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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Is this the same Joseph Burke who was run out of the Springfield Superintendency in 2008? Perfect!!

LarryK4 said...

Hmm...I'm surprised their concocted cover story did not mention the caustic local blogosphere angle.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been on the Who the Heck Hired that Guy Anyway bandwagon but now that it turns out his Serious Medical Condition is a HERNIA???!!! and he has a new job already you can definitely count me in on the "We Was Had" committee.

Seems like the city mouse took advantage of the country mouse somehow.

Wow. I guess in a seller's market you sure need to be careful about what kind of snake oil you're eagerly buying. Maria Geryk was always OK with me but now I'm feeling like that was a really really smart choice for right ow.

Anonymous said...

I saw this in the paper, and I expected to see it here. I was thinking it would be interesting to see what people write when they see this, as I certainly had some strong reactions when I read it.

BUT, in fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the goals of this blog. (see "My Goal in Blogging" on the main page)
My request is to please take this off the blog before the feeding frenzy begins. It has no productive place here. There have been good discussions lately and this will just be a downer of a distraction from them.


Sam I Am

Anonymous said...


There is no truth anymore, just spin?

I'm reminded of the word recently coined by Stephen Colbert: "truthiness".

Mr. Burke's remarks have it, and apparently that's close enough for government work.

In short, we were scammed.

Rich Morse

TomG said...

I wonder why we didn't seek out the person who was ranked 2nd in the last search search and explore the opportunity to make him an offer. He was in my opinion, a more qualified candidate anyway. Just because Rodriguez didn't work out doesn't mean the other candidates are suddenly unsuitable. Was this option even considered?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:43 - Yes.

Larry - Indeed. Clearly the reason Rodriguez left was the blogs. That will also be the reason we can't hire a new superintendent, I'm sure.

Anonymous 11:47 - I think this departure points to what Andy Churchill actually said when he voted for Dr. Sklarz - the best predictor of future success is past success. Dr. Rodriguez, who I did like and feel I worked with well (although I did NOT vote for him), had never been a superintendent and had no experience in the Northeast. The candidate I voted for, and certainly the candidate that the vast majority of parents who contacted the SC supported, was David Sklarz, who had been a superintendent in West Hartford (a diverse, high achieving district) for 9 years. The last year would have been very different if that hire had been made.

Sam I Am - I pondered whether to post it, but I do think it speaks to the interaction of the SC and administration with the superintendent and thus is relevant. If you believe it is inappropriate, send me a private email using your name and we can discuss that off-line.

Rich Morse - well said.

Tom G - well, that option COULD have been explored if the regional SC hadn't voted (6 to 4) to appoint Maria Geryk for 16 months less than 24 hours after Dr. Rodriguez resigned, although I doubt that Sklarz would be interested -- given that he was rejected for someone who clearly had less experience. And Dr. Sklarz has a superintendent job now -- in Marlborough, CT -- so I doubt he would have quit that job for a chance to throw his hat in the ring again in Amherst. I continue to believe that turning down Dr. Sklarz was a huge mistake -- and yes, many did believe he was the most qualified candidate. However, I was the only SC member at the time who ultimately voted for him (which I guess would be hard to reconcile with my supposed desire to chose the weakest superintendent who I could then micro-manage).

Anonymous said...

Give me a minute and I will fit everything that you just said and everything that has happened into the predetermined anti-Sanderson narrative.

Ed said...

I may be confusing landlord/tenant law with public employee law, but I was under the impression that much as a landlord can't both sue a tenant who breaks a lease for the unpaid rent *and* concurrently rent the unit to a new tenant for the same months, a *public* employee may not accept a buyout and then be paid to work somewhere else in the interim.

This may just be the rule that you can only have one employment relationship with the Commonwealth at any given time - that is on the Ethics Commission website - but there is something there.

And the term is "unjust enrichment." And I think Amherst ought to be asking for a refund...

