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, June 8, 2010

Ex-schools chief fires on Amherst; questions commitment to diversity, change

By Nick Grabbe
June 9, 2010

http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/06/09/ex-schools-chief-fires-on-amherst

41 comments:

TomG said...

Farshid's claim that Rodriquez view was "unbalanced" is as clear a statement that he doesn't disagree so much as it doesn't take into account countervailing positive views. So what countervailing positive views exist to "balance" these issues?

1. "a public mistrust as to the school district's spending habits"

2. "a previously negotiated teacher contract where its last year guaranteed a 3 percent raise (plus the step) in the middle of a brutal recession,"

3. "a pervasive sense of complacency fueled by a culture of nepotism and cronyism."

4. an "unusual" trimester system of untested effectiveness.

5. "an institutional inability of producing data that would withstand public scrutiny,"

6. an unaligned curriculum,

7. no uniform literacy program

8. no system to monitor students' progress

9. "a less-than-stellar history in the treatment of children and families of color,"

10. "a broken and dysfunctional referral system which referred a disproportionately high percentage of children of color to special education,"

And where on the list should we put SC members writing a blog to inform their constituents and get constituent feedback?

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the candor we get from our former Senators and Congressmen just after they get off of the corporate contribution gravy train that keeps returning them to office. Ask Bill Frist and Bob Dole about the need for universal health care NOW, and you get an honest answer.

And, similarly, at least some of Alberto's criticisms hit the spot. None of this is unfamiliar to those of us who read this blog. Let's remember: this was the guy that the STAFF (not the parents) vehemently wanted over the other guy.

But his tone is all wrong, right?

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

"I also hope that we are fortunate enough to find a permanent superintendent in the upcoming year...."

Catherine, you already have one. What do you see that others who actually work in the school system don't? I just don't get it.

And as far as A-Rod's remarks re. curriculum, he is spot on. And this is from someone who thought he should have never been hired.

Anonymous said...

I find everything the former superintendent has to say about the Amherst Schools, both as a parent and educator within the system for many years, to be absolutely true.
Something needs to happen with these schools and fast. I am very pleased to read about what AR has to say about special education--this is not something new and has been going on for over a quarter century! Children of color represent a disproportionate number of students in sped. I wrote an essay/questionnaire on this and along with Kathleen Anderson, and my daughter, presented it to the then curriculum directors, MH and FZ asking what they were doing to help this situation. I received no responses other than an e-mail asking about the different agencies I had contacted to get help for teachers in recognizing their own hidden prejudices especially in their teachings. I forwarded this information to FZ and never heard from her again. The great majority of students in special education are of low-income and single-parented households, and among this group there is a disproportionate number of children of color! To read it in the newspaper so many years later is a bit encouraging because now people are forced to pay attention to this and hopefully change it around.
MLC

LarryK4 said...

Gee, maybe now Farshid will release those "four notebooks" he filled with observations of Superintendent Rodriguez.

Anonymous said...

You see a permanent superintendent.

I see an interim superintendent who is not qualified, by either experience, education, or inclination, to take this school system forward where it needs to go.

I also see an interim superintendent who is part of an entrenched status quo that is very artfully and tenaciously fighting off the challenges to it, on several fronts.

That's part of what the Alberto brief on Amherst is all about: entrenched power that resists change. The operative word is "complacency".

Anonymous said...

Everything Alberto said is correct. He turned out to be an agent of change, and surprise surprise, who didn't want change? The entrenched administration in the school.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 7:42

If you spend your days working in the Amherst school system, then we can agree to disagree.

BUT if you are just an outside observer, then we can take your opinion for just that ... an opinion.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:36 AM:

Ah yes,

You are only entitled to an opinion about our schools and how they are run IF you work in them.

This is the attitude that we are dealing with here: Exhibit A.

It is really time to come to grips with the reality that there are problems that are NOT simply a figment of Ms. Sanderson's imagination.

Anonymous said...

I think there is alot more to the story than that the administrators and staff did not want change.

Why didn't Dr. Rodriquez want to be evaluated in public? What was going to come out in his public eval? Why did he agree that he wanted to resign immediately?

