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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Amherst-Pelham officials pursue school union split

This article examines the Union 26 discussion held at tonight's Amherst School Committee meeting; I will do a blog post sometime tomorrow on the whole meeting, and will post Steve Rivkin's presentation. Overall, I think it was a good and productive meeting.

I'm not sure if this link is going to work (which I've heard from the Gazette), so they've now given me permission to post the whole story.

June 15, 2010
By Nick Grabbe
AMHERST - The prospect of severing the tie that binds Amherst and Pelham into one elementary school union got more definition Monday, but the ensuing discussion continued to be contentious.

Amherst School Committee member Steve Rivkin said Amherst is the only town in the state with more than 1,300 students that is part of a union. Most towns in school unions have student population ratios to their smaller towns of 3-2 or 5-3, whereas Amherst has 11 times the number of students that Pelham has, he said.

Yet Pelham can veto the hiring of a superintendent because of the union with Amherst, and it has equal say in the superintendent's evaluation, Rivkin said. The two towns have divergent interests, such as the 14 Amherst children who attend the Pelham Elementary School under the "school choice" program, he said.

Amherst schools have underperformed on standardized tests, and a growing number of the town's children are attending charter or private schools or schools in other districts, Rivkin said.

If Amherst withdrew from its union with Pelham, it could share its superintendent with the regional district, the two towns could form a regional elementary district, the four towns that comprise the regional district could extend that district to include the elementary schools, or Amherst could form its own district from kindergarten through 12th grade, Rivkin said.

Committee Chairman Irv Rhodes plans to schedule a joint meeting of the Amherst and Pelham School Committees to go over the options. This discussion takes place as a report on four-town school regionalization is due to be presented late this month.

"We're nowhere near doing any of this," said Rivkin.

Public comment at Monday's meeting brought some support for a change in governance but also some cautionary statements.

Ed Cutting of Amherst said the fact that the two towns have equal representation on the committee that oversees the union violates the "one man, one vote" principle. A voter's challenge to its legality could be a "potential land mine," he said.

Mike Jacques of Amherst said that under the current arrangement, the superintendent has three different supervisors, making it difficult for one person to satisfy all three if they have different agendas.

Andy Steinberg, chairman of the Amherst Finance Committee, questioned whether the four towns - Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury - can continue to support six elementary schools, considering declining enrollment and state aid.

Mary Keily of Amherst said Rivkin's report was too speculative, and she called his reference to the quality of the schools "misleading and irresponsible."

Andy Churchill, until recently the chairman of the Amherst School Committee, said the reason for the current discussion is the March vote to have Maria Geryk serve as interim superintendent for 16 months.

"A couple of members were outvoted on the superintendent and are trying to change the process so that doesn't happen again," Churchill said.

Pelham School Committee members Kathy Weilerstein and Debbie Gould attended the meeting but did not speak.

Rhodes said he hoped that there is "some modicum of trust that we're not out to destroy Pelham, that we're not Darth Vader, and we have the interests of children at heart."


TomG said...

Thanks. I look forward to seeing Rivkin's work and your re-cap of the meeting.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I've just published Steve's presentation (it is just power point slides, so it may be hard to follow without his commentary!) ... but it is appearing BEFORE this article, since I put it up last night but didn't publish it until I'd fixed some formatting stuff. Ask me (anyone) if you have questions about it and I will try to answer them.

Abbie said...

I agree with the Andy's statement "A couple of members were outvoted on the superintendent and are trying to change the process so that doesn't happen again." This sums it up for me... Until this vote for the Interim SI (Maria Geryk, whose appointment for 16 months I agree with), I think most folks were absolutely oblivious to the significance and power of Union 26, and more specifically Pelham. It seems that this agreement could also be viewed by the other towns that share our SI as unfairly and disproportionately providing weight to Pelham's vote.

For me the biggest argument to reconsider our union with Pelham is whether or not we would enter into such an agreement if offered anew. I think the resounding response would be 'NO' as there is absolutely no gain for Amherst and some loss.

All that said, I hope that this moves down the list of critical issues facing Amherst elementary schools. For me the number one issue remains our math curriculum. I would have spoken to this last night if I'd gotten there for the first public comment period.

I understand that we have a math review now, which might be helpful. However, this review is unlikely to say anything about our CHOICE of math curriculum, ie Investigations. We ALREADY know that our math curriculum is failing a large number of our students as reflected in our MCAS scores and failure to meet AYP. We ALREADY know that our elementary school math curriculum is failing to prepare a large number of our kids for middle school math. Mike Hayes has stated publicly that our elementary schools are not adequately preparing our students for middle school math.

What more do we need to move forward? I recognize that it is already too late for my daughter to receive an adequate math education from our elementary schools. This is NO fault of the teachers but rather the curriculum that was chosen. I don't want future kids to have to suffer a similar fate.

How do we move forward to change the elementary math curriculum?!!?

Ed said...

The Amherst/Pelham school union was formed in 1904(?) and two things are relevant: first, antidisestablishmentarianism and second that Amherst has a Catholic Church and Pelham doesn't.

Oh, and that bigotry was likely the explicit intent of the law....

Massachusetts did not disestablish the municipal (Congregational) church until 1855 -- only 49 years before the union was formed and the men voting to create it had likely been baptized in a taxpayer-funded church. Amherst was not always a college town, back then it was an industrial community in the midst of agrarian ones. (Puffer's pond was not created to be a recreation area.)