Rick said...

” if the regional SC hadn't voted (6 to 4) to appoint Maria Geryk for 16 months”

Let’s not be thinking it was such a terrible thing to have appointed Ms. Geryk for 16 months. Remember that at the March 9 Regional School Committee meeting this happened:

1. A motion to do an immediate search for a new Superintendent failed unanimously.
2. A motion to search for an outside interim Superintendent failed 6-4.
3. A motion to appoint Ms. Geryk until July 1, 2011 passed 6-4.

Having failed #1 and #2, #3 is pretty logical.

It’s really odd to me that #1 failed unanimously, but it did. To me, #1 was worth considering, but #2 definitely was not – we didn’t need another Sprague type situation. A “better” vote might have been to appoint Maria until July 1, 2010, and think more about whether or not to do #1 until the following meeting.

But again, the choice made was logical and I am glad it was made. Ms. Geryk is doing a god job and this provides some stability so we can try to get something done.

Anonymous said...

I had no problem with Dr. Rodriguez and as a parent, I was obviously surprised that he was leaving the district so suddenly. The reason for his departure continues to be a mystery to me and as I understand things, I will never get an on the record public explanation about what the problems were with his superintendency.

Sometimes I think that the district personnel did not like him because he was a Republican. Amherst wanted him because he was Hispanic, that's the only explanation I can come up with. Obviously, it wasn't because of his experience as a Superintendent because he didn't have any. Then when it turned out that he wasn't the "kind" of Hispanic that Amherst was looking for, the district personnel bashed him, perhaps sabotaged him, and the SC thereafter got him to leave. Where is the tolerance and social justice in that? It is very confusing for us newcomers to Amherst.

For the record, I had no problem with him using his sick leave and vacation time.

And I don't think any of us has any details about his hernia operation. It doesn't sound right to me to minimize someone's medical problems or to pass judgment on how important or severe someone's medical issues are.

I wasn't here during the hiring process but I commend Prof. Sanderson for voting against a candidate with no experience on the job.

Too Bad I Can't Afford Private School said...

Rick, some of us are not happy with the job Ms. Geryk is doing. Her first big decision was to hire a principal for the middle school. For this decision, she chose the inexperienced candidate who was responsible for bringing us the extensions rather than the experienced candidate from outside. I attended the publc forums and was very impressed with Mr. Schlenter and was thrilled to think that we would have such a proven leader to take over our middle school. Her decision made me lose all hope.

Not to mention that under her watch suddenly we need to spend $100,000 in renovations for the special ed high school?! I know you will say, as you have in the past, "but we will save $178,000 a year by closing east street." Yes, but I still don't see why we need $100,000 in renovations for 40 kids!!! If we have extra money please let us spend it to get our high school kids out of study halls. There are 1,300 of them sitting around every day!

Anonymous said...

To: April 16, 2010 7:52 PM, Newcomer to Amherst:

Welcome to Amherst... where diversity in color is all that is tolerated; not diversity in thought or political persuasion.

Anonymous said...

There were reasons to be excited about and supportive of Dr. R's candidacy, just as there are reasons to be excited about and supportive of Maria's role as interim super. And on both these fronts, you can take Catherine's word for it....

From Catherine, July ‘09

“One more thing: As readers of this blog know well, I didn't support the hiring of Dr. Rodriguez as superintendent -- and I had grave concerns about whether his background/experience would enable him to effectively take on the serious work that I felt needed to be done in this (challenging) district. So, let me be the first (or perhaps ONE of the firsts!) to say that I believe I was wrong -- after reading this report, and hearing his thoughts about areas in which the district needs work, I believe he is recognizing precisely where this district needs to go (I especially liked him comment last night that "we are good, but should be much, much better"), and I am hopeful that he will have the ability to take us in that direction. I thus stand fully corrected on my initial hesitation, and I truly look forward to working with him on these impressive and ambitious goals.”

