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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Amherst School Committee, March 25, 2010

We had a brief (about 30 minute) Amherst meeting before our Regional Meeting on Thursday -- so this will be a quick update.

First, we elected new officers (given the election of two new SC members to Amherst on Tuesday). I nominated Irv Rhodes as Chair, which was seconded by Steve Rivkin. Then Irv nominated Steve as Vice Chair, which Rob Spence seconded. Both motions passed unanimously.

Second, we discussed new sub-committee assignments. Rob is going to serve (with me) on JCPC and Steve and Rick are going to serve on BCG.

Third, we discussed the next meeting dates/times, which will be Tuesday, April 6th, and Wednesday, April 7th (6:30 pm). It is not clear whether these meetings will take place in the HS library or at Town Hall -- Debbie Westmoreland is going to check on the availability of Town Hall (which then can be shown live).

Finally, we turned to the one item on the agenda, which was a motion I had prepared. This motion was to provide Spanish language instruction in all elementary schools K to 6 starting this fall -- using the model now used for "specials" (e.g., once a week instruction, as we do for music, PE, art, library, computer now). This motion was seconded by Irv, and then was discussed at a fair amount of length. I pointed out that the Amherst SC had voted additional funds at our last meeting precisely because we wanted to have the flexibility to offer this type of new program, and I thought this would be a great use of additional funds. I also noted that this program could help families who may feel less welcome in our schools be more involved, particularly given the ending of the language clustering this fall, and would be in line with our district's commitment to multiculturalism. I also noted that Spanish is by far the language most spoken in this community (other than English), and thus this seems like the logical language to teach K to 6. Other members on the SC also spoke in favor of this motion, although wanting to understand the fiscal costs associated and how else additional funds could be spent.

The superintendent and several principals (Mark Jackson, Mike Hayes, Mike Morris) generally spoke in favor of this idea, but cautioned that it was quite complex to consider for many reasons. Mark Jackson noted that we should consider focusing on languages K to 12, and that languages like Russian/Arabic/Chinese would be more likely to be paid for the government. Mike Hayes pointed out the problems associated with having some kids have Chinese in terms of MS placement. Maria Geryk noted that there were many spending priorities focused on intervention and special education.

The SC then voted unanimously to request for the administration to examine fiscal and educational implications of adding K to 6 Spanish in all elementary schools at the start of the 2010-2011 school year. This information will be presented at the April 6th meeting, and voted on at the April 7th meeting -- so, if you have thoughts about this proposal, please email the SC ( and/or the superintendent (

Rob Spence also raised the issue of the costs associated with returning to instrumental music in 3rd and 4th grade as opposed to 4th and 5th grade (as happened this year in response to budget cuts). The SC also agreed that this would be useful information to have, and the superintendent said this could be prepared for the April 6th meeting as well.


TomG said...

Thanks CS. Good to see the SC moving forward with deliberate speed.

Anonymous said...

Where do things stand with the expanded pre-school classes? Would K-6 Spanish once a week take money away from that very worth-while initiave? If so, then I think we should fund an expanded pre-school before offering Spanish once a week K-6.

Anonymous said...

My 4th grader has now invested nearly 5 years in being taught Chinese. I would vastly prefer that she be able to continue in this language rather than starting all over in a new one. I would much rather have her study a more unusual language than Spanish. Having a background in Chinese will set her apart and be more of an asset to her than Spanish, which is already so commonly a second language. Please continue Chinese language instruction.

WW Parent

FR Parent said...

Before funding Spanish, I would love to first get our kids in a full-day's worth of instruction for a full five days a week. The early release Wednesdays not only limit the instructional time our children have but are also a financial and logistical burden on working families, particularly low-income ones. The best way to show support for social justice would first be to give our kids what all other local kids get--five full days of instructional time! Please consider it.

Anonymous said...

Its great to see that the RSC is pushing forward in a rational manner.

Best of luck to you - and thanks to you Catherine, Irv, Steve and Rob for your efforts - some of which I am sure I'll disagree with but at least be able to live with now that I feel there is some intelligence being applied to the process.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

TomG - thanks!

