My Goal in Blogging

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Map' for Amherst schools eyed

Hampshire Gazette
Friday, October 23, 2009

AMHERST - A new plan for shrinking from four elementary districts to three got a favorable reception from two members of the Amherst School Committee Thursday.

But most of the public comments favored none of the six maps under review. Most speakers criticized the proposed breakup of language clusters at particular schools.

The five-member group that's been drafting the proposed maps plans to meet Monday and recommend one or two of them to the School Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Tuesday.

The new plan, known as "map #5," would achieve the committee's goal of equalizing the percentage of students from low-income families, and those deemed to be "struggling," at the three schools. It would put all students currently at Mark's Meadow School, which is closing next year, together at Wildwood School.

It would allow students living on South East Street north of the South Amherst Common to remain at Fort River School. But in the East Hadley Road area, it would create two "islands" in the Crocker Farm district, with residents of The Boulders going to Wildwood and those at Mill Valley Estates to Fort River.

Committee member Catherine Sanderson said this "looks like what we're looking for," and member Steve Rivkin said he likes the plan.

Under the current map, 46.2 percent of the Crocker Farm students come from low-income families, compared to 23.7 percent at Wildwood. "This is something we could no longer sustain with good conscience," said committee member Irv Rhodes. Andy Churchill, who chairs the committee, called it "offensive." Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said research shows that a high percentage of low-income students at a particular school impedes education.

Churchill said he looks at "equity" less in terms of particular groups but rather in the context of the needs of individual children. The redistricting process has "forced us to wrestle with different concepts of social justice."

Nelson Acosta, a Crocker Farm parent, said the maps make low-income children a "political football" and said that Latinos feel "marginalized." Angela Robles said the proposals would "tear apart communities" and asked, "Why are we looking at numbers instead of human beings?"

Laura Valdiviezo spoke of the benefits of language clustering. Meg Gebhard said that "equity as it's being talked about seems awfully thin." Jim Oldham said the School Committee should wait a little longer before making a decision. "Once the lines are drawn and the votes are taken, it is our responsibility to not second-guess it but welcome it and celebrate going to a new school with our children," said Rodriguez. "If we don't do that, we're setting up our own children to fail."


Anonymous said...

Off subject: when will you close the schools?

Anonymous said...

I put this in the previous post by mistake:
We need to seriously think about building one elementary school - design approaches can create grade 'communities' to address the size issue. It would save on transportation, administrators and other staff, and form a sense of a whole, which this town needs. It would address the intense turf issues that work against our greater mission. And any redistricting is going to quickly regress to the same imbalances we're trying to solve.

Anonymous said...

Marks Meadow is closing at the end of this academic year.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:26, where would we:
A)find the money
B)find the available land
and what would we:
C)do with the three existing elementary school buildings we already have?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, wasn't clear. After reading this morning's paper, I meant to ask: when will you close the schools due to the flu?

Cathy Eden said...

"Once the lines are drawn and the votes are taken, it is our responsibility to not second-guess it but welcome it and celebrate going to a new school with our children," said Rodriguez. "If we don't do that, we're setting up our own children to fail."

This is leadership – thank you Dr. Rodriguez!

Anonymous said...

"The ARMS administration, at the direction of Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez, has been in contact with the Amherst Department of Public Health in an effort to interpret the Center for Disease Control [CDC] guidelines regarding the response of schools to circumstances like the one now faced at ARMS."

Just getting around to interpreting? Would have thought that this had already transpired. Maybe even this summer.

Margaret Burland said...

I indulged in a long comment last night following after Catherine's post from yesterday, so I will not restate all of that here. But I don't see why map 5 is being hailed as the front-runner when it returns to the most offensive island configuration in the East Hadley area. As I recommended at the meeting and in my comment last night (see the comments following previous post), I would very much like to see the new map #4 adjusted so that its Fort River district would pick up half of the apartment dwellers near East Hadley and so that its Crocker Farm district would pick up some or all of Amherst Woods. If this adjustment is not attempted, it would not be true to say that the School Committee could not find a way to eliminate the East Hadley islands. This way of eliminating the islands could very well fulfill the School Committee's central stated goal of numerical equity. But I don't have the computer software to put my hypothesis to the test, probably only Doug Slaughter could do it.

Anonymous said...

I too hope that the SC will try out Margaret's suggestion. I would be very surprised if they did not at least run the numbers under her suggested map. So far, the SC has seemed open to trying out many new configurations based on suggestions from community members.

Thank you Margaret for continuing to think creatively and making good suggestions.

Abbie said...

I also would like a (final?) attempt to avoid the island(s) by creative use of wedges of each schools territory reaching into the apartment complexes on E. Hadley. I don't believe however, that this would address what sounded to me the biggest (or most vocal) issue raised last night. If kids in the area don't end up at CF, those folks still will not be satisfied.

What I heard last night was that the potential loss of Spanish-speaker clustering at CF is what most concerned these families (not the issue of being bussed out as an island).

