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.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Impact of an Override on the Elementary Schools: Just the Facts

On February 18th, I completed a summary of all of the consequences of the override passing versus failing on our middle and high schools -- you can refer to that posting to see that summary again. However, since the time of that posting, which was based on a 5% cut in local aid, the legislature has said we won't see worse than a 4% cut in local aid, so add about $80,000 in increased funds to the "worst case" scenarios if you refer to that summary. Similarly, I've listed the summary below as given to us on February 8th, and that is based on the 5% cut estimate, which has now been revised to no worse than 4% -- hence, we will add about $60,000 to the worst case scenarios I've listed below. Again, I'm not taking a position on the override -- I'm simply laying out the precise cuts so that residents of Amherst can understand what will -- and will not -- happen based on tomorrow's vote.

Current Staffing Projections for Next Year WITH and WITHOUT the Override Passing:

Administration - each school will have a principal, a school-year assistant principal, a head secretary, a school-year assistant secretary, a special education secretary (part-time - .6 to .7 at each school), and 3.5 to 4 custodians. If the override passes, each special education secretary goes to full-time.

Regular Education Teachers - each school will have between 17 and 22 classroom teachers, a full-time librarian, a music teacher (full-time at WW and FR, .8 at CF, which has fewer kids), a .60 instrumental music teacher, an art teacher (full-time at WW and FR, .6 at CF), a PE teacher (full-time at WW and FR, .6 at CF), guidance counselors (1 at CF, 1.5 at WW and FR), psychologist services (.6 to .7 at all of the schools), computer instruction (.2 at CF, .4 at WW and FR), a full-time nurse. If the override passes, we add an additional .5 in a psychologist to serve all schools, and there will be a .2 PE teacher dedicated to the CF preschool program.

ELL/Intervention - each school will have ELL teachers (3 to 4.5, depending on school needs), and ELA/Math intervention teachers (3 to 4.3 per school). If the override passes, there will be an additional .5 ELL teacher and an additional .6 intervention teacher to serve all the schools.

Special Education - each school will have academic teachers (3 to 3.5), speech language pathologists (1.4 to 1.8), an occupational therapist (.6 to .9), a full-time therapeutic teacher, and paraprofessionals (6 to 13). If the override passes, we will add a .7 academic teacher and 3.50 paraprofessionals.

Note: There are also dedicated programs for special populations at each school (preschool at CF, Building Blocks at FR, AIMS at WW) - staff for these programs are NOT included in the above totals, and will not be impacted by an override.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the summary and making it so clear.

What about cuts and non-cuts to the middle and high school? I've heard wildly different numbers and cuts about these schools so clarity will go a long way here.

Janet McGowan

confused said...

didn't you ask for $400,000 to be included in the override for elementary schools for enhanced programming?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Good question, Janet -- I will do a posting that answers this later today.

Frustrated Parent said...

So it looks as if an override would go almost entirely toward increasing special education and ELL/intervention services? Can you remind us what percent of our elementary school students are special ed? If I remember correctly, it is under 20% so an override would be going to support only a small group of our students.

Anonymous said...

I'm relieved to see that the larger schools will have 3.5 SPED teachers. FR used to have four FTE SPED teachers. Between cutting back on the SPED secretary's time, the Speech teachers' time (they are very involved with some SPED kids) and cutting back SPED teachers, SPED services were going to be stretched very thin with just three teachers. And possibly the OT is cut back as well. SPED specialists work as a team so cutting one hurts the others.

Ed said...

I am going to say this again - A principal, an asst principal, a secretary, an asst principal, and then a SPED secretary?!?!?

My elementary school, back in the dark ages, had 28-30 students per classroom, three classrooms per grade, six grades. Say 522 students which is bigger than any of the three elementary schools in Amherst.

It had ONE principal (who actually was shared with a Mark's Meadow-sized school a mile away) and ONE secretary, and a sixth grade teacher (teaching full load) who was in charge if the principal wasn't there. He might have gotten a small stipend for that.

I really don't think we need all these administrators....

What does a SPED secretary DO? And why can't a regular one do it?

Anonymous said...

I wish there were a check box on the ballot to say NO for now and YES for later for funds required by the school committee to implement the curriculum and organizational changes they plan to turn out good schools into great schools.

Anonymous said...

I am also looking forward to a MS/HS posting. The information has been VERY confusing.

Anonymous said...

Ed said:
"What does a SPED secretary DO? And why can't a regular one do it?"

Ed, I have TWICE on this blog detailed the very long list of what an Amherst elementary SPED secretary does and explained why the two regular secretaries can't do it (actually all three support one another as the need arises, BTW).

Should I go over it again? C'mon.

Your questions strike me as purely rhetorical and rather whiny at that.

But if anyone else wants the answer I will be happy to provide it.

Frustrated Parent, SPED services are legally mandated, and noncompliance (see Northampton for a good example of What Not to Do With Your SPED/ELL Program) carries a price. Amherst meets its responsibilities to its ELL and SPED students, something to be proud of.