Anonymous 8:13 - there is currently a plan to expand the preschool by ONE classroom (this was already in the budget). We can't expand by more regardless of budget because we don't have classrooms. So, a Spanish program would be in addition to the additional preschool class that was already in the budget proposed by Dr. Rodriguez -- the world language idea is to use some of the additional funds we voted we would "need" if the override passed.

WW Parent - there are a couple of complicated issues here. First, since the redistricting is occurring, we couldn't continue with Chinese as has been occurring at WW since some of the kids now taking Chinese will move to other schools AND some of the kids moving into WW will have had zero exposure to Chinese. Second, the Chinese program at WW is much more intensive then the Spanish program that has been proposed -- the exposure to language would be more modest (and cheaper), so it isn't really equivalent (and families who want really intensive Chinese will likely be considering the charter school). The SC has already decided unanimously that we aren't going to provide language at only one school (as occurred with Chinese at WW), so the only question now is do we want a language offered K to 6, and if so, what language would that be? If you would prefer to have Chinese offered K to 6, you could let the SC know that, and that could get serious consideration. However, I believe that Spanish is a better choice, given the much higher % of kids in our district who already speak Spanish.

FR Parent - getting rid of the Wednesday afternoons would require a change in the contract, so this can't happen for the upcoming year. In addition, if we were to end Wednesday afternoons, I imagine we would move to shorter school days other days -- since the total hours of instruction would then change. In sum, this isn't a simple switch!

Anonymous 9:36 - thanks for the kind words!

Anonymous said...

If the SC voted to get rid of early release days on Wednesdays with the next contract, why would we then have to have shorter days the other four? President Obama has been urging longer school days and longer school years to increase the education of our youth; why can't Amherst be on the cutting edge of adopting that philosophy? Why can't we continue to go until 3:15 all five days a week and give our kids a little more of what they need? Especially if they are now going to be having a language on top of their other specials? If the teachers don't want to teach that extra few hours per week, perhaps they would be happier in another district? I imagine that most of them would see additional instructional time as a plus and would be on-board with the idea. Or am I just being optimistic?

Anonymous said...

"Best of luck to you - and thanks to you Catherine, Irv, Steve and Rob for your efforts"

I add my thanks to the four hard-working volunteers mentioned above and also add my thanks to Rick who is also working very hard.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response on continuing Chinese language instruction vs. Spanish.

Could you please discuss why you think it would make more sense to teach Spanish? ("I believe that Spanish is a better choice, given the much higher % of kids in our district who already speak Spanish.")

What does a kid who already speaks Spanish get out of Spanish as a second language classes? Why does this make sense?

Also, new kids go into WW all the time who have had zero exposure to Chinese and jump right into the classes.

Thank you,
WW Parent

Anonymous said...

WW parent, ask a MS or HS Spanish teacher about students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds and how they fare in MS and HS Spanish classes.

Depending on the Spanish spoken at home, it is by no means a given that knowing some Spanish means fluency or knowledge of, say, how the subjunctive is conjugated in Castilian Spanish.

25 years ago everyone wanted their kids to study Japanese because that was going to be the world business language. Now it's Chinese.

Why not focus on the second language most likely to be heard in the US, as they do in Canada with French.

Anonymous said...

Do you have an idea of the effectiveness of once-a-week language instruction? (Since we want more data-supported decisions, I'm assuming there's something out there in support of this idea.) If we were to offer Spanish every day for the lower grades - now, that would be great. Once a week seems like too little to have any effect, and I'd hate to see the money wasted.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:34 - certainly the SC could decide we need a longer school day -- I'm certain that would also involve paying teachers more, so we just need to be aware of that. That would have to be negotiated with teachers, and with the bus company. I am not saying this isn't a fine idea (though I also think a school day of 8:40 to 3:15 may be long for very little kids) -- but I don't think it means that we shouldn't start Spanish next year.

