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.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

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


Anonymous said...

As much as I like the idea of elementary language instruction, it's possible that a better use of extra funds that would benefit every student is more expert training and a good mentoring program for teachers.

I think teacher training has been badly neglected of late, and to my knowledge there is little or no formal mentoring. Research shows that mentoring is something that makes a huge difference in the critical first years of teaching.

In the long run a little Spanish would be nice but great teachers seem like a better investment.

Anonymous said...

Elementary language instruction sounds really great to me. I just want to know that we are serious about it. It would be a shame to see this program cut in next year's budget discussions or the year after that. It would be wonderful to have our children coming out of elementary school with six years of instruction in a foreign language, I'm just afraid we'll be cutting this program in the next year or two and wishing we had spent the money on preserving existing programs or on a more permanent investment.

Anonymous said...

what does research show about limited exposure to a world language? does the proposed schedule actually impact children's learning or facility with another language?

Arguments that I've heard about ELL program is that immersion is beneficial along with support. Since the proposed program is not in any way an immersion program, what do we know about the benefits of such programs? Have they been tested? Do other school systems have this kind of program? Do our comparison districts do this?

It sounds like a great idea, but I'm trying to understand its benefits.

Thank you for giving me a way to question and understand this program.

Anonymous said...

Yes six years instruction in a foreign language SOUNDS great. I hope folks realize we are talking at the most, 40 minutes, once a week. How fluent does anyone think these kids are going to be at the end of 6th grade? My understanding is that after 6 years of foreign language, all it gets the students is that they are one year ahead of where they are now at the Middle School, with no foreign language. And thats if they want to study Spanish in MS and HS. If not, the six years of elementary language study will have gotten them no where in terms of a leg up on language study. I hope the SC and the administration looks very closely at the benefits vs costs to other classes we should be focusing on in the elementary schools. I would prefer that we beef up the science curriculum in the ES, which I understand is next to non-existent, before we add FL, which gets us little to no bang for our buck.

Anonymous said...

This program as proposed will be a colassal waste of time and money. I ask again were is the research-based evidence that this type of language instruction is effective? By this I mean- limited instruction once/week.

Abbie said...

While I would love to have Spanish in elementary school, my preference would be that it be MORE than that suggested and that would come with dispensing with early release on Wednesday (and thus not take away from precious instruction time).

I agree with the idea of now putting some of our resources into enriching the math and science experience of our ES students.

Anonymous said...

I understand that, like Obama's health care initiative, the idea of a elementary language program will get pecked to death. You can see it starting on this blog. I urge the SC to resist this.

Remember: the first "no" from the administrators means "we just don't want to do this". That's not good enough.

Anonymous said...

Not pecked to death -- discussed and analyzed rationally. There are lots of good things to be done with "extra" funds. Let's pick the one that really makes a difference.

I'm not sure foreign language is "the one" because of all the issues raised.

More science is probably a better idea than Spanish.

Anonymous said...

The "no" from administrators might also mean that they realize that spanish once a week is not a good use of the resources the ES schools have. Just because Catherine and Steve want this does not make it the right thing to do.

I repeat again, I think money would be better spent beefing up science instruction in the ES.

I hate to point out the obvious but just because the SC wants something does not mean that its necessarily the right thing to do. The administrators are not the bad people here and a heavy -handed SC will not be in the best interests of our students.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

I have three quick responses to these posts:

1. No one is discussing doing any of these other ideas ... a teacher mentoring program, more science, getting rid of Wednesday early dismissal -- these aren't on the table! So, we are NOT weighing "which of these are better", and if we don't have K to 6 world language (which we won't have unless the superintendent decides to have this and/or the SC votes to have it), we aren't going to have (a) extra science, (b) a teacher mentoring program, or (c) full-day Wednesdays! The only discussion is whether we ADD K to 6 world language instruction once a week!

