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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Thoughts on Redistricting

First, here is the most recent map for those who didn't come last night. It is about the same as the one presented last week, except the MM kids are now all together (the E. Leverett Road kids moved to WW) and the island is all going to FR (is not split between FR and WW anymore).

For those who have been attending the forums (or watching them on TV), or reading the paper, you know that the School Committee is facing serious criticism. So, I just want to respond specifically to the different types of criticism that we've heard as a way of showing that we really, really are listening! Here is what I've heard, and my response (again, this is my response, not the official district or School Committee response):

1. You didn't ask the community for input on the equity goal (e.g., why are we redistricting based on income?).

I have three thoughts on this front. First, I feel that there were indeed options last spring for people to discuss whether equity was a reasonable goal -- that was SPECIFICALLY part of the motion I made to close Marks Meadow. Many people came to the forums and asked questions, and literally not a single question was about "why is this equity thing a goal?" We showed two maps last spring, and both of these maps had islands (different types of islands, but islands nonetheless) in the area off of East Hadley Road as potential redistricting plans. We also included the % of kids on free/reduced lunch in each of these plans, because again, we cared about this as an issue. This was presented in March, April, and May ... and no one said "I really think it is better to have a school in which we cluster the poor kids." So, maybe people were just distracted by the Marks Meadow issue, but it does strike me as potentially a way now for people to complain BECAUSE it impacts where their kid is going ... because we sure didn't hear concerns about that at all over the last few months. However, and in fairness, some people who are sad about their child moving have specifically even stated (in emails to us, at public forums) that they still do believe equity is a good goal (so this is NOT everyone).

Second, we have strong and clear evidence (e.g., MCAS scores) that Crocker Farm is not experiencing the success it should. This is occurring although CF has smaller class sizes than other schools, and more intervention support than other schools. Although throwing more money at CF is the "easy way out" (let's just give this school more resources and still keep the poor kids all together), we've tried that and it is NOT working (hence CF is now considered a Commonwealth Priority School). To me, I think it is (past) time for us to try another approach.

Third, let's say that we as a community all came together and said we'd really rather cluster the poor kids at one school. I can certainly imagine many families in Amherst saying that in an ideal world, their kids' school would have fewer poor kids ... and that they'd be more comfortable in a school that was predominantly (entirely?) composed of middle/high income kids. We could totally do this -- in a sense, we already have (e.g., lots of the poor kids in town are clustered at one school already). So, we could take the low income kids and largely have them at Crocker Farm (that should would be 50-55% low income, and FR and WW would be 25% or so low income). Does that feel right and good to do in this town, even if MOST people privately supported that as a decision? If it does feel like the right way to go, email the SC ( right now and let us know that you are in favor of that sort of division, and I guarantee you that we will discuss this. This just doesn't feel right to me at all -- maybe this is just me, but I certainly believe there is a feeling on the SC right now (and has been a feeling on prior SCs, and is a feeling in the district leadership staff, and is a feeling at least among SOME parents and community members) that we just can't say we are a district focused on social justice while we continue to maintain a "low income school".

I think the key thing is people do not like redistricting, because it involves moving kids to different schools, and change is hard. That is why we as a community haven't redistricted in 30 or 40 years -- it is a no win proposition for the School Committee, because you are DEFINITELY going to make some people unhappy. But we are closing a school (more on that later) and thus we have two choices: redistrict based on equity (create three schools with roughly even % of kids on FRL) or redistrict based on pure geography (and create 2 wealthy schools and one poor school). That's it -- and I think the first choice is BETTER for ALL kids than the second.

2. You closed Marks Meadow and that was a stupid decision.

I certainly know there are people who feel this way--and I imagine will always feel this way. I continue to believe it was the right decision for many reasons. We have under 1300 kids in our district K to 6, and those kids can absolutely fit in three schools (with very reasonable class sizes and plenty of classrooms). This is a more cost-effective way to run our schools, which then lets us spend our limited education dollars in the best way possible (e.g., on intervention support, on music/arts, etc.). As I wrote probably 100 times last year, if we kept MM open, we would have lost a lot of other things ... and I think all the children would have experienced a reduced quality of education. This decision is done, and it really isn't going to be undone, or delayed by a year (so we can spend the next 18 months debating drawing lines and equity while cutting other programs/taking money out of reserves to pay for it and while NOT having the superintendent and SC and central office focus on things that really matter in terms of education -- like teaching, curriculum, instruction, etc.). This isn't going to get easier or simpler over time -- it is just going to impact different kids in different ways.

3. You are stopping the language/cultural clusters (e.g., Cambodian program at Fort River, Spanish program at Crocker Farm).

The decision to end these programs is highly controversial because some teachers/staff families felt these are very important programs. However, this is (a) NOT a School Committee decision, and (b) a decision that would be made REGARDLESS of whether redistricting occurred. The administration, in consultation with our lawyer and after a careful reading of state and federal regulations, has determined that it is not possible to continue these programs (nor are these programs occurring in other districts in Massachusetts). I know this is hard for some teachers/staff/families, but this actually has nothing to do with redistricting nor is the SC able to create a policy that violates state/federal law. Given this decision, I would hope teachers/staff/parents can now turn to discussing what we COULD do legally to support these kids/families in various ways.

4. You should adopt a Spanish immersion program at Crocker Farm.

This is a very creative idea ... but one that is messy for MANY reasons. First, you can't legally require someone to go to a Spanish-English immersion program -- you can legally create it as a CHOICE, but you can't require it. So, in order to do this, we'd have to divide the district into entirely into two districts (e.g., North/South) -- meaning we would be putting 640 kids in each of the other two schools as their "base school". Second, you'd have to make sure you attract at least 300 kids who would WANT to go an immersion school ... and those kids would have to be equally distributed (at least roughly) across grades. It isn't clear at all whether the demand in Amherst would be high enough to say that close to 1/3 of our population would CHOOSE this as an option, and if only 100 or 200 chose that option, the other schools would be DRAMATICALLY over-crowded. Third, you'd increase costs dramatically -- for example, you'd have to provide busing for all kids, so since kids across town could choose the immersion option, you'd be running two buses into ALL parts of town. You'd also have to hire teachers at all grade levels who are bilingual ... and yet teachers who have professional status in our district are still assured jobs in our district, so it would increase our budget potentially dramatically. Fourth, and finally, you really are providing a very different experience for kids in different schools, and I think that works against what should be the goal of the district to provide an enriching, challenging, and equitable education for all kids. I'd much prefer to see a plan that has kids in neighborhood schools yet with all schools having some world language exposure K to 6.

5. You are stranding groups of kids (East Leverett kids who now go to MM and should go to WW, Southeast Street kids who now go to FR and should stay there instead of going to CF, Blue Hills/Dana/Lincoln kids who now go to WW and should stay there instead of going to CF).

This is the major challenge of redistricting ... how to move kids to different schools in as fair a way as possible. So, we "solved" the E. Leverett Road issue by moving those kids all to WW (taking care of one of the three groups) and by moving kids in the Boulders to FR (making the island all going to one school instead of two, so at least kids in apartments are traveling togther). Now, that decision has created other issues -- specifically, Fort River is now at 40% low income kids, which is a higher percent than the old map (when it was 36%), and Wildwood is only 30% low income kids, so we now have a 9% divide in terms of equity (in the only map, the range was 3%, with FR at 36%, WW at 35%, and CF at 33%). In addition, it means we are really treating the MM kids differently (e.g., they are now ALL going to the same school) than we are treating other "stranded" clusters (e.g., those leaving FR and WW). That is a tough call, and I'm still not sure which way is "right." The other two clusters, however, are MUCH harder to solve because each of those clusters wants to get out of CF, and there are two issues: first, FR and WW are both at capacity right now (meaning to get those kids who are stranded into those schools means you have to get other kids out of those schools -- and it isn't obvious how you do that in a good way), and second, both of those areas in town consist largely of non-FRL kids, so moving those kids out of CF to the other schools means that CF increases in the % of kids on FRL and the other two schools decrease.

Here's an example: the island that is now going to Fort River (Mill Valley, Hollister, Bounders) could ALL go to CF (it is about 70 kids). Then you get rid of the island, which is good. Then you have to move 70 kids out of CF to the other schools. So, you move the Amity/Route 9 corridor (about 30 kids) to WW, but then need to move 30 kids out of WW (so you move the MM kids who now live off of East Leverett Road BACK to Fort River). You also then move the Southeast Street kids back to FR from CF. That then solves 3 problems -- you get rid of the islands (they ALL go to CF), you make the Amity/Route 9 people happy (they go back to WW), and you make the Southeast Street people happy (they go back to FR). HOWEVER, in this plan you (a) continue to divide MM into two schools (the East Leverett Road kids stay at FR) and (b) have a poor school and two wealthy schools (CF is probably over 50% and the other two schools are at 25% or so). Does that feel better? I'm not sure -- probably is better individually for many kids (except the MM kids), but probably is worse (in my opinion) for the overall greater good, which I continue to believe is to have three equitable schools. But that is precisely the type of struggle that we are in. Thoughts are welcome on solutions -- but they can't be just "move my kids back" -- they have to be accompanied by "who do we move out to do that!"

6. Your plan is especially mean to the 5th graders, who will have to go to four schools in five years.

I have two thoughts on this tough issue. First, this is true for ALL of the MM 5th graders, and there is nothing we can do about it. So, this is what happens when you close a school, and is it fair to allow non-MM 5th graders to return to "their" schools when MM kids can't? Second, if we allow all (except MM) 5th graders to return to "their" school, we really have to provide transportation (or else it is just an option for wealthier kids or those with parents who have flexible schedules). That is a real cost to the district to run extra buses/vans just to pick up those kids, and it also introduces for families the issue of having kids at different schools (e.g., we are NOT going to grandfather 5th graders and their 2nd grade siblings). So, is this do-able? Perhaps, but at what cost? I think that is the key question (to me, messing with the equity for one year just isn't a big deal, since this is a small number of kids overall and wouldn't have a major impact).