It is important to note that in 1904, the WASP-dominated Massachusetts legislature was doing absolutely everything it possibly could to keep Catholics from having control over education. They passed quite a few laws that are causing problems now - and it is hard for us to realize the extent to which the visceral hatred (worse than Northern Ireland style hatred) existed.

And it existed on both sides, with neither demonstrating the "Christian Values" they claimed to hold. The Catholics had taken control of the Legislature by the 1930s, and some of the horror stories of the Quabbin, including the burning of the churches before they could be moved, comes out of this hatred.

We are all products of a different era -- post-Vatican II, post-civil rights era, post-church/state SCOTUS decision, etc. We do not appreciate the extent to which not just bigotry but visceral hatred existed amongst people who all considered themselves "Christians."

We all have friends who are Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Agnostic (and in my case, don't even *know* what religious values some of my friends hold) -- we simply can not fathom the binary Catholic/Protestant split that existed a century ago. But it did and it was quite real.

And the more I think about this, the more I believe that the intent was always to have the 4:2 split that Andy Churchill represented. The Amherst White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) would always be able to hold one seat, and with the three WASP Pelham votes, be able to outvote the Amherst Catholic majority.

And thus no Catholic would ever be hired in the district.

No matter how much the Catholic population of Amherst grew, the equal votes of smaller WASP Pelham (which would never elect a Catholic board member) would keep Protestant control over the Amherst public schools. And this was the explicit stated agenda of the General Court at the time.

And the irony of this whole thing, perhaps best represented by Mr. Churchill's out-of-order rant, is that the same dynamics are happening again. The small town of Pelham is preventing the voters of Amherst from controlling our own schools and addressing our unique "urban" needs.

But the bigoted roots of this corrupt arrangement show just how repulsive it is. It is a union that should never have existed in the first place, with a town that should have been the fifth one "discontinued" when the Quabbin was created...

Pelham doesn't even have its own ZIP Code. UMass does, Pelham doesn't. Enough said?

Ed said...

For me the biggest argument to reconsider our union with Pelham is whether or not we would enter into such an agreement if offered anew.

First, Pelham of 1903 does not exist today. More than half - and the more important half - is under Quabbin. Daniel Shay's tavern is under Quabbin. People settled the lower lands (to farm and such), closer to water (so you didn't have to carry it and/or dig so deeply to get it), and along natural transportation routes.

Route 202 was a major engineering job and built to replace the Pelham roads being closed by the Quabbin. When they built the Pelham school in the '90s, there were major HazMat issues because that road (and not Route 9) had been the major stagecoach road to Boston since the Colonial Era. And thus the small part of Pelham that remains is but a fraction of what it was in 1904, and bluntly should be annexed to Amherst.

BUT remember one other thing: This was the dying gasp of the WASP majority, still with political power but with declining popular support, they intended to keep Catholics out of public education.

And I don't believe that Amherst was given a choice in the matter. I strongly suspect that it was a case of "agree to this, or we (Boston) will do something worse."

And now this same law empowers the dying gasp of a different ideological group - the Dwight Allen Flowerchildren - that still have political power but rapidly declining popular support. The WASP-controlled Pelham of 1904 has become the rich-white-Liberal controlled Pelham of today, and it continues to prevent Amherst voters from controling our own schools.

The only way we will deal with the Amherst math crisis is when Pelham no longer has a veto over what Amherst does with the Amherst schools. Bluntly: the Town of Pelham doesn't have a third of its children living in some form of subsidized housing -- Amherst DOES!!!!

I am going to say this even though it will again get people calling the Grad Dean on me: Pelham's Daniel Shays didn't put up with this sort of thing....

And a decade before his little trip to Springfield, what was that line about "taxation without representation"???

The whole thing is undemocratic, arguably illegal, and founded to support bigotry. Union 26 Delinda Est!

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Abbie. The SC needs to adjust its priorities.

Rick said...

I agree 100% with Abbie on this:

”All that said, I hope that this moves down the list of critical issues facing Amherst elementary schools. For me the number one issue remains our math curriculum.” And that this is no fault of the teachers.

Of all the issues I hear of, math seems to be #1, with K-6 math at the top of the list. (The other one for me is social justice in general – the issues do intersect. )

Two positive things happening are the hiring of a curriculum director and the study being undertaken by Dr. Chen (to be completed by October 1), but I get the frustration that this has been an issue for a while.

The discussions that have been going on between parents, Mike Hayes and Mr. Z-A about math at ARMS have been tough but productive. It would be good to have similar discussions around K-6 math, probably with Dr. Chen present.

The goal needs to be to come so some conclusion about what to do by say end if this calendar year so as to be able to implement whatever change is needed for fall 2011.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

So, I want to be clear about two things. First, the Amherst SC (NOT the regional SC) asked for an evaluation of the K to 5 math curriculum to be on the superintendent's goals last fall. Steve Rivkin pushed hard for this -- Andy Churchill was reluctant. We were supposed to get that review finished this spring, but with the change in administration in March, it is delayed until October 1st. I agree that this is top priority, and have personally been working on getting a change in the math curriculum since 2006 (over a year before I ran for SC).