Also from Catherine, March ’09, on Maria Geryk, during her last tenure as interim super:

“I want to start by commending our new Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk for preparing the most thorough and thoughtful data presentation that I've seen in the two years that I've been attending (either as an audience member or a School Committee member) School Committee Meetings. She started this job on Friday, February 27th, and led tonight's meeting in the most clear and organized manner that I've seen this year. I was extremely impressed at how she was able to step into this situation and handle it so well.”

We need to turn the page, get on with the work that needs doing and try to be less accusatory and judgmental of past decisions and current differences of opinion. Lets deal with the plate we have in front of us, which is quite full.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rick - my point is NOT whether it was bad to have appointed Maria ... my point is actually about the process, which I know you have talked a lot about as being very important. I was concerned that the SC, after a number of very long meetings, made a decision late at night without any public comment (from parents, teachers, staff, community members) to appoint a superintendent for 16 months. That struck me as inappropriate in light of our district's goal to focus on communication and transparency. I think it would have been GREAT if we had appointed Maria for 4 months, then met a week or two later to more thoughtfully discuss various options (including time for public comment), and at that point, may have decided that was our best choice (to appoint for 16 months). I also think Maria certainly could have applied for the 12-month interim position, and could well have emerged at the best candidate (which is why I voted for that option, along with three other members). That would have still potentially led to the same outcome, but in a way that was more transparent to the community and thus I think would have felt a lot better.

Anonymous 8:09 - I have said before on this blog that I expect I will work effectively with Maria, just as I worked effectively with Dr. Rodriguez (even though I voted against him). The SC makes decisions as a body, not as individuals, and sometimes I'm on the losing end of votes!

Nina Koch said...

to anon 7:52--

I believe the school committee was unanimous in agreeing that it was best for Dr. Rodriguez to leave, so that should give you some assurance that his departure was not due to pressure from particular interest groups or someone's caprice. The decision was arrived at through deliberations that must have been difficult for everyone involved.

Having someone leave in the middle of the year is very disruptive and no one would want that kind of disruption unless it seemed necessary for the general good. It certainly would not be based on something like his political affiliation, which actually plays very little role when it comes to running a school district. In fact, I often find it very interesting to note that people can be very liberal in their national politics, while simultaneously very conservative in their views on education (or vice versa).

Remember also that Dr. Rodriguez chose to leave before his evaluation became public. I think it's only fair, then, that it not be public.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - obviously Dr. Rodriguez's evaluation won't ever be public, given his choice to leave. But I think the circumstances of his departure (that it was quite sudden, that it was apparently made based on feedback from people he supervised) raised questions for some people in the community -- and those questions were enhanced based on the speed with which an interim superintendent was appointed for 16 months without public comment. There is nothing we can do about that now ... but I think it is important to acknowledge that many people in the community share Anonymous 7:52's view (a point I tried to make at the meeting in which Maria Geryk was appointed, which was followed by a pretty harsh attack from Mark Jackson).

To me, the circumstances of Dr. Rodriguez's departure point to the problem with having someone serve as superintendent in our district who (a) has no experience as a superintendent, (b) have no experience as an even an assistant or associate superintendent for longer than a year or so, and (c) are not from the Northeast (or anywhere remotely like Amherst). I raised all of those concerns last spring when the other members of the SC (except for Tracy Farnham) supported Dr. Rodriguez -- and thus the entire turn of events seems rather predictable to me. Yet Dr. Rodriguez apparently was preferred by the principals (based on comments made by other members of the SC -- I didn't speak to any of them myself), and I recall that you also preferred Dr. Rodriguez (I believe you commented on this preference on another blog).

I hope we can all learn from the experience over the last year, and that it will lead the SC to make a more informed choice next spring. I certainly believe this entire year would have been very, very different if Dr. Sklarz had been hired, as I had hoped he would be and as did the vast majority of other parents who contacted the SC. Experience matters.

