My Goal in Blogging

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

NEW Amherst School Committee Meeting: October 22, 7 pm

The Amherst School Committee will have a special meeting on Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. in the Amherst Regional High School library. The purpose of the meeting is for the Redistricting Subcommittee to review the redistricting process and maps with the Amherst School Committee. After the full School Committee has time for deliberation and discussion of the recommendation, there will be an opportunity for public comments. The School Committee will not take any action on the subcommittee's recommendation at this meeting. The vote is scheduled for the regular Amherst School Committee meeting on Tuesday, October 27th.


Meg Rosa said...

I am really happy that is happening, but it could be a major conflict for the MS/HS families. There has been a budget meeting scheduled with Mark Jackson from 7-8. This is the email that was sent home:

Message sent - 10/13/2009
Budget Challenge for 2010
ARMS & ARHS 2010 Budget Challenge
Thursday, Oct. 22, 7 - 8 PM
Amherst Regional Middle School Auditorium

Please join us to discuss the budget challenge that the middle school and high school will face next year. Principal Mark Jackson will lead the program, with brief presentations from other school administrators to lay out the broad implications of the projected $1.5 million shortfall for the two schools. By collectively becoming informed, we as a community can begin to discuss how how to maintain outstanding schools.

Rick said...

Possibly it's not all bad that there is a conflicting meeting, as perhaps the full SC mainly needs to debate this among themselves, having received so much public input at the two forums, and so having less public there might be good for this one.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Meg - we were, of course, aware of the conflict. However, we have very limited time to have another meeting, in which the SC can deliberate about the options and hear final thoughts, so we felt it was important to schedule it (and this was the only night that worked for all concerned). I believe the budget meeting may get postponed (since it is NOT time urgent), but if it doesn't get postponed, parents will just have to choose which meeting to attend!

Rick - as you gathered, the intention is for this meeting to be a chance for limited public comment, and a real chance for the SC to deliberate among ourselves about the options.

Anonymous said...

We hear a lot about this committee wanting data, but I have heard nothing about doing a serious survey of Amherst families. I think a lot of people might like to weigh in on a number of issues, inlcuding budget priorities, Mark's Meadow, and redistricting. These are big decisions and once the damage is done, it will be impossible, in the case of MM, and nearly impossible, where redistricting is concerned, to reverse bad decisions. This committee is ready to decide what is best for the po' folk. Don't you want to know how the po' folk feel about your plans?

Anonymous said...

Am I reading correctly here? The less input from the public the better the committee likes it? Very curious as to why...
By not allowing the "po'folk" opportunity to speak on the devastation this redistricting fiasco is going to cause families as well as the closing of MM, is just another corrupt move of a group of 'intellectual know alls'. What is up with that??

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:43 - If you have thoughts, send them to the committee at Or come to the meeting, in which there will be, as noted, public feedback! Are you interested in hearing what the SC thinks before they vote, or not? I would think it would be very helpful for the community to see how the SC is leaning PRIOR to the vote on the 27th, when it will be too late. If you'd rather be completely in the dark about how each of the five members are going to vote (remember, four of them don't have a blog where you can read their thoughts), just email the SC that right now -- request that we devote 2 hours to public comment and zero time to the SC deliberations until the next meeting. The irony of your remarks is that this is a NEW opportunity to give public comment, and yet you are going to criticize the SC for also wanting to deliberate in public and on TV so that you, and others, can then see where we stand and communicate your thoughts about which plan to vote for before the meeting on the 27th?

One more thing -- this is a meeting about REDISTRICTING. It is not about Marks Meadow (that decision occurred months ago and will not be revisited by the SC) and it is not about budget priorities (which will be discussed later in the year, at which point you and others can send your thoughts).

