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, February 11, 2010

Amherst Regional school board IDs $950,000 shortfall

Hampshire Gazette
Friday, February 12, 2010

AMHERST - In a compromise, the Regional School Committee voted Tuesday to recommend that a $950,000 budget gap in the secondary schools be filled by the four member towns through overrides or other sources of money.

Amherst's share of that amount would be about $741,000, and Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham would have to pay about $70,000 each. These calculations assume that state aid will decline by 5 percent.

On Monday, the Amherst School Committee voted to request that the elementary schools be allocated $400,000 on the March 23 Proposition 2½ override. The Select Board is meeting today to decide the amount of the override and whether to make it a lump sum, or give voters a choice of programs to support with higher taxes.

Member Steve Rivkin estimated a regional schools' budget shortfall of $800,000. He said that more cuts were possible because of declining enrollment, asserting that the high school could save money by adopting a semester schedule.

"We need to be as frugal as possible," he said.

Committee member Catherine Sanderson agreed, saying that the Select Board had imposed an "artificial deadline" that does not provide enough time for consideration of cuts or changes in basic assumptions.

Member Irv Rhodes said the committee can't be confident that state aid cuts won't be more than 5 percent. "I detest making a decision based on financial quicksand," he said.

Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said the $800,000 number was too low, noting that the regional schools have borne the greatest burden of cuts. He said it is "dangerous" to start "penny-pinching."

Member Andy Churchill said he favored recommending the filling of a $1.1 million budget shortfall. He said such a figure is not extravagent, and some of the money could come from reserves as well as the override.

"Investing in education is part of the Amherst brand," he said. If cuts are too severe, Amherst could be at a "tipping point," he said.

Rivkin's motion for a $800,000 figure failed on a 6-3 vote. A compromise of $950,000 passed 8-0, with Sanderson abstaining.

There is a long list of possible cuts at the regional middle and high schools, ranked by priority for restoration if more money is available. Principal Mark Jackson said that over the past week, cuts in elective courses have moved to a greater priority and academics have moved to a lower priority.


Marty K. said...

In their parting shot in the Bulletin, Steve and Catherine had a golden opportunity to say something in response to the numerous responses to their previous article, which many saw as inflammatory and hurtful. They did not, and instead continued to beat their own drums on issues dear to their own constituencies. Catherine, you and Steve are doing serious damage to our schools. You continue to peddle half-truths (like the idea that a semester system saves money) and paint others (Administrators, the Select Board) as always being at fault for your inability to work together with your colleagues to reach consensus on a budget that stops the erosion of our schools. Under the banner of "fiscal management" you are slowly but surely bleeding the regional schools to death. Amherst parents and voters beware - if other ACE people are elected to School Committee we will be treated to an exodus of teachers, the folks who everyone credits with being at the heart of our schools. Good luck negotiating a new contract with these folks after repeatedly selling them short and blaming them for budget problem instead of acknowledging that the root cause is the drop in revenue. Your lack of faith in a proven system is clear - you claim to support education but your approach is "prove that what you do is better than what I think you should do or I'll cut your funding." The many positive stories, statistics and indicators that distinguish the Amherst Public Schools are all forgotten, and all you can focus on is "why are we different?" (Different is bad?) or "A parent told me that they had a bad experience." Where is your praise for the excellent and UNIQUE programs, the many unpaid hours and hard work done by teachers, administrators, support personnel, and students to make the ARPS a great place to be for the vast majority of families? Catherine, you and Steve painted yourselves into a corner and you took OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS with you. Thanks for nothing, you and ACE can forget about my support next time or ever again.

Anonymous said...

To Marty K: Clearly your children have not had any of the teachers that should never have been hired in the first place: English teachers who can't spell, and don't give comments on the students' lengthy papers; language teachers who refuse to teach grammar in the new language; and others who move the curriculum slowly while dealing with the same behavioral problems day after day. This is not the sign of an excellent or innovative school system. My children (and obviously yours too) have also had some of the many dedicated teachers who differentiate the curriculum already, without getting the upcoming professional development; who challenge each child to reach his/her potential. When children get these teachers they love learning, look forward to going to school and become engaged with the material. When children get the others, they dread going to school and can become behavior problems. How dare you malign ACE, Catherine and Steve for pushing to be the best school system we can be. Perhaps the exodus will be of the teachers we shouldn't have been hired in the first place.

I applaud the work that Catherine, Steve and Irv are doing and am sorry they have to take so much heat for trying to appropriate diminishing resources in the most productive way.

Anonymous said...

Marty K's post may be the most vivid demonstration that we may not be able to have an honest debate on these issues in this town.

And last time I checked, Rivkin and Sanderson are in the majority on the local School Committee. In other words, the touchstone of effectiveness in elected office in Amherst is not whether or not one is able to work with Andy Churchill. It's forging working majorities. And for the time being they have one.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

To 7"04- Are you an expert on current and accepted practice in the teaching of foreign languages? Neither am I. I do know however, that the way for example that Latin is taught at the Middle school is the accepted practice these days. And FYI- you know that great school down rt9 that everyone on this blog loves to compare ARHS to? They also use a whole language approach to teaching spanish and French.

And honestly you can't be naive enough to believe that good teachers will stay in what many view as an increasing toxic environment? Why would they stay in a place where they are harshly and constantly criticized, where their good work is devalued and questioned, and where they have to deal with parents who are never, ever satisfied? They can go elsewhere and they will, leaving behind the worst teachers. Just like middle class parents will continue to pull their kids because of the impact of on-going cuts leaving the most needy ( educationally) and expensive to educate.

I support pre- k, and some of the other things that CS supports but please, those things are very, very expensive to implement and do well. Where is that money going to come from?

Anonymous said...

Is anyone actually reading what they are writing in these columns or are we stuck on a predetermined narrative? (Like a certain national cable news network.)

Rich Morse

Michael Jacques said...

It is unfortunate that Marty K has slid back down the slipper slope into what appear to be accusations without substance. Hopefully in the future he can site many examples to validate his opinion. Then we can have meaningful discussions.

I would much rather focus on issues as we have been doing for several weeks. In fact I feel that the majority of the dialog has been very helpful in informing me on issues and providing links to information that I need to make decisions.

As for me I wholeheartedly support Catherine, Steve, Irv, and Andy in the very hard work they are doing. I don't always agree with them but they are always open to discussion. I know if I can make a great argument for my side it will not go unnoticed.

While I am still on the fence with the override I feel that CS, SR, and IR position's as school committee members is the correct one. The are looking out for fiscal responsibility with vision, and accountability. It may not feel comfortable, it certainly has not been popular, but it is crucial to making Amherst a better place.

If anyone is interested in what it will take to get me off the fence it is pretty simple. I want to see concessions like police & fire have done. I want to see something other than cutting positions to save money. A temporary salary reduction for high level administrators, some temporary reduction in COLA's, a restructuring of the schools that saves money.

I do believe that we have many great teachers who quietly give more and more each year as we have cuts. It is not fair to them but it is going on in both the private and public sector. We have a very good school system but we still have room for improvement.

Thank you to all SC members and teachers who continue hard thoughtful work on behalf of my kids.

Michael Jacques said...

To Rich Morse

Sorry for being ignorant, but what do you mean??

Anonymous said...

Since data is an important tool for decision-making, here is some data that might shed some light on life on the ground in the middle school post 2008-2009 cuts:

• Loss of core team teachers affected at least 100 kids who moved from 7th grade last year to 8th grade this year. This meant that the “loop”model (i.e., core teachers loop with a team of kids for both 7th and 8th grades) was not available to at least one team last year.

• Loss of an experienced science teacher mid year to fill an administrative position resulted in the hiring of a much less experienced teacher for half the year last year, and a new, less experienced science teacher this year: affected about 200 students.

• Reduction in the frequency of music instruction has affected over 400 students this year, and the ripple effect will continue into the high school for the next couple of years.

• Loss of any budget support for after school clubs has jeopardized that program, which serves over 150 kids/year. Parents have had to step in to restore these.

• Cuts in the guidance department have resulted in a school of 500+ 12-14 year olds with only 1 guidance counselor this year.

It should also be noted that, because students are in the middle school for a shorter time than any other school in the district, cuts have a bigger impact there. The cuts that affected kids in 7th grade last year that might be reinstated next year will not benefit the students who are now in 8th grade.

It’s difficult to calculate the impact of loss of morale among teachers from loss of colleagues (including the principal), threats to their own jobs, a 50% increase in student load for 8th grade teachers over last year, etc., etc.

The Turning Point model, which was put into place in the middle school several years ago, was designed to address the needs of students who are bridging from elementary school to high school. Budget cuts last year (and proposed cuts next year) undermine that model. Just because that model was not designed by the current crop of SC members shouldn’t mean that they so readily allow cuts that undermine it. As they continue to review programs, come up with strategic plans, etc., programs that already exist and have merit are eroding.

It seems to me that the job of the SC members is to be closer to the ground than they seem to be, and to have done more homework about the programs that currently exist in the schools before they claim to need “more time to study the plans” and “more data.” There is plenty of data in the real world day-to-day lives of students and teachers, and there has been enough time for them to read school websites and visit the schools to gain an understanding of what is currently in place.

Anonymous said...

What continues to amaze me are venomous comments that seek to displace logic.

Wherever you stand in the debate, one thing remains undeniable: without the data one cannot make intelligent decisions.

If Dr. Rodriguez is correct, let him prove his premise with disaggregated and specific budget numbers. Same with Churchill. What I don't hear from the critics of the CS, RK, IR core on the School Committee is a wild scream demanding the financial data needed to make decisions that will have an impact on everyone.

As a parent of school age children, I support strong schools. But I judge that the only way to get to a stronger more robust system is to examine the budget data FIRST - then compare that to the reality on the ground - then make the necessary decisions to run this hybrid entity called our regional school system.

We need business acumen, artistic talent, and humanistic intention to make it all work. Without the economic foundations created by precise and intelligent financial management, the latter two pieces will fail, damaging our region's children over the long term.

So posters - if you must scream, at least use a modicum of intelligence in your criticisms. Demand from you allies the data we all need to make the right decisions for our children.

Amherst Advocate

Ed said...

if other ACE people are elected to School Committee we will be treated to an exodus of teachers, the folks who everyone credits with being at the heart of our schools.

I was waiting for this, and surprised it took this long to arrive. And the ONLY appropriate response to something like this is "you folk know where the door is."

There are something like 187 other school districts in the Commonwealth and if you think you can get a better deal somewhere else, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

If this is your attitude, no matter how qualified you are, the school you are currently in would be better without you. No hospital would ever tolerate "Dr. House", no matter how good he is.

Good luck negotiating a new contract with these folks after repeatedly selling them short and blaming them for budget problem instead of acknowledging that the root cause is the drop in revenue
Good luck negotiating a new contract with THESE folks (and our elected representatives) and good luck getting it funded when you express opinions & attitudes like this.

And if you don't like providing customer service as a teacher, you could always go work at WalMart.

Ed said...

And honestly you can't be naive enough to believe that good teachers will stay in what many view as an increasing toxic environment?

The little secret that no one will mention is that the older teachers really CAN'T leave and go somewhere else, and that we would be financially better off if they did...

It has to do with two things: pay scale and tenure - and unlike Higher Ed where a professor comes in with tenure and rank, you start over at a new school.

Remember too that the pay scale is based on (amongst other things) years of teaching experience. You get a certain percent more for each additional year of experience you have.

Hence if absolutely every teacher in the district left and every position was filled with a brand new teacher, we wouldn't have a budget problem. Our payroll costs would be considerably less.

(And I have personally seen some of these kids and they are bright and they are dedicated -- perhaps because of the economy or changing social values, we have some really bright young people entering the education profession.)

And the flip side of this is that an experienced teacher (someone with more than 3-4 years experience) is going to be too expensive for any other district to hire. Likewise with someone who has more than a MEd because of the salary scale.

