinese cluster at Wildwood. Any clustering based entirely on race/ethnicity is illegal!

Ben - Ummm, it is hard for me to see how the SC's redistricting plan to assure that we don't have "rich schools" and "poor schools" would be an effective way of turning Amherst into "a place that has "really nice neighboorhoods". I also can't see any evidence from what anyone has said at any point that this is the goal of the redistricting plan, nor have I heard anyone say anything negative about Salvadorian kids!

You say that "Making economic "equality" of the three schools the main criteria is misguided" and that we should "Talk to the families and children first." I did do that talking -- and I heard that people felt it was really awful that CF was a poor school and WW a rich school (I heard this from CF parents!). But what redistricting approach would you prefer?

Abbie - well said on all fronts. Thanks!

Anonymous 3:29 - I agree!

Anonymous 5:20 - thanks for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your recognition that "I don't think the SC has any goal other than equalizing the RFL population and then ultimately, working to focus on a high quality education for all the children in Amherst public schools." And I agree that there is some odd bias against Amherst Woods for reasons that I just can't understand.

Anonymous 8:36 - well, you say that redistricting for equity is misguided, and that the problem must lie elsewhere ... the curriculum used at CF is the same at that used at the other schools, and CF has smaller class sizes than any of the other schools, and a principal that I believe is widely seen as excellent. Are you suggsting the CF teachers are just bad? That seems like a pretty strong statement -- do you have evidence to support that view? Do you have evidence that some schools allow children to address adults by first names and others don't in a systematic way (that is then linked to achievement)? You are very quick to criticize - the SC, the teacher, the principal's leadership ... so, where are your solutions? That might be more helpful to include in your post.

Anonymous 7:00 - as I've noted above, all cultural clusters (including Chinese) are being eliminated to be in compliance with the LAW.

Anonymous 10:24 - I certainly think people should be held accountable for their actions/words ... unfortunately, Town Meeting is largely not competitive (with the exception of Precincts 6 and 8), so there is not a lot people can do to vote out those who do things they don't support ... unless they are willing to run themselves (and likely recruit others to run as well). But point well taken in terms of making sure we remember who opposed redistricting for equity and why.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I think what the poster was saying about the lack of a code of behavior at the schools is right on. I found the idea that kids refer to teachers by their first name appalling, and that's only one item in a long list of lack of respect for authority figures in the schools. And as for curriculum, when my kids were at the schools, there was no set curriculum within a specific grade let alone between schools. Unless things have changed, it was one of the things that really bothered me about the schools. The disparate experiences kids had depending on what teacher they had for that grade.

Anonymous said...

Redistricitng for 'equity' is misguided. I risk repeating myself. No where in my former post did I state anything about anyone being 'bad'. Are you now a mind reader Ms. CS?
It appears fairly obvious that to shift the responsibility onto low-income students for the poor performance of their school is pretty awful.
Children address teachers by their first names in every single school in the district, including Pelham.
Curriculum on a dialy basis is up for grabs in any given grade on any given day in the grade schools...Sorry to shake your boat, but it is what it is and starting with the basics, instilling respect in our children by stopping the nonsense of allowing students to address their teachers by first name, might be a nice place for the beginning of a 'solution'.

Anonymous said...

With reference to Nick Grabbe's article in the Gazette:

Say what you want about Mr. Durlester's process of disillusionment with the Town of Amherst, he's let us know all about it at every step in a big public, operatic way. If you go back to his initial blog entry in March 2009, however, you'll notice that he thought he sniffed hypocrisy here from the moment he got here. So it's hard to believe that he gave the people in elected office in town much of a chance. In his short residency here, he's done more name-calling per unit of time residing here than perhaps anyone in the history of Amherst (including Mr. Kelley).

But, to be fair, Mr. Durlester has been dropped right into the middle of an ongoing fiscal drama, and perhaps he's having trouble getting his bearings. He might want to start by asking each of his friends that are in full-throated cry against the supposed conspiracy of the powerful in town, which apparently includes Ms. Sanderson, whether each friend voted for the last override, which occurred before he arrived and fell understandably in love with Mark's Meadow. I could be wrong, but my guess is he's got some chums who wanted their cake but didn't want to pay their fair share for it.

For me, living in my enormous mansion on Mount Holyoke Drive (we've since had the trailer hitch taken off of the house), I'm one of those big, fat, wealthy, slob/hypocrites who keeps voting FOR overrides, but I'm sure that Mr. Durlester would say I do it only to keep my classist, racist conscience clear. He sees all, hears all, knows all, understands all, judges all.

