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, April 28, 2010

Wildwood principal to move on

Hampshire Gazette
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

AMHERST - Matthew Behnke, the principal at Wildwood Elementary School for the past two years, announced Tuesday that he will resign from his position when the school year ends.

In an April 27 letter to Wildwood parents and staff, Behnke cited two factors - a desire to spend more time with his family and a wish to be a teacher again - as the primary reasons for his resignation.

"First it is my preference to return to the classroom in order to effect positive, instructional change to children each day and to pursue personal areas of educational interest within a school community," Behnke wrote. "The second and third reasons are interconnected; that is, the proximity my family lives from this district and my desire to be able to spend more quality time with my young family."

Behnke and his family live in Westfield.

Behnke's announcement makes him the third prominent Amherst school official to resign this school year. Glenda Cresto, the former principal at Amherst Regional Middle School, resigned just four days into the school year in September, saying she was not a "good fit" for the position. Her resignation was followed in March by that of Alberto Rodriguez, superintendent of Amherst schools, after receiving low marks in an assessment of his performance by Amherst teachers and staff. He later negotiated his exit with the School Committee.

The rash of resignations also comes at a time when the constitution of the Amherst school district is in a state of flux. Mark's Meadow Elementary School will close permanently following the end of school in June. Its students will be sent in the fall to other Amherst elementary schools, including Wildwood.

Catherine Sanderson, a School Committee member, acknowledged that Behnke's announcement comes at a time when the district is changing, but expressed optimism that the position could be filled by the summer.

"It is always hard when a principal moves on because it means transitions for family and staff. This is a particularly crucial time, as we will be moving from four elementary schools to three," Sanderson said. "That being said, I have every confidence our interim superintendent will be able to conduct a search for a new principal and, due to the timing of the resignation, I would imagine will have the opportunity to have a new principal in place by the summer."

Past principal searches have usually included the formation of a hiring committee, which recommends finalists to the superintendent, Sanderson said. Principal candidates are often interviewed in a public forum, Sanderson said, before the superintendent makes a final decision.

Behnke came to Amherst in May 2008 from Granville, Conn., where he served as principal of the Granville Village School. Prior to that, he had worked as a special education teacher in Chicopee and as a classroom teacher in Oakland, Calif. His time as Wildwood principal is actually Behnke's second stint in Amherst - he is a graduate of Amherst College.

Maria Geryk, interim superintendent, said she hoped to outline a process for hiring a new principal next week.

"I would like to thank Matt for his service and commitment to our students and our community," she wrote in an email to the Gazette. "I look forward to our continued work over the next two months. We wish him well."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Amherst Rotary Announces $25,000 Community Grant For Crocker Farm Playground

Note: I am just thrilled with the news for Crocker Farm - and am so thankful to the Rotary Club!

The Rotary Club of Amherst (“RCA”) announced today that it is awarding the first annual Amherst Rotary Community Grant in the amount of $25,000 for a new and expanded playground at Crocker Farm Elementary School. Crocker’s Parent Guardian Organization (“PGO”) has already raised over $13,000 toward this $43,500 project. Rotary’s $25,000 grant will be structured as a matching grant, whereby Rotary will match at a rate of 5:1 the additional $5,000 of community contributions that must be raised to complete the project. Tax deductible contributions to the Crocker Farm Playground project may be made by mailing a check made out to the Amherst Education Foundation (with CF PGO in the memo) at P. O. Box 2237, Amherst, MA 01004, or online at (specifying CF PGO).

The grant will be awarded at a Rotary Club meeting to be held at noon on April 22, 2010 at Hickory Ridge Country Club, with Rep. Ellen Story, School Committee Chair Irv Rhodes (both Rotarians), Principal Michael Morris, and PGO representatives attending. Amherst’s School Committee voted to name the new playground, “The Crocker Farm Rotary Playground”.

The Crocker playground was selected from among the twenty projects competing for this new Community Grant program, through which RCA plans to make a large grant each year to fund “a single project at a local non-profit organization or civic project that provides a positive impact that continues long after grant funds have been spent”. The Community Grant program has become possible through the success of the new Amherst Rotary Auction fundraiser held on ACTV each November, and is in addition to the club’s ongoing giving and scholarship programs. Rotary also donates about $24,000 in smaller amounts to local non-profit organizations, global humanitarian projects, and college scholarships to graduating local high school students.

With Crocker Farm’s enrollment slated to increase from 325 to 420 students next year (mainly due to redistricting following the closing of Mark’s Meadow), the project’s grant application describes the current playground as too small and “in desperate need of replacement, with current equipment out of code, in a state of disrepair, and between 15 and 20 years old”. The application continues, “Several structures are missing pieces; others have safety bars held on with duct tape. Further, the number of play spaces is inadequate to meet the physical needs of students. With over 30% of the school’s students characterized as overweight … and fewer children getting the exercise they need to be healthy outside of school hours, it is vital that we provide engaging and challenging play structures to help students become physically fit.”

Crocker has struggled for years to raise money for a new playground, but has been unable to match the successful fundraising efforts that led to new playgrounds at both Wildwood and Fort River Elementary Schools. A renewed push this year has brought the project’s fundraising total up to more than $13,000 through several events including a “Brown Envelope Appeal”, a solicitation of local businesses, and a “Dance-a-Thon” held in March. The PGO is currently working on “Final Appeal”, and will do some fundraising jointly with Rotary at the Amherst Community Fair (itself a Rotary fundraiser) on Amherst Common on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. An electronics collection fundraiser will be held at the school on May 15.

Greg Boisseau, President of RCA, commented, “Rotary is all about community service; so we were inspired by how hard the Crocker PGO has been working to raise money for this important project for the community. It’s great that, in the first year of our Community Grant program, we’ll be able to partner with the PGO to help to put their “grass roots” fundraising effort “over the top” and benefit community kids right away. With this $25,000 grant matching new donations 5:1, we know our community will respond to this last $5,000 fundraising challenge.”

Crocker Farm Principal Michael Morris said, “This donation will make it possible to both upgrade and expand our playground, increasing our students’ physical activity (with tremendous health benefits), and accommodating our growing student population.”

Lucy McMurrer, Co-Chair of the Crocker Farms PGO, said “Although Crocker’s facilities are generally spectacular, its playground has fallen sadly behind. In a community that prides itself on education like Amherst, it’s a shame to have a school playground that falls is so lacking in what the children need. Playgrounds are especially important in view of concerns about child obesity and kids spending too much time inside in front of computers. Our family lives only a short walk away from Crocker, but we often drive our children to the playgrounds at Wildwood and Fort River. These schools have been able to raise funds for wonderful playgrounds. I’m thrilled that we’ll now be able to meet the developmental needs of all of our community’s kids.”

Becky Demling, Co-Chair of the Crocker Farms PGO, said “It’s important for the community to know that what we’re building is not “just a playground”. To the kids, it’s so much more. It’s a powerful physical and emotional break from school, an opportunity to develop and nurture friendships, and a chance to exercise and gain the body strength needed to sit in school and focus on work. This is a playground that will benefit all of the kids in our community.”