2. I find comments like those from Anonymous 9:07 really discouraging - e.g., as if the ONLY goal of this program would be greater fluency, and if the child isn't ready for AP Spanish in 7th grade, it is a waste of time! I have three kids -- they all have music once a week and art once a week, and they are now somewhat better at music/art than they would be without those classes. They aren't fabulous musicians, or amazing artists -- they've just enjoyed the experience of singing/playing music/painting/drawing/sculpting! Because they are CHILDREN and they find these things enjoyable, just as they would find learning some Spanish words or phrases or songs enjoyable, or reading some Spanish books, or learning about Spanish culture. I think there can be really value in that for lots of reasons, even if (a) they don't get very fluent in Spanish, or (b) if they choose another language to study in 7th grade (and probably both Latin and French would be easier for kids who had had some exposure to Spanish).

3. I'd love to see more science in the elementary schools, and I've met with elementary teachers to discuss that -- and I pushed hard last year to maintain the K to 6 science coordinator. BUT there isn't an option to hire a separate "science teacher" in each building, since science is integrated into what classroom teachers teach -- it would never be taught as an isolated special by a different teacher. Now, if anyone wants to develop a proposal for the elementary schools that is enhanced science -- more equipment, some curriculum, more science-related fiend trips, more teacher mentoring re. science -- that would be GREAT, and I would highly support such efforts. But let's remember -- the discussion on the table is NOT "shall we have an extra 45 minutes of science each week OR Spanish?" That isn't the choice we are making, and if we don't do Spanish 45 minutes a week, that time isn't going to be added to science per se. So, I'm just saying comments should focus on the choice that we are making -- which is Spanish or no Spanish, NOT Spanish versus science. Personally, I'd like Spanish AND more science!

To specific comments -

Anonymous 11:44 - thank you! I agree! Let's not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Anonymous 12:56 - certainly we don't want a "heavy-handed" SC pushing something through like K to 6 Spanish ... so, I'm just asking, where you in favor of (a) creating K to 2 and 3 to 6 schools, (b) keeping Marks Meadow open (at a cost of $850,000 a year slashed from the ES budgets), and (c) having three study halls a year in the HS? Those are all proposals FROM the administration that have come to the SC over the last 18 months, and in each case, the "heavy-handed" SC voted them down. I assume by your comment that you find our actions problematic, and thus would prefer that the SC simply accept all recommendations from the administration, right?

Anonymous said...

I know this is a thread about Spanish so forgive me asking this here but you mentioned the position in your response to someone.

What is the status of a K-6 Science Coordinator? Is there money in the budget for that position? For a 1/2 time position?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, your posts seem to be taking on an angry tone with people who question your posts. This concerns me because I've always found your blog a place where you have made reasonable arguments reasonably.

Now granted the poster didn't seem to agree with you but using the following phrases seems unnecessarily hostile:

* "so, I'm just asking, where you in favor of..."
* "I assume by your comment that you find our actions problematic, and thus would prefer that the SC simply accept all recommendations from the administration, right?"

It just seems designed to silence people when the benefit of the blog (and why I appreciate it so much) seems to encourage the back and forth. I hope my comment does not prompt an equally defensive tone. It is in no way meant as an attak.

Anonymous said...

How did the idea of something extra for the elementary schools become Spanish or nothing?

Nina Koch said...

Clearly the decision to offer Spanish at the elementary level is made in the context of scarce resources. Doing one thing means not doing something else. So it's not just a matter of Spanish vs. No Spanish. It's Spanish vs. Something Else. The Something Else might be a science specialist in each building, or an intervention teacher, or a math coach. I would argue that the potential outcomes from any of of those positions are more important than the potential outcome of a highly-diluted Spanish program.

I think that elementary school Spanish falls into the category of something that would be nice if we had the money. But we don't have the money. The override is not "extra" money. It's a partial restoration of what has already been cut. We need to look to bring back some of the things that we have lost.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Abbie and the others - I would like to see more emphasis on math/science than spanish in the elementary schools (even if it's just 45 minutes more per week)

I understand that it's not a choice of one or the other - but I would like the SC to focus on getting the math and science curriculums up to higher and more rigorous standards FIRST, and then determining whether we have time for spanish and how to implement it into the curriculum without disrupting the basics (reading, writing, math & hopefully science). I think adding social studies (or history) is still more important than spanish (or any language).