HOWEVER, I don't see what else the SC can do while we are waiting for that report -- which will indeed examine the curriculum we are using K to 5. And although I tend to agree with Abbie that this curriculum is NOT working, I don't think that that view is universally shared by all in our schools (though I know some teachers DEFINITELY believe it is not working, others like it), so I'm not sure at all what the SC could do in the next few months to change the math curriculum as we are waiting for the report. In addition, although the SC could write a policy (e.g., a policy requiring traditional math), we can't select a curriculum (e.g., Everyday Math). And I'm pretty sure that if the SC were to just decide on a new policy about math WHILE awaiting the report from the outside, paid consultant, we would be heavily (and even rightly) criticized.

So, I agree that math is a top priority. Probably even THE top priority -- which is why the Amherst SC put this on the superintendent's list of goals last fall. But I have no idea what anyone thinks we could or should do about math prior to getting the report on October 1st.

In the meantime, we are in Union 26, which clearly has almost no benefits to Amherst at all, and decreases Amherst's ability to hire/evaluate our own superintendent, although we pay a vast majority of that person's salary and have more kids in the schools by far than Pelham. We could decide "well, that's OK, we are comfortable with that inequity," and if that is how the community feels, that is fine. But let's not pretend that examining the Union 26 agreement is interfering with our ability to work on the math curriculum!

Ed said...

Rick -- I have a "Social Justice" question and it is as follows:

How is it socially just for a community of 1,400 residents, of which 4% are nonwhite and 5% poor, to have veto power over what a community of 35,000 residents, 23% nonwhite, 20% poor (and where a third of the children live in some form of subsidized housing)?

I have sat through all the "Social Justice" classes -- this is "Classism", "Racism" and probably a few more "*isms"

It is also wrong. And until Pelham no longer has veto power over Amherst's selection of superintendent, Amherst isn't going to have a superintendent that meets Amherst's needs and issues....

Anonymous said...

Okay, so it's not possible to work on the math curriculum until the report comes in -- but that doesn't mean the Union 26 arrangement is the second-most pressing priority. The SC has made it thus -- there was no outcry for this from the community.

Here's something to consider as a new priority -- getting rid of early dismissal on Wednesdays. The ARPS kids spend far fewer time in class than their peers in Noho, Hadley, etc. That places them at a serious disadvantage on a number of levels.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 3:38 - school start and end times are entirely within the teachers' contract. That is NOT something the SC controls, at least until a new contract. Again, there is nothing we can do about this now.

You may not think Union 26 is an important issue -- there are others who think that Amherst's involvement in the least equitable union in the state of MA is a problem. Pelham controls 6% of the budget and has veto power over the regional and Amherst Superintendent. Some feel that is a problem.

No one has said to me that this is the #1 or #2 biggest problem facing Amherst. But if you are bothered by inequity (perhaps you aren't), this situation should concern you.

Anonymous said...

i guess i will try this again..the first time it was not posted...i read this blog and there is a lot of negative things said about our schools...but last week one of our teachers was named massachusetts teacher of the year and that should say a lot about our teachers and staff and the dedication they show,,,,catherine this time i hope you will post my comment

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about Abbie's comment that Mr. Hayes "stated publicly that our elementary schools are not adequately preparing our students for middle school math".
The statement seems to carry a blanket indictment of all our schools. I'd like more information about the specifics of Mr. Hayes comment(s) because it's not the first time I've heard him referred to as a source of such general commments on this blog. I'm wondering if he is possibly being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Did he really say "our students", implying many/most of them, or could the word "some" have been part of his comments/meaning?
I spent a little time this afternoon searching MCAS math results for Amherst-Pelham elementary schools and came away with these numbers. The 2008 results show these percentages of students in the top two categories
(advanced and proficient)on the math test - FR (75), CF (70)
MM (95), WW (77), and Pelham
(100). The 2009 results - FR (71), CF (58), MM (72) WW (78) and Pelham, again, (100).
If roughly three-fourths of the students who entered the middle school in recent years scored in the top two categories on MCAS, how were they not prepared for middle school math? Are MCAS expectations and middle school expectations disjointed?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 4:14 - I don't think you posted properly when you say you tried before -- I would never have not posted a comment that just said something positive! If you ever want to confirm, send me the same post with your email, and I can then personally tell you if I received your post on my blog.

Anonymous 5:32 - my understanding is that the MCAS tests very different skills than are required for success in pre-algebra.

Anonymous said...

Framing Union 26 as an equity issue inflates a minor issue into a major one. Until the current members of the committee objected to the current superintendent's appointment, is there any history of acrimony between the towns? I wonder if the issue is the current Amherst SC members and not the Union....

Anonymous said...

I want my post to be published, so I will only ask questions I think I know the answer to.
1. Who chose the current Math Program?
2. Who created Extensions?

Ed said...

Until the current members of the committee objected to the current superintendent's appointment, is there any history of acrimony between the towns?

Amongst other things, I was the Section 8 inspector in this town for nearly five years (which is why I get to have dinner with Scott Brown this weekend) and I learned very quickly that the best information came from disgruntled whistleblowers.

Information is either true or not -- I didn't care why someone told me something, if it was credible I would be negligent in not checking it out, if I found it true, I would be negligent in not doing something to address it.