Anonymous said...

6:42 am said "get our high school kids out of study halls. There are 1,300 of them sitting around every day!"

Many high schoolers use the study hall to 1) study, 2) do homework so that after school can be spent participating in either a sport, extra curricular or community service activity, 3) involved with an independent learning activity or enhanced research, 4) volunteer as peer mentors in the school, or 5) volunteer in other ways in the school... to name a few activities. It would probably be beneficial for high schoolers to have access to the library during their study hall period, but they don't.

Though I support the elimination of study halls, we better have a good idea of how that time is being spent during them, as we make decisions about its future.

Anonymous said...

" I certainly believe this entire year would have been very, very different if Dr. Sklarz had been hired, as I had hoped he would be and as did the vast majority of other parents who contacted the SC. Experience matters."

So it seems that you are concurring that Dr. Rodriguez was a bad match and that it was right for him to depart when he did. Which is hard to tell by your continuing to bring up the fact that some people think he was run out of town by those he was supervising. It would be nice if you could clarify the facts around this one way or another so that we can leave misperceptions (to the extent they exist) behind. Thanks.

Ed said...

Many high schoolers use the study hall to 1) study,

That is a very expensive waste of scarce public resources.

2) do homework so that after school can be spent participating in either a sport, extra curricular or community service activity,

If the students are stretched that thin, they are doing too many things. And I have a real issue of community service at the expense of learning -- learning time needs to take precedence as as community service.

3) involved with an independent learning activity or enhanced research,

Which shouldn't be done during school time - or if the student so gifted, the student exempted from specific classes with credit from the independent stuff in leu of the class.

4) volunteer as peer mentors in the school, or 5) volunteer in other ways in the school.

This is a 13th Amendment issue. Students (excepting older ones) are required by law to be in school. And in such cases, this "volunteer" work really isn't voluntary because the individual doesn't have the choice of simply leaving the building.

This is the same issue as the civil commitment of sex offenders -- you can only require those children to be in that building if you are teaching them. Not the rest of the stuff....

And I am waiting for some bright 15-year-old to raise this issue...

Ed said...

First, one of the most humane things that an organization can do - and it is best done first before emotions run wild - is to set time for adjournment.

Second, if A-Rod was a Republican, I missed that. I am not a Republican anymore, not after what the mASSgop did on campus last spring, but I am probably one of the most conservative people in this town.

A non-RINO Republican would not have taken all the sick/vacation time -he/she/it would have been there running the district. My guess is that he is from a place where everyone registers "R" the way that everyone in Amherst is "D."

Third, Mark Jackson's insubordinate and unprofessional rant - along with the letter he sent me (that I really want to take a red pen to) makes me question his professionalism. When I put something on letterhead, it is written in a professional manner. How much is he paid?

Fourth, what are they trying to hide? Yes, I am the person who once taped all the UM salaries to the front of the student union - my attitude is that if you have nothing to hide, you put it out in public for all to see.

Jackson doesn't want to explain why he apparently had issues with his former supt. He doesn't want to discuss issues raised by the Collegian story either.

And I still would like to see some of the CVs....

Nina Koch said...

to 5:15 pm

Thanks for making those points about possible uses of study hall. I teach an elective and would love to see kids be able to sign up for a lot of electives, but I also believe that study hall time can be put to good use. I think we could do even more with it. One option you might not know about are the groups like Cross Cultural Conversations or African Studies, where students go to an organized scholarly activity one day of the week during their study period. I would also like to see some kind of arrangement where kids use study time to work in small teams of four or five on some kind of long-term project. I'm envisioning projects that might be a combination of an academic and an extra-curricular interest, something that kids might not necessarily get a chance to work on in the context of a typical class.

