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, July 20, 2010

Assorted School Committee Stuff

Sorry for the long delay in postings -- it's been a busy few weeks with work and family stuff! But I want to draw my readers' attention to a few things that I think will be of general interest, and also to return to a few lingering issues.

First, the Regional School Committee is having a retreat this Thursday (3 to 6 pm) in which we will discuss our goals, processes, etc. We had a similar retreat last year and it was really beneficial -- lots of focus on common goals for the upcoming year -- and I'm hoping this one will be as useful. There has been a bit of discussion (at three separate meetings) about individual SC members completing a survey of "best practices" of School Committees and then compiling these results to discuss at the retreat. I don't think this is a particularly good idea (can expand on why if readers are interested) but my colleagues seem to feel this will be useful, so I did ultimately vote in favor of completing this instrument. You can read the Gazette's coverage of this topic at our last meeting at:

Second, we had a long regionalization meeting on Tuesday, June 28th, which included a recommendation from the Shutesbury SC that each town forms an individual "study group" to examine options for their own town/school moving forward (e.g., full regionalization, a different union configuration, etc.). Shutesbury has already formed such a group as has Pelham (you can read a story about Pelham's group at: Irv Rhodes, on behalf of the Amherst SC, had asked the Pelham SC to form a joint Amherst-Pelham group to study our options moving forward (e.g., forming an Amherst-Pelham regional agreement, combining the Amherst-Pelham districts, etc.), but the Pelham SC was not interested in forming such a group at this time. The Amherst SC will meet tonight to discuss how we might want to move forward on the Union 26/regionalization discussion. I still intend to do a longer blog post re. the whole regionalization discussion, but continue to be puzzled that the regionalization committee met for over a year and only considered three options: making no changes, full K to 12 regionalization (which they even admitted is VERY unlikely to occur), and expanding Union 26 to include Leverett and Shutesbury (so that Amherst could pay 80% of the bill and have 25% of the vote for superintendent, and we could require superintendents to manage 5 different budgets and attend 5 different SC meetings!).

Third, there was a piece in the Gazette on Saturday about an open meeting law violation on the regional SC ( This issue goes back to that now infamous meeting on May 11th, in which the regional chair inserted a Union 26 meeting in the middle of the regional meeting against the wishes of all Amherst SC members. I do not believe Rick meant any harm in his actions -- he was simply trying to de-escalate the situation, which had become quite volatile, with the best of intentions. But this is a good reminder that all SC members need to be careful about what they put in email to other members!

Fourth, there are two SC meetings this week: tonight the Amherst SC meets (7 pm, town hall, probably live on ACTV as well) to discuss a number of topics (the math review, the implementation of the Spanish program, afterschool programs) and on Thursday, the Regional SC meets (I'm not sure of what is on the agenda for this meeting yet) at 6:30 pm in the HS library.

Finally, the Regional SC met last week to interview two more law firms (we had voted to interview 5 firms: 4 new firms, plus our current firm). After seeing presentations from all five firms, the Regional Chair, Farshid Hajir, noted that he doesn't see any problem with our current firm and therefore recommends we simply stay with this firm. Other members of the SC disagreed (particularly since neither Rob nor Irv were in town for this meeting), and ultimately we decided to return to this issue at a later meeting. If any of my blog readers have had the opportunity to see the interviews (3 were on Tuesday, June 22nd and 2 were on Tuesday, July 13th -- all available on demand at ACTV), I'd love any thoughts you have (either via my blog or via my private email:


Anonymous said...

Hey C, how about that stupid retreat?


Anonymous said...

Watching the RSC meeting from 7/13, one begins to think that the membership has become committed to ferocious conflict on virtually all topics.

Next week: which ocean is greater, the Atlantic or the Pacific?

You guys definitely need a retreat, from the battlelines.

Anonymous said...

The discord started when a certain regional chair started to not play by the rules.

Anonymous said...

I believe the discord started when some of the Amherst SC members acted like bullies and children.


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:15 - well, last year's retreat was effective. I hope the same will be true this year.

Anonymous 10:42 - I agree that the last regional meeting did not go so well. I hope a retreat will be effective. On a more positive note, last night's Amherst SC meeting was AWESOME! Check it out on ACTV!

AKAB - I was certainly surprised that the Regional Chair suggested we stop the process of considering law firms, when that process had been agreed to by the SC some time ago and we had spent considerable time on this effort.

LMC - I'd be very interested in hearing specifics about the nature of this accusation -- what specific behavior has been childlike and/or bullying? I think details about such concerns are more helpful than simple name-calling.

Anonymous said...

No one on the Amherst School Committee acted like a bully. lmc is regurgitating what they read somewhere. It's amazing to me that someone would post a comment like this one that lmc has posted, and probably didn't even attend or watch the committee meeting.

Anonymous said...

lmc here:

I watched the May 11 Reg SC several times. I was horrified and embarrassed by the behavior of some of the members of the Amherst SC!

I never regurgitate what someone else told me. I saw it for myself.

I must add that though I did not agree with Catherine's position at the May 11th meeting..her behavior was civil and appropriate.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

LMC - thanks for clarifying. Again, there are 5 members of the Amherst SC, and you've already indicated that you didn't find my behavior inappropriate. I don't recall Rick or Rob saying virtually anything (since they aren't members of Union 26), so I imagine the only two members of the Amherst SC you could find fault with would be Irv and Steve. So, again, this is just to note that you made a statement about "some members" and it was at most 2 of the 5 members, right? And that was one meeting regarding one agenda item -- which all 5 Amherst members had opposed to including on the agenda. I don't think it would be fair or accurate to say that members (all or some) of the Amherst SC generally behave in a way that is childish or bullying, which is what your post implied. Again, I believe that sticking with specific information about specific incidents is much more helpful than blanket accusations. From your clarification, which I did appreciate, you objected to the behavior of two Amherst SC members during one agenda item of one meeting, which occurred over two months ago. Right?

Anonymous said...


That is correct. And I would add that the behavior happened during the Regional meeting as well as the Union 26 meeting.

And I am sorry it was not clear that I was referring to that May 11th meeting. I knew in my head what I meant...I was responding to akab's comment that I was thought was in reference to the May 11th meeting.

Will be careful to be more specific from now on.

BTW, although I do not always agree with you, I do think that you are always professional in the Amherst meetings and Regional meetings..always raising your hand to speak and speaking in a calm tone. I appreciate that. It's the way all who serve the town on various boards should act and for the most part, I think most do.