And the same principle applies here -- it doesn't matter why we learned that the problem exists, now that we have learned of it, we have to deal with it. Even though I don't attribute the evil motives others do to the Amherst reps, so what if they are evil? Exactly how does that change facts which we all can independently verify?

Or should we respond to the standard of "well, no one else ever made an issue of me running red lights, so I have a right to do so and no one can make an issue of it now?"

Or instead do we do something similar to what I did when I was told that the natural gas line feeding a certain specific clothes drier in a certain laundry room was leaking -- I checked it out and realized that "holy s**t, it *IS* leaking, and *badly*...."

I am not questioning the motives of those questioning the school union because I believe that their motives are pure. But notwithstanding that, once a problem is raised, should we ignore it? Should I have waited for the building to have blown up before I addressed the gas leak?

Should I have evaluated the motives of the person who told me about the gas leak before I decided to check it out, or before I decided to do something about it after I had felt the gas blowing against the back of my hand?

And if I had ignored the report, and the building had later blown up -- as has been known to happen when you have large amounts of natural gas eventually finding an ignition source -- could I have gone home with a clean conscience? Would the loss of life be negated by the impure motives of the person who told me of the matter?

Of course not! And the same thing is true here.

We know about this problem. Now that we do know about it, are we going to do anything about it? Or not? And could I have watched the Fire Department carry the dead bodies out with a clean conscience?

And can any of you live with the fact that the Amherst children will continue to be scr*wed until this is fixed?

Anonymous said...

from anom 4:14
thank you catherine....probably right did not press the right buttons..

Anonymous said...

" very different skills"

Could you elaborate, please.

Anonymous said...

"very different skills"

Could you elaborate, please.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know what Principal Hayes meant, ask him! He made this comment more than once in recent meetings with parents.

Concerned Amherst citizen said...

I too agree with Mr. Churchill's statement.

This school committee is ubalanced in its tone, focus and desire for power. It has slipped over the edge in its attempt to re-shape the schools and is now grasping for power.

It's actually quite obvious.

Now they can argue the inequities of the current union agreement with Pelham to try to convince everyone that this issue of breaking the contract with Pelham is of critical importance.

Interestingly, no one in either town was noticing or complaining about these supposed inequities until the current school committee did not get their way.

AnonM said...

I agree ith Concerned Amherst Citizen. The push of the Amherst SC go leave Union 26 has ripped the clothes right off of them. The Amherst SC right now is like the emperor with no clothes.

We can truly see them and their motiviations for what they are. Nothing but a naked grab for power that does not serve the interests of the citizens of Amherst.

The recent actions of the Amherst SC are an embarrassement to the town. If they continue down this path of trying to leave Union 26 it may be time to start looking into a recall process.

AnonM said...

AnonM here:

Sorry for the typos in my last post. I posted in a hurry as my phone was ringing. I'll try to do better next time and not have any typos.

Anonymous said...

And I too agree with Concerned Amherst Citizen. There are so many critical issues affecting the Amherst schools -- and this is what the SC is spending time and money on?

I hesitate even to leave this comment because I fear it will be met with a sarcastic retort. And btw, I used to be a huge fan of Catherine. Huge!

Michael Jacques said...

“Slipped over the edge”, “grasping for power” Really?? I think all 5 SC are really great people concerned with the best educational standards for all children in our school system. They are all volunteer members for one of the most thank-less jobs in Amherst.

I felt the school committee of 3 years ago made a lot of decisions I disagreed with. But I never would have said they slipped over the edge or were grasping for power. They did not represent me as a voter and as such I voted for candidates that I thought would.

Now if you want to accuse them of having an agenda for change which will make our schools better for all students and that this agenda ruffles feather / creates conflict on a regular basis then I am with you.

I also would agree that “no one in either town was noticing or complaining about these supposed inequities” because most people did not understand Union 26 or even know that Union 26 existed. So I will say again that this may have come to light for less than desirable reasons but that does not mean we don’t take the opportunity to consider changing it for the better.

As for “Nothing but a naked grab for power that does not serve the interests of the citizens of Amherst” Well they do represent the voters of Amherst and they are elected, which means they won’t be SC member forever, so who are they grabbing power for??. And if by naked you mean they would like to have proportionate representation to select superintendents, reduce possible financial inequities, and are looking into that option in full view of the public then I guess you are correct.

It seems like the rhetoric of the issue is more of an issue than the thing itself. When one of the most vocal voices comes from a person that is not even resident of Amherst or Pelham I really have to wonder who the opposition really is.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm just going to add three brief comments here.

1. If you disagree with members of the Amherst SC, that's is totally fine, and you have the power to elect people who suit your views better. BUT even if you elect 5 people who share precisely your views, and would never do anything as awful as a "power grab" insisting on Spanish in our elementary schools or adding a preschool for low income kids or more afterschool/summer support for struggling kids, the 3 Pelham SC members can veto the unanimous choice of the Amherst SC members of any superintendent. Are you comfortable with that? Remember, don't just think about the awful, hateful, horrible Amherst SC members you now have -- think about whether how you will feel if the new and improved Amherst SC who you elect loses their superintendent choice because their unanimous preference is vetoed by Pelham.