And for the first two years you can be fired for any reason, you don't get tenure until the third contract (in the new district).

So the untold fact is that the teachers really can't leave. And they can huff & puff all they want, it is an empty threat. And even if they *did* leave, we would come out ahead....

And the other little fact is that you simply can not force the district to negotiate a contract that it does not have the resources to fund. I think some folk at UMass learned that a couple of years back....

Ed said...

One other thing -- from everything I have seen, after about 3-5 years, there is no observable improvement in teacher quality with additional years of experience.

And 5 years may be pushing it, generally a teacher is about as good as he/she/it is going to become after the third year of teaching.

And after 10-15-20 years, you start dealing with issues of burnout. And your teacher quality declines far below that of a newly-licensed novice.

Pay is based on senority because of the union rules. If pay were based on merit, you would not see the senior people getting the most money. Some would - but a lot wouldn't.

And when we think back to our own education and the teachers who were good, the question to ask was how many years of experience did they have THEN?

And the other little secret that we aren't going to talk about is that a teacher always has his/her/its "best" student the first year of teaching. If 100% of the population is being taught that year, one has to be the best.

The next year, the population has doubled and there is only a 50% chance that the "best" student will be in that year's cadre. And so forth...

Also the human memory is to remember the good and forget the bad -- as evidenced by John Kerry's professors "remembering" him as a much better student than he was.

Hence a teacher with 20 years experience is going to remember former students (some of whom may be currently known as adults) as being far better than the current students. Teacher attitude and expectations plays into student outcome. And thus experience does not always facilitate education...

I have seen some stuff that indicates that your best teachers are the ones with 3-4 years of experience -- it would be inhumane to fire them after that, but we need to stop listening to the union mantra of seniority equaling quality...

And one other thing - when you are talking sciences, if the teachers are not staying current in their fields, a lot of the stuff they are teaching is simply wrong. E.g. "four basic food groups...."

Alisa V. Brewer said...

One Override Ballot Question

Anonymous said...

Response to Brewer:

NO - we need data to back up the School request. If it is too small we are making a grave mistake.

If it is too large we are hurting cast strapped property owners.

This is an irresponsible proposal unless we have the specific detailed numbers(read"disaggregated line items") to back up the need indicated by the schools.

Who knows more may be necessary. What would you do then. Very poor uninformed vote by the SB. Override might make their jobs easier but it is not a good deal for the residents of this hallowed Ivory Tower of a town.

Anonymous said...

Your post about how teachers have to make career decisions is very solid.

It's laughable to say that experienced teachers will leave, because of the way the pension & seniority system works, as Ed explained. The only ones who could leave will be the few with financial resources beyond their salary & benefits.

I'm guessing there are teachers just about ready to retire who probably feel absolutely terrible about the pending layoffs of young, energetic colleagues who bring so much to the table.

But because the state teacher pension is based on some formula averaging pay during the final three years of service, people quite logically hang in there to maximize their pension. After 25, 30, even 40 years in the system, can you blame someone for wanting to finish out on a high note that will materially affect the next 20 or 30 years of their life?

How many teachers are going to be cut, anyway? I've heard that "you will not likely be rehired" letters went out to some elementary staff last month.

Rise Above

I'm a lot more worried about the fresh young teachers who aren't coming back. We're throwing away the seed corn.

Marty K. said...

Anonymous - My experiences of teachers in the Amherst Public Schools have been overwhelmingly positive. I have two children currently in the system. We have been at other schools; Amherst has been superior in many respects. Perfect? No. Impressively good? YES! How dare I malign ACE? Well, to paraphrase, Catherine, "Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it's cowardice." I have run out of patience with Catherine, Steve and the ACE crowd. They hide behind the claim of wanting excellence, but so far they have produced nothing but negativity, finger-pointing, excessive busywork for administrators and teachers, and now they have thrown a monkey wrench into the budget process in order to force their agenda on the schools. You are entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine. This blog is an open forum to discuss the issues - I think that the approach of CS, SR and ACE has been very damaging to the schools and it seems to be getting worse by the day.

Rich M - Three out of nine is a majority? And why is Andy Churchill singled out? Is his voice less sane, relevant, or credible than Catherine's?

Michael J - Substance? Steve has repeatedly suggested that semesters at the HS would save money. That is false, and it doesn't take a genius to see why. You have a set number of students, a set number of seats, a set number of days to teach them. It's a re-arrangement of the time, but at the end of the day fewer teachers will save money - and organizing the time into semesters doesn't save money! And, it is not a SC issue anyway, so to keep bringing it up serves no purpose other than to waste time and shift blame away from the SC's inability to make efficient decisions. The constant beating of the "data" drum is also a red herring - there is lots of data available that SR and CS choose to ignore because it does not support their claims. The schools are awash in data about the success of the graduates, of feedback from graduates and their families, MCAS, SAT and other benchmarks. These data can be parsed in many ways, we could spend a lifetime trying to make sense of them. And, oh, oops we missed the deadline for budget...sorry everyone. Forgive me for finding it inexcusable for the school committee to fail to get behind the superintendent's budget proposal after he and the principals revised it for them several times.
You say you'd like to see cost cutting like police and fire departments. They didn't produce givebacks without getting something in return, trust me. The teachers I spoke to say that they are in negotiations with the SC to make salary concessions and are awaiting a response from the SC. It is also my understanding that the teachers already accepted changes to their insurance that saved the district a bundle by shifting more costs onto the teachers. What more exactly do you think the staff should sacrifice to make up for the revenue shortfall?

Ed - You are showing your true face here - don't let the door hit them on the way out indeed! You go! Catherine, do you want to weigh in on that?

People - We can argue about this until the end of time. An institution like ARPS doesn't maneuver like a sports car, quick turns can be hazardous. You people screaming for data first are essentially holding us all hostage to your specific vision of which data you want to look at, presented just the way you want it. Spend some time at the HS and MS, follow your kid's schedule, go to a performance. Then ask yourself if you want to throw it away because you don't like the way that the superintendent prepared his budget numbers.

Let's get some reasonable people to run for SC, people who can work cooperatively with the professional staff who do the day-to-day work. Folks who look for value instead of focusing on finding faults. Finding faults is important, but it must not come before insuring that the institution maintains itself in a manner that reflects the underlying belief that a solid, well rounded education is worth the price we pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Marty K- Great post. Thank you!

Ed said...

But because the state teacher pension is based on some formula averaging pay during the final three years of service

It is a little bit more complicated than that, and this is quite relevant. Retirement is a certain percentage of your three best years (not last, although it almost always is the same). And the percentage is calculated on how old you are and how many years of creditable service you have (and your occupation which is why the UMass Police got a law passed to consider UMass a "municipality" so they all essentially got considered five years older).

Full pension is 80% of 3 best years, a lesser percentage if you include your spouse (and no one has calculated what gay marriage is going to do to the state pension as those spouses were never calculated in the actuarial tables). You can, of course, retire earlier and younger for less (some do because of the health benefits) - I know one former UM person who is getting an 11% pension.

At a certain point, each additional year of service or age can have a dramatic impact on the percentage figure. Double digit difference in some cases - and this is particularlly true for younger people with many years of service (e.g. teachers who started in their 20's).

Now what the state did in the '90s was a "buyout" -- if you took early retirement (and once you retire, you really can't come back other than as a 03 and then only can earn the difference between your old salary and your pension) the state would add 5 years to your years or service or age, or split it, as you desired.

Now that was funded by the state. Employers can do their own buyouts - there is a cost here. There is also a savings because the person you have in the job is earning a whole lot less than the person who retired. And when you are laying teachers off, you also have the cost of the unemployment benefits.

Hence would a buyout be revenue neutral? Would the cost of the buyout benefit be equal (or less) than the difference between the two teachers' salaries and the unemployment charges for the laid off young teacher?

This is not only the humane thing to do but also financially sound - as long as we are paying less than it would cost to keep the older teacher.

I'm a lot more worried about the fresh young teachers who aren't coming back.

I am more worried about the ones who do. RIF happened in the '80s with then-young teachers getting layoff notices each year and they became the teachers in the '90s (and now) who simply don't care.

After someone gets a couple of layoff notices, it really is all over (although they do become good union activists)....

Ed said...

Ed - You are showing your true face here - don't let the door hit them on the way out indeed! You go!

No organization can tolerate insubordinate employees with those kinds of attitudes. It really is that simple.

We don't need childish temper tantrums. If they want to quit, let them. And at a certain point, boys & girls, we are getting close to conduct unbecoming and potential loss of your teaching license...

Oh, and one other thing about trimesters, the extra half hour or so that each teacher isn't teaching (the longer free and supervisory time) is an extra half hour you have to pay more for someone else to teach and/or not have taught.

To make trimesters time-neutral, teachers would have to have part of their free period lost to supervisory duties, thus freeing up the supervisory duty period and enabling them to teach another course. If the teachers truly believed in trimesters as educational policy (and not less work for them) we would see them volunteering to do this. Do we?

Anonymous said...

What I don't get Ed is why you hate teachers so much...aren't you a teacher? Your hatred and disrespect of teachers is truly mind numbing.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ed hates teachers. I think he just looks at being a teacher (as a career, profession, choice) from a different, or more business-like, point of view.

The snide remarks like "don't let the door hit you on the way out" kind of distract from the facts.

Thanks for correcting my info about the three years business. Since people usually earn more in a linear fashion, I assumed (wrongly) that the last three years would generally and logically correspond to the highest three years.

I can see that wouldn't be true if a teacher served for a while as an administrator, or had extra income from a grant that was counted as salary.

Data may show that after repeatedly getting RIF letters, keeping a positive attitude about a teaching career may take a hit, but on an individual basis, people are able to handle such things very differently.

I think we can agree that in general Amherst teachers are strong. There are exceptions as in any large organization employing many people. The question is, do they get weeded out or offered support to improve, with specific improvement goals they have to meet or else?

And every year many paras get a district RIF letter, and they still keep showing up with a positive attitude. That in spite of the RIFfing and the non-living wage.

RIF = Reduction in Force -- in English: "your job may not exist next school year, so we're telling you that you may not be rehired."

Anonymous said...

Hey Marty K,

The district's own analysis shows that for the same exact money, students get more class time with teachers in the semester system than the trimester system.

Our HS students have two forced study halls per year. No other district in the area -- I'm not sure another in the state -- has this even though many spend much less per pupil than we do.

We could reduce study halls without additional cost if the teachers were willing to do what every other public HS teacher in the state does -- teach in the semester system.

Call the superintendent's office if you don't believe me.

Ed said...

What I don't get Ed is why you hate teachers so much...aren't you a teacher? Your hatred and disrespect of teachers is truly mind numbing.

I neither hate nor disrespect teachers, I merely expect them to hold themselves to the highest standards of the profession.

It is like a police officer who goes into Internal Affairs, or who becomes a lawyer and sues departments for police brutality. He doesn't hate cops, he just hates bad ones.

It is like the ACLU that is always bringing suits against the government - they don't hate America. (I may disagree with Bill Newman but I really don't think he hates this country.)

Three points. Teachers are educated, licensed professionals. They need to act like professionals.

Second, I don't hate teachers, I hate lazy incompetent ones. I don't think it unreasonable to ask them to act in a professional manner. And while the exceptions do not define the norm, the exceptions are damn noticable...

Third, teaching IS a business, and if we ran it a bit more businesslike, we would all be better off. This isn't a charity, we are paying a lot of money and we have the right to some expectations.

Remember one other thing, folks, the schools do not exist for the teachers. Nor do they exist for the students or even the parents. The schools exist for the community, they exist to meet a collective compelling need to educate the next generation for two very specific reasons: (a) passing on our collective culture and (b) creating people able to care for and support us in our old age.