People are looking at this whole thing with tunnel vision - they only see what they want to see and are not willing to see the entire picture. Quite clearly Mr. Hajir could not speak in specifics but what he did say, if you read between the lines, was telling.

Anonymous said...

On the matter of our current interim Superintendent, I thought this information from Dr. Rodriguez's statement was telling:

"The critical position of Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment was stricken from the budget before my arrival but the position of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services was created/authorized by the School Committee in June, 2009-weeks before I arrived, even though, most of the challenges and the critical work needed to be done was under curriculum."

This suggests to me that Maria Geryk was already trying to position herself in a Superintendent-type role but was clearly unqualified for a Curriculum role. Why else could she not stay head of Special Ed and the district hire the promised Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum? I think there is more going on here than we have all been led to believe. Seems like Dr. Rodriguez stepped right into a hornet's nest of behind-the-scenes politics and got stung.

Catherine, can you please address for us the reason for the change in promised new hire (Curriculum) to the real new hire (Student Services)?

Rick said...

The word “unbalanced” is a good one and is, to me, the key to everything here.

On the one hand you cannot pretend that nothing needs changing in the schools, and much of what Rodriguez said is true. On the other hand, it’s obvious from the unanimous vote to remove him, that something was badly wrong with his approach.

You have to have two qualities to be a good Superintendent:

1. The ability to recognize what needs to be changed and to make the changes a high priority.
2. The ability to get your team of people to carry out those changes.

Rodriguez seemed to have #1 but did not have #2.

It’s hard to find someone who is very good at both. If you don’t have #2, no amount of #1 will get you anywhere. Likewise having none of #1 is useless.

When we figure out who we want for a permanent Superintendent, let’s make sure we cover both aspects.

Anonymous said...

My question to you Catherine is why you keep distancing yourself from your vote to fire Dr. Rodriquez? If you thought he should stay than why not vote that way? Your comments suggest that you had no part in this.

Curious observer said...

I don't think anyone, inside or out, who has watched the interim superintendent for the past few weeks would think she was handling things well. Her handling of the Union 26 issue was less than artful and seems to have created a lot of ire among many school committee members from all the towns. Does she not know how to pick up the phone and talk to people?

The interim superintendent seems intent on shutting down disagreement and conversation about the schools, even as she raises temperatures and disagreements about the schools. Is it naivete or is she trying to curry favor with the small town school committees at the expense of the Amherst school committee? What will this mean for the next few years when she has to work with these school committee members?

She hired the principal she knows well and had just written a recommendation for -- instead of stepping aside and letting someone less interested make the hire. Is this pandering to friends and complacent insiders or just a lack of maturity and experience? Well, now Amherst has a principal few think was hired based on the merits.

Whatever it is, it looks unskilled. No one can look forward to more years of this type of leadership and conflict.

Curious observer said...

I don't think anyone, inside or out, who has watched the interim superintendent for the past few weeks would think she was handling things well. Her handling of the Union 26 issue was less than artful and seems to have created a lot of ire among many school committee members from all the towns. Does she not know how to pick up the phone and talk to people?

The interim superintendent seems intent on shutting down disagreement and conversation about the schools, even as she raises temperatures and disagreements about the schools. Is it naivete or is she trying to curry favor with the small town school committees at the expense of the Amherst school committee? What will this mean for the next few years when she has to work with these school committee members?

She hired the principal she knows well and had just written a recommendation for -- instead of stepping aside and letting someone less interested make the hire. Is this pandering to friends and complacent insiders or just a lack of maturity and experience? Well, now Amherst has a principal few think was hired based on the merits.

Whatever it is, it looks unskilled. No one can look forward to more years of this type of leadership and conflict.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the search for a Curriculum Director was failed last year...and hence the reason why it was not filled.

Not alot of intrique there.

We now have a Curriculum Director who looks on paper to be a wonderful choice. I hope she'll be able to work wonders in our schools.

Anonymous said...