7. Your plan is mean/discriminatory to kids who live in the apartments off of East Hadley Road.

Three more thoughts here! First, there are kids from ALL over town moving to new schools. Some of the kids are low income, and some are not. We are 100% not just moving low income kids to new schools: all of the MM are moving to new schools, a group of FR kids are moving to new schools (mostly those on Southeast Street, but also in some other areas around Cushman Village and the end of East Pleasant), and a group of WW kids are moving to new schools (those between Amity/Route 9 on Lincoln/Blue Hills, those in the houses off of East Hadley Road). Second, kids in the apartments off of East Hadley Road are ALREADY going to different schools: some go to CF, some go to WW, some go to FR. There have been NO complaints about this from anyone since I've been on SC. Third, I think it is mean/discriminatory to low income kids for us to say, as a community, that we are comfortable having a "low income" school. I think the research is quite clear that this is not helpful to achievement in kids, and I think as a community, we shouldn't be comfortable clustering kids that way.

Those again are all my thoughts on the redistricting process. It isn't easy for anyone, including the five of us on SC who are going to have to vote for/against something, knowing we are going to make some people unhappy. I've talked to SC members in other districts that have done a redistricting, and it is NEVER easy (that is why in many communities in which a school closes, they just distribute those kids to the other schools in town, instead of redistricting the whole town ... which sure sounds easier to me than what we are doing). I am continuing to read and respond to all emails I get on this topic, and we continue to get a lot of email from parents -- again, you can reach the entire SC by sending an email to: Let me just say one thing -- if you LIKE the plan, you could also let us know that! Most people who come to public forums or write letters to the SC (or the paper) are unhappy with some aspect, and thus are complaining in hopes we will change it. But I believe there are actually many people in town who think this plan is a good one, and like it, but just aren't bothering to let us know. We would be glad to have those emails as well (and we are getting some, but I don't think we are getting anywhere near a sense of the feeling from most).


Rick said...

EXCELLENT POST! You nailed it. Thank you so much for this detailed explanation.

Abbie said...

I live on Dana street and I 100% support the redistricting plan. My daughter will have to move from WW to CF. I cannot bring myself to advocate against the move since I believe its the right thing to do. I could make up all kinds of excuses why its hard(er) on her than some other kid (only child, few kids in the neighborhood, good friends at WW, etc), but I can't do it. If she didn't move then some other kid would have to be moved from WW in her place. How could I possibly justify that its more important for her to stay than this other hypothetical child? Maybe my refusal makes me a bad mom?

Some kids have to move to accommodate the move of MM kids into WW and to make the schools more equitable. We drew the short straw this time. That's life...

My first visit to CF was last night. I only saw the cafeteria, but, boy, what a cafeteria!!! I am hopeful...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rick. Excellent post. Thank you, Catherine, for taking the time to write all that out.

I must say, though, that I have a real problem with a 10% point discrepancy of FRL between Wildwood and FR. It does not feel right. Why is 40% FRL all of a sudden ok? Why is a 10% gap all of a sudden ok? What happened to 33%, 33%, 33%, with maybe a +/- 2 or 3% for all schools? It does not feel like you are fixing the problem - it seems like you are just moving the problem from CF to FR. These percentages are no where near close to equity. I don't know what you can do about it but as a future FR parent I am not at all happy about it.

I do think its important to redistrict to create equity. But with this latest map, I think you are moving alot of kids around and creating alot of anguish and upset and at the same time, not achieving the goal of equity.

Now that FR is going to have the highest %, by far, of FRL I sure hope you are going to move Building Blocks out and on to another school. How much can FR take and still provide a good education for the majority of students who don't need extra support or don't have difficult emotional issues?

Don't get me wrong - I do not think CF should remain at 50% FRL. AND neither should FR move to 40% FRL. I think these maps need more tweaking.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the 5th graders, all of MM will be placed together. So, if MM is more than a building and surely it is. Moving as a community will be the next best thing to not moving at all. How would it hurt to allow other 5th graders more flexibility to remain with their friends or at their schools? Allowing them to open enroll certainly does favor families with the flexibility to drive their kids to school but perhaps some outreach could be done to see whether there are other cost-effective ways for 5thgraders who wish to stay at their school to do so. For example, some kids might live close enough to a bus stop for their desired school that they could walk to.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that many parents who are moving from Wildwood to Crocker Farm are afraid to say this outright, but they are afraid of Crocker Farm because it has had the reputation of a poor performing school. I used to be one of those parents. Intellectually I knew that the redistricting was trying to correct the problem of an under performing school, but I couldn't let go of my fears. I now believe it's time to shed that fear, and take this on with all the positive energy I can as an example to my child. The sooner we come together as a new community at Crocker Farm the better we can make this thing.

Lastly, the School Committee should stand behind their decisions and stop tweaking the map. The more you tweak the more it begins to look like the old gerrymandered map it was.

Mom of wildwood child

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - thanks for the nice thought! I just felt there were some recurring issues, and it would be good to just address them all together.

Abbie - thanks for the very thoughtful post. The reality is that given the proximity of MM to WW, closing MM was going to impact WW more than the other schools, and it is obviously most logical to move the kids from WW who live the closest to CF. I believe all kids who move from WW will go to CF together (am I wrong on this?), and that means a pretty sizeable group of WW kids will travel together -- I believe 150ish kids (including about 33 around Blue Hills/Dana/Lincoln plus all the kids living across from Amherst College on the streets off of 116 such as Snell/Hitchcock/Woodside, plus a bunch of kids in the houses off of East Hadley Road). That will give these kids a sizeable group of kids AND they will frankly make up half of CF!

And in terms of CF -- it is a beautiful school (I think it won a design award or something). The library is lovely (at the end of the hall past the cafeteria), the cafeteria (with the stage!) is great, and the classrooms are very nice and enclosed. I believe the WW families who move will be VERY happy (and the FR families who move)! In addition, the kids who move will be the kids with the most friends in MS -- your daughter will know a ton of kids from WW and CF!

Anonymous (3:49) - I agree that we are doing good work ... and that we may not yet be done ... I think the different iterations of the map show that when one thing changes, it impacts something else (e.g., eliminating the two islands and making it one island and keeping all the MM kids together leads FR to really reach the limit we'd like to have in terms of FRL). We have heard some concerns about this, and I agree we need to think about the pros/cons of this plan (e.g., is it better to have the original version of the map which had equity within 2 or 3% instead of 9%). I believe some more tweaking may happen ... and I believe the SC will ultimately will have to make some tough choices about weighin all of these different factors. I certainly agree that all things being equal, it would be better to get closer than a 9% spread ... I'd prefer something around 5 to 7%, if that were possible.

Anonymous 4:43 - I think we will need to see how many kids are effected that are in 5th grade. The MM kids do all travel as a group -- but they travel as a group to WW, and if WW is also "losing" about 150 kids, that may be as many as 20 5th graders at that school. Would it be possible to have an extra class of 5th graders at WW for one year? Would it be possible to not allow busing? These are important questions ... and ones I think the redistricting subcommittee is pondering.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Mom of Wildwood child - thank you for your very wise post -- and I do agree this is part of the issue. It is frankly one of the reasons we need to redistrict, and that we should redistrict by equity ... because there shouldn't be a school in Amherst that is seen as poor performing (and that is what some FR parents are now concerned about, with FR going to close to 40% FRL in the new map). I agree that the redistricting will lead CF to be a high performing school, like the other two schools will be, and I'm so glad to hear about the positive energy you have towards this plan! I know the CF principal personally (he was a student of mine at Amherst College and was a teacher at FR where my kids go for several years), and he's excellent, and the building is beautiful, and I hear the teachers are just great (again, some WW teachers will probably move to CF, as some MM teachers probably move to WW, I'd imagine). I hope you can spread your positive energy and thoughts not only to your child, but to other parents and other children. The redistricting can really be a win/win for our entire community, and I'm excited as a parent and a resident of Amherst to think about how great it would be to live in a community with three excellent elementary schools!

Now, in terms of the tweaking ... we are going to live with the new map for a long time, and it is going to have an impact on real kids' lives ... so I think it is OK to take a bit more time and see how some tweaks impact different groups of kids and the balance of the different schools. I think we are close ... and I believe we will be able to vote on a map on the 27th of October that many people in town will feel good about (again, following natural borders, spreading low income kids across schools, balancing school size/capacity).

Anonymous said...

Option: Allow open enrollment for 5th graders with NO buses for out-of-district transportation. Modulars, anyone?

It sounds like part of the problem is that there are many groups that want to go to WW (and that is the only school in danger of reaching capacity): so what about the modulars to accomodate the 5th graders for 1 year (extra 20 kids, fifth grade class coming from MM). Or just use that extra classroom at WW for the one year (I believe in a previous post you mentioned that there would be one extra free classroom at WW). And let the 5th graders at every school have open enrollment for that year only. And don't provide buses so it's not a financial strain (all news points to worsening finances in the future). People can carpool, especially given that 5th graders will be attending their old schools by neighborhood.

The sixth grade is such a big deal at every school, and each school has very specific traditions and trips. So why not allow these kids who've spent a lifetime (in their eyes) with their schoolmates to finish up their sixth grade in the manner that they've been expecting and hearing about from their siblings/older friends?

Anonymous said...


Please note that Crocker Farm is not the only school that is struggling to help students in certain sub-groups experience success on MCAS. Throughout the the past two years both Fort River and Wildwood have not met adequately yearly progress in either ELA or Math because of their sub-groups. In both these schools, special education, limited English Proficiency, low income, African-American-Black and Hispanic students have also not experienced the success they should on MCAS.

I also need to point out that while I believe MCAS has certain merits, I hope that the leaders of this school district avoid using thos standardized test as the only data that they look at when they consider which schools are successful in this community.

Although Crocker Farm has not experienced the success it should on MCAS I am sure that it has been successful in a number of other areas. I hope that our school leaders are sophisticated enough to realize that although MCAS data does matter, improving our schools involve much more than that.

In the end, I hope that in the future our school committee will move towards focusing more helping teachers to help all of the students in this community to become successful learners.

Anonymous said...

Is there another elected official in America who has gone to such great lengths to explain her thought process to her constituents?

I also appreciate the sporting attitude of Abbie, who happens to be one of our stalwart Town Meeting members.