Anonymous 10:47 - thanks for the thanks to all of us! I think that person meant "you" as in Rick, and then added the other four names, so he/she was also (I believe) thanking all of us).

WW Parent - I think there are a number of issues here that make Spanish preferable. One is that it is spoken much more frequently in our community. Another is that Latino kids have done less well historically on MCAS in Amherst, and this would be an opportunity for these kids to shine (we haven't struggled with Chinese-speaking kids on MCAS). Another would be to increase parental involvement (and again, we've struggled more with involving Latino parents AND there are far more Spanish speaking parents/grandparents in our community than Chinese-speaking parents). We also already have more ELL teachers who are qualified to teach Spanish than Chinese, so it means using our existing staff. Again, if you'd like to suggest Chinese be taught K to 6 instead of Spanish, you can certainly propose that idea to the SC/superintendent. I believe Spanish makes more sense for all the reasons I've listed, but I'm very much in favor of SOME K to 6 language exposure.

Anonymous 11:37 - I think this is a tough issue -- more frequent language exposure would be GREAT (and yes, would really build fluency). I think that would be the ultimate goal -- but that poses two big challenges. One is $$ (we then need more than 1 teacher per building to do this). The other is time (what time does that language exposure come out of -- science? PE? music?). So, my thought is lets add in Spanish now, which we can do pretty cheap, and that will give kids some exposure and serve the other benefits I noted before. And we could then consider ADDING a more thorough program (like the WW program) if money/time allowed in a year or so.

Anonymous 11:37 - great points. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My son had once/week Spanish in private elementary school.

It was about as useful as once/week gym or once/week art or music. That is to say, it provides children with an experience of that area of study/culture and helps them and their parents identify areas of interest or skill. Flexes other learning muscles, so to speak.

Fortunately there is a great. free option for those who want Mandarin Chinese, and it's right down Route 9.

And do I detect a smidge of snobbery about Spanish vs other world languages? Even back in my day I chose French because I got the vibe somewhere that Spanish was not as "classy." I was so wrong. I can't tell you how many jobs I haven't gotten as an educator because I needed more Spanish.

Nobody ever asked about my French.

Anonymous said...

The largest number of French speaking people outside of France is Africa. It it the third most spoken language in the E.U. It is the official language of Haiti. It is also a language most people use as a second language in common. It is the official language of all United Nations Agencies.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:59

I wasn't that wild about Chinese in the 1st place, but the point is that now that my kid has had it two to three times a week for 4 1/2 years, it is unfortunate to think of all this acumulated work being dismissed and ANOTHER language again beng imposed.

I'm sorry to hear that you didn't think that Spanish was "classy" but please refrain from projecting your prejudices onto me. I do not share them.

How will Spanish speaking kids taking Spanish lessons help the on their MCAS exactly?

WW Parent

Anonymous said...

If spanish speaking children are doing as well as they could on MCAS, how would offering spanish be helpful?

Isn't MCAS testing in english?

Anonymous said...

Will the new preschool class be full day so that children of working parents can go? The morning classes only work for families who have a parent home for half the day.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:59 - that is how I imagine once a week language would work -- some exposure to the language/culture, perhaps some increased interest in studying language daily at 7th grade. And that seems like an improvement from where we are right now with kids in 3 of the four schools receiving no world language instruction!

Anonymous 12:29 - we could consider offering French, but given the % of Spanish speaking families in our area, this would seem like an unusual choice for a K to 6 world language.

WW Parent - I understand that for WW parents, it would be better to have their children continue with Chinese. But the majority of kids in our district haven't had Chinese for 5 years, and the district financially can't afford to offer this type of intensive language instruction in three schools next year. So, Chinese isn't an option going forward at this level. Our choice are offering NO K to 6 world language, or offering some K to 6 world language (and that could be Chinese or Spanish). Spanish seems to me to make more sense for all of the reasons I've laid out -- but again, if you disagree, feel free to email the whole SC!

