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 22, 2009

New Maps Are Posted

The Power Point presentation for tonight's School Committee meeting is now posted on the ARPS.org website (http://www.arps.org/node/1039#attachments). You can see the current map, as well as 6 additional renditions of that map (and all present the total number of students in each school, the % of students on free/reduced lunch, and the % of students who are struggling). These maps are as follows:

CURRENT: The current map (4 schools, range in free/reduced lunch from 23.7 at WW to 46.2 at CF, range in struggling students from 18.5 at FR to 27.5 at CF).

Map #1: The map presented at the Marks Meadow forum (446 kids in WW/450 at FR/350 at CF, MM partially in FR, 2 islands - one going to FR and one to WW, range in free/reduced lunch from 33.4 at CF to 36% at FR, range in struggling students from 21.4 at CF to 22.6 at WW).

Map #2: The revised map presented at the Crocker Farm forum (444 kids in WW/452 in FR/350 at CF, MM all at WW, 1 island - all going to FR, range in FRL from 30.9 at WW to 39.8 at FR, range in struggling kids from 21.4 at CF to 22.6 at FR).

Map #3: The map presented early in the Crocker Farm forum (449 in WW/459 at FR/338 at CF, MM divided between FR and WW, one island - all going to WW, Amherst Woods split between FR and CF, range in FRL from 31.8 at FR to 39.2 at WW, range in struggling kids from 19.8 at CF to 24.9 at WW).

Map #4: A new map which shows dividing simply based on geography with NO ISLANDS (453 in WW/437 in FR/352 at CF, MM divided between FR and WW, no islands, range in FRL from 28.1 at FR to 47.4 at CF, range in struggling kids from 18.1 at FR to 26.4 at CF).

Map #5: A new map which is basically a slight modification of Map #1 -- with all MM going to WW instead of FR, and a small area of Southeast Street staying at FR instead of going to CF (476 kids at WW/437 at FR/330 at CF, 2 islands - one going to FR and one going to WW, range in FRL from 34.7 at WW to 35.5 at CF, range in struggling kids from 21.7 at FR to 22.3 at WW).

Map #6: A new map which is basically a slight modification of Map #2 -- with a small area of Southeast Street staying at FR instead of going to CF (447 kids at WW/460 at FR/336 at CF, one island - all going to FR, range in FRL from 31.5 at WW to 37.4 at FR, range of struggling kids from 21.3 at FR to 22.9 at CF).

So, the key thing for me (NOT speaking for the whole committee here) is that I think Map #4 is impossible in terms of equity (a gap of nearly 20%), and I think both Map #2 and #3 are undesirable in terms of equity (with FR in Map 2 and WW in Map 3 having over 39% kids on FRL -- too close to the 40% I believe we should be trying to avoid, which could change quickly). Although Map #1 created very good equity (range of less than 3%, no school above 36%), this map divided MM kids, and I believe that dividing off just 12% of kids from a very small school that is closing is not ideal.

That leaves me deciding between Maps #5 and #6. These maps are identical except in one respect -- two islands versus one island. And I'm torn, because I feel like one island is "better" but the one island map has worse equity between the schools (it is less than a 1% divide in Map #5, and a 5.9% gap in Map #6). So, if you are voting based on equity, Map #5 is the clear winner. But I would think that having more kids living off of East Hadley Road traveling together would be BETTER (e.g., 70 kids going to one school instead of 30 going to WW and 40 going to FR seems like it should be better for more neighborhood cohesion in these apartments, more opportunities for playdates/shared transportation, etc.). Yet the comments I'm hearing from the vast majority of people are about not having any islands ... very few people seem to think that one island is better than two islands, and if there is really no difference between these two options (because the island in and of itself is the problem), then I guess Map #5 is the best alternative. For me, that is where my hard thinking is going to be over the next few days, and I do look forward to hearing many thoughts (on my blog, via email to the whole SC, in person, etc.

24 comments:

Thoughtful said...

What is the turnover rate of kids in the apartment complexes off East Hadley Road? If it is high, I would be more in favor of going with the Map #5, two island map. The argument of having only one island is that if all kids in the East Hadley Road apartments were all going to one school, their families could more easily support each other through carpooling, etc. If there is a lot of turnover in those apartments, that makes it less likely that permanent communities who share resources are likely to form. Just a thought.