Greg Boisseau added, “We also want to thank the community for its support of the new Amherst Rotary Auction (held each November on ACTV) which made this grant possible. Every community member who bought or donated an auction item, or donated cash as a sponsor, helped fund this playground for our community’s kids. We’d particularly like to thank again our 2009 auction underwriters Amherst Insurance and Taylor Davis Landscape and Construction Company, and our Gold Level Sponsors Blair, Cutting & Smith, Jones Town & Country Realty, Greenfield Savings Bank, Florence Savings Bank, and Northampton Cooperative Bank.”

The 90-member Rotary Club of Amherst is part of Rotary International, a 1.3 million member non-profit global service organization that, through the Rotary Foundation, is the world’s largest private provider of scholarships for international study, and a major player in global health and humanitarian initiatives. Such initiatives include projects for the worldwide eradication of polio (a cause to which Rotary has already contributed or pledged about $750 million), as well as projects to improve literacy and provide access to clean water in developing countries.

For more information, please contact Bruce McInnis at (413) 219-5625.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

English Is Not Enough

The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 18, 2010
By Catherine Porter

Many Americans have come to believe, consciously or not, that it's just too hard to learn a second language. We typically wait until early adolescence to introduce schoolchildren to their first foreign language. We start with small doses and don't usually offer, let alone require, extended sequences. Our teachers have often had a late start themselves and don't always have much opportunity outside the classroom to extend their own language skills. Articulation between high-school and college foreign-language programs is haphazard at best. College students often perceive language requirements as obstacles to be avoided or impositions to be endured.

Thus, generation after generation, our society produces large numbers of adult citizens who have never tried to learn another language or who see themselves as having tried and failed. Is it any wonder that as a society we think it's not worth the effort and expense to make foreign-language study an essential component of the public-school curriculum?

But the result is a devastating waste of potential. Researchers in a wide range of fields increasingly attest to the benefits of bilingualism. Students who have had an early start in a long-sequence foreign-language program consistently display enhanced cognitive abilities relative to their monolingual peers—including pattern recognition, problem solving, divergent thinking, flexibility, and creativity. After the first three or four years of second-language instruction, those students perform better on standardized tests, not only in verbal skills (in both languages) but also in mathematics. They demonstrate enhanced development in metalinguistic and critical thinking: They can compare and contrast languages, analyze the way language functions in different contexts, and appreciate the way it can be used for special purposes, like advertising, political propaganda, fiction, or poetry. In short, they have a decided edge in the higher-order thinking skills that will serve them well as college students and citizens.

What accounts for such remarkable benefits? Does foreign-language study itself have an impact on brain physiology? While there is still a lot we don't know, intriguing clues are emerging. Experiments have shown, for example, that foreign-language study increases brain density in the left inferior parietal cortex. Research also suggests that bilingual people process languages differently than monolingual people do. They may take fuller advantage of the neural structures involved in cognitive processing. They appear to have a greater ability to shut out distractions and focus on the task at hand. Demands that the language-learning process makes on the brain, like other demands that involve encountering the unexpected, make the brain more flexible and incite it to discover new patterns—and thus to create and maintain more circuits.

The effort involved in learning and controlling more than one language may even "train the brain" in a way that slows down the losses that so often come with aging. Indeed, one recent Canadian report indicates that dementia may be delayed by as much as four years in bilingual adults who use both languages regularly. Virtually all "brain fitness" experts include foreign-language study among the activities that may help delay the onset of dementia.

Although it is never too late to begin or resume foreign-language study, in principle adults can choose whether or not to pursue it, while the children in our society must depend on us—on school boards, state legislatures, federal agencies, educational organizations—to create contexts in which foreign-language learning can and will occur. Given the enhanced cognitive capacities attributable to bilingualism, we should do whatever it takes to make those advantages available to all children, especially now when the perception is growing that Americans are being outperformed in the international arena on several measures of educational attainment and are at risk of losing a crucial competitive advantage. On the worldwide scale, we are decidedly lagging behind in foreign-language education: According to a survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics published in 2000, presecondary foreign-language study was offered in all of the 19 countries responding and required in 15 of them.

It is true that English has become a lingua franca in many parts of the world and may suffice for superficial transactions in touristic situations. But English is not enough for exchanges in diplomatic, military, professional, or commercial contexts where matters of consequence are at stake. Whether English-only speakers are dealing with counterparts who speak their language well or working through interpreters, they are always at a disadvantage. They risk violating social taboos, tend to miss subtle verbal and nonverbal cues, and cannot follow side conversations. In general, they are far less equipped than their bilingual or multilingual interlocutors to put themselves in others' places or to figure out where others are "coming from," what they are "getting at," or even trying to "get away with." In many circumstances, the cultural knowledge and understanding that comes with mastery of a second language is a prerequisite for being taken seriously.

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times last fall, Thomas L. Friedman cited a businessman, Todd Martin, who said that "our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker's global competitiveness." Friedman went on to say that schools need to send forth students who not only have adequate skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but who also demonstrate creative problem-solving abilities. Every child whose ability to think critically and creatively is increased by the boost in cerebral capacity from sustained foreign-language study is a future adult who may bring new perspectives to the daunting problems facing our globalized world—climate change and economic stability being just two examples. Producing a truly multilingual citizenry would give us a vast pool of people who can function in at least two languages and learn others quickly. With the enhanced intercultural awareness that comes with second-language acquisition, Americans could interact with more sensitivity and insight in multicultural contexts.

Studies suggest that the ideal "window" for introducing a second language extends from pre-kindergarten through third grade, partly because of the well-known plasticity of young brains but also because, as with a first language, extended exposure is needed for full mastery. Yet according to a report from the Center for Applied Linguistics, the number of elementary schools in the United States that offer any foreign-language study decreased from 31 percent to 25 percent between 1997 and 2008. The report's executive summary concluded: "When legislators, administrators, and other education policy makers recognize the need to incorporate foreign languages into the core curriculum, the necessary funding and other resources will follow."

Professors of modern languages, including English, should be among the first to recognize that need and embrace the challenge it entails. Imagine a context—one we could create in less than a generation—in which most entering college students arrive with 12 or 13 years of sustained, serious foreign-language study behind them. Instructors of foreign literature and languages would find students prepared for advanced work if they chose to go on in the same language or efficient and motivated learners if they chose to start a new one. English literature and composition instructors would find that their students had a comparative grasp of the structures of the English language, an informed appreciation of its capabilities and limitations, and an approach to their subjects nourished by prior experience with literary texts from a different tradition. All instructors would find their students experienced in thinking and talking about language and culture as such, and accustomed to stepping outside their own systems to compare and contrast as well as perform other tasks that we commonly associate with critical thinking.

Experience with more than one language reinforces the insight that language is a vehicle of expression and representation deployed by speakers and writers as they construct their own worlds. Each language does the job differently, puts into play its own approach to filtering perceived realities and its own tools for individual expression in a language-structured relation to those realities. To experience the contrast of differing languages and their distinct expressive resources is to learn valuable lessons in humility, tolerance, and sensitivity to other peoples and cultures.

