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 7, 2009

In Our Opinion: School lines in Amherst

Hampshire Gazette
October 8, 2009

A third of Amherst children now in kindergarten through fifth grade will attend a different school next year. Parents and guardians have a lot of questions about this redistricting - and tonight they'll get a chance to speak at a forum at Mark's Meadow School at 7 p.m.

The closing of Mark's Meadow next year is prompting the redrawing of district boundaries. The School Committee voted 5-0 last spring to close Mark's Meadow after extensive public discussion. Elementary enrollment in Amherst has dropped 17 percent in the last 10 years. The committee needed to find a way to save money, and Mark's Meadow is the smallest school.

We hope speakers tonight don't waste time going over this decision.

The other, more interesting reason for the redistricting is to balance out the percentages of children who come from low-income families (as defined by qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches) in the three remaining schools. The committee has decided that the current situation, in which half the students at Crocker Farm come from low-income homes, is no longer defensible.

We applaud the committee for making this tough decision. Children benefit from associating with peers who come from a variety of backgrounds. It isn't morally right to have a "poor school" and a "wealthy school." The committee's position that there should be one standard for all elementary schools deserves the community's support. Evening out the percentages will advance both equity and education.

But accomplishing these goals has, not surprisingly, led to trade-offs. And, also not surprisingly, these trade-offs have led to complaints.

The committee plans to end "open enrollment," under which parents can choose which elementary school their children attend, if they provide transportation. The clustering of students interested in particular languages would also end. These decisions are tied to the one to achieve economic balance.

Some parents just don't want their children to change schools. Some who live between Amity Street and Northampton Road don't want their children to have to move from Wildwood School to Crocker Farm, while those north of Amity stay at Wildwood. Some parents living on Leverett and East Leverett roads would prefer to move their children to Wildwood, along with the other students now at Mark's Meadow.

The proposed new map does not resemble a gerrymandered Congressional district, with one exception. In the East Hadley Road area, in the middle of the new Crocker Farm district, there is an island where children living in apartment complexes would be bused to Fort River and Wildwood schools.

This separation of apartment-dwellers from children living in nearby single-family houses, and their resulting longer bus rides, are not ideal.

But because there's a much higher rate of low incomes in the apartment complexes, sending these children to Crocker Farm would upset the economic balances. And children from this neighborhood already go to several different elementary schools.

Parents can get emotional when told their children have to change schools. It isn't easy to explain to a first-grader why her friend will be at a different place next year. Some parents and advocates of Spanish-speaking children don't want their bloc of students at Crocker Farm to be dispersed.

We hope that School Committee members and administrators will listen carefully to parents' concerns about redistricting tonight. And we hope that parents will respect the reasons why these changes are happening and the hard work that's gone into redrawing the map.


Laura Wenk said...

Redistricting is important to our improving equity in Amherst. I understand the inclination to hold nothing as sacred in re-drawing lines, especially if we fear that individuals' parochial concerns will take the fore. Yet there are cases that demand our consideration. When Catherine writes that: "the clustering of students interested in particular languages would also end," the idea of "interest in language" obscures some other important issues. For example, at Fort River, staff have worked carefully over many years to create clusters of Cambodian and Cape Verdean children, bringing whole families into the school. On the face of it, these are language clusters. Look beyond that, and you find, for example, Cambodian families who are still reeling from genocide who have a stable supportive community and a presence in their school. My intention here is to ask us to be mindful – to make sure we are thinking about families and communities who might feel disenfranchised in the absence of these groupings. We should listen to these families and look to the wisdom of our teachers, counselors, and support staff in making choices about what to retain and what to let go.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Laura - I certainly think we need to listen carefully to teachers, staff, families, and students about what types of support programs we should offer. However, it is also vital that we are obeying state and federal laws, and it is quite clear that providing services (such as allowing open enrollment, providing free transportation, providing free afterschool care) to students based on their race/ethnicity (not language spoken, which is different) is illegal, and although it has been the practice, it can't continue. Thus, the decisions about what to keep and what to let go must be based in what is legally permissable under state and federal law.

Rick said...

Couple of things:

1. The article seems to applaud what the SC is trying to do here, but then it says “We hope that School Committee members and administrators will listen carefully…” Well, what if you listen carefully but can’t figure out how to make everyone happy and accomplish the goals? It’s not “listening” that is the problem here, its coming up with a solution that works for everyone – OR – if there is no such thing then trying to explain that as best as one can.

2. Catherine: I am wondering what it is it that is illegal about what is going on now. Is it allowing open enrollment, providing free transportation, providing free afterschool care, or all three? And is it state law that is violated, federal or both? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"The proposed new map does not resemble a gerrymandered Congressional district, with one exception."

"One exception" is not acceptable when it discriminates against a group of the population.

"And children from this neighborhood already go to several different elementary schools."

The current busing to other schools is due to language clustering, special needs, and other factors. In the proposed new map, children who are not low-income will be moving to the school closest to their home or will stay at the school where they already are. In contrast, children from low-income homes on E.Hadley road will be bused away just to even out the income ratio at the other schools. At FR, the lowest percentage of current students will be required to change schools because the lower-income students will be bused to their school to even things out. How is that not discrimination? What about taking a greater percentage of FR students and moving them to CF so that the neighborhoods closeset to CF can attend that school?

Anonymous said...

And I wanted to add additional questions to Rick's:

You mentioned it is illegal to allow open enrollment, provide transportation,after school clubs to specific cultures. Is it also illegal for any or all of that for kids who speak a specific first language? Do they have to demonstrate some disability with english to qualify?

Also - does the letter printed in today's Gazette by the Fort River teachers asking for the Cambodian kids to be kept together sway the SC at all?


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick: First, I agree that a lot of listening needs to occur ... but also that listening will (likely) not satisfy everyone. Parents largely would like their kids to stay at their same schools (just as MM parents wanted their kids to stay at their same schools). That isn't going to happen -- it is just a question of which kids are going to move.

Second, both federal and state law prohibit providing different services to different kids based on ethnicity or race. We allow all kids to open enroll now, so that isn't a violation (of the law or our policy). But it is illegal (state and federal law) to provide free busing/afterschool care to some kids and not others based on race/ethnicity.

The issue is that some parents/teachers would like open enrollment to continue after the new lines are drawn. If we continue open enrollment, which we certainly could do, that would mean ALL parents could ask for their kids to stay at a certain school, so Cambodian kids (for example) who are NOT in the Fort River district could ask to stay, just as parents on the Lincoln/Dana/Blue Hills stretch could ask to stay at Wildwood instead of move to Crocker. We could NOT legally have a policy in which we said "children who are of X race or ethnicity can open enroll but other students can not." Does that make sense?

Anonymous 9:47 - drawing lines to create equity by income is actually totally legal -- and lines that look odd (including islands) are seen in many districts, since in many towns (like Amherst) low income housing is often clustered in a particular part of town. There is nothing illegal about having the islands -- it feels uncomfortable and unfortunate, but it does not violate federal or state law.

Let me also clarify the following: in the new map, children who are not low-income will NOT necessarily be moving to the school closest to their home NOR will stay at the school where they already are. I have good friends who now live on Southeast Street and go to Fort River. They are being moved to Crocker Farm, which is (a) further from where they live, and (b) not the school their children currently attend. Similarly, the families on Blue Hills/Dana/Lincoln on the South side of Amity now attend Wildwood, and would be moving to Crocker Farm. This is a mile further away (2.5 miles versus 1.5 miles -- I just Mapquested it) and is not the school those children currently attend. Thus, there are at least two distinct groups of largely non-low-income people in town whose children are moving schools and who will now be going to a school that is FARTHER away.

I also don't understand at all your solution -- you proposed "What about taking a greater percentage of FR students and moving them to CF so that the neighborhoods closeset to CF can attend that school?" Well, if you move more kids from Fort River to Crocker Farm, you then have to make room for those kids. So, you'd have to move kids OUT of Crocker. To make room for all of the kids in Mill Valley/Hollister/the Boulders, you'd have to move out 75 kids. Now, where do you get 75 kids to move out of Crocker? There are two choices. You can bus kids from all over South Amherst on 116 PAST Crocker Farm to Fort River -- which very likely would be impossible in terms of bus times. Or you can take 75 kids from the East Hadley Road area and move them to Fort River. Either of these are possible -- but once you do that, Crocker remains like it is now -- a school that is about 50% low income kids, because then you are taking (largely) not low income kids out of this school, and putting (largely) low income kids into the school. Again, the issue is that we need to have 125 to 150 low income kids in each school to achieve equity (125ish in CF, 150ish in the larger schools). Think about ways to do that that do not involve islands and that would be great!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Anonymous 10:13 - the laws about providing "special services" are different then those based entirely on race/ethnicity ... so, for example, we can legally educate kids with autism at one school (to provide special services based on need). This is also true for kids who are in need of English language learning support -- which is about a particular child's level of fluency in English (not just whether they speak a specific first language). The law, to the best of my knowledge, is then based on whether they have "proficiency" (if they do, then NO, we can't provide special treatment, but if they do NOT, then yes, we can). The issue about how best to provide these services (e.g., ELL support) is not within the domain of the SC, however - it is within the purview of the administration as to how they believe our district can best provide specific services.