I demand excellence. If that is teacher bashing, so be it. Very few students don't get an "A" in my class, but they earn it. You better believe they earn it...

Anonymous said...


Your biggest problem from what I've read in your postings in this blog is that you presume a great deal.

For example, you presume our veteran teachers are washed up and simply hanging on. Do you have any evidence of this? Do you have personal experience with your children in a veteran teacher's class in the Amherst public schools? Is it just one veteran teacher your children have had problems with? Is it you and not your children having these problems? Do you even have any children?

What data do you have that proves any of this:

"One other thing -- from everything I have seen, after about 3-5 years, there is no observable improvement in teacher quality with additional years of experience.

And 5 years may be pushing it, generally a teacher is about as good as he/she/it is going to become after the third year of teaching.

And after 10-15-20 years, you start dealing with issues of burnout. And your teacher quality declines far below that of a newly-licensed novice."

Because, Ed, "from everything I have seen" does not substantiate anything and would not get a passing grade in any high school paper. Or maybe as a teacher you don't hold people to such high standards as having to show more than opinions to support ideas.

You are no friend of educators anywhere, Ed. You aren't here to add ideas, but to bash, so bash away, Ed.

I've heard you are a 12 year graduate student, Ed. Is that true? If so, when do you think you'll actually get out of school and become a contributing memebr of society?

Anonymous said...

Marty K:

You ask why Churchill is singled out. This is why - he was a large part of the problem that created this mess. He has been sitting on the SC for a long time. Where have his objections to past insolvent budgets been ? When did he stand up and say "Enough - lets look at the numbers ?"

He is prima facie evidence why we need CS, IR and SR to lead the way with courage.

Anonymous said...

Marty K-

I appreciate your initial thoughts, and your persistence in responding again. I will not make everyone read a repeat of what you said but I will just say I agree.

I wonder if anyone else can remember their 12+ years of public
school, and can remember having better teachers than others, or better relationships with some than others. It is just the nature of the beast that at schools, just like the workplace, and just like the world, not all people are good matches for each other.

I would want all teachers to be the glowing examples of dedication and professionalism that are mentioned here(and many are), just like I would hope all students would be at school, motivated and ready to learn and to be engaged(and many are). In reality, some teachers and some students are not doing their "jobs" all that well. In BOTH cases it makes it harder for learning to happen and there are not perfect results for everyobody. We do not have a utopia here but I do feel a huge amount of good that is being done at the schools is being overshadowed here on this blog and elsewhere in this public discussion. When people make statements like "the state of our schools" I feel people interpret that as meaning only bad, when to me the state (in spite of all the past cuts) is remarkablly good, with definitely some things that can be improved on. And by the way the schools actively work on thos things. It is by its very nature an increedibly reflective profession.

I also echo that I wish there would be more visiting and observing of our schools by influential public people. I know Catherine has said something like "well that would just be anecdotal and why would you want that kind of data". Please go to the schools and watch what is going on, stay a full period in some classes, not just 10 mins, and see the whole process, from start to end of how some classrooms, teachers, and students are functioning. What could it hurt to actually spend time in the places you are publicly charged with evaluating and supporting? (Yes "supporting public schools" is written into the MASC guideline for school committee members)
I know a lot of your cruitical information is anecdotal from parents, but I would hope you could also trust anecdotal information that you collected yourselves. P.S. No need to warn ahead, just drop in.

Sam I Am

Anonymous said...

Amen! Thank you Steve, Catherine and Irv. Keep up the good fight.

Ed said...

Because, Ed, "from everything I have seen" does not substantiate anything and would not get a passing grade in any high school paper.

I love how there are two sets of rules here, I needing to cite my facts while others need not. OK, here are some citations - these are conferences that I was AT.

Now the one on teacher experience I don't have time to look for but no I am not making it up. And people with fancy titles and lots of credentials said this stuff. And yes, that would be accepted in a high school research paper.

Or maybe as a teacher you don't hold people to such high standards as having to show more than opinions to support ideas.

I said that the research that I have seen indicates the following. That is not an opinion, that is a summary of what I have heard/read, i.e. "seen."

You are no friend of educators anywhere, Ed. You aren't here to add ideas, but to bash, so bash away, Ed.

Reformers never are.

I've heard you are a 12 year graduate student, Ed. Is that true? If so, when do you think you'll actually get out of school and become a contributing memebr of society?

Aren't you brave, hiding behind the cloak of anonyminity. And aren't you really thoughtful in the judgment of others. And you really don't know the facts, although you did just convince me to launch "Operation Billboard."

And I am really going to be intimidated by some pissant schmuck hiding behind a keyboard? Not likely, you have no idea who I really am or what others have already tried to do to me.

And I think that the level of animosity that is coming from the Amherst Teacher's Union is reflective of the true conditions that they are afraid exist. So attack the messenger in an attempt to silence the message.

It will take a lot more than ad hominum to silence me....

Anonymous said...

"Aren't you brave, hiding behind the cloak of anonyminity."

And you are not anonymous, Ed? None of us know who you are except that your name is "Ed." Sounds pretty anonymous to me.

Paul said...

A new standard of political involvement in Amherst:
1. if people agree with Catherine Sanderson, then we are seen as progressing the debate, supporting accountability and improving the schools and our community.

2. if people don't agree with Catherine Sanderson, then we are accused of preventing open debate and self-examination, and keeping our community in the stone ages.

How did we get here?

The touchstone of effective and positive elective office is not only about "forging working majorities"(Rich Morse 7:31). Our effectiveness is measured by the extent to which we work through these problems as a community.

I support many of the initiatives and proposals that Catherine Sanderson advocates for on the School Committee. And I think this blog is quite ambitious. But I do not support our refusal to acknowledge that some of this process has been harmful to our community. And for that we all need to take responsibility.

Anonymous said...

ARMS parent upset about last years cuts: do you realize that even with more cuts next year classes will be smaller than this year and there will be more music classes?

Doesn't this suggest that this year's problems problems with large classes could have been skipped if administrators made different decisions last year? It's not always a money problem.

If $300K can be saved by having the high school going to a semester system, doesn't mean that $300K of last year's cuts could have been avoided by going to semesters? Doesn't the mean that the high school doesn't really "need" that $300k. Again, these are choices made (uniquely in Amherst by the teachers not administrators) that hurt students.

How can the schools go to the public asking for more money to support inefficiently run school programs?

Can the high school really go to the public claiming it has cut to the bone when it has an average class size smaller than the 4th through 6th grades? And where means many high school classes have less than 20?

Why would anyone go to the public asking for an overrider BEFORE the SPED and the middle school reviews are done? (And perhaps it's time for a review of the high school.)

I think these are the points Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin have been making over and over again.

Finally, if "[o]ur effectiveness is measured by the extent to which we work through these problems as a community" how did the Select Board and the Budget Coordinating Group work as a community when it failed to consult with the School Boards in its months-long processes?

Anonymous said...

Ed said:
Third, teaching IS a business, and if we ran it a bit more businesslike, we would all be better off. This isn't a charity, we are paying a lot of money and we have the right to some expectations.

Teaching is NOT a business, though education has been viewed (successfully or not) through the lens of a business model.

Remember Edison Schools?

You can read about what happened when the business model was applied to public education in the Wikipedia article about Edison. Not a positive outcome there.

That's not to say that SOME aspects of education might not benefit from borrowing SOME approaches, methods, etc. also used in business.

And vice versa.

Rick said...

"I support many of the initiatives and proposals that Catherine Sanderson advocates for on the School Committee. And I think this blog is quite ambitious. But I do not support our refusal to acknowledge that some of this process has been harmful to our community. And for that we all need to take responsibility."

Really well said Paul, I second that.

Ken said...

Ed, Please be specific about the "level of animosity" that is coming from the "Amherst Teachers Union." I'm also quite struck by how much you know about Amherst teachers by going to those conventions you described. Fascinating stuff, really.

Ken said...

I have not read much of what has been posted recently. But I don't recall seeing Catherine address any of the very negative statements made about teachers by some strong supporters on this blog, stretching across days of posts. I wonder if we will hear anything from her on this subject--when she has enough time to answer, of course.

Nina Koch said...

just to clarify:

Going to semesters does not save $300K. It does not save anything. In fact it has a small one-time cost, probably around $50K, to buy textbooks and reorganize curriculum.

The only thing that saves that kind of money is to reduce the number of blocks offered. While it is true that it would be easier to go to 12 blocks under a semester, that result is not desirable. It means very few electives for kids. 13 is bad enough. 12 would be terrible. It means kids in music wouldn't take any other electives besides music.

Steve made a statement at a school committee meeting about the trimester costing $400K (not sure where that particular number came from) and Mark Jackson corrected him and said it was inaccurate. And yet some variation of that keeps getting restated.

Catherine keeps bring up the number of studies. Yes, you could reduce the number of studies by one if you went to semester. People have reasons for liking that. However, it would not give us any more money to play with. I think people are not understanding that. Going to semesters does not help with the cut list at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina,

Don't you believe that cutting study halls from 2 in a trimester system to 1 in a semester system is beneficial educationally? I guess I'm asking if there is anything in it for the students in the trimester system? The teachers get something (more prep time), but the students seem to be penalized, according to what you just wrote.

Rick said...

Nina is right about the dollars. For a given amount of money, you can probably do one study hall with semesters instead to two under trimesters. The issue is NOT saving money. The issue IS about having less time in study hall for the same amount of money.

Nina Koch said...

to anon 9:26,

I was just commenting on the budgetary implications of the schedule, not the educational considerations. But since you ask, I will offer some thoughts.

As with any schedule, there are pros and cons. When we originally went from semester to trimester, we went from 16 blocks to 15 blocks, so it actually represented a loss of teacher prep time. But it was seen as advantageous for teachers to have fewer kids to keep track of at a given time, as well as for students to have fewer courses to concentrate on. This is some of the same reasoning that has led many schools to adopt the 4 x 4 block schedule. It also follows the recommendations of organizations like the Coalition of Essential Schools.

We also wanted longer class periods, a M-F schedule (instead of an 8 day rotation), and the same two periods in the afternoon so that kids could go to internships and college courses. Of course, every time you gain one advantage, you give up something else. This is true of all schedules.

Hope that helps answer your question.

Ed said...

Look, I don't know how to explain this any clearer - the issue with the trimester versus semester schedule is that THE TEACHER SPENDS FEWER MINUTES PER WEEK TEACHING. A greater portion of the teacher's week is spent in the free & supervisory periods.

What this means is that you need more teachers to teach the same number of class/minutes. And hence you can either have more classes with the same number of teachers (no study halls) or the same number of classes with fewer teachers (saving money).

Sorry, this is a fact.

Ed said...

Look, I don't know how to explain this any clearer - the issue with the trimester versus semester schedule is that THE TEACHER SPENDS FEWER MINUTES PER WEEK TEACHING. A greater portion of the teacher's week is spent in the free & supervisory periods.

What this means is that you need more teachers to teach the same number of class/minutes. And hence you can either have more classes with the same number of teachers (no study halls) or the same number of classes with fewer teachers (saving money).

Sorry, this is a fact.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Marty K - I have to believe you want our schools to be excellent. I assume you believe I want that? Thus, I guess I'm not sure why such animosity in your post here. Steve and I explained in this column the questions we have about resource use in our schools that lead us to not feel comfortable supporting the override. You may not have these questions, and that's fine. You aren't on SC, so your responsibility is different. But that doesn't change our responsibility.

I don't see how asking for data and evaluation of programs and budgets is doing damage to our schools ... in fact, I would say that a lack of doing this for many years has led to considerable damage.