My point re. MCAS was that ELL kids have, at least in Amherst, struggled on MCAS -- meaning they are having academic struggles on English and Math. By far the most kids in Amherst who are ELL are Spanish speaking. And Spanish classes would be an area in which these kids could shine, which I think would be really nice. It isn't that Spanish lessons would help them do better on the MCAS. It is that this would be a time during the week in which kids who may experience more academic struggles could feel good, and I think that would be great.

Anonymous 2:14 - see my answer above!

Anonymous 2:25 - I don't think so -- I believe it will operate on the same schedule as the current CF preschools.

Anonymous said...

What on earth are Mark Jackson and Mike Hayes doing even commenting on this?

The AMHERST school committee should make k-6 policy without the interference of REGIONAL principals.

I wouldn't feel so strongly about this if Mark Jackson hadn't so misbehaved on March 9. I think he should stick to working on limiting the number of forced study halls in the HS and leave K-6 alone.

Anonymous said...

Regional principals have to plan for the kids they get FROM the Amherst elementary schools, armed with the education they receive IN those elementary schools.

So whatever is taught at FR, WW and CF affects things way up the road -- in HS and MS.

Curricular integration!

I realize people are mad at Jackson and Hayes but there is about 99% more to their jobs then their behavior at a meeting.

Anonymous said...

A compelling argument could be made for many different languages.

Since the majority of kids take a Romance Language later on, you get the most bang for your buck by starting with one of those -- or better yet, maybe Latin! That helps with English, too.

Spanish makes sense to me -- we hear it around us, some significant majority of our families are already using it, and it's a very accessible language with loads of good teaching materials easily available at all grade levels.

Latin on the other hand is dry, and French materials for early grade aren't as handy.

I was 11 when I picked French over Spanish! Wish I could turn back the clock on that choice.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like one of the ideas that gets criticized for being implemented without research to back it up. A special-to-Amherst program.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Sanderson,
I deeply support the idea that you presented of the lower schools being offered a "world language." I believe that like the arts, language is greatly important in the process of development in a young child.

A Student of ARHS

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what your justifications behind ACE are and what you think the Amherst Public Schools are missing...
Thank you for your time

Anonymous said...

It seems like spanish class time would be a good time for the spanish-speaking ELL students (and maybe all ELL students) to get a little extra help in english.

Yes, it would be nice to shine in a class where you completely know everything - but you could also end up bored and fooling around. And shining just to shine is not a good use of any kid's time. For example, most people whose kid is advanced in math is not necessarily happy that their kid is shining in math - instead they are hoping for more challenging work for their child. And resigned to being happy if their child is shining in easy (for them) math, but there are also probably plenty of parents whose children fool around and get in trouble when the work is too easy.

I think spanish is a fine choice as it is a much easier language to learn than chinese, and will complement vocabulary in english (root words and all that).

And I say this as a WW parent.

Four years of chinese for my kids have NOT really resulted in anything more than reciting colors, numbers, and singing some songs. And an appreciation for chinese culture.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 4:43 - the Amherst SC definitely gets to vote on whether to implement K to 6 world language. I just think the regional principals were sharing their thoughts. However, it is probably a better idea if they convey those thoughts to the superintendent outside of an official meeting so that she can then present the administration's view.

Anonymous 5:28 - as I said at the meeting, I don't think any kids would really get enough fluency in Spanish (with once a week for 45 minutes or whatever) to place out of the first level of Spanish. Mike Hayes pointed out that even the WW kids who have now had years of Chinese aren't ready for Chinese 2. However, I think if we did implement a K to 6 Spanish program, the MS would have plenty of kids to be in a particular Spanish class (e.g., advanced level 1 or whatever) if that ended up happening.

Anonymous 5:35 - well said. Having some exposure to Spanish would let kids more easily build on Latin or French. And yes, I think Spanish is a pretty accessible language for young kids, which also makes it a good choice.

Anonymous 9:03 - I'm not exactly sure what you are describing here -- lots of districts have K to 6 world language!

A Student of ARHS - thanks for the kind words! I am glad you agree that teaching K to 6 world language could be really great.

