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 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.


Anonymous said...

Ah, the defeatism about finding a suitable competent superintendent from outside builds and builds. We've been getting it from Mark Jackson and now we get more of it from Ms. Roy. As if somehow we're uniquely difficult.

Anybody following what's going on in South Hadley? We've got to stop beating ourselves up, and we've got to stop letting other people define us negatively. We're a community in which people are passionate about education and where educational issues get politicized. So what?

For some ambitious educational professional out there, that would be an opportunity.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Is there anything better than learning that high school students in Amherst are holding forums on the topics listed? I hope that something is distilled from these discussions among students that will get passed to the decisionmakers. This news is huge.

Let's celebrate what we have: a rich environment to discuss educational issues by people of voting age AND those soon to be.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Go ARHS students!

I was interested to hear what Roy had to say about greater transparency with future Supe candidates. I was surprised that any Supe candidate would come away from interviews and time spent in Amherst not knowing just what Amherst is and isn't. What did they do, ride around in a limo and talk to no one?

Perhaps HR and the SC need to assemble a (virtual) scrapbook of press clippings and such for any prospective candidate to review. It's true that whoever we get should know what he or she is getting into and desire to be part of it.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know what the students thoughts are on the forum topics listed. I also hope that something can be distilled from these forums and passed on the the SC and administration.

And, I would hope the adults in town would have an opportunity to attend forums on the same topics. Rick Hood mentioned this as an idea and I think its a good one.

FR Parent said...

No suprise that our School Commiittee has OK'd $100,000 in improvements for our Alternative High school. After all, this is the same School Committee (with a few exceptions since we do have two new faces) who appointed a Special Ed teacher (with no principal or regular education teaching experience) as Superintendent for more than a year!! Catherine, can you please tell us the vote for that item? Who was for and who was against? Thank you.

And any chance some of that extra money in the elementary schools can be spent on walls for the kids at Fort River and Wildwood? There are more of them and they need walls just as much as those 40 high school students (many of whom, I read, are now on long-term suspension) do.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat off topic but there was an example of the wonderful learning/teachers at the Middle School last night. Last night was the first Family Math Night and what a success. Middle School students and their teachers were involved with running various fun math activities, the crowd was huge and energized. This night was a true community event as there were not only many many MS students and families but also elementary students and their parents enjoying math. Kudos to Mike Hayes, Stephen Zakon-Anderson and all the other math teachers and Cathy Cullen of the FSP. I hope that some of people who continue to only find the negative in the schools were there last night. It was amazing to see the energy, interaction between the teachers and students. We are lucky to have such dedicated teachers in our schools.

Jan Kelly

Anonymous said...

Jan you inspired me to write on this bog. I am a parent of a MSer and a HSer and last night was just another example of the what is happening at our schools. I am writing this to say that I feel that class size does matter. I just witnessed my 9th grader write an eight page essay for World Civ Honors comparing the use of propaganda techniques of two Roman emperors and the effect it had on their abilty to carry out their vision for the Empire. The last thing he asked me to do was to check over his use of passive voice and for contractions because Mr. Leutz was sure to find it. I am wrting this because I am so impressed with the care and attention to the details of my kids' work by teachers at ARPS. That essay was just this week's assignment. Grading even 5 extra papers a week will put a significate burden on our teachers and if increased class size means fewer electives, then so be it. Quantity does not transfer to quality.
And speaking of quality, I draw your attention to the ARHS Home Page of the website. Every day, one of our students or student groups is garnishing state and national honors. You cannot speak of the depth of our schools and the opportunites present for our kids without including Model UN, JETS, Enviromental Action Club, etc. Not to mention sports, dance, and music. If I were to base my opinion of our schools on this blog, I would be very concerned about what is happening at our schools. Thankfully I have first hand knowledge to the contrary and wish to publicly thank our teachers and staff for the fine work they do in such a hostile enviroment. Do our kids a favor and go out of your way to thank a teacher today. Our schools are only as good as they are and we are fortunate to have so many fine teachers and administrators.

LarryK4 said...

Jacqueline Roy brought us both Gus Sayer and his replacement Golden Boy Jere Hochman AND most recently the biggest mismatch in history--Alberto Rodriguez; I would hope we never use her services again--even if for free.

Anonymous said...

Who brought in Sklarz? Remember it was the School Committee that voted for Rodriguez (except for one) and that the word was that the principals preferred him over Sklarz. Let's not make that mistake again. We could bring in Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education, Washington, DC and she'd probably be rejected by this regional committee too!

Anonymous said...

I know that the SC would reject Michelle Rhee because she is a strong leader...the last thing this SC wants is a strong leader.

They want someone they can put under their thumb, someone that hey can micro-manage, someone that they can keep right rein on. Michelle Rhee would never accept the position of Superintendent in our schools....and neither will any strong leader. The Amherst SC has really ruined our chances of getting any strong candidates to apply.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 1:20
Remember that the Regional Committee chooses the superintendent (not the Amherst School Committee alone).

Why has the School Committee ruined our chances? We live in a beautiful place, with diversity, universities, and very little crime. What's the problem?

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that it was a consensus among ADMINISTATORS that led to the resignation/dismissal of Dr Rodriguez. I think it's the SC that wants a strong leader but the admin does not.