The letter in the Gazette today seems to be asking the SC to continue to keep Cambodian kids together at one school. If these are Cambodian kids who are fluent in English, then it would be a violation of state and federal law to provide special services to these kids (e.g., allow these kids ONLY to open enroll if others can't, provide free transportation to them and not to others, etc.). And unfortunately, the Amherst School Committee can not write policies that violate federal and state laws. If these are Cambodian kids who are not fluent in English, then the district staff would decide how best to provide the necessary English language learning support (in one school, across schools, etc.).

Rick said...

Thanks Catherine for the great info.

I am still a little confused on the open enrollment thing. I can see how if open enrollment continues, it could completely negate the redistricting because everyone might just stay in the school they are in (except MM of course)? I know “everyone” doing this is not likely, but do I understand correctly?

Then you said its illegal to “provide free busing/afterschool care to some kids and not others based on race/ethnicity.” But is free busing based on race or income? I’m confused about that also. I probably missed something.

Boy good luck tonight - this is hard!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - sorry, I should have been clearer on those points (trying to type too fast!). First, if we continue open enrollment (as the policy has been), it is highly likely families would try to stay in their current school. Now, open enrollment is based on space, so it is clear that not all families could stay at their same school. That would then mean principals would have to decide which families to allow to stay and which families couldn't (and could build resentment among families in the same neighborhood/complex who got to stay versus different). And yes, the concern is that if we allow open enrollment, we could (quickly) undo attempts at equity (if non-low-income families try to opt OUT of CF, and low-income families try to opt IN to CF, most obviously). Principals also would not be allowed (legally) to choose which families to allow to admit on open enrollment as a function of race/ethnicity.

Then the second thing is that we now provide free busing based on race/ethnicity for those who are using open enrollment -- this is not legal. So, if I want my kids (now at FR) to go to Crocker Farm, they could do so (if there was space), but I would have to drive them there and pick them up. But we now provide free busing to kids going to OUT of their district school IF they are being clustered by ethnicity/race at a different school (e.g., Cambodian kids at FR). That is the free busing -- to a non-in-district school -- which we are not providing equally to all kids. ALL kids in the district (regardless of income) get free busing to and from their home school. Only SOME kids get free busing to and from their NOT home school, and that is based on race/ethnicity. Does that help?!?

Anonymous said...

I know of a significant number of Korean families in Amherst doing grad or post doc work at UMass and many of them choose to live in Rolling Green apts as a community. So, if particular groups of people choose to live near one another their children will go to school together, right? I would imagine that this would work for Cambodian families or Cape Verdean families as well. If groups want their children to go to school together, it seems easier for the group to make the arrangements by living near one another instead of the school system having to accommodate busing kids all over town.

Rick said...

Thanks, that helps a lot!

Keep on typing ;-)

Anonymous said...

But it would still be legal to provide open enrollment, free busing to ELL students (if the district decided to educate all spanish-speaking ELL kids at School A and all Khmer-speaking ELL kids at School B? Would it be legal to provide open enrollment to only those ELL kids (and not everyone else for the reasons you mentioned).

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:12: I guess the issue is that the spanish speaking population DO live together in the apts on E. Hadley Road, but they are being split up to WW/FR. At least that is how I understand it.

Also, once you buy a house, it's not easy to move around to live near your kids' friends. Presumably, though, many of these families with kids who don't speak english are probably renting rather than owning.

I think the reason why the redistricting lines are so controversial are:

1) we are redistricting to bring economic equity to the schools (and to fit four schools into three)

but in doing so, a substantial proportion of the population affected are the poor and those who don't speak english as a first language. And many of the ELL kids are a subset (maybe a large subset) of the poor.

But it's not the poor who are demanding economic equity in the schools. I think this is why there is going to be so much hard feelings about the redistricting lines and the motion to discontinue clustering by languages (even though technically, clustering by languages (assuming inadequate level of speaking english) is NOT illegal as far as I can tell from reading this blog.)

Joel said...

There seem to be two separate issues when we discuss FR and Crocker and language clustering.

The district has been segregating Spanish speaking kids at Crocker. This seems to run counter to both state regulations and best practices for transitioning to England language fluency. The ELL experts and state education officials think this should end in order to improve the English language education of Amherst kids who primarily speak Spanish.

The district has been busing US-born Cambodian heritage children to FR. These kids might have Khmer speaking parents and grandparents at home, but I believe that these kids were mostly or all US-born. They should be fluent English speakers and if they aren't that's a fairly damning commentary on the education practices in Amherst.

Everyone I grew up with who had non-English speaking parents or parents who spoke a language other than English in the home grew up bilingual, which is an incredible gift.

My point is that we have to separate ELL kids from the kids who have been benefitting from the cultural cohesion program that we seem to be running at FR.

Is that right or do we have a large set of Cambodian immigrants at FR? I honestly don't know the answer to that question.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:12 - if particularly groups of families live together in ONE apartment building, those kids would go to school together. So, all kids in the Boulders would go to one school, kids in Mill Valley Apartments would go to one school, kids in Southpoint would go to one school, etc. This is just like kids in the downtown area who live on the south side of Amity on Lincoln/Dana/Blue Hills would go to CF, and those on the north side of Amity would go to WW. So, yes, all families who live in Rolling Green would go to the same school, as would those in Village Park Apartments or whatever.

Rick (at 11:13) - thanks for asking good questions! The blog actually helps me think through a lot of issues in a way that has been very helpful.

Anonymous 11:16 - the district can decide that it is "better" to cluster particular kids who need special services in one school (this is, however, "the district" administration does this, NOT the SC). So, this isn't really "open enrollment" in that not all kids are eligible. For example, we now cluster kids who have certain types of special needs and services at Wildwood. This is fully legal, and will likely continue. The law would also allow free busing and clustering of ELL students at a certain school IF they decided that would be the best way of providing ELL services. I would therefore imagine that you could decide we are going to provide Spanish ELL services at school A and Khmer ELL services at school B (ALTHOUGH I believe the state does NOT recommend this type of clustering by language -- though I believe it is not a violation of state or federal law). But that would be for students who lack a certain level of proficiency with English, and it isn't clear to me if then legally, you would have to move those kids back to their "district school" once they had achieved that proficiency (e.g., could you have a child spend 2/3 years in one school gaining proficiency and then have to move to another school?). That is a trickier legal question, and I'm just not sure of the answer. Does that help?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Anonymous 11:30 - I'm not sure where the spanish speaking population lives in our town, but you may well be right that many people live in the apartments off of E. Hadley Road. However, just to be clear, in our CURRENT system, people living off of E. Hadley Road are ALREADY divided (and I haven't heard massive protests about that dividing over the last few years). Currently, 91 of those living in these apartments go to CF, 47 go to WW, 38 go to FR and 1 goes to MM. So, we are already dividing this community in some ways in our current system. In our new system, most of these families will STILL go to CF (over 90). Some will go to WW (about 30, I think), and some will go to FR (about 40, I think).

I believe the redistricting is ALWAYS controversial (not just in Amherst), and yes, it is complicated by the fact that we are redistricting to bring economic equity to the schools AND to fit four schools into three.

However, I'm not at all sure that it is true that "a substantial proportion of the population affected are the poor and those who don't speak english as a first language" or both. I just don't know if this is true -- you may be right, but I'm not sure. So, Fort River is largely sending kids to CF who live on Southeast Street and Valley View Circle. Those are not areas in which I think there are large numbers of kids who are poor or whose parents don't speak English. Wildwood is largely sending kids to CF who live on part of Lincoln/Dana/Blue Hills and in the housing around Amherst College (Hitchcock, Woodside, etc.) and in the HOUSES around the apartments off of E. Hadley Road (Justice Drive, Columbia, Whippletree). This includes virtually all of the housing that is owned by Amherst College -- and these people are not poor or non-English speaking.

One more thing -- I don't think many people in town is demanding economic equity in the schools -- this isn't something that many people (low income, moderate income, high income) are really focused on. But that doesn't mean it isn't right or appropriate to do. This to me isn't about my kids and where they are going to school or my friends' kids and where they are going to school. It is about all the kids in Amherst and making sure that we are providing an excellent and equitable education for everyone. I think this should be our goal (as a town, as a SC), and I think we can accomplish this goal better by having 3 schools with an equitable distribution of low income kids BETTER than if we have two wealthy schools and one poor school (or two poor schools and one wealthy school).

Last point: I don't know what the district administration will recommend in terms of clustering by language -- that is their call to make, not mine/ours. But I believe they would make the same decision about how to best educate these kids regardless of whether we chose to redistrict or not. They really are two separate decisions.