Rich Morse

Abbie said...

Hey Rich,

I think those that disbelieve the fiscal crisis is real rapidly put their fingers in their ears and start saying "I'm not listening to you, I'm not listening to you, I'm not listening to you..." the minute the issue arises...

The next year looks positively grim to those of us with our ears and eyes wide open (in fear). But I guess some folks think god will rain $$$ upon us (if we keep MM open and stop the redistricting) cuz it sure isn't coming from somewhere else (unless an override passes).

TC said...

To Ali and anon 4:15pm,

I really don't think calling teachers by their first name is an issue , but I can assure you that in my daughter's class at Crocker Farm all kids call their teacher by her last name. That's also how they call the other teachers at school, the nurse, the principal, everybody who works there.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ali - I have had kids with 12 different teachers at Fort River (a limited experience, but still, that probably represents 1/2 of the classroom teachers), and not one has used only his/her first name (all have used either last names or "Miss" in front of their first names). I have heard of one teacher at Crocker Farm (used to be at Fort River) who lets kids use a first name, and I hear that teacher is FABULOUS. But regardless, I don't think the difference between the schools is merely a function of the way we address teachers. I agree that the curriculum has been lacking in horizontal/vertical alignment -- I think that has been a problem that is finally getting addressed. But I do NOT think it has been MORE of a problem at Crocker Farm than at the other schools.

Anonymous 4:15 - I have no idea your point here ... no one is holding poor children responsible for the state of Crocker Farm -- my belief is that poor children will benefit from being in schools in which the majority of the students in the school aren't low income. I'm sure you disagree with that, and if you have evidence that being in a largely low income school benefits low income kids, please share it. But regardless, do you believe Crocker Farm teachers allow children to use their first names and those at other schools don't? Do you believe that the other schools have horizontal/vertical alignment and Crocker Farm doesn't? How do YOU propose to explain the different in achievement at CF compared to the other schools, which was the motivation for redistricting based on equity!

Rich - thank you for (a) bringing us back on topic, and (b) adding some humor. I understand that there are MM parents who wish the school could have stayed open. I understand that there are parents who wish their children didn't have to change schools. What I don't understand is how people who have voted to close a school (that we do NOT need to operate to educate the 1300 kids in our district) that costs &700,000 a year to operate AND voted to redistrict to create equitable schools are pursuing a racist and classist agenda. Is it racist or classist to want three schools that represent the diversity in our town? In my (ignorant) thinking, I would assume that pushing hard to keep one school largely white and middle/upperclass would be seen as racist and classist. I wish the Adrian Durlester had more solutions to propose, instead of merely anger and accusations.

Abbie - God would have to drop a huge amount of money (about 4 million, just to cover next year) ... even an override passing (which I'm not sure it would regardless) wouldn't solve the financial mess we are in. That is why regardless of where one stands on the override, it is clear that we need to reduce our structural deficit ... and closing MM was an important piece of that puzzle. What perhaps went unnoticed in the drama on Tuesday was that the SC also voted to return "surplus property" to the town (that would be two modular classrooms at MM). Perhaps those can be sold to replenish some reserves?

TC - I agree that calling teachers by their first names is NOT the key issue in our schools ... and my assumption is that most teachers in most buildings do have the kids call them by their last names (and for the record, I'm not advocating pro/con on this one -- I think there are teachers who let kids call them by their first names and it works fine).

Anonymous said...

> It's time to keep track of who the actors are ...

There's a Yahoo Group for Town Meeting members (moderated by Mary Streeter) that you don't have to be a Town Meeting member just to view. Here's a URL for some recent messages on the MM and redistricting topics from that amhersttownmeeting Yahoo Group:

(all one continuous string).

You can change the starting message number (the 5565 here) in the URL to go back (or ahead) in time, viewing 50 messages at a time.

Anonymous said...

why is it tyranny when a board of elected officials makes a decision after several meetings discussing the issues at hand and collecting comment from the public? maybe the person who said this should talk to the cambodian families in town.

Anonymous said...

Don't go! (to the yahoo TM group) It's just too scary. There are people suggesting that TM make changes that would take authority away from the SC and have major school decisions made by town-wide referendum only! Isaac Ben Ezra is trying to find ways to meet the demands of the MM/culture cluster Pro-Lifers. O-M-G!

Matthew Cornell said...