I say, take heart. My daughter, now a junior, spent first through sixth grade at CF in the years 1999-2005, after two Montessori School years, and she absolutely loved it there. She has tested well during and since her years at CF. She considered herself over-prepared by CF for Middle School, to the point that she was frustrated with the pace there in 7th grade. In addition, my wife was on the CF Building Committee earlier in this decade which renovated and expanded the school. The library and pre-school/kindergarten are brand new spaces. It's the most up-to-date school physically in town. She's proud of the work she did on that committee.

I don't know what has happened to CF since 2005, but I don't see how it could have gone terminally wrong in four short years. I suspect that schools go through phases. There's a lot to work with (including the families of South Amherst)to get this school back on track. We are dealing just a little bit with The Fear of the Unknown in this latest controversy.

Rich Morse

Tom G said...

moving kids in the Boulders to FR (making the island all going to one school instead of two, so at least kids in apartments are traveling together).

This really is an excellent improvement. Moreover, it demonstrates that the SC is a learning organization that takes and acts of feedback.

Tom G said...

6. Your plan is especially mean to the 5th graders, who will have to go to four schools in five years.

There is a benefit for kids transitioning to a new school in 6th as well as 7th grade. These students will have the opportunity to know up to 2/3rds rather than only 1/3 of the students in their grade, thus easing the adjustment into middle school.

Tom G said...

It apears to me that FR is (39.8%-33.3%) 6.5% "over-weighted" with FRL, within your 5-7% margin.

CF is 33%. WW at 30.9% is the school that would be affected to make a change.

The redistricting has been done to re-assign MM kids together and in a way that accomplishes school equity while minimizing the numbers of re-assigned students, and minimizing district islands.

I think you're pretty close to done, according to those objectives, imo.

I am so impressed with the positive attitudes of parents whose kids were at WW and will be going to CF to embrace this change and make it a great one for their kids. That is leadership.

I have no doubt they will follow through and their support will make it so. I don't underestimate the value of the engaged parents in our school system.

JM said...

Here's an easy tweak: give 5th graders slated to move to a new school the option of staying with their current school. There probably aren't that many kids that fall into this category and it would be easy for school buses going to their original school to add a street or two and pick them up. This would only happen for 9 months and give these kids a chance to graduate with the 60 or so kids they've been in school with for years.

I live on SE East Street and the bus that runs down Stanley Street could easily pick up the two 5th graders on Valley View, turn around on the cul de sac and get them to Fort River with their 75 or so classmates. It would add 5 minutes to a bus that is never full. I bet this could be done on other routes at little or no additional cost. Otherwise, these two go to a school where they know only each other. The sixth grade is a big year at Fort River, with a car wash, camping trip, dance, ceremony.

My kids won't be affected by the reorganization but I can see how this will be particularly hard on these few 5th graders -- and could easily be fixed by adding a few streets to some buses. There wouldn't be a legal problem with this since it would apply to all 5th graders currently mapped to move schools.

Anonymous said...

"With you by my side
This world can't keep us down
Together we can make it baby
From the poor side of town

Do-doo-doo-wah shoo-be-doo-be"

Johnny Rivers singing about redistricting

Anonymous said...

Why does all of MM need to be moved to WW? someone pointed out that WW and FR are very close together. The extra distance for MM students to go to FR is less than the apt. islands have to go to FR, so the bus ride shouldn't be an argument. Then could fewer WW families be moved? It is good to hear from people like Abbie who specifically say that they are happy wtih a move, but it is ridiculous to speculate that others don't wish to move because they think that CF is a lesser school (anonymous mom of ww child). You simply don't know how many think that and it seems ridiculous to use gossip/hearsay as part of the justification for why redistricting is being done. It's being done for the good of the kids, right? It is reasonable that the people who are moving (ww) are more upset than those who aren't (FR) and it really doesn't mean much if people who don't feel burdened say that they wouldn't mind moving if they had to. Can another map or maps be drawn so that people can see what other alternatives actually look like?

Meg Rosa said...

Catherine, I really appreciate you taking the time to write this detailed post. It should help answer a lot of questions and concerns people may have.

The 5th grade question is a hard one for many families. This almost fell on the 4th graders if 6th grade was going to move up to the MS. Regardless of anything, all 25 5th graders at MM have no choice but to go to a new school next year. The idea of moving the portables to accommodate some 5th graders at one school, is an extremely expensive idea!!!! Honestly , I have more concern for Kindergartners who have just gone through a preschool transition, are now in kindergarten and all will again, be in *NEW* schools next year. They are much younger and could have a much harder time with this.

I currently have a 7th grader. He has made a lot of new friends very quickly in the MS. He is very happy in the MS. For many reason I was very worried about this transition for him, but he has defied my expectations and has flourished with his new school.

I am telling you all this because kids are amazing!!! They are kids. Kids make friends pretty easily!!! Think about how they go off in the summer and go to camp for 2 weeks. They may not know any other kids there, but they make friends probably on the first day. So many of these kids already know each other from sports, church, boy/girl scouts, playgrounds, camps, etc. These kids may be shy for a few days, but most kids will make new friends right away!

All elementary kids are going to *NEW* schools next year. No school will be the same it is now. No school will have all the same teachers it has now. It will be new for everyone and I am sure everyone will work really hard to make sure all kids are taken care of!

This is really hard work the committee is doing. I am not sure where they are in budget talks at the elementary level yet, but the Regional Principal is already planning a budget meeting next week. So, they are taking a lot of time working hard to make sure this new plan works for all families in the town, and there is still a lot of other work that needs to be done too.

I will also say that I am one of the MM parents who was very upset about the kids on Leverett and East Leverett Rds being split up from the rest of the MM kids. I spoke first about this last Spring at the WW forum about MM closing, then again at the first Redistricting forum at MM last week, then again, on here. I was really upset that ONLY 20 kids from MM were to be separated from the rest, and sent to FR. It was not about those kids going to FR instead of WW. It was not about making sure all MM kids went together. I was only asking for MORE MM kids to go together, either by all going to WW OR by more going to FR. The Redistricting Committee listened to this and acted upon it, which I am extremely grateful for.

This decision on their part made it possible to have more of the East Hadley Rd apartments going to the same school, which looks better than what that area has now. There are so many issues with how that is all set up, it is hard to even know where to start. I was playing around with the map last night and looking to see if that whole area of East Hadley Rd could go to WW (based on the need for more space) then that pushes more kids to FR from WW and then FR kids to CF. This looks like it would make the percentages completely out of whack.

It is hard to look at this puzzle and fit all the pieces into the correct spots. I am so thankful that we have a great team of hard working people doing this for us. They really are listening to people's needs. They are trying to make this work for everyone. Short of building new schools, new neighborhoods and completely starting from scratch, it will be a big challenge to accommodate everyone's needs and desires, but they are trying.

ESB said...

Yes, it is better to have the original version of the map which had equity within 2 or 3% instead of 9%. After all of the thought and care that has gone into this process of trying to achieve equity ,a 9% spread seems totally unacceptable. More tweaking needs to be done.

Tracy said...

Glad to see that the map was changed between the 1st public hearing and the 2nd one, to adddress some of the concerns raised at last week's hearing. However, I am curious about who (SC? staff?) made the decision to change the map in that quick time frame and how. Were meetings held? (and if so, was the public invited?). Are any other public meetings planned before the vote at the next SC meeting on Oct 27th?

Thanks, and thanks for your informative post today discussing the redistricting.

Anonymous said...

I FULLY support the redistricting effort/map. I am a Crocker Farm parent and have felt for years that Crocker was staffed and designed to meet (almost exclusively) the emotional and academic needs of the ESL and "struggling" students. The sheltered English Language program makes class instruction extremely remedial. We've been asking for change from individual teachers and administrators but it (i.e. actual differentiated instruction and increased academic challenge) never happened. This new plan may/will bring the change (and challenge) my child needs. We're excited. Thank you for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Funny how this blog is the only place I ever hear support for SC decisions.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad the CF parent is excited at the prospect of next year with less struggling children in their school. This FR parent, on the other hand, is much less than excited. I am very worried. The CF problem has just been transferred to FR. The very reasons that make you excited are making me run for the private school applications.

Congratulations, SC - you've managed to create turmoil in Amherst and fix exactly nothing at the same time. 39%, 33% 31% FRL. What is wrong with this picture? Can I open-enroll my child to CF next year?

Tom G said...

Congratulations, SC - you've managed to create turmoil in Amherst and fix exactly nothing at the same time. 39%, 33% 31% FRL. What is wrong with this picture? Can I open-enroll my child to CF next year?

Personalizing your discontent is rude. Catherine Sanderson is on the SC but not on the re-redistricting subcommittee. The work she is doing here in her blog is to take feedback to the sub-committee and to explain the objectives and trade-offs of the redistricting plan to people who want to read her blog. You are being a dick and I am calling you on it. Be constructive, you'll get farther.

On another note, it would benefit the discussion if each anonymous would select a pseudonym at least for the duration of the thread. That way one's anonymous person's sarcasm, insult or unnecessary personalized dig is not unfairly attributed to others.

Tom G said...

The very reasons that make you excited are making me run for the private school applications.

If that's meant to be a threat, I don't see it giving anyone pause. It is always your choice to pursue private education opportunities. Try Eaglebrook I know the headmaster, he's excellent.

Anonymous said...

At this point, any further tweaks in the map (including the current tweaks) will just result in one or another group getting upset. But the bonus will be that the SC will be viewed as responsive.

Here's a list of some of the disgruntled (with one version of the map or the other).

1) MM kids on Leverett Road
2) 5th graders
3) Blue Hills group
4) Spanish speaking community in CF
5) "Islanders"
6) FR dissatisfied with 40% FRL
7) IEP advocates
8) Building Blocks opponents
9) Cambodian advocates
8) those who don't get their wish to delay (and extend this debate) for one more year.
9) MM people who still think there's a chance to reconsider the decision to close MM.
10) People moving to CF if FRL is close to 40%
11) ELL kids clustered/bussed by language
12) Equity folks (which is different than specific protest against 40% FRL in MY school)
13) Anti-equity folks
14) Have I left anyone else out?

My guess is that most people are OK with any of the decisions.. until it affects them directly. As a parent of kids in WW not being redistricted in any map - almost none of this directly affects my kids except losing some of their friends and gaining new ones(which will happen to EVERYONE). So honestly, I will say that I support both maps equally (I see pluses and minuses in both)- and all new versions, until something specifically affects my kids (like 40% FRL or Building Blocks at WW) but I don't see those scenarios as likely.

