My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Assorted Comments from Catherine

So, I've had a busy week and haven't had the time to respond individually to various blog threads ... and am heading out of town on work for two days tomorrow AM, but wanted to clear up various thing before I leave. This is in no particular order:

1. As posted on the ARPS website, there is an executive session of the Regional-Union 26 (Amherst-Pelham) School Committee meeting tonight. There will also be a joint Amherst-Regional School Committee meeting on Monday, March 1st (6:30 pm, High School library).

2. The calendar options for next year will be posted on the ARPS website tomorrow. I've seen two versions and frankly, I thought they both had problems. My recollection (they are not in front of me now) is that in one, school started REALLY early (e.g., August 26th, I believe, which is more than a week before Labor Day) and got out in the first two weeks of June, and the other school started at a better time (September 2nd, I think, which is the Thursday before Labor Day) but then got out potentially the LAST week of June. So, check the website for those official calendars -- and send emails to the superintendent/SC with your thoughts.

3. I think the issue of the copier (and who/how many people copy) is not about the copier -- it is about how we use limited resources. I don't see anyone attempting to micromanage -- I see people with reasonable questions about how decisions are made to spend limited resources. The recommendation from the HS administrative team is to restore a copying position ABOVE other positions (e.g., 2.4 special education positions at the HS, .6 world language at the MS to decrease language class sizes, a MS clerical position, etc.). I believe it is appropriate for people to ask questions about how resources are used -- obviously it would be great to have someone available to copy things for the HS teachers/district. Obviously it would also be great to have class sizes of 15, and 6 world languages, and no study halls, etc. -- but districts have to make choices about how to spend money, just as families have to make choices about how to spend money. I believe it is appropriate for voters to discuss how they believe money should be spent -- on blogs, in the paper, at meetings, etc.

4. I do NOT believe the problems in the Amherst schools are due to bad teaching ... in my experience with 12 different Fort River teachers my kids have had, and the teachers my friends' kids have had in ALL of the schools, we have a lot of great teachers. That's a good thing. I also hear from principals that we have LOTS of good candidates for teaching positions, because Amherst is generally seen as a good place to work. I've never said that we have bad teachers, or that the problems in our district are due to bad teaching (and thus that we need to focus extensively on eliminating bad teachers, etc.).

However, we, like all districts, have teachers with a range of experience, and my impression from talking to TEACHERS is that this is a hard district to be a new teacher in -- we give people a lot of freedom to do whatever they want, and that can be especially hard for new teachers (who don't have the time experience to "re-invent the wheel" all the time). So, I've heard from teachers who say they really want to differentiate instruction in elementary school, but aren't given the time or resources to do so (mentoring, etc.). That is a flaw of the SYSTEM, not of the teachers. Similarly, I don't know how possible it is to differentiate math to 20+ kids in a 7th grade class who come from 7+ elementary schools and are clearly at different math levels. But that doesn't speak to problems of teachers, it speaks to problems in the SYSTEM.

And that is why I think we need good, strong curricula that are teacher-friendly in all schools -- and we haven't had that, because our district hasn't focused on horizontal/vertical alignment (that is clearly identified in the Hamer Report issued last July by the superintendent).

So, I see our district as basically a lot of very talented and dedicated musicians all playing different songs in different tunes -- they sound great individually, but they don't work as an orchestra. Now, there are exceptions to this -- there are grades and schools that are really working very well at this type of consistency and alignment. I hear this was/is a real strength of Marks Meadow AND of Pelham (it is easier to have horizontal alignment when there is only one class per grade). I hear this was also a strength at Fort River a few years ago in 4th grade, for example (and I'm sure there are other examples). But I don't think we have the level of consistency that we should, and that is the fault of the school leadership - superintendent and school committee and principals (not pointing fingers at current people, but just in general that this is where responsibility lies for creating alignment).