For example, I would like to see a science curriculum person (if there is one already) who could circulate amongst the schools and/or help each teacher vs a spanish teacher at each school.

Anonymous said...

For the people who support 6 years of limited exposure spanish (or any language) - ask the WW parents whose kids have had that intermediate level of exposure to chinese how they feel about the results.

My kids go to WW, and have had many many years of chinese at WW- but have not really learned more than some really cute songs and the colors and numbers. Not a good use of their limited academic time or the school's limited resources (except that it was a grant so it wasn't Amherst school money). I would have rathered they spent that time on more math or more science or social studies.

The stuff they learned in 3 chinese classes a week was much less than the amount "learning" that occurs in art or music that happens once a week.

So if the intermediate language program was not useful, I can't see how the superficial level of spanish language program is anything but a fun time (for some). I think the time can be better used to improve the basics of education. Until the elementary schools have mastered the basics, I don't think we should add on extras.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 4:38 - there is already a K to 6 science coordinator! Her name is Pat Cahill, and she's very good!

Anonymous 5:02 - I am fine with people disagreeing with me -- as long as they do so in a respectful tone! I'm posting UNDER MY OWN NAME and I think it is really unfair when people choose the anonymous label to engage in personal attacks -- such as, and I'm quoting that poster, " Just because Catherine and Steve want this does not make it the right thing to do" and accuse the SC of being "heavy handed." It feels to me like a no win situation. The SC can totally just sit back and say "do whatever you want" to the administration and principals -- this was the approach used for a LONG time in our district, and believe you me, it is a whole lot easier for SC members to take this approach. And my point was to say that if we did this, there would be consequences for the district -- those would include purchasing a new version of K to 5 math curriculum without any evaluation of its effectiveness, purchasing two modulars for $200,000 that have never been used as classrooms, and having three study halls a year in the HS (a recommendation from Mark Jackson last fall). Again, if people want a less heavy-handed SC, they can vote for people who have this approach ... and I hope they will then be receptive of the results (which was the point of my post). So, I'm not meaning to be defensive about your post, which was constructive, but it feels a bit bad to be accused (as the other poster did) by an anonymous poster of being "heavy handed" -- and I thought it was appropriate to point out the logical consequences of having a totally passive SC.

Anonymous 6:15 - at a February SC meeting, the elementary SC voted unanimously to ask for $400,000 if an override passed in order to be able to do something new in our schools. I suggested Spanish, and that idea was seen positively by other SC members (and despite the negativity on this blog, many parents have told me how excited they are about this idea!). If you have another idea, please send it to the SC and/or come to the next meeting and share it.

Nina - I'm not sure how much you follow the elementary SC meetings, but we do actually have "extra money" -- because we closed Marks Meadow (savings of $850,000) AND the elementary SC added $400,000 to the bottom line number to add extra stuff. So, yes, we do have extra money! And we are doing a lot of things with that extra money -- we are adding a preschool class for low income kids (including transportation), we are adding intervention teachers for kids who are struggling, we are adding a summer program for kids who are struggling, and we are adding afterschool support for kids who are struggling. So, my thought was that these are all great things to add, but that we should also add something that benefits ALL kids directly in the district. Spanish seems like a real add for ALL kids. I am struck by the finding reported at the last meeting that in 2000, we spent 39% of the elementary budget on regular education (meaning education for all kids). In 2010, that number will be 26%. So, sure, there are trade-offs -- but adding an intervention teacher in each building will have less of a direct impact on all kids in the building than adding Spanish K to 6, which frankly, may also serve another purpose -- increasing parental involvement in our schools by families that may tend to be less involved.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 8:19 - so, there is a science coordinator who circulates in all the schools already. And we could certainly focus more time on science -- but that is done by REGULAR education teachers, so it actually doesn't require additional teachers. And I believe we should have more rigorous math, but again, that isn't about TIME spent on math ... it is about the curriculum we use (and that is under review now). And again, that doesn't involve extra funds. I don't believe anyone is saying "let's add Spanish K to 6, and keep math and science exactly the same as they are." I am saying "let's add Spanish, AND contemplate a new math curriculum, AND focus on a K to 6 science review to beef up that curriculum." But the only one of these three things that involves additional funding is SPANISH, which is why this is the budget issue I'm suggesting now.