Joel: It is indeed two separate issues in terms of CF versus FR. Educating Spanish speaking kids at one school is legal, although perhaps not recommended in terms of "best practices". Grouping Cambodian kids together (at least when they are fluent in English) and provide busing to these kids ONLY is pretty clearly a violation of state and federal laws, and that practice would have to be discontinued regardless of whether we redistricted or not. I do not know what % of the kids in either population, however, are not fluent in English.

Tom G said...

two wealthy schools and one poor school (or two poor schools and one wealthy school). First, I understand that this is "short-cut language" that misrepresents your intended expression but I want to make a point.

It is not the schools that are rich or poor. Their funds come from a common tax-revenue stream and are not apportioned on the basis of the tax paid by those who attend.

Instead, it is a matter of whether students from poor and rich families share classrooms.

The goal of and lessons in equality are best served when they start at a young age.

Joel said...


There are ways in which Crocker has become a "poor" school as I pointed out in another post. I found when I served on the Social Studies Curricular Review committee that because the kids at WW and FR (I don't remember hearing about MM) had parents who could contribute more for field trips (at FR a lot of families pay extra to subsidize some kids), WW and FR kids had more extensive field trips than Crocker.

This is wrong and crazy and should be easy to fix, but it's one example of the impact of the disparities in the incomes of families in the different schools and how those differences had a direct impact on the education and overall experiences of the kids.

TC said...

I don't believe clustering kids by language is the best way to teach English to a child who doesn't speak it. Think about it: if you have at each of the schools a group of English learners from different nationalities/ native languages, they'll need to use English to communicate with each other. This a powerful motivation to them. They'll most likely make progress really fast, and will be able to leave the ELL group sooner. On the other hand, if all language learners in one school speak Spanish, Chinese, or any other language, they'll of course use their native language to communicate with each other. This will most likely slow their progress down. Also, if all English language learners in one school speak the same native language, the message sent to those kids and to the other kids in that school is that people who speak that particular language need extra help, are slow, can't speak English, etc... In my opinion, this contributes to labeling and segregating. Most likely, the kids self-image will be affected, and that can impact them throughout their school life. Language clustering, in my opinion, does more damage than good. All our schools should be multicultural and multiethnic, and so should be the ELL classes. We now have a great opportunity to move into that direction.

Anonymous said...

" feels uncomfortable and unfortunate, but it does not violate federal or state law."

But does that make it right? Come on Catherine, think about it.

Rick said...

Boy after tonight’s meeting at Marks Meadow I wonder if income equity across schools should have been the top priority. The breaking up of communities, friends and cultural groups (like the FR Cambodians) is really a hugely negative thing; some of which is more than a ‘for-one-year-only’ duration. Did it have to be 33% free lunch kids across all schools or could a school rise to say 38% and have it be a less disruptive plan?

The people I heard talk tonight were pretty much all not “whiners” but spoke from the heart, had really good points to make and I really felt for all of them. And it made me think “man, we gotta do something better here”. I know that’s not what people working on this plan want to hear, and it’s not meant as criticism. I guess it’s meant as a call to make sure we have priorities right and are doing absolutely everything we can to tweak the plan to be as good as we possibly can make it.

It seemed to me that an awful lot is being asked of Doug Slaughter. He basically seems to be the guy putting forward the map ideas and making decisions on when it’s OK to draw a line because of, for example, transportation issues/costs. He seems like a really good and talented guy, but he’s just one guy. There are many variables that could be varied in trying different map scenarios, from income equity to language clusters to busing costs. I hate to use the dirty word consultant, but I bet there are people out there who know just how to do this and are expert at juggling all the variables to spit out the least disruptive result that gets close to the income equity goals. But it’s too late for that now.

If this is to be voted on October 27, October 7 is way too late to be starting these public forums. There was a lot of input tonight that combines to say “go back and try to redraw the map – at least to some extent” and I am not sure there is enough time to do that well before October 27. And then there is another forum on October 14. If there is time to do it, I would urge going into map-rethinking-overdrive to see if it can be tweaked to be a lot less disruptive than it is.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Tom G - OK, it was short-hand (rich school, poor school), and I should be more thoughtful. Point well taken. However, I think the schools are experienced in very different ways based on the income of the families involved -- the issue of field trips, providing classroom supplies/snacks, fundraising for a new playground/soccer nets, etc. - is very different at different schools, and I don't think it is a good thing. The research on equity in schools suggests that the educational experience does in fact change when there are greater than 40% low income kids in a school for a variety of reasons, and it is hard for me to believe that Amherst is an exception.

Joel - good point about the major curricular field trips. I do think this is a vivid example of the way in which kids at the different schools are experiencing very different educations. And that is NOT a good thing.

Anonymous 6:16 - when I look at our four schools now, I'm very uncomfortable by the lack of equity in the % of low income kids. That feels bad to me. The plan being proposed eases this in a way that feels a lot better -- in the totality. Again, we are choosing between non-ideal alternatives ... of the ideas I've heard, I like the current one (even with the islands) more than the others (e.g., schools with a dramatic imbalance in terms of % of low income kids). What's your preference? Again, it is a choice about what we value more -- tell me the choice you'd make if you were me.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - thanks for coming tonight and for the thoughtful post. And this is not meant as criticism, but I really disagree with a number of points you make, so I just want to be clear about a few things.

First, I've talked to school districting specialists -- and they say that Doug is doing EXACTLY the right thing (e.g., using natural borders like railroads and major roads, keeping neighborhoods together, considering transportation). They also say that redistricting can ONLY be done by people in the district who know what the neighborhoods are, etc. We've had this plan reviewed by outside consultants (I think this was posted on the website in July), and they say this is a fine plan. It is totally not Doug's fault that low income people tend to live in one part of town, or that the SC asked him to create three equitable schools!

Second, and this should have been made clearer tonight, it is ILLEGAL to cluster kids by ethnicity. It doesn't matter how great the Cambodian program is at Fort River -- it is illegal to provide special services by race in the United States. And we are doing that now. No amount of drawing different lines can solve that issue -- and it is ILLEGAL to draw lines to keep a population together (or to even consider how different lines will cluster kids of a certain ethnicity together). We can't do it, and we could take 4 or 5 months to re-draw lines and still are not LEGALLY able to draw lines that maintain a program for Cambodian kids and not other kids.

Third, I heard three main points tonight: keep the Cambodian program (we can't do this legally), let my kid stay at the same school (we really can't do this in most cases without then moving other kids -- it would just be different kids), and it is bad to have the islands (and I agree that this is bad). So, we can't do anything about the Cambodian program that involves different resources or policies (or lines). We can listen to creative solutions (afterschool program), but we can't create separate programs by race/ethnicity. In terms of moving the lines -- I feel very bad for the MM kids who are being separated from their school (the East Leverett Road piece). I think that is worth exploring in some more detail. I don't think I heard other issues about "where my kid goes" that I found particularly compelling, just because there are kids at all the schools who are moving (kids in the downtown area are going from WW to CF, kids on Southeast Street are moving from FR to CF, kids in the houses off of East Hadley Road are going from WW to CF). I know switching schools is hard, but I also know that that always happens with redistricting, and bunches of kids are in fact going together. Then the third thing is the apartment issue -- and this is a pretty basic math issue: you have the majority of low income kids clustered in one part of town, and so you have two choices. You can divide those kids in between WW and CF (and redistrict the houses accordingly) and have FR be a largely wealthy school, or you can divide those kids equally into three schools and then have three equitable schools. I think it would be at least worth running the numbers on this to see what the % look like in this case -- I don't know off-hand what they would be, and this does strike me as worth knowing (so that we could make an informed decision).

Rick said...


OK, understand on Doug’s work. I have no way of really knowing but I’ll take your word on it that he’s doing a good job. He did strike me as really knowing his stuff.

I heard three very different concerns discussed last night:

• Cultural clusters – Cambodian, Hispanic, etc..
• Low income issue
• Other issues: Leverett Road, the south border for Wildwood, 5th graders, etc.

A. Cultural clusters:

My understanding (from you) is that it’s not illegal to “cluster”, its illegal to:

a. provide free busing based on ethnicity
b. provide free after school programs based on ethnicity

Is that correct? If so, is it removing those two things breaking up clusters, or is eliminating open enrollment that is doing it? It would be legal to keep open enrollment but eliminate free busing and after school programs right? So technically the clusters could stay so long as families drove their kids? So then would the issue be that it’s discriminatory against low income Cambodian or Hispanic (or other) people? The after school program is easy to make legal – just make it for all kids at FR, right? Is that a money issue?

Question: if it was legal would you be OK with it?

This is what I feel about “clusters”: if it makes kids and parents feel better about the school their kid goes to, and it is neutral or better on providing a good education, then it’s a good thing. Show me a kid who enjoys going to school and I will show you a kid who is learning more.

