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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chairman resigns from Amherst school panel, citing divisions, lack of teamwork

This is a longer version of an article that I posted earlier on my blog -- hence I think the link to the old article isn't working (since it has been updated): http://gazettenet.com/2010/07/23/chairman-resigns-amherst-school-panel-citing-divisions-lack-team. It has been a long day - including spending basically from 2 to 10 pm with my SC colleagues - so this will be brief. I would like to congratulate Rick Hood on his selection as Chair of the Regional SC, and I look forward to working with Rick in the months ahead (I was also re-elected as Vice Chair of the Regional SC). I believe we had a productive retreat today, followed by a productive Regional SC meeting, and I hope we can re-new our focus at the regional level on education and district goals.

I'm disappointed, and frankly puzzled, by Farshid's decision to specifically criticize me and Steve in this article -- it is hard for me to reconcile his decision to resign in order to bring about new collegiality while criticizing two Amherst members in the process. I worked with Farshid very well for the vast majority of his time as Chair (throughout which I was vice chair), and considered him a friend -- thus I am also disappointed that he would choose to make these remarks in the press in light of the considerable positive work that he and I did together throughout much of the last year (basically throughout Alberto's superintendency).

In terms of Farshid's accusations, I'll make two brief points. First, I continue to be saddened by the interpretation that saying "we could be better" and "let's live up to our potential" (which both Steve and I do say relentlessly) as denouncing and hammering and fomenting dissent, which I think is a deliberate misinterpretation about our comments (but an effective way of trying to silence our concerns). Second, I certainly agree that I've been impatient with the process of change in our district as well as the tendency to simply stick with the status quo (I seem to not be the only one concerned about staying with the status quo, based on the enrollment drops we are seeing at both Amherst and Regional levels), and if "power politics" is setting policy that is supported at a public meeting by a majority of the SC (such as our new evaluation policy, our Spanish language program, the addition of preschool for low income kids, or the recommendation that the HS have fewer study halls), then I'm guilty as charged.

Finally, I appreciate Irv Rhodes' thoughtful comments in this article, and believe the considerable positive efforts we've made at the Amherst elementary level (which of course includes both me and Steve) are due in part to Irv's leadership on this committee (which is why I supported him as Regional Chair). Encouragingly, every expectation I have of Rick Hood's approach to leadership is one of collaboration, inclusion, and a focus on goals -- NOT personalities/rumors/motives. I am newly optimistic that we can make great progress in helping our regional schools reach their true potential -- of being excellent for every child, every day (not just in words and slogans, but in the reality all kids experience in these schools). It is an exciting time for the Amherst and Regional schools and I feel fortuate to have both Irv Rhodes and Rick Hood leading these two committees.

112 comments:

Michael Jacques said...

Congratulations to Rick on your appointment to Chair. You have my support.

I am really looking forward toward your leadership as we move forward with our Superintendent search. A search that many parents are eager to see start. Whether we select Maria after comparing her to other National candidates or select and outside candidate it will be great to have consistency for years to come.

On another topic:

It is unfortunate that Farshid felt it necessary to get a last shot across the bow before moving on. I did not always agree with how long he ran meetings, how he did not let voters have voice on the next interim super, or how he got in the middle of the Union 26 debate. I did believe he was doing what he felt best. He really believed in helping the people he fought hard for. For that zealous representation he should be commended by those he represented.

I just wish he could realize that the what he calls exposing, denouncing, hammering of the institution, and pushing for a faster pace of change is not a form of fomenting discontent or disdain. It is, without a doubt, strong representation of the voters who elected these officials. If hardball politics means pushing hard for what you believe in then I think it is safe to say that Farshid, through the Union 26 debate, falls into that category as well.

Now I hope that we will move into a new era of collaboration, making changes that are based on good time proven practices in education nationally.

Anonymous said...

Farshid didn't like it when people disagreed with him. He took it personally. Not a good quality in a leader. Irv is super at being able to handle disagreeing opinions and finding common ground. I think Irv put Farshid in his place, and Farshid needs to be off any school committee, especially for the open meeting law violation. Farshid worked behind the scenes in private, making alliances. Not a quality you want in someone holding public office. And if the school system here needs a wake up call like being told they're not doing things to benefit all kids, then so be it. What on earth? No one's allowed to critizice the school system here? What's up with that? akab

Anonymous said...

So again the vote of the Amherst SC members (4-1 in favor of Rhodes) is in direct opposition to the wishes of those from the hill towns (who voted unanimously for Hood)?? No offense to Hood (who will probably do a good job), but how long do these sorts of clear disagreements have to go on and what has to happen before the Amherst SC and residents of Amherst realize that supporting and subsidizing the hilltowns is draining our coffers, our energy, and our power?! Please withdraw from Union 26. That will be a concrete first step to self-governance. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, to speak of reform is to threaten.

Joel said...

I'll add my good luck wishes to Rick, but I am very worried that someone who is less than 6 months into serving thinks he is capable of leading a committee that clearly is divided. Experience and wisdom matter and Rick is, frankly, too new to this process to lead the Regional committee.

Also, what does it say about things when 4 of the 5 Amherst committee members voted for Irv -- who has a lifetime of experience as an educator and a couple of years on the committee including great service as Amherst chair -- but the Hilltown folks and Rick voted for Rick -- a newcomer with no background in education, no kids in the schools, etc.

I wish Rick well, but I'm very disappointed that he thinks he's ready to chair the committee and he's willing to do so against the wishes of the entire Amherst delegation.

The ball is in his court. Let's see if he's willing to force Maria's hand when she promises things in public, but then stalls or just ignores parents and the SC.

Anonymous said...

This definitely feels like a step in the right direction. It is unfortunate that there continues to be a disconnect between the Amherst SC and the hilltown members of the Regional SC. And unfortunately, I think this disconnect has to do with hilltown SC members choosing to always defer to the administration.

What is the point of having a SC if its role is to rubber stamp everything that the admin wants -- or to just make wimpy recommendations to the admin (ie the study hall issue)?!

The job of the SC is to supervise the administration -- but I think the ARPS admin has been allowed to supervise itself for so long that when a SC finally comes along and tries to supervise - they are accused of playing hardball politics and fomenting discontent.

I agree that Union 26 should be dissolved - especially if it means that there will be one less Pelham member on the Regional SC.

Hilltown SC members are complacent because their white middle class kids do fine regardless. I commend the Amherst SC members because they are trying to make changes that help all students. And, in order to do that we need to look closely at how money is being spent and decide whether that is in the best interest of all students.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hajir hit the nail squarely on the head with his assessment of how Rhodes, Sanderson and Rivkin operate. I completely agree with his assessment. They are bullies and that will ultimately be the cause of their demise.

Let's see if you post this one.

Abbie said...

I wish Rick the best in his new position, it is a very critical position in this coming year.

Catherine, has there been any word on the k-6 curriculum review that was being done by the Pelham ES principle? It surely should be complete by now? How much did we pay for that? Will it ever see the light of day and the public's eye?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon. 9:13. Couldn't have said it better myself! I'm relieved that someone with a cool head was elected as chair of the regional committee.

Anonymous said...

"The job of the SC is to supervise the administration -- but I think the ARPS admin has been allowed to supervise itself for so long that when a SC finally comes along and tries to supervise - they are accused of playing hardball politics and fomenting discontent."

NO!!! This is not the job of the SC. The job of the SC is to choose and evaluate the Superintendent, set the budget and make policy. The SC DOES NOT supervise the Superintendent.

