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 7, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...

Will the Superintendent's update include the announcement of the new middle school principal?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:00 - I have no idea. I haven't heard an announcement, but this is an AMHERST meeting, not a regional meeting, so technically the discussion focuses just on the elementary schools -- thus, it isn't obvious that a MS principal would be announced.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah Amherst comprises about 80% of the Region, but is forced to sit in the back of the bus.

Anonymous said...

Mike Hayes has been appointed ARMS principal.

Anonymous said...

This is not a Regional meeting...this is an Amherst meeting..meaning we talk about the Elementary schools..and not the regional schools.

Why would the announcement be made at the elementary level about a regional school. The other regonal members should be there to listen and ask questions when the announcement is made. This seems like a no-brainer to me and has nothing to do about 80% or any %.

Rick said...

Michael Hayes Appointed as Middle School Principal

Ed said...

Larry, I can't make it tonight so why don't you raise this: Baker v. Carr - representation must be reflective of population. Throw in Amherst having a higher minority population than the other 3 towns and you have a violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act...
The "Reapportionment Revolution"

In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court also overcame its reluctance to apply the Constitution to unfair redistricting practices. Prior to 1962, the United States Supreme Court had declined to decide constitutional challenges to legislative apportionment schemes, on the grounds that such "political questions" were not within the federal courts' jurisdiction. In Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), however, the Supreme Court recognized that grossly malapportioned state legislative districts could seriously undervalue -- or dilute -- the voting strength of the residents of overpopulated districts while overvaluing the voting strength of residents of underpopulated districts. The Supreme Court found that such malapportionment could be challenged in federal court under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In later cases including Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), and Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), the Supreme Court established the one-person, one-vote principle. Because in many states malapportioned legislative districts had resulted in sparsely-populated rural counties having a much greater share of their state's political power than their state's population, correcting this imbalance led to dramatic realignments of political power in several states.

Anonymous said...

Hello...not a regional meeting tonight, Ed. Haven't you been paying attention?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone complained about the Special survey? I ahve gotten about 4 phone messages, e-mails and letters. It seems badly written and it's supposed to be sent to the Special Ed. department. I'm not an educator, but when you have a question that says, "Mention everything that the Special Ed. department does exceptionally well", it seems biassed. Has anyone other thsn the super checked this? Don't forget she's the head of Special Ed. department and her best friend is her director.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Rivkin at tonight's meeting.

Yes we need to re-examine for good reason the composition of the Regional Committee.

And yes to the comments about examining and soliciting public comment about the current attorney hired by the District.

Anonymous said...

This was read at the Amherst School Committee Meeting tonight:

The Regional School Committee commissioned an independent evaluation of the Special Education department to:

• address concerns of the special needs community; and

• to determine whether the costly system currently in place is serving the target population in an effective manner.

Families requested an independent evaluation to encourage unvarnished responses to the survey. The School Committee concurred, hiring independent outside contractors.

The survey was distributed last week. On thursday families received a paper copy of the survey. It came with a self addressed stamped envelope. A number of concerns were immediately apparent.

1) Families were asked to send completed surveys directly to school administrators rather than an independent third party. While this arrangement has changed, the impression remains of a survey where confidentiality is compromised.

2) Two questions on the survey were missing. Those responding before this was recognized missed the opportunity to answer these important questions. The questions at issue eventually were added to the on-line survey.

3) A senior administrator has claimed in an email that a select group of parents, teachers and administrators provided input into the survey before publication.

• Who were these individuals?
• Were they chosen in an open process ?
• Who do they represent ?

Survey design influences results. The procedure used to create this survey skewed its ultimate result with the agenda of these participants. Perhaps many of us would have liked to have contributed to survey design but were unaware of the opportunity to do so.

4) The online survey is fatally flawed. Anyone who knows its location is able to take the survey online as many times as he or she wants to. The consultant hired by the district indicated to me that this aspect of the design was requested by District administrators to boost participation.

• One must ask how they will control for survey participants who may not be current to Amherst’s Special Education families?
• How they control stakeholder attempts at skewing results - for example parents with a complaint about the system... or administrators that may want to see a particular result.