On the one hand it is the responsibility of the SC to do whatever it thinks is right to provide a good education, on the other hand, I feel the system is “owned” but the people who use it (parent/kids) not by the SC, and so the SC does have a responsibility to give the owners what they want so long as it does not conflict with the goal of providing a good education – and it works within the budget.

B. Low income issue:

This is the hardest one: the islands of low income families around East Hadley Road. One person made the point that if the idea is to integrate low income kids with higher income kids, then this makes things worse on the after-school front, where these kids go back home and the ONLY kids they know from school is from their low income neighborhood. I think it was that same person who pointed out how this makes these kids labeled as low income, and they know it. Is there any way of eliminating these islands if, for example, the income equity goal was relaxed from 33% across all school to maybe 38% - or asking differently, what number would do that? In your comment you mention running numbers so maybe this could be done.

Rick said...

C. The other stuff:

• The Leverett Road cut off leaves 20 or so families cut off from the rest of the MM community who are going to Wildwood. Can’t we spend a little more in transportation to keep this from happening? We are saving a boatload by having closed MM, can’t we use a little of that money to keep help out these families? Yes I know that will lock in some additional transportation costs “forever” – do we know how much that is?

• The south border of Wildwood leaves families between Amity and Route 9 cut off from the community they were part of north of Amity. Is that necessary?

• Fifth graders will have to move twice in two years. Can we spend a little more in transportation to allow this not to happen?

Finally, while I know it’s not intentional – really I mean that – it sure feels like these forums are thrown in at the end after decisions are already made. That can easily happen if the committee thinks it knows all the issues but really doesn’t hear them all until forums like this occur. I say this with no criticism because I can see myself doing exactly the same thing. It’s approaching things without thinking about “I wonder what it is we don’t know?”.

OR - maybe absolutely nothing heard last night was new to the committee. If so I guess they need to say in effect, “we know all that, suck it up, we have to do it this way” – in a nice way, of course.

Now, this is a mute point if there is time to react to these things before October 27 – if there is, then great. If not, that seems too bad to me. Or can the vote be delayed a month to give more time? The time constraint is getting a bus contract in place for 2010? Does that really have to be done this early? Can’t it be done in December/January?

Finally (really) I would not view this as bending to public opinion when you shouldn’t be. I would view it as listening and adjusting. There is nothing wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

Rick, Don't you think it is a bit supicious that these 'open forums' are happening in a time frame that really make it too late to do anything with the way the maps are drawn? You even hint to this yourself. Also, don't you find it odd that the Amherst Woods neighborhoods are not subjected to the rush of busses coming in and out of their neighborhoods twice a day to tote their children off to 3 different schools? I have one more question for you--what is the 'real' benefit of having a rich child sit (be forced to sit) beside a poor child and vice versa? Shouldn't we be looking at and investing our time and energy and $$ into equity in teaching??, not equity in who eats what during lunch time??

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - in terms of your three different points:

A. It is a violation of state and federal law to provide different services based on race/ethnicity. We are violating that law right now -- it can't continue. It is illegal to do ANYTHING that gives preference based on race/ethnicity. That includes free busing and free afterschool care (unless you provide free busing and afterschool care to ALL kids). However, it also includes having different policies for different groups. We could continue open enrollment, and then Cambodian families that wanted their kids to be clustered could apply for those slots. However, so could NON-Cambodian families, and it would be illegal for us to give preference to the Cambodian families over others. Thus, families at Fort River who get moved to CF could ALSO apply for those slots, and since open enrollment is based on spaces per grade, it is quite clear that not ALL families (Cambodian or otherwise) would be able to stay at Fort River. Is this an option? Sure, and it is legal. But I don't think it would really continue the Cambodian cluster in its current iteration, since (a) not all Cambodian families would be able to stay (and frankly, those who move to other schools would then be even MORE in the minority as others stayed at FR through the lottery), and (b) free busing would not be provided (which probably means some of these families would opt out, even if it was an option). The afterschool program is also tricky, however -- it just isn't clear how the community would choose why to focus an afterschool program on one culture ... and yes, that could be seen as discriminatory against others (e.g., why not a Latino afterschool program, or an African American program, or a Jewish one, etc.). But I do think the laws governing in school stuff are much clearer than outside of school stuff, so I might be wrong on this. I'm OK with anything that is legal ... and I'm not OK with anything that isn't.

In terms of the responsibility of the SC ... it is to provide the best education for all kids. I would imagine, if you did a fully democratic vote, that most families in this town would be pretty much fine having two wealthier schools (FR and WW) and one poorer school (CF). That is what we have now, and we've heard little outcry. I imagine many FR and many WW parents are totally fine with this set up, and they are the bulk of parents in this town, so a vote would mean we keep the status quo. That doesn't mean it is right. If you did a vote of people in Utah about whether to legalize gay marriage, or a vote of people in Mississippi in 1950 to legalize inter-racial marriage, you would have lost ... that doesn't make it right.

B. Low income issue: I agree that this is the hardest one. I don't feel great about the current map in this regard, and this was the only issue last night that really lingered for me. I believe we should create a map that eliminates the islands so that we can at least go forward with an alternative to discuss (and then we can see how the equity looks and whether it would be possible to have somewhat decent equity). However, it seems pretty clear that this map would just create LARGER islands (e.g., more complexes would move together) because I still don't think you can divide up this district in a really even way. But maybe more apartments traveling together would be better (e.g., keep all the apartments at CF/WW, and not take any to FR). That might be possible.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

. The other stuff:

OK, so there are two sets of families that want to stay in WW: one is the MM families (now going to FR) and one is the downtown families (now going to CF). Sure, you can move all of those kids into WW ... but that is another 50 kids, and there isn't space in WW for another 50 kids. So, you then have to move some kids OUT of WW. And who are these kids? The kids who live right within walking distance of WW? Or the kids who now go to MM who would then be bused FAR longer to go all the way to go to CF so that these other MM families and/or downtown families can go back to WW? This isn't about money for transportation. It is about school capacity. So, anytime someone says "can't you just move my kids in", they need to say "by moving THESE kids out" and that is where it gets tricky. Look at the map right now and tell me where you can get 50 kids out of WW to make room for these two sets of kids -- and then help me explain to that NEW set of families (being moved out of WW to FR or CF) why we listened to these other voices and then moved them!

In terms of the 5th grade -- yes, that is too bad, and I do feel bad about that. However, that is exactly what is happening to EVERY 5th grader at MM. Now, could you make an exception and allow 5th graders to do their last year at their same school? You could ... but you quickly run into big problems -- how many 6th graders are we going to have in each building? do we provide transportation separately throughout the entire town to all 6th graders who would move? do we allow parents to drive those kids and then preference families with flexible schedules? I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea ... but it is a tricky/slippery slope.

Finally, I do fully believe that these forums are about learning community feedback ... but we need SOLUTIONS to the problems, not just being aware of the problems (there was little not ONE problem addressed last night that the SC hadn't already heard about and discussed). So, I wish instead of hearing 20 comments about how great the Cambodian program is, we could have heard 20 suggestions for legal ways that this type of support could be provided. I wish that instead of saying "keep my kids in WW" we could have heard suggstions for which kids to move out of WW and why to make room for these kids. I guess the key thing for me is that identifying problems with this plan is easy -- I know many that I see as problems for particular families/groups, and these have been discussed extensively by the SC during the subcommittee hearings. What is hard is identifying solutions that don't create more problems. And I wish we could have more help from the community in identifing SOLUTIONS, not just problems (which, yes, we are already aware of through multiple letters and calls that we are all getting).

The vote can be delayed -- but that delays sending out a transportation RFP, which is supposed to be in place by January so we know the transportation budget. But it could be delayed IF there was a reason to do this (e.g., if we could have more information a month later than we have now). I don't think anyone is worried about appearing to bend to public opinion ... but if we change a map based on things we see as concerns, then a whole new set of people will have their own (new) concerns about the map -- and in fairness, those people who are NOW effected also should get to share their concerns! Again, it is a slippery slope!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 9:58 - First, the lines can absolutely be redrawn. It frankly doesn't take long -- and if there are other ways of solving issues, Doug can do them in a matter of a day or two. There is plenty of time to make changes IF there are changes that should be made that work to create equity. Second, there are absolutely neighborhoods being split up -- just ask those on Lincoln/Dana/Blue Hills. It is NOT just the apartment complexes. And you can run three buses (or more) into Amherst Woods if you'd like to do that -- come to a forum and propose it. But that has nothing to do with solving equity -- because the issue is how many kids on free/reduced lunch are in each school -- and the reality is if you keep all kids in apartment complexes together at CF, that is a predominantly poor school. Do you think that is a good idea? If so, send the SC an email or come to a forum and propose it and the SC can then consider it. The benefit of having equitable schools is well-established in the literature, and that is why many districts have gone to this approach to redistricting. If you believe equity is a bad goal, then come out and say that. And if people in Amherst want to gather together to advocate for making sure we keep low income children gathered together at one school, I'm sure the SC would find that very interesting and worth considering.