Good luck to Amherst in trying to find a new Super with comments like the above floating around out there!!!

This blog really is filled with ALOT of disinformation and slanted informtion. Farshid is rignt...there is alot of back-room hard politicking going on. It's disgraceful. It's the reason for the discord and the disfunctionality of the Regional SC. And this hard-ball politicking is not being carried out by the Leverett, Pelham or Shutesbury SC members.

If I was a Superintendent candidate looking for a school system to apply to I would not touch this place with a 10 foor pole!! It is NOT the job of the SC to micro-manage the Super, although the Amherst members of the SC seem to think that it is. And no Superintendent will want to work in a place where their every move is micro-managed to death.

lise said...

I am a bit mystified by the accusations of back-room politicking. Is there any evidence that this is happening? Have there been some secret meetings? Whether you agree with Steve and Catherine or not they have always outlined their goals and beliefs in a very public manner, in open public meetings, in the newspaper and in public blogs.

As far as being bullies, I don't see that either. Yes, they have questioned decisions and made motions for change. But again, those were always done in public meetings and through appropriate channels, and agreed upon processes.

Maybe it is the fact that they actively rally public support for their causes, even if that cause is in conflict with the status quo or administration’s position? Is that what people see as bullying or politicking? Advocating for what they believe is the right is the crucial job of a school committee member, and their ability to rally support in the community is a sign that they have taken up the right causes.

Anonymous said...

"I am a bit mystified by the accusations of back-room politicking. Is there any evidence that this is happening? Have there been some secret meetings? "

Back room politicking is just as it sounds...back room. Not in open meeting. And yes, it is going on.

Anonymous said...

That's true, it was going on. And Farshid was the worst offender. Now that he's gone, we don't have it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Facts anyone? Dates, people, locations, subjects discussed?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm just going to make one quick comment here: accusations of backroom politics are rumors, and are designed to create feelings of mistrust. I have no idea if others (Farshid or other members of the SC) engaged in backroom politics -- I know I didn't. But here's the thing -- I don't even see how backroom politics could be effective: the SC votes on things in public meetings that are televised. Everyone sees how everyone votes -- so it is pretty obvious. I've been accused of many things, but I don't think my votes have ever been subtle or even unexpected. You can see for yourself how everyone votes, and I think it is highly, highly unlikely that anyone on the SC is voting a particular way because they are told to do so by someone else in a back room or paid to do so or whatever -- because all of our votes are PUBLIC and therefore we are all held accountable. I voted to close Marks Meadow. I voted to select David Sklarz. I voted to adopt a rigorous evaluation policy. I voted to add Spanish language. Those were my free votes, not influenced in a back room way by anyone on the SC (though often influenced by conversations I had with members of the public), and some of those votes I lost and some of those votes I won. That's just the nature of the SC ... and again, accusations of backroom politics are silly, largely because this approach just wouldn't be effective since we can't vote in private!

Anonymous said...

Amen!
9:44 hit the nail on the head. I would add, thank god that Rick doesn't have any kids in the school. I have always felt that should be one of the requirements for running for school committee. Just as a school employee cannot run, so should a consumer of the service be prohibited from running. It is a conflict of interest, and the motivation of acting in the interests of one's offspring completely distorts the ability to think objectively, and represent all the taxpayers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:45 - good point! I mean, think of what could happen if a SC member with kids in the schools wanted to have good schools and thus pushed for changes to improve education for all kids (I mean, it would be hard to imagine policies and programs that could be put through that would only apply to the children of SC members, so clearly such changes would impact all kids)! That would really be a conflict of interest. I'm glad you pointed that out. It would probably be good to make that our Select Board candidate didn't live in Amherst also, since they might be motivated to make changes to improve the quality of life in Amherst -- better we get people who live in Hadley or Belchertown to make decisions for Amherst residents.

Michael Jacques said...

FYI to any parents who have interest in our math program.

K-12 Math Review,Visit from Dr. Chen

Place:

Professional Development Center - Amherst Middle School

Date:
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 10:00am - 4:00pm

Schedule for Dr. Chen's Visit on July 28, 2010

10:00 - 11:30 K-16 Math Council

11:30 – 12:00 Working Lunch

12:15 - 1:00 School Committee

1:10 - 2:10 Principals

2:15 - 3:00 Community Group I*

3:00 - 3:45 Community Group II*

3:45 - 4:00 Reflections/Next Steps

*If you would like to attend one of the Community Group meetings with Dr. Chen please RSVP before July 27th to Sharon Gross at GrossS@arps.org.

Joel said...

I love Anon 1:45's idea about making sure SC members don't have kids in the schools.

I would take it a step further and recommend that only residents with kids in private schools (an ever growing subset of Amherst residents) be eligible.

Those folks would work assiduously to gut the schools in order to keep our taxes low, in order to help pay private school tuition.

Rick said...

I haven’t commented here lately, and probably won’t much in the future as it may not be appropriate, but I will make one quick comment:

I would not read into the 5-4 vote for chair that it’s “Amherst versus hilltowns” and I would like to try to stop that division. What I am sure is more the case is that those who voted for Irv were perhaps 65% for him and 35% for me, and those who voted for me were the other way – or something like that – you get the idea. A split vote like that is not always as split as it looks. Same goes for the split vote on Catherine for Vice Chair.

I look forward to working with everyone on the committee – all of whom I have great respect for – trying to help pull us together to agree on goals, tasks to achieve those goals, and monitoring progress on those tasks in a process of continual improvement – and yes, urgent improvement where necessary.

I would also say that we should not think of our school system as “good” or “bad”. Rather we should think of it as a collection of parts, some of which are excellent and some of which need improvement. We should celebrate the parts that are excellent while working hard to improve the parts that are not. We should not do just one or the other.

Anonymous said...

Rick,

That's very evenhanded of you. And, on the face of it, who could argue with the notion that we should "celebrate the parts that are excellent" at our schools? But do we and those we elect have more of an obligation to do celebrating for the schools than we do for, say, our Public Works Department or the Town Manager's Office or the Planning Department? Come on.

Just what is it about our schools as public institutions that uniquely necessitates regular back-rubs and pep talks from the public and from our School Committee? If we're feeling guilty somehow about underpaying teachers relative to other professionals, perhaps we should simply say that.

How is it that an appetite for reform on the part of some has come to be cast in the public debate by others as a penchant for bashing and negativity? We certainly would not let this kind of conflating occur in Amherst in the NATIONAL debate, for instance, when we discuss how much we spend on defense and how we would reform that.

The insistence on "celebration" for our schools is simply a reworking in a different context of the old patriotism canard we've heard in the national debate: "are you REALLY supporting our troops"? It's exhausting.

I think that we've gotten a little turned around about what governance means. By definition, it means identifying imperfections in a system of delivering services and fixing them. That's not negativity; that's the job, Rick.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rich Morse, well said. You're absolutely right. Also, yes to Rick, it is inappropriate for you to post on this blog. You have your own blog which you never update. Your penchant for making everything happy-happy and putting a smiley face on everything is not a quality I personally would want from my regional school committee chair.
akab

LarryK4 said...

Comments on an open public forum "may not be appropriate"???

Gee, I hope the alien body snatchers have not already gotten to Mr. Hood.

Heartfelt though Anonymous said...

Mr. Morse says: "How is it that an appetite for reform on the part of some has come to be cast in the public debate by others as a penchant for bashing and negativity?"

Perhaps because the process used to achieve reform APPEARS to be based on a penchant for bashing and negativity.

