Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Now that the Amherst School Committee has voted to change the borders of the town's elementary districts, parents and staff should seek to minimize the problems children will face next September when they go to new schools.
Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez is urging parents not to second-guess the redistricting decision and to prepare their children for the transition. We think he is correct to focus attention on what can be done to minimize the disruption to children.
Change can be hard to accept. It has been especially difficult for parents and advocates of Latino and Cambodian children who have been clustered in the Crocker Farm School and the Fort River School respectively. These programs have helped these children learn about their families' cultural backgrounds, have created a genuine sense of belonging and increased parental involvement.
But the school district's attorney has advised that these programs are in violation of state and federal law. Gathering students by ethnic group who are fluent in English is a violation of civil rights laws, the attorney said. These programs have to end and the children who have taken part in them assigned among the elementary schools; that decision is separate from the redistricting issue.
Crocker Farm School has twice the percentage of children from low-income households as Wildwood School, and its performance on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests last spring was far behind that of other schools. School Committee members maintain research shows that students who attend schools with more than 40 percent low-income students do not perform as well as others.
We commend the School Committee for sticking to its goal of equalizing the percentage of low-income students enrolled in the town's elementary schools. The members knew their decision was bound to make some people unhappy, and in fact they withstood a large amount of criticism before the vote.
Most of the critics were upset either about the discontinuation of the ethnic clusters or about last spring's vote to close Mark's Meadow School, which set the redistricting in motion. But these decisions had already been made, and distracted attention from the decision about which map the committee should adopt.
We suspect that after some discomfort, children from low-income backgrounds and from Latino and Cambodian families will adapt well to their new schools, provided their parents don't predispose them to resent the change. They will benefit from their exposure to the larger school population, which will in turn benefit from the broader perspective.
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.