What I am really saying is that there will always be people unhappy with the final decision. But the best you can do is to make the thought process transparent, which is what you are doing.

The final step I need to see in this transparent process is the way the SC will weigh different group's opinions. So which group gets what they want? Will it be based on how vocal the group is, how large it is, how much publicity they can generate, their expertise at articulating their sob story, how poor they are, how much they claim to be at risk, how much community support they can garner? For example, will the Blue Hills group get special consideration because they are organized enough to get a well-written letter into the newspaper? Is this something all the special interest groups should be doing?

Anonymous said...

What exactly does the % "Struggling" in the map captions refer to? (This % has a much narrower range for the three schools than the % FRLP does.)

Anonymous said...

Tom G - there was no personalized dig on Catherine Sanderson at all. I did not even mention her was a complaint about the SC, which with this latest map is not accomplishing true equity in redistricting. I for one admire Catherine and the work she does here and on the committee. Please don't read words in my blog posting that were not there.

And I do not think the new map works to create equity - it just shuffles the inequity to a new school. How can that be good?

Choosing a private school is not a threat - just who should be threatened by one parent or even a group of parents choosing private school? It is a comment to reflect the depth of my worry and concern.

I do think the SC should really think long and hard about the large gaps the latest map has in it. Otherwise they will just be moving the underperforming school problem from one school to another.

On another note - I also would like to know what the "Struggling" statistics mean. They, as another pointed out, do seem to be much closer percentage-wise in all three school.

And finally, Tom G - I was not the rude one who called a poster a crass name.

Thank you Catherine for the way above the call of duty way you have approached this re-districting discussion. This blog has been very helpful and you and the rest of the SC have done a great job so far. I just think perhaps some additional thought should go into this. It may be that the SC can't do anything about the wide discrepancy but I hope it will at least look at it one more time.

Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read the concerns of a worried parent.

Anon 12:01.

Rick said...

Related to “What exactly does the % "Struggling" in the map captions refer to?” there was a good presentation at the October 13. SC meeting, which is now posted here:

In that report, there were 214 kids in grades 3-6 (which was said to be around 1/3 of the total) that are struggling based on MCAS score and other measures.

• “Students in grades 4-6, scoring 240 or below in the MCAS were identified. A Student Success Plan (SSP) was completed for each of these students.

• 214 students were identified.”

They were all invited to attend a remedial after school program that ARPS is calling Achievement Academy.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:05 - I think 6th grade is a big deal year at all the schools, so I agree that we need to think about this group extremely carefully. But there are different situations here -- my estimate is that 125ish WW students will go together to CF. They will make up at least 1/3 of the school, maybe more, and hence I think the WW 6th grade events may well occur at CF (and that should in fact be something the SC and parent groups facilitate). Similarly, the entire 6th grade at MM will be at WW, so the WW celebration should include some MM traditions/events. That then leaves two groups of kids -- those now at FR and now at CF who won't be there next year. That seems like the group most impacted, and I don't know how many it is (can't be many 6th graders at FR, may be more at CF although that school is a lot smaller, so it also may not be them).

The modulars are out -- we can't move them (cost of $140,000) for one year.

Anonymous 6:24 - I certainly don't think it is all about the MCAS, and clearly other schools have also had struggles. HOWEVER, CF is in a different category of trouble (and for a longer time) then the other schools, and that has consequences in terms of the state (e.g., mandating the open enrollment option and free transportation to another school for kids at CF!). In addition, CF has had smaller classes sizes and more resources and STILL is having this issue (unlike the other schools). I think a lot of good is occurring at CF. I also think the school is struggling more than it should, and the solutions we've tried aren't working, so it is highly reasonable (even overdue) to try something else.

Rich - thanks for the nice words about me ... and I share your feelings about Abbie. I agree that there is much good about CF, and the building is fabulous. I think parents are concerned about change in general (all parents), and I think that is magnified when people are going to a new school that has historically been lower achieving then other schools. Of course, redistricting means we believe all of our schools will be high achieving, and I know the superintendent and all the SC members are committed to making this happen.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Tom G (7:02) - I do think having one island is better than two islands. It means these kids will travel with more friends, and hopefully that will be useful.

Tom G (7:09) - I agree that the kids who move will have a great MS transition! They will know many more kids in town than those who stay at their old schools.

Tom G (7:26) - I agree that Fort River is (in the most recent version) over-weighted in terms of low income kids ... we had a plan that had a 3 point gap (32 at CF to 35 at WW) with the two islands and splitting MM, and now we have solved those two problems and have a 9% gap. That is something the SC will have to weigh in making a decision on a final map. More tweaking should be done to see if that gap can get closer. I believe that 34% of kids in Amherst are on FRL. If we can get +/- 3% points of that on either side, that would be great -- a range from 31 to 37%. I'm going to push for this. However, the bulk of the lower income kids live in the South of Amherst ... so since WW is the northern most school, they are likely to have the least number of kids on FRL UNLESS we (a) bus a pretty big chunk of MM kids on a longer trip to FR or CF, or (b) bus kids from South Amherst to WW (dividing the island into two colors and also taking some more kids out of WW, such as the MM kids). Neither of these options seems great to me, so I do believe it is likely WW will just have fewer FRL kids than the other two.

JM - I agree that it will be hard for 5th graders, though as I point out earlier, I think that is largely those who are more "alone" in being moved (e.g., those now at FR and CF who are being moved will be much more impacted than those at WW and MM). Once the lines are drawn, the SC can consider what kinds of assistance could be given to the 5th grade. I don't think a final decision on this has been made.

Tom G said...

Anon 12:01, You are right and I was wrong. I'm very sorry that I made such the mistake.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 8:43 - thank you for adding the humor!

Anonymous 8:55 - another map was drawn and presented on Wednesday night. This map made many, many changes: divided up MM between two different schools (WW and FR), split the Amherst Woods neighborhood between two schools (FR and CF), kept the downtown kids all together, split the Grantwood neighborhood off from WW and sent those kids to FR, and STILL had islands (these islands sent kids to WW instead of FR). Based on the criteria stated initially, this map violated many principles (didn't use natural boundaries, didn't keep neighborhoods together, increased transportation costs, etc.) and thus was not recommended by the central office. Other maps have been drawn and attempted ... but ultimately, if the maps lack islands, then you lose equity. We can decide equity just doesn't matter, but it seems clear that it does (e.g., now FR parents are upset that their school would be at 40% low income, which is still much below what CF is right now!).

Meg - thank you for your very thoughtful and positive comments ... I agree that kids will be all right, and that we can see this as a good and exciting thing in our community. I'm so glad your son has enjoyed the MS!

In terms of other options ... the reality is that if you want to create equity, you have to divide up the apartment kids off of East Hadley Road. It you don't want to keep equity, then of course you keep all these kids at CF. If you move all the kids off of East Hadley Road to WW, then you have to move many kids out of WW (including most of the MM kids, who would go to FR, and some kids who now go to WW would go to CF -- thus passing the East Hadley Road kids going in the OTHER direction on the bus, so that all kids are on the bus longer!). So, you can do it, but it is still a mess in terms of who is going where, lots of kids are on the bus much longer ... and you STILL have islands!

ESB - I agree that 9% is too much ... I am hoping we can get to 5 to 7% ... with a bit more tweaking.

Tracy - the central office staff is working on new maps (in response to what occurs at the public forums), and then the SC receives what they have done a few hours before the forums (like 1 pm on Wednesday). Ultimately, they are drawing the maps, and then the SC is going to have to vote on one of the possible map options. I believe it is distinctly likely that there will be a meeting scheduled sometime next week for the SC to discuss the maps PRIOR to the vote on the 27th, since we haven't had a chance to do that at the public forums (which are for the public to talk, not us). If such a meeting gets scheduled, it will be announced on the ARPS website and through a Connect Ed call, and of course on my blog!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 11:13 - thanks for the positive comments! I do think the opponents of the plan have been very vocal, but there are many parents who are pleased (and/or at least recognize that these changes are for the greater good).

Anonymous 11:38 - we do actually get emails privately saying that there is support for this work ... but I think, like with the MM closing, it is much easier to criticize the plan than praise it in public (given that praise for the plan may leads to attacks, like the SC is getting, from those who are opposed to it).

Anonymous 12:01 - I'm a Fort River parent ... will have a 1st grader and a 4th grader there next year. I agree that 40% is too high, and I'm pushing for more tweaking. However, the concern about the 40% from FR parents should be a good reminder to us all about why equity is important -- because that number feels "too high" yet that is far below what CF has been for years. We are trying to get a closer spread (again, 5 to 7%, not 9%), and I hope that can happen. If it doesn't with more tweaking, the SC would obviously have the option to vote for the "old map" that creates two islands and isolates some of the MM kids at FR. Again, this is a work in progress, and anyone who thinks a particular map is a "done deal" is just wrong!

Anonymous said...

"However, the concern about the 40% from FR parents should be a good reminder to us all about why equity is important -- because that number feels "too high" yet that is far below what CF has been for years. "

Anon 12:01 here

Catherine - I was thinking about that very thing this morning. I know I never gave the high number of FRL at CF even a passing thought, and I feel badly about that. We as a town should have done something about the situation at CF long ago. I understand why we didn't - look how hard this re-districting process has been. But the numbers should not have been allowed to get so out of whack and I hope that the SC in the future will monitor these numbers and redistrict again sooner rather than later when and if the time comes.

Equity is important - for all of us. Closing MM was the right decision and re-districting is also the right thing to do. I think the SC has shown alot of courage and leadership in tackling both of these very hard tasks back to back because they are both the right thing to do. Not everyone will be happy (I might even be one of the unhappy ones) but it is in the best interests of all Amherst elementary students to close MM and redistrict. I support the SC in both decisions.

Caren Rotello said...

You asked supporters of the redistricting plan to speak up. Please add my name to the list. I do not think the most recent map is the best of those that have been proposed, because it does not achieve the primary goal of equity (it takes only a baby step in that direction, in my view). But redistricting is essential, and the equity goal is a good one that should have a much higher priority than keeping "communities" (however defined) together.

I say this as a parent whose kid will move from WW to CF, thus leaving behind his "community" of friends north of Amity.