This situation is becoming predictable. As an Amherst resident and voter, the refusal by Amherst SC members to acknowledge what role they may have played in creating this atmosphere is irritating. And it dooms us to repeating the same dynamic... and the same responses. We're in school-committee-ground-hog-day hell.

I urge the Amherst School Committee to step up and consider how their actions may have contributed to the current situation.

Think about new ways of achieving the same result, or at the very least, acknowledge the actions that have brought us to this place. Please don't shrug the concerns away. Without this reflection, its credibility will continue to diminish to many residents and voters in town, the Committee will promote divisive politics and decision-making, our schools and kids will suffer, and the members won't be the elected officials they hope to be.

A.N.W. said...

What was the vote for Catherine to be vice chair?

Anonymous said...

So let's go back to smiling, nodding in agreement, and letting the schools go down the tank. Then there will be no dissent, but everyone will be happier. Only in the Happy Valley....

TomG said...

Off Topic

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick things:

Heartful but Anonymous - please describe SPECIFIC things the Amherst SC has done that are "bashing and negativity." What I see is that we've had an extremely constructive and productive year: implementing K to 6 Spanish for all kids, adding a preschool class for low income kids, adding summer school for struggling students, closing a school to save our music program and small classes in the other schools, redistricting to create equitable schools (and end our practice of maintaining a high poverty school), and initiated a K to 5 math review. Those are real and tangible things that will have benefits for ALL elementary kids in Amherst. Have my actions in pushing these things created a negativity situation? I have no idea -- but I'm really glad these changes have been implemented!

ANW - all Amherst SC members (excpet Rick) voted the same way on both votes, and all non-Amherst SC members voted the same way on both votes. So, each of those "groups" had 4 votes for Irv/Rick as chair, and Catherine/Debbie Gould as Vice chair. Rick split his vote: voted with the small towns to elect himself chair (5-4 vote), voted with Amherst to elect me as vice chair (5-4 vote).

Nina Koch said...

Hi Rich,

You know, I think it would be a great idea to extend celebration to other public institutions. I really like it when people write in letters to the Bulletin thanking the fire department for saving their house. I think people who do good work should be appreciated, whatever that line of work is.

Let me give you an example of an unnecessary and unproductive negativity, something that could not possibly be construed as a simple call for reform. It's a statement from Catherine's most recent column:

"Last year we chose to fund four special education administrators (all at salaries above $95,000), yet employed not a single person focused on curriculum instruction and evaluation."

Catherine's statement suggests we just don't care about curriculum. It's not true. If we did not have a full-time curriculum director last year, it certainly wasn't from a lack of trying. We didn't choose to have that situation. We got stuck with it. A search committee attempted to hire a curriculum director in the spring of 2009 and they failed the search. Then, later that summer, Mike Hayes was appointed to do some of that curriculum work but suddenly at the start of the school year, Glenda Cresto left and he was pulled in as a middle school administrator. We did have a part-time person (Rena Moore) working on curriculum this year after Mike got moved. Catherine leaves out all of that information and gives the impression that no one was working on curriculum-- making the situation look worse than it actually was. That's what I call negativity.

In addition, the statement fails to mention that we do now have a full-time curriculum director in place, as of July 1. The statement also fails to mention that several of those highly paid administrators got reduced from full year to school year employment during the budget cuts, which means a much lower salary for them this coming year. The statement also fails to mention that the administrators have responsibilities outside of special education.

It's one thing if Catherine wants to talk about how to make our schools better. If she wants to make the case that K6 Spanish benefits kids' education, okay. While I may not agree with the argument, it is certainly a reasonable discussion to have and yes, it is a call for reform. But to deliberately distort the truth for the purpose of making us look bad -- I just don't understand what could possibly be gained from that. I can't see how it helps education. I think it is especially irresponsible to put it in a published newspaper, where any potential superintendent candidate might read it on the internet.

Looking out the rabbit hole said...

"and letting the schools go down the tank."

Not sure what schools you are referencing, but the Amherst and Regional schools are doing very solid work, as they have for years. Can they improve? Sure, but are the going "down the tank"? Hardly. You obviously have not seen schools that are in such dire straits.

No need to cry wolf. Let's just stay focused without the hyperbole, if we can.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - I stand by 100% of that column, so I will just add a few key points. First, I was on that search committee for a curriculum director -- and the search committee did NOT fail the search (that was the superintendent). Second, after the superintendent failed that search, there were choices -- we could have re-opened it at a lower level (that search was actually for an assistant superintendent for curriculum, NOT a curriculum director). Similarly, after Glenda's departure, we could have said "oh, curriculum is too important to lose our curriculum person to be the principal, so instead let's have a quick search for an assistant principal and move then assistant principal Libby Hurley to be the principal of the MS." We chose not to do that. Again, curriculum wasn't a priority, so it was easy to just element that position (and Mike Hayes did NOT have extensive experience in curriculum or evaluation when he was put in this position anyway). Third, you don't have 4 special education administrators making over 95K and 0 people doing curriculum overnight (you describe ONLY the events of one year). You have that situation because as a district, we've prioritized having a full staff of special education administrators (again, 4 making over 95K in a district with about 3,000 students) over having a full staff (or actually, anyone) working on curriculum and evaluation. That isn't bad or good: it is just the reality of how resources have been allocated in this district. Saying that isn't negative, or bashing, or rude -- it is just stating the facts, as they have existed in this district for YEARS. If this community sees this as the right allocation of resources, that's great. But pointing out a fact about staffing in Amherst isn't negativity!

Anonymous said...

TomG - Excellent link! Thank you.

Nina Koch said...

With the departure of Glenda Cresto, we had an urgent situation. It was the 3rd day of school, and the kids still did not have schedules. A decision was made to bring in someone who already knew the school, knew how to do the schedule, and could start immediately. It was made with the needs of students in mind, and I don't see how you go from there to concluding that we don't care about curriculum. Accusing people of not caring is pretty negative.

Your statement above that we had zero people on curriculum last year is incorrect, as I have already pointed out. We had Rena Moore at 30%. So you are not presenting facts. The previous year we had Mike Hayes working full time as a curriculum administrator. And the year before that, Wendy Kohler supervised curriculum. You are making it sound like there was no one in charge of curriculum for years. It's not true.

But rehashing September 2009 or previous years is not the point, nor should we spend time trying to impute motive. You wrote your column in July of 2010, when we did in fact have a full-time curriculum director in place and you didn't even mention that in your column. You had an opportunity to look forward and you chose not to. Let's talk about where the schools are now and what we are going to do now.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina: Let me just repeat - my column said "last year" which was and is accurate. Having a principal of an elementary school spend 30% of her time on curriculum is really not the same as having a full-time person with special qualifications in that role. And even the former people you point out who were "doing curriculum" were single people - which is still fewer than 4. But nonetheless, I've been on the SC for 2 years, and a very involved parent for years before that (a parent on search committees and organizational committees and the math curriculum council, and so on). And all those years, I asked "why aren't we evaluating what we are doing in terms of curriculum?" and people said "we don't have enough people to do that." The math curriculum council met a few times, and never evaluated anything or made any recommendations to the SC or superintendent (this was under Mike Hayes' leadership). The social studies curriculum council (also under Mike Hayes' leadership) met a few times and also made no recommendations. So, you see that lots of work has happened historically in our district on curriculum .... but I see zero evidence of that. Perhaps that will change with our new curriculum director. I really hope it does -- looking forward, as you say. I look forward to your active pushing for an expanded math review that includes input from parents, comparison to other districts, and consideration of empirical and objective data on the effectiveness of different curriculum.