For me it doesn't matter if I AGREE or DISAGREE with Rodriguez's comments. Their timing -- coming right after his severence checks stopped --and their content seem manipulative, lack good faith,unprincipled, self-defensive and ... in bad taste.

The fact that many people are rushing to the defense of this coward strikes me as off, especially given the unanimous vote to fire him. Given his comments, good riddance. Obviously the man could not stand the heat in the Amherst kitchen... and instead of speaking his mind while he was here, he decided to cash the paychecks... and then talk. What a jerk.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see the Superintendent as being the one to blame for the Union 26 debacle. I feel very srongly that the blame for that lays at the feet of the Amherst SC. I was and continue to be embarrased by the way they conducted themselves at that Regional meeting. This is not a critique about whether we should or should not be looking into the Union 26 agreement. It is a critique of the behavior of our elected SC members.

And, yes, in public life, behavior and tone DO count.

If I was a candidate for the job of Superintendent I wouldn't touch the Amherst job wth a 10 foot pole. Who needs the grief!

Anonymous said...

Then, perhaps Anon 10:55 AM, you have a problem with a Regional School Committee chair who in the remarks in today's Gazette essentially calls the ex-Super a coward for not sticking around to defend his work.

Behavior and tone DO count for everyone? Or just the folks you disagree with?

Anonymous said...

If the strategy has been all along to create a vision of a job that is not worth touching with a ten-foot pole, thus, leading to Ms. Geryk by default, that strategy is working splendidly.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe he was calling him a coward...I believe he was saying that there was going to be alot of negative things coming out in the evaluation that Dr. R did not want the public to hear. Which is totally understandable. It could affect his job prospects in the future. I don't see anything unusual about any of that. And I do not believe Mr. Hajir called Dr. R a coward or intimated such.

BTW, Mr. Hajir's tone and decorum have always been that of a gentleman, even in the face of unnecessary hostility. Whether you agree with him or not, you gotta admit he has always conducted himself in a calm manner.

Anonymous said...

I would not say its a strategy, just a fact of life. The Amherst schools are in a constant state of turmoil right now.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

As someone who has worked with data and information from our schools as both a member of the Facilitation of Community Choices Committee and of the Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee, I wanted to speak to a number of Dr. Rodriguez's points.

I would agree with his statement "An institutional inability of producing data that would withstand public scrutiny." It was difficult to get necessary data in a timely fashion and often the data we did get was not readily comprehensible, even by those of us on the CBAC who work with numbers/data every day.

This leads to a second problem he pointed out: "A systemic resistance to change and transparency." One clear example of this is the repeated request (from the CBAC--noteably Rick Hood who is now on the Amherst School Committe--and others) for a line-by-line annual budget a la Northampton that includes FTEs and person count for each line. This is still not available, to the best of my knowledge.

I am particularly interested in having Catherine follow up on this statement he made regarding work done on his watch: "Contracted an outside firm to analyze and compare the districts’ per pupil expenditures to comparable districts since the district lacked the capacity to perform this task." The CBAC asked for this information but did not receive it. In fact, it is one of the key questions that went unanswered by our committee. I am interested in learning more about this contracted outside firm and what they found out.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hajir's letter calls into question the role he played in Dr. Rodriguez's decision to leave. My understanding is that he and the other two Chairs had multiple meetings with him starting on that Friday evening before Dr. Rodriguez made his final decision.

Mr. Hajir claims NOW that Doctor Rodriguez freely jumped and fled to Florida because he could not face the heat involved with defending his own work, as if he had no input or counselling or opinion from anyone else in these meetings about what he should do.

I don't believe it.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

I also would not touch this Superintendent's job with a 10 foot pole? Why? Because of the attitude of so many who have posted in response to this particular article that Catherine posted.

What is wrong with all of you? Why do you all see a conspiracy under every rock and stone? What has happened to this town? To the people in this town? Reading these comments is downright depressing.

I would not touch this job with a 10 foot pole not because of the administration, not because of the staff, not even because of the SC. No, its because of the people of this town who have their fingers out pointing constantly. Who are ready to attack at a moment's notice. It really is very sad...and something I have never seen before in the over 35 years I have lived here.