I also want to thank you -- again! -- for all the hard work you've done for the SC, and for keeping the public informed. You are doing the right thing.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

And STILL more from me:

Tom G (12:27 and 12:33) - thanks for the defense of me ... but I do think Anon 12:01 was just voicing the fear about the 9% inequity in the new map ... that I'm hearing from many. I didn't take it personally (plus I have REALLY thick skin now!). LOVE your idea about people making up some kind of name for their posts so we can track the conversation!

Anonymous 1:19 - I think you make a good point that not everyone is going to be happy, and that there is a fine line between the SC being responsive and the SC just listening to the squeaky wheel (of course, if we just did that, MM stays open). HOWEVER, I do think we need to hear and understand the concerns of all groups, and (a) try to solve as many of the concerns as we can (knowing we can NOT solve them all), and (b) prioritize, to the best of our ability, plans which lead to the overall goal of creating three excellent and equitable schools. So, you list a lot of groups, but really, I can categorize those very easily:

At this point, any further tweaks in the map (including the current tweaks) will just result in one or another group getting upset. But the bonus will be that the SC will be viewed as responsive.

-some are asking us to do something we legally can't, so they are going to get ignored (e.g., Spanish speaking CF community, Cambodian advocates, ELL cluster advocates), and

-some are asking us to do something that either isn't in our control (e.g., SC doesn't decide where the Building Blocks program is housed, or how kids with IEPs are handled), or that isn't going to happen since it won't solve anything and will just create/prolong the problem (delaying the vote for a year, reopening MM), so we are going to not worry about these groups.

Then there are five more issues:

1. Equity - we are going to create three equitable schools, so those who are opposed to this as a plan are going to be unhappy, and that is too bad (and that solves the group of people who are unhappy if FR is at 40% and/or then want to move to CF).

2. MM kids on East Leverett Road - this has been solved in the most recent version.

3. Blue Hills kids - I just don't see this as a problem ... these kids are going with 125ish OTHER WW kids, so they are not going alone at all! That is very different from small groups of 20 kids moving to a new school alone (Southeast Street kids, East Leverett Road kids in the old map). This is a non-issue for me.

4. Islands -- this is a problem that we have in our town, and we can't solve it AND create equity. The "old plan" had two islands (one going to FR, one going to WW) and equity was basically perfect. Now the new plan has one island, and WW is at 31% FRL and FR is at 40%. Is that better? Still islands ... but having one island means a 9% spread in equity, and having two islands means a 3% spread in equity. That is a tough call.

5. 5th graders - again, I've described earlier that I think different 5th graders are in different situations, depending on how many kids they are traveling with. I think we can ponder what to do here AFTER we set some decent boundaries.

One final thing: I believe the SC will deliberate in public, and that public opinion is NOT going to be the key thing. After all, we have NOT heard an outcry from the public demanding equitable schools, and yet that is our intention. We also certainly heard much more about keeping MM open than closing it, yet had a unanimous vote to close it. I do believe we are 5 thoughtful people who are trying to do right for all kids.

Joel said...

I'm a FR parent and the new map does concern me. What fascinates me, is that it doesn't seem to worry many of the MM or WW parents who post here and speak out at SC meetings. To me, a good number of the posts here, comments at SC meetings, and articles and letters to the Amherst Bulletin have been nothing more than naked self-interest wrapped up in a lot empty posturing about community and culture when they're really arguments about what's best for their kids even if it screws a lot of other kids.

Let me call out specifically Jim Oldham here. I don't know who I respect less, Jim or Noah Hoffenberg, the Bulletin editor. Yesterday's Oldham column in the Bulletin was filled with inanity, including him ignoring the crushing deficits our town faces and the fact that so many of the things he's calling for are either against the law (since when did self proclaimed progressives decide it's okay to ignore the Civil Rights Acts?) and against best practices (who in their right mind thinks you create bilingual children by segregating them by language?).

I listen to some folks in town discussing the Spanish immersion program and the Cambodian culture program and I hear George Wallace in 1963: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" I thought we were past that.

Here's what set me off, though: Nowhere in the op-ed did Oldham or Hoffenberg note that Oldham has an elementary school age child at WW who would have to change schools under one of the plans. Do I think it's wrong that Oldham argues against that? Not at all. He should look after his kid's best interests. Do I think it shows even a smidgen of integrity to make arguments on his kid's behalf without admitting that that's what's he's doing? Of course not.

And shame on Noah Hoffenberg for not pointing that out. That's the job of an editor or publisher.

My point is that there's tons of self interest in Amherst masquerading as compassion and progressive politics. My kids' school may be radically transformed by the new map and I'm worried for them and all the kids at FR.

I do hope the final map is as equitable as possible, because all our kids have the right to the best possible schools we can manage. So let's strip out all the empty talk of community and culture and compassion and admit that the goal is a rough equality. We should admit that real equality is probably impossible, but that doesn't mean we should ever stop working toward it, honestly and openly.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

And still more:

Anonymous 1:50 - this refers to kids who are having trouble on MCAS. We also want to make sure that the populations look roughly equally in terms of kids who made need academic support so that one school doesn't carry a disproportionate share of these students.

Anonymous 12:01/6:01 - I didn't take your comment as an insult to me and I agree that this map doesn't accomplish true equity -- I think it was presented to show that this is an alternative that we COULD select, and that eliminates two problems (and yes, then creates a greater spread than we might be comfortable having). I don't believe this is the final map ... and I believe that more tweaking to at least see what might be possible would be important so that the SC can ultimately weigh the pros/cons of all the options. S

Struggling describes kids who are having trouble on MCAS (warning/needs improvement), and yes, I think it is good to note that this figure is quite close even in the newest version of the map (because these kids will need extra academic assistance).

I'm glad you've found this blog helpful! I've certainly appreciated hearing the many thoughts (positive and negative) from the community.

Rick - thanks for helping provide info about the struggling definition!

Tom G (at 8:40) - thank you for your nice apology to Anonymous 12:01!

Anonymous 12:01/9:48 - thanks for your comments about the equity piece ... I do think it is very telling that people have complained that equity shouldn't be a goal, yet when one's own school is at 40%, it all of sudden seems like a really important goal! I agree that the disparity is unfair and should have been solved some time ago. I am glad you can recognize the merits of doing this and we are going to try to do better than 9%.

Caren - thank you also for your nice words of support -- of redistricting regarding equity, and for your positive attitude towards your own child's move to CF. I share your belief that we can and should do better than a 9% spread.

Anonymous said...

Joel: "So let's strip out all the empty talk of community and culture and compassion and admit that the goal is a rough equality."

Uh, no.

I became a resident of this town for the quality of awareness embodied and valued here with respect to issues of community, culture, and compassion. These are some of the qualities that make Amherst a unique place to live!

You seem to have a lot of complaints about this town. Are you a long-term resident? Why do you live here if you find us so self-serving? It couldn't be all that difficult to find a better fit.

Caren Rotello said...

I'd like to second Joel's suggestion (and Abbie's, too) that the focus here should be on creating equity, not on maintaining existing "communities." All a focus on community will do is maintain the status quo. It won't take long for new communities to form after redistricting -- there are good, friendly people all over town!

And to answer anon 11:03's inevitable question, no, I'm not new to town (though I'm not sure why that's relevant -- do we only get to voice opinions after a certain number of years in Amherst??).

Anonymous said...

I think that there are a number of principles at work here:

1) If you don't have the fortitude to sign your name to a blog post about significant town matters (and especially when you attack others), I think that your contributions have to be discounted.

2) To Mr. Oldham's credit, he's been willing to sign his name and take the flak for whatever he has to say. And I find him always interesting and provocative. But, when one has a personal stake in the outcome of a government decision (like a child who will be affected by a particular redistricting map), yet one fails to disclose that, then that's not playing it straight with the audience in making one's arguments.

So, although I might not adopt Mr. Wolfe's tone, I do agree with the thrust of his argument: we've been seeing self-interest cloaked in more high-minded rhetoric about principle and compassion.

And there's something almost organically Amherst about this controversy: it would have happened with the same ferocity no matter what the SC had decided. And the procedural arguments about the unfairness and insufficiency of the public process (a well that Mr. Oldham has drawn from over and over again from one flap to the next) would have ensued along with the substantive criticisms. So, for me, it's a little bit like the chirping of tree frogs: you're supposed to pay attention but after awhile it's just background noise. After some period of listening, inevitably alleged to be insufficient or even insincere, a decision still has to be made by the lucky elected ones.

This is basically about fear, and how people to react to it. And in these grievance-filled days of the 21st century, fear is generated by something as non-life-threatening as children changing school environments.

Rich Morse

lise said...

It sounds to me like this redistricting for equity is long overdue in Amherst. I would hope that we never again find ourselves with such inequity lasting for so many years.

I suggest that end of this painful and necessary process the SC plan a regularly scheduled review of district lines. Say every 5 - 7 years do an assessment of district lines based changing demographics and enrollment numbers, economic equity and academic support. Maybe some other issues as well. Make any changes to rebalance. Have it be a normal routine process - sort of like brushing your teeth to prevent this big painful cavity.

Anonymous said...

What is Building Blocks, and why is it something that no one seems to want?

Anonymous said...

Meg Rosa said:
...I have more concern for Kindergartners who have just gone through a preschool transition, are now in kindergarten and all will again, be in *NEW* schools next year. They are much younger and could have a much harder time with this.

I wouldn't worry about this unless your child is atypically slow to warm up/anxious(PK/SPED teacher talking here). And in that case special measures would need to be taken no matter what the transition. August visits to the building, classroom (bathrooms, etc.), and teacher go a long way.

Kindergartners spend most of their time in their separate classroom area of their school building. They don't attend most assemblies or music performances and are not yet embedded in their building community. Their connections are still in progress.

The transition from K to First is a big one regardless of where it happens or if it involves a school change.

Over the summer many forget all or some of what they did learn about their larger building/community.

If parents are positive and do not project their own fears onto their children, I do not see issues for the vast majority of Amherst kindergartners who may have to change schools for first grade.

Professionally I think this is a non-issue. Really.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Building Blocks is the district program for students who need social/emotional support services and cannot (yet) be mainstreamed (most of the time).