I am not suggesting any foul play, just that there is no control built into this system. It is abundantly clear, and any honest mathematician will concur, that the likelihood of reliable results flowing from this survey is close to nil.

5) The survey questions are deficient. For example, the survey nearly always lumps administrators and direct service providers together. If a parent thought that the teachers were bad but the administrators terrific, this would not come out in the survey. Similarly, criticism of the administration will be well hidden by survey design.

This obfuscation is either deliberate or evidence of failure to design a neutral survey.

6) Questions about legal activities are conspicuously absent. We need to ask families about dispute resolution, whether they feel that the resources used by the District for resolving disputes are appropriate or not; whether they feel that the District has been respecting the rights given families by Federal and State law or not; whether they have requested State sponsored mediation services that are free to the District or not; and perhaps most important whether they feel that when disputes arise they are treated with respect due a citizen in this community by the District’s outside attorneys.
(divided post)

Anonymous said...

(the rest of the post from meeting tonight)

This is a unique opportunity to learn about how we behave in disputes. As designed this survey fails to shed light on an issue central to Special Education.

In conclusion:

The impression is that this survey is not confidential, uses biased survey questions and insecure web functions. I believe that data generated from this process will be of extremely poor quality. Decisions made from this data will be made in ignorance and could very well compound the problems of our flawed system.

I encourage you to stop the current survey today.

Perhaps the only way to get reliable data about what parents think about SPED in our district is to have a re-activated SPED Parent Advisory Council design and administer a survey designed in collaboration with administrators and a sub-committee of the Regional School Committee.

Michael Aronson - Amherst

Anonymous said...

This is truly shocking incompetence. I am really appalled by what is related here regarding the survey.

What is someone trying to hide? Can this travesty be stopped? How much was this outside company paid to implement this "survey?"

Building SPED staff ARE for the most part really outstanding (having worked with them). Enormously hard-working, ultra-professional and dedicated to the kids, even though as time has passed there is very little money for training and professional development outside the district.

I had so little contact with SPED admin that I can't comment.

This just stinks.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Mr. Aronson, I am dismayed by your post. Not because you wrote it--I am glad you were willing to speak up--but because of what it implies. The Budget Advisory Committee received numerous questions from the public about Special Education, many of which were not budget-related and thus beyond the purview of our committee. (Except if you consider that special ed students comprise 21% of the Amherst enrollment and 23% of the Amherst budget compared to the 79% of the enrollment that is regular ed that receives only 29% of the budget.)

Our committee was very concerned that the public had so many questions about the special ed program structure, process, and budget and there were few readily-available answers in existence. Even the answers we received to our questions about special ed were dense and difficult to understand (even after we met with special ed staff). On March 11th, we met with Maria Geryk and JoAnn Smith and strongly recommended to them that they appoint, as we had been appointed, a citzens's advisory committee to help understand all things special ed and to promote increased transparency between the special ed staff and the public. It does not sound as if that has been done.

In our final recommendations to the School Committee, we include a recommendation about special ed. We felt strongly that this was an area of the budget that has potential savings and should be looked at more closely. Among our recommendations in this area, one goal was to "Liaison with outside evaluators currently conducting review." I hope the School Committee follows through on our recommendation since your post demonstrates a concern with the current review process.

All the recommendations from our committee can be found at: Budget Advisory Committee

Regarding the survey, I share your concerns. Part of my job is to design, conduct, and analyze surveys (of students, faculty, parents, and alumnae) and I agree that if your initial instrument is not designed properly, the resulting data will not be useable. One thing a citizen's advisory group to special education should do is to make sure the outside consultants are either experienced in survey research or that they hire a subcontractor who is to do that portion of the job. If you would like my professional opinion on the survey instrument itself, please send me a copy and I would be happy to review it.

Anonymous said...

I thought that a Citizens Advisory Group would be appointed as a matter of course to work with the SPED evaluators. I thought that was a no brainer and I am disappointed and concerned that that is not the case. I have even offered to serve on something like that because I thought the SC would appoint such a group to work on the SPED evaluation.

I would hate it if we spend thousands of dollars on an evalution that was based on flawed data gathered from a poorly deisgned survey. Sounds like same ole same ole.