Re: the odd bias against Amherst Woods, I wonder if some of that reflects a distrust of the decision that kids there staying at FR. After I looked at the map, it seemed logical that they should move to CF. They're closer and relatively wealthier. (Insert quote marks as needed.) Or, to but it more bluntly, "Amherst Woods is not moving because some School Committee' children live there."

I don't know if this is true or not, but I'll admit that the thought has crossed my mind. I'm not asking for a response.

On a different note: Where is the actual map online? I couldn't find it at

Anonymous said...

Good point from Cornell.

During the debate surrounding the closing of Mark's Meadow, a number of Amherst Woods parents made public comments regarding how they were willing to put their own families' needs aside for the good of the whole town (and move to Crocker Farm) as opposed to the less selfless people who wanted to keep Mark's Meadow open.

Why does there have to be a "bias" against Amherst Woods for it to be spoken of? It is a good comparison group, because it is mostly (maybe all?) non-FRL and a big neighborhood that doesn't have to move at all vs. another large neighborhood that was divided specifically so that the FRL children there would contribute to the ratio of FRL at the 3 schools. Also, someone determined that Amherst Woods was a neighborhood that should be kept together when redistricting occurred (posted under "assumptions of redistricting" on arps website) and that the two sides of Dana and Blue Hills Road, for example, weren't "neighborhoods" in that sense. But it was never made clear what the justifications for keeping the AW neighborhood together are and who decided it? Is there another area as big with as many school-aged kids that is as close to 2 schools that remained fully intact when assigned to a new school? Are there any SC members with school-age children who don't live in Amherst Woods?

People are affected by redistricting in so many ways and if they wonder why a big area wasn't, hopefully they can express their feelings without hurting the feelings of the many residents of Amherst Woods. Hopefully everyone in that neighborhood and the rest of town is more appalled by anonymous 12:59's comments than worried about feelings about jealousy toward where they live.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 5:58 - I share your interest in learning who opposed redistricting/closing Marks Meadow ... and what solutions they had to propose instead (I didn't hear many). Thanks for sharing the link to the TM list serve.

Anonymous 6:55 - good point! I think tyranny in this case refers to making a decision one disagrees with.

Anonymous 7:48 - exactly ... and as a member of the SC, I hope we can also have a town-wide referendum on what cuts the SC should make when it is told it can't close MM and thus has to find another $700,000 to cut somewhere else.

Matthew Cornell - it seems pretty amazing to me that one would assume that I pushed for Map #5 to keep my kids at Fort River ... wouldn't it have just been easier for me to not vote for redistricting? However, if you followed the discussion, you will know that two maps were proposed in March -- one kept Amherst Woods at Fort River, and one moved it to Crocker -- so, yes, this option was totally on the table. When you say that it is "logical that they should move to CF" you have to remember that Amherst Woods is very large -- about 100 kids. So, to move 100 kids INTO Crocker, you have to move some kids OUT of Crocker ... which means you are then displacing more kids from that school. Do you have suggestions of which kids could have been moved? The map that moved Amherst Woods to Crocker meant that Crocker was then a very wealthy school, and the other schools became much poorer, which again, wasn't solving the equity goal! This was just a no win situation for SC members who live in Amherst Woods, however -- a few months ago, much talk on this blog focused on how the whole plan to close MM was to make sure that Amherst Woods kids could go to Crocker Farm (the smallest, newest school, with enclosed classrooms).

But I think it is really offensive to state that "Amherst Woods is not moving because some School Committee' children live there." There are MANY neighborhoods that aren't moving (including others in which SC members live) -- most kids are going to the same school that they are in right now, and Fort River is actually the closest school to Amherst Woods (since the district was unwilling to take a bus down Station Road over railroad tracks in particular). I'm spending a huge amount of time on School Committee as a volunteer, and I think it is pretty rude to imply that the map created and voted on by the entire SC is based on such personal biases. If this was all about my kids getting to stay at Fort River, I have a much easier plan -- don't close MM, don't redistrict, keep massive inequity and budget problems in our schools. Trust me, that would by far have been easier for me (and my kids) than the path I've chosen.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 4:32 - three key things here. First, I heard from many people in Amherst Woods that they were totally willing to go to CF ... and I would have been glad for my kids to go there (it is a lovely school with a great principal and strong teachers). But, as I noted above, if you move in that many kids, you have to displace a lot of other kids ... you also would have then had to split MM into WW and FR, and that was seen as undesirable by many MM families.