Bilingual people use multiple lenses to view the world; their horizons are widened and their lives enriched by the ability to embrace difference and find enjoyment in the play within, between, and around languages that stepping outside one's mother tongue allows. Few if any intellectual achievements open more doors in the mind, in the heart, and in the world than learning to understand and speak another language. And few produce a more profound or lasting satisfaction—even in the blunders and misunderstandings that arise in the learning process and regularly thereafter. Doris Sommer argues in Bilingual Aesthetics (Duke University Press, 2004) that "living in two or more competing languages troubles the expectation that communication should be easy, and it upsets the desired coherence of romantic nationalism and ethnic essentialism. This can be a good thing." For native speakers of English in the United States, that good thing too often remains the privilege of an elite.

It is time for us to embrace the mandate put forward in the Modern Language Association's report to the Teagle Foundation on the undergraduate major in language and literature. That report asserts decisively that "multilingualism and multiculturalism have become a necessity for most world citizens" and that "all students who major in our departments should know English and at least one foreign language." We should work individually and collectively, locally and nationally, to have foreign-language study included as a core subject in elementary schools throughout the country. We need to make our voices heard in a sustained and vigorous effort to persuade all stakeholders in the American educational enterprise that English, while essential, is simply not enough.

Catherine Porter is a professor emerita of French at the State University of New York College at Cortland and was president of the Modern Language Association in 2009.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ex-Amherst school chief lands Fla. job
Hampshire Gazette
Friday, April 16, 2010

AMHERST - Alberto Rodriguez, the former superintendent of schools who left suddenly on March 8, has been named principal of Coral Shores High School in Key West, Fla.

Rodriguez, who spoke to the Gazette Wednesday from his home in Miami, said he was recuperating from a hernia operation he had Monday - his formerly undisclosed medical condition. He left the job mere days before the Regional School Committee was due to read 65 pages of evaluations by school department staff, a factor in his departure, according to Farshid Hajir, committee chairman.

Joseph Burke, the superintendent of schools in Monroe County, Fla., selected Rodriguez for the principal position. He knew Rodriguez from their days as principals and superintendents elsewhere in Florida, according to

According to, Rodriguez resigned from the Amherst position "after a Regional School Committee criticized him about vacation and sick time." The Web site also cited the Amherst parent who threatened to burn her tax bill outside Rodriguez's window on his first day on the job last July to protest his $158,000 salary. The district will be paying him the remainder of his salary through May. Burke defended Rodriguez's record, reported. "Massachusetts voters replaced almost the entire board that hired Rodriguez, leaving him with new board members who were not comfortable with him," Burke said, according to "Appointed superintendents are subject to the praise or politics of the boards that hire them." Of the seven School Committee members who voted for hiring Rodriguez in March 2009, none is currently in office, but six of them left voluntarily, rather than being voted out. Kathleen Anderson, who as a School Committee member voted for Rodriguez, was not re-elected in the March 23 election, but that was after Rodriguez had left.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Amherst School Notes: Officials weigh next super search

Hampshire Gazette
Thursday, April 15, 2010

AMHERST - Regional School Committee members will have to decide whether they want to hire a consultant to look for superintendent candidates or conduct their own search.

Jacqueline Roy, the consultant whose search brought former Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez to Amherst, has declined to conduct another for free or at a reduced fee, to compensate the town for Rodriguez's March 8 departure after only eight months.

"I can't imagine why you would want to use my services,'" she said, according to committee Chairman Farshid Hajir. She's read Amherst's blogs and concluded that citizens would resent her involvement, he said.

Roy suggested that Amherst conduct a regional rather than national search, because New England school committees interact with superintendents more than other parts of the country. She said Amherst should make clear to candidates the number of night meetings required and the town's distinctive social and political culture, Hajir said.

An in-house search would save about $20,000 but would require more work by committee members and staff.

Mari Geryk is serving as interim superintendent until June 2011. The search that resulted in Rodriguez started 10 months before he started work here last July.

Electives restored

More than 17 at-risk electives have been restored to the budget at Amherst Regional High School, and students can choose among them and other courses to replace one of the two mandated study halls next year, said Geryk.

The process of selecting courses ended Friday, and in a few weeks administrators will know how many study halls can be eliminated, she said. The committee urged her to reduce the number of mandated study halls.
Committee member Steve Rivkin has argued that many class sizes could sustain an increase as a way to maximize instruction time. He said that in Newton, many classes other than English have 25 or more students.

$100K in renovations OK'd

The Regional School Committee has agreed to pay $100,000 for interior renovations at the South Amherst Campus, which in the fall will absorb students now at the East Street Alternative High School.

Both buildings are owned by the town. Consolidation of the two programs, which serve students with emotional problems as well as those suspended from regular classrooms, is estimated to save $178,000 a year.

The reason the schools are being asked to pay the renovation costs is that they involve adjustments to a town asset, said Hajir.

Geryk said she's confident that the consolidation is "a strong programmatic move" and will reduce the need for expensive out-of-district placements. Business Manager Rob Detweiler said that the renovations will make the space more flexible.


Students hold issue-based forums

A group of high school students has been holding monthly forums on such issues as study halls, achievement gaps and outreach, said student Hailey Andler, who is a nonvoting School Committee member. Future topics will include class sizes, absenteeism policy, special education, semesters vs. trimesters, vocational schools, computers, open campus and heterogeneous vs. homogeneous honors classes, she said.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Importance of Thoughtful Trade-Offs

The biggest thing I've learned through serving on School Committee over the last two years (other than that I have really thick skin) is that our biggest job is making trade-offs ... and that no matter what we choose, some people aren't going to be happy. The key thing that I keep in mind is that reasonable people can disagree about what the right trade-offs are ... and the job of the SC should be to listen to all voices (parent, teacher, staff, community, student, superintendent) and then vote (on a budget, on a policy) that seems to be the best of the available options. Sometimes all members of the SC agree on what the best option is. Other times we don't. But again, that's the power of the democratic process -- voters get to elect people who share their views and will enact policies/priorities that reflect those views, which is how the community influences the direction of the schools.

Here are a few examples of tough trade-offs we've made over the last two years:

  • In February of 2009, the superintendents brought forth a motion to eliminate all elementary instrumental music and to eliminate all world language for 7th graders. These cuts were designed to save other things (such as keeping Marks Meadow open and maintaining small team sizes at the MS and small class sizes at the HS). The SC discussed these choices, and heard from the community, and decided that it wasn't a good idea to cut instrumental music and 7th grade world language, which we then conveyed to the superintendent. We therefore chose to maintain these programs, with the understanding that other cuts would have to be made instead.
  • In May of 2009, the Amherst School Committee voted to close Marks Meadow -- with the understanding that this choice would save $500,000 (or more). Some people opposed this decision (and still do), because they believe that keeping this school open was more important than more temporary choices (such as increasing class sizes and eliminating instrumental music).
  • In December of 2009, Mark Jackson recommended to the SC that we move to three study halls a year in the HS, so that we could maintain small class sizes. However, the SC decided that having HS kids spend 20% of their time in a study hall was not a good idea, which we conveyed to the administration (which then moved to two study halls a year).
So, those are three examples of times in which the SC weighed in -- either in line with or opposing the community/administration view, depending on the issue and one's perspective -- and made a decision that involved a trade-off. And had different people been on the SC, perhaps different decisions would have been made.