In terms of the accusation of "half-truths" - according to info provided to the SC by the high school administration, semesters do save money -- as we note in this piece. They provide more time in class for the same dollars that trimesters. Think of it this way: you could go to Costco and buy a jar of peanut butter and then go to Whole Foods and buy a jar of peanut butter. You get the same amount of peanut better in each case (e.g., 12 oz.), but the jar at Costco costs less. I'm quoting from the HS memo now: "for the same staffing that we currently have in a semester, students would have 92.8% of time spent in class" (cmopared to 86.6% now). Similarly, to have kids in one study hall on a trimester is more expensive (by about $300,000) than on a semester. That's not a half-truth: it is a fact.

I am working as hard as I can to find a budget that supports the type of programs we want in our schools -- I'm sorry if that isn't fast enough for you (or the SB). I'm in a volunteer job, and I have a full-time job and three kids. We lost most of the fall focusing on redistricting/closing Marks Meadow, we have a new superintendent, and it is still early February. We just haven't had time to do the important visioning work we needed to do, and that is not my fault -- a majority of the Amherst SC (which included Irv Rhodes, although he is not mentioned in your blog post) felt we weren't ready.

In terms of ACE folks -- two of the five candidates running are "ACE folks" (Rick and Rob). You can decide to eliminate both of these candidates if the ACE label is your criteria for who to oppose (Irv is also an "ACE" signer). I would hope that you, and all voters, would listen to all five candidates and support those who you believe best represent your view.

Finally, this may be hard for you to believe - but we hear from teachers who support our work and appreciate our courage. Teachers who work in our schools every day and recognize that some things could be better -- and appreciate our willingness to stick our necks out. That includes teachers who favor the semester system and appreciate our support of this change, teachers who support our emphasis on arts/music in all schools, and so on. I don't believe Steve or I have "blamed teachers" for our budget problems or the state of our schools -- we've blamed past superintendents and SC members, which I frankly think is highly appropriate.

Anonymous 7:04 - I think many teachers in the Amherst schools are excellent. I think others are less than excellent, but I'm sure that is true in all districts (and probably less true in Amherst than in many other places). I believe having a rich curriculum that is vertically and horizontally aligned helps all teachers -- and helps all kids. And I certainly agree with you that it is our responsibility to make sure that resources are allocated in the best possible way -- thank you for your support!

Rich - I really hope you are wrong about our ability to have an honest debate ... but I too read Marty K.'s post as a real attempt to shut down discussion.

Anonymous said...


I repeat Ken's request from earlier. Please descirbe for us the "animosity from the teachers' union" that you cited.

Clearly you know animosity when you see it.

Sam I Am

Anonymous said...

I'm truly trying to figure out how you are getting that the semester will save actual money. Are you thinking that because students will have one less study hall that they will have one more class? (They won't.) Or that teachers will supervise one less study hall, but teach one more class? (They won't.)

In the trimester system, there are 15 blocks (5 each during the three trimesters). Teachers teach 10 of them, have 2 duties, and 3 preps.

In the semester that was proposed, there are 14 blocks (7 each during the 2 semesters). Teachers still teach 10 of them, still have 2 duties, but have 2 preps.

There is no difference in the number of classes that teachers teach, just the minutes that they'd be teaching them. There is no difference in the number of duties that they'd do, just the minutes that they'd be supervising.

The students lose a study hall requirement, but the teachers lose a prep, not the duty of supervising the students.

If you want to make the teachers teach another class instead of supervise a study hall, then yes, that would save money, but would be a different contract issue all together. You could do that in either schedule system.

Yes, you'd get more "educational minutes" for your money, but again, it's not a matter of money changing hands.

Perhaps I am again missing your point, but I would really like to understand it. If you could please explain it in context, that might help.

Anonymous said...

Tired of "Student Bashing"

It seems pretty clear that the trimester system more serves teachers than students because it increases teacher prep time and gives students more time in study halls. Students would be better off in slightly larger classes than in study halls. For the same money, semesters would increase time being educated.

So, if teachers really focused on what's best for students rather than for themselves, wouldn't they embrace semesters -- like all the other public HS teachers in the state?

Do you see how that's generally not very popular with parents with kids in HS?

Further, can you start to see how in this economy, asking for an override, paying teachers COLA and Step raises, paying the HS principal 40% more than the Northampton HS principal, paying the superintendent 50% more than the Northampton superintendent (and paying him to live in Miami -- which seems criminal) and then justifying the trimester system largely by pointing out that while it takes away education from kids, it does give teachers more prep time makes people very distrustful of our schools, and yes the very teachers who support these things?

Let's coin a new term here: "student bashing," because that's what this feels like. The students are suffering while the upper administration makes lavish salaries, the teachers work a little less, and get nice raises on top of the highest salaries in the region. And, yes, they do seem to be the highest in the region. If they weren't, the schools would publish a detailed budget showing us otherwise.

I'll vote for an override when I see the teachers focusing on the students first. Not with flaming emails here, but with actions. Delay your raises. Go to semesters. Show us with actions not words that it is every child every day and not just paychecks and prep time.

Nina Koch said...

I thought that my post last night gave multiple reasons why the trimester was considered to be a good choice educationally.

Remember that when it was originally devised, it represented a loss of prep time for teachers. So it certainly was not chosen to allow teachers to work less.

I wouldn't say that parents are uniformly opposed to the trimester. I have seen comments from parents saying thanks for making life less crazy for my kid, because she can focus on fewer courses and do a better job on each. This was from someone who moved here from another town.

Like any schedule, it has advantages and disadvantages. The master schedule is a perennial issue in many schools because it's impossible to find one that will do everything you want it to do.

I'm not sure why you sound so angry at the teachers. I think we show that we care about kids just by the huge amount of time that we devote to our job. I'm on my way to Rao's right now, and I will be carrying a stack of papers to grade just like I do everywhere I go.

Anonymous said...

"for the same staffing that we currently have in a semester, students would have 92.8% of time spent in class" (cmopared to 86.6% now). "

Does anyone know how many minutes we are talking about here. How many minutes per week does 86.6% equal and how many minutes per week does 92.8% equal?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your attempt to add some depth to the master schedule debate. It saddens me that people are so locked in to particular positions based, ironically, given the forum, on what seems to me to be incomplete information and data. Maybe if we stopped shouting at each other from our own, less than fully informed perches, and tried to really listen to each other's thoughts and perspectives we could have a more informed and constructive conversation. And Catherine, you could do more to help facilitate this. You chastise Marty K. for using a tone of animosity and attempting to shut down debate and yet let comments like "student bashing" go unchallenged. It undermines your credibility in terms of REALLY wanting an open, constructive dialog about the schools.

Anonymous said...

Catherine only chastises people she disagrees with - I have never seen her chastise anyone who agrees with her. This is part of the reason that people say that she and Steve Rifkin have created an awful climate in the schools.

I agree with their ideas of looking at data, being fiscally prudent, creating from the bottom up the schools we want instead of just cutting from what we have. But the way they have gone about getting us to these things has created a very bad climate. It has created a climate where the Student Bashing post can be said without challenge for its tone.

I do not dispute that the schools can be improved...I don't think anyone disputes that. But the current climate is awful and just plain damaging. I don't understand why we can't all come together and discuss and analyze and change without all the bashing of each other.

On another topic: trimester/semester. I remember when we switched from trimester to semester and I remember that the reasons give for the switch were very compelling. I wonder if Steve and Catherine have any idea what the positives of the trimester system are. I also wonder if they care. I see alot of positve reasons for continuing the trimester system. What I would like to see is a side by side comparison of the plusses and negatives of both systems. Instead of everyone shouting "Mine is the best!" lets make a true comparative look at them and then decide. And let's try to make that decision based on educational principles...not on financial iimperatives.

I think Steve and Catherine both really care about our schools. And I KNOW that Catherine is spending an inordinant amount of time trying to help make our schools the best they can be...and I thank and applaud her efforts. I think our schools will be better for her having been on the SC.

And, I also think they way they have gone about it has caused a very bad climate in Amherst. I don't think that was their intention - no one purposefully does something like that. But I would like to see them try to fix the bad climate they have caused. Catherine could help by calling out comments like Student Bashing's comments. She could go along way by calling out the inappropriate comments from those who support her positions as she does by calling out the ones who see things differently than she does. It seems that tone only matters if you never matters if you agree. And yes tone does matter - it is the tone that creates the bad climate.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 7:44 - so, what's interesting to me is that I think many of our teachers are doing a great job ... in a very, very difficult environment. And I don't think that difficulty comes from me or Steve asking for data or evaluation of our programs. I think that difficulty comes from the set up we have in Amherst -- in which we lack horizontal/vertical alignment, in which we expect each teacher to "figure it out" on their own, in which we ask HS teachers to teach material in less time than in many other districts. That all strikes me as difficult, and that's what I hear from teachers. I hear from teachers that it is hard to teach here because each year you have kids coming from different classes and they all know different things because we don't have horizontal alignment. I hear from teachers in the HS that cramming a whole year's worth of material into two trimesters (September to March, not September to June) is hard, I hear from teachers that you are told to differentiate, but not told how or given tools. I hear from teachers that it is hard to use the Investigations math curriculum. I haven't ever said (nor has Steve) that our teachers are lazy or dumb or not working hard or not caring, and I guess I still don't see how expressing concerns about the unique ways we do things in Amherst -- requiring ecology in 9th grade, using the trimester system, requiring extensions to get into algebra in 8th -- is "teacher bashing." I also think there is some belief that all teachers think the same thing -- that isn't true. And believe it or not, I've met with teachers from all of the schools in Amherst -- in their homes, in other parents' homes, in my office, in coffee shops, on the phone and via email. And a lot of teachers appreciate what I'm doing (and what Steve is doing) because they like the idea of making sure resources are used wisely and that all kids are pushed to achieve great things. I know many great teachers who in fact are still in our schools -- I also know of many great teachers who have left, and I've met with some of these great teachers -- and they say they left because of how things are run in the Amherst schools (poorly) -- NOT because Steve/I started raising these concerns (and they agree whole-heartedly with the things we've identified).

In terms of preschool - if spending money on early education prevents less need for intervention services and SPED later on, this is money very, very well spent. I believe we could actually have a more cost-effective program by making sure all kids arrive in kindergarten on a more equal playing field. There are also often grants for things like preschool, which I know our superintendent is looking into.

Rich (at 8:33) - I hope some people are still reading what we write. But I do think others have decided that we are Amherst College professors, and thus anything we promote must only be good for our own kids. This is why our columns suggesting universal preschool or summer reading programs got no attention -- but our columns suggesting we don't have open inquiry or use of data get attacked.

Mike - thanks for the kind words about my work. And I believe Rich was saying that people aren't really paying attention to what Steve/I write -- they are just reflexively assuming it is elitist (and only good for our own kids) because they've pegged us that way.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 9:56 - thank you for your details regarding the changes in the schools. I can't control last year's changes -- and what I hear you saying is that the SC screwed up last year by allowing certain changes (e.g., we shouldn't have allowed the loss of core team teachers and we shouldn't have allowed the cut to music). I believe I spoke against both of those cuts, and suggested instead cutting a dean/special ed staff members in Bridges ... but again, this is a tough issue because the principal at the time RECOMMENDED these cuts! Are you suggesting the SC should have opposed them, against her will?

In terms of the cuts you list, here is the status for next year:

-team teachers will be restored in 8th so there will be the same staffing 7th/8th and looping can occur (this is true regardless of an override)

-the science teacher loss was due to a maternity leave - and I don't think legally we can deny maternity leaves! This had NOTHING to do with the budget.

-the music cut last year is being fully restored next year REGARDLESS of the override vote.

-the afterschool club support is an issue at both the MS and the HS. But I think it is difficult to justify larger classes or other cuts to pay for afterschool clubs. This has not been prioritized by the principals or the superintendent or the SC, and is not going to be added regardless of an override. This seems like a place in which AEF or other private funding is appropriate.

-the guidance counselor position has already been restored, and won't be effected by the passage of an override.