It is something that is beyond understanding. I know I don't understand it.

Anonymous said...

OMG, AR's letter is 7 pages long! It's hard to dispute what he says and difficult for the public to get a clear picture of what happened - why he felt compelled to resign. It doesn't seem fair that the town cannot know the reasons behind the resignation/dismissal.

I wish that school admin could look at themselves from the perspective of the town/parents. There certainly does seem to be a culture of resistance to change. Especially in regard to the HS: 3 study halls after we learn that we have the highest per pupil costs AND just passed an override?!

And, it does concern me that MG was voted in for 16 months by what now seems to be a cabal.

Why wouldn't people be freaking out? There are so many unanswered questions, so many unaddressed concerns, and now we have an entrenched insider running the show (MG) for the next 16 months...

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:54: A "cabal" is at work?? I agree with Anon 3:32 -- the number of conspiracy theorists in this town is overwhelming.

I agree with the choice to appoint Maria Geryk as interim superintendent. In the wake of the Rodriguez debacle, what the community needs most is stability and an insider's perspective. It's time to let the dust settle and take a deep breath as we move forward.

I recall Catherine praising Maria Geryk's performance on numerous occasions when Ms. Geryk filled in last year after the Spragues left their dual-superintendent post without warning. And now MG is enemy number one? (Well, maybe enemy number two, behind the unfairly belittled Farshid Hajir?) Enough with the finger-pointing. It's not productive.

Anonymous said...

But Anon 4:33, aren't you pointing your finger and saying that people are conspiracy theorists and unfair belittlers of Mr Hajir because they don't agree with you? You only have control over yourself -- so if you want the finger pointing to stop - go right ahead...

Anonymous said...

Testing...testing...if I dare to voice an opinion here will it be posted? Testing...

Anonymous said...

"What the community needs most is stability and an insider's perspective."

Hmmm.....sounds a little like North Korea to me.

But the growing portrayal of the Region as a basket-case that no one in his/her right mind would want to run is working perfectly for the ongoing coup d'ecole.

Now that we've got our Alberto working paper, there will be no more similar mistakes from loose cannons like him. Now no one gets into here with any perspective from other school systems. We've sealed off the pod bay doors and we're going to fly this spaceship on automatic pilot from here on.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time what is being called a cabal was known as a "voting block." Nothing wrong with a voting block unless you don't like their votes.

The problem I see with Dr R's letter is that many of the points he raises can't be refuted or explained from the other side of the table because of HR/legal confidentiality rules. So he gets to say whatever he wants but there won't ever be an informed response from those behind the scenes.

Anonymous said...

Well, Farshid stated today that he was restrained by confidentiality agreements, but that didn't slow him down. He proceeded to state rather viciously that Alberto left town with his tail between his legs in fear of defending his record in an upcoming public meeting.

True, that's not an "informed response"; it's simply pure distortion from an individual who knows better about what happened that fateful weekend after the evaluations came in. He and the other SC Chairs did NOT want the unsightly spectacle of Alberto defending his record in a public meeting the following week. But now Farshid rewrites history to suggest Alberto didn't have the intestinal fortitude to do it. That's a colossal cheap shot, confidentiality or not.

But this is what Farshid has been doing in the past few weeks. Here he attempts to discredit Alberto. Using somewhat different techniques, he's tried to discredit the Amherst School Committee in two recent public meetings (with a little help from his friends).

But they say he's a "gentleman" who is being "belittled". Wow.

Michael Jacques said...

Certainly all of AR's comments are deeply concerning. What worries me more is those items he lists as accomplishments that seem to have vaporized. These of course give credibility to his criticisms.

"Completed a multi-year exit report documenting why families have chosen to educate their children elsewhere". Where is this report and why have we stopped taking exit reports?

"Contracted an outside firm to analyze and compare the districts' per pupil expenditures to comparable districts since the district lacked the capacity to perform this task" I believe a large portion of Amherst wants to understand this issue. What happened to this report?