Having worked at FR, I do not see how BB causes a problem unless the very idea of "behavior kids" makes you shudder. And if that is the case, I suggest that you educate yourself about BB, how it's run and who runs it (exemplary staff across the board).

I have had the pleasure of watching at least one BB kid graduate to functioning well in a regular classroom setting. It's a program to be proud, not scared, of.

Joel said...

To Anon 11:03

What I mean when I challenge the use of the idea of community to challenge redistricting is that no one ever defines what on earth they mean by community. Is a community a town like Amherst? Is it my block? To some people it's ethnic because we have to keep together one group defined by race or ethnicity or another -- at the expense of the larger, well, community.

Community and culture are used as if they're easily perfectly effable and somehow immutable. By this logic the kids from WW and FR and Pelham on the soccer team I coach are all from separate and apparently different "communities." My daughter's team also includes Crocker Farm kids. According to some in Amherst, these soccer teams are local versions of Yugoslavia -- rife with cultural and communal divides. They are separate and different and children suffer when pulled out of one into another.

Amherst can be a lovely community, but it is not the archipelago of complex and variegated micro-societies that the opponents of the SC paint it to be. It's a small New England college town.

To Rich, I know that my tone is often harsh, but I think it's the only way to deal with the epidemic of hypocrisy in Amherst. Reason has been of limited utility with the folks who still don't understand that segregation is both illegal and wrong, for example.

Anonymous said...

Today's paper mentions a $6.5 million grant for an affordable housing project on Longmeadow/West street. It's only 26 units, and apparently has been put off as a project for many years due to protests by neighbors. It this something to take into account when drawing redistricting lines, or is this negligible because of a variety of reasons (small number of units, ability to build likely delayed by more protests)?

Rick said...

Anon 1:36: that was brought up at the forum(I think that's where I heard it) as something that might jack up the CF FRL % down the road.

But I also hear that there is yet another lawsuit that may delay it further, so who knows.

Lucy2Shoes said...

I am one of the parents on Blue Hills, I for one have a wonderful advantage-my 3 children went to Crocker Farm preschool and I have worked hard to maintain friendships with kids my children play well with and like. I can't recommend Crocker Farm enough on the standpoint of excellent administration and design. I am hoping the Superintendent & SC help make CF (a mostly bilingual school) into a multicultural, multi-language school like WW and FR.

I am hoping that the special needs services will be consistent with what my children are getting at WW- thank you for answering the question regarding IEP services. I would like to bring to your attention that if you are doing away with language clusters to really make sure that the special needs teams at each school are able to service ANY need so siblings do not have to be split and ALL children learn how to interact with children with Autism and other disorders. That's equity too.

Our neighborhood Blue Hill/Dana have accepted the decision made regarding the line at Amity. Our issue was not just solely with the location of the line but natural boundary of our neighborhood. We are a drive through street, not a cul-de-sac planned neighborhood and because most of the families here do not have extended family here, like myself I rely heavily on my direct neighbors within walking distance to help with all the half-day, snow day early release stuff that seems to put an added stress on our families that work. We would actually feel better about the line if Amity Place apartments, and homes facing Amity were included in the Crocker Farm move. Why? Charles lane / Amity Place is face to face and a lot of transient families build friendships with our children on Charles and Blue Hills Rd. We invite them to our block party and, the get off/on the bus near their home instead of having parents drive all over to retrieve their kids. This is why our neighborhood is a great place to live, because it functions like it's own village.

I might add that as far as Blue Hills/Charles Lane more than 50% of current kids in school are currently on FRL. I think it is a false notion that our neighborhood will help add to the equitable income percentage stats based on your projections.

Most of the parents from our area felt BETTER about giving up the WW spots knowing that the kids from MM were going to be with their friends. We understand this reasoning because of our community feels this unique split too.

Anonymous said...

I read the letter from Blue Hills residents in today's Bulletin asking the School Committee to move the line to Rt. 9. As a parent who lives south of Rt. 9 and whose son will move to CF from WW next fall I was relieved to see that the Amity line had been designated as the cutoff because of the many friends that would move with him. It's hurtful to see those residents suggesting that all those south of rt. 9 are not significant in their lives and if the SC will just allow them their request everyone will be happy. I won't be happy, and my son will be very disappointed. It's a slippery slope when these small pockets begin to effect shifts. I have come full circle in this debate and the only person I felt who asked anything truly compelling regarding the well-being of their child was the woman who was advocating for her special needs child. This is a great time for us to come together as a new community and make a wonderful school for our children.

Wildwood Mom

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Today's paper mentions a $6.5 million grant for an affordable housing project on Longmeadow/West street. It's only 26 units, and apparently has been put off as a project for many years due to protests by neighbors. It this something to take into account when drawing redistricting lines, or is this negligible because of a variety of reasons (small number of units, ability to build likely delayed by more protests)?
October 16, 2009 1:36 PM
Rick said...
Anon 1:36: that was brought up at the forum(I think that's where I heard it) as something that might jack up the CF FRL % down the road.
But I also hear that there is yet another lawsuit that may delay it further, so who knows.

Yes, the Federal money is the Butternut Farm project being built via HAP.

Yes, it was brought up at the CF forum as being something Doug did take into account in the F/RL map numbers, just as they are making some allowance for new development in Amherst Hills; both were mentioned at CF forum specifically as being a partial means of addressing the (now) 9% imbalance in F/RL numbers in the three schools.

Yes, some of the neighbors are still suing. I've asked the Town Manager to give us an update (on what can happen due to the pending lawsuit) at the Select Board meeting Monday October 19.

Meg Rosa said...

I am looking at the new map they gave out at the CF forum which has the Enrollment #s, %FRLP, and % Struggling students per school.

Enrollment 444
%FRLP 30.9%
Struggling 21.8%

Enrollment 452
%FRLP 39.8%
Struggling 22.6%

Enrollment 350
%FRLP 33.1%
Struggling 21.4%

Looking at these numbers the FRLP does stand out at FR, BUT if you look at the Struggling numbers they are EXTREMELY close in all 3 schools!!

That actually impresses me! To look at that and see the differences with the FRLP but then only see such small percentage difference with the kids who they consider to be struggling, it says that this is more balanced for children needing extra help. I don't have a current map with the same numbers included, so I can not compare this to anything.

What it looks like to me is that not all children who receive free or reduced lunch are struggling students. Not all children who don't receive free and reduced lunch, are not struggling. I think this balance would make it easier to deliver the appropriate services in a more balanced, economical way to all children who need it.

lucy2Shoes said...

Anon Wildwood Mom-
My post was to clarify WHY we asked the line to be moved, not that your child was insignificant in our lives because he lives south of RT 9. The fact that I am unaware of any children living south of RT 9 as it is mostly a commerical area and opposite RT 9 are Amherst College playing fields. We have some friends in the Woodside/Snell area but of course we don't see that really as our neighborhood as it is not easily walkable. We felt compelled as a group of neighbors to plead our case based on how we saw the line effecting our street and direct neighbors. Our intention was not to hurt anyones feelings.

Viva Crocker Farm!

Abbie said...

to lucytoshoes

who exactly appointed you as spokesperson for the residents on Dana st/Blue Hills? "Our neighborhood Blue Hill/Dana have accepted the decision made regarding the line at Amity. Our issue was..." wrote Lucytoshoes.

We live on Dana and we have not talked to you and you don't speak for us. We can't speak for the other family of the only other WW kid on we don't know if they ok'd your spokesmanship (did you contact them?).

We have always supported the redistricting plan...

Anonymous said...

>self interest

Another interpretation is partisan interest.

There's factional interest in expanding a coalition of mutually supportive special interests by embracing freshly energized neighborhood interests and getting them involved in town politics.

Having just a third of the votes can be decisive to some Town Meeting outcomes.

Notice which local political actors have spoken out in various venues to keep Mark's Meadow alive or delay redistricting.

lucy2Shoes said...

We have a Blue Hills group email as you probably know- I was not deemed a spokesperson for Dana Street or Blue Hills but yes, based on the first forum we (the parents of the letter) meet with other parents from Dana, Sunset, Linclon that felt strongly about the line being moved and were present at the first forum. We exhanged emails and after Thursday's forum we talked amoungst each other after the forum, and expressed that we tried our best and were impressed that they took immediate action regarding the line for the MM students.

You were not the only family on Dana or even on our own street that did not support the line being moved. Thus they were left off the letter and they chose not to voice their opinion. We sent our letter based on who agreed with us and had children in WW currently- and made their opinion known to us.

A differing perspective on the issue is certainly within your right to have that perspective. And certainly if we were successful in convincing the SC to move the line you also would have been effected. If you are upset that we used Dana as a street because you live on it- the reality is that there were other parents on Dana and other streets in our neighborhood that did oppose where the line was drawn. We do support the redistricting plan, we support the need to do so- we were opposed to where the line was drawn was right down the middle from Amity. I have proposed the idea to INCLUDE Amity and homes facing Amity so that kids facing each other across the street that have relationships can be included. You can choose to support or put your own input as well and that is what this time is for. I wasn't elected to a position, but spoke as a parent that simply have ongoing conversations with the families that protested the line being at Amity.

Abbie said...

to lucy2shoes:

so you asked ALL the people on Amity whether they agree with your plan for them and their families, right?

I have no idea about any email list. I suggest you try to be more careful making claims of who you speak for.. For example, "some residents on Dana and Blue Hills..." might better reflect reality.

Caren Rotello said...

To Lucy2Shoes,
We live on Kendrick Place, which is also between Amity and 9 and therefore our son will move from WW to CF under the current plan. Like Abbie, I have never been asked my opinion about the boundary placement and am unaware of any email list for our neighborhood. Like you and your neighbors, we have no family in the area (indeed, none closer than Chicago), but I can't see how that should matter in terms of determining school boundaries!

I support the creation of equity among our elementary schools and think that people should stop trying to beg for exceptions for their children. It does not help the process -- indeed, it's quite counterproductive and time-consuming. In sum, you do not speak for me, yet your arguments (if successful) would affect my child.

Good grief people, did none of you ever change schools as a child? I did, more than once, and I'm still a productive member of society with at least basic social skills. The kids will be fine!

Joel said...