I would like to know how you think override monies should be spent instead.

Plenty of money is being spent, pre override, on enrichment specials that many districts have already eliminated such as art, music and PE.

I would like to see parents step up and start afterschool clubs to support enrichment. I had to run a sci-tech 4-H club at my son's PRIVATE school because their science was so lame.

I never saw any Amherst parents making that kind of effort in my ES. Instead the expectation is that the school should provide.

Unfortunately enrichment is not mandated. That's how it is. Mass. is not strong in gifted/talented education. Little or no funding and seemingly no interest at DESE.

It's a shame that there is no Oddyssey of the Mind and that sort of thing. Have parents tried to do anything about that on their own? Raised money to hire someone to do it? At a certain point you have to stop kvetching and Just Do It.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:04PM, you are right that special ed services are required by law, so I have to figure that our principals would not be recommending cuts to special education if it would put us in danger of losing our compliance with state mandates. Perhaps I am wrong. When is the special ed review report coming? Will it cover the costs of our special ed services as well as a review of the services themselves?

As an elementary school parent, seeing the potential restorations if an override passes doesn't make me want to vote for it. My children will see little benefit. I can take the projected $264/year and instead invest it directly into my own children instead.

Proud Property Owner Voting Yes said...

I'm voting yes for the override to ensure that our entire school system K-12 benefits. As I understand it, the override provides enhanced resources for the elementary schools and maintains programs at the middle and high school levels. I am voting yes. And I am proud to live in a town that can say it chooses to support the youngest and the oldest student in the system.

Anonymous said...

The Reading Recovery PROGRAM was eliminated (or so I was told) but the teachers who used to teach it will do reading remediation using other methods. So there are still highly qualifed reading intervention teachers -- they just won't be doing RR the brand name program.

RR is controversial because it serves limited students due to its intensive, 1 to 1 approach. I believe it was one of the first pieces of curriculum Dr. R. put on the chopping block. (If anyone can correct or corroborate that impression, please do)

I would like to add that the reading teachers do more than just RR, though. They support SPED and other struggling students in older grades, write IEPs, runn IEP and grade level teacher meetings to discuss struggling students, and more.

RR is rated effective using scientific analysis by the What Works clearninghouse people. Not very many programs are rated effective so that shows that the district did choose a good, but expensive, program.

It remains to be seen if what the district will now use is as effective. Pay nor or pay later.

Anonymous said...

My children will see little benefit.

I disagree. When your children's struggling classmates do better and feel better about themselves because they get the support they need, this creates a better learning climate for everyone. Fewer interruptions, fewer behavior issues.

How does that not benefit all the kids?

Anonymous said...

If the override passes and more money goes towards the schools will any be used to update curriculum and or textbooks?
Where is the discussion on differentiated education in this community? Will this issue be addressed by the school committee in the future?
Thanks for all of your hard work and for laying all of this information out for us.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous poster, March 22,2010 at 12:25pm made a comment about an intervention teacher at WW and his/her ineffectiveness. Catherine, I thought you were not going to allow postings like this. Besides the fact that this person gives/has no basis for his/her comment, it does not set a professional tone for your blog to allow posters to discredit people to make their point. I urge you to take that one down and not allow these types of posts in the future.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 3:51 about removing the teacher slam. This remark violates your new rules and, as you said, there are official channels for concerns about specific teachers -- but this blog is not one of them. Thank you, Catherine.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting these three posts about the effect of the override on the schools. It's definitely helped me figure out my vote for tomorrow! You spell it out really clearly - just the facts, plain and simple. Obviously it's just up to the readers and constituents to figure out whether these cuts warrant an override in their opinion. But your blog is what helped me more than anything printed on the pro or anti-websites or the newspaper articles/editorials. Your blog is incredibly helpful in educating myself about the school system in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is not a good forum for outing incompetent teachers and the teachers that make students cry at night. Unfortunately, "official channels" don't work either--problems are buried in folders so that each new cohort of parents is caught unawares and wonders if there is something wrong with their child that makes them cry every day. This is not the place for these postings, however. Look for a new blog to appear soon that will shine a light on these teachers.

Anonymous said...

Oh yea, just what Amherst needs. A blog devoted to slamming and flaming teachers.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it will be about as meaningful and useful as Rate My -- which is to say, not at all.

We have all experienced teachers who failed us, our children or our classmates -- our community. Fortunately they are the exception, not the rule, in Amherst and most decent school districts.

I agree that teachers who consistently generate complaints need to be retrained or otherwise supported, and if they do not meet reasonable benchmarks for improvement they need to find some other line of work.

It seems that getting rid of bona fide bad teachers, once they have professional status, is almost impossible unless they do something illegal. This policy does serve to protect teachers from random attacks by members of the community, school committee, etc. But it also all but guarantees that bad teachers just keep doing what they do worst, damaging untold students.

Isn't there some kind of happy medium? I do not see a libelous or slanderous blog as the answer.

Anonymous said...