In some ways, you could also use that argument in favor of Map #1. You argue that splitting off 12% of kids from a small school is not idea (i.e. the Leverett Road kids), but in all reality, the "split" is just going to affect the kids who currently attend MM; what grades are those 12% kids and thus how long will they have to be "split" from their former classmates at MM (before they come together again at ARMS)? During the discussions about closing MM, we constantly heard about the high turnover among MM families and thus it is likely that this 12% of kids would have seen a large turnover in their classmates anyway.

I still agree with you, though, that Map #5 seems to be the most reasonable given the "rules" used to do the redistricting. Good luck tonight!

Rick said...

Nice job getting the maps up before the meeting. I like #6 – I don’t think 5.9% difference is too much, and the "struggling" percent’s are close – but just my opinion.

I’d love to hear what Margaret Burland thinks as she has had some good points before, coming from that neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I really get the one versus two versus no islands issue. Aren't kids from these apartment complexes already going to two or three different schools now by parental choice? So one one hand, many parents are voluntarily separating their kids out from the school they would ordinarily be bused to -- but the school committee can't? These families are voluntariy creating a smaller group of potential carpools. Is it the lack of choice that bothers people? Does that overcome the equity/improved academic performance issue?

Also, getting parents without transportation to school events is not just an issue for the apartment families -- it's a town-wide issue. There are many solutions to this problem (organized carpools, parents willing to drive, parent councils, school vans, etc.) It isn't really solved by saying lets keep the apt complexes together so people so there is a bigger pool of carpoolers. Let's address this issue separately and start thinking of solutions.

Another thought: the school committee could keep map #1 as an option if it grandfathered in the existing Marks Meadow families to WW, then had new Leverett Road families go to Fort River. This grandfathering would get less and less over time, as kids got older and families move.

Anonymous said...

Wish every SC member would tell us what they are thinking and why AND
have a blog to welcome responses.

Anonymous said...

I like both maps #5 and #6. I'd rather not go the route of using map #1, with current MM students grandfathered in to WW, and future kids in the affected MM neighborhood going to FR. This will create issues such as siblings being split up into two different schools (older ones going to WW and younger ones going to FR), among other things. I think there's something to be said about moving the entire MM district to a single new school and not creating any new issues/headaches for them.

Margaret Burland said...

As I said at tonight's meeting, I cannot support any redistricting map that features islands in the East Hadley area, or for that matter anywhere in Amherst. I also recognize that the School Committee would be very unlikely to support the new map #4, the only one we've seen that does not have islands, because when all the East Hadley apartment dwellers attend Crocker Farm, it creates a concentration of low-income students there that is way beyond what the School Committee believes is reasonable (over 47%, and they seem absolutely determined to stay below 40%, which I agree would be most desirable). But please don't just throw away map #4 because of that problem. Look at it again, everyone -- I love not only the absence of islands but also the overall geographical coherence. On some other maps we've seen, people try to stretch the Fort River district in every direction at once, and only on this one do we see Fort River occupy a logical place at the geographical center, with a longer spread toward the northeast, but that's because the school itself is so far east and so few roads go all the way north from the town center. The map makes sense. It feels right. So it seems to me that the solution to most of the problems that have been raised during this 6-month process would be to start with map 4 but to make the southern boundary of Fort River more even, specifically to bring it south down to East Hadley Road, and then to dip the southwest corner south of East Hadley Rd to encompass Whippletree Lane, Southpoint and The Boulders. If these students were added to Fort River, some other part of the Fort River district would have to change to Crocker Farm to balance things out: logically, all or just the southern half of Amherst Woods (depending on the numbers, I know there are a lot of children in that area and maybe they wouldn't all fit in Crocker Farm, but if they did, so much the better). This change would only enhance the geographical coherence of this already simple and lovely map, and it would create far greater equity between the schools because the students leaving Crocker Farm would be largely low-income students and the students joining Crocker Farm would be some of the wealthiest in town. The East Hadley area would be divided between two schools but would be *split* less than it is now, with students in the apartments having the real option of walking over to visit their classmates across the road on Chesterfield or Justice Sts (for the Boulders/Fort River group) or around the corner on Dennis Dr or Mill Lane (for the Mill Valley/Crocker Farm group). This is the only map I have felt at all enthusiastic about, and the adjustment I am proposing to it would be simple, rational and effective. I know the Committee can't tinker with these maps forever, but this one is so close to perfection that I fervently hope someone will attempt this tinker to see what the results would really be.

Meg Rosa said...