Abbie said...

I distinctly recall that Rena Moore was asked/paid to do a 'curriculum review'. This happened at a SC meeting. To me, a 'curriculum review' suggests that a document will be produced. At 30% (and I assume 30% of Ms. Moore's time is at least $30K) I expect (as a taxpayer) to get something tangible from that investment. What exactly did she do, where is her 'review'? I am also not convinced anything of substance was produced during Mike Hayes time as curriculum director. I very much hope that the current director is more effective.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - over the last two years, there have been ZERO reviews of curriculum presented to the SC or described to the SC as having occurred. That would be under Mike Hayes' leadership and under Rena Moore's leadership. I know Mike did some work on teacher evaluation/professional development, which we did see a report on. I believe Rena worked on curriculum ALIGNMENT, but I don't believe she worked at all on curriculum EVALUATION (which was in fact the phrase Nina quoted from my oped).

definitely anonymous now said...

On Catherine's 1:49pm - I'm sorry you posted such a sarcastic and disrespectful response to a reader. You can disagree without belittling people, but your response took the opportunity to ridicule the reader. If that's what the coming school and election year will bring, it will be a messy one.

Joel said...

I have first hand experience with what some in the system label "curricular review." I served on the Social Studies Curriculum Review Committee under Mike Hayes' leadership.

We had multiple meeting to discuss the politics of reform, the politics of social studies, and how we could get "buy-in" from teachers (which I found odd given its their job to teach the curriculum -- but that's another topic). We even had a full morning of role-playing exercises based on a group of readings on the politics of social studies curricular reform chosen by a MS teacher without consulting the committee, which included a parent who works on history curricula in high schools in the Commonwealth and a senior member of the UMass History faculty (me).

It was a massive waste of time and money. The then superintendent (Alberto Rodriguez), who is a former social studies teacher was stunned by the committee's process. The committee was shut down with nothing to show for its work other than money spent on release time and summer pay for the teaches and administrators involved.

I'm sure some people found the exercises useful, but let's be clear about this: We spent zero time evaluating social studies curricula from other districts. We spent zero time determining exactly what the social studies curricula are in the different building in the Amherst system.

The closest we came to a substantive discussion was during lunch, i.e., outside the agendas Mike Hayes had produced that focused on process and politics. At my request, the HS social studies teachers -- who are terrific btw -- brought their textbooks and we had some good conversations about what goes on in their classrooms.

So, Nina and other can point to some of the people and structures in place, which by any standard are dwarfed by the half a million dollars in salary and benefits spent annually for SPED administrators (not SPED instruction or intervention, but paper pushers), but there has been little or no actual curriculum review done by the district.

By the way, the leader of this less than optimal curricular review process was promoted to MS principal by one of our SPED administrators.

Maybe that's part of the context of declining enrollments in our schools.

Anonymous said...

maybe declining enrollments also result from a school system that has been attacked relentlessly in the press by its own school committee members... giving the appearance of a system in disarray chaos, and failure. Words that may more accurately describe the school committee itself.

Catherine, I'm afraid your "constructive criticism" has the impact of a hand grenade. When there are casualties (like declining enrollment), some of that has to be seen as a result of YOUR process. Your efforts, even if appreciated as well intentioned, have caused significant collateral damage in our town. If you can't acknowledge any role in this, we're not going to be able to move forward as a district, but you'll probably be able to rattle off individual achievements for the school committee's CV. Being a member of this community, I expect more.

Anonymous said...

To Nina 2:29,
I always wondered what Fran Ziperstein and Mike Hayes did as Curriculum Director and Curriculum Coordinator a few years ago. Just because those positions were filled doesn't mean the much needed work got done. I have yet to see any alignment. In the elementary schools we talked about having more horizontal and vertical alignment, that didn't happen, and still hasn't occured. What did they do in those positions?

Abbie said...

Given that we probably spent about $30K last year for Rena Moore to work towards curricular alignment in k-6, which is about the same amount of effort that will be spent by the current director (who is k-12, I believe). I think it is reasonable for her to report (at the superintendent's request) to the SC on what was achieved this past year. I think it would also be good for the public to hear from the current director her priorities and then a year from now a report on her progress.

I suggest this I believe horizontal and vertical curricular alignment (or lack thereof) is of critical concern (next after math) to families of Amherst students. I think it would go along way to allaying concerns that little of substance is being done and we would gain confidence in our administrators' efforts.

Anonymous said...

Re accusations of backroom politics... I don't think anyone was suggesting that votes are being swayed or bought behind the scenes. I think people are talking about the stuff like Catherine and Steve issuing a verbal threat to superintendent Geryk, through the regional school committe chair, that if the new superintendent didn't do certain things, like stop the search for a curriculum director, that they would go after (attempt to fire) the school district's attorney, who Geryk has worked with for over 10 years spanning several different school districts, presumably to make the work Geryk had to do more difficult. Having said that, I do understand that Steve did apologize for issuing the threat when it was brought up by facilitators at the retreat the regional SC went on. (Incidentally, Geryk DIDN'T stop the search for a curriculum director, so thanks to her we have one in place for the upcoming year. However, after the decision was made to continue the search, watch the smirky looks Catherine and Steve give each other at one of the next school committee meetings after they vote to seek a new law firm for the schools. Also, it is very impressive that Geryk was not scared by the threats and continued to do the difficult work and make the difficult decisions a superintendent needs to make.) And what about Catherine and Steve threatening "WAR" (their words) against the administration if Geryk didn't make certain decisions that they wanted her to?

These are the kinds of things people are talking about in regards to backroom politics and power politics. Not little deals and agreements.

Again, I understand that Steve did apologize for issuing the threats at the retreat. (I don't know if he apologized for both he and Catherine or just himself.) The people who are asking about this stuff deserve to know more than just what I have said here.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, can you clarify for us what Nina Koch dos for our district? My neighbor works t the MS and sees her there everyday meeting with a lot of people. What exactly is her position? Assistant to Maria Geryk?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few responses from me:

Definitely anonymous - I think the idea that the schools BENEFIT from having SC members without kids in the school is ludicrous ... hence my sarcasm. I'm sorry you found it offensive. Let me phrase it a different way -- how would you feel about electing SC members who have kids in private schools (thus, no conflict of interest)? Again, that strikes me as a really bad idea.

Joel/Abbie - I've served on the math curriculum council for 2 years, and throughout that time, there were no reports made to the SC nor were there any specific recommendations (other than "study more" and "learn more"). I haven't heard of any progress this year on social studies at all, nor have I heard about any evaluations of any curriculum/program at all in our district. I will ask at the next SC meeting if the superintendent can give us a sense of (a) the work Rena Moore did last year, and (b) the work Beth Graham (new curriculum director) will be doing this year.

Anonymous 9:22 - Nina is a math teacher at the HS, and also does some work updating the ARPS website.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing:


Anonymous 11:44 - I really hesitated before publishing this post, as I think spreading rumors and accusations (especially anonymous) is a really bad idea. However, I also don't want censor criticism of me -- and I frankly am glad to have the opportunity to respond to these accusations. I will note, for my readers, that the person who posted this attended the retreat the SC had last Thursday -- which means it is either a posting by one of 3 administrators who attended, 3 or 4 members of the public, or an SC member.

