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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Very Brief Meeting Update

I am going to do a longer blog post to really summarize the whole meeting sometime on Wednesday ... but it is after midnight and I just got home from a 4 1/2 hour meeting ... so this will be short. Here are the key things we did:

1. Heard a report on the budget cuts at the regional level.

Here's the good news -- Mike Hayes (senior assistant MS principal) has done a fabulous job of making smart cuts. The cuts are, in my opinion as an SC member and a parent of a 6th grader, really minimal ... and in fact, in some ways are even improvements. No change in class size in core classes in 8th, class sizes in 7th go from 20 to 25 (under the worst budget scenarios). Two world languages (Russian, German) are cut -- but these languages are now serving a total of 11 students in 7th grade. He has even managed to find improvements -- music goes to every day (now is every other day) and there is an extra guidance counselor so there is a guidance counselor for each grade. Intervention support for math is reduced, but remains at what he feels is an appropriate level. PE is combined with health, so kids will have somewhat less PE. But overall, he's taken really smart steps to make cuts that I think will have minimal impact, and although I know no cuts are easy, I am very, very impressed with how he has put together this budget.

Here's the bad news -- the high school administration put forth two proposals. Scenario A moves us to 3 study halls, meaning kids have 12 classes and 3 study halls over the year (4 classes and 1 study hall each trimester). Class size would increase some. Scenario B moves us to 2 study halls a year, meaning kids have 13 classes and 2 study halls (like they do now) -- but the class sizes grow quite a lot (over 30 in some cases) and some electives just couldn't be taught at all at that level (e.g., can you do art to 30?). I believe three study halls a year is impossible (as did several other members of the committee), so I think we are facing huge classes at the high school in virtually all areas next year.

Some cuts to central administration were proposed (these were a bit vague still), and the two alternative high schools would be consolidated (at a savings of about $178,000).

2. We discussed a new policy on the evaluation of instructional programs -- I will post the policy on my blog tomorrow sometime (it is already available on the ARPS website). Some changes were suggested, and the policy subcommittee will revise accordingly.

I will do a longer post tomorrow, but here are the highlights!


Fed Up Parent said...

Thank goodness the administration has finally been willing to look at the alternative high schools. They serve together, what, 40 kids? When the "regular high school" kids are facing 30+ kids in a class, it really isn't possible to justify two separate schools for 40 kids. Good work administration! Now let's work on getting back to a semester system.

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope the plan is to consolidate the 2 alternative high schools in one building and not to consolidate the programs - the 2 programs serve two entirely different categories of kids and in my mind should not be combined. To combine them in one program would be a disservice to all the kids in both programs.

Anonymous said...

I think the high school administration may need help in finding potential cuts. Some principals find it difficult to suggest proposals that might result in conflicts with their staff. Afterall when all is done, they still work together.

No suggestions about re-looking at electives? No administrative cuts? We need to help the high school find the areas that can be eliminated before we go to over 30 kids in a class and a study hall for each (crazy) tri-mester. Makes me think about how many study halls would there be if there were only 2 semesters?

Anonymous said...

It's great to hear that Mike Hayes is making such wise decisions given that the MS budget is more limited than the HS budget.

As a community member, how do we get a feel for whether the proposed cuts to the HS are the best they could possibly come up with or just a scare tactic? I'm a little skeptical when I hear gloom and doom scenarios.

Cathy C said...


I couldn't agree more that Mike Hayes did a tremendous job working through the MS budget cuts. While teachers will feel the strain of increased class size at the middle school, the structure of the school was maintained. This should be applauded.

Anonymous said...

Surprising to hear people upset with the idea of more study halls. When these kids get to college they will spend a lot more time studying than they will in class. That's what a study hall is. It also helps to defer from the biggest issue students have with high school, the amount of homework. A study hall during their school day helps to provide a quiet, focused place to study.

To the rumor mongers who state that ARHS study halls allow texting. That is a lie. Cell phones are not allowed to be seen during the school day.

Obviously, this was a parent writing in about that. How about you taking the cell phone away from you kid while s/he is at school. Then no one at school will have to waste her time policing your kid's texting.

The teachers and administrators didn't buy these kids all of these electronic devices. I believe you did, Mommy. Why don't you crack the whip on your kid first buy insisting these devices cannot be brought to school.