Out of the maps presented tonight, I support map #5. I again am in awe of how much work was done to create all of these maps. I love that there were several new ones presented tonight. I wish we had heard more from people who would be more impacted by the "islands" but feel this is the best for all kids in the town.

Anonymous said...

Map #4 is the right map. For all of the reasons Margaret Burland presented.

Anonymous said...

From someone who once lived in Amherst and now only reads the going ons for laughs. I moved out of Town because of the issues at Crocker Farm concerning the large under preforming population. I could not get adequate services at CF, could not afford to go to a private school and did not qualify for in district school choice.

Anonymous said...

Map #5 seems like the best option. I think that equity is a important goal and while no map will be perfect, this seems like the best solution.

I know that some are concerned about kids moving schools but kids are really resilient and will make new friends quickly.

Anonymous said...

We need to seriously think about building one elementary school - design approaches can create grade 'communities' to address the size issues. It would save on transportation, administrators and other staff, and form a sense of a whole, which this town needs. Any redistricting is going to quickly regress to the same imbalances we're trying to solve.

Anonymous said...

Margaret does make some well-thought-out points (as usual). Margaret...have you considered running for Town Meeting?

Caren Rotello said...

I think that Map 4 is a non-starter, because of the continued inequities in the schools, UNLESS changes along the lines of those suggested by Margaret Burland could create equity. Those suggestions seem worth trying (perhaps they've already been considered and rejected?).

Rick said...

"Margaret does make some well-thought-out points" That's for sure. I hope the committee takes one more stab at modifying Map 4 to get the FRL % in line.

I know it seems like endless tweaking (thanks Doug & Kathy), but you're very close to the goal line, so it would be a shame to not give that last extra push to see if Map 4 can be made to work.

Anonymous said...

I am against Map 5 because it has almost 40 more students at WW than at FR (476 kids at WW and 437 kids at FR) vs all the other maps which leaves WW around 450 kids.

I like the idea of moving lines around to tweak Map 4 to generate a more equitable FRL - and that would alleviate much of the concerns of the CF-latino families who are asking to be together at CF (I am assuming that most of them live in the apts near E. Hadley Road which might be a bad assumption). I agree with all the posters except for Margaret that the biggest issue for the Latinos is their desire to stay together as a group in CF, not the issue of islands.

Can you give us a breakdown of the number of FRL kids in each of the major apt complexes (and non-FRL kids) so we know what number of kids it is that wants to stay together at CF? And then we can figure out what number of non-FRL need to be added to the mix at CF to make it ~35%-37% FRL. It could be that there are too many FRL kids in the E. Hadley Rd Apt complexes that it's impossible to have them all at the smallest school.

Anonymous said...

Where do the Latino families live in Amherst?

has anyone been paying attention? said...

Tweaking map 4 will create two schools Crocker and Fort River) with a much greater percentage of low-income kids and one school with many less (Wildwood).

Moving middle class families around on the map doesn't help.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Thoughtful - I don't know the turn-over rate ... but I would believe that even with a high turn-over rate, one island might be easier (e.g., you'd just get to know new folks at the start of the year to have playdates, carpool, etc.). Having one island gives you 70 kids ... having two gives you only 30 or 40 going to your same school.

I think the families off of East Leverett Road are not the high turn-over group (those are the ones in U Mass housing). And I believe sending just 20 kids to a new school is less than ideal -- hence Map 5!

Rick - I think Map 6 has some advantages ... but I also think a 6% spread seems different to parents in the schools, and there is concern that a 6% spread now could be an 8% spread in a year (there is certainly considerable mobility in the apartments). We just don't want to go to all of this work to have a 10 or 12% spread in a few years, which is what to me makes map 5 slightly better (though I could easily vote for 6, if I felt convinced the 1 versus 2 island thing was important to ANYONE!!!).

Anonymous 4:34 - kids from these apartment complexes are indeed already going to two or three different schools now by parental choice, which is one reason why I'm just not sure the islands matter to anyone (e.g., of the families living off of East Hadley Road, about 50% go to CF, 30% to WW, and 20% to FR). I think people (a) want choice (and this isn't going to happen), and (b) aren't convinced that equity is indeed important (or will lead to improved academic performance). I share your belief that getting parents without transportation to school events is an issue for many parents all across town -- and is something that we need to address in a broader way.

Grandfathering is VERY messy -- do you really do it for 6 years for current kindergarteners? What do you do with younger siblings of grandfathered kids? What do you do when people sell a house and then we run two buses down a tiny street and people don't go to school with their neighbors, etc.