In terms of the accusations -- following the appointment of Maria Geryk (with zero opportunity for public input, and opposition by 80% of the Amherst SC), Steve and I were both very angry at the proceedings. I can't get into all of the reasons -- as some of the reasons included statements made to us in private by district employees who wish to remain private AND some of the reasons include information discussed in executive session that I can't reveal. However, in the heat of the moment, following a very tense 4-hour meeting (during which I cried for about an hour on TV), Steve "issued a verbal threat to superintendent Geryk, through the regional school committe chair" and said there "would be war." I'd like to note a few additional things about this: I did NOT make the statements that Steve did (and he has apologized for those statements), AND other members of the SC besides me and Steve made similar statements that evening and in subsequent days/weeks (but those members, curiously, are not being called out for their statements). Here's what I did: I said, in person and TO Maria directly (not through the SC chair) that I believed we shouldn't appoint a curriculum director, as I thought the new superintendent should be able to do that (as we held the hire last year so Alberto could make the hire). She disagreed and made the hire, and is clear. So, I'm not sure what I did wrong -- I had a view and I shared it with the superintendent, and she disagreed, and so she made the hire. That's it!

And in terms of the attorney -- I voted against continuing the services of our current attorney sometime in January or February -- at a legal services subcommittee meeting which was held while Alberto was superintendent (FAR earlier than the night Maria was appointed). Our current lawyer sent a letter to the Regional SC chair indicating she didn't want to work for this SC anymore, and I felt that letter was extremely clear. I therefore voted against bringing her in for interviews, and anyone can file a public records request to see those minutes. This has nothing to do with whether Maria likes her -- it has to do with my belief (said now several times at SC meetings over a period of 6 months) that we shouldn't consider working with an attorney who has written a letter saying she doesn't want to work with us. Again, this all happened FAR before Maria's 16-month appointment.

And one more thing - anyone who wants to know the real story should ask the person the rumor is about. I'd be glad to clarify at any time. What I find concerning is (a) the desire of some people to spread this rumor, and (b) the willingness of other people to simply accept this rumor. If you have a question about anything I've said or done as a member of SC in public or private, contact me: 256-4977/542-2438/casanderson@amherst.edu. But I find it really discouraging when people hear a rumor and simply believe it and spread it without having the courtesy of checking with the person who the story regards.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing:


Anonymous 11:44 - I really hesitated before publishing this post, as I think spreading rumors and accusations (especially anonymous) is a really bad idea. However, I also don't want censor criticism of me -- and I frankly am glad to have the opportunity to respond to these accusations. I will note, for my readers, that the person who posted this attended the retreat the SC had last Thursday -- which means it is either a posting by one of 3 administrators who attended, 3 or 4 members of the public, or an SC member.

In terms of the accusations -- following the appointment of Maria Geryk (with zero opportunity for public input, and opposition by 80% of the Amherst SC), Steve and I were both very angry at the proceedings. I can't get into all of the reasons -- as some of the reasons included statements made to us in private by district employees who wish to remain private AND some of the reasons include information discussed in executive session that I can't reveal. However, in the heat of the moment, following a very tense 4-hour meeting (during which I cried for about an hour on TV), Steve "issued a verbal threat to superintendent Geryk, through the regional school committe chair" and said there "would be war." I'd like to note a few additional things about this: I did NOT make the statements that Steve did (and he has apologized for those statements), AND other members of the SC besides me and Steve made similar statements that evening and in subsequent days/weeks (but those members, curiously, are not being called out for their statements). Here's what I did: I said, in person and TO Maria directly (not through the SC chair) that I believed we shouldn't appoint a curriculum director, as I thought the new superintendent should be able to do that (as we held the hire last year so Alberto could make the hire). She disagreed and made the hire, and is clear. So, I'm not sure what I did wrong -- I had a view and I shared it with the superintendent, and she disagreed, and so she made the hire. That's it!

And in terms of the attorney -- I voted against continuing the services of our current attorney sometime in January or February -- at a legal services subcommittee meeting which was held while Alberto was superintendent (FAR earlier than the night Maria was appointed). Our current lawyer sent a letter to the Regional SC chair indicating she didn't want to work for this SC anymore, and I felt that letter was extremely clear. I therefore voted against bringing her in for interviews, and anyone can file a public records request to see those minutes. This has nothing to do with whether Maria likes her -- it has to do with my belief (said now several times at SC meetings over a period of 6 months) that we shouldn't consider working with an attorney who has written a letter saying she doesn't want to work with us. Again, this all happened FAR before Maria's 16-month appointment.

And one more thing - anyone who wants to know the real story should ask the person the rumor is about. I'd be glad to clarify at any time. What I find concerning is (a) the desire of some people to spread this rumor, and (b) the willingness of other people to simply accept this rumor. If you have a question about anything I've said or done as a member of SC in public or private, contact me: 256-4977/542-2438/casanderson@amherst.edu. But I find it really discouraging when people hear a rumor and simply believe it and spread it without having the courtesy of checking with the person who the story regards.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing:


Anonymous 11:44 - I really hesitated before publishing this post, as I think spreading rumors and accusations (especially anonymous) is a really bad idea. However, I also don't want censor criticism of me -- and I frankly am glad to have the opportunity to respond to these accusations. I will note, for my readers, that the person who posted this attended the retreat the SC had last Thursday -- which means it is either a posting by one of 3 administrators who attended, 3 or 4 members of the public, or an SC member.

In terms of the accusations -- following the appointment of Maria Geryk (with zero opportunity for public input, and opposition by 80% of the Amherst SC), Steve and I were both very angry at the proceedings. I can't get into all of the reasons -- as some of the reasons included statements made to us in private by district employees who wish to remain private AND some of the reasons include information discussed in executive session that I can't reveal. However, in the heat of the moment, following a very tense 4-hour meeting (during which I cried for about an hour on TV), Steve "issued a verbal threat to superintendent Geryk, through the regional school committe chair" and said there "would be war." I'd like to note a few additional things about this: I did NOT make the statements that Steve did (and he has apologized for those statements), AND other members of the SC besides me and Steve made similar statements that evening and in subsequent days/weeks (but those members, curiously, are not being called out for their statements). Here's what I did: I said, in person and TO Maria directly (not through the SC chair) that I believed we shouldn't appoint a curriculum director, as I thought the new superintendent should be able to do that (as we held the hire last year so Alberto could make the hire). She disagreed and made the hire, and is clear. So, I'm not sure what I did wrong -- I had a view and I shared it with the superintendent, and she disagreed, and so she made the hire. That's it!

And in terms of the attorney -- I voted against continuing the services of our current attorney sometime in January or February -- at a legal services subcommittee meeting which was held while Alberto was superintendent (FAR earlier than the night Maria was appointed). Our current lawyer sent a letter to the Regional SC chair indicating she didn't want to work for this SC anymore, and I felt that letter was extremely clear. I therefore voted against bringing her in for interviews, and anyone can file a public records request to see those minutes. This has nothing to do with whether Maria likes her -- it has to do with my belief (said now several times at SC meetings over a period of 6 months) that we shouldn't consider working with an attorney who has written a letter saying she doesn't want to work with us. Again, this all happened FAR before Maria's 16-month appointment.

And one more thing - anyone who wants to know the real story should ask the person the rumor is about. I'd be glad to clarify at any time. What I find concerning is (a) the desire of some people to spread this rumor, and (b) the willingness of other people to simply accept this rumor. If you have a question about anything I've said or done as a member of SC in public or private, contact me: 256-4977/542-2438/casanderson@amherst.edu. But I find it really discouraging when people hear a rumor and simply believe it and spread it without having the courtesy of checking with the person who the story regards.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing:


Anonymous 11:44 - I really hesitated before publishing this post, as I think spreading rumors and accusations (especially anonymous) is a really bad idea. However, I also don't want censor criticism of me -- and I frankly am glad to have the opportunity to respond to these accusations. I will note, for my readers, that the person who posted this attended the retreat the SC had last Thursday -- which means it is either a posting by one of 3 administrators who attended, 3 or 4 members of the public, or an SC member.

