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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beth Graham Appointed Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk has made an appointment for the position of Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Geryk issued this statement on Tuesday, May 25:

I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Ms. Beth Graham as Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Ms. Graham will begin her work in the district on July 1. Ms. Graham’s most recent position is that of Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, a position she has held for two years. Prior to this, Ms. Graham was Director of New Teachers Collaborative, F.W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, MA, Dean of Curriculum and Program at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and Director of Unified Arts (K-12) in Danvers, MA. Her educational leadership career began in the Watertown Public Schools as K-12 Director of Music. Ms. Graham’s teaching career began in 1978 in the North Andover Public School District as Choral and Band Director for elementary and secondary students.

Ms. Graham’s background also includes significant experience in a variety of School Coaching experiences. She is a National Facilitator for the School Reform Initiative training Critical Friends coaches. Ms. Graham has served as a Coach for the Connecticut Center for School Change, as Facilitator and Professional Development Coach for the Education Alliance at Brown University, and others. Ms. Graham has been a presenter at a variety of workshops over a 15-year period for the Coalition of Essential Schools, the United Stated Department of Education, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and numerous others. The full resume of Ms. Graham is attached below. Ms. Graham has Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education certification as Superintendent/Assistant Superintendent (All Levels), Supervisor/Director (All Levels), Principal/Assistant Principal (PK-12), and Vocal and Instrumental Music (PK-12).

I expect to have the opportunity to formally introduce Ms. Graham to you at one of the School Committee meetings that will be scheduled next September. Ms. Graham will be able to outline her work to date as she entered our district and describe to the community her plans as our new Director. I hope you will join me in warmly welcoming Ms. Graham to our school community.

You can find Ms. Graham's resume at:


TomG said...

Good news!

What schools is Beth responsible for in Amherst? Elementary or middle & high school or both?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

She will be responsible for the middle and high school, plus the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools (NOT Shutesbury and Leverett elementary schools, which are in a different union).

MaryAnn said...

Wow. Looks like our Interim Superintendent made a great choice!! I look forward to Dr. Graham beginning work in July. I think she will have a big impact on our schools.

Anonymous said...

Let's see how popular she is when SHE tries to change things. Maybe she will have the cred to do that. Maybe not.

Dezi Ballouette, Jr. said...

Anon 10:44

If she follows the proper channels to bring about change then her attempts will be more successful. If she tries to jam change down schools' throats without discussion or dialogue, like former superintendent Arod did, then she will be met with resistance, I'm guessing.

The perception that schools don't want to change is false. People who are telling you that are those who have not tried to bring about change through the agreed upon processes for program evaluation and change.

It's a fairly simple equation. One can easily research and then be fully informed on these processes for program evaluation and change.

Rather than stand back and grandstand about what the schools will or won't do, check the facts and present them.

Having heard many times that our schools are resistant to change does not necessarily make that a true statement. It simply means that someone is repeating the message over and over, and now some people, like yourself, believe it.

Fox News does the same thing, often with blatant lies.

It would be very helpful if the blog master would clarify the rules for program evaluation and change in these schools. A link to where these rules are found online would also be helpful so that everyone has access to the same language and we don't have to worry about this person's interpreation vs that that person's. Then everyone reading this blog will have the same information and we can all keep going back to it when the mud starts flying about who is willing to work with others and who is not.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

MaryAnn - I hope you are right!

Anonymous 10:44 - indeed.

Dezi Ballouette, Jr. - I am glad to hear your confidence in the schools' willingness to change IF proper channels are followed. Here is a review of the process by which change has not occurred via extensions, in which many people have followed proper channels over the last 4 years:

In the fall of 2004, math teacher Michael Hayes piloted a new program in which regular and advanced math 7th grade students would learn together, and students would be given the option to do “extensions”. This program was then adopted for virtually all 7th graders in the fall of 2005. This approach to teaching 7th grade math was not in use in any other middle schools at the time of its implementation in Amherst, nor has it been adopted in other schools over the last 5 years.

Teachers at the middle school describe this new approach to teaching math as highly successful. According to their data, whereas 25 percent of the seventh graders had been placed in the advanced class before, now almost 40 percent were able to get into 8th grade honors algebra.

Parent and students have been less positive about this new approach to teaching math. At a School Committee Meeting in November of 2006, a number of parents raised concerns about the extensions program with Superintendent Jere Hochman and Co-Middle School Principal Mike Hayes. These concerns included complaints that some students have said they don’t do extensions because their friends aren’t doing them, that extensions are taught only at the end of the class period and there is not time for them to be taught, and that extensions are only being done as homework.