We are now facing other such decisions.
  • At the elementary level, we are choosing whether to add K to 6 Spanish in all schools, or to adopt other programs (the current administration proposal is to add 1 Spanish teacher for the whole district, plus a computer teacher -- increasing our computer instruction in the district from 2 to 3, plus an intervention teacher -- increasing our intervention support from 11.8 to 12.8). Thus, the SC will have to decide whether K to 6 world language is in fact important, or whether these resources should be spent in other ways. In addition, we have to decide whether time spent learning Spanish would be BETTER spent learning something else (e.g., more time on instrumental music or math or science). Those are trade-offs of both time and money.
  • At the high school level, we are choosing between more required study halls versus larger class sizes. Currently at ARHS, average class sizes are 21 to 22 in the core academic disciplines, and very few classes are over 25 students (14% in English, 13% in Social Studies, 15% in Science, 26% in Math), but we have all students in two required study halls. In contrast, other districts have made a choice to have larger class sizes, but no required study halls. For example, in Newton, MA, there are two high schools, and here is the % of classes over 25 students by discipline in each high school: Newton South - 2% of English, 33% of science, 29% of social studies, 36% of math; Newton North - 6% of English, 42% of Science, 35% of social studies, 32% of Math. So, they have fewer large classes than we do in English (by far, and at both high schools), but more large class sizes in social studies (twice as many), science (more than twice as many), and math. But they have no required study halls, meaning that each year, students spend 14% more time in class learning in Newton than in Amherst.
The thing I keep in mind about all these decisions is that there are distinct trade-offs ... and that on the whole, I believe most people agree more than they disagree. I think we can all agree that it would be great for kids to have some exposure to Spanish in elementary school, but some people think the trade-offs aren't worth it (e.g., that we could spend the money/time in a better way). Similarly, I think we could all agree that in an ideal world, kids would have small classes in high school AND no study halls (but we do in fact have to make this choice and different people come down on different sides regarding the relative priority of smaller classes versus more study halls). That is the tough job facing the SC (which does vote on issues of both budget and policy), and I believe we do our best when parents, teachers, and community members share their views on these trade-offs so that we at least have as much information as possible and as many viewpoints as possible. And that is one of the reasons I have this blog - to allow for such information and dialogue from many voices.

News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments

Note: This article is NOT about education ... but is about anonymous postings, which seems relevant on my blog. I'd be interested in anonymous or (ideal) non-anonymous comments on whether I should restrict comments to those willing to own them. I've resisted moving to such a policy because I know there are teachers and parents who want to share their views, but fear consequences from doing so. However, it now seems like no one will own their comment even on very non-controversial topics (e.g., Spanish K to 6, more study halls versus larger class sizes in the HS). This blog works best when people are respectful and a real dialogue can therefore occur, even when people disagree with each other (and with me) - and having to own one's comments makes that more likely. But I also don't want to cut off the thoughtful comments that can and do occur by anonymous posters.

The New York Times


Published: April 11, 2010

From the start, Internet users have taken for granted that the territory was both a free-for-all and a digital disguise, allowing them to revel in their power to address the world while keeping their identities concealed.

Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, is suing The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, led by Susan Goldberg, saying the paper violated her privacy in reporting on comments sent from her e-mail address.

A New Yorker cartoon from 1993, during the Web’s infancy, with one mutt saying to another, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” became an emblem of that freedom. For years, it was the magazine’s most reproduced cartoon.

When news sites, after years of hanging back, embraced the idea of allowing readers to post comments, the near-universal assumption was that anyone could weigh in and remain anonymous. But now, that idea is under attack from several directions, and journalists, more than ever, are questioning whether anonymity should be a given on news sites.

The Washington Post plans to revise its comments policy over the next several months, and one of the ideas under consideration is to give greater prominence to commenters using real names.

The New York Times, The Post and many other papers have moved in stages toward requiring that people register before posting comments, providing some information about themselves that is not shown onscreen.

The Huffington Post soon will announce changes, including ranking commenters based in part on how well other readers know and trust their writing.

“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland recently discovered that anonymous comments on its site, disparaging a local lawyer, were made using the e-mail address of a judge who was presiding over some of that lawyer’s cases.

That kind of proxy has been documented before; what was more unusual was that The Plain Dealer exposed the connection in an article. The judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, denied sending the messages — her daughter took responsibility for some of them. And last week, the judge sued The Plain Dealer, claiming it had violated her privacy.

The paper acknowledged that it had broken with the tradition of allowing commenters to hide behind screen names, but it served notice that anonymity was a habit, not a guarantee. Susan Goldberg, The Plain Dealer’s editor, declined to comment for this article. But in an interview she gave to her own newspaper, she said that perhaps the paper should not have investigated the identity of the person who posted the comments, “but once we did, I don’t know how you can pretend you don’t know that information.”

Some prominent journalists weighed in on the episode, calling it evidence that news sites should do away with anonymous comments. Leonard Pitts Jr., a Miami Herald columnist, wrote recently that anonymity has made comment streams “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

No one doubts that there is a legitimate value in letting people express opinions that may get them in trouble at work, or may even offend their neighbors, without having to give their names, said William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s journalism school.

“But a lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a barroom brawl, with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher,” he said. “People who might have something useful to say are less willing to participate in boards where the tomatoes are being thrown.”

He said news organizations were willing to reconsider anonymity in part because comment pages brought in little revenue; advertisers generally do not like to buy space next to opinions, especially incendiary ones.

The debate over anonymity is entwined with the question of giving more weight to comments from some readers than others, based in part on how highly other readers regard them. Some sites already use a version of this approach; Wikipedia users can earn increasing editing rights by gaining the trust of other editors, and when reviews are posted on, those displayed most prominently are those that readers have voted “most helpful” — and they are often written under real names.

Hal Straus, interactivity editor of The Washington Post, said, “We want to be able to establish user tiers, and display variations based on those tiers.” The system is still being planned, but he says it is likely that readers will be asked to rate comments, and that people’s comments will be ranked in part based on the trust those users have earned from other readers — an approach much like the one The Huffington Post is set to adopt. Another criterion could be whether they use their real names.

But experience has shown that when users help rank things online, sites may have to guard against a concerted campaign by a small group of people voting one way and skewing the results.

A popular feature on The Wall Street Journal’s site lets readers decide whether they want to see only those comments posted by subscribers, on the theory that the most dedicated readers might make for a more serious conversation.

A few news organizations, including The Times, have someone review every comment before it goes online, to weed out personal attacks and bigoted comments. Some sites and prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, simply do not allow comments.

Some news sites review comments after they are posted, but most say they do not have the resources to do routine policing. Many sites allow readers to flag objectionable comments for removal, and make some effort to block comments from people who have repeatedly violated the site’s standards.