2. You can definitely star ta recall for any of the SC members -- and if you'd like to spend time/money recalling any/all of us, you have that right. Here's an article about how another community attempted it -- you just need to have a special election this fall:

3. I find it so interesting that the people who criticize the Amherst SC do so anonymously, whereas Michael Jacques is able to use his name to support the Amherst SC. If there is such community outrage at the power-grabbing Amherst SC, why not sign your name and own your comments, Anonymous 2:08, Concerned Citizen, AnonM, etc.? Makes me wonder whether (a) you are all the same person, and (b) whether you even live in Amherst!

AnonM said...

The power grab has nothing to do with Spanish in th ES or an added pre-school and I never mentioned those topics in my post.

The power grab has to do with the attempt to unilaterally pull out of Union 26 for no good reason except that you lost the vote to hire Maria as Interim Super for 16 months. The Union has not hurt Amherst's schools in the least.

I am not Concerned Amherst Citizen and I do live in Amherst. And if I agreed with you, you would not give a hoot whether I used my name or posted Anonymously. Your put down of Anon posters who disagree wih you is getting pretty old, Catherine.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

AnonM (who may or may not live in Amherst) - first, if you do live in Amherst, send me an email right now to my private email address ( I will not publish your name, but will verify for my readers that you are indeed an Amherst resident. That will help answer the question, and your privacy will be protected.

Second, I guess you haven't been really following the discussion - the Amherst SC has voted to have a meeting to talk with Pelham to discuss the Union 26 agreement (the most disproportionate union in the state). We haven't voted to pull out, nor has that motion been made by anyone at any point. Do you oppose getting information or having a discussion?

Joel said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I live in Amherst, pay property taxes to Amherst, and have kids in the Amherst schools.

Let's be clear about this: It is indeed a "power grab." No question. Further, the vote on giving the acting superintendent 16 months (rather than the standard 4 so that a search could be done) is behind this "power grab."

But, let's be a bit more specific. This is a "power grab back." Right now, a tiny almost exclusively white, more affluent town that pays 6% of the budget and can't fill its school without school choice kids from Amherst (at a significant yearly cost to the Amherst schools budget) shares equally the ability to choose a superintendent.

Pelham has more power than it should to make the single most important decision a school committee makes. Pelham has equal power to Amherst in choosing our K-6 super. They have more power than they deserve -- based on taxes paid, kids in school, etc.

There is only one reason to keep the Union if you're an Amherst resident: You don't want to harm Pelham. That's fine for the average Amherst resident. I get that, but the 5 members of the Amherst SC ran for office specifically to promote education in Amherst. As individuals they may not want to hurt Pelham (hence Rick Hood's attempt to apologize to Pelham for looking out for Amherst's interests), but as elected representatives of Amherst they must first and foremost promote the interests of Amherst school kids.

The SCs in the hill towns are very effectively promoting their interests while some in Amherst dither about whether looking out for the Amherst school kids and tax payers is worth hurting the feelings of other towns' residents.

Our SC is duty bound to promote the interests of Amherst and it is quite obviously in our interest to pick our own k-6 super without the interference of a very white, more affluent, tiny town that has divergent interests from those of Amherst.

So, yes, please do grab back the power that comes with paying 94% of bills and having something like 17 times the number of students. That seems like the fair and proper thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the SC is looking into the Union 26 agreement. I really think they can handle several issues at the same time, and keep focused on each one. I've never heard so much paranoia in my life reading thru some of these posts. How do some of these paranoid people, who are sure there is some hidden agenda going on, function in their every day life???

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Just a quick update: I know that Joel, Michael Jacques, and AKAB all live in Amherst. They have identified themselves to me privately. And while I will not reveal their full identities (in the case of AKAB, at least, since the others are known), I can confirm they are Amherst residents. I have not yet received any email from AnonM or from Concerned Amherst Citizen.

Proudly Anonymous said...

Your attempt to ridicule people who you either don't know or who are reluctant to share their names gives me a good idea of why others (and now myself) refuse to sign our names. If you don't want anonymous posters, then do that. If you have anonymous posters, sometimes they are going to want to remain anonymous TO YOU. You've become a strange kind of public official, who thinks its appropriate to use this blog to bully her constituents. I remain proudly an anonymous poster. And if you don't like it, you'll either not post it or you'll make fun of me for doing it.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Proudly Anonymous - I want all posters (anonymous and not) to be respectful and courteous and to stick with the issues. Your post doesn't do that -- but I'm posting it anyway. You call me a "bully" - but you are posting anonymously and engaging in a personal attack. I can completely see why people don't want to post their names - as they can be identified by teachers/parents/neighbors, which is why I allow it. But what harm does it do if I know your name? Certainly people have posted their name (Abbie, Rich Morse) and DISAGREED with me - which is fine! Those people had the courtesy to own their responses, and you can ask each of them what harm has now come to them from me. Your refusal to give your name EVEN to the person you are attacking is cowardly. If you like the Union 26 agreement, then defend it on its merits for Amherst. But don't defend it just because you dislike me.

Who do you represent? said...

would hope that the Amherst School Committee vote to end the school union with Pelham -- then work to create a more equitable agreement with Pelham. There is no animosity to Pelham but the voting numbers are just unfair now due to Amherst's population growth. The Amherst School Committee members are obligated to best help and represent the interests of Amherst school children. If they vote to keep this union they are failing this obligation to the children they represent.