Given this concern, Superintendent Hochman formed a K16 Math Curriculum Council in the winter of 2007 which was headed by Mike Hayes (I served on this Curriculum Council as a parent volunteer). A survey regarding math in the district was conducted with all parents and students in the spring of 2007. This survey revealed that although most parents of middle school children describe the math program as “good,” more parents of middle school children rate the math program as “adequate” or “poor” than as “excellent.” In addition, many of the parents who choose to provide comments on the middle school surveys note a lack of challenge in the curriculum for their child, and virtually all negative comments from parents of high school students comment on poor math instruction in the middle school.

In February of 2008, following the results of this survey, Dr. Hochman formed a K to 12 Math Curriculum Council (also headed by Mike Hayes) and requested that the first specific topic for review will be to advise on algebra for all 8th grade students which includes review of other districts with such a goal (I served as a member of this council, again prior to my election to the SC). Although the action plan for this group indicates a completion date of February 2009, this group met a total of three times and never produced any recommendations regarding algebra or extensions.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me (continued):

In December of 2009, superintendent Dr. Rodriguez reported that Dr. Barry Beers has been hired to conduct a review of the middle school, and will specifically examine the issues of extensions as part of this review. This report, which was presented in March of 2010, notes regarding extensions that "Most parents felt it was not effective and that parents had to do the teaching." Similarly, in his observation of classrooms, Dr. Beers noted the following: "There was little to no evidence of the use of data-driven differentiated instruction." The conclusion of this report suggests "Students who are obviously ready for the challenges of pre-algebra could be assigned to that course to best prepare them for algebra in the 8th grade. Students in Mathematics 7 who demonstrate progress during the year could still receive Extensions in order to accelerate their learning and hopefully prepare for algebra in the 8th grade."

At a March 24, 2010 Regional School Committee Meeting, Superintendent Geryk reported that, after meeting with math experts within the district, she recommends moving forward with a comprehensive K-12 program evaluation, which she hopes can be done by the end of the year. In addition, the middle school administration, as part of the follow-up to the Dr. Beers’ report, requests that this review include a rigorous evaluation of the extensions program at the middle school in order to provide recommendations for next steps.

However, at a May 2010 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Geryk noted that although the report on K to 12 math, including information on extensions, will start now, but won’t be available until the fall. This means that from the time at which concerns about extensions were first publicly raised – November of 2006 – until a recommendation regarding their use will be issued will be, in the best case scenario, 4 years (assuming a report is issued by November of 2010), with changes likely not occurring until (again, best case scenario), the fall of 2011.

So, does this sound like the right process? If so, are you comfortable that a period of 4 years has gone by with concerns from parents and students about this program, yet it has never been officially evaluated?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thought for Dezi: In January of 2008, the ARHS science department created a required 9th grade science course that hasn't been used anywhere else in the country. At the time, members of the community asked if it would be evaluated, and we were told "of course." I pushed for an evaluation, which my SC colleagues didn't support, and then last spring, the science teachers presented their own "evaluation" which consisted of showing student work and student/parent comments about the course. This is not exactly the "gold standard" of evaluation. I've asked for an independent, outside person to evaluate this course, and that may or may not happen (I asked last spring - March of 2009 - and Maria Geryk said she would think about it; it has yet to occur). I haven't seen any eagerness or willingness for this evaluation to occur on the part of the principal, superintendent, or the science department (again, which seems kind of ironic, because the easiest way to prove this course is more effective than the more typical biology course used in 9th grade would be to do an evaluation).

Could you give some examples of things that you believe have been evaluated in our schools over the last few years, and/or things that have changed? I honestly can't think of ANY.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear on what one would be evaluating in terms of the 9th grade science? How are you defining effectiveness? Improved scores on the MCAS? Numbers of kids taking more science classes in the upper grades beyond the requirements? How is 9th grade biology relevant to an evaluation of the current curriculum content?
It seems to me that your big beef with this program is that it is a requirement.

Can I ask what kind of evaluation you are demanding of the proposed language program? and will it be in place before the program gets implemented?

Anonymous said...

This feels like Marks Meadow all over again. If a blogger doesn't agree with Catherine, they keep asking where's the evidence,in spite of the fact that it's placed right in front of them on a gold platter. I guess if you have a blind fold on, you won't ever accept the fact that Chaterine has done an incredible amount of reading and research, more than any other school committee member we've ever had, and a lot of people don't like it, for God only know what reason. I appreciate all her work.

annfmcl said...