Anonymous 8:28 - well, I've heard different things from different parents about the WW Chinese, including some who have said it is the most engaging/interesting part of the curriculum. But that being said, I think there are two key differences in what I'm proposing. One is that I'm proposing 1 time a week, not 3, so if time is wasted (which again, I think is debatable), it is less! Second, and more importantly, Spanish is a far, far easier language for students to learn that Chinese, so I actually think the progress in Spanish would be much greater.

Nina Koch said...

The elementary budget has been cut for years, as has the regional budget. The funds you describe are not enough to make up what we have lost when you look over several years. We do not have extra money.

To make up for past losses, you can start by reinstating the math coaches that have been cut. Math coaches are essential for providing the ongoing professional development that is required for successful implementation of any reform math curriculum. Newton recognizes this and has recently increased the resources they devote to math coaches. Putting a full-time math coach in each building would benefit all students in the district, as would the presence of science specialists. Intervention teachers also benefit all students, because they free up the classroom teacher to provide more differentiated instruction. Also, when struggling students are given more tools to access the curriculum, it increases the overall quality of the academic environment. You have more kids offering more ideas; the discussion becomes that much more lively and benefits everybody. That is one of the many ways in which excellence and equity go hand in hand.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - there are many ways to look at budgets ... we've had 4 elementary schools for years, and don't as of next fall. That is a lot of extra money. Similarly, enrollment numbers have been dropping -- by over 200 kids in the elementary schools in the last 10 years. Fewer kids means you need fewer teachers, and a small budget. So, it is really hard to get a sense of what things have and have not changed over time, and why.

If Amherst elementary parents prefer more math coaches, working with teachers on helping them more effectively teach math and working with struggling students, than K to 6 Spanish, we could certainly add more intervention teachers (so, we would have 15 or 16 intervention teachers in our three elementary schools instead of 12 or 13). I look forward to hearing elementary school parents' thoughts on that -- I've heard a lot of comments over the past few years about math, and not one of those comments has been "what we need is more intervention/math coaches." I've heard we need a stronger math curriculum ... and that could include one that perhaps is less reliant on math coaches if it is easier for new teaches to effectively master and teach.

Anonymous said...

If the elementary schools had a math program that made sense, maybe the need for interventional teachers would go away.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that parents don't ask for more math coaches because they don't understand their importance. Its as simple as that. I don't think the SC should be making decisions on what the schools need strictly based on the criteria of what parents ask for. How about what teachers ask for? What the administrators ask for. Their view of what is desirable to have in the schools should be equally, if not more, important.

Anonymous said...

As someone who went to a very forward- looking parochial school that had just the kind of Spanish program you are proposing I know from my own experience that this is a waste of time and money. After 5 years of once/week Spanish I learned: the days of the week, how to count to twenty, a number of Christmas carols and the PR national anthem, and how to make pasteles.

If we have extra money my vote is for math and writing support.

Anonymous said...

will we need the money to change math curriculum in the future and train teachers in its use? will that expense make this innovative program the feared one-year-only exercise?

Nina Koch said...

Newton uses Everyday Math, which I believe you support, and they recently expanded their use of math coaches, as part of the district's math initiative. It has nothing to do with a curriculum being "hard to teach." It has to do with setting high standards for teachers' understanding of mathematics and then providing the ongoing professional development that will help the teachers meet those standards.

Parents won't say to you "I think we need more math coaches" because they aren't necessarily aware of the purpose of the coaches. We need to do a better job of educating the school committee and the community in general about the goals of standards-based mathematics education and the challenges of implementing such a program successfully.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:12 - I have heard this comment from parenst and teachers! I also know that some math curriculums are designed to require less teacher support than our current curriculum, which certainly seems relevant.