Anonymous 7:06 - you can read my response above -- just wondering why ADDING another meeting at which public comment will be heard can be seen as a negative?!? However, good news for you -- there are two seats open on the SC this March, so you should run so that you can feel confident that your opinion is adequately assessed, and you can then initiate plans to survey the entire community prior to any decisions you are asked to make. That way you could protect the community from the devastation caused to all our schools when some intellectuals save the schools $700,000 a year to preserve small class sizes and art/music while simultaneously having the crazy idea that we should avoid having two rich schools and a poor school. If you run on a platform of undoing the MM issue and maintaining inequity in our schools, it will be a very good indicator of what the community thinks when they vote.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!!!! it's so annoying to read this blog and hear people continue to beat the drum about MM!!! It's closing, get over it! And the notion that there hasn't been enough public discourse on the redistricting is ludicris. good for you for saying it like it is Catherine!!!

Anonymous said...

the issue of Mark's Meadow's closing is still being raised because...

only 9 mos ago the Supe's recommended against it, on the basis of how very much would be involved in closing a school in this town. none of this redistricting would be able to take place without the closing of MM. the closing lies at root of all of the redistricting issues being raised at this time.

and this is all taking place very fast. i realize the SC may be doing all they can, the best they can, in their view, to accommodate these changes. and perhaps they really are necessary. i do believe we need to diversify our community somewhat better with regards to socioeconomic standing. however, Amherst is not a typical community. we host some of the most educated per capita populace of the entire country, and as a single parent surviving (well) off an extremely low budget, i am always questioning the resourcefulness of those of greater privilege. necessity is the mother of invention. if i can raise a child of exceptional ability as a single parent earning less than $12k/yr, i find it difficult to accept that a whole town or community could fail to come-up with $600k/yr to continue a 30 yr old, successful, small school.

play inside the lines and you lose, we all lose. because the lines will always be redrawn by society at some point. new research will arise, old research will go by wayside, and we can choose whether to think creatively and ingeniously about the future, or to follow what has been shown successful by different districts in the past and hope the same holds true for us here.

if a few small people could raise $9k in one day of beer and bbq to keep open the library every friday from now until next spring, how can the SC not find creative ways to keep MM open and to redistrict in a far less potentially disruptive way? there has to be a way. when something means enough, and we're open and creative enough...there is *always* a way. trust me, i live on a shoestring. i moved here knowing no one...just so my child could be raised here. where this is a will, there is a way.

there are so many requests to "send and email to the SC....". and i'm just not feeling that's even worthwhile. they don't represent us, apparently (a mistaken view i once held), tho only decide what they feel is right. the public comments are for show...a mere political necessity. we can raise as many great points or creative ideas as are possible. the result will always be...well, exactly the opposite of what public forums express. if we're lucky, we're placated with a few tweaks of a map.

i will tell you honestly -and *know* i'm not alone- i will be looking for another valley school to admit my child. if necessary, we will move. we're renters and in that sense, have the advantage of easily doing so.

i am wondering tho also, how ever could an override be voted-into this town with the degree of dissatisfaction evident among the school population at present? we may not witness the degree of unrest taking place in our community at this time...and i really feel for the SC, because i do believe they are well-informed and making a concerted effort to address all needs...but how would an override ever pass in this town in the near future with so much unrest (obviously highly non-evident on this blog...judging from posts in relation to public comment)? how would the town overall support any type of an override?

i feel for you folks on the SC in so many ways. you really do seem to be working so hard for what you know the data has shown to be true...low-income yadda yadda... but...quite simply, what's happening, feels as tho it's happening much too fast.

Anonymous said...

For people who keep saying, "this is happening much too fast..." I say, if you think that, then you haven't been paying attention!

Where have you all been?

We've been having serious budget problems for AT LEAST the last 3 years, CF has been lopsided with FRL students for many many more years than that.

Nine months ago there was basically a revolving door installed in the Supt office.

If anyone thinks that it should be "no problem" to come up with $700k, then go for it -- start your fundraising campaign!

Wake Up!

Joel said...

Two things on the $700,000 (sadly we're still talking about this):

1) it isn't $700,000. It's $700,000 and growing EVERY YEAR going forward. It isn't a one time payment that someone failed to make, it's the ongoing and growing operating budget of the extra administration required to keep open the smallest elementary school in town.