And, I agree with other posts that we have a great town full of people with strong opinions and passions about education. All towns have their unique advantages and disadvantages. We just need a little more tolerance -- how ironic.

Anxious to hear what students have to say about all these issues...

Anonymous said...

FR Parent Thank You !

Why is it that the Amherst Committee wants a strong and qualified leader and the Regional Committee seems opposed ?

Amazing that we still have no resume for senior administrators.

ANON 1:20

I agree that the Amherst committee wants a competent open process that leads to selecting a solid leader.

Amherst residents should demand a reconfiguration of the agreement that gives Amherst and Pelham equal representation on the Regional Committee. Such a reconfiguration will begin to address unbalanced decisions on the committee. At a minimum Amherst should always hold the chair. We need someone with backbone.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't either school committee, it was the admininstrators at the school who drove Rodriguez out.

Anonymous said...

"At a minimum Amherst should always hold the chair. We need someone with backbone."

I disagree strongly with this statement. Amherst should not always hold the chair.

I think the SC is actually well balanced now.

And, it is the Amherst members of the regional committee that will not want a strong leader, not the other towns' members. The Amherst members wnat a weak leader that they can micro-manage to death. That is extremely evident if you attend or watch the Regional SC meetings. Amherst needs a strong leader to stand up against the SC we have now, whose Amherst members continue to push against their mandated role and try to step into areas that are the purview of the administration.

As an aside..I think Fashid Hajir is doing a great job as chair of the Regional committee.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:13 - just a quick question -- can you name a single thing the dreaded Amherst School Committee has done that is micro-managing? I'm just trying to think of a single example -- pushing for extra money for our schools at the time of the override, above what the principals/superintendent said we needed, so we could add something EXTRA? Or refusing to go with Mark Jackson's recommendation that high school kids have three study halls a year and spend 20% of their time in class? Or refusing to cut world language in 7th grade? Or refusing to drop instrumental music in elementary schools? Those are all examples of decisions in which the SC (some regional, some Amherst) opposed recommendations by the administration, so I'm assuming your preference is that those changes all occur, since they were what the administration recommended. And one final question -- what in your opinion is the job of the SC? If it is simply to vote "yes" on anything the administration recommends, then really, why do have a SC? The SC is how voters influence the schools. People voted for me (over 2000 of them). People voted for Steve and Irv and Rob and Rick. And in fact, many, many more people vote in Amherst elections than in the elections for the small towns (that don't involve lawn signs, debates, interviews with the local paper, etc.). If you don't like the current SC, vote for candidates who promise to just accept all recommendations from the superintendent. But that is how this process works, and believe it or not, some people actually see the Amherst SC as functioning very, very well for kids -- which is, after all, the most important group to keep in mind here.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- I think your response is one reason why people, including myself, feel more comfortable signing in anonymously. Your skin has gotten pretty thin, and a thin-skinned elected official with a soap box can begin to sound kind of mean.

When you say that the SC "pushed for extra money for our schools at the time of the override, above what the principals/superintendent said we needed" - are you including yourself? I remember you refused to take a stand on the override and used this blog to push concerns and distrust of the very override that produced the additional funds for which you now take credit.

Didn’t you and others on the regional SC successfully reduce the amount of money that the high school administration requested? I don’t remember you supporting a larger amount.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:10 - the class size/study hall discussion is one that many people disagree on ... but I think Steve's point was that other districts have made a different choice than we have, and that strikes me as highly relevant. So, you believe that it is more important to have small class sizes than less time in study hall ... but that is a slippery slope. Would you favor going to three study halls a year to maintain even smaller class sizes, per the recommendation of Mark Jackson? We could certainly do that. And I think it is somewhat ironic that you describe the feedback from the social studies department -- as that department has traditionally had larger class sizes than any others, I believe, and yet I hear the teachers in that department due provide thoughtful and thorough feedback to students (even with more classes above 25 than any other department, I believe). I encourage you to write a letter to the whole SC pushing for the choice of more time in study hall as opposed to increasing a person or two in each class -- that certainly is NOT the preference I've heard from other high school parents or students, who seem quite worried about time spent in study hall for many reasons.

Anonymous 8:22 - if I have thin skin, why did I publish your comment? It is optional to have a blog, and I moderate all comments ... so, why would I continue to publish comments criticizing me (as many do!) if I have such a thin skin?!? I'm just asking for the comments to be fair -- so, when there are accusations of micro-managing, I think those should be accompanied by specific examples, don't you? That's not thin skin -- that's treating people fairly, which seems especially appropriate when one person is using her name (that would be me) and one person is posting anonymously (that would be you, and the other poster).

And yes, I voted unanimously with the other 4 members of the Amherst SC to ask for an additional $400,000 for the elementary school budget at the February 8th meeting. That vote was accompanied by a statement (by Steve Rivkin) that we didn't have enough time to thoughtfully consider various options, and thus wish we didn't have to vote on a number at all at this time. And that was precisely my feeling about the override, which is why I didn't take a position on it. And, for the record, only ONE Amherst SC member supported the override (that was Andy Churchill). I certainly was not the only member of the SC who didn't take a position on the override -- I wasn't con, but I wasn't pro, because I didn't feel as if I had enough information to honestly convey to voters how much money would be needed at either the elementary or regional level.