So although I think the island(s) are disturbing, I don't think that a map that eliminates them will solve the objection of some families and there may still be strong opposition.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:18 - illness is being monitored all the time. When it reaches a particular level of illness, the superintendent will make the call. I don't know of any other public schools that have closed yet, so I don't think this is likely soon.

Anonymous 8:26 - we have no money, or land, to build a single elementary school, nor do I believe most people would want a school for 1300 students in K to 6! The vast majority of people are very happy with the schools we have -- you just aren't hearing those voices at all.

Anonymous 8:26 - I don't think this was the question!

Anonymous 8:28 - indeed!

Anonymous 8:55 - see my response above.

Cathy - I agree! Though I was disappointed that some parents criticized this remark in their own comments, and expressed an intent to continue fighting the decision after the vote (much like has already occurred with the Marks Meadow vote).

Anonymous 9:09 - I just don't understand the point of this post. Is it your belief that kids in Amherst are at risk? If so, communicate with the School Committee and superintendent directly, using your name, and don't post on a blog!

Margaret - we could indeed draw such a map to avoid islands ... but what I heard (from the few people who actually spoke about the maps) was that people preferred true equity. Even if you modify Map #4, you aren't changing Wildwood at all, and Wildwood has the lowest $ of kids on FRL by far (31.5% in this map, and all others that don't divide the apartments into three schools but only two). So, I think the issue for many parents is that if we are focused on equitable schools, we have two options: #1 and #5. One could modify Map #4, or Map #6 (which is MUCH closer to actual equity already) to avoid islands, but you still have a spread of probably 8% -- which could grow.

It was also striking to me that very, very few parents spoke against the islands (you did, but not many others). Most people are concerned that we are eliminating the language/culture clustures, which can exist because of open enrollment (and free busing to assist with open enrollment for those in a particular ethnicity/culture/language spoken at home). I am not sure at all that if we eliminated very single island many would be happy -- since the focus is so clearly on a vocal minority of maintaining these programs (which we are not going to do).

Anonymous 9:19 - I don't know if these will be run or not (I'm not on this subcommittee) ... but I will repeat that even running these numbers and making them work leaves WW about 7/8/9% wealthier than the other schools. Is that desirable?

Abbie - I agree with all you said. And that is why I think spending a lot more time avoiding islands may be fruitless -- we could avoid all islands by still creating a richer school (WW) AND not having open enrollment/language and culture clusters, and people will still be upset if their children are moved from CF (even if they aren't moved on an island).

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:18 here:

If the map as Margaret has suggested has a discrepancy of 7,8 or 9% then I would not be in favor of that map. I would instead vote for #5. My only point was that I hope her suggestion would be tried to see how the numbers fall. If Mgt's suggested map had close equity among the 3 schools then I would be in favor of that map. But only if the 3 schools had close equity.

I agree with some folks who have posted that people in town seem more upset about the loss of clustering by language or ethnicity than they do by the islands created by re-disticting. Most folks who spoke at the meeting last night addressed the loss of language clustering - not many seemed interested in commenting on the maps. Even though that is the case, for those of us interested in the maps and possible islands, I hope the sub-committee will take the time to try Margaret's idea.

VOTE FOR MAP #1! said...

Thank you School Committee. It is an honor to live in a community that is served by people such as you. This is a huge and very worthwhile undertaking that is long overdue.

Map #1 is the best choice. All the families in town are being called on to sacrifice and the MM families should also sacrifice. Why is their voice louder than everyone else's? Map #1 meets the equity goals in the best way. In the alternative, as a second choice only, Map #5 is also acceptable, although not the best in my opinion. I believe the MM families who would attend FR under Map #1 have a lot to offer FR, and Wildwood is already well-represented with the types of families that would be coming from MM under Map #5. If some of the MM families go to FR, the engaged parents, the loud voices, would be involved in the school and make it a better place for everyone. Vote for Map #1 please! It is the most equitable. I believe Map #1 is what most people want and deserve! (The crowd that gets loud and aggressive at the meetings and forums and even the blogging crowd does not represent the majority. I assure you that most of our family friends in the area are busy with young children and jobs and have not weighed in.)

My child is in Kindergarten at Crocker Farm. What is going on there in terms of the segregation of Hispanic students is unconscionable. Any federal judge would look at the *effect* of the clustering (racial and ethnic segregation and discrimination). Even though the intent may have been *language* clustering, the effect is segregation and an egregious violation of civil rights. If there is a professor from Amherst College who teaches constitutional law, it would be a great benefit to get her advice on the legal issues related to the clustering of Hispanic students in such large numbers at CF.

Thank you again to Dr. Rodriguez, and the very able and competent and accomplished SC, we are lucky to have you. You are heroes.

Margaret Burland said...