In terms of the accusations -- following the appointment of Maria Geryk (with zero opportunity for public input, and opposition by 80% of the Amherst SC), Steve and I were both very angry at the proceedings. I can't get into all of the reasons -- as some of the reasons included statements made to us in private by district employees who wish to remain private AND some of the reasons include information discussed in executive session that I can't reveal. However, in the heat of the moment, following a very tense 4-hour meeting (during which I cried for about an hour on TV), Steve "issued a verbal threat to superintendent Geryk, through the regional school committe chair" and said there "would be war." I'd like to note a few additional things about this: I did NOT make the statements that Steve did (and he has apologized for those statements), AND other members of the SC besides me and Steve made similar statements that evening and in subsequent days/weeks (but those members, curiously, are not being called out for their statements). Here's what I did: I said, in person and TO Maria directly (not through the SC chair) that I believed we shouldn't appoint a curriculum director, as I thought the new superintendent should be able to do that (as we held the hire last year so Alberto could make the hire). She disagreed and made the hire, and is clear. So, I'm not sure what I did wrong -- I had a view and I shared it with the superintendent, and she disagreed, and so she made the hire. That's it!

And in terms of the attorney -- I voted against continuing the services of our current attorney sometime in January or February -- at a legal services subcommittee meeting which was held while Alberto was superintendent (FAR earlier than the night Maria was appointed). Our current lawyer sent a letter to the Regional SC chair indicating she didn't want to work for this SC anymore, and I felt that letter was extremely clear. I therefore voted against bringing her in for interviews, and anyone can file a public records request to see those minutes. This has nothing to do with whether Maria likes her -- it has to do with my belief (said now several times at SC meetings over a period of 6 months) that we shouldn't consider working with an attorney who has written a letter saying she doesn't want to work with us. Again, this all happened FAR before Maria's 16-month appointment.

And one more thing - anyone who wants to know the real story should ask the person the rumor is about. I'd be glad to clarify at any time. What I find concerning is (a) the desire of some people to spread this rumor, and (b) the willingness of other people to simply accept this rumor. If you have a question about anything I've said or done as a member of SC in public or private, contact me: 256-4977/542-2438/casanderson@amherst.edu. But I find it really discouraging when people hear a rumor and simply believe it and spread it without having the courtesy of checking with the person who the story regards.

Anonymous said...

To Anon. July 27, 2010 11:44 PM

If you are part of the administration, or a teacher in the public schools, your ass should be fired. You disclosed information that should not have been printed. Good for Catherine for printing it and bringing to light what a coward you are. If you had a backbone, you would have brought this up in a public meeting. akab

Anonymous said...

On July 24th at 2:37 PM Catherine said:

"Nina - I stand by 100% of that column, so I will just add a few key points. First, I was on that search committee for a curriculum director -- and the search committee did NOT fail the search (that was the superintendent). Second, after the superintendent failed that search, there were choices -- we could have re-opened it at a lower level (that search was actually for an assistant superintendent for curriculum, NOT a curriculum director). Similarly, after Glenda's departure, we could have said "oh, curriculum is too important to lose our curriculum person to be the principal, so instead let's have a quick search for an assistant principal and move then assistant principal Libby Hurley to be the principal of the MS." We chose not to do that. Again, curriculum wasn't a priority, so it was easy to just element that position (and Mike Hayes did NOT have extensive experience in curriculum or evaluation when he was put in this position anyway."

- So, here, Catherine is saying that not hiring a curriculum director last year was BAD.

Now, fast forward to 7/28, 11:04 PM and Catherine said:

"Here's what I did: I said, in person and TO Maria directly (not through the SC chair) that I believed we shouldn't appoint a curriculum director, as I thought the new superintendent should be able to do that (as we held the hire last year so Alberto could make the hire). She disagreed and made the hire, and is clear. So, I'm not sure what I did wrong -- I had a view and I shared it with the superintendent, and she disagreed, and so she made the hire. That's it!"

And here, Catherine is saying that Maria's decision to hire a Curriculum Director this year was BAD.

So, 4 days ago, because it fit in with the argument she was trying to make at the time, Catherine faulted Maria for not hiring a curriculum direcor. And now she is faulting her for hiring a curriculum director. This is a typical week in the life of Catherine Sanderson. She bends the facts and changes her tune to suit the situation. The emperor is beginning to show her nakedness.

I, for one, am thrilled that Maria was brave enough to stand up to the bullying tactics and all-out war declared by Catherine and Steve with her hire of Beth Graham. ARPS desperately needs someone with experience overseeing curriculum. I think we can all agree on that. And I look forward to her working in the elementary schools especially to align the curriculum horizontally and vertically, among many other curricular issues that face the ARPS.

Another thing I think we can all agree on is that we do NOT want our SC members EVER declaring WAR on the Superintendent or anyone else in the administration for that matter...no matter how tired or upset they are. I am appalled!! But I am not surprised.

And I'll say that actions speak louder than words. Steve may have apologized for his words but his actions will cement the apology. He and Catherine and Irv Rhodes need to immediately stop trying to micromanage the administration and let Maria and her team do their job. The SC should stick to the job laid out for them: setting the budget, setting policy and hiring and evaluating the Superintendent. Period! And let Maria do her job. Then, at the end of her 16 month period as Interim Super, evaluate the job that she did.

Anonymous said...

Catherine... There were AT LEAST three people present when the threat was issued, any of those three can be questioned about the facts. There is a very important fact regarding chronology of events that needs clarification. Please, be crystal clear and certain about your response, so we don't spread any "misinformation" here:

When did the issuing of the threat occur? Was it AFTER the meeting during which Geryk was voted in as interim Superintendent? Or was it the evening BEFORE the day of the meeting in which Geryk was voted in? Think carefully, and please be certain of your response. There are other things that occurred all around this event that are related to it, that we can get to another time.

Interesting spin you've tried to put on this, the whole "heat of the moment" thing, but this clarification will become VERY important for some people who will need to make some decisions about leadership in this town in the future. I'm confident all the facts will come out.

This is a small town, Catherine, there are a LOT of people in this community who know about ALL SORTS of things that go on

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

AKAB - well said.

Anonymous 8:39 - based on the responses you are giving, I believe it is distinctly possible that you are a member of the Regional SC (former or current), and therefore I'm not posting anymore anonymous posts from you (given the concern about blogs allowing illegal quorums). Rick posts and uses his name. If you are a current (or former) member of the SC, use your name and I will post whatever you want.

I will say I'm confused by the level of animosity you are using, and I don't think it is constructive at all.

However, I will still give you the courtesy of responding.

1. I believe that a permanent superintendent should have the right to choose his/her key staff, and I would put curriculum director RIGHT there. Alberto was able to choose not to hire a curriculum director -- do I think that was the right decision? No, but that was his to make, and he didn't like the finalists. I believe it would have been better to tell the permanent superintendent that he/she would be able to hire a curriculum director, so that he/she would be able to hire the person he/she wanted. I therefore thought it would be better not to fill this position and I frankly thought many people might not want the job because they wouldn't know who their boss would be in a year. I expressed those concerns to Maria, and she disagreed. So, she hired a curriculum director. Again, that isn't backroom politics -- that is sharing my opinion with the superintendent, and she is free to agree with or disagree with my opinion. That is NOT changing my opinion to suit whatever response ... it is saying that I believe a permanent superintendent should get to make this hire. That was true last year with Alberto, and it is still true.