Anonymous 7:13 - I don't think anyone is expecting that the SC will demand whatever parents ask for -- but should parents/tax payers/residents of Amherst have a role in shaping the educational experience? There are elementary schools in which world language is now taught regularly. That may be something that parents find appealing, and I think it would be silly to ignore that. We have a rich instrumental music program because PARENTS want that. At last year's SC meeting in February, the instrumental music program in elementary school was recommended as a cut by the principals and administrators (including the superintendent). Parents opposed this, so the SC voted to keep it. Do you believe that is a case in which the SC should have just agreed with the recommendation? Similarly, the administration and the principals didn't want MM closed ... do you believe we should have accepted that recommendation? I believe the role of the SC is to allow parents/community members/tax payers to have a voice in our schools ... and the community gets to elect people who share their views/priorities. I hear a lot of interest in world language, and so I am reflecting that interest to the superintendent and other SC members. That's it, but I think that is precisely how the SC should operate.

Anonymous 8:09 - thank you for sharing your experience. If that is all you learned from 7 years of world language, I certainly agree it was a waste. I have heard from parents in other schools now that their children gained tremendously from such exposure - not just through fluency, but through appreciation of another culture.

Anonymous 8:13 - if a math curriculum is changed, typically the publisher provides some type of professional development. But if we don't take this opportunity to implement K to 6 world language, we likely won't see this as a budget priority again for MANY years.

Nina - I'm glad you raised the idea of Newton. As you've probably read, they have raised their math coaches in their elementary schools from 3.0 to 5.5 (TOTAL) in their 9 schools, which serve over 5,000 students. They have found this to be effective for teaching Everyday Math (which has been shown to be an effective curriculum in scientific studies, unlike the curriculum we use, Investigations). Their report also notes that only ONE of these 9 schools had a full time math coach. So, even with their addition, they will have a bit over 1 math coach per 1,000 students, and about a .5 math coach in each building.

We currently have 2.6 math intervention teachers in our 4 elementary schools, which serve 1300 students. This is already more than a .5 in each building, and two schools (WW, CF) have full-time math coaches. Thus, we have about 1 math coach for every 500 or so students, or double what Newton has.

Next year, the plan proposed (instead of world language K to 6) is to have 3.5 math/ELA intervention teachers in CF, 4.4 in FR, and 4.8 in WW. Let's say that half of these coaches are math and half are ELA. That means we will have about 6 math coaches for fewer than 1300 students K to 6 (and on average two math coaches per building), whereas Newton has 5.5 math coaches for over 5000 kids (and on average .5 math coaches per building). I'm not saying math coaches aren't important -- I'm saying it seems really weird that we need so much more math coaching support than Newton, and that leads me to believe that investing in K to 6 world language for all kids might well be a better investment.

Anonymous said...

Instead of waiting around for the math program to be evaluated, why not just make the current math program more rigorous? In the ES, add 45 minutes (instead of spanish) of serious basic math drills, for example. Or split it up so you have 10-15 minutes per day of math drills. We don't have to have a new math curriculum (which may not push drills either!) to pump up the rigor of math in our schools.

And/or have the teachers all teach math at the same time - so that if you are above grade level (tested out), you can go sit in the higher grade's math period.

This can be done with or without spanish (but spanish will take some time out of the core curriculum).

Anonymous said...

CS said
"We have a rich instrumental music program because PARENTS want that. "

That's very nice, but parents might also want organic lunches and no flourescent light fixtures, but they don't get to have those.

I assume the ACTUAL reason why the district tries so hard to hang onto its music programs is because of ITS DOCUMENTED EDUCATIONAL VALUE.

Anonymous said...

My son had six years of once/week Spanish at the Smith College Campus School. He remembers a few songs, counting and colors plus a few random words. It was not a useful program and he often commented to me that he wished it had had more meat to it. He was already interested in the culture and the program did not do much to promote that. Maybe a little for kids with zero foreign language/culture exposure.

Nina Koch said...


Intervention teacher and math coach are two separate jobs. If the position is less than full time, then sometimes the same person does both jobs. But they are different jobs. Not everyone who is qualified to do one job is qualified to do the other. You seem to be conflating the two.