Anonymous said...

One question--what is the cost to the schools in designing and implementing this map going to be?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:12 - nothing ... the map drawing is all being done in-house (Doug Slaughter), and we have a new bus transportation RFP going out in November (which was being done regardless). I think the estimate was that closing MM would result in some extra transportation costs, but the redistricting on top of that doesn't add anything else.

Rick said...

“There is plenty of time to make changes IF there are changes that should be made that work to create equity”

This is great – thanks for being open to modifications.

I would just urge a consideration of bending the 33% to get rid of the islands if that is at all possible. Of course 33% is an ideal goal but should be weighed against other priorities. Maybe it’s a tough call to say what amount of “bending” is acceptable. And I know it’s complicated with lots of variables.

And yes of course everything that is illegal should stop – not sure why we have to go on and on about that.

Rick said...

Sorry if this has been discussed before, but the Cambodian issue is all about two things?

1. Open enrollment – allowing Cambodian-Americans from out of FR district to go to that school.

2. Free busing for those kids.

#2 is illegal so has to stop. #1 is not illegal, but we are stopping it, is that correct?

Not arguing one way the other – just for clarification.

Caren Rotello said...

If you allow English-fluent Cambodian-Americans to open enroll to FR, then you also have to allow "X"-Americans (where X could be anything!) to open enroll in whatever school they choose. That would likely defeat the whole purpose of redistricting.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick (12:53) - you can't get rid of the islands have stay below 40% low income at each school. It isn't possible statistically (too many low income kids, too few high income kids to balance out). You can, however, make two islands instead of three -- so, just send kids from the E. Hadley Road area to two of the schools instead of three. They then travel with a much larger set of kids (e.g., groups of 70/80, not 27/49). Does that feel better? That would be an option that could be considered that probably gets you to 37/37/28 or something (that's a very rough guess). If you have all the kids from that area in one school, you have 50% low income.

Rick (12:58) - the illegal thing is entirely about different things for different kids based on race/ethnicity. So, we can allow full open enrollment for all kids and provide full free busing for all kids to whatever school they want to go to. That's legal. What we can't do is treat kids different based on race/ethnicity (which we do now, since a white or African American kid living in Boulders who wants to go to FR can open enroll, but must provide his/her own transportation ... a Cambodian kid gets a free ride to/from).

We have not yet voted on whether to keep open enrollment. We could, and we might. BUT if we have open enrollment, we could NOT allow Cambodian kids to open enroll and not others, and many, many other kids would likely try to open enroll back to their current school (which would create issues in terms of equity, particularly since families with means and flexibility could provide the transportation, and other families couldn't). Would this help Cambodian kids stay together? I doubt it very much. Would it help middle/upperclass families keep their kids at their present school? Likely, yes.

Caren - exactly. And that is why I imagine the central administration is going to recommend to the SC that it is discontinued, although that is up to the SC to decide.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get about the clustering of american-cambodian kids who speak fluent english is: why is the school taking on the responsibility of keeping up certain cultures?

I've always thought that different cultures or ethnic groups (whether they be Indian, Jewish, chinese, japanese, catholic, what have you) - have community-based organizations that propagate and celebrate that culture's festivals and customs. I haven't seen it too much in Amherst but in other areas of the country - the Indian club (and then it gets more specific - the ones who speak a specific dialect for example) will organize celebrations of festivals, offer dance (or other cultural) classes, language classes and host social events. It is all volunteer-based and community-based, not school-based.

I imagine that is how the cambodian culture should be celebrated in Amherst.

Either way, the point is moot as it is illegal for the school to be clustering kids who are fluent in english based on their ethnic background.

I think it is a completely different story for the spanish-speaking ELL kids who go to CF.

Anonymous said...

I have a question about the redistricting procedure: Will every child be asked for proof of residency in Amherst? This is a good chance to get rid of all the non-Amherst students who are going to school in Amherst (fraudently).

And specifically, what are the residency requirements? Can families who own a house in Amherst but live outside of town have their kids go to school in Amherst?

And how will the district prevent enrollment fraud - from some children who list the Amherst address of a relative (aunt/grandparent) as their home address but actually sleep at night in a different town with their parents?

And prevent children who want to stay at their old school from listing the address of a relative who happens to live in the right district?

Is this an issue that within the realm of the SC or is this strictly a district issue?

Rick said...

That is a possibility but I would say not likely. Open enrollment goes only up to a schools capacity of course, and now each school’s capacity is closer to full (than with 4 schools) so whether or not open enrollment messes up redistricting depends on how much extra capacity there is left in each school and of course what families choose to go where. If nothing else it is an extra variable, that’s for sure.

“you can't get rid of the islands have stay below 40% low income at each school.” - are you absolutely sure? Crocker is above 33% at 59% (150 kids) and Fort River is below 33% at 26% (127 kids). Those schools are geographically not that far apart and it just seems like there must be a way somehow. I’d like to see another stab at it. BTW you said 3 islands – there are just 2 aren’t there – both on East Hadley? Did the new map last night show 3 islands? If so, I missed that change from the previous map.

Thanks for the clarification: “the illegal thing is entirely about different things for different kids based on race/ethnicity.” So as you say, open enrollment and free busing for all would be legal, as would neither for all.

Note this clustering of cultures could occur simply by those cultures moving to the same school district, which surely happens in a lot of places. I suppose that is one answer.

Margaret Burland said...

Rick, I want to thank you for your persistence on this blog in demanding what could still be done about the East Hadley "islands." There only two islands on the map right now, but the children in this area are scheduled to attend three different schools -- it's just that the children in the apartments who would go to Crocker Farm would not be in an island, but accompanied by all their neighbors in every direction. What I think Catherine is sketching out as an option here on the blog, and what I have proposed formally to the redistricting subcommittee, would be to split the apartments between two schools rather than three, as you said, logically between Crocker Farm and Fort River. This would be all the more doable if that northeast corner of town that used to be Marks Meadow were indeed rolled into Wildwood with the rest of Marks Meadow, creating space in Fort River. I really hope that such a map will be developed to see what the equity numbers might be. If they were 37/37/28, I think that would be a decent level of equity. And a more decent way to district all of us apartment-dwellers around East Hadley Rd.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:44 - I think the clustering of the Cambodian kids was designed by well-intentioned people who felt this was a group who were struggling in our schools (I'm talking about in the 1970s/1980s), and this was probably seen as a good solution to try to help achievement in this population. I know and respect a lot of people who feel this program has been very valuable ... but given that it is violating the law, it obviously can't continue. I believe that all kids in all schools should learn about different cultures, and I hope we can work as a community (and not just a school-based community, but BROADER as a town-based community) to find ways to support all kids who are struggling in our schools in some way. I agree that the issue different with respect to ELL, and look forward to hearing the district's recommendation on this.

Anonymous 1:51 - I have no idea what the intention will be in terms of residency checking -- you can submit this idea, however, to the whole SC by writing to: The SC sets the policy (you must live in Amherst -- not just own a house here -- to send your kids to the public schools), but the policy is enforced by the principals/administration.

Abbie said...

to Margaret and Rick:

I don't like the idea of the islands either but I also don't see the value of redistricting if very close equity isn't achieved. If we accept the premise that a high proportion of free&reduced lunch (FRL) students brings down the performance of even those students that are not FRL (presumably because much of the teachers time is spent working to bring up that large proportion of low achieving kids), then can you tell me that its really fair to ask folks to sacrifice their kids education so that one school gets the 28% FRL while the others are nearly 40%?? Just because of where the new lines are being drawn? I am totally on board with my daughter moving from WW to CF IF it is the same (v. close to) %FRL at ALL the other schools.

I can now predict that I will get flamed by folks claiming I'm a rich so-and-so, and you can just send your kid to private school if you want- the usual immature reverse classism crap we see so much of on this blog. My answer is (A) we aren't rich and probably could not (at least without much future sacrifice) send our daughter to private school (even if we wanted to as a last resort). (B) I am a firm believer in PUBLIC schools and that in Amherst they should be able to provide a good/excellent EDUCATION (the primary role of PUBLIC schools) for ALL kids.

I hope that another map could be draw where there are no islands, but maybe that really will be impossible if equity across the schools is to be achieved, which I think is absolutely primary if its going to be fair to ALL the kids, low-income, middle-income, high-income.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - two things. First, I do think open enrollment could influence the equity balance since people wouldn't distribute themselves randomly. I'd bet families now at FR and WW who are assigned to CF would try to get back to their original school, and families now at CF would try to return to that school (if redistricted from the apartments). So, it could have some effect on % of low income kids since it would probably be movement in a particular direction.