2) MM was being funded by defunding key activities at other schools. MM's administrative budget was way out of line with the size its population. Calls to find a measly $700,000 per year are essentially calls to further defund the schools that educate 87% of Amherst's elementary school age kids in order to fund a small school for 13% of the town's kids. Why should the vast majority of kids suffer (and don't fool yourself, the town is broke) to keep MM open?

And on town input: Do you really think a referendum asking to keep MM open for 13% of the kids at the expense of 87% of the kids would pass? We couldn't pass an override for all the schools before the recession.

Anonymous said...

I just want to thank CS and the rest of the school committee for the hard work they've done on this and many other important issues. I fully support the decision to close MM and redistrict (and yes my child will have to change schools). I do not think they have acted too quickly on this decision nor do I think they have acted with out regard to public input. I think the SC should be commended for making tough but good choices in the face of extremely difficult economic time (which in my opinion are not going to get better in the near future).

Finally as an aside, I've been a follower of this blog for a while and have been very impressed by some of the thoughtful input. Rick, Meg Rosa, Joel have all helped to keep this blog on point and the discussions useful and meaningful.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ali - thanks for the support! I do think that there is never enough discussion if you don't like the plan ... if you like the plan, there is plenty of discussion. We talked about closing MM for 6 months ... then voted to close it ... then will keep it open for over a year. In many towns, a discussion of a school closing starts in January/February, a vote happens in March/April, and the school closes in June. Seems to me, we discussed closing MM for a long time, looked at lots of data, and had a unanimous SC vote. We are done with that discussion.

Anonymous 1:21 - let me make a few key points in response to your post.

1. Just remember, that when you write "only 9 mos ago the Supe's recommended against it, on the basis of how very much would be involved in closing a school in this town" that those superintendents were INTERIM superintendents for exactly one year, and hence weren't going to have to face what our four schools liked like on August 27th when they opened with giant class sizes and no music. No, by that point, they would have been gone for nearly two months, and it would have been a mess in the hands of the new superintendent and the SC, and guess who would have gotten blamed for it -- the old supers? I doubt it. The SC voted unanimously for closing MM, in the face of much pressure, and with full support of then interim-superintendent Maria Geryk (who was going to be in our schools post-July 1st) and new superintendent Alberto Rodriguez (who was alo going to be in our schools post-July 1st).

2. The redistricting was 100% going to take place with or without the closing of MM. That was already a SC vote that it needed to occur, and in fact, last spring maps were ALSO developed to redistrict into four schools in case the vote was to keep MM open.

3. You say it is very fast -- I will assume your child goes to MM. In most communities, a discussion to close a school starts in Jan/Feb, the vote happens in March/April, and the school closes that June. So, I'd say our process is in fact VERY slow: 6 months of discussion, five community hearings, and over ONE YEAR to work out the details of the closing!

4. There are many smart people in this town -- and not a single person came up with a way to save $700,000 A YEAR in order to keep MM open. It is not possible to run a public school system in which every year we need to find a way to raise that amount of money (nor is this comparable to raising $9,000 for the library!). Do you have any ideas right now that you'd like to share? I believe the vast majority of parents in town felt that the costs of keeping MM open were too high -- it would mean giant class sizes, no art/music/PE/librarians, etc. for ALL kids.

If you don't feel the SC represents you, you should run for SC ... two seats open this spring. I never felt like the SC represented me, so I ran, and I am doing the best I can to make sure I'm listening to everyone (hence my blog). If you think you can do a better job of representing what the public wants, and can make better decisions, and can find some creative way to keep MM open while also maintaining the quality of education at the other schools, you should run on that platform -- and if your ideas are indeed what the public wants (unlike the actions that the current SC is taking, against what you believe the public wants), then you will win in a landslide.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 10:12 - well said on all fronts!

Joel - thanks ... excellent points.

Anonymous 10:35 - thanks for your nice remarks about me/the SC, and I agree with your comments about the helpful responses from many other regular posters -- Rick, Joel, Meg -- and I'd add Rich Morse and Caren Rotello to that mix. Maybe some other anonymous posters want to take a stab at using at least their first names so we can all know who is talking?!?

Anonymous said...