"Included in these cuts was a reduction of central office administrators, particularly in the area of Special Education which was top heavy in comparison to other departments" Was this done? And I don't mean moving Maria to the job of Superintendent as a cut to SPED. This quote lends itself to what I wrote in the paper about the 30% reduction in our general education budget over the last 10 years.

As for transparency mentioned in the report I am still waiting to see many reports that have been promised. Among them is the 5 year evaluation of the 7th grade math extensions program. Only time will tell.

I am sure others who are more deeply involved have more questions than the few I brought up here. Hopefully we will all get some answers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

There is a lot here, and thus I'm not going to go through 33 individual (mostly anonymous) comments ... I am just going to share a few general thoughts.

First, I felt I had a very good working relationship with Dr. Rodriguez, and that he brought some necessary real evaluation of programs in Amherst (including a real willingness to use outsiders to objectively evaluate our programs and curricula). Although I never met or talked with Dr. Rodriguez during the days surrounding his resignation (only the three chairs - Farshid, Andy, and Tracy - met with him at any point), I did not see how he could continue to be effective in his position given the circumstances at the time as I understood them to be. Therefore, I voted unanimously with the other members of the SC to accept his resignation.

I think Rick actually put it really well here (and thanks, Rick, for being willing to post on another SC member's blog): in order to be effective, you have to recognize what needs to be changed, and you have to have the ability to carry out those changes. I think that is precisely right, and that may be a very, very hard bill for a superintendent working in Amherst (though I hope not too hard).

Second, the criticisms that Alberto expressed are not ones that are new, in most respects. Many of these concerns were frankly well-documented in the Hamer report (issued last July), which I believe all of the principals and administrators at the time thought was really helpful. So, I'm not really sure why his remarks are being portrayed now as "one-sided" -- the vast majority of these concerns were actually well-documented and even communicated to the community over the last almost year. The nature of his departure doesn't negate these findings and their accuracy, although we might wish that to be true.

However, some of Alberto's remarks are novel - these are largely about the culture of the district, including the resistance to change and the reliance on cronyism. I guess individuals have to decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree with these accusations, but here are the objective facts. First, in March of this year, the principals and senior administrators (who wrote the evaluations which led to Alberto's resignation) strongly urged the SC to not even considering interviewing any external candidates for an interim or permanent superintendent this spring (with 6 of 10 School Committee members preferring to appoint an internal as interim for 16-months only in response to the strong preference expressed by principals and administrators in Amherst for such an appointment). Second, we’ve seen 6 high level appointments during the last 2 months by the interim superintendent: 5 of the 6 appointments, including three principals and two assistant principals, have been of internal candidates. I believe we’ve also seen examples of this resistance to change almost weekly in the Bulletin, in which former teachers and administrators criticize School Committee members who have pushed for much-needed changes.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Third, I'm really sad about this, but the following anonymous comment is really right: "If the strategy has been all along to create a vision of a job that is not worth touching with a ten-foot pole, thus, leading to Ms. Geryk by default, that strategy is working splendidly."

Fourth, in response to Alison Donta-Venman and Mike Jacques: I agree that getting data in this district is really frustrating, and I truly don't know why. I've asked since January for per pupil expenses as a comparison to other districts, and we continue to get told they are coming. The math report was due in May or June, but now it will be September (meaning no changs for next year, basically). The exit survey data was gathered, but to the best of my knowledge (I've asked twice and haven't gotten an answer), new exit surveys haven't gone out -- and school ends in a week. Ditto, actually, for annual surveys by the district. We also still do NOT have a line by line budget, although that has been requested repeatedly. I share the feelings expressed by you both that these are important things for us to know, and I hope that we will get some answers in the weeks ahead.

Ed said...

UMass Student Senate's removal of seats reserved for representation of color

Well he can blame me, personally, for that one -- it took me 15 years, but I finally accomplished it. And the question I have of the former Superintendent is what part of a United States Supreme Court decision do you not understand?

The case is _Uzzell v. Friday_ and it involves the exact same thing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 1970s. It is a difficult case to read because it went to the Fourth Circuit four times and SCOTUS once (where it was remanded in light of _Baake_) and the best explanation of it is at http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17977633430598908649&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
(592 F. Supp. 1502).