Second, I'm pretty sure you can't fully get rid of islands ... mathematically! Let's say CF has a maximum size of 350 (which is basically right on). If you don't want to hit above 40% low income kids, you can't have more than 140 kids that are low income in that building. Right now, there are (I believe) 115 kids in CF that are low income. So, you have only 25 more slots for low income kids, yet we know that there are 47 kids living off of E. Hadley Road that go to WW and 38 that go to FR (probably through some combination of how they are districting various apartments and then the language clusters). Some of these 85 kids are certainly low income ... yet you only have room for 25 of these (and I think probably more than 25 are low income). So, if you keep all the kids that are now in CF in CF, which the new map basically does, you still can't pick up these 85 kids without going over the limit. I think we'd also have to think carefully about going RIGHT to the limit of 40% in the very first year of a new district ... it would be nice to have some "wiggle room" here.

But let's say you did take as many kids as possible into CF to try to reduce islands -- you are at 40% in CF, with 140 kids, and that leaves 280 kids (roughly 420 low income kids in our district in all) which you divide between WW and FR. Those schools are then just about 31% low income.

So, this option is about as good as you can get in terms of reducing islands, yet (1) I don't think you can get "only" 140 low income kids in CF if you take all the apartments (I think you likely have more than 140 kisd in that area), and (2) you have a 9% spread between the other two schools and CF at the very start of redistricting (with a low income housing project slated to start in South Amherst). This strikes me as mathematically bad.

And my mistake -- there are just two islands, both off of East Hadley Road. Obviously the kids going to CF aren't on an island!

However, I think one thing that could be tried, and I think mathematically would work, is moving from two islands to one island (e.g., sending all the kids in the E. Hadley Road Apartments to two different schools, not three). This seems mathematically much more do-able (probably CF and FR, since WW is going to pick up the vast majority or even all of low income MM kids).

And yes, open enrollment and free busing for all would be legal, as would neither for all. The "all" is the key word there! And yes, I do think that in many communities, people from particular clusters could choose to live together and that is fine.

Rick said...


First, this is not a flame. ;-)

You said: “I also don't see the value of redistricting if very close equity isn't achieved. If we accept the premise that a high proportion of free&reduced lunch (FRL) students brings down the performance…”

It’s a matter of how you define “very close” and I don’t completely buy the premise mentioned.

Right now here are facts comparing CF and FR:
FR: Free & Reduced: 59%, MCAS English: 86.8, MCAS Math 74.8
CF: Free & Reduced: 26%, MCAS English: 88.6, MCAS Math 84.2
That shows a HUGE difference in Free and Reduced %, yet a small difference in MCAS English scores. Then why is English so much better than Math at FR? Does that indicate a problem of having too many lower income kids at FR or does it mean the math program needs improving? If lower income kids are the problem at FR, then why is MCAS English as good as it is?

Sure 56% versus 26% doesn’t seem like a good thing, but we’re supposed to be going by clear evidence and data, not what “seems like” a bad thing.

But at a minimum this may indicate that we don’t need to go crazy trying to hit 33% on each school. Even going from the 56% to the 40% that Catherine says is the best that is possible without doing the “islands” is a pretty big change. But maybe we can squeeze that to something a bit less – 38%?

I also understand it looks like this is armchair quarterbacking. It’s true, and none of us has the info that Doug Slaughter has in coming up with these maps. So that leaves us two choices:

1. Just believe that absolutely everything possible has been done to make the best map possible.

2. Say “sorry it’s not acceptable as it is – go back and work on it some more”.

We have the time to do #2, and rather than think “maybe it will be impossible” let’s think “maybe it will be possible”. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but absolutely every last bit of effort should go into trying.

Easy for me to say – I’m not doing the work. But we are the customers, and we deserve to ask for the best we can get.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Margaret - thanks for clarifying to Rick what my "3 islands" statement meant! And yes, I think it is definitely worth coming up with a map that creates ONE island, not 2, by sending the E. Hadley Road apartments to CF and FR. This strikes me as do-able in terms of the numbers (there just aren't that many low income families on the east side of town to pick up in FR otherwise), and it would also mean that more apartment kids would travel together as a group (e.g., like 80 or so, not 35 and 45 or whatever). I know it would still be an island ... but a bigger island would be better, right?!? It would also likely free up some spaces in WW, which could be used to move the MM families into WW, as you wisely note. And although it would be illegal to redistrict based on race, I would imagine this might have the effect of putting some Cambodian kids living in the apartments off of E. Hadley Road into the FR district. This strikes me as potentially a win/win/win (better for MM, better for the E. Hadley Rd. apartments, better potentially for the Cambodian population), and certainly one that would be worth having some greater spread in terms of % of low income kids at the different schools (e.g., deviating from our 33$ ideal). Thank you for the suggestion, and I believe it will be seriously considered by the redistricting committee.

Abbie - I agree that having pretty equal % is important, for many reasons, including having parent buy-in from those who are moving to a new school. I think that is why avoiding all islands is just impossible ... it is too many kids for one school if we want the school to stay under 40% (esp. too many kids for our smallest school -- CF). However, I think if the E. Hadley Road apartments were divided into FR and CF, we'd have something pretty good in terms of equity -- maybe 5% difference? I think WW will get more low income kids who are coming from MM, so if there could just be a split then of the E. Hadley Rd. kids into FR and CF, that might end up something like 37/37/32. That's a guess, of course, but I think it is worth running and seeing how this looks. In the current rendition of the plan, CF is at 32% (the lowest of all the schools), WW is at 35% and FR is at 35%. Taking the Boulders from WW (the current plan) and moving it to FR (where Hollister and Mill Valley go in the new plan) would take 27 kids out of WW and move them to FR (CF would be untouched, so would stay at 32%). So, FR would get a bit poorer since they would swap the MM kids on E. Leverett Road for the Boulders kids (and more of the kids in the Boulders are likely low income) -- and WW would presumably get a bit less poor for the same reason. Maybe this would be 32%, 32%, 37%? Again, my kids would be at FR in this plan and FR would be the poorest school -- but within 5 or 6% points, which feels totally fine to me as a parent. Certainly it feels a lot better than our current spread of more than 20%, yes?

Rick said...


Good analysis – that’s the kind of thinking that will help make a better map.

Now, when you think about it, the current district map sort of has one island. Some of the kids go to CF and some to WW – WW could be thought of as the island. So one obvious thing is that if we have to have one island, can we make it a WW island, and put kids in it that are already going to WW?

The problem is I have no idea how the low income kids are divided up among the current WW and CF portion of that East Hadley Road area. If they are all in the CF portion, that idea doesn’t work.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Rick (at 10:33) - OK, so see my last post -- I don't think we can do even as good as 40% if we get rid of all islands. I don't think it can work, and I bet Doug could tell you in 2 seconds whether it would or not (but I really don't think it is possible). I think the best you can do is to have 1 island, not 2 ... and that seems to have some advantages (see my last post). I do think it is worth trying very hard ... and getting it as right as we can. I also think that if there are more than 140 low income kids living off of East Hadley Road, mathematically you can't keep them in one school ... if you want to stay below 40% (which I do think is an important goal). Now, you could of course come up with a gerry-mandered district ... like we have now. But that also creates many divisions all over town (like now, we have islands that go to WW in the midst of the MM district, we have silly cut-outs that go to FR up in the midst of WW territory, and we have lines in which kids in houses go to WW, and kids in the apartments right in the midst of all the houses go to CF). The map Doug has drawn already represents a huge improvement in that it follows natural boundaries and major roads, and I think we are definitely getting close to find something that most of the town (not all of the town!) can live well with for some time. Or maybe it's been a very, very long week and I'm just really hoping this is true.

Rick (10:45) - it doesn't really work to have the island go to WW (not FR), because WW is going to pick up virtually all of the MM low income kids. There are zero MM kids who will go to CF, and very few who might go to FR (just the 20 or so on E. Leverett Road, and I don't think this will include many/any of the MM kids who are low income -- of which there are 37% of MM right now). So, WW is already picking up a lot of these low income kids, and hence I think it would make more sense for there to be a Fort River island, not a WW island (or you end up dividing the MM community by moving a lot of these kids past WW and to FR).

Rick said...

There is a WW island on the new map, which by the way does not contain kids that currently go to WW, but rather, kids that currently go to CF, and the FR island on the new map includes the kids that go to WW now on the old map (south of Riverglade). It’s weird.

So anyhow, for example: take half the FR Island and put it in the WW island, and take the other half and put it into CF. You’re left with one large WW island. Then make adjustments accordingly, if necessary, for CF and WW as necessary because of extra kids added to both of them.

Rick said...

Sorry missed what you said - OK maybe one FR island is better.

Rick said...