One small correction: study hall students do have access to the library, provided they have a pass from an academic teacher indicating that they have research to do for that class. Staffing in the library has been cut back over the past few years, which makes supervision more of a challenge.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:18 - I can't comment on Dr. Rodriguez's performance, given that his evaluation wasn't made public. I will say that I think his time in the district was more difficult because he had not been a superintendent previously, and had no experience in Amherst. Nonetheless, that information was well known to all involved (including the principals, and the other members of SC at the time), and others didn't not believe it would be a problem. But my point is that many people do still have concerns about the nature and timing of his departure, and I think that is the unfortunate reality of how things played out.

Nina - it is great that some students use study hall time well. I've also heard from parents, students, and teachers that this time can also be very problematic. Given that we could always offer the option for kids to take 1 or 2 or 3 study halls, I still can't see why we are requiring any study halls at this point -- because many kids would in fact rather NOT have this time free to do the various things you describe. Let's remember -- this is again something that seems to be uniquely Amherst -- I can't find any other Western MA districts that have solved budget crises (which all are having) by requiring kids to take HS study halls. Other districts are making a different choice, and I think that fact should be acknowledged and discussed.

Anonymous said...

i am an ARHS student and a majority of kids use study halls to do their homework or go visit the teacher of a class they are struggling in. there is also a significant minority of students who put their ipod on and go to sleep. the other thing you all should know is that when an elective has room for extra people, students with a study hall that period can switch into that elective instead of taking their study hall

Anonymous said...

ARHS Student, as a parent I was told that I could not switch my child out of a study hall into an underenrolled elective. My child also reports a lot of illicit activity going on during study halls. I think different study halls are run differently and not all students have the same experience either in study halls or in access to extra things like being able to request an extra elective rather than a study hall.

Nina Koch said...

to 6:20 am--

I can tell you that if your child were in my study hall and had that perception, I would want to know about it. I hope that you have contacted the teacher to express your concerns.

Anonymous said...

Yes, forced study halls are ideal. That's why Deerfield is exploring forcing kids into 2-3 of them.

I understand that Newton and Brookline are considering firing their superintendents because of the obvious "Study Hall Gap." They're wondering why their don't have ANY forced study halls while ARHS has two per year for four years.

It's going to take a lot of work for all the best high schools in America to catch up to ARHS. We've cornered the market on forced study halls. Indeed, I wouldn't have voted for the override if I weren't guaranteed even more forced study halls in the future.


Anonymous said...

Northampton High has long block scheduling -- study halls are typically part of the four daily class blocks.

Long block has some problems -- for example, students may experience as much as a year lapse between classes that are better taught consecutively (math, languages) -- but wasted study hall time is not one of them.

Anonymous said...

I am happy for Dr. Rodriguez....good for him, not only was he able to get out of Amherst with his health intact, but able to quickly be hired. The only way a new superintendent will be able to succeed in Amherst at this point in time, will be to bow down to the school administrators who are supposed to be working for him/her ....and follow ALL that this current school committee desires. It is a sad state of affairs for what WAS a deservedly well-respected school system. And for those who think the "road not taken" would have been the answer - he most likely would be gone by now as well, though for different reasons. I will be taking my high expectations and my children to another community to live. School politics here have become too toxic, and that eventually spills over into the learning environment.

Tired Parent said...

Anon 12:04PM, if you are willing to share, what other districts are you looking to move to? Our family is also considering moving, possibly to the Frontier Regional district. We also hear good things about Granby.

Anonymous said...

To Annonymous April 25, 2010 12:04 PM: Very well said.

Anonymous said...

12:04 p.m. I agree with you that the schools do not meet high expectations.

I hope the district does indeed send out the exit surveys to the families who are leaving the schools.

Anonymous said...

The big differences between Amherst and Granby or Frontier are racial/ethnic and size of schools. The free lunch % and SPED % are not markedly different. Frontier's SPED % is higher than Amherst's.

Just what is so terrible about Amherst in general? I agree that individual children may do better in one school or district than another, but overall, I cannot fathom what is so dreadful about the Amherst schools that it is necessary to pack up a whole family and move.