I cannot just hope that the Pelham School Committee will promote Amherst childrens' needs and interests when voting. The Amherst School Committee rightly needs the power to select a superintendent that is best for Amherst school children -- who come from many countries, ethnic backgrounds, languages, economic backgrounds and beliefs. Their duty is to these children -- and no one else.

The decision needs to be made soon, after public input from Amherst residents and talks with the Pelham School Committee. Don't let this important issue that so many were unaware of languish in indecision and discussion. We've had enough of that and it doesn't help our children -- or make the debate and hard feelings go away. Do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Proudly Anonymous, you are the only person doing the bullying. If you don't like the way Catherine runs her blog, start your own.

Anonymous said...

Where do the people who look at this blog and make comments live. I checked the Site Meter at the bottom of the home page of this blog and less than 10% of recent visitors are from Amherst. Of 10 or 15 people currently on, only 2 or 3 show Amherst locations. What is going on here?

Anonymous said...

The site meter can be deceptive because some people who live in Amherst may show up as Springfield because that's where their network is.

Anonymous said...

I find it disingenuous of Andy Churchill to be opposing the very reasonable efforts of the SC in examining the Union 26 agreement. I think his ulterior motive is to discredit certain individuals on the present committee because they criticized some of his unwise decisions when he was on the board (spending 300k for the MM portables and switching his vote to hire ARod). Wait, that sounds like sour grapes!

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:32 to Anon 12:21

My questions were really directed to Abbie, to be sure she was presenting the comments from Mr Hayes with specificity and not just summarizing her impressions.

Now I'm more confused and worried. You appear to be among those who heard his comments and share the impression that what he is claimed to have said is accurate (that the reason for problems with getting kids into Algebra at the MS is caused by inadequate preparation by the elementary teachers). Am I making a leap here?

Do you believe that every comment Mr Hayes offers should be accepted at face value? How do you, and all those other parents who heard those comments, sort out opinion and fact?

AnonM said...

AnonM here:

Have been offline since this afternoon. I don't care whether you believe me or not that I live in Amherst. I have lived in Amherst for over 35 years and I don't feel like I have to prove my residency to you or anyone else. I just don't care. Go ahead and discount my comments.

Just the fact that we are being asked to prove that we live in Amherst shows the damage this unnecessary attempt to pull out of Union 26 is causing. The Amherst SC has single-handedly managed to pit Amherst residents against the neighboring towns. And for what?Way to go!! Congratulations!!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:21 says: Are you really concerned with how the people who heard the comments took them? Really? I took it at face value. How do you take his comment?

Agaoin, why not ask Mike Hayes what he meant? Ask him if it was his opinion or fact.

Anonymous said...

If the intent of the discussion were to improve teaching and learning, the focus would be on creating a K-12 regional district so that coordination among the schools could be improved. If the interest of the school committee were to improve teaching and learning they would be focused on how to restore the professional development time the cut in reducing teacher salaries.

With students in the Amherst schools

Curious observer said...

What would the Pelham School Committee do if the 3 members of the Amherst School Committee voted against a superintendent candidate? If the Pelham School Committee members preferred that candidate, would they vote for him/her anyway?

Isn't this a possible scenario? Didn't they just sort of do that recently?

Why would the Amherst School Committee ever put itself in this situation again? Should they rely on the regard and consideration of the Pelham School Committee in such an important matter?

What group would you tell that unproportional voting power was sufficient and others will protect their interests? Would you agree to this?

The arguments against giving women the right to vote included that their husband's vote was enough, their husband's gave them voice and men would act to protect them. Another was that women were too emotional and naive to have their own vote. It was really for their own good that they didn't vote.

Anonymous said...

I with Joel. I think now is the time to evaluate the pros and cons of the "power grab back."

The Union 26 arrangement is tilted unreasonably toward the hills. I'm all for uphill climbs but I want to start on a level playing field.

If looking at an issue of concern to me and other Amherst taxpayers will be perceived as unnecessarily divisive, so be it. I'll agree to disagree with shoveling the issue back under a rug.

Anonymous said...

If this was an issue that was around even before the recent vote, why didn't we hear about it during the redistricting discussion... when Pelham could have been engaged in creating a regional K-6 system?

It seems to me that Union 26 is indeed unbalanced, however, it has thus far, after 100 years, not resulted in any harm to Amherst students. Perhaps, the Amherst School Committee should be more invested in expediting the regionalization review and seeing where that discussion takes us. I would support taking the time to reconsider Union 26 in the context of regionalization, whether it be a K-6 region or K-12. Doing it at this time "feels" hostile, it looks like a "power grab" and it may cause a lot of ill will with the very towns we need to talk regionalization (and its inherent partnerships and good will) with.

Unless we're thinking we don't want a regional system, and the Amherst School Committee is really looking to create an Amherst-only K-12 system? Please tell me that isn't true.

No one lives in Mayberry said...

Anytime any government body makes a decision people find it hostile and criticize how it is done. This is true everywhere, not just Amherst. Something about politics creates anger and hostility.

The fact that angry feelings will be created doesn't mean the Amherst School Committee should act or not act. At this point, if the Amherst School Committee fails to leave Union 26 Amherst residents will be angry and upset They should just do what they think it right. It's called leadership.

Anonymous said...