And one final note -- is sharing my opinion with the superintendent bullying or micromanaging? If so, I'm guilty as charged. If Amherst residents want SC members who don't share their views with the superintendent, they definitely shouldn't vote for me.

Anonymous 2:26 - Given what you've posted, I believe you must be a member of the SC (currently or in the recent past). I'm therefore not posting any more responses from you anonymously -- because you know well that I can't get into the reasons that led to statements I made (or others made) since they occurred during executive session. You can make all sorts of implications here, false or true, in an attempt to get me to violate executive session (so I'll then get accused of ethical violations), but I'm not going to do it. If you were/are a member of the SC, you know exactly what was said and you know precisely why particular statements were made. This is what I will say -- I was very upset about a number of things that occurred, and you know what those are, and I may well have said/done things in the heat of anger/exhaustion that I wish I hadn't. But what others (perhaps you) did is deliberately mislead other members of the SC, and that type of intentional deception is far more calculated and inappropriate since it didn't happen in the heat of the moment -- it happened with deliberate, intentional effort which I find appalling. Nonetheless, I'm not interested in relieving the past -- I'm interested in working to make this school district as good as it can possibly be, and I will continue with those efforts for the duration of my time on SC.

Anonymous said...

To anon 8:39: in your zeal to attack Catherine Sanderson you seem to have confused the fact that there were 2 different superintendents not-appointing (Rodriguez) or appointing (Geryk) a curriculum director. You wrote:

"So, 4 days ago, because it fit in with the argument she was trying to make at the time, Catherine faulted Maria for not hiring a curriculum direcor. And now she is faulting her for hiring a curriculum director."

What's up with all this venom? And wrong facts? If you want to trap someone about mis-stating the facts, try getting them right yourself.

Suggestion: turn your focus away from Ms. Sanderson and toward actually helping improve our schools. Or just go watch some tv and chill.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:36: what the heck are you talking about? Are you speaking in some sort of inside code? Are epsiodes of the X Files still being made -- or is Lost still going on?

Who are 'some people'? as in: "this clarification will become VERY important for some people who will need to make some decisions about leadership in this town in the future. I'm confident all the facts will come out."

Even weirder:

"This is a small town, Catherine, there are a LOT of people in this community who know about ALL SORTS of things that go on."

Is the smoking man back?

Anonymous said...

Catherine:

This is Anon 8:39.

I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Amherst or Regional or any SC anywhere. I don't know what in my post would make you think I was..what I wrote had nothing in it that had not yet been discussed here on your blog. Most of my post was taken up by quoting you, 4 days apart.

And I stand by my statement that you continuously take both sides of a question depending on the point you are making. I know you are not pleased that Maria hired Beth Graham but I think it was a very wise choice and showed bravery, stength and wisdom on Maria's part.

The Amherst Regional school REALLY NEED a Curriculum Director NOW!!!! We can't wait another year. I can't believe you and Steve and Irv are still moaning and grousing about this hire. We need Beth Graham to do a good job and be wildly successful. And I hope you and your fellow SC members will leave her alone and let her do her job.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:43 - good point. Thanks for noting that that poster mixed up the change in superintendents that occurred.

Anonymous 10:00 - well said. Thanks.

Anonymous 10:20 - I have no idea what Steve/Irv have done/are doing, but I haven't mentioned a single word to Maria about the curriculum director hire since April, when I expressed my view to her at ONE meeting. That would be 3 months ago. To the best of my knowledge, no one is grousing about the hire ... and no one has complained about Beth Graham in particular (again, to the best of my knowledge). It was a pretty simple issue - some of us felt that the NEW superintendent should get the chance to make this important hire. I believe it is like hiring the defensive coordinator for a head football coach that you are about to hire -- perhaps that head coach would like to make his/her own hire. That was my position last year, when Alberto was the superintendent, and that was my position earlier this year, when Maria was the superintendent. That is an entirely consistent position, despite your claims to the contrary.

I'm glad you think this was a good hire (not sure how it was "brave") -- and I certainly hope that both Maria and Beth will do extremely good work on curriculum evaluation this year. I look forward to seeing the results this fall on the review of K to 12 math, which I think will be very informative. I certainly agree that there is much work to be done on curriculum and evaluation in our district.

Anonymous said...

The core of Amherst is repulsed by its' own wretched ugliness in the presence of beautiful and wildly effective C.S....



Yes.


Get back down in your holes, slithery ones...

Anonymous said...

Catherine.... again, the threats that were issued were NOT issued AFTER the appointment of Maria Geryk. They were issued the evening of the day BEFORE that meeting. They were not issued in executive session, they were issued in a parking lot. Three SC members were present that you know of: Farshid, Steve and you. That constitutes a quorum, and you 3 were discussing school issues. Therefore we have a right to know about what happened that night and why.

I am NOT a SC member nor did I attend the retreat. I am NOT spreading rumors, in fact you are spreading misinformation about the event(s). If you choose not to post this it will be further evidence of your trying to spin this, but all the facts will come out.

Fair and balanced covereage? said...

"The core of Amherst is repulsed by its' own wretched ugliness in the presence of beautiful and wildly effective C.S....
Yes.
Get back down in your holes, slithery ones..."

So, I see you are warmly receptive to publishing this kind attack against your detractors. This is base level stuff, closer to the Larry Kelly blog material, though yours is not much higher up the food chain.

Would you publish such an attack directed at you and not at those who disagree with you?

Doubt it.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:33 - I hope everything does come out -- that would be very informative to the public about the events that have transpired. However, if you are not a member of the SC, then you actually don't know things that were said in executive session that perhaps led to some of the comments later on. But I'm done talking about events in March (that have NOTHING to do with education) with anonymous posters on my blog. I won't publish another comment.

Fair and Balanced - I publish virtually everything ... pro/con Catherine. I don't publish things that are rumors about district staff that could be considered slanderous. I hesitated posting your comment AND that other comment, but again, I am constantly accused of censoring, and that isn't my goal -- so I will always err on the side of publishing it all. I agree that the comment from Anonymous 8:38 is less than ideal.

Nina Koch said...

I don't think that Catherine is censoring people's comments.

It's possible that some people have made mistakes while submitting, like not realizing that the page has timed out. If you spend a long time reading the page, you should reload it before attempting to submit a comment.

Ed said...

the retreat the SC had last Thursday -- which means it is either a posting by one of 3 administrators who attended, 3 or 4 members of the public, or an SC member.

OK, the SC had a retreat from which the public was excluded - troublesome, but probably legal. And the district sent 3 administrators - more troublesome because they are not elected, but still probably legal.

And the whole purpose of this thing was to exclude the public so that people could speak freely.

So (a) why were "members of the public" there, (b) who were they, and (c) who picked them/authorized their attendance? This should all be matters of public record.

Second, and Larry may know the law better than I, I do not believe that the government can favor one member of the public over another which would mean that any reporter wanting to go would have had every right to do so.

Third, if classified documents can be declassified, it has to be possible to de-executive session a meeting after the fact. Catherine, why don't you make this motion at the next SC meeting (or even call for a special one to do it):

"I move to reconsider the vote to go into executive session on (March whatever)" A motion to reconsider is a 2/3 vote and if you loose it, you can simply cite those who voted against you being able to tell people what happened and was said -- and if you win, then you can.