If commenters were asked to provide their real names for display online, some would no doubt give false identities, and verifying them would be too labor-intensive to be realistic. But news executives say that merely making the demand for a name and an e-mail address would weed out much of the most offensive commentary.

Several industry executives cited a more fundamental force working in favor of identifying commenters. Through blogging and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of people have grown accustomed to posting their opinions — to say nothing of personal details — with their names attached, for all to see. Adapting the Facebook model, some news sites allow readers to post a picture along with a comment, another step away from anonymity.

“There is a younger generation that doesn’t feel the same need for privacy,” Ms. Huffington said. “Many people, when you give them other choices, they choose not to be anonymous.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Experience of Other Districts With World Language

There has been a lot of discussion about world language on my blog of late, so I want to share some information I've gathered on this topic.

First, about 15 percent of public elementary schools in the United States currently, offer foreign language, compared to 51 percent of private elementary schools.

Here are descriptions of two such programs - one a local private school (the Smith College Campus School) and one at a public school that is, like Amherst, part of the Minority Student Achievement Network (Princeton Regional Schools).

Smith College Campus School Description - The Spanish curriculum at the Campus School is designed to help students develop confidence and beginning skills in Spanish. The program also provides an opportunity for students to experience the intellectual pleasure that can come from the study of a foreign language. Children in grades three through six participate in the Spanish program. The program begins with oral language study designed to help children develop an “ear” for the sounds of Spanish. Students learn common phrases and essential vocabulary through classroom conversations, drama, role-playing, games, and singing. In the fifth and sixth grade students continue building oral language skills, begin work with written Spanish, and are introduced formally to the grammatical structure of the language.

The Spanish curriculum includes opportunities to learn about some aspects of Spanish and Latino history and culture. Students are introduced to art and literature from Spanish speaking countries, learn a variety of traditional and contemporary songs, and are introduced to native speakers through both visitors and pen pals. In addition, the content of the Spanish curriculum is integrated with the school’s social studies program through the study of the “geography” of the Spanish language, medieval Spain, the history of the Americas, and the ways in which immigrants from Spanish speaking countries are currently influencing our language and our culture.

Princeton Regional Schools (Princeton, NJ) Description - The Princeton Regional Schools World Languages Program has been designated as a K-12 model program. For the last eight years, PRS world languages has been a model program, first for its K-8 program and now for its K - 12 program. With this designation for 2010-2012, we are the only district to receive K-12 model program recognition in the State. All our students begin Spanish instruction in Kindergarten, in 6th grade either continue with Spanish or begin French and in the high school continue with Spanish and French and begin Latin, Italian, Japanese or Chinese.

In the 21st century the ability to communicate in more than one language will be a necessity. The World Languages program in the Princeton Regional Schools focuses on preparing students to communicate in a culturally appropriate way with speakers of other languages. To realize that goal the district offers both long, articulated sequences of world language instruction and a variety of languages from which to choose. Our program reflects the latest research in world language learning and best practices in instruction. The Standards based curriculum moves students along the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in the spoken languages. As students progress through the program they not only learn to communicate in one or more world languages but they also gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures as they connect with other disciplines and learn 21st century skills. In Kindergarten through 2nd grade, classes meet four days each week for 15 minutes per class. In 3rd to 5th grade - classes meet four days each week for 30 minutes per class.

Second, the issue of adding world languages to the Amherst Elementary Schools is NOT new! In 2002, a group of parents requested Spanish and gathered over 200 signatures, but world language was not added. A few years later, a pilot Chinese program was added at Wildwood, with the express intention of then adding world language to the other schools. In 2008, a group of teachers and administrators in the Amherst Regional Schools studied the issue of adding world language K to 6, and specifically recommended adding a Wildwood-type program to the other three schools (Fort River and Crocker Farm were to receive Spanish, and Marks Meadow was to receive Chinese). This report was shelved, with the departure of Jere Hochman.

Although this type of program would be more intensive than the one I've proposed, and thus lead to greater fluency, it is much more expensive in terms of time and money (it would require 3 full time teachers per school, compared to just 1 teacher per school). I believe that we should move to 1 teacher per school as of this fall, which could then be used as a pilot to see how this addition of a once a week Spanish into the specials rotation worked. If the principals and teachers were able to find a way to increase exposure to Spanish (in terms of the school day as well as hiring an additional 6 teachers), that could happen in the future -- but if we wait to be able to fund 9 K to 6 world language teachers, we are going to be waiting a long time (e.g., we've been discussing adding elementary world language for 8 years already).

Does this mean that world language is the ONLY thing we should change in our elementary schools? No. But we are making good progress already on other initiatives, including conducting an outside review of the K to 5 math program (results due this spring), increasing horizontal and vertical alignment of all curriculum, and examining effective models of providing intervention support to struggling students (including the addition of a preschool class for low income kids as well as an afterschool program and a summer program for struggling students). In addition, I plan to introduce the topic of elementary science review at the next Amherst School Committee meeting. Adding an introduction to K to 6 Spanish would be just one of the ways in which we could help engage and challenge all students, and increase feelings of community in our schools.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Elementary World Language Programs

There has been lots of discussion on my blog (and some at SC meetings over the last few months) about the possibility of world language in all elementary schools. This discussion, like all others, involves trade-offs of time and money. Adding world language means we do less of something else, and it means we spend more money on this (teachers) than on something else. Reasonable people can disagree about whether these trade-offs are worth it, but I thought it would be helpful to have a description of the different world language options used in elementary school programs (all of which involve their own trade-offs). (You can also read a useful summary of the research behind these models at:

There are three basic models of world language instruction at the elementary level (and in use across the country in other districts). On one end of the spectrum are total immersion programs, in which most or virtually all classroom instruction is in the foreign language (the Chinese Charter School is this type of program). At the other end of the spectrum are foreign language experience (FLEX) programs, in which classes may meet only once or twice a week and where the goal is not to develop language proficiency, but rather to introduce children to one or more foreign languages and cultures (this is the type of program I proposed at the March SC meeting). Then, there are programs that fall in-between these two programs, which are content-based FLES (foreign language in the elementary school) programs (this is the type of program that was in use at Wildwood School, in which children received consistent instruction several times a week in Chinese that was integrated as part of other content areas).

