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 28, 2010

Assorted Amherst School News

With the start of summer vacation and my kids out of school, I've had less time to update my blog recently -- though I hope to do better now that camps have started! So, I will respond to various questions/comments on my prior post soon (and do some meeting summaries) ... but for now, I wanted to alert blog readers to a number of timely issues/topics.

First, I wanted to commend ARHS student Darius Peyton for his OpEd in the Gazette describing some of his observations about issues of race in the Amherst schools. I believe many of his points merit future study and hope that the Regional and Amherst School Committees will consider his thoughts as we form goals for the 2010-2011 year. You can read his piece at:

Second, and relatedly, there is a piece in today's Gazette about some changes to the math program in the middle school ( I signed this letter, and attended several meetings with Principal Mike Hayes over the last month, in part because I believe that requiring extensions of all students will help address one of the issues Darius addresses in his piece: the relative absence of students of color in higher level honors math classes. I am encouraged that Mike Hayes was willing to make a change in the 7th grade math program for this fall, and look forward (as both a SC member and the mother of a rising 7th grader) to seeing its effects.

Third, at the most recent Regional School Committee meeting (June 16th) a report was presented involving per pupil costs (including comparisons to other districts). You can read this entire report (it is available on the homepage of, as well as the story in the Bulletin ( I am very glad to see this type of comparison, though I continue to be surprised and puzzled at the finding that the Amherst schools spend the same per pupil as towns in Eastern Mass (e.g., Brookline, Newton, Framingham), yet we pay teachers much less. I believe we need to understand why our costs are so much higher than those of other surrounding districts (e.g., Northampton, Hadley, Longmeadow), and I hope this will be a major focus in the upcoming year.

Fourth, there is also an article in today's Gazette on the goals that have been accomplished this year, and some tentative goals for the upcoming year (as presented by the superintendent at the last Regional SC meeting). You can read this story (, and also see information on the ARPS website (

Fifth, there is a Regional SC Meeting tomorrow night, starting at 6:30 pm in the middle school auditorium. This meeting will be followed (starting at 7 pm) by a Four Towns Meeting (including Finance Committee, Select Board, and SC members of Amherst/Pelham/Shutesbury/Leverett): the focus of this meeting will be the presentation of the Regionalization Report (which you can read on the website). It is clear that regionalization is a major topic at the state level, and I believe that Amherst's discussions regarding Union 26 fit right into this broader discussion.

Finally, I'd like to draw my readers to a somewhat unrelated but important topic -- and that is the Fresh Air Program, which brings kids from New York City to towns all over the Northeast to stay with local families for 2 weeks. You can read a letter about this program in last week's Bulletin (, and I'd strongly encourage interested blog readers to contact the Fresh Air Fund to learn more about how to participate. My family has welcomed a Fresh Air child for the last 4 summers (our child started when he was just 6-years-old, and will return next week for his 5th visit with us), and it has been a great experience for all of us. I'd be glad to answer any questions about this program on my blog or through my private email (


TomG said...

Good post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I was quite impressed by Darius Peyton's letter and hope the SC can follow-up on some of the issues he brings up.

ed said...

I do not believe that this is the solution -- for the following three reasons.

First, if the extensions consist of the advanced topics (as stated in the article) you are only exchanging one discriminatory factor for another (parents who know how to teach these advanced concepts).

Lets say that I am taking a building trades class, and I am taught everything else, but the "extensions" consisted of wiring and plumbing, which I am expected to learn on my own. And if I am very bright and dedicated, I might be able to learn it myself from a book. If I have a cousin in the trades, I can ask enough questions to kinda figure the book out. And if my dad owns a construction company, he can pull guys off the worksite to tutor me - on a hot day like today there would be a great willingness to help junior learn plumbing & wiring in the lee of the air conditioner...

The issue in this town is social class. Anyone, black, white or purple, anyone who has a decent job either knows enough of these advanced concepts to explain them -- or knows someone who will do it for them. There is a lot of knowledge in certain circles of this town and a lot of networks.

But the single mother living in "Gunpoint" doesn't have access to these networks and doesn't know the advanced concepts - if she ever did, she hasn't used them in years and doesn't know them now.

So if they really are teaching "advanced concepts" as extensions, with the rare exception of the genius born to the single mother (and I have seen that), the only kids who will succeed will be of the economic elite.

Second, and I suspect this to be the case, if the extensions are "busywork" then all they become are screening by ordeal. By the very nature of what the homelife of a low income child is (and I spent 5 years in the homes of low income children in this town) they are not going to complete this stuff. We are talking single parent who usually doesn't have her life in order, lots of noise and chaos in the room, usually one or two televisions blasting and such general bedlam that I often had trouble filling out simple forms. You are going to expect a child to sit down in the midst of this maelstrom and do boring rote repetitive busywork?