To add to what Caren said, I moved schools in the same town in the middle of elementary school. It really wasn't a big deal and I ended up a few years later seeing a lot of my old friends who were at the same middle school.

We didn't have the extensive sports leagues kids have now, so I really didn't see them. Amherst kids have friends from lots of schools through sports and other activities. They'll be fine. I can almost guarantee that the kids will handle this better than some of the parents.

lucy2Shoes said...

Abbie, you are correct- should have suggested some not all of the residents. The residents that were against the line spoke up after we spoke at the first forum. My apologies. We clearly know your position (now) and will leave you out of our argument as to where we think the line should be drawn.

Our street email group is mostly for Blue Hills. It is one of the ways we as neighbors keep in touch and help all the neighbors including elderly that live on their own on our street. It's no different than a yahoo group. That is mostly how we asked who was able to support our argument as well as from who we know in our neighborhood. We did not go door to door, but we did look at the census maps. Obviously if anyone opposed the line, they made themselves known to us after the first forum.

We feel (the families of WW currently on Blue Hills and SOME people that agree with our position in our area) that the walkable aspect of our street to WW and to town SHOULD be considered in where the line is set in school boundaries. Some families and neighbors live with one or no car and have multiple children. We are closer to WW than CF. That might not hold any weight with the SC but it is our argument that we were trying to make.
All parents will have to drive to CF for any or all reasons, including for some pick up and drop off or sick children. This will be fine for some but a burden on a few.

I think what is devisive, is critizing a group of people or individuals who have the right to speak their mind at these public forums, or have sent letters and communicate with a common cause and help come up with a solution that makes sense so that schools and parents can support each other. I am not trying to have one child or mine be favored over the other. When the line is set it is set, but this is our time and opportunity to provide input to the SC to consider our perspective. The argument for why the line is set at Amity rather RT 9 was based on equity, numbers, etc....but we still feel that being able to walk to school and town in the safest route and way (with a parent) possible is a feasable argument.

I am not speaking for ALL our neighbor chose NOT to sign their name to our letter which was FINE and well within their right. We still have to live next to the tone of animosity does not help community. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Everyone also has different experiences with change.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I don't have the time to go through each and every comment that I've received in the last 24 hours ... but will do so later! However, I do want to respond to this issue of the Blue Hills group. This is what I have observed:

1. There are some people in the Route 9/Amity corridor who want to stay at Wildwood (Lucy2Shoes, the group of neighbors who wrote a letter). There are other people who do not feel the boundaries should be moved (e.g., Abbie, Caren, others who refused to sign the letter on Blue Hills). However, we are hearing entirely (via emails to the SC and letters in the paper and statements at public forums) from those who oppose where the line is drawn, and NOT those who favor where the line is drawn. If you LIKE where the line is drawn, email the SC and let us know that (!

2. I don't have any sense that the larger downtown community sees the Amity/Route 9 split as dividing a neighborhood -- we have received not ONE letter/call/email from anyone living on the other side of Amity saying "you are breaking up our neighborhood, keep us together" nor have we received one email/call/letter suggesting that as long as we keep the neighborhood together, we should move all these kids to CF together. That suggests to me that this is much less about a neighborhood and much more about not wanting kids to change schools (which is understandable, but is of course not one of the criteria that the SC can use in making the decision about where to draw lines).

3. The families in this area that rely on each other for support (rides, transportation, snow days, etc.) can continue to do so, regardless of where the lines are drawn. If the lines are drawn at Amity, then these families would (a) be able to rely on the families of the 33 kids who are all going together, and (b) rely on the many families just right across Route 9 on Orchard and Hitchcock who are also going to CF. There would still be MANY opportunities for carpooling, playdates, providing support, etc.

4. The distance between Blue Hills and WW is 1.58 miles, which takes 4 minutes according to Map Quest. The distance between Blue Hills and CF is 2.56 miles, which takes 5 minutes. This is not a huge difference -- and I think it is very unlikely that many of the Blue Hills families regularly have their children walk to school. In fact, the state REQUIRES the district to provide busing once families live beyond 1.5 miles, so even the state doesn't consider this a realistic distance with which to expect kids to walk. I also think that it is VERY unlikely that someone who gets a call suggesting they have a sick child would walk to WW to pick up that child and walk home with that sick child--it is just that this drive will now take 2 minutes longer (1 minute each direction IF one is even coming from home).

5. If the boundary is drawn at Amity, it actually doesn't change how far the downtown houses are from downtown ... the downtown will be just as close as it is now, so we are not impacting the preference of people who live downtown to be able to walk there! I totally don't understand the argument that families who live downtown did so to be able to walk downtown, so that should influence the school boundary?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

6. This decision that SC must make is not about the kids on the corridor between Amity and Route 9 - it is about all kids in this town. If we move the line to Route 9, the kids in this area won't have to make a move, and SOME neighbors in this area will then feel more connected to those across Amity (of course, not so for those across Route 9). However, this will (a) make WW even a wealthier school than it would be without this move, and (b) make CF a poorer school than it would be without this move, thus leading to a 10% gap in equity between the richest and poorest schools. So, the desire to move the line for these 33 kids would in fact work against creating equity for all kids in this town, which I think is a serious issue. Thus, these requests are indeed about making decisions that favor some kids (e.g., help those 33 kids avoid making a change in schools), yet I believe hurt the greater good (e.g., decreasing the goal of equity in our three schools). I think this is why some people on this blog (e.g., Caren, Abbie) and elsewhere are concerned about the push to move the line, since it simultaneously works against the overall goal of equity in all our schools.

Leticia said...

I am surprised by the level of animosity with which people are writing. It is appropriate for people to raise objections now. That is why there have been public forums.
When the Blue Hills letter was written, it was sent simultaneously to the School Committee, the Redistricting Committee, the Superintendent and the local papers, before the first public forum. The paper chose to delay printing the letter by a week, which may have made all of this confusing. The letter was only signed by Blue Hills residents and did not include any other street. It was forwarded to Dana's email list before being sent out, but as I didn't hear from anyone directly, none of Dana Street residents' signatures were included.
I also spoke at the first forum to voice publicly our thoughts. The committee listened to our concerns and the concerns of many others,and reworked the map to include the Mark's Meadows folks. I think that's a good decision.
Whether you disagree on how to define 'community', how to make schools more equitable or whether you just don't like the school your child is enrolled in now, it's a democratic right to speak out. I don't think this process has been delayed yet, by this dialogue within our community. Objections raised now lead the committees to a greater understanding of the factors that impact Amherst now and in the future. We all will live with this change for a long time and it would be better to get it right now.
Can I just also point out that bus service from the Mill Valley to Fort River is time consuming and difficult. Has anyone asked how the parents without cars might get to their school so they might participate fully in their children's education?

Margaret Burland said...

I agree with Leticia about the animosity of the recent posts directed toward her. She has done nothing to deserve it. Of course she has not presumed to speak for everyone in her neighborhood -- I assume that's why that letter to the Amherst Bulletin was signed by a named group of individuals instead of claiming to represent the whole neighborhood. But I do admire Leticia for coordinating with a number of neighbors before speaking out -- that took an organizational effort and a sense of community spirit. And I also appreciate her noticing that the PVTA bus ride from the East Hadley neighborhood to Fort River is much more daunting than the ride to Crocker Farm or for that matter Wildwood. I have pointed this out to the School Committee, but so far this transportation issue has not been chosen as the deciding factor in redistricting the East Hadley area. This whole area could not attend Wildwood if all of the Marks Meadow students were also slated to attend Wildwood. Nor could all of the Marks Meadow students attend Fort River if all of the Amherst Woods students were also going to attend Fort River. That is why (if I have understood things correctly) the original map split the East Hadley students between Wildwood and Fort River -- for the sake of economic equity between all three schools, and also because the possibilities of splitting either the large Marks Meadow group or the large Amherst Woods group had been discarded as too disruptive to those neighborhoods. When some of us complained that the double islands in the first map were too disruptive to our East Hadley neighborhood, the School Committee was able to come up with a plan to send a larger group of us to Fort River and none to Wildwood, but I don't think that larger group of us could have fit into Wildwood instead of Fort River, because of the population density within walking distance of Wildwood plus now the big Marks Meadow group all being kept together. So the principle of keeping neighborhoods together seems to have been weighted more heavily than questions of convenience, including public transportation for parents without cars. It could be debated, whether or not those priorities are right, but the advantage of choosing neighborhood cohesion over transportation issues is that it is a priority for all families, rich and poor, whereas the transportation issue only matters to the poorest people in town. For them it is an extremely important issue, but they are a small group. That's my perspective on the factors that have added up to the current map but, as always, correct me if I'm wrong.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Leticia - I share your belief that the public forums are designed for people to raise objections, so certainly it is appropriate for any/all people to raise concerns. and, yes, that is the democratic process! I think some of the animosity comes from the awareness, however, that satisfying some people's concerns could simply shift the burden to others, and that makes people upset (still don't need to have animosity, but I think that is where it is coming from). So, the SC could move the Blue Hills neighborhood into WW, and then to make room for those 33 kids, could move 35 Marks Meadow kids from North Amherst to CF in their place -- but then we'd probably hear from those parents about why are their kids moving and not the Blue Hills kids! That is the nature of trying to fit 170 extra kids into three schools in a way that makes sense.

Personally, the kind of comments that I find most useful are comments that aren't about one's own kids ... like, I need my kid to go to FR or whatever, but things like "I think no kid should be on the bus for more than 30 minutes" or "I think no group should move if they will be just 5% of a new school -- you need to move more kids together." I am probably naive, but my hope is that the community can start focusing on the GREATER GOOD of this move for all kids in our town, who do, after all, come together in the MS and HS! This transition will be hard on some kids -- I get that, we all get that. But the SC has to make decisions that take into account ALL the kids and the totality of their experience -- meaning that what seems like a simple or easy move for one group can actually have a negative impact on other kids (e.g., results in moving other kids, results in greater inequity in our schools, results in over-crowding at a school, etc.).

Also, let me point out a misconception held by many -- the SC did NOT reconfigure the map to meet the needs of MM families -- we reconfigured the map to get rid of the two islands and make them ONE island, and to send all the kids in the Boulders to Fort River, you had to get some kids OUT of Fort River -- so, it seemed like the MM group was about the same size, and a logical place to make a move since they didn't already attend Fort River! But this move was NOT done to satisfy MM families -- it was a response to community concern about "two islands" versus one that the SC agreed was worth considering (although in all honesty, I'm not sure if anyone cares at all that we now have "one island" versus two!).