On one thing you said “I bet Doug could tell you in 2 seconds whether it would or not”. Again Doug is probably the greatest guy in the world, but even the greatest guys don’t always think of everything. It’s really important to press hard and to brainstorm and not just accept what the one guy says is possible.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick (11:04, 11:05, 11:12) - having two islands is twice as bad as having one island, right? And I don't think the islands can go to WW (unless you want to further divide the MM community by sending low income MM kids to FR!). All I meant about Doug could tell you in two seconds is that it is just a number -- are there more than 140 kids who are on free/reduced lunch in the E. Hadley Road area? If there are more than 140, you 100% can't avoid doing an island. And remember that means there can't be ANY low income kids living anywhere else in all of South Amherst, which seems unlikely. I continue to believe mathematically, you can't avoid all islands AND having natural-ish boundaries AND not more than 40%. You can have two of these three (e.g., one island but natural boundaries and not more than 40%, no islands and not more than 40% and gerry-mandered boundaries, no islands and natural boundaries and more than 40%) ... but not all three. So, we are all basically picking from sub-optimal options. For me, I'd be OK with one island (NOT TWO), natural boundaries, and no school hitting 40% (and maybe 38% to give a bit of wiggle room).

Derek Dassatti said...

Thank you Margaret for your suggestions. It seems like this could be a less disruptive map idea for many concerned.

Thank you for being open to new ideas, even if it may result in numbers slightly off from 33%-33%-33%.
Disregarding any plan with slightly uneven percentages such as you presented, i.e. 31%, 32%, 37%, even if it may be a better, less disruptive plan - that is exactly what I meant last night when I said "if the focus is too narrow at the expense of other concerns....."
Glad to hear that this map may be open to adjustments.

Rick said...

Maybe an FR island is the only way. If there is going to be an island it would be good to make it as large as possible (so more kids have school friends nearby). If FR were to give up Leverett Road to WW – I have no idea if that is low income or not - does that allow FR to take more from East Hadley area? That kills two birds with one stone.

[This is sort of crazy for us to be doing here, because we don’t have the info, but at least it gives ideas.]


But I’d also still like to press on where is the data that shows that a low income population makes a bad school? See my comment above, where I say that this is maybe not so obvious. Is it worth having even one island to correct that? Everyone jumps to “yes”, but is that the right answer?

There was one (1) reference cited in (ASOC) Report (Kahlenberg). That’s not a lot of research. The report states that “There is a noticeable lack of research…”

So FR has the highest low income by far. Is everyone saying FR is a much worse school and/or that the kids are not learning as much as if they were in a school closer to 33%?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Derek - I think the SC would like the numbers to be as equal as possible, but no one is expecting 33% at all schools ... I think we have 33% low income kids in town, so some type of 2 to 3% variation on either side of that seems pretty good (e.g., 30 to 36 or whatever). I think staying below the 40% number of pretty important, based on the research - and that also keeps the range more narrow (e.g., 36 to 31 feels much better to me than 42 to 28). I definitely think the map has the potential to evolve ... and that is precisely why we are having the forums.

Rick - I do think an FR is likely to be the only way to go ... and if would be a big island, I imagine (maybe 80 kids -- which would mean about 7 or 8 kids per grade, which seems pretty good). My strong suspicion is that Levertt Road is NOT largely low income ... but the numbers would work out well (e.g., 21 kids on East Leverett move from FR to WW, 27 kids from the Boulders move from WW to FR). Definitely two birds with one stone -- just FR gets more low income, WW gets less (again, this isn't a big issue because the % difference would still be relatively small).

In terms of the 40% number ... I was on that reorganization committee, as were many in town (Ray Sharick, Mike Morris, Andy, Clare Bertrand, Mary May, Meg Rosa, Claire Hamilton, Derek Shea, and many others I'm forgetting to name). The belief was pretty strong in this group, which was formed at the request of the SC, that it feels pretty bad to have such unequal schools -- which I believe. The data (which Steve Rivkin knows well) does suggest that low income students who are in a predominantly low income school do worse than those who are in a school with more moderate income families. The reasons, of course, are complex and hard to determine ... but for me, I think it feels pretty bad to have one school that is 50% low income kids and the other schools with much lower percentages. This is for many reasons -- providing funds for field trips, fundraising for new playgrounds/equipment/library books, etc. And CF is the school that has had the highest % of low income kids for some time ... and is the school that has struggled the most on MCAS and AYP. It seems like we might well not be helping students perform as well as they might following redistricting. In fact, some towns/cities (I think research on this has mostly come from North Carolina) specifically cites the 40% figure as the cut-off and redistricts accordingly.

Rick said...

A large FR island may be a good answer. I wonder what East Hadley Road residents think about that option. Depends on exactly where the island is drawn probably.

I still think the no island option should be investigated further. Yes I’m sure everyone on the ASOC thought that “it feels pretty bad to have such unequal schools”. I feel the same way and would have said the same thing. But we are supposed to be going by research and data, not feelings and I would have been as guilty as the rest of going by feelings. If Steve Rivkin has more data, it would be good to post it somewhere.

You say that whatever this data is “does suggest that low income students who are in a predominantly low income school do worse than those who are in a school with more moderate income families.” But is that data talking about low income schools in a city like Holyoke or is it talking about a situation similar to Amherst where you have a relatively moderate/high income town with some schools within it that have high low-income populations. There may be a difference. If someone asked me what schools do better, Amherst or Holyoke, I would say Amherst. If they asked Fort River (26%) or Crocker Farm (59%) I might say “not sure”.

I realize I may be “out of it” and to those who have worked with these schools for years, they just “know” this is a problem – could be.

Now there is some data on Amherst itself, which to me is the most important data, like here: Maybe that data clearly supports the “feeling”, but that is not obvious to me. It may take someone walking us through that data. The Math MCAS score for CF indicates it is a problem. But the English score doesn’t. And note that the math score at MM, a high FRL % school, is quite high. But then WW which is the lowest FRL does have the highest scores in both. What are the thoughts on that? Is that because WW has less low income kids or is it because WW is the best elementary school? And if you moved WW to 33%, would it simply drop the MCAS scores for that school?

We need to be sure that changing the mix from 59% (CF) to 33%-40% is really going to improve the education of those low income kids. That is not automatically obvious to me.

Also, this is another weird thing about this: I assume all we know is whether a family is FRL or not. Does it matter what the income levels are of all the other families in a school? What really matters here, the % of FRL or the average income of the whole school (which I assume we don’t have data on)?

Rick said...

I think what has happened here is to try to fix something that “feels bad” without fully knowing the costs of doing so. If you can fix something that feels bad at no cost – go for it, who needs data for that? But when running into unexpected costs – the disruption of communities that may (or may not) cause more harm than the fix – then people need to say “whoah, we didn’t anticipate this, let’s rethink”. I think that is what is happening here, which is great. You don’t have to be right at the beginning, just at the end.

To me it would be nice at the next forum to:

a. Show a map option with one island, with the resulting FRL percentages.
b. Show a map option with no island, with the resulting FRL percentages.
c. Explain in much more detail the data on how high FRL schools do worse than the others.

If “c” is explained well, people might get on board with an island option. I’ve mentioned this before, but people really need to buy into “c” in order to better accept “islands”.

It’s not me who wants the no island option. I just want us to look as hard as possible for a solution that works for East Hadley Road folks such that it does not disrupt the kid’s lives and possibly make things worse, not better, and at the same time does the right thing for their education.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if this has been suggested- did the redistricting committee look at doing an attendance lottery based on the income and race/ethnicity parameters the district hopes to accomplish?? That way there are no arbitrarily and artificially drawn lines for people to complain about. This has been done in other districts.

Derek Dassatti said...

Agreed. Too great a difference (28%-42%) defeats the purpose of doing this. Coming close, within 3%-6%, seems reasonable, especially if it alleviates some other concerns. Thanks.

TC said...

I'm glad to see real suggestions and positive comments here. I'm all for trying to find a solution that accomplishes the redistricting goal and makes the highest possible number of people happy (or less unhappy). My only concern is that we don't lose sight of the primary goal of redistricting (achieve equity among the 3 schools) when we try to reduce the impact of the changes for the families. As many people have note here, this process is hard and painful. We don't want to have to repeat it in a few years because we tried to hard to minimize the impact of the process now.

Rick said...

“the primary goal of redistricting (achieve equity among the 3 schools)” - just want to point out that we are redistricting because MM is closing. My guess is we wouldn’t be doing it if MM was not closing. The redistribution of low income kids was thought to be something we should do while we are at it. If that is a good idea – which most people seem to take for granted (I don’t) – then I agree with everything TC said.

Rick said...

Wait, I take that back. The ASOC Report was before MM was even going to close. Sorry my bad.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick (9:18) - I think a large FR island would be the Boulders, Mill Valley, and Hollister (based on the current map). The other apartments, and the houses off E. Hadley Road would go to CF.