My experience tells me that political life usually involves deciding which of several "right things to do" to address first, second, third, and in the distant future. And how people "feel" about these changes, where public opinion is on any one of them, is absolutely relevant to how one establishes the priorities. But the order matters in terms of who and how many people one antagonizes at any given time, and whether they are available and open to you in the next debate.

I have yet to read here a compelling argument for putting leaving Union 26 FIRST as opposed to addressing more pressing issues directly related to the education of children.

And there's a significant distinction in the genesis of this versus other SC projects: The initiatives on language and math seem to be coming from the grass roots, honoring specific unmet aspirations of many residents for the enhanced education of their children.

The focus on Union 26, on the other hand, seems to be coming from the top down, with no considerable public outcry for it to be addressed immediately (at least before it was discussed on this blog).

All I am reading instead (respectfully) is fairly muddy political reasoning, which assumes the likelihood of voting in a bloc on superintendent candidates by opposing threesomes from Amherst and Pelham, a sort of worst-case scenario. I see no evidence in either recent political history or in reasonable projections for the near future that suggests this is an inevitable danger.

Given the 100+ year history of this arrangement, which we apparently all slept safely and blissfully through until March, this still strikes me as much ado about not much. I think that the discussion of this issue right now promotes an unfortunate and inaccurate popular view of the current SC majority as a bunch of
backchannel schemers.

For me, it's not worth it.

Rich Morse

What???? said...

"Back channel schemers"??? Well clearly inept back channel schemers since they have done everything in public, in accordance to the Open Meeting Law and asking for public comment. What a novel way to scheme.

Anonymous said...


I don't think that closing MM was a grassroots campaign. It originated with the SC - certain citizens freaked out about it - the SC voted to do it - and we are now able to add a preschool, after school, summer school, and Spanish programs at the elementary level. Finally doing more than just paying lip service to social justice.

Has anything EVER been done in Amherst without endless, emotional debates (parking garage, soccer fields...)?!

You're proposing that the SC cease and desist because there is a vocal contingent against this?

For 100 years we didn't see a problem - now there is a problem - but we should just ignore the problem because it is causing conflict?

If a parent backs down and gives in to their tantrum-ing child, the child learns that they can control their parent's behavior -- I think this happen a lot in this town.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:30:

What exactly is the problem that is here now that wast not here a year ago? 6 months ago? 3 months ago? Just what exactly is the problem? And what harm has Amherst experienced?

Closing MM was the right thing to do and the school children are reaping the benefits of a brave SC. Please enlighten us...what tangible, specific benefits, are the school children in Amherst going to reap from Amherst leaving Union 26?

I absolutely agree with all that Rich Morse has said. He said it in a much better way than I ever could.

Anonymous said...

One additional comment to Anon 12:30.

You said, "If a parent backs down and gives in to their tantrum-ing child, the child learns that they can control their parent's behavior -- I think this happen a lot in this town."

So, now you are likening the citizens of Amherst who have a decidedly different take on the Union 26 "problem" as childen having a tantrum? Really? If one disagrees with the Amherst SC they are acting like children? I do not take kindly to being called a child having a tantrum because I disagree with the SC spending value time and money on a supposed problem that supposedly harms our children. I would imagine there are alot of people in town who feel the same way.

Curious observer said...

The benefit to Amherst elementary school children would be that their next superintendent will be selected by the Amherst Schoot Committee. That superintendent will be supervised, evaluated and held accountable by the Amherst School Commmittee -- and no other school committee. The Amherst School Committee is more knowledgeable about its elementary schools and the needs of its diverse children than the school committee from another town. Isn't this obvious?

Anonymous said...

"Public psychology cannot be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest notes in the scales."


Anonymous said...

"The benefit to Amherst elementary school children would be that their next superintendent will be selected by the Amherst Schoot Committee. That superintendent will be supervised, evaluated and held accountable by the Amherst School Commmittee -- and no other school committee. The Amherst School Committee is more knowledgeable about its elementary schools and the needs of its diverse children than the school committee from another town. Isn't this obvious?"

So, is Amherst footing the bill for a separate stand-alone Super for the Elementary schools, different than the Regional Super?

Anonymous said...

This conversation is going in circles.

It is probably not true that Union 26 hasn't affected Amherst ES students in the past 100 years. ES students are affected by who their superintendent is and their superintendent should be working totally and only for a committee that was elected by the students parents and neighbors. Considering that people who do not have Amherst ES kids interest in mind have significant control over who their superintendent is, there is a conflict of interest.

Second, as Catherine already said, there is no more work to do RIGHT NOW on the math curriculum because the SC is waiting for the report coming this fall. There will never be a good time to 'do it now', so lets just get it over with. People will complain whenever we decide to change Union 26, so let's change it and move on (and waiting for regionalization would be a long wait).

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:21

I take it, at best, as an unfortunate overgeneralization and, at worst, counterproductive finger-pointing.
If our schools are going to coordinate efforts to improve K-12 math instruction, I don't think it's helpful to start the process with the newly-hired principal of the middle school publicly raising doubts about the effectiveness of
the upper-elemntary teachers (many of whom are well-respected veterans).

Anonymous said...

Anon. June 18, 2010 2:54 AM - Thank you and well said.

Anonymous said...