And further, this was at UNC which had a history of de-jure segregation and consent degrees on desegration -- by contrast UMass graduated Bill Cosby. So the standard for the white kids to make at UNC was far higher than at UMass...

And what happened was that university counsel in Boston (not Brian but Boston) said that this was clearly illegal and worse -- (and no, Ed wasn't involved in this one) they had already been told that UMass was going to be sued if they didn't end it.

So Vice Chancellor Jean Kim (and I have the memo - and Catherine will shortly) gave the Student Government until March to eliminate the seats, or she would. And the SGA did, via an election.

And what part of the US Supreme Court saying that something is discriminatory and illegal does the good former Superintendent not understand?????

Ed said...

If you spend your days working in the Amherst school system, then we can agree to disagree.

In one sentence, this is everything that is wrong with education today. And what this person is saying is "we only listen to our own."

And the problem with that is the same reason why it is not healthy for brothers and sisters to have children together -- inbreeding! You never hear any outside ideas nor get any "new blood" and the result is the mess we have now.

And I will give you the flip side of your argument: "if you work in the schools, you are part of the problem and I don't want to hear what you have to say."

That is equally credible. Both problematic, but equally credible...

Tom Porter, Amherst said...

The stunning aspect of Dr. Rodriguez' report is the prominence of his criticism of the Amherst school system's 'lip service to racial diversity' and treatment of students of color (achievement gap, 'broken' referral system).

In Amherst we believe that we are better-intentioned, more sensitive, and doing the right thing to advance the cause of equity. Rodriguez' comments challenge this view, differentiating between what he sees as the posture and the reality.

It surprised me that Dr. Rodriguez gave such attention to this in his report. And it surprises me that this aspect of his report has gotten so little attention, at least so far, from the community that comments on this blog.

Are we as a town making progress on diversity/color/multi-cultural issues? And what is the specific goal - so we can measure our progress as we get closer, and know when we have achieved it?

Long Time Parent said...

Tom, as a long-time Amherst parent, I have always been disturbed by the fact that we DO give lip-service to diversity (my kids were at Fort River during the Vernon-Jones era where "focus on diversity" was the number one thing in that school) but the reality is something different. My kids have participated in a number of clubs, sports teams, and dancing classes and in each case, the VAST majority of the kids alongside them were white. I see racial diversity in the overall school population but not in smaller areas. Most teams are mostly-white, same with things like the national honor society and other academic awards (where they post the kids' photos in the paper). On the other hand, there are a lot more "kids of color" in special ed and non-honors classes. Even as a white parent this bothers me; I can only imagine how parents of color feel.

Anonymous said...

Long Time Parent:

I am another long time parent. My kids went through the Amherst schools and their children are now entering school age.

We were talking about these same issues when my kids were in the schools. When do we stop talking about these issues and start doing something about them? Nothing will change until we make change a priority. It does not seem to be a priority yet.

Instead of spending all this time and energy talking about Union 26 I wish our SC would be making the children of color achievement gap a high priority once and for all.

I agree with Tom, we need to set a goal with identifiable markers so we know when we have achieved the goal or at least that we are making progress toward achieving the goal.

I challenge the Amherst SC to stop wasting time and energy on Union 26 and start attacking the achievement gap problem.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response to Tom Porter, Long Time Parent, and Anonymous 4:39: If you come to SC meetings, or watch them on TV, you will see considerable focus on the achievement gap issue. We've added a preschool classroom for low income kids, summer school and afterschool programs for struggling kids, and initiated a review of the K to 12 math curriculum (in which the achievement gap is particularly stark). I wrote a column last week in which I asked for the MS to require extensions to be completed by ALL kids and specifically described the experience of another district in doing that and how it DECREASED the achievement gap. The Amherst SC has a strong and clear focus on the achivement gap, as I think is quite evident in the work we've accomplished this year.

None of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Union 26 agreement -- it just demonstrates that it isn't possible (or desirable) to focus on only one goal.