I would just like to add that I agree that most people speaking at the meeting last night were concerned about the elimination of the Crocker Farm Spanish language cluster, but the fact that this program is based on open enrollment makes it a separate issue from that of the redistricting maps. I am not suggesting that this needs to be done, but hypothetically, if the School Committee were to take a survey of East Hadley Rd apartment-dwelling parents on both of those issues, I think that they would hear some or perhaps all of the Spanish-speaking families here say that they do not favor the islands and also do not favor ending the Crocker Farm cluster. But because they are so upset about ending the Crocker Farm cluster, that is where their public comments have been focused, quite understandably. In a similar vein, I am not happy about the Crocker Farm cluster and open enrollment in general being discontinued, but because I don't know enough about the program as it is now and don't have any alternatives to suggest, I have so far refrained from public comment on that issue. The point has often been made on this blog that a huge proportion of the students living in the East Hadley apartments are currently using open enrollment to attend a school outside the official district in which they actually live. These "open enrollment" students from East Hadley are most immediately concerned by the proposed ending of open enrollment, and are focused on fighting that. I think it would be a great mistake to assume that their primary focus on open enrollment means that they are happy with the island-stye districting on all but one of the redistricting maps. The whole point is that they don't want to choose their child's elementary school according to a district map but rather according to other criteria. They are fighting the elimination of those other criteria, and meanwhile I am fighting the islands battle on their behalf because I believe the School Committee when it says that it intends to end open enrollment. I see negative consequences in store for my open enrollment neighbors if, as has been announced, both the end of open enrollment and the institution of island districting occur simultaneously, before my neighbors focused on open enrollment have had a chance to absorb the impact of what the island districts would really mean to the identity of this entire neighborhood and the practical, day-to-day experience of living here and being involved in our childrens' schools.

Anonymous said...

8:26 here again - I believe the state helps fund school buildings, right? The town could bond for the rest, and the long-term savings in reducing administration and closing old buildings - and reducing transportation costs - might make that worthwhile. It seems possible that land would be available at one of the existing schools (tear it down.) And as for people supporting the existing schools - maybe. But if we have to address inequities among them again in just a few years, what have we achieved? And isn't there a great value in creating a cohesive community with one elementary school? Catherine, you say people don't want a school with 1,300 kids - put that way, it sounds dauntingly big. But it is likely the school could create communities by grade within that one school to make it manageable. (I've seen it done, so I know it's likely.) I don't think this idea should be dismissed without study. I think it could potentially be cost-effective, help us avoid this appalling ghetto-izing among various elementary school populations and most importantly unite the town. You like the idea of data and study but won't look at this, when at least on the face of it it has some merit? It might not be a good idea. But there's lots about what we're doing now that is not good.

Frustrated Parent said...

Margaret stated: "they don't want to choose their child's elementary school according to a district map but rather according to other criteria."

I have a real problem with that attitude among some of our parents. In theory, wouldn't all of us parents want that for all of our kids? Getting to choose which elementary school in our district best met their individual needs? But how realistic is that? Not to mention the fact that many of these parents also probably want a continuation of free bus service for their kids to the school of their choice!!

ESB said...

A spread of 7/8 or 9% is not acceptable in a plan to achieve true equity. I support map #5. "Islands" do not seem to be the issue as voiced by the majority of speakers last night.

jm said...

One, why are people always speaking on behalf of the parents living in the apartments off of East Hadley Road? So far, I only know about one parents' objection. If no other parent oppose the island/s why does anyone else oppose it?

These kids already attend 3 different schools so what difference does it make whether their apartment building is physically connected to a school by a color on a map or some sliver of land? Obviously it doesn't bother 2/3rds of parents now.

Here's how the kids at the elementary schools will view the kids coming off the buses from the Boulders or Hollister: "that's the bus of my friend, so and so, he lives across town."

Two, clustering students by language or ethnic group is illegal and will not continue in Amherst. It's over. It has nothing to do with redistricting, breaking up communities, ELL or how you feel about second language acquistion or people in Amherst Woods. It's just illegal. Most of the parents commenting last night didn't seem to understand this and they didn't provide much guidance to the school committee on redistricting.

Finally, the purpose of redistricting is to give the poorer children in Amherst the best opportunity to learn. Should we redistrict to give them a worse opportunity?

I hope that the school committee keeps its eye on the prize, our kids.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:18/10:39 - we can do any number of things still ... but here is the ONLY key that everyone reading this blog needs to know: if you divide the kids off of East Hadley Road into three schools (as occurs in maps 1 and 5), you have great equity (1 to 3% separating all schools), whereas if you divide the kids off of East Hadley Road into two schools (as occurs in maps 4 and 6, and would occur with any revision of map 4 as suggested by Margaret), you get a richer school (WW is 31.5% in Map 6 and 31.6% in Map 4 -- and WW wouldn't be touched in any rendition Margaret is proposing). So, if Wildwood has 31.5% kids on free/reduced lunch, and the overall district mean is 35% kids on free/reduced lunch, EACH of the other two schools (FR and CF) is pushed well above 35 (36/37/38). That means at best we have a split of 6%, and it may well be greater. But regardless of whether we modify map 4 or just go with map 6, those maps divide the kids off of East Hadley Road into 2 schools, and thus those two schools have more kids on FRL than WW. If you want really good equity (1/2/3%), you go for Map 5 (or Map 1). There is NO WAY to revise Map 4 to make equity at all three schools, because Margaret's suggestion (which is a creative one) doesn't impact Wildwood whatsoever.