Intervention teachers work primarily with kids and provide support for students who have not yet achieved readiness in particular skill areas. They may be funded partially or completely by the federal Title I program. Newton, due to its lower poverty level, probably qualifies for less Title I funding than does Amherst.

Math coaches work primarily with teachers, helping those teachers reflect on their practice and develop approaches that will foster students' conceptual understanding of mathematics. On a building level math coaches help to cultivate a spirit of inquiry and collaboration among teachers, so that teachers can learn from each other and continually find ways to improve their practice.

Here is a video from the Research for Better Teaching folks that shows a coach working with a teacher. It's about a science lesson rather than a math lesson, but it gives a good idea about what might happen in a coaching session:

coaching video

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:48 - what I hear from parents is that their kids are bored in math and not challenged -- NOT that they need more time in math. So, I don't think our problem has been inadequate time in math. If you think otherwise, you should write a letter to the whole SC and superintendent, because this is really not something I hear at all.

Anonymous 12:08 - I believe one of the reasons we have a rich instrumental music program is in fact the considerable research showing that learning music helps brain function. I also believe that we have this program because it is in line with our district's commitment to social justice. And both of these principles could be used to support Spanish as well.

Anonymous 12:11 - I wonder if your son's experience was typical for other children in the Smith School -- I would assume comments like that at a private school would, if consistent, lead to the elimination of such a program?

Nina - Newton, like Amherst, has math coaches who also serve as intervention teachers -- they are the same position (as is noted in their report). In addition, I didn't count our Title 1 intervention teachers in my calculations, since, as you note, we have more low income kids than Newton. However, that would add an additional 3.7 teachers currently in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

This isn't about Spanish vs. Math. This is about balancing our curriculum and our resources. Learning another language (and I don't care which one) allows kids to appreciate different world views. If we want our children to have a broader context for understanding the world, learning about other cultures and other languages is critical. The Chinese program at Wildwood has been amazing for my child. It's the only challenge he has all day. But the bigger benefit is to see all the Wildwood children learn about a culture beyond our dominant culture of Christmas, Easter and aeropostale.

As for math coaches--please don't comment on the efficacy until you have a child in the schools and understand the reality on the ground. Let's let the hopefully neutral math review shed more light on this.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand, Catherine, is that you are hearing alot of parents say on this blog, please, we should not add WL until:
1. the teaching of math is beefed up.
2. the teaching of science is beefed up,
3. Reading Recovery is brought back,
4. etc etc etc.

And you respond back that you are pushing for the addition of WL because this is what parents have told you they want. Well, there seem to be alot of parents here telling you they don't want the addition of WL until other things have been done first.

My opinion is that we should not add WL until we have figured out what needs to be done on an ES level to get ALL children ready for algebra in the 8th grade. That seems critically more important than adding minimal explosure to WL in K-6. What resources will it take to get all children ready for algebra at the 8th grade? A different curriculum? Math coaches? New emphasis on ES Math? Seems to me that if we are serious about 8th grade algebra for all we would put alot of our resources in developing and implementing the math program that would get us there. And if the SC said that we are going to put off WL for a few years until we get this type of math program off the ground, they would be saying to the community of parents, students and administrators that this was of the ultimate importance. More important that WL. Because the goal of 8th grade algebra should be that important.

Nina Koch said...

to 7:05 am,

can you say more about why you feel it is important that all students take algebra in 8th grade rather than 9th grade?

do you feel that all students should take Calculus in high school? I would like to understand your reasoning.

Anonymous said...

I think all students should take algebra in the 8th grade because, I believe it opens doors for many.

Right now, are all students required to take algebra in the 9th grade? Are all ready to take algebra in the 9th grade?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:11 - I wonder if your son's experience was typical for other children in the Smith School -- I would assume comments like that at a private school would, if consistent, lead to the elimination of such a program?

Actually, Catherine, that is not what happens in private school. Paying tuition does not mean anyone listens to your feelings/ideas about curriculum. Public school parents have, potentially, far more say in the workings of the public schools.

Many parents over the years, including Spanish professors at Smith and native speaker parents, have complained loud and long about the SCCS Spanish program.