Second, a map was produced two weeks ago that divided Amherst Woods in half (half went to CF, half stayed at FR), so there was never a decision that this neighborhood wouldn't be split (although this map didn't produce great equity and meant breaking up many communities, including MM, and produced higher transportation costs).

Third, I offered on MULTIPLE occasions to MULTIPLE people living on Blue Hills/Dana/Lincoln who had concerns about dividing up the neighborhood to move the line so that all of downtown went to CF together as ONE neighborhood. Guess how much interest there was in that? Zero. We heard a lot from people on one side of Amity about how it was a neighborhood, but virtually nothing from people on the other side of Amity. So, to me, this was not about splitting up a neighborhood -- it was about people trying to stay at Wildwood.

I understand there are concerns about the redistricting process and emotions associated with one's kids moving schools ... but to accuse members of the SC of acting based purely on selfish motives strikes me as really unfair (and a real misread of how painful and time-consuming this whole process has been for us).

Anonymous said...

Could you please elaborate on the pain you have experienced in closing MM and redistricitng a town's children?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 7:20 - absolutely -- just post using your real name and I'm glad to elaborate.

Tom G said...

When do you think we will move to Stage 5?!?

I'm afraid we both know the answer to that question... when the SB starts the next major initiative.

Keep up the good work and please thank Steve and Irv for me when you see them next.

Anonymous said...

I know that this may be shocking to some, but there are actually parents and other citizens in town who are willing to accept when decisions go against them and impact them.

Now, if you were hiding under a rock, you might have missed that we had spent down over the years $10 million in reserves built up at the beginning of this decade. And, there were various Cassandra figures who got up in front of Town Meeting in those early years of this decade and told us that there were hard times ahead and real sacrifices would have to be made. One Town Meeting member, Nancy Gordon, told the body in those years that we would have to look seriously at closing Mark's Meadow, accompanied by much scoffing from the peanut gallery.

If you were not under that rock, you were bracing for the impact. Here we are.

When a poster asks Ms. Sanderson to "elaborate on the pain" she has experienced, you know we have reached some point of extreme ridiculousness. So you need her to break open a vein and bleed all over the floor?

Does this say something about how we've been raised? That we can't take "no" for an answer and instead use the word "tyranny" (and cheapen it) to characterize when things don't go our way?

If you want to talk about real pain and human misery, I've got a couple of urban communities just over that mountain range to our south for you to look at.

Rich Morse

TC said...

Just when I thought we were having real debate here instead of personal attacks, the attacks return full blown. Just think about it, folks. School Committee members are volunteers. In this long redistricting process they've spent hours and hours working on the maps, posting information, going to public forums where they were repeatedly attacked and offended as if they were all part of a conspiracy to destroy Amherst communities and/or make sure they expelled the poor from Crocker Farm so that the Amherst Woods kids could go to the school with the newest building, and/or design an evil map where their kids could stay in Fort River. Wouldn't it be easier if all of them decided not to run for the School Committee, or if they had let things stay the way they were, since, as posted in this blog, all of them live in Amherst Woods and have their kids in Fort River? (which is not true, by the way) They could have been home with their families instead of being attacked at the public forums. I, for one, I'm very grateful that they decided to sacrifice their personal time to work for better schools in Amherst. Thank you Catherine and thank you all School Committee members. Now I hope we can start debating real issues here.

Anonymous said...

Right on Rich Morse!!!

Joel said...

Agreed, well said Rich. Tyranny indeed.

Also, I'm fascinated by what Rich said about an earlier Marks Meadow conversation and about how much of the reserve fund was spent without any thought to the future. I think that that has to be part of record, as well as the fact that previous School Committees and superintendents failed to act in the face of such predictions.

Of course, our current SC and superintendent probably have a pretty good idea of why their predecessors failed to act.

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying that there wasn't "any thought about the future" in spending down reserves. In fact, our Finance Committee, along with our past and present Finance Directors, have been a pretty damn good custodian of reserves, especially given the constant clamor for quality services, especially in the schools. And there was a great gloom-and-doom deal of talk about a bleak future in Town Meeting early in this decade. But we didn't have to make certain cuts until now. The warnings were expressed for years beforehand, but the huge reserves allowed this town to live in Fantasyland longer than other Massachusetts towns.

The quickest route to humility on these matters is service in Town Meeting. Admission to the body these days is wide open. I say to all, including Joel, come on down and try to be vigilant about the numbers. The time commitment has been exaggerated a bit. This is a chance to "walk the walk" along with the talk.