Ain't gonna happen. And then what?
(And what will this do to the SPED budget as we start picking up disabilities - real and imagined - that are thus uncovered?)

But third, if these "extensions" can be learned at home, if the child has the ability to learn the material without any instruction or guidance from the teacher, why do we need teachers in the first place?

Bluntly, we could fire all the math teachers and have the entire math curriculum be extensions...

No, teachers are important. They do something important, they TEACH the material. And I don't see why we aren't expecting the teachers to teach! Why are children being asked to learn stuff on their own?

Why is the ARSD essentially engaging in Home Schooling?

Nina Koch said...

I don't usually read or respond to Ed postings, but my eye caught the usage of a derogatory term for one of the apartment complexes. This is not the first time Ed has done this. Suppose someone who lives there reads that offensive language describing their home? It certainly doesn't welcome people into a dialogue.

I see no reason why any of the families in town should be subjected to that kind of treatment.

Ed said...

Ninacomplained about my usage of a derogatory term for one of the apartment complexes.

Have you ever been there Nina? Do you have any idea what it is like there, or what the conditions are like down there?

Have you ever had to climb up on one of the roofs, praying that you don't fall through, so as to actually be able to make them not just buy a tarp but actually put it up there so that a woman didn't have water gushing into her apartment every time it went above freezing?

Have you ever seen the gang symbol indicating that they intend to kill someone? I have seen it in Southpoint, and more than once.

I have forgotten the number of sawed off shotguns found down there, usually loaded and usually found by children.

Have you ever had to go to the hospital because of a defective staircase in Southpoint? (I have.)

Have you ever had to make the tough decision that as long as half the fire doors actually close you will call that good enough because you have to prioritize your fights and having a closed door at just one end of the corridor will at least slow the fire down a little bit and allow some of the people to get out, while a hallway open at both ends would act like a wind tunnel and no one would make it?

They only allowed aluminum wiring for a couple years in the early 1970s, but Brittany Manor (now divided into Southpoint and Boulders) has it. And do you have any idea how bad the wiring in Southpoint is? Or how illegal - I have found the uninsulated ground as the hot!

Do you have any idea how many people sit down on the toilet only to have the one upstairs dripping on their head (and this is sewerage, not the tank dripping)? (This happens in the Boulders as well.)

Nina, I earned the right to say what I say....

Suppose someone who lives there reads that offensive language describing their home?

They likely would agree.

I see no reason why any of the families in town should be subjected to that kind of treatment.

Sorry Nina, facts matter. The conditions that some children live in is relevant if you are trying to teach them.

And I have no problem saying that there are people who should not be parents, that there are a lot of households where the 12 year old is the adult.

And I am not interested in dialogue, I am interested in facts. Facts and reason.

Nina Koch said...


Do you remember when a Crocker Farm parent (I think her name was Isolda Ortega) posted and wondered about the blog being a place where racist and offensive comments are permitted? I think this is the kind of thing she was talking about.

I have no interest in debating with Ed. I am posting only because I feel an obligation to speak up and say to others that some of us consider his language unacceptable. I don't want people to think that everybody tacitly accepts what he said.

The name of the apartment complex is Southpoint. Anyone interested in facts should use its factual name.

Anonymous said...

Catherine-just wanted to thank you for not only mentioning the Fresh Air Fund,but for being a host family :)

Anonymous said...

I hope you have learned, Nina, why it never pays to engage or respond to Ed.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

TomG - thanks!

Anonymous 12:18 - I agree, and I will try to get this on the list of district goals for next year.

Ed - maybe it isn't clear in the article, but actually the honors level work ("extensions") will be taught DURING the school day and also in academic study halls (occurring for all students every other day in the MS), so I am hopeful that all students will have access to teachers teaching the material during the school day.

And given Nina's concerns, it would be great if you could avoid slang language to describe apartment complexes - thanks!

Nina - I do my best to publish all comments ... and even then, I get accused of censoring (because I don't publish 1 out of every 100, when they specifically identify a staff/teacher in our schools in a negative way). I have never not published a comment in which someone used his/her name, which is why I published Ed's comment. I've asked him (see above) to use correct terms. I guess I'd still hope we can focus on the considerable CONTENT in my post (e.g., concerns about how students of color are treated in our schools, information on our very high per pupil costs, information on a new way of teaching 7th grade math, etc.) ... and not get bogged down in one term one person used in one post.

Anonymous 8:55 - thanks! It is a great program, and I would really encourage other Amherst families to consider hosting a child!

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Ed. Thank you for sharing your insights, speaking the truth, and not being cowed by the Amherst "PC Police!"

BTW, your observation is spot-on that it's "class" distinction - not necessarily skin color - that is correlated most closely to opportunities, disadvantages, and outcomes. This is an inconvenient truth for many, because it subverts the simplistic, received wisdom that usually fuels the debate in this town.

Ed said...