Anonymous 10:51 - thank you for your kind words! I agree that map #1 has some advantages -- I'm not sure, however, why you think Map 1 is better than map 5? To me, Map 5 is better for four reasons: keeps MM together, keeps some more kids in FR who now live in Southeast Street, maximizes enrollment at WW (where the least growth in town is expected to occur), and achieves better equity (.8% spread versus 2.6% spread). I think you also raise an important point that many who have strong feelings (including concerns about CF in its current configuration) aren't speaking out at the forums ... I hope you, and others who aren't attending these forums, will take some time to share your views with the SC by emailing:

Margaret - so, clearly people are upset about open enrollment ending ... and the ending of the language/culture clusters. But that is really and truly going to happen, and then we are all going to need to focus on making all schools warm and accepting and a community for all kids. It isn't clear to me, however, that the island thing is going to be of concern to many who feel this way ... I think it seems like it is much more about wanting your child to stay at his/her school? So, people in the Boulders now are districted to CF, and they want to stay there ... except if they are Cambodian, in which case they are already going to Fort River and would probably like to stay there? That is where it gets complicated -- and I'm not sure that avoiding all islands is going to help, since any plan is going to (a) change where some kids go to school, and (b) divide up some friendship groups. I would really, really like to hear from people (which I begged for last night and got almost no responses) who think one island is better than two islands -- or even one long/connected version of map 4 that still divides kids off of East Hadley Road into two schools.

I am willing to vote for a new version of map 4 or current map 6 -- but I'm not willing to do that if I think that people are still going to be angry about dividing up of communities off of East Hadley Road and ending culture/language clusters, given that voting for EITHER of these maps leaves Wildwood as a much wealthier school than the other two. My preference is map 5, because there is perfect equity, but I can be convinced to vote against that IF I think another plan will be more acceptable to those living off of East Hadley Road. But I am not getting the feeling that map 4/6 would in fact make people happy, since it will STILL divide up communities. Am I wrong?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 11:14 - I think building a new elementary school for 1300 kids is not a realistic approach in a town that is struggling financial and has three totally viaable schools. It also would be a long term project, which we don't have time for right now since MM is closing in less than a year. If you would like this idea explored by the SC, come to a SC meeting and propose it or send an email to the entire SC using your name.

Frustrated parent - I share your frustration. This is not just about what is good for any one child ... it is about what is for the greater good of all children in our community. I believe that we have provided different services to different children (based on race/ethnicity/language), and that is going to end. I hope we can start to focus on drawing lines that create three equitable schools that work for all kids.

ESB - I agree with all you said. Unless I start hearing some specific concerns about islands soon (not just ending language/culture clustering from all around town), my vote will be for #5.

JM - very well said on all fronts. Thanks!

TC said...

It's amazing that the Gazette article didn't mention the fact that there were people in the meeting who spoke in favor of the redistricting process. Granted, the ones who spoke against it were much louder and more aggressive, but that doesn't mean everybody in the room was against the equity goal or the maps presented. I'm really impressed by how hard the School Committe is working and by how many opportunities they're offering for input, even if most of what they're hearing is very aggressive comments by people who seem to think the School Committee is part of a conspiracy to break up communities in Amherst. There were few people who made good points and offered suggestions yesterday (like Margaret Burland), but unfortunately what I heard most was pure anger. I hope people can realize that the redistricting for equity was included in the motion to close Marks Meadow, which was approved months ago. If so many people were against that, they should have spoken out at that time. Now we need to focus on how to get best possible map, one that achieves real equity and makes the smallest number possible of people unhappy. And I agree with Superinted Rodriguez when he says that once the map is chosen, all Amherst parents should embrace it and be positive about it. Otherwise, we'll make it harder for our kids.

Anonymous said...

JM, you appear to be on the outside, looking-in, saying, "What difference does it make to those inside?"

It obviously makes quite a bit of difference to quite a few people.

Frustrated Parent: "I have a real problem with that attitude among some of our parents. In theory, wouldn't all of us parents want that for all of our kids? Getting to choose which elementary school in our district best met their individual needs? But how realistic is that?"

It may not be realistic for you if you're a homeowner, but for renters it's quite realistic. I moved here so my child could attend MM and now am contemplating different options, one of which may involve moving to a town with another small school.

This is probably one of the very few advantages to not being a homeowner, come to think of it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:18PM you should try Hadley. Great school, great town!

jm said...

Anon 1:18. Do you live in the apts off East Hadley Road? Do you mind if the apt complexes become "islands" going to different schools? If you live in one of these complexes, do you or your child feel cutoff from the families around you because your child choiced into Marks Meadow?

I don't live there and I'd like to know what the objections are from the people who actually live there.

Rick said...

“what I heard most was pure anger” I would say that’s about right, but also a lot of the anti-talk was not specific about what to do differently (except Margaret Burland, who was very specific). I’d be happy to listen to an angry person with specific ideas, but not just an angry person with no ideas.