Nothing has been done about it for years and years. I do not know if the model (once/week Spanish) is the problem, if it is a lack of oversight by school admin, and/or a tired teacher who needs support, but ... the same mediocre program is still in place. Not a high priority, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I went to a Highly Selective College, and I sure wasn't ready for Algebra in 8th grade.

Please show me the evidence that
8th grade Algebra is the key to success in life.

Seems like the old standby of

8th - Algebra for advanced students
9th- Algebra (Honors or not) or Geometry
10th - Geometry (Honors or not) or Alg & Trig (Honors or not)/PreCalc
11th - Algebra & Trig or PreCalc - Calc (AB or regular)
12th - Algebra & Trig or Calculus (regular, AB or BC)

worked pretty well for all the kids I grew up with who went to medical school, etc, including the Provost of Harvard/former Director of the NIH.

8th grade Algebra should be available for those ready for it. Could they walk over to the HS for it? Why not?

Nina Koch said...


I hope when you double check your information you will clarify for everyone about the current status of math coaches in the district.

We have one person who serves as a .2 math coach. That's it. It's about a tenth of what we had last year. Math coaches are an important element of the math plan that we are supposed to be implementing for the district. Unfortunately, we don't currently have the resources for fully implementing the plan. We need to take care of essentials.

Anonymous said...

Good point Nina. Without math specialists, a math program that so many parents supposedly hate isn't going to be taught any better.

I do disagree with a previous poster who stated that many elementary teachers don't like teaching math and put their best energy into Language Arts (perhaps not intentionally).

In my days in the classrooms of my APRS building, I didn't see that. I saw teachers who appeared to feel more confident in LA than math, perhaps, but not favoring one over the other.

It could be argued that feeling more comfortable makes for better teaching, which only buttresses the argument for spending more on math coaches and professional development rather than WL. Math being a core subject.

There are parents of kids who do not need help who feel that their kids get nothing extra, and are bored, while too many resources are diverted to academically needy classmates.

So, is WL is sort of a campaign promise outcome for the parents who voted in new SC people hoping to see some money spent on enrichment for their kids? Is that any way to design a district curriculum? We promised to add enrichment, so here it is -- a bit o'Spanish.

It's not adding Spanish or WL that are objectionable. It's what won't be added that is probably a lot more important to ALL students.

lise said...

Anon at 1:49

Your proposed schedule does not work. There are four years of math before calculus: 2 years algebra, 1 year geometry, 1 year pre-calc (aka trig). In order to get to Calculus in HS students must take Algebra in 8th grade or double up on a year of math in HS.

At any rate, Amherst does not offer regular algebra in 8th grade - only honors algebra. So we have 30-40% of kids in honors algebra, probably half of whom don't belong there and are struggling. However, if they want to get to even AB Calculus (attainable without being on the honors math track in many other systems) they have to take honors algebra in 8th grade. In addition, we do not offer AP Statistics - the calculus alternative fourth year of math available to competent but not spectacular math students in most other districts.

Anonymous said...

This is slightly off-topic, but while my child was at FR, several of her teachers retired and I thought it was such a missed opportunity that the school wasn't asking them if they were interested in coaching junior ES faculty in their various areas of expertise. For example, Sandy McNiven was a highly skilled teacher who parents loved because he did such a great job teaching math. I don't know if newly retired teachers would be interested in this - but I just thought I would make this suggestion.

Anonymous said...

What a good idea, 6:11.

I heard so much about Sandy McNiven, among others, but never met him.

I wonder how many retired teachers want to cut ties altogether. Surely there are some who do but also some who would love to keep their hand in but no longer want to teach fulltime. There aren't many options for veteran classroom teachers to use their skills in other ways.

The district has been hiring retired teachers to fill in for teachers on leave. In a way though, that's problematic, because it doesn't allow new teachers to obtain classroom experience.

Most newly licensed teachers get their foot into a district door by long term subbing first.

When they keep rehiring retirees instead, it doesn't support new teacher development. On the other hand it may make for a better educational experience for the kids. Kind of a paradox.

In any event Amherst isn't exactly recruiting new talent. Unfortunately.