1 of 2

Do you remember when a Crocker Farm parent (I think her name was Isolda Ortega) posted and wondered about the blog being a place where racist and offensive comments are permitted?

Three things:

First - and to the extent this is true, I do apologize - I used the term not in a derogatory sense but more one of sympathy for the good people who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are forced to live in such conditions. That is what I meant by "they would agree" and the true social justice is in trying to address the issue.

(And I learned the term from a family I was helping to move out of there...)

Why is it that Amherst can afford the police overtime to have major enforcement actions on Hobart Lane but not on the Brandywine Circle? Why is it that the low income & people of color in this town are not entitled to the same level of police protection?

The citizens of Holyoke said "enough" and the mayor hired Chief Scott who drove all the drug dealers out of town in the late '90s. They all came to Amherst and moved into Section 8 apartments rented to girlfriends who had clean CORIs. And why is it that the citizens of this town tolerate them being here?

I say again, do not the people of color in this town deserve police protection? And if any of you know an Amherst police officer well enough for the officer to speak candidly knowing that you won't repeat what you are told, ask what the officer thinks of being dispatched to the South Amherst apartment complexes after dark...

And the next question you will ask is "we really have that few officers on duty at night?!?" and the answer will be "yes, and I probably will get fired if the Chief finds out I told you that."

Ed said...

2 of 2

This is my second point: true bigotry is the bigotry of low expectations. True racism is not me using a term (that I put in quotes) but in presuming that everything is OK as long as we don't admit there are problems there. Nonchalantly driving down to South Hadley and ignoring everything you would find if you instead turned right at that traffic light is true racism.

True racism is putting on "rose-colored glasses" and presuming that problems don't exist as long as you can prevent anyone from mentioning that they do.

Which goes to my third point: why on earth would I be up on an icy roof in February? Because I particularly enjoy heights or have some suicidal impulse -- NO! And why was I back up there in the spring essentially playing "Russian Roulette" and seeing if I could avoid the places where the plywood had de-lanimated? (One guy did fall through, right into someone's bathroom...)

It was not in my job description and I don't have a death wish. I did what was necessary to get a dry apartment for (if memory serves correctly) a family of mixed race. I "walked the walk" - I may not "talk the talk" to the approved degree that some would like, but I inquire as to how much walking have they done?

And why has this allegedly liberal town, populated by those who allegedly profess "social justice" goals, permitted the conditions to exist that have for the past 25 years, ever since Brandywine went bankrupt in the late 80's?????

I don't live atop an "Ivory Tower", I live in the world of "Triage" -- which people forget comes from the French word for "three." And the unpleasant reality is that in an emergency you divide the injured into three groups of people. The first is those who have non life threatening injuries ("they can wait"), the second tose who are critical ("right now") and the third being those whom you can't afford to waste resources on ("let them die").

It is not bigotry when I make some of the comments about single mothers and low income housing that I do - it is the hard reality of realizing just how bad some of our social problems really are. And if you actually ever "walk the walk", you learn the concept of triage very quickly...

There are adults that we can't save -- but we can save their children, and I argue we should try!

Ed said...

the honors level work ("extensions") will be taught DURING the school day and also in academic study halls (occurring for all students every other day in the MS)

So, essentially, it now is "extensions" in name only, with it being part of the main curriculum?

This abates my concerns. Although does Amherst have a structured after-school study area (possibly the school library) where kids who want to can work on academics?

Folks can call me a racist for saying this, but a "safe space" where they can do so if they want to?

gagging on ed's words said...


Your obvious lack of self control with language plays itself out every time you post. You go on and on and on. You are never wrong, not even in the slightest.

For example: in this thread you have written 10X what anyone else has.

Here's a challenge for you this summer. Try to work on saying what you want to say in 3 sentences.

I dare you.

You can't do it because you never actually stop and think. You simply blast away every time you sit at the keyboard.

If you look at every place you post remarks, you'll see this is the case.

Anonymous said...

Can we focus on the topic please? If you don't like a given poster's posts or find them too long, DON'T READ THEM, or limit yourself to a paragraph or two.

Anonymous said...

Gagging on Ed's words-

Why aren't you commenting on the substance of what Ed has written instead of the style that he chooses?

What is your point about Ed writing 10X the amount that others write? There is plenty of room on this blog for people to say as much as they feel they need to say. Skip over his post if you don't want to read it.

My guess is that because you can't disagree with what Ed has to say, you must criticize how he says it - to discredit him and his opinions.

This is unfortunate.

He was defending himself against being labeled by Nina as insensitive and abusive to people who live in So Amherst apts.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think all the posts should be here. If it causes some people to feel offended, so be it. Part of the reason the school system is in the shape it's in here is because the administration and the previous school committee were more concerned with being congenial and making sure they smiled at each other. People write offensive stuff. Get over it. akab

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows Darius knows exactly why he is a good student. His parents expect it of him!