I was forwarded a letter earlier today by a friend, which describes an upcoming protest of both the redistricting plan and closing of Marks Meadow and encourages participation. I debated whether I should post this on my blog (to bring additional publicity), but ultimately decided that since many residents would receive this email, I should both post it and respond to it (since it contains many inaccuracies). The exact text of the letter appears below in italics, followed by a list of inaccuracies and clarifications (and certainly readers of my blog should feel free to contact the four signers of this letter to express their feelings -- pro or con -- about this intended protest).
Dear Parent or/ Community Member,
We Need YOUR SUPPORT and VOICE this Coming Tuesday!
PLEASE JOIN US This Coming TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27th, 2009 @ 4pm at The Amherst Commons.
We are organizing a MARCH TO PROTEST the Amherst Schools Committee’s Plan to REDISTRICT our elementary schools and the closing of Marks Meadow. The School Committee’s decision DOES NOT REFLECT THE NEEDS OF OUR CHILDREN nor their communities. We believe their plan will be harmful and divisive to the multicultural fabric of our town. We believe this plan will create animosity between those that struggle economically and those of a more privileged community. We don’t feel it is FAIR to bus children to new schools within the Amherst School system just because they qualify for FREE OR REDUCED LUNCH. Furthermore, we are not convinced that moving our children to new schools will improve the quality of their education. We feel that FORCED BUSSING OF LOW INCOME, MULTICULTURAL/ MULTILINGUAL CHILDREN IS OFFENSIVE.
We feel that those School Committee members that want to speak about EQUITY should bring plans WITH MULTIPLE STUDIES OF TESTED RESULTS to improve the education of our children. They are basing their idea of redistricting on only one study. We do not think that dispersing children who qualify for free or reduced lunch and/or are multicultural/multilingual into more affluent schools will improve MCAS scores or their abilities to learn. On the contrary, the School Committee’s Redistricting Plan will isolate our children and their communities from the support they need.
We support the philosophy that children thrive in elementary schools that provide supportive environments in close proximity to their neighborhoods and families. We object to the comments made by a School Committee member on October 22nd, 2009, stating that Amherst did not need Marks Meadow and that he would have closed it “even if there was one million dollars to keep it open.” We disagree with his comments that “the money could be spent more wisely in other projects.” We feel that each of the elementary schools in the town of Amherst has a special relationship with the various communities they represent. To close Marks Meadow will be a severe blow to the communities and neighborhoods that make up North Amherst.
Please join us in supporting our children’s educational needs and our diverse community fabric this coming Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 @ 4pm at the Amherst Common.
We NEED YOUR SUPPORT and VIOCE in presenting our Grievances with the AMHERST SCHOOL Committee regarding their Committee’s Redistricting subcommittee plan. Please give us your presence VOICE and PRESENCE in ADDRESSING the needs of our CHILDREN. Their plan will sever the fabric of our multicultural community and isolate our children in their new placements. The School Committee’s plan to disperse the children who come from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch IS NOT in the best interest of those who are most vulnerable in our school system. The School Committee Redistricting plan WAS NOT created to address the academic needs of our children.
Sincerely yours in the struggle for our Children’s education..
Contact Persons Email Address
Zulma Rivera email@example.com
Nelson Acosta firstname.lastname@example.org
Lissa Pierce Bonifaz email@example.com
Vladimir Morales firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are the inaccuracies included in this letter:
1. The letter states "We don’t feel it is FAIR to bus children to new schools within the Amherst School system just because they qualify for FREE OR REDUCED LUNCH." However, as is very clear in this, and any, redistricting plan, many children are being bused to new schools -- not just those on free/reduced lunch. Children are being bused to new schools from downtown Amherst (on Lincoln, Dana, Blue Hills), and some of these, but not most, kids are on free/reduced lunch. Children are being bused to new schools from the houses off of East Hadley Road to new schools, and some of these, but not most, kids are on free/reduced lunch. Children are being bused to new schools from some of the apartment complexes off of East Hadley Road to new schools, and most of these children, but not all, are on free/reduced lunch. Obviously all of the children who attend Marks Meadow are being bused on new schools -- some of these children, but not most, are on free/reduced lunch. The majority of kids on free/reduced lunch will in fact attend the exact same school they attend right now, as will the majority of kids NOT on free/reduced lunch.