Given the 100+ year history of this arrangement, which we apparently all slept safely and blissfully through until March, this still strikes me as much ado about not much. I think that the discussion of this issue right now promotes an unfortunate and inaccurate popular view of the current SC majority as a bunch of
backchannel schemers.

I see. If its old, the pros must out way the cons; and if we change it, it'll come at a political price so you're the just looking after SC members political capital and reputations, and apparently you don't have an opinion about the direct pros and cons just an opinion about indirect pros and cons; yours is an opinion about whats best for everyone. How very magnanimous. If we had a mayor and you were he, or even if you held office, then you might be in a position to tell everyone what's best for everyone but since we didn't elect you and we did elect CS and Steve and Irv And others, I'll tell them what I think the pros and cons are and let them make the decisions as my elected leader.

Anonymous said...

Just saw the ACTV video of Student News with interview of CS. Nice job! The description of the Union 26 meeting where the SC set goals for the superintendent was an excellent example of how Union 26 does NOT work for Amherst.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone's elected career will rise or fall on the fate of the Union 26 agreement. The Amherst School Committee should just do what it thinks is best.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was the Regional committee that sets the goals with the Superintendent - not Union 26. So, leaving Union 26 will not change the goal setting with the Super.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6 pm or Catherine Sanderson: I didn't watch the interview -- how did the Union 26 goal setting go with the superintendent and how did it help/not help Amherst elementary schools? Please explain.

Anonymous said...

I watched the interview by Student News of Catherine Sanderson. I was pleased that the producers decided to run the entire interview. I thought that the interviewer did a good job. I proceeded to pull out my checkbook to honor my commitment to put my money where my mouth is on Student News's belated decision to interview Catherine.

Then a segment followed called "Interview Followup" featuring the two anchors talking, NOT the interviewer (a feature, by the way, that we had not seen following recent interviews of Senator Rosenberg and Mr. Churchill). And I put my checkbook away. Apparently, Mr. Wolfsun and Ms. Cherrington decided that they absolutely had to have the last word, that the interview didn't speak for itself. Instead, they "went to the videotape" and then used artfully edited clips from the interview to talk back. My first question is: why weren't THEY in the room with Catherine with her during the interview to follow up and let her respond? Wouldn't THAT have been the fair thing to do?

I am interested in what other people thought of this particular technique from a journalistic standpoint.

I am trying to remind myself of what the broadcast journalist landscape must look like to these kids, who have no memory of professionals like Cronkite and Chancellor who tried to play it straight. Perhaps the notions of "objectivity" and journalistic fairness are considered merely old-fashioned to young people. Or perhaps those notions don't occur to them at all.

So these young journalists took something of really high quality in terms of content (the raw video of the interview) and then, motivated by some kind of anger (also known as "bias"), damaged it, presenting themselves to the audience as the ultimate authority on the facts, shielded from but smarter than the interview subject. Sad.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

If students are ill-prepared for Algebra when they get to MS, it is not the fault of the teachers but the fault of the curriculum the kids have been taught! And the ancillary issue of whether or not the teachers get sufficient training/support (prof development, coaching, time to practice/review, etc.)

We have all agreed here, time and again, that in general Amherst has excellent teachers, but even a topnotch teacher cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!

Integrated curriculum, anyone? Is there even a Math Curriculum Director? Oh yeah, Amherst has two districts, one for elementary and one for MS/HS. Whose idea was that, anyway?

Cathy Eden said...

Rich- I agree 100% with your description of the Student News broadcast. The unedited interview was excellent - the interviewer asked good questions with challenging follow-ups. The end segment did seem angry and the students seemed to be grasping for anything with which to discredit Catherine - totally biased.

Anonymous said...

The end segment did seem angry and the students seemed to be grasping for anything with which to discredit Catherine - totally biased.

What do you expect from a generation that has been told that John Stewart and The Daily Show constitute journalism????

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from a generation that has been told that John Stewart and The Daily Show constitute [satire and FoxNews constitutes] journalism????

There. Fixed it for you.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from a generation that has been told that John Stewart and The Daily Show constitute [satire and FoxNews constitutes] journalism????

OK, Fox News hires dumb blonds who wear short skirts -- I will grant you that. And their bias may be to the right rather than the left -- but they are no more biased than ABC, NBC, or CBS.

A friend of mine just did a study of those three networks over the past 5 years and found that of 62 reports of "controvercial laws", 60 were of conservative laws. There is bias on both sides.

But Comedy Central makes no pretense that they are presenting anything other than "the fake news." Yet surveys show that The Daily Show is their *PRIMARY* news source.

Not a biased network that pretends to be objective, but a *comedy* show that makes no pretense to be anything other than COMEDY.

And this doesn't scare you????

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Morse is wrong. After watching the Student News episode twice I believe the after-comments were in line with standard journalist practice. Usually I've seen it done, when a subject of an interview has said something about which the interviewer was not prepared, and therefore an opportunity to ask a followup question was missed.

I think Mr. Morse's continuing harping on Student News and his perspective that they lack fairness is beginning to sound a little like whining and a little like sour grapes.

They're teens presenting a show that has their take on it. They don't represent ALL teens, just themselves. Like everyone, sometimes they may make mistakes, and sometimes they will and will not acknowledge them. The attacks on them are beginning to sound relentless and unfounded.

If you don't like it.... change the channel.