5. I have really hesitated deleting any posts on this blog, because I frankly hoped people would use some discretion in what they post ... and not post ANYTHING they wouldn't post using their own names. But here's my new rule: if you have a specific complaint about any teacher/administrator/SC member/superintendent, email the whole SC ( or email me if you want to remain anonymous ( But this blog isn't the place to lodge formal complaints about hiring decisions or sick leave requests, etc., and I'm going to start deleting those. The benefit of this blog is to have open discussion and debate, and posts that are personal and at times inappropriate detract from my goals in doing this blog, so I'm going to start deleting them (so I'd really prefer if people could just not write them).

6. Finally, the override: a lot of people have strong feelings about this topic, and I can understand why. But I believe there are thoughtful and reasonable people who are on each side of this decision, and are still undecided. And those on each side of the issue will do the best job of convincing others to join "their side" by showing respect. I've presented information already on what the override would and would not mean in terms of regional school cuts, and I'm going to post similar information this weekend in terms of the elementary schools. People can and will disagree about the impact of these cuts--but I hope will be able to do so in a respectful way. And if you have thoughts about the prioritization of the cuts, you can certainly communicate those thoughts to the SC as a whole (via email or by attending the March 1st meeting). The budget is still clearly a 'work in progress' and I look forward to getting more input from all stakeholders.


Anonymous said...

CS said:
I've heard from teachers who say they really want to differentiate instruction in elementary school, but aren't given the time or resources to do so (mentoring, etc.).... That is a flaw of the SYSTEM, not of the teachers.


Although I do wonder why some teachers find it SO hard to differentiate, including the younger ones who are supposedly taught differentiation from day one in their ed courses. However, I am trained in SPED, so maybe my training was different.

Anonymous said...

What is the agenda for the executive session? Can you share that?

Nina Koch said...


I appreciate that you are going to start deleting the postings that attack school officials.

I hope that you might also encourage parents with concerns to communicate directly with the people involved. This document outlines how to do that at the high school:

Parent Concerns

I don't feel that parents should be encouraged to take their concerns immediately to the school committee. That should be a last recourse, after other channels have been exhausted.

Anonymous said...

Nina, do you really think Amherst parents do not talk to their child's teachers when there is a problem? We are a well-educated, mouthy lot and certainly this avenue has not escaped us. In fact, I've heard people say that Amherst parents demand too much. Please drop this idea and let's get back to the copy machine!

Rick said...

Great thoughts in #4.

Ed said...

Although I do wonder why some teachers find it SO hard to differentiate, including the younger ones who are supposedly taught differentiation from day one in their ed courses. However, I am trained in SPED, so maybe my training was different.

I will answer this.

The average student-in-training writes one lesson plan per week. The average teacher needs to have six lesson plans A DAY. Every day.

The average student taught SPED is dealing with one student independent of absolutely everything else, the average teacher is dealing with at least a half dozen SPED students (or I was), in the midst of everything else including filing CHINS (51A) reports and everything else.

The human brain can only process so much information within a given period of time. Some can process more than others, and there are coping skills that one can adopt, but the simple fact remains that there is a very human limit on the information that a new teacher can process. It is not hard for a new teacher to reach this quite quickly...

An experienced teacher can supplement the curriculum and individualize the instruction because he/she/it has already mastered the basics. The experienced teacher has lesson plans from the year before, and the year before that. The experienced teacher knows where the bathrooms are, and which part of the day is best used for bathroom breaks.

Remember too that in most districts (and I am not saying this is the case in Amherst although I do suspect it is true) the more senior teachers get the better students. So you also have your least experienced teachers assigned to teach the most difficult students.

And the true problem - and this is the duty of the administration - is to prevent the new teachers from being overwhelmed...

Anonymous said...

Ed, thanks for the thoughtful reply about differentiation.

As for the best/most experienced teachers getting the "easiest" kids, I didn't see that in Amherst in my school. Every class had challenging kids in it.

Anonymous said...

What Ed said about the new teachers getting the most difficult kids was true when my kids went thru elementary school. The newest teachers were always loaded up with the most difficult kids. It was like the administration was defying them to teach.

Anonymous said...

The plural of anecdote is NOT data.