2. We have no idea whether the children who are attending new schools are or are not "MULTICULTURAL/MULTILINGUAL." However, I believe this comment addresses the ending of programs in which children were bused to particular schools based on their ethnicity, race, or culture, which is a violation of state and federal law, and would therefore be discontinued regardless of whether we closed Marks Meadow and/or redistricted. These programs were going to end, as was announced by the central administration at a School Committee last year. The only reason they continued this year was to avoid creating an additional transition for these children if they moved to a new school this year once these programs ended, and then moved to yet another new school the following year after redistricting. But the elimination of these programs has NOTHING to do with closing Marks Meadow or redistricting.
3. The letter states "We feel that those School Committee members that want to speak about EQUITY should bring plans WITH MULTIPLE STUDIES OF TESTED RESULTS to improve the education of our children. They are basing their idea of redistricting on only one study. We do not think that dispersing children who qualify for free or reduced lunch and/or are multicultural/multilingual into more affluent schools will improve MCAS scores or their abilities to learn." However, a body of well-established research (some of which I have already posted on my blog) indicates that low income children who attend schools in which more then 40% of the children are on free/reduced lunch do not perform as well as those who attend schools with a smaller proportion of students on free/reduced lunch. This is NOT one study -- it is many studies, which is why redistricting based on socioeconomic status has been affirmed by the US Supreme Court and is being used in many communities to improve student achievement (google Richard Kahlenberg to read this research on your own). Our plans have nothing to do with whether children are multicultural or multilingual: as noted previously, cultural clusters were going to be discontinued regardless of redistricting, and segregating students by ethnicity/race is a violation of state and federal law.
4. This letter states "We support the philosophy that children thrive in elementary schools that provide supportive environments in close proximity to their neighborhoods and families." I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. That is why following redistricting, the vast majority of children will attend the school that is in closest proximity to their homes (unlike our current system in which children from particular racial/ethnic/language backgrounds are often bused to schools far from where they live), and all children will attend the SAME school as children living in their same apartment building (unlike in our current system in which while children in a neighborhood of houses virtually always attend the same school, whereas many children living in a single apartment complex off of East Hadley Road now go to different schools than other children living in their same complex). I believe our new plan to have children in a single apartment complex all attend the same school will foster precisely the type of supportive environments that the signers of this letter believe is so important.
5. The letters criticize comments made by Steve Rivkin regarding closing Marks Meadow, and in particular that he believes the money spent to keep this school open ($700,000 per year) could be spent in better ways. Given that all of the children in our district can fit in the other three schools, at a cost of $700,000 a year LESS, and given the current (very bleak) state of school finances, it seems surprising that they believe it would truly be better to keep Marks Meadow open and make major cuts in other areas (e.g., increase class sizes, eliminate art/music/PE, reduce support for struggling students). The School Committee voted unanimously to close Marks Meadow over 5 months ago, and I don't believe anyone on the committee sees this decision as a mistake.
Obviously all residents of Amherst have a right to protest any decision by any elected board at any time -- and thus it is not surprising to me that residents would protest redistricting (which is controversial in all communities). However, I'm disappointed that a letter would be widely circulated which contains so many inaccuracies and misleading statements, and thus will likely create more hysteria and animosity. If the organizers of this protest truly want to create multicultural schools with supportive environments for all children, I would hope they could turn some of their (considerable) energy to suggesting and developing specific plans to ease the transition for children and their families over the next few months. I will hope that after the vote on Tuesday, we - the School Committee, teachers/staff, families, and the community - can move to planning the transition to new schools in a way that works well for all kids.
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.