“I hope people can realize that the redistricting for equity was included in the motion to close Marks Meadow, which was approved months ago. If so many people were against that, they should have spoken out at that time.”

I’ve said this before, but I really thing the problem is that back when MM closing was debated:

1. People were focused mainly on closing MM, not on redistricting.
2. The people who were paying attention to any of it were mainly MM people.

That’s why I think that although this is not a new subject, it seems like it is to a lot of people. Not an excuse, just an explanation.


Most of the anger was about breaking up language/cultural clusters.

Question: that is mostly due to stopping open enrollment, not to redistricting, correct?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:18PM you should try Hadley. Great school, great town!

I'll second the motion. And add, they do not have an ATTITUDE!

Latino said...

People are complaining about the end of the language clusters but I am not sure people understand why they are illegal in the first place. Segregating people based on language, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other reason is illegal in this country.
Besides, are people really thinking about their kids when they defend the idea that they should be grouped by cultural background?
I am a very proud Hispanic and I hope my kids can grow up in a place where their friends are black, white, Cambodian, Chinese and Hispanic. I also hope that they can go to a school where there are kids from all social and economic backgrounds.
I hate the idea that my kids have to go to a place where all Hispanics in town are sent to, as if Hispanics were for some reason special people that needed to be grouped together. My Hispanic kids go to Crocker Farm, and I support 100% the idea of making it a more heterogeneous place.
I want to thank the School Committee for such initiative (and for enforcing important state and federal laws).

Rick said...

"I am a very proud Hispanic and I hope my kids can grow up in a place where their friends are black, white, Cambodian, Chinese and Hispanic. I also hope that they can go to a school where there are kids from all social and economic backgrounds."

Awesome. Best comment I have ever seen on this blog.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

TC - I share your disappointment about the Gazette coverage -- there were definitely people who supported the redistricting, including someone who spoke very passionately about having been a low income child who was bused to a wealthier part of town as a child and feels she benefitted from that. I also was disappointed at the level of anger, and the assumption by many that the School Committee is deliberately trying to do something harmful (instead of trying to create equity). I remain hopeful (though perhaps not optimistic) that we can move to the next very important stage of creating excellent and equitable schools that meet the needs of ALL kids.

Anonymous 1:18 - I believe that ALL of the elementary schools must meet the needs of ALL kids ... and we have kids with a variety of different needs in all of our schools. I think it is patently unacceptable to have some schools that serve the needs of only some kids (e.g., does CF only serve the needs of Latino kids, or can FR only serve the needs of Cambodian kids?). I believe we have dedicated and caring staff in all buildings, and I have every confidence that teachers and principals and guidance counselors and front office staff and ELL teachers and so on in ALL of our schools should be very able to meet the needs of all kids -- it should not, for anyone (renter or homeowner) about some schools serving the needs of some kids.

Anonymous 1:22 - I also hear great things about the Hadley schools!

JM - very good questions ... I'd like very much to hear from people living off of East Hadley Road about their feelings about the islands ... and whether it is the presence of the island or the absence of culture/language cluster that is of concern.

Rick - I actually disagree that the issue is equity and a lack of focus on this. I think people would be totally fine with equity as a goal IF it wasn't being combined with ending of language/culture clusters. I think the opposition to equity is entirely based on a recognition that creating equity REQUIRES ending open enrollment by language/culture. But even if we continued language/culture clustering (which we aren't going to do), I think there would still be anger because we have not only allowed language/culture clustering, but have enabled it by providing free busing to these kids, and only these kids (which is one of the ways in which we are violating the law) ... and that policy is also being discontinued.

Anonymous 5:07 - once again, I too hear great things about Hadley!

Latino - well said ... and what a powerful post -- thank you (and yes, it has been shocking to me that there is so much anger directed towards the SC for enforcing pretty basic civil rights laws designed to eliminate segregtation)! I think this is the really key thing ... we should have three schools that are all MULTI-CULTURAL ... not one school that is "Latino-focused" and one that is "Chinese-focused" and one that is "Cambodian-focused." All kids at all schools should learn about different cultures and make friends with those from different backgrounds ... and I hope we can see this as a reality next year.

Rick (at 5:25) - I completely agree -- best post ever!

Anonymous said...

Oh, it'd be really helpful to Amherst residents if the newspaper wrote that everyone agreed with everything the school committee put forth. I'm exaggerating a bit, but for crying out loud: The dissent is the IMPORTANT part! This objection by Rick and Catherine is so bush-league. I expect more sophistication on at least Catherine's part.

PM said...

Regarding Anon 8:35p, I am so unimpressed by how self-important and arrogant you seem along with some of the other bloggers and some of those who spoke at the meeting last night. It sounded to me that some people were applying for jobs in their long intro's to who they were, where they've been and what they've done. A lot of you think you are so smart and so accomplished, so erudite and so all-knowing, but look at the state of your school system. You have segregated schools in Amherst! Your schools are failing kids in fundamental ways. This didn't happen overnight, it has been going on for years. And all you liberals think you know everything, that each of one of you has to prove in public that you are smarter than the SC or smarter than the last person who made a point. I am amazed at how patronizing you are, saying that each of your recommendations should be researched and data put forth to satisfy you (often just one person). This is liberalism gone awry, face the reality. You live in a town that has a "poor school!" You live in a town with a segregated school! And a lot of you have turned a blind eye to it for years. All the one-upmanship is nonsense, and the tone needs to change for our children's sake.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:18, here. No, JM, we don't live off East Hadley Rd. We live about a mile from MM. I too would be interested in hearing more from these folks on this blog.