Anonymous 5:59 - me too! Feel free to email the SC and suggest it!

Anonymous 9:08 - I agree -- 5 and 6 seem like the best to me for many reasons.

cainmatt said...

Since many people are concerned with the number of children who will be changing schools, can the number of children moving be added to each map?

What is the definition of "% struggling"? Is that % scoring below grade level on MCAS or is there another definition?

I also want to thank the redistricting committee and school committee for all the work they are putting into this.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Margaret - we can definitely revise Map 4 to extend and dip into the East Hadley Road area, and then move some of these kids to Fort River (not on an island) and we would then have to divide Amherst Woods in half to move those kids to Crocker Farm. That is do-able and wouldn't create islands. HOWEVER, what it would do is (a) create inequity in the schools (e.g., a spread of 6/7/8% in terms of kids on FRL), (b) still divide the kids off of East Hadley Road into two buildings (and not allow school choice, meaning some kids change schools), (c) violate a tenant of the map which was to avoid dividing neighborhoods, (d) increase transportation time/costs (many more kids on East Hadley Road would go to FR than in the current plan which is the furthest school from their homes, plus many kids living in East Amherst/Amherst Woods would go to CF which is a longer bus ride), (e) overall requires more kids in our community to transition to new schools than in maps 5 or 6. Now, maybe those are all reasonable trade-offs in order to avoid the islands. But I ONLY want to experience all of those trade-offs (which do mean more kids/families in transition AND greater costs for transportation AND less equity between our schools) if all families really think that is the best choice ... AND I do NOT want to experience these trade-offs if many families off of East Hadley Road are just still then going to be mad that school choice is out and language/culture clustering is out, and their kids are switching schools or their kids' friends are swiching schools!

Anonymous said...

...and the schools are still inequitable after all these changes.

Anonymous said...

I didn't vote for her the first time, but I would vote in 2010 for Meg Rosa for School Committee.

How about it, Meg? Are you up for it?

Margaret Burland said...

I voted for Meg Rosa and would do so again, if she is willing to run. I also voted for Catherine Sanderson and would do so again, even though we don't always agree on policy. I feel a sense of good will toward the whole town right now, which is not how I felt when the redistricting process began. I want to say that now, without even knowing how the vote will go. I also want to encourage anyone concerned about the islands, or anyone who has an opinion about whether one island is better than two (I think it is), to speak up if you have not already. Apparently people are beginning to think that no one is offended by the islands except me, and of course the School Committee shouldn't do anything to please me as an individual. I would also like to state that, as an individual (well, a member of a family), I am deeply grateful to teachers and staff at both Wildwood and Crocker Farm for what they have done to help my children, who happen to have needed a lot of help. I really believe in the work that is being done every day, and I hope for every student, at the Amherst schools. I trust that that work will continue at all the schools, regardless of how the redistricting turns out.

Anonymous said...

CS- in response to your response to MB's suggestions on map # 4- is violating a "tenant" of the map really as bad as discriminating against renters? Dividing both the apt. area and amherst woods is not the same as dividing a street- both are large neighborhoods. Months ago when the first couple of maps were floated, a large number of amherst woods dwellers said that they would be happy to move to crocker farm for the good of the town.

Whey do "ALL" families have to think it's the best choice for it to go forward? There is no such unanimous agreement on any other plan. Many people will be "mad" about something because it affects their kids and households. Even though some will be unhappy with end of language clustering doesn't mean it is right to discriminate against them. In fact, they will be mad about the end of clustering with every map. The right thing has to be done even if the thing that makes people the maddest can't be avoided.


(a) create inequity in the schools (e.g., a spread of 6/7/8% in terms of kids on FRL), (b) still divide the kids off of East Hadley Road into two buildings (and not allow school choice, meaning some kids change schools), (c) violate a tenant of the map which was to avoid dividing neighborhoods, (d) increase transportation time/costs (many more kids on East Hadley Road would go to FR than in the current plan which is the furthest school from their homes, plus many kids living in East Amherst/Amherst Woods would go to CF which is a longer bus ride), (e) overall requires more kids in our community to transition to new schools than in maps 5 or 6. Now, maybe those are all reasonable trade-offs in order to avoid the islands. But I ONLY want to experience all of those trade-offs (which do mean more kids/families in transition AND greater costs for transportation AND less equity between our schools) if all families really think that is the best choice ... AND I do NOT want to experience these trade-offs if many families off of East Hadley Road are just still then going to be mad that school choice is out and language/culture clustering is