So, let me be clear -- there is not a single one of the cuts you mentioned that will be effected by whether an override passes. Not one. The MS leadership (Mike Hayes) has done a fabulous job of creating a great schedule next year with limited dollars in ways that I believe benefit all kids -- in precisely the way that you believe should occur (and I've noted that repeatedly on this blog).

I'm very sorry about the difficulties the MS had this year -- I certainly had nothing to do with the loss of the principal (as I think is clear) nor did I propose the change in 8th grade teaching load (that was this principal). And you note that proposed cuts for next year will undermine the Turning Points model, but I'm not sure how that is true? What cuts are you describing that you believe will impact Turning Points (since there will be equally staffing at 7th and 8th grade and class sizes of 20 and two guidance counselors, etc.)? You say that we are allowing cuts, but again, I'm not sure what you mean here -- no one proposed an override last year, and the principal of the MS at the time proposed this as the best budget. Do you propose that we should have overturned her decision? I'm just not clear on how you think I've failed here.

Finally, you say that it is 'the job of the SC members is to be closer to the ground than they seem to be, and to have done more homework about the programs that currently exist in the schools before they claim to need “more time to study the plans” and “more data.”' I hope you remember that this is a volunteer position, and one that I'm spending about 20 hours a week on. This includes talking to MANY teachers and staff members and parents every week, including MS teachers, and it has included doing a "learning walk" in the MS last year, reading through the program of studies for both schools, analyzing performance data for all schools, and also examining similar types of data at other schools. I'm really doing the best I can -- including by having this blog so people like you can post anonymous comments/questions that I personally respond to.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Amherst Advocate - I share your disbelief about the nature of the attacks ... it is the main reason Steve and I decided to stop writing the column. I also really agree with your statement that the way to "get to a stronger more robust system is to examine the budget data FIRST." That is what I've asked for time to do, which really seems like the responsible approach.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- Why can you just not admit that using a trimester system in NOT unique. When 33% of the school districts in Michigan and a significant minority ( and growing) in CA are on a trimester system it is NOT unique.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:03,
I agree. And, part of an unbiased look at master schedule should include a look at money and how it's allocated. When trimesters were first initiated there weren't mandatory study halls, were there? So, I'm assuming that that was when the economic climate was better and more money was in the system. So, what would it take ($-wise) to do away with either one or both mandatory study halls? I think I've heard Catherine and Steve ask for that info and I think it's appropriate to get it. There is all this chest beating about which approach is better, but it seems to me that there are things to be said for both. If one IS more costly to implement, is the money worth it and for what reasons? Or, are there other tradeoffs to consider to make it more affordable within the larger context of offerings? Or, do the positives just not outweigh the negatives and we should really adopt a different model?Meaningful trade off discussions can only take place within a fully informed context. We don't have that and I haven't seen those advocating for doing away with trimesters even interested in getting it. I would love to hear Mark Jackson speak more in depth about what he referred to at a recent SC meeting as a dilemma not so much about trimesters or semesters but about total blocks. He has also attempted to challenge Steve's reasoning about the dollar savings associated with switching to semesters. There has not been enough time to allow a deeper discussion of his viewpoints recently, but I hope time can be found. From what I can see, he's a smart, articulate, reasonable man who also happens to have the perspective of being in the day to day trenches, with teachers, students and parents alike. We should know what he thinks.

Anonymous said...

8:44am "I'll vote for an override when I see the teachers focusing on the students first. Not with flaming emails here, but with actions. Delay your raises. Go to semesters. Show us with actions not words that it is every child every day and not just paychecks and prep time."

WE AGREED TO THE CCONTRACT. Maybe we can all agree that the next time a contract is up for discussion, we need better negotiators, BUT these are all in a legally binding contract. Stop accusing teachers of bad things just because they are expecting us to live up to our end of the contract as they have lived up to their end. We need to stop callling for teachers to sacrifice their paychecks as evidence of their love for their jobs or our children. What have we become?

I am not a teacher. There are no teachers in my family. I have 3 kids in the Amherst school system and I am a property owner in Amherst.

Nina Koch said...

It is definitely the total number of blocks that matters. That's what I keep trying to point out. If we go to semester, we will probably go from 13 blocks to 12 blocks. That's not good. It will significantly reduce options for students and some programs will die due to low enrollment.

I feel that people should be supporting an override simply as a way to increase the likelihood that we can maintain 13 blocks in the future, and to keep certain programs alive like wood tech and foods and so forth.

Somebody asked what the override buys. A big item that it buys is options for kids. You can see that explained clearly in this letter from Mark Jackson.

Nina Koch said...

Another document that people might want to look at is the minutes from the 4 town meeting . At the meeting, Senator Rosenberg explained that we should not be counting on a 0% cut to state aid. In fact, we can't even count on a 5% cut. It may well be the 10% cut that school officials originally budgeted for. If that happens, then there are a lot of items on the cut list that will not be coming back.

Rick said...


I believe the analogy you use above is not correct: ”Think of it this way: you could go to Costco and buy a jar of peanut butter and then go to Whole Foods and buy a jar of peanut butter. You get the same amount of peanut better in each case (e.g., 12 oz.), but the jar at Costco costs less.”

A correct analogy would be where the jars of peanut butter cost the same, you get more peanut butter in the Costco jar, but the quality of the peanut butter may be different.


Of all the issues talked about, the semester/trimester one is way overblown.

First, it does NOT save money, unless the plan is to go to semesters AND two study halls, which is not the plan. It is just false information to say it saves $300k. The semester system with one study hall and trimester system with 2 study halls costs the same amount of money. You save money if you cut teachers and you don’t cut teachers by going to semesters. There are valid arguments to be made on this, but they are not money arguments.

Second, it’s mathematically correct that the semester system (with 1 study hall) has less time in study halls for kids. So on a “quantity basis”, it is better, but on a “quality basis” there may be an argument that trimester is better. There is clearly more peanut butter with semesters, but its not clear if the quality of the peanut butter is as good.

Finally, I believe it really doesn’t matter much which you use – they can both be made to work. That’s why this issue is so overblown.

Therefore my position on this is I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. The “quantity argument” is clear – there is less time in study halls under a semester system. The “quality argument” is less clear. I’d like to hear more, both pro and con, on the quality of each system.

Anonymous said...

CS said:
if spending money on early education prevents less need for intervention services and SPED later on, this is money very, very well spent. I

I don't know that the above has been conclusively proven. Research around HeadStart seems to swing back and forth from "absolutely!" to "no it doesn't."

I've worked with plenty of kids who went to PK on vouchers who still needed every support available and probably always will. But maybe they would have been even less prepared for kindergarten socially and emotionally anyway. And S&E is a huge time sink for K teachers who are supposed to be teaching reading/reading readiness.

In my professional opinion (as a PK and SPED educator), the intervention that would make the most difference would be from birth to age three. The evidence is in that lack of pre-literacy skills in those critical early years causes delays & limitations that can't even be made up in preschool.

I'm just yakking here -- not going to spend more time looking for citations. But if anyone wants to pursue this info, go ahead, and thanks!

Anonymous said...

Tired of Student Bashing

On trimesters: No other public HS in Mass uses this. That is a red flag. Great, the vast majority (66%) of Michigan HS use semesters. That's pro-trimester, how? A growing number (from 10 to 20? who knows?) in California uses trimesters. Last I looked, CA is the most broke state in the union. Not a good example to copy and the majority there still uses semesters anyway.

I respect Nina for pointing out the pros and cons. It is clear, however, that the trimesters at the current funding levels equals two study halls. With semesters we only get one study hall. That is important to HS students. Less study hall time and more class time is better.


Anonymous said...

Tired of Student Bashing:

On the contract that "we" signed. That was Jere Hochman. And, plenty of contracts are being altered in the ECONOMIC RECESSION.

People are losing jobs, houses, life savings, but our teachers should get raises on the backs of people losing jobs, houses, and life savings?

Why should cops and firefighters and UMASS employees give back raises and alter contracts and then pay higher property taxes for raises for teachers?

In a crisis (override=crisis) the burden should be shared.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that the age group that would most benefit from early intervention services is birth-three. But that age group is not served by the school system but by the Reach program. There is also early headstart, which serves children to 2.9.

I think pre-k for 3 years and up is somewhat helpful. But I agree that often services beginning at age 3 is already about 3 years too late.

But some pre-k is definitely better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Tired of Student Bashing

And another thing: Why won't Mark Jackson give back a little salary? He makes 40% MORE THAN THE NOHO principal. 40%. He could give a little bit back and still be the highest paid principal around

And what about Alberto Rodriguez? He makes more than the mayor of Boston, but Menino lives in Boston. We pay this guy to live in Miami.

What crisis? We can pay Mark Jackson and Alberto Rodriguez outrageous salaries and then demand that folks on fixed incomes pay higher property taxes to make sure Alberto can fly home to Miami on the weekends? -- because we pay his airfare. How can anyone not be outraged by that?

Maybe the teachers are right not to give up there raises (although kudos to Nina for offering to consider it) given how much more Mark Jackson and Alberto Rodriguez make. Maybe if the big guys gave up even a little the teachers would think about following their lead.

But there I go expecting the highest paid people to actually show some leadership. This is Reagan's America where the richest do the least. Oh to imagine Amherst was different.

Rick said...

"Less study hall time and more class time is better. Right?"

Yes, if the quality of the class time is the same or better. It may well be, but that is not self evident.

Again I am not arguing one way or the other, I just think the whole thing is overblown as an issue.

Anonymous said...

Last time I looked the definition for unique was one of a kind. Even if it is in a small minority ARHS is NOT unique in using a trimester system. Therefore continuing to base an argument against the trimester system because of uniqueness is just plain STUPID. And quite frankly whether or not CA is broke is completely irrelevant to the conversation.

We should be judging this system on its educational merits and its budgetary implications. Arguing against something because it's unique is just silly ( and in this case incorrect)

And FYI I know many students at the HS who actually like having the study halls.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Alisa - thanks for sharing the lump sum override news. And thanks for putting up the good fight for the menu!

Anonymous 1:56 - good point re. the amount of time spent in class with the semester versus the semester for the same cost. Thanks!

Sam I Am - I agree with much of what you said. But let correct an important thing -- I'm not allowed as a SC member to just drop into a school. I'm supposed to call ahead, and get permission from the principal and from teachers. I've been invited into both ARMS and ARHS by the principals and I've visited both. However, I continue to believe that the issue with our schools isn't teachers, despite what continues to get said: it is broader (e.g., evaluation, data, curriculum, policy). Think of it this way: we have a lot of really great musicians, but if they all play their own song, they don't sound good when all played together. For them to all sound like an orchestra, you need them to be playing the same song and you need a good conductor. If you go into each individual classroom, I'm 100% confident I will see a lot of good teaching -- that's why I moved to Amherst and have kept my three kids in our schools. But seeing good teaching occurring in an isolated classroom doesn't mean that there aren't real issues with horizontal and vertical alignment, the effectiveness of curricula we use, and the presence/absence of particular courses. So, no matter how much great teaching I see in our schools on visits, I am not going to see an AP chemistry class because we as a district haven't thought that was an important class to provide (making us entirely unique in all the MSAN schools). And what I'm going to see in the HS is kids spending 13.4% of their time in study halls -- which would take on the trimester $700,000 to eliminate. That's a lot of money.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Paul - I think you raise an interesting question ... though I would pose the two options as somewhat different in many people's minds. What I see is:

1. You agree with Catherine and believe our schools suck and our teachers are incompetent and you believe nothing good has ever happened in our schools, or

2. You believe that our schools are basically quite good and that the only thing stopping the schools from being better is a lack of money.