I do like Hadley and have spent quite a bit of time there. I'm not sure it's the right school for us though as there's very little diversity and I think we would miss that. My child benefits so much from the diversity in Amherst.

When the decision to close MM was made, my child would bring this up a few times in the weeks following and start crying a little about how she didn't want to be separated from her friends and doesn't want to go to a big school and..."What will happen to Nick!?"

I've tried to be very supportive of any changes coming on the horizon. All the teachers in our schools are great as I've had the opportunity to work with and for a great many of them. We're of course very sad about the closing of our small school. It's such a warm and cozy place. My child isn't a struggling student however and will do fine with whatever changes we're faced with.

My own ideal has always been for a small school as I attended quite large ones (there were 33 kids in my 3rd grade class I noticed from an old photograph recently). The problem I noticed even as a kid was that there was less social cohesion in that if friendships began to not work-out, we rarely had to ever make the relationship work, we simply moved-on to another social group. Also, I very much felt like just a number and we were very overcrowded. There ae several things I might complain about with respect to larger schools but will refrain. I do find the open classrooms of FR and WW to be distracting. There is an ongoing buzz of noise, even if the classroom one is in is entirely quiet, it can be difficult to really focus on where the noise is coming from. This will all be a big change for us.

I am honestly concerned there'll be so much change taking place in Amherst schools next year, it might not hurt to relocate for a bit till it evens itself out. I don't know.

I do empathize with the SC and how tirelessly you all seem to be working on this. I also feel however that it is happening a bit too fast as there appear to be so many issues being raised by so many different groups of people...and even if we're not those groups of people and have trouble understanding these concerns, their voices are still valid and deserve to be recognized as such. I hope we continue to think as creatively as possible in our attempts to address their concerns.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:35:

The job of a newspaper is to report the news....all of it. Not just the part where people dissent or disagree with the SC. They should have quoted at least one of the very few people who agree with what the SC is doing.

As a broader example - do you want the news media to only print or show on tv people who agree with the policies of the Obama administration. Don't you want to hear the other side? For every story has 2 sides. And so does the redistricting story.

I am sorry, but I must respectfully disagree with you. I too am very often dismayed at the one-sideness of the Gazette, no matter what side they are taking.

Anonymous said...

Although I do not live in the apartments any longer I moved from the Bosotn area to Amherst for my child's education and to give him/her the best opportunity in the schools that were once ranked
third highest in the United States. Sadly I do not feel this is true anymore. When I telephoned the superintendent's office about placing my child in an elementary school I was told right out flatly that the apartments go to CF and the houses in the neighborhoods go to WW. Well-I found out the name of the street my apartment was on, Easdt Hadley Rd., and gave this to the secretary and got WW as the grade school my child was to attend. This made all the difference in allowing her/him a rich, social and academic elementary school experience. (The IEP experience we went through is a whole different subject, one I still debate.) S/he even hung out with Bill Cosby's child while in WW.
What the SC is attempting here--in its search for 'equity' may well be a noble cause, but I simply do not undestand this approach. I do not believe that having children from poor and rich families 'mixed' in the classroom is the magical solution to the inequities in the ways teachers teach. I don't fault teachers in this statement, but rather the whole system--the focus is being distracted, even wasted in all the time and energy used up that should be placed on the curriculum and discovering new ways to teach children...and yes I have many, many ways to accomplish this and yelling at each other for splitting up set, solid communities whether it's by closing MM or redistributing the language clusters is not one of these ways...
And reading sassy responses here to those of us who speak against this nonsense (clsoing MM and destroying communities) is also not one of these ways...
Thanks for reading this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:01-
Using the term, "destroying communities" to describe what the SC is doing is alarmist, misleading, and belligerent.

The focus of several people on the SC now is to use evidence - based on what is working in other schools - to lead our decisions, rather than what "feels" comfortable or what a few vocal people in town demand.

Obviously, this approach seems to appeal to many people in town because the SC members using this approach have received large numbers of votes.

Anonymous said...

Um . . . before Catherine and Rick fall all over themselves about Latino's comments, I suspect that this is a phony post written by someone who is against language clustering, but is not necessarily affected by it. After all, as it is now, not every hispanic MUST go to CR! It is an option for folks who might like that type of education for their child.

I think you've been punked.

Joel said...

To Anonymous 4:48

Of course, you are potentially correct. Of course, you're just as anonymous as the poster you think punked the blog, so who knows what to make of all of this.

I don't think we should have to establish our ethnic or racial credibility to make a point. The post raised important issues that haven't been discussed enough here or elsewhere.