Two other things:

1. I think having unequal schools is bad, and I think every member of the SC believes this (including Irv and Kathleen who live in the CF district). The difference in the experience as a function of income is felt in large and small ways -- Fort River has big expensive curricular fields trips (Boston Museum of Science, steel mills in Lowell, Plimouth Plantation) with parents supporting these trips, which CF does not have. Fort River was able to fundraise in one year about $80,000 for a new playground. The experience is described to me by CF as very different, and I think this difference gets magnified and increased -- I've heard stories that real estate agents encourage families with young kids to avoid buying in the CF area (and real estate ads often say "Fort River school" as a selling point). This is NOT to say that CF is a bad school -- Mike Morris is a fabulous principal, and the PTO leaders are great, and the teachers are great, and the sense of community is great. I just think it we need to all think about how we would feel if we were drawing these districts from scratch -- would we say "sure, it feels right to have one school be largely poor parents, and the others to be more like 25 or 30% poor". I don't know if the data has been gathered on small towns or big cities ... but I do believe if you asked most people in Amherst if the perception was that Fort River was a better school than Crocker Farm, I believe most people would say yes (NOT THAT THIS IS ACCURATE).

In terms of the data, I think it is clear that CF is not doing as well as the other schools. CF did not make AYP in math or english this year for ANY sub-groups of for the aggregate (only white students made AYP). That is why CF is listed as being in "corrective action." Fort River and Wildwood both made AYP in all groups in English, and thus aren't in this MCAS "in trouble" category. But for me, the MCAS scores are NOT the whole story ... it is larger than that. Are kids at all of the schools equally likely to have snacks donated by parents for the classroom so kids don't go hungry? Are kids at each school as likely to have parents donate books to the library, or volunteer to drive on field trips to pick apples, or fundraise for new playground equipment? I'm interested in increasing the equality of the sum total of the experience at each school -- regardless of whether that experience can be objectively measured by the MCAS (though I do believe such equality would have such objective benefits as well).

A number of people have asked about whether the income levels of the non FRL people in a school matter. I don't know of any research on this, but I also think it would just be impossible to measure. We don't have data on family income! But if we look to other districts, what has clearly been done is to divide kids based on % on FRL, and not to say "we need a few really wealthy kids in each building" or whatever.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Rick (at 9:19) - two things here. First, let's say we didn't care at all about the % of kids on free/reduced lunch at a school. We still are closing MM, so we still have to put those kids in a new school (and that school, based on geography, would be WW for most/all the kids). To put another 170 kids in a school, you need to move kids out of that school. So, what kids do you move out? The ones who live in South Amherst, so you send them to CF. This frankly would look like the current district in terms of FR, with the MM kids going to WW, and then the Southern WW kids going to CF. And that would clearly be a school that is even more than 50% FRL (because you'd move all the kids in WW and FR now who live in those apartments to CF, and you'd only pick up some of the non FRL kids in the houses around the apartments, and perhaps just north of that area). We could do that -- but lets be honest -- it is still disrupting communities, since a lot of those kids now to go WW. But that is a consequence NOT of redistricting, but of closing a school and needing to put the kids somewhere. However, we do have a situation in which ONE SCHOOL continues to show consistent trouble on the MCAS ... is there a point at which we as a community need to say "maybe this isn't working out so well?" and do something (even if that involves disruption?). I think there is.

I can see what is possible to present at the next forum -- will communicate these thoughts to others. However, here is my reaction to your ideas:

a. Show a map option with one island, with the resulting FRL percentages. - THIS IS EASY TO DO AND I THINK WE CAN DEFINITELY HAVE THESE %S.



I think it is fine to create a no island option -- and if that means we have a predominantly poor school and/or we split the MM community in half (and keep these kids on the bus for a LONG time), then that would be something for the SC to weigh in making a decision. I believe that many of the East Hadley Road kids are going to move schools -- in part because you are having to move kids out of WW to make room for MM kids, and that means the kids on E. Hadley Road (regardless of whether they live in houses or apartments) are physically the closest to CF and will likely be moved to CF, yet many of these kids now go to WW (47 kids) or FR (38). That is magnified by the ending of the culture clusters.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more:

Anonymous 9:36 - this lottery idea was in fact briefly considered. The issue is that you then can't provide free transportation to all kids ... and that then becomes an issue in terms of really the lottery is just for people with cars and flexible schedules.

Derek - I think coming within 5% is totally fine, and potentially even more like 7/8%. I think a gap of 10% at the start seems more problematic - -thanks for pushing us on this, and I do hope it can bring some good news to the E. Leverett Road folks!

TC - I agree that this equalizing the % on FRL should be a goal ... and given that this is tricky, we should get as close as we can. Five % would feel pretty good to me, and hopefully would then be sustainable over time.

Rick - I was going to correct you but you corrected yourself! Redistricing was being discussed at least a year or two TO CREATE EQUITABLE schools way before the MM discussion. It just got put on hold since you don't want to redistrict one to close MM and then once for equity.

Rick said...

Thanks for all the info above - that is good stuff.

I had said "I realize I may be 'out of it' and to those who have worked with these schools for years, they just “know” this is a problem" …so I guess that is the case. ;-)

I don’t see anyone else here questioning the premise that it’s important to move toward 33%, so I’ll sit down and be quite now. ;-)

But maybe the discussion has at least moved us toward something that might be better than the two island solution, so that’s at least a good thing.

PS: this blog is great – I have learned so much from it – thanks.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick (at 2:08) - hey, thanks for pushing me (and others) to really think through things. I have learned a ton from doing this blog -- hearing different views about priorities, hearing concerns about our schools from different people, hearing what is fabulous about our schools that I wouldn't have known. And as those who are reading all these entries can tell, the blog posting/response process has helped me think through what I feel and why and has at times changed how I feel (frankly, the Mary May post on why to keep MM kids together yesterday was a great example of this). I am constantly surprised by the number of people who tell me they read this (but don't ever post) -- including teachers, parents, and community members. I am glad it is serving some purpose for you, and others -- it certainly has helped me fulfill one of my own goals on the SC, which is communication and transparency and data!

Anonymous said...

One interesting "factoid" Last year (the directory for this year is not out yet so last years was the directory I used" there were approx. 32 kids being bussed from the apts (Southpoint Boulders etc) to Fort River. I do not know that all are FRL but would imagine that some certainly are. It is also interesting to note that they are not all Cambodian (17 of the students living in these apts bussed to FR last year are not Cambodian) So many of the kids who would be bussed to FR if we made one island are already being bussed there. Also it seems that the bussing from the Boulders, Southpoint etc is not just for Cambodian students....many of the students on that bus are from many different nationalities. So it seems to me that a number of the 80 or os studentss who would be bussed to FR if there was one FR island are already at FR through school choice.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- the district doesn't provide free transport for all kids now, Why would they have to if there were a lottery?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 3:22 - that is kind of what I figured ... that if we kept one lsland, it might "look bad" in terms of it being an island, but it might not actually be much different than what occurs right now in terms of where kids go to school. I also note that we are now busing kids out of the apartments to FR (38 right now), and no one has complained that this is stigmatizing (and yes, I imagine some of these kids are low income). I think the one island solution might work well.

Anonymous (3:26) - sorry, of course you are right - you don't have to provide free busing. But if you have a lottery, and the intention is to also maintain an equal % of free/reduced lunch kids in the schools, then you are in effect making the lottery more of a choice for some families than others -- those with cars and flexible schedules, right? So, a family living in Southpoint who wants their child to stay at Fort River might not be able to enter the lottery if this meant getting their child to/from school each day by themselves, but a family with more resources (car, flexible work schedule of a parent, etc.) could enter the lottery. That is my concern about having a lottery -- it could easily be that some people could enter this more easily than others. I'm not sure how that helps us in our goal of equity?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where Building Blocks will be next year? Will it continue to be at FR? I think that some FR families might have an issue with both Building Blocks and the largest % of FRL kids being in that one building. Wasn't Building Blocks moved out of Crocker for that reason?

Anonymous said...

Rick, at 9:18, got me thinking:

Two years from now, when all this redistricting has been completed and the first MCAS scores arrive for the new student bodies in each school, will the state have taken into account the vast changes in populations in each school before assigning the various AYP labels?

Rick said...

That’s a good question.

Also brings to mind that we probably will never know what effect moving to 33% will have on MCAS scores (for both low income and all kids) because there are so many other variables changing at the same time. But that’s just the way it is – not much one can do about it. We will of course know what the average change is for all schools combined, and if that goes up, that’s kind of all that matters. But if other improvement plans are implemented at the same time, which I assume we hope is the case, we won’t know which one did it. I don’t care which one did it if something did it, but just saying…

Shows how it can be tough to get data on what worked and what didn’t.

Anonymous said...

Are the first two redistricting maps possiblities any longer? They didn't have the same islands, if I recall correctly. The houses in the neighborhoods went with the apts.

Anonymous said...

related to anon 12:14, why would one huge neighborhood be kept together (Amherst Woods) and not another one (Echo Hill), while very small cluster of single-family homes on E.Hadley Rd. and off of SE St. be considered "neighborhoods" separate from apt. complexes? Is it because of how dense they are with school-aged children or is there any other reason? It does look discriminatory to isolate the apt. complexes this way, while a huge Amherst Woods "neighborhood" all remains at the same school.