On the redistricted map the percentages of "struggling" students is given along with the FRL percentages. Is there a map available somewhere or someone who can post a map that shows those what the percentages are now at the 4 schools? Meg Rosa raises the point that looking at the new map, "struggling" and FRL don't necessarily seem tied together. Can someone specify what other factors are associated with "struggling" in our district? Is it ELL status?

Anonymous said...

the last post should ask for current percentages of "struggling" students. sorry for the omission.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 3:04/3:07 - in the current map, here are the numbers:

CF - 46% FRL, 27.5% struggling
MM - 37% FRL, 21.2% struggling
FR - 33% FRL, 18.5% struggling
WW - 23.7% FRL, 22% struggling

So, is there a correlation? Sort-of (e.g., CF is highest on both), but not completely (e.g., FR has 9% more kids on FRL than WW, just FR has fewer struggling kids than WW). Another key index is clearly limited English proficiency (since kids have to take the MCAS in English), and another factor would likely be IEPs.

Nancy said...

Why aren't we trying to have all kids in the same garde at the same school? It should elminate all concern over inequities.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, I'm with you.
Separately: Are the same seven people always commenting on this blog?!

Rick said...

It seems that exact option was not looked at - not sure why, Catherine probably knows - though 5+6 at Wildwood and K-4 among remaining schools was:
There are links on that page to examination of the options, such as this one:

Tom G said...

Three considerations for having neighborhood K-6 schools instead of having a grade level based elementary school system is 1) transportation costs 2) consideration for parents with more than one grade-school age children 3) kid don't have to change schools every two years.

I'm glad people are thinking of alternatives but I have to ask, where have been for the last year?

Some of these arguments against re-distracting, such as it's going too fast, are the same arguments Republicans and conservative Democrats who oppose health care reform are using. Sheesh. The argument is transparent. It's intent is to obstruct.

Why is it always the same one's posting here? Everyone is welcome to post comments. You tell me, why is it always the same people?

Anonymous said...

I too would like to know what "struggling" means -- both qualitatively and quantitatively-- in the context of school redistricting.

Is it # of students who scored below Proficient on MCAS? Because to the best of my knowledge, Amherst does no other form of standardized testing in the elementary grades.

If it's not derived from MCAS or standardized tests, then it must be coem from some kind of hand count of IEPs, ELL, 504s, and I don't know what all else.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Nancy - we looked at an option of grade-wide schools last year (K to 2 in one set of schools, and then 3 to 6 in another set). It costs MORE than our current situation by about $200,000, so it was not further considered. That was the interim-superintendents' plan, ironically, to SAVE US MONEY! There is a lot about that on my blog from last December, January and February. Although the plan to have all kids in all four schools and have transitions every year or two wasn't considered last fall, it was an option considered by the reorganization committee, and was not really do-able given the costs (e.g., K in one school, 1-2 in another, 3-4 in another, and 5-6 in another). But we considered pairing the schools (K to 2, 3 to 6, with pairing FR and CF and MM and WW), and we considered having all kids go to a "neighborhood school" for K to 4 and then a new school for all kids in Amherst for 5-6. They didn't work financially at all as well as closing MM (about a million dollars difference).

Anonymous 7:27 - just gave the info above ... yes, this creates perfect equity ... but costs more. I have no idea if it is the same 7 people ... one reason why people using names would be useful!

Rick - thanks for providing those links. Yes, a very similar option was fully investigated -- pairing the schools (and the fact that people don't know that furthers my belief that those who think this process has been too fast haven't been paying attention). The option of having all kids attention school together was also investigated, and it was thought that transportation would just be a mess (e.g., having kids from all over town going to four different schools), and it would be especially hard on kids who don't transition well (e.g., going to four schools in 7 years). It was therefore a non-starter.

Tom G - these options were indeed considered ... and rejected. And you raise other issues (not even just $$) why they weren't great options. And I totally agree with your health care opposition analogy.

Anonymous 9:23 - yes, it is below proficient on MCAS.

Meg Rosa said...

Thanks Catherine,
The Budget Challenge meeting will be rescheduled. When they pick a new day it will be posted on the FSP website.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Meg - thanks for the update! This seems like definitely the right call.