By NICK GRABBE
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."
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.