EJ - you can read the ACE letter at This letter was written over two years ago, and signed by over 300 parents, who did indeed feel like something was missing in the Amherst schools. I'd be glad to answer any questions you have about ACE on my private email ( -- since this blog focuses on my role on SC.

Anonymous 10:44 - good points on all fronts. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:25- -I've heard from a current CF preschool teacher that the new preschool classroom will be a full-day classroom.

But maybe that was incorrect information, perhaps CS has more updated information that I do.

But it will be slated for specific types of kids that are the target (low-income, high risk, I forget the specifics of what was mentioned in the earlier posts) so not everyone will qualify to have their children attend the new preschool room.

I wonder how they will reach out to and find these families? Or will these families be expected to miraculously know about the new preschool room?

preschool said...

re: anonymous 2:25 Has full-day preschool been considered? I can't recall if I read in this blog or perhaps the newspaper that it would be spots for families with low incomes. If that is the case, adding more half-day slots will not offer anything for those families whose parents are working. In fact, not having a full-day schedule means that only families who have a parent home can send their children their, regardless of income. Let's make preschool accessible to all families!

Anonymous said...

I would prefer that the elementary schools shore up basic education before adding world language. If you add another special (45 minutes), where is it coming from in the schedule (is it replacing computers for example, or are you replacing the little time there is for math, reading, writing (and perhaps science/social studies).

When experts say that at most the kids who take 7 years (K-6) of elementary spanish would end up in advanced level 1 spanish in 7th grade, that doesn't say much for 45 min x once a week x 36 weeks of school = 27 hours per year, for a total of 189 hours for grades K-6.

In that amount of time, they do beautiful art projects, really learn music & put together great choral performances. Presumably they are learning to be healthy and fit and learning new skills in PE. But after 189 hours of spanish, they will end up in the same place in 8th grade as if they never took spanish until 7th grade - Spanish Level 2. To me that is not worth changing an entire district's program (on what seems to be a whim, similar to how we are always complaining about Amherst adopts special programs that are unique without careful study).

I would much rather the 189 hours
a) NOT be taken from the core curriculum of math, reading, writing, science or social studies

b) I would rather this time/resources be used towards strengthening the elementary school math program. Why not really push more math and more rigorous math (including drills) and have EVERYONE ready to do the 7th grade extension work?

I'm not against world languages at the elementary school level - I just think we should work on strengthening our basic curriculum until the general community is happy with it. Only then should we ADD onto it.

Just because WW had an experimental chinese program funded by grants for ~4 years does not mean that all schools should have world languages. Has there been any study done to evaluate the effectiveness of the chinese program at WW? The kids should be tested to see what they've learned (and I'll tell you that based on my kids, it's not much).

Ed said...

I realize people are mad at Jackson and Hayes but there is about 99% more to their jobs then their behavior at a meeting.

No, there isn't.

If they act in public like that, all their students seeing them act like that, how could they then go do their jobs the next day????

Reputations matter, folks....

Anonymous said...

Ed's right. His display that night at the school committee meeting showed poor judgement, and lack of self-control on his part. Not the first time either.

Ken said...

I'm rejoining the discussion after a long time away. (The tone has improved a lot since I last looked!)

I'd like to address the world language idea. A number of years ago, the same idea came up and caused quite a stir. I found myself--surprisingly, given the fact that I've been in a related field for 30+ years--against it in this kind of format. There is ample research showing the benefits of bilingualism, and I would support any program that had that as its goal. 2-way programs are really the only way to achieve this goal. But as the program has been described, it's really just "exposure," with little ultimate gain.

In and of itself, no harm, no foul. But that "little-gain" time will come at the expense of something else. This was the concern of many of us when the idea surfaced the last time. Will it come out of math or science or language arts or social studies time? If so, will the expectations on teachers for what they'll accomplish during those content blocks change? No. If it is part of the specials rotation, the minimal benefits of a tiny WE program have to be weighed against the scheduling issues that may well arise as well as the reduced time in the other specials.