Catherine, I'm curious about how long it took the Middle School to implement the math extensions program. Did they go through 4+ years of talking and meetings to come up with it? -- Ann McLaughlin

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 2:28 - so, two thoughts here. First, if we implement any program that isn't in use anywhere else in the country and has no research to support it, I believe we have a responsibility to evaluate it seriously. That hasn't been done with the new required 9th grade course -- and yes, if it wasn't required, I would feel better since at least that way, kids/parents who didn't want to be a part of an unproven course could opt out. Second, I do NOT believe we need to evaluate every single thing we need to do in our district IF there is evidence it works in other district. So, if the 9th grade course was Physics, I don't think we'd need to evaluate it with the same rigor, since that program has been evaluated by other districts (e.g., Newton, Brookline, Springfield, Bement, Deerfield, etc.), so there a research base of support.

I think of it this way: if you are using a particular chemo drug to fight cancer, you don't have to evaluate it on every single patient IF the research has been done to show that it is indeed effective. However, if you want to try a brandnew drug that has never been used before to fight cancer, you have to conduct research to show if this drug is better than the standard of care.

In our current system, we have NO WAY of knowing whether taking ecology/environmental science in 9th grade is BETTER, WORSE, or THE SAME as the more typical 9th grade courses (biology or physics). That is my concern.

How would you evaluate it? Many ways - MCAS scores, kids' interest in science, the 2nd course kids take (e.g., do more take chemistry than in the past?), the number of kids taking advanced science/4 years of science, grades, etc. But typically people who have created something don't also evaluate it!

So, to answer your question about world language, there is research in other districts showing the benefits of elementary language -- that research was reviewed by the teachers/staff on the 2008 world language committee. Thus, I do believe we should evaluate the impact of this new program, but I don't think this is the same issue since elementary world language is NOT unique (as is requiring ecology in 9th grade).

Anonymous 3:11 - thanks for pointing that out. I agree that the resistance to anything I say, including simply summarizing research others have done, is hard to understand. I would imagine people would LIKE SC members who are informed about education issues and willing to share their thoughts with the community.

Ann - good question, and THANKS for using your name. Investigations began in 2004, as a pilot program by Mike Hayes. At the time, this approach was used with a small number of students -- it was then implemented for all students the following year. So, in this case, exactly one year was spent with the pilot, and then it was implemented for all students. It has never been independently evaluated by anyone, and this approach to preparing kids for algebra is not in use in any other districts.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest Catherine that you look at this website:

You obviously have a different take on this.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 4:12 - well, I have three responses to this.

First, Amherst spends %16,000 per student, and somehow manages to not have enough money to (a) have kids avoid study halls, and (b) have anyone in charge of evaluation. That is WAY above the state average in terms of per pupil costs, so I've got to say, it isn't money that keeps us from doing the evaluation -- it is that this isn't how we choose to prioritize evaluation over other things (e.g., we have no one in charge of curriculum/instruction but 4 people in charge of special education making about $100,000 a year). That's a decision in terms of how resources are allocated.

Second, there actually was a paid evaluation two years ago of the science program--by Jere Hochman. I have a copy, and I can send it to anyone who requests it (oddly, it wasn't ever posted on the ARPS website). This evaluation was completely worthless, as it didn't examine 9th grade ecology VERSUS 9th grade biology or earth science -- it lumped all levels of a given science together so that it showed overall, students liked biology (AP, honors, college-prep) more THAN chemistry (honors, college-prep). That isn't a useful question, obviously, yet we paid someone to do these analyses -- and analyze them in a way that one can't determine the answer to the basic question. I asked for them to be re-done to examine the question of interest, and was told the district wasn't interested in doing so (this was AFTER I was a member of SC).

Third, the analysis on MCAS and interest and other things for kids with the new class versus the old classes (biology, earth science) isn't statistically hard to do at all. I've offered to do it myself; I've offered to train any high school senior the teachers identify to do the analysis and to have a high school teacher sit in the room the entire time watching the data entry/analysis. No one has taken me up on my offer.

So, is there a real and genuine interest in conducting a rigorous review of an unprecedented 9th grade science course? I have seen zero evidence of that. I'd love to be proven wrong, and I hope the superintendent puts that on her goals for the upcoming year. I believe we have a responsibility to fully examine the impact of what we are doing ASAP, since no one else in the country requires these two courses of 9th graders.

Anonymous said...

We are learning the true meaning of the phrase: "ignorance is bliss". And we're learning how many people prefer it.

And the problem with "knowledge is power" is that knowledge is also responsibility, responsibility to decide to do or not to do something about what we've just learned.

The letter to the DA appears to be a feeble attempt to stuff the knowledge genie back in the bottle. I do get the feeling the genie spends more time in the bottle in Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury than it does in Amherst. Do they even have contested School Committee races up there?