In terms of how did we get here -- to this divide. What I see is that change is very hard, and what I've attempted to do is change the culture, so that we look at data and other districts and how we make decisions (including decisions about how we spend money). I tried to do this in a very small and quiet way for several years -- I served as Parent Council president, I called and met with my SC representatives and the superintendent and principals, I wrote letters asking for changes, I supported the 2007 override to give the schools more money, and I started an advocacy group (ACE) to push for more evidence-based decision-making. And in all honesty, all of those approaches completely failed. They did NOTHING. So, then I ran for SC and I got on, and I spent the first year being nice: asking polite questions (e.g., is there a report on the advantages/disadvantages of the trimester/semester? when will there be a review of the ecology requirement? do we have evidence "extensions" works?). And that was a total failure. So, then I started pushing harder -- posting my issues on my blog, writing a column for the newsletter, asking for more data via motions in SC. And now, people are saying "why didn't you raise these questions in a nicer way?" Ummm, I tried! I would LOVE to have been able to get movement in a nicer way. It doesn't feel good or fun or rewarding at all to be attacked (in the press and on my blog) -- and there is nothing about this level of animosity that I find enjoyable. But my experience has been that unless you continue to push -- and that means raising the level of concern -- there will 100% be no change at all. So, I think it is great that anonymous posters and Rick can say "we agree with Catherine, we just wish she's be nicer" -- but I'll tell you, I tried nice for 3 years. It didn't work. And now I'm getting more assertive, and then I'm accused of using a bad tone. I'm doing the best I can -- it isn't easy and it isn't fun, but I'm doing it because I care about public education and no matter how many kids get into Harvard every year, I don't think our public schools are living up to their full potential of being truly excellent for every child, every day.

Anonymous said...

Unique can also mean unusual, but go with the definition of "one of a kind." Let me be less stupid for you:





Now I don't feel stupid. How do you feel?

Anonymous said...


Are you "teacher bashing"?

Are you saying that having no instruction (study halls) may actually be better than having classes taught by our HS teachers?

Of course not, but that's how much you have to contort yourself to support trimesters.

Anonymous said...

On Being Less Stupid:

I'm sure that there are students in the HS who LOVE study halls. That seems like a brilliant measure.

Maybe we could get an X-box in there for them and then they would love not having a class even more!

Rick said...

"Of course not, but that's how much you have to contort yourself to support trimesters."

Just to be clear, I am not supporting trimesters, nor am I supporting semesters. And what I said is simple logic, not "contorting" myself.

Anonymous said...

And what if kids had less time in class if we went to the semester schedule, as Nina said might happen. Going to the semester schedule might be dropping from 13 blocks of instruction to 12. Is that better?

People make is all sound so easy to compare the 2 without actually having all the facts. Gee, I wish I was as smart as the rest of you.

Anonymous said...

To 2:03- Yes some is better than none. Bu you also have to provide the kids with wraparound services and family supports. These as you are probably aware are very expensive to provide.

Anonymous said...

To 2:25

"With semesters we only get one study hall. That is important to HS students. Less study hall time and more class time is better."

I was simply pointing out the incorrect and sweeping generalization. Beliee it or not, there are actually students who use the time to study and do homework.

Anonymous said...

To anon 2:35. This is anon 2:03. Yes I agree again, the wrap-around services are also necessary and are also very expensive. I have first hand knowledge of all of this. There are no easy (or cheap) answers. In a perfect world all the kids who needed these services would be getting them from birth.

ARHS Parent said...

Rick, did your kids sit in two study halls when they were in ARHS? Mandatory ones? For a total of 8 over the course of their time at ARHS? Mine are. To me, this IS a big deal. To me, it has less to do with trimester versus semester and more about how much time do my kids have to sit around during the school day? Often only mildly supervised with kids going in and out of the room constantly, texting, and talking. And I pay one of the highest tax rates in western mass for the privelage of my kids sitting there for over an hour each day.

Speaking of pay, at least Mark Jackson is working for his pay. He is the principal of two schools--a role which was suddenly thrust upon him. Frankly, I think he earns his pay. I would agree, however, that the salary (and travel expenses) awarded to Alberto Rodriguez, especially since he had never been a superintendent before, is criminal.

Nina Koch said...

Just to be clear, the union is currently in negotiations with the school committee on a giveback. Maybe the people who are characterizing the teachers as greedy don't realize that.

As for the principal's salary, Mark Jackson gets to school at 4:30 am. He earns his pay. Just think about the demands placed on him. Think about how few people could do his job. We were very very lucky to get him.

Nina Koch said...

Use of cell phones is not permitted in study hall. Students do leave to go various places, such as the computer lab, the library, or to see a teacher for extra help. They use passes for this purpose and they sign out of the study hall.

If a parent has a concern about how a study hall is being supervised, that parent should contact the teacher in question. I am curious to know if parents have tried that route at all. I think complaints are sometimes voiced on this blog when in fact the parent has not attempted to make any contact with the teacher. Or the complaint is just repeated hearsay and the person has no direct knowledge of the situation.

I don't currently have a study hall, but when I do, the kids sit there and do their work. If they don't have any work to do, I send them to the library to get a book. How many of us would love to have an hour to sit and read a book?!?

It is certainly less than ideal that we have any required studies. As someone who teaches an elective, I really wish it weren't so. I would like to see us back at 15 blocks. But we're not. This is due to consecutive years of budget cuts. If people want more course blocks, then they have to find the revenue to support that.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

OK, there are now way too many for me to reply to, so this will be short:

1. In terms of semesters versus trimesters: it is clear that trimesters are unique/unusual. Whether 33% of schools in Michigan have them seems totally unimpressive. Most schools in Michigan have semesters. As do most in Massachusetts. As do most in other places in the United States. I am not an expert on HS scheduling or the pros/cons of different systems -- but I have to believe that there are caring, smart, dedicated teachers/principals in these others places who have decided that semesters are better -- all things considered (educational, fiscal, etc.). I don't know why we are still so unusual.

And although Nina and Rick can say there are not costs associated with the schedule, most parents I believe would like their child to spend more time being instructed by a teacher and less time sitting in a room reading a book or doing homework (both of which they can do at home). I believe most parents would like students to spend as much time in school LEARNING as possible. For the same dollars, kids on a trimester spend less time being taught by a teacher than kids on a semester. That is clear, and that to me matters. That may be why we have two required study halls when other high schools don't have any. And Rick, according to your campaign website, you believe the high school should go to semesters? Or have you changed your mind on this?

However, I would LOVE to see a report summarizing the advantages/disadvantages of trimesters/semesters. I ask for this as a SC member in August of 2008 and in the spring of 2009 -- both meetings were on TV and you can read the minutes on the ARPS website. But there has not been interest among other members in doing this. So, sure, it would be great to have a report -- but I've asked for 18 months to get one, and it isn't going to happen. If you go through old SC minutes, which I have done, you see members of the SC asking repeatedly for data on the effectiveness of the trimester schedule after its adoption -- and you see that data was never given (this is going back to 2002/2003). But these SC members asked nicely, with a good tone, so nothing happened and no one now thinks of them badly. And we still have the trimester, which means kids now -- and next year, regardless of whether the override passes -- will spend 13% of their time in study hall.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 10:03 - First, I really do appreciate your kind remarks about my intentions and efforts. I am indeed working tremendously hard to make improvements in our schools in ways that will benefit ALL kids. Thank you for acknowledging, and even appreciating, that effort.

Second, if you read through all the comments on this blog posting, one really stands out as being mean-spirited, and that is the first one, by Marty K. That one accuses me and Steve of not being able to work with others, lying, causing good teachers to leave, and "bleeding the schools to death." Yet I don't see anything in your post that criticizes Marty K. for these remarks or their tone, which I think we can all agree is really bad.

Go through all the blog comments on this blog and see my responses to Marty and the many people who have posted really mean and hurtful things about me. And then read the columns Steve and I have written and tell me which ones caused the "bad climate." And also read the other letters in the Bulletin -- the one that compared closing Marks Meadow to killing a child, Andy Churchill's column accusing me and Steve of "beating until the morale improves" and the ones deliberating misrepresenting our positions (e.g., describing ACE as a "white-led organization for people who want their kids in gifted classes," Bill Werlhi's column implying we believe the SC should choose textbooks, Patty Bode's describing my blog as violating open meeting law ethics, etc.). Because I think my tone has been respectful and thoughtful -- yet honest and direct in admitting that our schools aren't perfect. And I believe that simply stating our schools aren't perfect can't be done in Amherst without it being seen as using a bad tone, teacher-bashing, and so on.

Finally, this was precisely the point of our January column -- that you just can't have any honest discussion about what happens in our schools without getting accused of something really bad -- racism, elitism, teacher-bashing, creating a bad climate, using a bad tone. This was also precisely the point of Joel Wolfe's column 2 weeks ago. So, let's be clear: Having an honest discussion about areas in our schools that aren't working as well as they could for all kids is NOT creating a bad climate and using a bad tone. It is being honest and it is expressing something that rings true for many parents (and teachers) in our schools - and the first step in making change is admitting we have a problem. (The second step in Amherst seems to be shouting that first point down).

Anonymous said...

"but I have to believe that there are caring, smart, dedicated teachers/principals in these others places who have decided that semesters are better"

And there are caring, smart, dedicated teachers/principals in Amherst who decided that trimesters are better. I don't understand why you value the decisions of the dedicated teachers in all towns but you don't value the decisions made by the caring and dedicated teachers in Amherst. Did you ever consider the idea that perhaps the HS students in Amherst are fortunate that they have dedicated teachers/principals who don't just do what everyone else is doing just because every one is doing it? The Amherst HS students have dedicated teachers who CHOSE the trimester system because they saw its benefits!

Until I can see a side by side comparison of the two systems I won't know which is better for Amherst. CS, on the other hand, has already made her choice, not based on any data but simply based on the fact that everyone else has semesters so of course they must be better.

Show me the trimester/semester data!!! Then lets decide.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 4:33 - two quick things here:

1. I'd love to see trimester/semester data. Can you push for that? Because I've pushed for that for 18 months on SC and gotten nowhere. And many other members of SC have pushed for years and have gotten no where. So it would be great if you could write a letter to the SC and the superintendent and Mark Jackson and encourage a report summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of each system, including data and comparisons to other systems. I look forward to getting your letter soon - thanks!

2. I believe that the trimester system is better for teachers because they get more prep time. I believe it is not good for kids in our current budget climate because they spend more time in study hall. I think it is hard to believe that kids benefit more from spending 13% of their time in study hall than they would from spending 7% of their time in study hall. Do you think kids benefit in some way from being required to sit in a study hall?

One more thing -- the vote on the trimester/semester wasn't unanimous. There are certainly teachers in ARHS who believe a semester system would be a vast improvement. I've heard from them.

Anonymous said...

There is another camp- those of us who believe that the schools are generally good, believe that the quality of education has suffered from years of budget cuts, believe that some problems can be fixed by restoring funding in some areas ( study halls is a case in point) AND believe that we need to improve in other areas that are not necessarily tied to the budget.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, Anon 4:33 PM: Push for the damn data.

There's a great scene in 'Tora, Tora, Tora' where the US Naval command office overlooks Pearl Harbor with a huge picture window.

The lowly supply sergeant manning the desk that weekend had asked repeatedly of his Commanding Officer to take more seriously ominous incoming reports of enemy activity including an urgent bulletin from a Destroyer captain about firing on and dropping depth charges on an enemy submarine trying to enter the harbor.

"Verification!" yelled the CO, "I need verification!"

Later that morning he bursts into the room and the giant picture window displays the Pacific Fleet--or what's left it--battered, belching smoke...almost completely annihilated.

As he gazes wide eyed with mouth wide open the sergeant languidly states with a sweep of arm towards the picture window:

"There's your verification!"

Paul said...

Catherine 2:17-I appreciate this response and its obviously sincere attempt to show how you're trying to be effective from a position of principle. I really do. And I am not saying that you alone are forcing an unwelcome tone, or climate, or however it wants to be termed.