The problem with deciding who is a good teacher and who is not is difficult. I have seen the administration in the elementary schools categorize a teacher as "wonderful", a "master teacher", and wonder where on earth they are getting their information because most parents did everything they could to avoid having their child in that teacher's class. It would be very hard to have both parents and administration agree on this.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ummm, I think the comments re. a blog about teachers are actually a joke? I don't think anyone intends to do this, and I don't think it would be useful at all for many reasons. And one of those reasons is that I don't think the problem with our schools is teachers -- my kids have had wonderful teachers, and I have friends in all of the schools (elementary, middle, high) who have wonderful teachers. The issue is not that our teachers aren't great -- the issue is that we don't have horizontal/vertical alignment, we don't know what other districts are doing, and we don't evaluate what we are doing. NONE of these issues are the fault of teachers -- they are the fault of the superintendent(s) and the School Committee. And I'm hoping these issues will change, so that we truly can have excellent schools that work for all kids.

Tired Parent said...

Catherine, with many years of experience here in our schools with my kids, I would say that your assessment of our teachers is correct in 95% of the cases we have experienced. Unfortunately, there are some truly disastrous situations out there that really do need to be looked at. Some teachers are so clearly ready for retirement, it is like they have already checked out even though they are still in the classroom. Sometimes for years. Others are so clearly engaged in their own personal agendas in the classroom they seem compltely unaware of the proported curriculum, MA standards for that grade, or what other teachers in their same grade/school are doing. And even just one year of a bad experience with a teacher can really turn a kid off of school. Especially when they are young.

I am not, though, in favor of a blog slamming teachers. Especially since every teacher (just like every person) has bad days (or even bad weeks) and it wouldn't be productive to slam good teachers for having a bad week! Instead, I would like to see an honest effort on the part of our principals to interview parents and teachers (and, in the case of the high school at least and perhaps the middle school, the students--my kids know which English teachers at ARHS rarely grade papers and which math teachers are not even certified in math) to find out which VERY FEW teachers are not meeting expectations and then taking steps to rectify that. Either they need to undergo retraining (on their own time, like over the summer) or they should be fired. Period. There are too many bright young teachers looking for jobs who would be happy to take their place.

But, since this is Amherst, I am sure my suggestion will never happen and instead some angry (justifiably, probably) parent(s) will start a controversial flaming blog. Another reason my family will be voting NO today.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in the schools, I encourage parents to come in and see what we're actually DOING, before making judgement calls.

There is a lot of emphasis on "what" teachers are doing, but I've heard few thoughts of finding out "why" teachers are doing things the way they are. Would that change parent opinion? Perhaps yes and perhaps no, but at least they'd have more information.

Yes, there are some incompetent teachers in our district (and I'd wager to say ALL districts), but there are, I'd argue, a much larger number of highly qualified, dedicated, creative and enthusiastic teachers in our district as well.

Anonymous said...

And I encourage all of the public who is interested to familiarize itself with the Teachers Contract, which Ms. Sanderson herself must be abundantly familiar with.

In that contract, people will find a clearly articulated teacher evaluation process, as well as an explanation of the teacher professional development process.

Ms. Sanderson, would you mind soothing the public's frayed nerves on the issue of teacher evaluation.

I read on your blog quite a bit that the Amherst teachers are never evaluated. I would think it to be irresponsible if you didn't clarify this mistake in thinking on the public's part.

The school committee and superintendent were adamant about this new evaluation process in the last contract. It is there and everyone involved knows there is quite an extensive evaulation process for teachers.

Please don't allow the public to think that is not the case by not clarifying this mistake in thinking.

Since this is your blog, and you are a school committee member, you should not sit back and let such negative rumors persist. I understand that you may or may not have been personally involved in creating the evaluation process, but you are a school committee member, nonetheless, so you should be very familiar with the teacher evaluation process.

By not clarifying the public mistake in thinking that Amherst teachers don't get evaluated, you are agreeing with all of those posts.

Don't you think?

Anonymous said...

What is the process for evaluating and removing the few incompetent teachers? How do parents or students have a say? Is the principal of the affected school the only evaluator? Just because most teachers are great, or at least pretty good, doesn't mean we shouldn't be taking concrete steps to remove those who aren't performing the minimum requirements. Remember, it is lower performing kids who are disproportionately affected by inadequate teachers. Given that we've caused so much upheaval by re-districting in order to find equity, let's make sure those kids don't get shafted by getting stuck with a teacher who should have been evaluated regularly and removed.

Anonymous said...

Who are these freaky anonymous people who keep telling Catherine Sanderson what to do on this blog? It's so schoolmarmish and odd.

Would they keep telling a man what to write?

That last poster could just put the evaluation section of the teachers contract onto the blog and skip admonishing Prof. Sanderson.

Next they'll tell us sit up straight in our seat an stop chewing gum.

Anonymous said...

While it's important to understand how the district can remove incompetent teachers, isn't it more important to know how it supports the good ones?

The good ones outnumber the bad by about 40:1, in my estimation.