At the very least, you will see more clearly the pathways to the cliff.

But part of my original point is that certain leaders in this latest protest movement know better about the situation of the Town; they've been around for awhile. I remember Mr. Morales, for example, when he was on School Committee, when Myra Ross was the chair. It wasn't pretty. I just think some folks get off on the "question authority" routine.

Rich Morse

Joel said...


Thanks for the additional information. The lack of thought I assumed was by previous School Committees that didn't act as if there might be tight budgets in the future. The Marks Meadows trailers are just one example of that.

Your main point is important and we should be grateful to the current SC for acting responsibly.

Anonymous said...

You blithering buffoons! When I read this codswallop, I began to have difficulty respirating - indeed all of your tiresome tirades seem to have plugged my valve! I have but one thing to say to you all:
How DARE you!

-I.P. Reilly

Matthew Cornell said...

> amazing .. offensive .. rude

Hi Catherine. Sorry I wasn't clear. I just meant to put the blunt statement in words because I hadn't seen it said out loud, and I thought it would help to bring it out in the open. I agree that such a bias would be wildly inappropriate. At the same time, I think it's important to acknowledge there is a concern, and that none of us are 100% objective. I don't think that's possible for us humans, though it's an honorable goal that I strive for it myself, being a lover of science.


P.S. How about some credit for posting under my real name? I take responsibility for what I say, and for my frankly unworthy suspicions.

Anonymous said...

I understand the SC's challenge in balancing budgets and the decision to close Marks Meadow. It was a painful choice.

I understand the goals of redistricting as stated by the SC, and they are valid.

I am humbled by the copious amounts of time and energy that every SC member devotes to the town and to our schools and I am grateful. I know that I could not handle it.

That said, one area of concern for me is the choice to saddle Wildwood with the greatest change in its student community. Great effort was invested in keeping the Marks Meadow and Fort River student communities together. I understand that keeping Marks Meadow students together was a priority because their school was being closed, and this is a worthy goal. Ironically the redistricting will bus downtown students, some of whom currently walk to Wildwood, at least two miles away to Crocker Farm. Most importantly, this will fray the fabric of the Wildwood student and parent communities. Secondly, it will also add to the valley's already considerable smog levels with the additional diesel exhaust that belches forth from the school buses.

If I remember correctly, it was a group of Fort River parents who ironically submitted a letter to the Bulletin encouraging the closing of Marks Meadow and supporting redistricting. They stated that they were ready to handle the pain and disruption that may come. Well, for those brave souls little pain is eminent. I am sincerely happy for them, because their school community will remain mostly intact.

Unfortunately for Wildwood parents, they did not have an advocate on the SC. Fort River had at least two, and one has to wonder if protecting the integrity of their own school community had any role in the drafting of district boundaries. If I was on the SC and this was my neighborhood, I would have instinctively protected it. I also understand that something had to give, and Wildwood was the logical choice. I just wish that it did not have to take the brunt of it.

I know that this will be considered by some as an attack on the integrity of some of the SC members, but that is not the intent. The SC has a tough job in this town and in these times, and I do not envy their challenges.

The new district lines are fact. All of the schools will feel the pain. I just wish that the pain was spread around fairly.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the previous writer. Although Marks Meadow students are losing their school, they are all staying together in coming to Wildwood. The Wildwood students; however, are the ones who are losing their student body and school. Almost half of them will be headed to Crocker Farm.

No one stood up for Wildwood during this redistricting process. The school had been labeled as "rich", something that is very far from the truth, and so the school was dismantled. Is it because Chinese is being taught there?

I'm also surprised that the fact that Wildwood has two district special ed. programs that significantly impact staff time, was never mentioned. In balancing the percentage of free and reduced lunch students, were the ILC & AIMS programs taken into account? (By the way, students in these programs come to Wildwood from all over town as cost saving measure). Socio-economic status does not tell the whole story. Student needs go beyond economics.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely thankful that Prof Sanderson and Prof Rivkin have begun to shift the focus back to academic excellence in Amherst. I realize they are standing up for CF and I realize that it is costing them a lot.

I do feel sorry for the families who have to join us at CF because it is so behind the pack right now, it is hard to believe that it can be turned around quickly enough. Clearly, there are other issues there besides the ethnic segregation and RFL population. My concern is that there is a culture of low expectations at CF. The teachers, staff, and curriculum need to be refreshed and refocused as well.