Traditionally, at the elementary level, our Latino ELLs have actually done better than the state average for ELLs on the MCAS (as do most of our ELLs still), and certainly better than ELLs in the most demographically similar districts to ours. However, there do seem to have been a couple of problematic grades at Crocker the last couple of years that are skewing the stats. I don't know why that is--you'd have to talk with the Crtocker staff that knows them best and works most closely with them. But for Latino students to do well overall, infrequent and relatively short Spanish WE classes will not make much of a difference (while of course not hurting, either, and being a place to "shine," if just for a very short time per week). But classrooms have to be transformed to be places where Latino students (and all other culturally and linguistically diverse learners) can "shine" all day.

ken said...

Oops--I meant WL programs (Worls Language).

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ken.

I would add that many Latino students shine quite brightly in any number of settings already, thank you very much. Having worked in the Amherst schools I was delighted on a daily basis to see so many children generally doing so well regardless of where they came from in the community.

Let's keep in mind that "Latino" encompasses a very diverse group of children and families. The 2010 US Census acknowledged that by breaking that somewhat meaningless and over-broad demographic term into Latino/race and Latino/country of origin.

Years ago in my newly-integrated school district there was a complete failure of the part of too many White staff and students to understand that our Black community was also a very diverse place.

My African-American classmates were children of world-famous musicians (yes, genuinely world-famous), teachers, academics, business owners, dentists, civil service employees, store clerks, and factory workers, among others.

But too many people had no knowledge of the Black world's own diversity and thought of my peers only as "Black."

It's 40 years later. Are we still making the same misjudgments and mistakes, still painting rainbow groups with the same broad brush?

Amherst can do better, and often does.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few thoughts here:

1. I believe we need to strengthen aspects of our K to 6 experience, and I think I've said that pretty directly. I believe we need to take a serious look at the math curriculum we are using, and that is underway (the superintendent is putting out requests for proposals to do this review now). I also believe we need to take a serious look at how differentiation is practiced in our schools, and whether appropriate differentiation is provided across subjects/grades/schools. But it is not like we are deciding "well, we can only choose one thing to do right now - what should it be?" We have kids now in all of our schools, and we should be focused on providing the best education we can for all kids everyday across disciplines. Adding a world language program does NOT mean that is the only thing that we could/should do in our schools.

2. Deciding what a K to 6 world language program should be is complicated. On one extreme, you could have a full immersion school (e.g., Chinese Charter School). I don't think we are there yet for MANY reasons. Alternatively, you could have pretty intensive language instruction multiple days a week (this is called a FLES program) -- that is like the WW Chinese program. I have proposed a different model, which is called a FLEX program -- some exposure to language/culture once a week or so. There are obvious trade-offs: more time spent in a language program leads to more fluency, and less times leads to less fluency. But we obviously are limited in time (e.g., WHAT does the language instruction come out of?) and money (e.g., how do we hire/pay for teachers in these languages).

I like the FLEX model for two reasons: first, the time doesn't necessary have to come "out" of something. Maybe the reading/writing time is done with Spanish books, not English books. Maybe the music time is sometimes done with songs in Spanish. Maybe the art time is studying Cuban/Mexican/Spanish artists. Maybe the spelling lists include some Spanish words. This is therefore less intrusive on other things (e.g., math/science/whatever) than a more intensive program that meets more frequently (and costs more $$). Second, I don't see the goal of a FLEX program as providing fluency -- I see it as providing EXPOSURE to the idea that different people speak different languages, fostering a greater appreciation for different cultures, providing enthusiasm for the study of language later on, etc. Learning some Spanish words would be great, but that would not be the main goal of a FLEX type program.

Finally, we could debate whether we want more intensive language (and I agree with Ken that really creating bilingual kids would be GREAT, though again, this is tricky both in terms of time/money), but I'd like us to at least have SOME world language exposure next year in all schools and all grades. Then, if we wanted to "up the level" (and work out the scheduling/money then), we could -- but at least we'd have a foundation for providing some exposure, which we could build on if that seemed to make sense later on.