We all need to remember that when all is said and done, there needs to be an intact community that can take advantage of a revitalized and efficient school system.

There needs to be adults who will play nicely.

Ed said...

The students lose a study hall requirement, but the teachers lose a prep, not the duty of supervising the students.

What part of "THE TEACHERS LOOSE A PREP" do you folks not understand?

The teachers loose a free period, they instead wind up teaching. We get more teaching from the same teachers.

And instead of the peanut butter analogy, let me use the beer one. A 12-pack of Bud Lite cost $11.50. A full case of 24 costs $16.99. If you have a fixed amount of money with which to purchase beer for a party, purchasing which containers will get you more bottles of beer?

What part of this do you folk not understand?

Two other things: First, California is moving not to a trimester but a year-round quadmester where instead of having the summer off, students go to school for three of the four quarters and have the fourth off (at random). And the teachers teaching them do likewise.

Which means that your "summer" vacation could consist of the months of January, February & March -- not an issue in temperate Cali but not exactly the best beach season in Massachusetts.

Second, and this gets into why I don't think the trimesters are a good idea, there is a real issue in Northern Maine with the traditional "Potato Harvest" vacation. Schools start mid August and then have 2/3 weeks off in late September -- started during WW-II for patriotic reasons with the wartime labor shortage, now largely irrelevant as the harvesting is done by machines. It is, however, tradition in "The County."

And those 2/3 weeks of late September are the best weather you will get up there all year. Great time for vacations, etc.

And what I have heard from teachers is that SPED students and at-risk students tend to loose much (if not all) of what they learned in late August and the teachers have to start over again.

I suspect that the same may be true with the Trimester System...

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:21-

We are NOT the only public school in Massachusetts to use trimesters. A quick google search turned up that North Andover and Uxbridge both use trimesters. Perhaps there are more; I didn't search that hard.

(Perhaps you should have left the definition of unique as "unusual" instead of "one of a kind".)

Rick said...

”And although Nina and Rick can say there are not costs associated with the schedule, most parents I believe would like their child to spend more time being instructed by a teacher and less time sitting in a room reading a book or doing homework (both of which they can do at home).”

Catherine, my comment was strictly about the money argument that was being made – that trimesters cost $300k more than semesters – which you have said and Steve said at the last SC meeting. That is just factually wrong – and by a lot of dollars – and I hear people talking about it as though that is as fact and that’s really bad. You don’t seem to counter this so I guess you are dropping the assertion that it costs $300k more.

Yes I say this on my campaign site:
”Although I like some aspects of the trimester system, I think we should go to the semester system.”
Which is different than what I said above:
” Just to be clear, I am not supporting trimesters, nor am I supporting semesters.”
Yes I changed my mind, and I just edited my campaign site to reflect that:

”I would like to hear more about the pros and cons of trimesters versus semesters before supporting one or the other. It’s clear that for the same budget, the semester system has less time in study hall, but I want to learn more about whether or not there is a quality of instruction difference between the two systems. There is time to do this since it’s too late to make the change for 2010/2011. I think this should be discussed and decided upon for the 2011/2012 school year by no later than September 2010, preferably June 2010.”

Anonymous said...

Catherine, in my brief employment in the Amherst schools I experienced the sting of being called negative when I asked questions and wanted more of an answer than "because that's how we do it."

Relentless positivity is a core Amherst value. It's good to be positive, but not to the point of absurdity to which it's sometimes taken.

I no longer work in Amherst, for this reason and a few others.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - just to be clear, I'm definitely not dropping the $300,000 number, since this comes from the high school administration. The number refers NOT to the number of classes (yes, you can have 13 classes in the trimester or 13 classes in the semester for the same dollars), but to the amount of time spent in class. In a semester system, you can have 92.8% of time spent in class (and one study hall) for $300,000 LESS than what it takes to get virtually the same class time (93.3%, and one study hall). Miki Lee Gromacki's estimate was between $279,305.00 and $323,993.00, so I'm averaging at $300,000. In other words, if you decide "let's have the kids only have one study hall" -- which I think is a good idea -- you can do that in one of two ways: one option is to just move to the semester system (that would have a one time expense of buying some extra books) OR you could spend $300,000 more to reduce two study halls to one study hall on the trimester system. Of course, you also have to spend annually about $14,000 to $20,000 more on a trimester to pay paraprofessonals and campus monitors to watch hallways and cafeterias, since teachers are less available for such assistance on the trimester system. These numbers are all posted on the ARPS website.

I think the person who summarizes this trade-off the best is actually Mike Hayes, the principal of the MS right now. When asked why kids couldn't have music and gym every day and whether this was a budget issue, he noted that the day is a certain amount of time, so adding more things (e.g., gym and music) decreases time spent in other things (e.g., math class). Thus, his recommendation was to have a seven period day, NOT an eight period day, because of the loss of class time. Similarly, we could stay with a trimester system, but that means that kids actually spend LESS time in any of their classes than in a semester system -- so, they have less time in math, English, social studies, world language, and science than they would under the same length of day under a semester -- since each full-year class represents 2/15 of a trimester (13.4%) but 2/14 of a semester (14.3%).

Anonymous 7:35 - I guessed I've learned this lesson the hard way?!? How do you make any change in a system in which everything is always assumed to be perfect?

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

”OR you could spend $300,000 more to reduce two study halls to one study hall on the trimester system.”

No, that is not an option – there is not $300,000 more to spend. The amount to spend is fixed, what we do with that amount is what varies. The way it's being said leads people to believe that we would spend $300k less if we went to the semester system.

Nina Koch said...


When has anybody said that the school system is perfect?

I think just about everybody who has written a column or posted something positive about the schools has also said that the system is not perfect.

I don't understand why you continue to promote that characterization or the notion that we are afraid of change.

If we were afraid of change, we would not have taken steps to try to address problems. Things like a change in schedule or a new course sequence emerge as a response to a problem. In the 90s, we observed certain problems with our existing schedule and we developed a new schedule in an attempt to solve those problems. Other schools around the country have taken similar steps, which is why about a third of the country is now on a block schedule (which is not at all like a semester schedule).

If we were afraid of change, we would have just stuck with the old schedule despite its problems.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:35 - I guessed I've learned this lesson the hard way?!? How do you make any change in a system in which everything is always assumed to be perfect?

Just keep asking the hard questions. Clearly there are others who share your concerns -- they voted for you and Steve.

It's always hard when you come up against the dominant paradigm, no matter what that paradigm is.

Anonymous said...

North Andover moved to trimesters I think for next year because they were going to lose their accreditation if they didn't add electives. They made it clear they didn't like or want trimesters, but were forced by other circumstances.

Ed said...

When has anybody said that the school system is perfect?

When you have the Wrath of Khan descending on anyone who disagrees with the premis of perfection, it kinda makes it rather apparent that folks in positions of authority sorta intend to imply it...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Rick - of course you could spend $300,000 to move to a one study hall on the trimester system -- the SC could 100% vote to request that the principal move to a one study hall schedule, just as the SC 100% told the principal that a three study hall schedule was unacceptable (that was the original proposal). And in fact, I probably would have supported a higher number for the regional schools if the proposal had been to move to one study hall. Now, if we wanted to do that, we'd have to cut $300,000 of other things -- and that is why that $300,000 number is valid. We could also change the priorities list -- we could decide at the next meeting to cut $300,000 from some other line so that we could get to one study hall. As you even said "the amount is fixed, what we do with the amount varies." And one of the things we could DO with the amount is move to a one study hall system on the trimester schedule, which in fact would mean we would not be able to spend that $300,000 on something else! Alternatively, the teachers could vote to move to a semester system, and we could STILL have one study hall for the SAME amount.

Nina - I'm glad that you and others don't think the system is perfect. I think that may be hard from what many people read on this blog and in the paper, and frankly, that is what makes some people very nervous. I think it would be very helpful to parents and community members for teachers and principals in our schools to talk openly about what they see as problems so that the community can understand that these issues are known and are being addressed. I don't hear anything emerging on this blog or in the press that acknowledges ANY problems - unless by problems you mean a lack of funding or complaining parents. I believe some honest admissions about things that really aren't working as well as they could for all kids, and how these things are going to get better in the future, would go a LONG way towards helping people gain a sense of trust in our schools -- and in turn, potentially vote for an override.

Anonymous 8:46 - thanks for the support ... and yes, I know I'm expressing views others share ... but it is not so fun to be the only one out there being attacked!

ARHS Parent said...

Rick, I think you are wrong--there COULD be $300,000 to move from a trimester to a semester system with no study halls. It is just not a priority for the district. We are adding other things this year (like the $90,000 for preschool), so if the SC and the administration thinks it is a priority, they would move it to the front of the list of things to be funded with whatever money we have available. They have not moved the study hall problem to the front of the priority list (and according to the superintendent, it is largely irrelevant). This I have a real problem with, as my kids sit in study halls daily. This loss of instructional time is extremely detrimental to our students. In an era when our president is advocating a longer school day and a longer school year, Amherst is cutting instructional time more and more. Our system has become misguided in this respect. Move elimination of mandatory study halls to the top of the priority list and the override would have two additional votes from our household. At this point, though, we will be voting NO.

Anonymous said...

What part of the teachers won't be teaching more CLASSES do YOU not understand? I asked how it would save ACTUAL MONEY for the town, not how we can get more education from the teachers for the same money, which is what would happen.

The minutes from the lost prep period are redistributed into all the blocks in the semester schedule. It is NOT replaced with teaching a class.

The teachers will be teaching more minutes per day IN THE CLASSES THAT THEY WERE ALREADY TEACHING UNDER THE TRIMESTER. No classes are added for the students or for the teachers or to the master schedule of the school. No teachers were subtracted either because all the classes stay the same except for the increase of minutes in all of them.

Please tell me how a teacher teaching 10 minutes more a day to the same classes with the same students saves ACTUAL MONEY and is not just getting more educational minutes for the same money that is already being spent. That was my original question to you, as it seems you think that it will save actual money to switch.

Rick said...

ARHS Parent:

”Move elimination of mandatory study halls to the top of the priority list…”

To do that one has to either cut somewhere else or ask for more money.

The cuts and adds that are on the cuts list have to add up to a certain number unless one wants to ask for more money. That money has already been asked for and its $950k, so asking for more than this is off the table at this point. If we get that money (if the override passes) we can still reprioritize and move fewer study halls to the top and cut something else. That is still an option as the budget is far from finalized.

Getting back to moving from semester to trimester: we’ve been over this a million times, but these are the facts, once again:

1. Currently this is up to the teachers union and they voted it down last year and I believe also this year. At this point it’s too late for 2010/2011 school year.
2. Note that Mark Jackson said he was for semesters, so its not administration that is blocking the change.
3. Again it is correct that there is less time in study hall with semesters versus trimesters (7% versus 13%).
4. Whether there is a quality of instruction difference is being debated.
5. It’s also clear that most other schools do semesters.

The one piece of information out there that is NOT a fact is that we save $300k by moving to semesters. That is ALL that I was saying in my original comment. I don’t know how I can be any clearer about that.

Rick said...

The reason I am so concerned about this is that there are people out there saying they will not vote for the override “because the schools are unwilling to save $300k by moving to the semester system”.

If the override fails because people look at the facts and vote it down, so be it. But if it fails because people have incorrect facts, that’s really bad.

I want the override to pass because I want as much money to work with as possible for the schools. Absolutely we need to look at better ways of spending that money, but the bottom line is less money means less we can do.

Anonymous said...

Turns out the Superintendent can predict exactly when he will be sick in April. He is claiming "sick days" for April 2010 because he has used up his full month of vacation days.

Wow, I hope the override includes extra money so Alberto can stay longer in Miami while we pay his way.

Anonymous said...


