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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Our Opinion: Elementary lessons

Hampshire Gazette
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.


Rick said...


Presumably teachers who specialize in teaching Spanish-as-first-language kids are concentrated at Crocker Farm, and next year those teachers will be dispersed over other schools – although perhaps most will still be at CF?

As that occurs, are there any plans for changing the way that Spanish-as-first-language kids are taught? I primarily mean learning English, but learning in general also. Or is it thought the way they are taught now is fine and the only real change will be that those kids and teachers will not be concentrated at one school?

Anonymous said...


Please run for School Committee.
You ask the BEST questions.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I second the nomination!

Rick said...

FYI I am running for SC. Asking questions is easy - coming up with answers (and implementing them) is hard. If I get elected I just hope I am able to help with answers.

Anonymous said...

Was there ever any evaluation to see if the ethnic and language clusters actually helped kids' academic performance compared to other kids from the same backgrounds? Or was this just another good idea implemented without followup to see if it worked?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - I believe that all teachers, including ELL teachers, will be distributed across the schools, so yes, some will almost certainly be moving to other buildings. However, my understanding of state recommendations is that ELL instruction in the elementary schools should be given simply by qualified ELL teachers ... NOT by teachers who are necessarily bilingual in a given language (e.g., Spanish ELL kids and Chinese ELL kids can, and even should, be taught by someone who is simply an ELL teacher). That is the recommendation as I understand it now (and that is not necessarily what our schools have been doing). The only time in which it is specifically recommended to have teachers who are bilingual in a child's particular language is when the child is in an advanced class (e.g., high school geometry, AP biology, etc.) in which case specialized instruction in that child's native language is useful. Does that answer your question?

Anonymous 7:39 and Anonymous 9:42 - You will both be pleased to learn that Rick has already announced his intention to run for SC!

Rick - good point! Questions are indeed easier than answers, though both are important.

Anonymous 11:09 - also a good question ... and as you might imagine, there is no data from Amherst (or elsewhere) showing that the type of clustering we do (by cultural/ethnicity/language) is effective. It is, like many things in the Amherst schools, unusual.