These are the basic three models, and they all have different goals.
  • Total immersion programs are designed to help kids reach full fluency in a language. This type of program is not currently feasible in the Amherst schools, for multiple reasons (time, cost, logistics, equality of experience in the schools, etc.), and is not commonly used in public schools (other than in charter schools).
  • FLES programs focus on learning listening/speaking skills as well as on cultural awareness. These programs typically lead to some level of fluency, depending on how much time is spent learning the foreign language (perhaps kids would arrive in 7th grade one year ahead). We would do this type of program in the Amherst schools, as we did in Wildwood with Chinese, but it requires a lot of time (30 to 45 minutes several times a week) and it requires a lot of staff (2 to 3 staff members dedicated per building). It isn't clear to me that we have the time or resources to do this type of program at all, unless we were to decide to eliminate art/music/PE (which I'm not suggesting and don't think would be a good idea).
  • FLEX programs are designed to introduce students to a foreign language and culture, and to motivate them to pursue further language study. Fluency in the language is NOT an objective, but these programs can help create enthusiasm for language study in general. This is the type of program I've suggested for the elementary schools - world language (and I believe Spanish is the right choice, given our community) once a week, K to 6, to provide some exposure to the language and culture, at a minimal cost in terms of time/resources (one teacher per school, a total of $150,000).
So, those are the options, and again, there are pros/cons to all of them. The FLEX program I've proposed would not lead to great fluency ... and that is a con. But it isn't possible to provide a program that does lead to great fluency without taking a lot of time and resources away from other things, and I can't think of other things we could do without at that level that wouldn't lead to overall negative effects (e.g., no music/art/PE?). A FLEX program would operate like a "special" (art/music/PD), and thus give classroom teachers a bit of a break during the day (to grade/prepare lessons/have meetings), and could be done at very little cost (a total of $150,000). This seems like a good way to introduce kids to the study of world language, increase understanding of different cultures, and provide some challenge/engagement that benefits ALL kids K to 6. Such a program for the upcoming year (again, which the superintendent has ALREADY funded one position across the whole district for - and could be expanded to a person in each school for a total cost of $85,000!), could then, if time/resources permitted, be expanded to a FLES program that would lead to greater fluency in a subsequent year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Education Matters: Rigor sends the message

Amherst Bulletin
Published on April 09, 2010

In 2007, the Massachusetts Board of Education unanimously approved a recommended high school program of studies (MassCore), which was intended to help students become college and career ready.

The MassCore program of studies includes four years of English, four years of math (including completing algebra II or the equivalent), three years of a lab-based science (including courses in both physical and natural science), three years of history (including U.S. and world history), two years of the same foreign language, one year of an arts program, and five additional courses (such as business education, health and/or technology). These requirements were developed based on research indicating that taking a rigorous set of academic classes helps students both prepare for and succeed in college and the workplace.

These requirements are significantly more rigorous than the current requirements at Amherst Regional High School.

Although our high school does require four years of English and three years of social studies, we require only two years of math (the minimum state requirement and the level required by only 16.4 percent of Massachusetts high schools), two years of science (also the minimum state requirement and the level required by only 27 percent of Massachusetts high schools), one year of physical education and one year of health.

In contrast, most other local districts, including Northampton, Hadley and East Longmeadow, require at least three years of high school math and science.

Similarly, most districts that are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network require at least three years of math and science, including Arlington, Va., Brookline, Cambridge, Chapel Hill N.C., Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Columbia, Mo., Montclair N.J., Princeton, N.J., Shaker Heights, Ohio, South Orange, N.J., and Windsor, Conn.

Although increasing graduation requirements may lead to concerns that students will simply drop out of high school, research indicates that most students do not drop out because they have a more rigorous curriculum and/or are asked to work harder.

In fact, studies demonstrate that students of all abilities benefit from taking a rigorous and comprehensive high school curriculum: students with this type of preparation are more likely to graduate from high school, get better grades, succeed in college without requiring remedial classes, are better prepared for the workforce and earn higher wages.

Research also demonstrates that the rigor of high school curriculum is a stronger predictor of whether a student graduates from college than standardized test scores, high school class rank or high school grades.

The benefits of completing a rigorous high school curriculum are particularly clear for students of color. Both African-American and Latino students who complete an academically challenging high school curriculum are more likely to successfully receive a college degree, and the rigor of one's high school curriculum is a stronger predictor of completing college than any other precollege indicator of academic resources.

In fact, taking a rigorous high school curriculum that includes at least completing algebra II cuts in half the gap in college completion rates between white students on the one hand and African-American and Latino students on the other.

Similarly, the Education Trust, an organization whose goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that particularly hurt those from low-income families or who are black, Latino or American Indian, states that "students rise to the rigor of the work they are assigned."

They, too, recommend a rigorous program of high school studies for all students, including four years of English, at least three years of science, including two lab courses, four years of math up to algebra II, four years of social studies and two years of a foreign language.

As they eloquently describe, "The Education Trust seeks to ensure that all students have access to an intellectually demanding curriculum and assignments/ prerequisites for a productive life after high school, be it in the classroom or on the job."

Perhaps more importantly, requiring that all students complete a comprehensive and rigorous high school curriculum sends a clear message that we believe all students can succeed at the very highest levels.

Catherine A. Sanderson is a professor at Amherst College, and a member of the Amherst and Regional School Committees. This views expressed in this column are hers alone, and not those of the School Committees.

Amherst schools may get additional Spanish teacher

Hampshire Gazette
Friday, April 9, 2010

The budget contains more money than expected, mostly because voters approved the Proposition 2½ override and teachers agreed to wage concessions. Administrators have added preschools for low-income children in all three buildings and increased funding for music, academic intervention and instructional technology. They also added one world language teacher.

Member Catherine Sanderson said there's a lot of funding for struggling students in the budget, between the preschool, summer school and afterschool program. If the budget could be trimmed slightly in music, intervention, and instructional technology, there could be enough money for world language in every school, she said.

"I think there is wiggle room," she said.

Member Steve Rivkin said he'd like Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk and the principals to push for making these trade-offs.

"We've had an override, so we're a well-funded elementary district," he said. "We want you to figure it out so we can have everything we're hoping for."

Although the committee approved the budget's bottom line of $20.4 million, "this is not the end of the conversation" about the specifics, Geryk said.
Conservation exercise

April 16 will be the fourth annual Trash-Free Lunch Day in the Amherst elementary schools.
Last year, Crocker Farm and Wildwood schools produced less than .5 cubic inches of trash per student, according to Recycling Coordinator Susan Waite. It's a challenge for children and parents to think about reducing their waste, she said.

Whitsons Culinary Group, the district's food service provider, will create lunches on April 16 without disposable trays, utensils and containers. Students who bring lunches from home are asked to use compostable or reusable containers.

Each elementary student will receive a free reusable Smithsonian Institution lunch bag on April 16, courtesy of Paul Stavropulos, owner of two Subway restaurants in Amherst.
ARHS students volunteer

About 35 students at Amherst Regional High School will travel to Louisiana April 17 to 25 to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

It is the fifth year that students have paid for their own transportation and living expenses to help Louisiana residents. A group of eight parents will supervise the travel and construction projects.

For the first time, building materials will not be available for free in Louisiana, so the students are raising money from friends, neighbors and businesses.

The projects include removing flood-damaged interiors, replacing sheetrock walls and repainting them, replacing floors, re-siding homes and replacing windows.
Penny drive for Haiti

The sixth grade at Wildwood School has organized a penny drive to benefit areas of Haiti damaged by an earthquake, and have raised about $1,000.

The money will go to Hope for Haiti, which is working in the Les Cayes region on nutrition, clean water and education projects. The organization distributes emergency relief buckets containing fortified dried food supplies, matches, candles, antibacterial soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, detergent and water purification tablets. It also provides medical supplies.
Honors bestowed
Fourteen Amherst Regional High and Middle School students received gold medals summa cum laude on the National Latin Exam, said teacher Sean Smith.