If you're going to make sweeping statements like "We gotta get outta this place," please, please, explain why. Otherwise it's just drama and hyperbole with no information.

Anonymous said...

To Annonymous April 26, 2010 9:29 PM: It sounds like you are happy with the schools here, and that's great. For a lot of people, the schools here don't work. Many of us just want the schools to teach the academics, we don't want the other stuff. We don't want the social engineering, the not offering AP classes. We're not interested in the schools exposing the students to the school's perception of diversity. We take care of social responsibility at home and feel it is not the school districts charter. So, no, we're not happy, and moving or putting our kids in private school is what we want to do. It's our choice and we can voice that on this blog.

Tired Parent said...

I am glad to let you know what I am unhappy about. There is a lot of good in the Amherst schools and my kids have had some fabulous teachers, but overall, the focus of the district is not serving the needs of my kids (who are white, middle-income, and not special needs) very well. The education they have received in math is dismal, the elementary school has no full walls so is very noisy, the early release Wednesday is a hardship, and the mandatory study halls in the high school shows me that the emphasis of the entire district is not on academics. I am all for social justice but I do not think that should be the overall focus of any public school district.

In our case, the high taxes in Amherst are also a factor. We cannot afford Kumon for the kids and still live in Amherst. If we move and find similar issues in our new school district, at least we would be paying less for the problems and could then afford Kumon or a tutor.

Anyone else considering moving? If so, are you willing to tell us where and how old your kids are?

Anonymous said...

Good luck to those who are talking about moving to where the grass appears greener.

Amherst is a political hotbed, no doubt. I have worked in two other schools within 30 minutes of Amherst. They are not in the same league, not even close.

While you may not have the headaches you currently endure, you will certainly have new sources of headaches.

Schools are not perfect. But, of course, neither are human beings.

Like I said, good luck.

Please don't think that Amherst's problems are all social justice centered.

Anonymous said...

Ed can you please elaborate on and/or post the letter Mark Jackson sent you?

Catherine, was it ever explicitly stated by the SC or others that the desire to hire Dr R was because he was Hispanic? If not, what were the ostensible reasons for hiring him--surely it was not his experience or any credential. An Amherst teacher told me that Dr R was hired "because he was a Hispanic, they thought that would look good, but he turned out to not be the right kind of Hispanic". The teacher is female and a minority. So for whatever that is worth, that is the view from at least some of those on the inside.

Mark jackson: You are a coward and a bully and you should resign.

Finally, property values are going to suffer when word gets around about the sorry state of Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

We moved here for the schools (shame on us for not doing better research) and will be putting our kids into private school next year. We are disgusted by things we have seen this year. I am looking forward to the exit survey.

Anonymous said...

If our school system was the best around, how come Mark Benke, the soon-to-be-former principal of Wildwood, doesn't move his young family into town to take advantage of it rather than leaving his post as principal to spend more time with his family in Westfield?!

Best wishes to you, Mark. It is our loss.

Anonymous said...

I wish we could afford private school!! Care to share the specifics of why you are leaving? Are your kids in the elementary schools or regional schools?

Good luck to you and your family!

Anonymous said...

For those of you who are trying to follow the schools closely, I just came across Rick Hood's blog at:

I am not sure why I had not ventured there before but it is definitely worthwhile and I will put it on my list of sites to check when I want to learn more about our schools. I love Catherine's blog and I love checking the PGO's website. Now I will also check Rick's blog too. In case any of you out there want yet another perspective on things in our schools.

Anonymous said...

I like Rick's blog because it does not have an agenda. It really is a place where issues can be discussed in an atmosphere of impartiality, where no one has an agenda they are advocating.

It's the CNN of Amherst blogs - No Bias, No Bull.

Anonymous said...

...and hardly any people participating on his blog.

Anonymous said...

As more people discover Rick's blog I think the participation will pick up.