I am not going to miss a failing CF and I am thankful to the families who are joining us to make it a better place. I think that it can be turned around but the reforms have only just begun.

Anonymous said...

anon 8:15p and 10:58a, please advocate to get some of your children's best and most favorite teachers from wildwood to come join them at CF. this will help your children feel more at home at CF and it will help CF at the same time because we need some institutional changes there that are unrelated to the student body. seeing these teachers in the halls will be a source of comfort for the children who are transitioning. and younger siblings may still have the benefit of being in these beloved teachers' classes.

thank you.

Anonymous said...

It may, indeed, be a source of comfort to students who must leave Wildwood to see familiar teacher faces in their new school, IF those teachers were moved there in a fair, transparent process. If teachers who find themselves in a new school believe the process for moving them was secretive, political, or unfair, the faces those chidlren will be looking at will not be at all cheerful.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with 10:58 above. We may never get an honest and unbiased answer to the question of why Wildwood had to take on the lion's share of disruption, while Fort River was pretty much undisturbed. I guess that we can answer it for ourselves.

In any event, we still have two aging, mold ridden, energy inefficient, and ill designed schools on our hands. Maybe the next study to be done could include the impact of environmental factors on our children's classroom experience and health.

Both Wildwood and Fort River were built for the "Quad" system of education, which had three classes of different ages in one large room. This system was abandoned some 15 years after its inception. Shockingly, when the schools were designed in the late 60's, the SC did not direct the architect to design a school that could easily be modified back to a traditional classroom set up. Since 1985 or so the teachers and students have been suffering with sound bleed and other distractions. Children have to walk through other classrooms to access the rest rooms for example. Needless to say, this is not ideal.

I think that more could be done to alleviate some of these problems right now. It would be a lot simpler than solving the redistricting challenge has been, and our children would reap the benefits. It might actually bring the community closer together and heal some of the wounds inflicted in the previous process.

Anonymous said...

I would think that Wildwood will see the greatest change because it is physically closest to Marks Meadow and naturally gets those students -- and is out of balance in terms of income. Fort River is the most balanced school in terms of income and is keeping the kids and neighborhoods nearest to it. Fort River also has a specific special education program. Crocker also sees changes since it also is out of balance economically and is losing kids that geographically should have gone to Wildwood. Bus logistics also must play a part.

These are guesses based on what I know and see but they seem more sensible to me than to accuse school board members of protecting their neighborhoods. What would you have done differently?

Anonymous said...


There is no easy solution to the problem of redistricting. The SC's solution is geographically logical and probably the best one. I do not think that it could have been done fairly and achieved the goal of keeping the Marks Meadow students together. Nonetheless, one school is loosing part of its community, while another is not. In a few years this will dissipate and be forgotten. It is unfortunate that Wildwood had to loose the downtown neighborhood, which is geographically close to the school. The school committee needs to own the fact that the process was not fair to all of the schools, and that some children and parents have paid the price. That is all I am asking. We can intellectualize the process until the cows come home, but it is still unfair to some. That said, it is done and we have to move on. In spite of my criticism, I do not envy the SC's job, and I do not think that I could have come up with a solution that would have pleased everyone.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious. We know that 100% of Marks Meadow students are having to move to a new school. What are the percentages for the other three schools?

Anonymous said...

What exactly is unfair? Is redistricting inherently unfair since some kids (or your kid) will move? All the schools will see changes in the redistricting and kids are being moved out and into all the schools. The percentages are not exactly the same for each school because of geographical and demographic differences. What is the difference between actual reasons and "intellectualized reasons?" What reasons would you accept as fair?

I think parents need to find some perspective and recognize the difference between what is hard (for awhile) and real hardship.

Anonymous said...


Wildwood is weathering the greatest disruption with a large influx of kids from Marks Meadow and the relocation of the downtown kids from Wildwood to Crocker Farm. Fort River seems to be the least disrupted school.

It was not fair, but it was the most workable solution. To minimize what is going on to make it more palatable to those disrupted is not helpful. And to infer that everyone is affected more or less equally is not true. All that I am saying is that we need to acknowledge that this is one of the downsides of the process and leave it at that. Nobody wants to own it, but it is fact. Take a look at the actual numbers. I also understand that there is nothing that can be done about it.

It is true that In the coming years the effects of this process will dissipate.

Intellectualize was an inappropriate choice of words. Kicking a dead horse is better. Of course I can kick my own dead horse. No offense to horses living or dead.