One final thing -- the SC is well aware that bus service is easier from East Hadley Road to WW than to FR. But there are two issues here. First, RIGHT NOW 38 kids are bused from that area to Fort River, and another 47 are bused to WW, so we assume that those kids/families were in fact comfortable with the transportation options available. This is a total of 85 kids, and fewer than that will be going to Fort River next year (I think 72). Second, there isn't a way to solve it -- unless you make CF a school that is 60% FRL. CF is the smallest school, so it doesn't hold as many kids as the other two schools PLUS there are far more kids on FRL whose closest school is CF than you see at the other two schools. So, we are are really stuck -- and I think ultimately have made a decision that we need to have equitable schools, but we will also need to think carefully next year about how to provide transportation/coordinate carpooling, etc. as needed (which I assume must happen now at times for the 85 kids who live in this area and don't attend CF).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Margaret - I share your admiration that Leticia coordinated with a number of neighbors before speaking out and noticed the issue of the bus routes. As I note to Leticia above, the SC has prioritized having equitable schools (which matter every day 8:40 to 3:05) over the transportation issue. My hope is that some families in this area do indeed have cars, and that these families will offer rides/carpools as needed for others. There are 38 kids from East Hadley Road already attending Fort River, and I know this sort of coordination already exists (with other parents even not from this area assisting as needed -- we do, after all, live in a smal town).

In terms of having these 72 kids all at Wildwood -- given the proximity of WW to MM, WW is a much closer school to MM than is CF. So, we would have to bus 72 kids who either live within a mile of WW OR kids who live in the far north of Amherst past WW all the way to CF. The concern was totally not to keep MM together -- the concern was not to have kids on the bus for a really long time (in part because it wasn't clear whether buses from North Amherst could make it all the way to CF and then to the MS/HS for pick up on time). A map was drawn, and presented last week, which did keep all the Boulders/Mill Valley kids at WW, but this map had a number of issues (MM community divided in half, Amherst Woods neighborhood divided in half, long bus rides for kids in North Amherst all the way to Fort River). In addition, WW became the poorest school (39%) PLUS the school with by far the most struggling students (25% with 20/21% at the other schools). We could still go with this map -- but it raises a number of issues AND still maintains an island!

So, the issue is that if we want to avoid the "double islands," we have to make one school quite a bit poorer than the others (and that can be WW or FR). If we are willing to have "double islands," than each school can be pretty equitable (within 2/3/4/5% compared to 8 or 9%). But that is the choice -- and I'm not sure the right solution here ... I'm hearing a lot of complaining about islands, and no one seems really psyched with one island versus two!

I also really think that this is NOT a case of choosing neighborhood cohesion over transportation issues -- in our current map, we are dividing the downtown neighborhood at Amity, which many have expressed is disruptive. But I also have to wonder about how important the transportation issue IS to consider, when right now there are families who live in Colonial Village (right by FR) who are choosing to go to CF (much farther) and families living in the Boulders who are choosing to go to FR. This is occurring right now, and literally I haven't heard from parents or teachers that this is a problem and thus we shouldn't be sending kids to these schools that are farther from their homes. Thus, it seems to me that another way of phrasing the priorities would be that equity is something that matters at all schools every day for all kids ... and that transportation may be an issue once a month (for a school event or parent-teacher conferenece, etc.). Equity is also something that you can't solve in other ways other than creating equitable schools -- transportation could be solved in other ways (e.g., organizing car pools, holding some Fort River events in the Boulders common room, etc.).

Anonymous said...

"So, the issue is that if we want to avoid the "double islands," we have to make one school quite a bit poorer than the others (and that can be WW or FR). If we are willing to have "double islands," than each school can be pretty equitable (within 2/3/4/5% compared to 8 or 9%). But that is the choice -- and I'm not sure the right solution here ... I'm hearing a lot of complaining about islands, and no one seems really psyched with one island versus two!"

This seems to be a key paragraph to me. With one island, FR becomes the new "poor" school - 9% FRL more than Wildwood. In my opinion, this is too much of a spread to start out with in the first year after redistricting. It won't take much to push FR over the top percentage-wise. In a few years we could find ourselves redistricting again because FR is up to 44% or 45% FRL.

If people are not that psyched to have one island instead of two, then I think we should go back to the two-island model. This will bring the FRL% much closer in each school, hence achieving truer equity. And if we start out with a closer spread between the schools we would probably have more years before we have to redistrict.

I know the SC is trying to achieve equity with the least amount of disruption to people. But the one island model really does make FR top heavy in %FRL compared to the other two schools. I urge the SC to try to come up with a plan that had a smaller spread between schhols than 9%.

Anonymous said...

"but this map had a number of issues (MM community divided in half, Amherst Woods neighborhood divided in half, long bus rides for kids in North Amherst all the way to Fort River"

Since we have to weigh the impact of these issues vs. that of all E.Hadley apts going to a new school without easy bus access...

Can you tell us how many schoolkids there are in Amherst Woods? It seems like such a large area with so many kids. Perhaps dividing it up would still leave bigger groups of kids going together than some of the smaller complexes that were kept together.

It has been noted many places, but can you remind us of # of MM families that will be displaced?

The additional distance between WW and FR fairly short(1.74 miles; 3 min. according to mapquest). What would the range of bus commute times be for MM children?

Further study of transportation issues would probably show that transportation actually IS an equity issue itself (as opposed to being separate from equity). Transportation can be an issue every day - or twice a day! Parents of children who attend after-school programs have to pick up their children at the end of the day(unless we are mistaken and unaware that there is busing home at that time?) Kids miss buses, kids get sick, some families drive their kids because of the parents' work schedules and inability to be home when the bus gets there or need to pick up younger or older siblings from other places. Even families who want to help each other out with rides and carpools can't if they don't have enough seats in their car or if they're barely making it to work on time themselves. Parents who have difficulty getting to their child's school are less likely to be able to go to the PTA meetings, informal gatherings with the principals, volunteer at school. The difficult bus ride to the FR area would also make it hard for kids to socialize outside of school.

Not sure if futher thinking on some of these issues would lead to better map solutions, but maybe worth investigating.

Thanks for the information.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 9:05 - I agree that 9% is too much ... I think something within 5/6 is much preferable, and I believe more maps will be presented that get us closer to this goal.

Anonymous 11:54 - I think there are about 200 kids in Amherst Woods ... however, this is not the issue that is making the redistricting tricky (since we have done maps that divide this neighborhood and those that don't). This just isn't a big deal, since it really doesn't matter where the non-low-income kids live (non-low-income kids live all over town, so can easily go to any number of schools). Amherst Woods kids can ALL go to CF, ALL go to FR, or be divided into FR/CF. Still doesn't solve the actual issue, which is how do you divide up the kids in the area off of East Hadley Road, where the majority of low income kids in our town live!

However, just to clarify -- it is NOT that all of the kids living in apartments off of E. Hadley Road will go to new schools. The kids who live in Southpoint and The Brook will stay at CF. Other kids (who live in Mill Valley, Hollister, and the Boulders) will go to Fort River (in the new plan, anyway), but SOME of these kids already do go to Fort River (20ish).

In the most current plan, all of MM kids would go together to WW ... so, that is 170 kids, I believe. But even if you bus some of these kids further to FR (sure, that can happen), it still doesn't change the key issue which is how are you dividing up the kids who live off of East Hadley Road!

I think another issue is that RIGHT NOW, there are islands in the area off of East Hadley Road -- kids at Mill Valley (which is districted to Wildwood) go to all three schools (about 40% go to WW, but 30% go to FR and 30% go to CF). 38 kids living off of East Hadley Road go to Fort River right now, so I assume that transportation issues weren't a factor for these kids/families. Similarly, there are kids living at Colonial Village (right beside Fort River) who are going to CF ... again, apparently transportation was not a big factor in influencing this decision.

I disagree that transportation is a major issue of equity -- free bus transportation is provided to all kids who go to their in-district school both directions, and we actually provide afterschool busing for free as well (for kids who stay late for after-school programs).

Then, in terms of the more unusual circumstances (e.g., kids miss buses, kids get sick, etc.), I think in many ways, our new plan will be BETTER than what currently occurs! So, right now, of the families living in Mill Valley, 40% go to WW, but 30% go to CF and 30% go to FR. Wouldn't it be easier to have ALL the families in one complex (which is really like one neighborhood) going to the same school (e.g., for carpooling to evening events, PTA meetings, volunteering, etc.). Similarly, the "difficult bus ride to FR" occurs right now for 38 kids who live in this area ... and yet, families are making it work (and other families are driving for playdates, etc.). I think many people aren't aware of how much kids in that area are divided right now, and how in some ways, having kids in a given complex all go to the same school may encourage friendships and carpooling, etc. I also think the schools (including PGOs) are going to have to think carefully about how to involve all kids/families, regardless of where they live.

Anonymous said...

To add to the transportation conversation- it is true that the kids are bused from everywhere, but it is a hardship for the parents to get to all of the other events anon 11:54 mentions. Those kinds of events are the only connections families have to school and parents' ability to be involved at school and engaged with their children's education is important for so many reasons. From what we've seen so far with our child, teachers vary greatly in their efforts to connect with parents, with some sending home weekly newsletters and communicating by e-mail and some who have very little to offer in the one conference of the year and who are otherwise hard to reach. (Actually this makes me very worried that schools won't heed your important thought that they carefully think about how to include families that takes into account factors like how far away some families live. Most classroom activities, conferences, etc. occur in the middle of the day or at some time where parents need to show up for a few minutes in the middle of the work day. )So to take a population that has more single parent families and more single-car families and probably less flexible job schedules and send them to a school that is difficult for the parents to access by town transportation does seem like it would influence the equity of the educational experience.
And if everyone is experiencing those struggles, it doesn't mean that having more families at the same school will make it easier to pool resources. How can they pull together resources that are in short supply?
Also, for the kids being bused around (not just from apts, but anywhere in town), the more time they spend on the bus, the less time they have for outdoor play, exercise, homework and sleep.