The school rule is that if we see a cell phone out in school, we confiscate it. I don't imagine parents will have a hard time as we confiscate several hundred phones every day of the week.

Some of your child's behaviors are also your responsibility. Maybe it's time to stop blaming the teachers just because the school district is in a tight spot.

Anonymous said...

To ANon 11:37Am- Watch out- expect to get flamed! I expect that the prohibition against texting is like the ban on chewing gum when I was in school-it was enforced but we did it anyway.

Nina Koch said...

The high school administration is proposing enormous cuts both in programs and in staffing, including administration. They already cut one assistant principal last year. Now they are proposing cutting 1.0 again (not clear how it will be parceled out). Our principal already works harder than anyone should be expected to work.

These cuts are very real. With the programs we are losing, I don't know if we are still a comprehensive high school or not. Changing the mission of a school is a big deal. All of this is a big deal. Anyone who attempts to downplay the impact of these cuts simply doesn't appreciate the situation. It is very distressing-- for teachers, for administrators, and for families who will be affected.

Anonymous said...

If you read the Gazette today you will see just how horrible these cuts are.....losing 14.5 positions in the MS alone is a big deal. I too applaud Mike Hayes for working through a terrible situation but this is a huge cut (around 20% of the staff) I would like to see how the SPED kids will be served with the bulk of the cuts coming in that area...just because this does not impact the vocal minority of families who want to turn ARMS and ARHS into private is not minimal in any way and I certiainly hope our elected SC members understand that. It may be inevitable but it is not minimal. And how in the world can there be conversation about adding things like AP in light of these cuts....irresponsible. I also think having a consultant meeting to ask how things can be improved in the MS meeting with parents one day and then cuts coming the next is absurd. In all places there are good and bad teachers but how can we possibly ask these hard working folks to do any more ....and continue to do it with a smile?

Anonymous said...

anon 12:29: "minority of families who want to turn ARMS and ARHS into private schools"

just because parents are expecting their school to live up to the standard it claims it has does not mean we want it to become a private school. What I read in this blog are families who want Amherst schools to learn from other public schools and to stop trying to re-invent the wheel.

the budget cuts are real. if we are to address them and not harm our kids, we need to stop infighting and instead, start from a place of common ground. SC members could take the lead here.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected about my comment about turning ARHS into private school (however I have heard that comment multiple times from multiple sources) I do however feel that there is a backlash and the cuts are disproportionately coming on the backs of the SPED and population that may not be AP bound. students whose parents may not feel enfranchised to speak up. As a public school it is the mandate to educate all. I agree that the cuts are real and we need to come together but feel fingers are being pointed at cutting anything that does not influence the top tier student particularly as many of the ELL and SPED families are not speaking up and advocating as they might not know how. We seem to hear again and again from many of the same people. As an optimist I want to believe that no matter who we are, how gifted or academically challenged our kids are we all want whats best for our children. I have faith that the administrative team will look to the big picture and not just if our child will be happy with more music etc. I do not unfortunately think the SC is as impartial.

Anonymous said...

SPED requirements and its funding structure means that budgets cuts almost always come at the expense of 'regular' education, which has been reduced year after year after year. Perhaps - rather than asking for a private school-type experience (and you have absolutely no idea how far off we are from that!) - it's just that families with kids who do not require special services are tired of quietly taking all the hits and are starting to demand a decent education for their kids. They have a right to that.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we are faced with losing 20% of the staff and of course it is difficult for all concerned. If the staff is really concerned for the kids and for their colleagues who might be losing their jobs, perhaps they might consider reducing their raises? How many positions would it save if all staff capped their raises (COLA and STEP combined) to 2%? In this economy, I would be happy to be getting 2%!

Anonymous said...

If you are a parent of a regular education student you would have to be a saint to watch without any reaction the constant erosion of regular education, as special education takes up a bigger percentage of the budget. Then to be asked to support a tax increase just to hold onto the weakened regular education program?

Anonymous said...

And how do we even know that any override money would go toward "holding on to the weakening regular education program?" Seriously. How do we know that our kids won't still be in three study halls and classes with 30 kids and the override money be spent instead on keeping the East Street alternative high school open, fund more hours for the Jones Library, increase funding for LSSE and the golf course, or buy new police cruisers? How can we find out what the override money will be spent on?