You never seem to criticize anyone involves in running our schools.

Do you think it's okay for Alberto Rodriguez to lie about his sick days?

Anonymous said...

I'm Outraged By the Superintendent:

Just read Larry Kelley's blog. OMG!

If it's okay for the superintendent to lie and cheat, do we tell school kids they can too?

Catherine, are you going to investigate this?

Rick said...

"You never seem to criticize anyone involves in running our schools."

You should have been at ARHS Parent Center or RaDAR meetings I was at. You would have seen plenty of criticizing going on.

No of course it's not OK to say you are having a sick day before the fact so pay for those days should be denied.

Why is this a "lie" though? It's a misuse of a sick day - which he is openly telling us about in a memo (yes that is weird) - not a lie. To say you were sick when you were not after the fact would be a lie.

Whoever of you has never called in sick when you really were not sick may cast the first stone.

Rick said...

BTW his pay is too high. If I am on the SC at the time a new super has to be selected, the pay for the job is going to be determined BEFORE announcing the person has been selected for the job, not after (and a pay range will be part of the job posting).

Anonymous said...

"Whoever of you has never called in sick when you really were not sick may cast the first stone."

He's in charge and has to accept a higher standard.

Moreover, I know I have never, ever planned a sick day 2-3 months in advance. He is daring the SC to do something about this.

Anonymous said...

Rick said:

"Why is this a "lie" though?"

It is an intentional false statement, which is to say a lie.

When students lie and cheat there are consequences. Will there be any for our superintendent?

Rick said...

"He's in charge and has to accept a higher standard."

That's true, you're right - I agree.

Abbie said...

quick comment about Dr. R's sick leave request. How do you know that he doesn't have a medical issue that needs scheduled treatment? This may be none of anyone's business...

Anonymous said...

ARHS parent- I'm sorry but I really don't follow your logic. The reason there are mandatory study halls is because teaching staff has been cut and electives have been eliminated due to budget cuts. It seems like shooting oneself in the foot to me to say I'm protesting the study halls by denying the schools necessary funding.

Anonymous said...


Have you looked at the document? He exhausted his vacation days on Friday, February 19 and then was sick on Monday, Feb. 22. Convenient, but maybe he was sick.

Then, he is taking a "religious holiday" -- not in his contract on Friday, April 2. That would be a vacation day, but he created a new category for himself. Then he's going to be sick on Monday, April 5. Okay, maybe a procedure, but I doubt it.

Then, right after being sick on April 5 he is taking professional development days the following Monday-Wednesday April 12-14.

Then, he's sick again on Thurs-Fri. April 15-16 (immediately after the professional development days, just as he is planning on being sick right after the religious holiday) and sick again on Thurs-Fri. April 20-23 and rounds that out by being sick again on Monday, April 26. He's spending quite a few weekends being sick in between his paid sick days.

That is so fishy it doesn't deserve comment, but if we want to give the Miami resident/highest paid Amherst, MA public employee the benefit of the doubt, the SC should ask if he is undergoing some sort of medical procedure that will require him to relinquish his duties.

Also, I believe school employees need to furnish evidence of illness/medical treatment for this long term sort of absence. The SC should require this.

Anonymous said...

Abbie (and Catherine),

One more thing: All we have to do is ask Catherine and the other SC members if he explained these planned absences.

And he thinks he's sick.... said...

I hereby request an explanation for he superintendent's upcoming sick days. I would also like to know how much money these planned sick days are costing the district. And I would like advice on whether these planned sick days fall outside of the agreed upon contract.

~~ Sick of THIS.

Rick said...

I agree that the sick days thing needs explaining. But what’s going on here; do we not like the job he is doing? If not, what? I’d be interested in knowing.

Anonymous said...


It's a matter of trust. He is seeking an override and, it seems at least, acting like being the highest paid public employee in town gives him a partial no-show job. How can we ask the elderly on fixed incomes to pay more when this guy seems to be cheating on his time card?

Also, I don't think we can stand for a "maybe he's a liar and a cheat, but he's doing a terrific job." Even if he is, which I'm not sure of, honesty and integrity matter a lot. ESPECIALLY IN EDUCATION. We cannot teach social justice, let alone basic values like "don't cheat on tests," and "do your own homework," if the highest ranking education official in town is cheating the town.

If he's cheating on his time card there's an old fashioned word for that -- theft.

Anonymous said...

Really Angry:

Rick, if he is cheating the town -- while asking teachers to give up their raises -- he is de facto doing a bad job. This is a clear piece of evidence of him not being worth $5 a year, let alone $170.000/year/

Rick said...

"if he is cheating the town"

OK, I get that. All I would say is let's make sure we know he is cheating first. Catherine and the SC can check it out.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick things here:

1. Rick - I think the issue is not exactly semester versus trimester per se. I think the concern from those I talk to is that the choice to have a trimester is an example of a poor use of resources. So, I think we can all agree that it would be BETTER to have a high school in which there were NO required study halls (as is true in most other high schools in MA). It is very clear that to have no study halls on the semester system costs $300,000 more than our current budget, and to have no study halls on the trimester costs $600,000 more than our current budget. So, our district has made a decision to have a HS schedule that costs $300,000 more to eliminate all study halls than another HS schedule (that would be the semester system, used by most high schools). Thus, when people see this type of a decision being made in our schools, they become concerned in general about how other resources are being used.

One more related thing: I would be VERY comfortable saying that the SC will prioritize no study halls -- or just 1 study hall -- above other things, and I think it would be a great idea to find other things to prioritize lower than this so that IF the override passes, the HS moves to just one/or no study hall. If people think that is a good idea, email the SC and the superintendent and Mark Jackson and I can see if we could propose this change to our cuts list (which is still very much in progress).

2. I can't comment on this blog on superintendent contract issues or SC-superintendent stuff ... those kind of discussions occur in executive session.

Rick said...

OK that’s a better explanation: both options cost more, it’s not that we save $300k by going to semesters.

I agree that trimesters may be a poor use of resources; again, it definitely is on the time spent in class issue, I am just not sure on the quality of instruction aspect. If I had to "vote" today, with only the info I have, I would probably vote semester. But since that is not the case and we have time to look more into it, I want to hear more about the quality of instruction aspects – but with a time limit on that – June ideally.

”I would be VERY comfortable saying that the SC will prioritize no study halls -- or just 1 study hall -- above other things, and I think it would be a great idea to find other things to prioritize lower than this so that IF the override passes, the HS moves to just one/or no study hall.”

Cool that sounds good.

Anonymous said...

I think the questions with trimester/semester is also about blocks vs semester? what is that about?

I also think it's not just a money issue. Trimester/semester is also a student learning issue which needs to be discussed.

Rick said...

Nina explained this on the blog previously:
“’Ms. Gromacki said the High School would need approximately 5.2 additional FTE, or $270,000, to eliminate the need for an additional study hall next year.’

The $270,000 represents the difference between offering 13 blocks and 14 blocks. It has nothing to do with trimester versus semester. Mr. Jackson's concern was about the amount of time kids spend in study hall. He stated at the outset that going to semester would not save money. It's all about how many blocks we offer. That's what saves the money.”

And also this:

”Northampton is on a block schedule. It actually saves a lot of money for a school district. Quite a few local districts are on block. It allows them to offer more courses for the same money, because the teachers teach six courses a year instead of five. People who don't like the trimester probably will like the block even less. So be careful what you wish for.”

Here is a link to Block scheduling at Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

As a public employee of 19+ years, and just in case there's some uncertainty out there, we don't ALL do this, with sick time.

I find the sick days around weekends to be particularly troubling, although Abbie may be providing a possible answer, regarding medical procedures, perhaps in Florida. So I suppose that this might all be explained.

I suspect that my initial response earlier in 2009 to Dr. Rodriguez's personal arrangement identifies the root of the problem: the very difficult job, the tremendous pay, and the confusing politics are in Location A, and the emotional support, the love of your life, your friends, and all the people who've been keeping you grounded are all in Location B. Now my initial observation got a little twisted when it appeared in the Bulletin into some sort of blanket opposition to this Superintendent.

But I've always thought that the crushing demands of the job were not going to be offset completely by the great pay. So what we have, ladies and gentlemen, is our Lonely Superintendent. And, in that one regard, I can understand why he would be doing this with time off. And the arrangement does not work long-term.

But, I appreciate School Committee candidate Rick Hood's sense of fairness here, withholding judgment to start. We'll see what explains this, and hopefully I'll be wrong (as so many other times in the past).

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

The Superintendent job is not a union position. The rules that apply to teachers & other unionized staff don't apply in this case.

So, what does his contract say about leave policy? (Sick, vacation, personal, religious...). Either it's clearly spelled out and he's in compliance, or he's not in compliance...

Or it's not clear, in which case he's doing what the town let him do.

How many days off did Hochman (and his predecessors) take? Surely you can find that info in the records. Let's look into that first before slamming Dr. R.

Anonymous said...

"In terms of ACE folks -- two of the five candidates running are "ACE folks" (Rick and Rob)."
Rick, you have never mentioned you are a member of ACE. Catherine says you are. Your web site says you support ACE. What is the truth being a member and supporting are 2 different things. Can we trust you?

huh? said...

7:00am post is creepy. Has ACE become its own litmus test - in either direction? "can we trust you?" the guy has posted a gazaillion times on this blog, clearly letting people know his positions, his approaches, his philosophy. Make up your own mind! Can you trust him? That's just plain ol' creepy.

Rick said...

“Rick, you have never mentioned you are a member of ACE.”

I am not a “member” of ACE (whatever that means), but I do support the ACE goals, with reservations on some of them. I didn’t sign the ACE letter, but to be honest that is mainly because I barely knew anything about what it was at the time. Had I been more up to speed on what it was I might have signed it.

There is nothing wrong with ACE. My only view about that is that the ACE goals are not the ONLY thing we need to focus on. One could look at the ACE goals as a subset of the overall ARPS goals.

It’s OK for people to have different priorities. ACE has certain priorities, other people have different priorities. I take the view that they are all important. I also take the view that it doesn’t need to be a zero sum game.

Let’s work together to get ALL of our different priorities out on the table for discussion, and work through them to get the best we can for kids in this school system.

Rick said...

Another thing:

Go by what you see with your own eyes, not by the stereotypes that are out there. For example:

1. I have seen with my own eyes at SC meetings that Steve Rivkin (an “ACE person”) has proposed and pushed for summer programs, Pre-K programs – both of which help mainly disadvantaged kids - and called out the inequity there seems to be in direction give to students of color about higher level courses (or extensions) they could be taking.

2. Then I have also seen with my own eyes the same person say that we save $300k by going to semesters, which is totally false.

I liked what he did in #1. I didn’t like what he did in #2. I look at what the ideas are – #1 and #2 – not who is saying them, and what group(s) they belong to.

This should be about ideas, not people. I go by what people do and say, not by what somebody tells me they are. I recommend everyone try to be that way.

Anonymous said...

catherine says you are a member of ACE in her blog. do you want to correct her. i was going to vote for you, being a member of ACE is not that important, being honest is, why would she say that and if it is wrong why haven't you told her not to say that!!!

Rick said...

I thought I already answered this but OK:

Catherine you said “two of the five candidates running are "ACE folks" (Rick and Rob).” I am not an “ACE folk” so please don’t call me that.

Everyone should stop using these labels anyhow and take each person as who they are individually.

Rick said...


Catherine reminded me that I had asked to join ACE in February of 2009, and she had said yes, and that I would get on an email list. But then I didn't hear anything after that. I also contacted the email address on the ACE website but heard nothing back. I concluded they were not having regular meetings anymore and is why I had forgotten about that. But that’s why Catherine said what she said so just wanted to point that out.

I wanted to be a member so I could go to meetings and heard directly what people there were talking about. But since I didn’t hear back I never went to any meetings and just dropped following up on it.