Still, you haven't considered the possibility that the person who posted is Latino and lives in a neighborhood zoned to Crocker. I'm sure that there are Latino families who live in the Crocker neighborhoods who might want their kids to attend a multicultural school that celebrates *all* our racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure that there are Latino families who live in the Crocker neighborhoods who might want their kids to attend a multicultural school that celebrates *all* our racial and ethnic backgrounds."

We are a non-Latino family in the crocker neighborhood and we would also like this. For years our childrens heritage has been ignored there except for ONE night. We are hoping the redistricting will bring balance.

Anonymous said...

I am late to the updates/info on islands, so sorry if this question has been answered. Is the reason that the E.Hadley apts and houses can't go to Crocker Farm with some kids that are not FRL from somewhere else because CF is smaller than FR and WW? If there are 70ish students from the islands, probably not all on FRL, can't 140 from those neighborhoods and south amherst or amherst woods or somewhere give it the right balance of frl? or is CF too small for 210 students? What is the capacity of CF?

Rick said...

Anon 4:48: You’re missing the point, which is not that the person is Latino, but that he/she said this: “I hope my kids can grow up in a place where their friends are black, white, Cambodian, Chinese and Hispanic”. I would have said it was a great post regardless of the person’s ethnicity or race.

Anon 8:35[yesterday](same person as Anon 4:48?): Sorry for being “bush league” and not sophisticated enough for you. I’ll try harder.

Anonymous said...

maybe i am stupid...but i do not have children in the school district...but went to high school in bosyon in the mid 70's forced busing.....DID NOT WORK......amderst seems like it has a great district.....why are we seperating "the islands" although do not live in that neighborhood find the name demeaning....has anyone ever read..."Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" great book...think it is not in the thinking of the school committee...

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:58
Come on the long the end when everyone gets through the shuffle and comes out in a new or different place, communities of long, well established and successful teachers, students, administrators, staff, neighbors, families, freinds, will indeed be destroyed. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but it's matter who this seems to "appeal" to--it's just awful and it's happening...=(

Anonymous said...

true that, anon 2:58

Anonymous said...

oops, i meant, true that, anon 7:25

everyone sit still & don't move said...

I have an idea, let's have one elementary school with lots and lots of poor kids, a small playground, and have it continue to fail to meet federal standards until its taken over by the state. Meanwhile many of the low income kids in that failing school won't learn much and no kid will go on field trips.

Then let's have another elementary school with kids that are mostly well off -- and while we're at it, let's give that school an innovative language program, lots of field trips and a great playground. Let's all watch those kids do well -- as we complain about privileged, middle class children.

Then let's have an in-between school which is also failing federal standards and just ignore that problem. And we'll just feel angry about that entitled school (with the most diverse ethnic and economic mix of kids in all of Amherst) because kids from Amherst Woods go there and that neighborhood has always just bugged us.

And let's illegally bus kids to these three schools, just to keep our unfair schools -- make sure that we violate state and federal laws -- and ensure that nothing ever changes. Even though we are liberals and left over radicals, basically its better for things to stay as they are because change in upsetting and will affects my kid. And it's easier to talk the talk than to do the walk -- as many, many, many past school boards have shown us.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:35 - I can't find a place in which I said, or Rick said, that the Gazette should simply say whatever the SC says is great. But I think the reasonable assumption is that a newspaper reports a balanced view of events, such as meetings, and thus choosing to write a story describing only criticisms is as inappropriate as choosing to write a story that describes only positives. I think the name calling, from your safe anonymous perch, is unfortunate.

PM - very well said ... it does strike me that so many of the comments at the public forums assume that all members of the SC/district staff are just stupid, mean, or thoughtless ... and assume that there is a great plan out there that we just can't find because we're too dumb/maliciously evil, etc. The objective evidence seems very clear -- our kids at ALL of the schools are failing MCAS ... it isn't working, and we are violating state and federal laws! Redistricting to create equity seems like a pretty good approach, and it is very clear that a ton of thought by many smart and thoughtful people has been given to developing plans (which can't solve the issue that low income housing isn't distributed equally throughout all parts of town)!

Anonymous 1:18/11:22 - public schools need to meet the needs of all kids ... and I believe both of the large schools (FR and WW) are meeting the needs of many kids (just think about the families that are fighting to stay in these schools). You complain about closing MM, but then worry about overcrowded classrooms ... which would have been MORE overcrowded has MM stayed open. I believe all of our teachers/staff/principals will be working very hard next year to make sure that the transition works well in all of our schools, and I would hope people will give this a chance to work instead of immediately assuming next year will just be a mess. And in terms of it happening too fast -- we are the ONLY district I know that takes over a year to close a school, and we've now been discussing equity and redistricting for over two years. I'm sorry some people weren't listening ... but I don't think that means we should continue having three inequitable schools because some people still have some concerns (especially when many of those concerns regard our elimination of programs that violate state/federal laws).

lucy2shoes said...

So in asking parents which map we favor- here is my two cents if it means anything!

Map 1. I think this achieves what the top priority for the SC which is equity.