Emma Ayres said...

Ms. Sanderson,
I understand there are immense misconceptions about your ideologies that are circulating. Although I do not agree with everything you bring forward I think you offer a lot to the community of Amherst and I think people must open their minds to all existing opinions. I hope that even after the 2010 budget is resolved you will work closely with we-the students so thus we can create the most wonderful educational experience possible. Lastly I would like to say: you are awfully brave for standing by what you believe in and for that I have great admiration.


Emma Ayres
I think the option to be anonymous is not right. I think people should feel empowered and own what they say.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe in MCAS testing?

Anonymous said...

Do you believe in MCAS testing?
Anon 9:19.

Are you asking if CS believes in state-mandated high-stakes yearly progress testing as a valid way to assess how individual children, schools and districts are doing, or in the particular tests called MCAS that are currently administered in Massachusetts?

As MCAS are completely uncontrolled at the local level, I am curious as to why you have asked about them. Is this some kind of political litmus test for CS?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Emma - thank you for your very thoughtful post! I think you and I share the same passion for education, and I look forward to working with you and other students in the years to come on making the Amherst K to 12 education truly excellent for all kids. I know there is a lot of misinformation out there about my "ideology" so let me be very clear: I believe all kids in Amherst (regardless of race/class/gender/language spoken at home) deserve an education that is engaging and challenging in all respects (in both traditional academic disciplines and elective disciplines, such as music and art and wood technology). I'd love to talk with you anytime about my views about our schools -- and to learn your thoughts. Send me an email on my private email: casanderson@amherst if you'd like to set up a time to meet -- I've already met with several students from ARHS and it has been super useful for me (and I will buy you a coffee/tea/soda!)! Finally, I agree that people should use their own names whenever possible, and I VERY much appreciate your modeling of that behavior! And thanks back to you for all you do for our schools.

Anonymous 9:19 - I'm not really sure I undestand your question -- MCAS obviously exist, and aren't going away, and if our schools fail to make AYP, we experience consequences from the state that are bad -- so, it would be irresponsible for an SC member, or a principal, or a superintendent to "not believe" in them. However, if you want to read a fuller version of my views, you can check on the Education Matters column I wrote with Steve Rivkin last October (it appeared in the Amherst Bulletin, and it posted on my blog). It is called "MCAS misses some key data."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Emma - Oops, I typed too fast: my email address is - I hope to hear from you! And my offer of coffee/tea/soda at the Amherst College Campus Center goes out to ANY students at ARHS or any teachers/staff in our district who are willing to take some time to talk with me and share their own experiences (good and/or bad) about our district. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the district, and the conversations I've already had with students at ARHS, as well as teachers/staff in all of our buildings (phone calls, private email exchanges, in person meetings) have been very useful for me.

Michael Jacques said...

I thought the discussion on having a Spanish special was a good one. It would bring new depth to our multi-cultural schools. I would guess (maybe I shouldn’t) that it is the second most prevalent language in the U.S. It is not about trying to get the kids proficient to a specific level by 7th grade. It is about exposure and diversity and that is never a bad thing.

I did strike me as odd that during the discussion that the Mark Jackson and Mike Hayes were more negative than positive. I thought Maria voiced reasonable budgetary concerns and Mike Morris liked the idea. The other 3 E.S. principles were in the meeting and they did not comment. I thought Catherine was being rather polite indicating that Mark and Mike H spoke in favor of the idea. They spoke more about how they would have difficulty integrating it into 7th grade and worried how it might affect attendance for the other language programs in the H.S. Did anyone bring up those concerns when we put Chinese in Wildwood? Why don’t Mark and Mike H. show concern for cutting music and art in the lower levels that clearly affects the Middle and High school? Hopefully after it was explained to them a few times they get that it is about enrichment. What I really don’t get is why they objected most and other principles that would feel direct impact did not seem to mind.

Anyway it is a great idea thanks for bring it forward.