Spencer Diamond of Latin 5 and Morgan Anastasi of Latin 1 achieved perfect scores. The test is administered every March to over 100,000 Latin students across the country.

The seniors earning gold medals will be able to apply for $1,000 college scholarships, renewable every year they study Classics, Smith said.

Nick Grabbe can be reached at

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Amherst School Committee Meeting, Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We had a long but productive meeting tonight -- and to answer the questions I've had from people regarding the cancelling of last night's meeting -- that meeting was cancelled (at the request of Irv/Steve, in their roles as Chair/Vice Chair) because the SC didn't receive budget documents until 3 pm yesterday (it has been our practice to receive budget info 24 to 48 hours in advance so that members can have a chance to review the materials PRIOR to having to discuss them at a meeting). I believe this was the right decision, and commend Irv's leadership on this front. However, that did make for a long meeting tonight -- which I will now do my best to summarize.

First, we had 3 people give public comments. Ernie Dalkas spoke about rumors he had heard regarding members of the SC attempting to do various things (choose the MS principal, choose a curriculum director, etc.). He expressed concern about these rumors, and his respect for the SC. (And on one side note, I've heard these rumors as well, including one spread by several members of the community widely that said "ACE SC members are planning to overthrow the interim superintendent" and another one suggesting that I was calling for the SC to ask for the resignation of Mark Jackson!). I would hope that people take the time to actually investigate the veracity of rumors before spreading them to others -- the rumors that I've heard have all been completely false, which I was glad to clear up as soon as someone had the courtesy to contact me directly! Michael Aronson then read a statement regarding his concerns about the special education evaluation (he has posted these concerns using his name in the comments on the prior blog post -- where I have the agenda -- so I'm going to refer you to those words directly). I have been contacted by several parents about the nature of this evaluation, and look forward to hearing a response from the administration about these issues at the next meeting. Third, Tess Domb Sadof (ARHS student) presented a report she had conducted in 6th grade regarding bullying, and expressed her hope that an anti-bullying initiative could be implemented in our schools.

We then turned to the superintendent's update, which was brief. Ms. Geryk noted she will hold a coffee tomorrow, Thursday April 8th, from 12 to 1 pm, and that the district (under the leadership of Dr. Guavara) is working on an anti-bullying initiative.

Next, we turned to continuing business. We voted to continue our policy of not accepting school choice seats, and then turned to discuss whether the Amherst SC should look into getting legal service to investigate our options for leaving the Union 26 agreement (in this agreement, Amherst and Pelham are in a "union" in which each town has three members). The Union 26 agreement thus gives Amherst and Pelham equal representation at the elementary level, and the superintendent is hired by both Union 26 and the Regional SC. The SC voted unanimously to have the Amherst legal services subcommittee (me, Irv, Rob) look into our options regarding legal services. We then had a brief quarterly budget update from Rob Detweiler.

Finally, we turned to the "big topic" of the night, which was the recommended budget. It was announced that the sum total of savings from closing Marks Meadow is $840,554. The superintendent recommended a few changes to the budget (given the override passage), which include adding 1.2 intervention teachers ($60,000), a computer teacher ($50,000), afterschool/summer support for struggling students ($15,675), .6 instrumental music ($33,516), 1.0 world language ($50,000), and curriculum materials ($40,000). These increases would mean that each school would have a full-time computer teacher (right now there are two positions shared in the four schools), a total of 12.7 intervention teachers (3.5 at CF, 4.4 at FR, 4.8 at WW -- and this is in addition to staff members who focus on ELL -- 3 to 4.5 positions in each building -- and those who focus on special ed -- 6 to 7.4 per building), and 1.55 to 1.8 music teachers (combining instrumental and classroom). The world language teacher would be a single teacher shared across all three schools, meaning world language would only be provided to kids in a couple of grades (this position could be in Spanish, but could also be in a different language).

There was then a long discussion about these budget priorities -- which I will encourage you to watch on ACTV to get a full sense of! However, I will share what I said, which is that I believe this budget is doing a ton of stuff for struggling students, which I think is great (educationally and morally). This budget adds a preschool class for low income kids (which includes free transportation), a summer enrichment program (for struggling kids, which also includes free transportation), and afterschool care (for struggling kids). And I believe that the budget needs to reflect very tough choices among things that many of us would like -- including art, music, computer, and world language.

But I also believe, and I stated strongly at the meeting (as did Steve), that we should add K to 6 world language, meaning a dedicated teacher in each building. Right now, CF has about 60% of the kids compared to the other schools, and thus some staffing at CF is at .6 (e.g., the art teacher, the PE teacher). Thus, one could imagine easily that we could provide K to 6 world language in all the schools for just an additional 1.6 positions (a cost of $84,000). There are lots of ways we could prioritize this in our budget -- going to a .6 computer teacher at CF (instead of a 1.0 position) would save .4. So could reducing instrumental music at CF (it is now at .8, the same as the other schools, although there will be fewer kids), or a reduction of a .4 intervention teacher in each of the schools (still providing staffing of 3 to 4 intervention teachers in each building). I believe that K to 6 world language would be very valuable, in multiple ways, for our community, and I really hope the superintendent considers how we could implement this program fully this fall. If you have thoughts about this proposal (pro or con), please email the superintendent ( and/or the SC (

We voted a final budget line (which we need to give to the town), but noted that we would return to the issue of budget priorities and specific lines at a later meeting.

Our next topic was new business. We voted to allow the CF playground to be named the CF Rotary Club Playground IF the playground receives a $25,000 rotary fund donation they have applied for. We voted to accept a gift (for a WW student to register for camp). We discussed having a "retreat" of the SC to focus on working effectively with the administration (and co-led by the MA School Committee Chair and the MA Superintendent Chair, as the SC did last summer after the arrival of Dr. Rodriguez). We discussed having a line item budget, as is seen in Northampton, and it was agreed by all that this will be the approach now used. Interestingly, Rob Detweiler noted that the practice of the SC at the time of his arrival four years ago had been to have a line item budget, but the SC had found this too "headache inducing" and preferred a more summary form.

Finally, we discussed subcommittee reports. Irv added himself to the policy subcommittee (since I'm now alone on the subcommittee with Andy's departure). We tabled a discussion of a wage/salary review. We briefly discussed a proposal submitted to the Joint Capital Planning Committee of the town of Amherst that the town build a $250,000 addition onto the South Amherst Campus to allow for the merging of the two alternative high schools. This topic was tabled (since it is a Regional issue), although I spoke (as a member of JCPC) that I had asked for a regional SC meeting to be convened this week so that the Regional SC could discuss it, and that apparently was unable to happen. Thus, I noted that I will not be able to speak on behalf of the SC at the final JCPC meeting this Friday, which had been requested by this committee at the last meeting. We then briefly discussed items for upcoming meetings, which included an update on the superintendent's goals (and progress), a report on the state of the special education evaluation, and the potential for moving our meeting back to 7 pm (from 6:30 pm). I think that was all!