Map 2. Equity is achieved yet still, but FR parents are worried about the 39%? I think a future projection of future lower income building projects might make this figure more realistic. We haven't seen any projections however of what this "might" be in two, three years after a building project or population shift occurs.

Map 3. Is the worst map I've seen. WW struggling at almost 25% is almost just tossing it into the river.
This map also looks and feels gerrymandered to kingdom come. I'd burn it.

Map 4. is right up there with Map 3- look people at the struggling number!!!!!! This is education. Reading and Writing, and Math. I'd be curious however if you modified the map to include Amherst woods to Crocker what the struggling percent would be, but I think the numbers of kids would be too crowded. Which is equally bad.

Map 5. Not bad, but WW look and will feel crowded in the quads. My kids are in a quad and it already feels small. The lunch issue seems to iron out, but still divides the apts to 3 schools. It seems to make FR a more palatable situation and the struggling % is about even.

Map 6. Seems to make the most people happy, keep the schools more on an even % of BOTH lunch issues and struggling students. We are down to one divide in the apts going to the NEXT closest school.
It provides a FR community to band together within the apts, instead of three separate school communities and keep the over crowding of ALL schools to a minimum. If I was on the SC I personally would vote for Map 6 or 1.

This is coming from someone whose kids will move in all of them regardless of where the lines are drawn. Looking at the numbers and not being emotional or even political about the lines are hard, but his is what the people on the committee must do. If I went by what I really feel, I wouldn't want to move and the reality is after two transitions last year it will be hard for me and my kids...because I've already done two school transitions last year.
I am hopeful the SC and the Superintendant will do whatever possible to ensure all three of Amherst's schools have equal access to excellent education, services. It's up to our PTOs to also help ease the process too- if you are moving next year, get involved now and help make this transition successful for everyone, especially your children.

I would encourage the communication lines with the community to be kept open. After the vote, PLEASE do not concoct a transition plan that will seriously frustrate and keep the staff, parents, etc. in the dark and make the time of transition painfully confusing. More forums during the process? I think in the event of 40% of children moving, 100% of the children's peers effected and so much changing at once- public forums seemed to help me understand how each of the SC members thought out the process and allowed the parents and teachers to communicate their thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:18/11:22 here...

See, this is the type of response that questions the faith I try to develop in the competency of the SC. I hadn't thought I was complaining about the closing of MM. I only tried to explain that I am trying to support my child in wherever we actually transition to.

I'm not worrying or assuming anything either. Closing MM simply makes me less attached to Amherst in particular. I'd actually prefer larger classrooms, truth be told, than I would the closing of our school but...what difference does my opinion make against such robust data, standardized test scores, and state and federal law?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the budget. We shouldn't forget the budget.

Anonymous said...

Annon 12:20
I have lived in a town that cut art, gym and music for a year. After a horrific year of greatly increased student absenteeism and visits to the nurse for complaints listed as Mental Health, School leaders vowed never to go through that again and increase class sizes. So, while they have kept K-2 around 25, grades 3 and up average in the low 30s. I moved my family from said town after my 1st grader's teacher recommended that we move because my son was performing above grade level and she couldn't do much with him because there were too many other kids who needed her help. He was, as she said, "too smart for the district". My daughter's K class was scheduled to be in the high 20's for a 2.5 hour day with no classroom para. My children, upon visiting Amherst asked on their school tour whether they could run in gym because when they did have it, their were 3 classes at a time and it was considered unsafe to run. There was no school librarian and limited computer time. It was a mess and met the needs of only a few. Unless you have lived the cuts of which you speak only then can you know their actual devastation.
I think MM is a great school. I have been there many times. I am sorry that budget conditions (not SC) are forcing it to close. Please consider the consequences of an additional $700,000 to cut- on top of what will have to go.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:18, 11:22, 12:20-

If you have such little faith in the competency of the SC then you should join the committee and bring your competency -- your brilliant ideas of larger class sizes and reduced extracurriculars sound WAY more appealing than the crazy ideas they've been proposing. There are 2 seats open in the next election...Go for it!!

Anonymous said...

Lucy2shoes - I think you should join the PTO, just like you suggested in your post! It'd be great to have you involved in helping figure out ways to ease the transition through redistricting.

And that goes for everyone else too - please get involved, so you can help the transition period. Because redistricting will happen regardless of what map is chosen.

lucy2shoes said...

Anon 9:07
Thank you for the encouragement! We (several neighborhood parents) actually are changing our stopnshop/Big Y card numbers to be directed to Crocker Farm THIS year as well as the Box Tops. We are mobilizing our neighborhood to help our kids and their NEW school CF by doing that THIS year.

I am looking forward to being a part of the CF PTO and know someone on it already....our kids are friends from preschool. I am excited about the clubs that CF does on Wed afternoon and can't wait to be a part of the community- I will equally be sad to see a lot of my kids' friends stay at WW, but friendships to remain connected take parents effort to invest in them. I think Crocker Farm will benefit from people like us who are passionate about getting involved with the schools and PTOs and the people protesting should really focus on getting involved in the schools in a more productive way.

Viva Crocker Farm!