Michael Hayes Named Middle School Principal

AMHERST - Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk has announced that Michael Hayes will become the principal of the Regional Middle School on April 26.

Hayes, 35, has been a math teacher and administrator at the middle school for over 12 years, and is currently senior assistant principal. Geryk selected him over the other finalist, Karsten Schlenter, a middle school principal in Michigan for nine years.

"Having been a recent candidate in a different community which was very interested in his candidacy, we are particularly pleased that Mr. Hayes will remain in our community," according to a press release from Kathryn Mazur, the human resources director.

Mark Jackson, who has served as principal of both the middle and high schools since the departure of Middle School Principal Glenda Cresto last September, will go back to supervising the high school full time on April 26.

For more details, see story in the Thursday Gazette.

AGENDA for Meeting of Amherst School Committee - April 7, 2010

There are a number of topics on the agenda for tonight's Amherst School Committee Meeting, so interested parents/community members/teachers/staff should definitely come. Unfortunately this meeting will be held in the library at the high school, so it will NOT be broadcast live on ACTV (but will be available later "on demand" and shown on Channel 15). The agenda is as follows:

1. Welcome 6:30 p.m.

  • A. Call to Order & Chairperson's Welcoming Remarks
  • B. Agenda Review
  • C. Minutes - March 1 and March 25, 2010

2. Public Comments 6:35 p.m.

3. Superintendents Update 6:45 p.m.

4. Continuing Business 6:55 p.m.

  • A. Quarterly Update
  • B. FY11 Budget Presentation
  • C. Vote Bottom Line Budget Number
  • D. School Choice Vote
  • E. Legal Services Sub-Committee Charge to seek legal council

to explore Union 26 agreement

F. Discussion Regarding Spanish Recommendation

5. New Business 8:30 p.m.

· A. Line Item Budget Discussion

· B. Crocker Farm Rotary Club of Amherst Grant

· C. School Committee Retreat

· D. Gift Acceptance

§ Fran and Nancy Lattuca

6. Subcommittees 9:00 p.m.

· A. Subcommittee Appointments

· B. Legal Issues Subcommittee Appointment

· C. BCG Update

· D. Policy Update - Wage and Salary Review

· E. JCPC Update

7. Adjournment 9:30 p.m.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) Meeting

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) Meeting Notice

The Massachusetts special education law, Chapter 71B of the Massachusetts General Laws, requires a school district to establish a PAC, and assigns both an advisory and a participatory function to the PAC.

For additional information, please refer to the Guidance for Special Education Parent Advisory Councils guidelines on-line at:

The District would like to take this opportunity to thank the previous SEPAC officers, Gail Whitlock and Denise Andler for their service, contributions and efforts last year and in previous years. At this time SEPAC is without officers and parents within the community have expressed interest in holding an open meeting this month to identify new officers. Therefore, we are sharing the following message and details from one of the parent organizers of the meeting schedule on Monday, April 12th, 2010.
Dear Fellow Parents/Guardian,

You are invited to a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) meeting for the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst Regional School Districts on Monday, April 12th, 2010 at the Amherst Regional Middle School library from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Childcare and light refreshments will be provided.

The agenda for our first meeting includes:

~Creation of the SEPAC Board
~Discussion of upcoming Special Education Evaluation
~Creation of Peer support for parents/guardian
~Open discussion on any issues of interest

SEPAC is a family oriented organization. It is free and open to ALL parents and guardian with an interest in Special Education.


Pat Ononibaku
for the Organizing Committee

Friday, April 2, 2010

Middle School Principal Candidates Talk to Parents

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE, Staff Writer
April 2, 2010

AMHERST – Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk can choose an outsider or an insider as the next principal of the Regional Middle School.

She will announce her decision Tuesday, she said. On Thursday night, as 50 parents sized up the two finalists, Geryk sat in the back of the room, listening and interacting with children.

Karsten Schlenter, 47, has been a middle school principal in Michigan for nine years, while Michael Hayes, 35, has been a math teacher and administrator at the middle school for over 12 years. The third finalist, Paul Goodhind, withdrew on Wednesday.

“I believe as an outsider I can bring some good ideas to this community, not only from Michigan, but from growing up in a different country,” said Schlenter, a native of Germany. “With an outside perspective, I can say, 'Have you ever thought about doing it this way?' and think outside the box.”

Hayes said that “being an insider creates a lot of value and a lot of challenges. The value is I know the school very well. I know the staff, students and community. My wife went to school here.” He said that if he's the new principal, “on the first day, we're going to take off.”

Schlenter's school in suburban Saginaw has seen major cutbacks. It has much bigger class sizes than Amherst and no assistant principal, and Schlenter said he expects to be laid off soon. “I need a job,” he said.

He said he arrives at the school at 6 a.m. every morning to deal with administrative responsibilities, so he can spend more time later in classrooms, mentoring teachers and prodding them to reflect on what techniques work best.

Asked what makes a good teacher and principal, Schlenter said, “You need to be able to relate to kids and build trust. They don't care about your subject knowledge until they know you care about them.” Likewise, he said he wouldn't “come here and change everything” but would first work to build trust with staff, students and community.

He said he likes working in a middle school, where students are at “a crucial age and like to explore and take chances. High schoolers are more set in their ways, while middle school educators can have some influence.”

Schlenter said he has no ambition to be a superintendent. “If I was hired here, I would be here to stay,” he said, adding that his wife and daughters would join him.

“When you take a position like this, it isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle, and your family has to be on board,” he said.

Asked to define “rigor,” Schlenter said, “You want kids to enjoy education, to experiment and apply knowledge. To me, that is rigor, because it makes it so much more meaningful.”

Hayes grew up in California and started in the Amherst schools as a paraprofessional before becoming a teacher.

“The importance was not the math I was teaching, but trying to help 100 students understand something important,” he said. “The challenge is making it work for all those learners. It's about as hard a job as you could do.”

A parent challenged Hayes's insider status, asking about his association with a math curriculum that is going to be under review. “I'm not ever stuck in one model,” he responded. “I believe in continuous improvement.”

Another parent asked if increased interest in private and charter schools means the middle school needs to change. Hayes responded that although parents at open houses speak positively about the school, “I'm not someone who likes to sit around and do the same thing over and over.”

Hayes said he has learned a lot from consultant Barry Beers, who delivered a critical report about the middle school last month. (Schlenter was not familiar with Beers' report.) Beers told Hayes he wrote to Geryk saying that as principal he could carry out the report's recommendations, he said.

“I know this staff and I know how to bring them forward, and they will follow me,” Hayes said.

Asked about bullying, he said that on Monday, English teachers at the middle school will do a lesson on misuse of the words “gay,” “retarded” and “sped.” “At the end of the lesson, we'll say, 'Now you know, so we're going to call you on it,” he said.

Asked about his commitment to stay on the job, Hayes said he just bought a house in Pelham and wants to be principal at the middle school when his young daughter is there.

“In six years, if I'm not here, it's because I wasn't doing a good job,” he said.