Either way, this will force the others who were present at the meeting to either shut up or let you tell your side of the story. This is hardball politics, UMass style, but you are dealing with UMass people...

BTW, are you actually voting to go into executive session and then going back into at least a pro-forma public session at the end? The law is explicit on this, and it has to be a roll-call vote and recorded into the minutes of the public session of the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Ed:

The retreat, under the rules of the Open Meeting Law, was open to the public...all the public. Anyone who wanted to attend was welcome to attend. I believe Nich Grabbe from the Gazette was also there. I don't know who the administrators were that were there but I am pretty sure Maria Geryk was one of them.

You really do need to get the facts before making comments sometimes, Ed.

Disgusted said...

"maybe declining enrollments also result from a school system that has been attacked relentlessly in the press by its own school committee members... giving the appearance of a system in disarray chaos, and failure. Words that may more accurately describe the school committee itself.

Catherine, I'm afraid your "constructive criticism" has the impact of a hand grenade. When there are casualties (like declining enrollment), some of that has to be seen as a result of YOUR process. Your efforts, even if appreciated as well intentioned, have caused significant collateral damage in our town. If you can't acknowledge any role in this, we're not going to be able to move forward as a district, but you'll probably be able to rattle off individual achievements for the school committee's CV. Being a member of this community, I expect more."


ABSOLUTELY HIT THE NAIL SQUARE ON THE HEAD.

This period in our school's history will be looked upon with serious disdain for the damage done on so many fronts by a school committee out of control.

I is obvious you will stop at nothing. You have already said and done enough to do permanent damage.

Shame on you.

Joel said...

To Anon 9:37

I find your comments to be truly bizarre. You assume that people like me who are pulling their kids from the Amherst public schools are taking this very emotionally difficult and financially crushing action because of criticism about the schools we hear from SC members?

We take these difficult and costly actions because of our first hand experiences with the schools.

And, let me be clear, we do so in part because of attitudes like yours. People like you who believe that the parents who make these difficult decisions are so lazy and checked out that we don't bother to experience the schools ourselves or talk to other parents or try time and time again to have our concerns and worries addressed before we turn to private schools are nothing more than a mindless cheerleaders for status quo.

Sadly, many of those cheerleaders are in fact teachers and school administrators who attack parents and SC members anonymously on this blog.

You and people like you are a big part of the problem and one of the reasons my family has made the difficult decision to leave the public schools.

Anonymous said...

Dear Disgusted. You HAVE GOT to be kidding! No one has moved their kid out of the schools here based on anything Catherine has said or done. Every person who has spoken up has identified a specific problem they had with the schools. And it was never Catherine or the school committee. And if you're referring to Marks Meadow, to beat a fucking dead horse to death, again, the school budget could not sustain funding a tiny school like that with declining enrollments. When will you Marks Meadow parents get it? I guess never. You know what? Shame on you and your flippin myopic New England attitude.

Anonymous said...

Dear August 10, 2010 9:37 AM

Crawl back under your rock.

Anonymous said...

There is so much backbiting in this town, as the exchange between Anon 9:37 and Joel illustrates. It is really, really sad. Fingerpointing will get us nowhere. And now I'll probably be accused of having a poor attitude for writing this post! It never ends.

Viper trapper said...

9:37 is:


The Poster child for all that is wrong with Amherst.


Get you back down for good, slippery one...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

So, I am just going to make a point here, and then hopefully posts will stop about this topic.

1. I do NOT believe that people choose to leave a school system based on things that SC members say (that are validated by numerous outside experts, such as Dr. Hamer and Dr. Beers). Leaving a school district is expensive in terms of money and time, and I think it is impossible to imagine that parents do so lightly, as Disgusted/Anonymous 9:37 implies.

2. I certainly believe that the current SC has made a number of changes to the district, including closing a school to save a million a year, redistricting to avoid having massive inequities in our schools, implementing a K to 6 Spanish program, implementing new policies on curriculum evaluation and exit surveys, and requiring reviews of special education/math/the middle school. If you believe those changes are detrimental to our school district, you should run for SC this spring on a platform opposing these changes, and if the community agrees with your view, you will be supported widely and can then undo this damage caused by the present SC. That's how democracy works.

blowin in the wind said...

Read the last blog submission on the previous post (the latest post) if you want to learn why one family left the Amherst Schools. Also, it also cites yet another misrepresentation of fact by Ed. Why can't we all just state the facts that we know first hand and forego all this hearsay and venom? And now the town is supposed to come up with a flag?? That would be a really funny joke, if it weren't true. How in the world are we going to agree on a Flag Committee? Shall we hire a firm to evaluate what works and what doesn't work in Amherst? Should we take some exit polls or mail out surveys? Should we appoint a flag or hold a referendum? I'm sorry. This is a school business blog, I got carried away because it's just so darn silly to imagine any kind of meeting of the minds after reading the posts between the folks who write here. Sorry, this is off topic. Gosh I hope we don't have to have a retreat. Sorry again! Maybe we should let the new permanent super design the flag. I am so sorry! I'm sure Ms Geryk will mail out the flag as soon as it's ready! Oh darn! Do we have any data on how effective flags have been in other towns similar to Amherst? Do two people talking about flags constitute a forum? Oh drat, let's just hand the whole thing over to Larry Kelly; he's probably already got a prototype.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Catherine can tell us all about the March 8 meeting in the parking lot where she and Steve threatened Farshid.

What say you Catherine? Care to spill the beans on that one?

Anonymous said...

To: August 12, 2010 8:59 AM

Oh please, this is beyond ridiculous. To throw out a ridiculous statement like this is so typical of "don't rock the boat" mentality that has the schools here in the predicament they're in.

Anonymous said...

Beyond ridiculous? I don't think so. And since when is it ok for School Committee members to threaten the Superintendent? I am appalled. This goes beyond the pale.

Between the antics of Catherine and Steve and Carol Gray et al on the Library Board of Trustees I think its beyond time that we have a recall provision in the Town of Amherst.

Abbie said...

To Anonymous@859:

could you please tell us how your demand to CS relates to the education of our kids and our schools?

As it stands, it seems to be a private matter between colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Two SC members issues threats against the Superintendent and thats a private matter among colleagues?????

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I am going to make one brief comment here, and then this topic is done. A number of things were said in Executive Session that I can't get into, which Farshid knows well. That led to some feelings of anger. Steve said something, and I said something, in the heat of anger in what we both assumed was a private conversation -- in a parking lot late at night. It wasn't said at a meeting, and neither of our statements were acted upon. I am sure we can all think of things we've said/done in the heat of anger to colleagues that we assumed would be private -- we just haven't all had the experience of then having that colleague write a piece to the local paper describing them (and also the experience of not being able to describe what of Farshid's actions led to these statements because that would violate executive session).

Here are the facts: I did believe that the searches for curriculum director and MS principal should have been stopped, both because I felt that the negative publicity our district had received with Alberto's abrupt departure would impact the quality of candidates, and because I believed the new superintendent should be able to make these crucial appointments. I shared those feelings directly with Maria, as did other members (not Steve) of the SC who shared my view (which Farshid knows well but is choosing not to share those names). She disagreed and therefore made the hires. That isn't a threat -- it is a difference of opinion, and Maria made the choice she felt was right (which I disagree with).

In terms of Gini Tate -- I voted to not consider using her law firm in January or February during a public meeting, because Gini wrote a letter to Farshid stating she didn't want to work for this SC anymore. I believed that letter meant she wasn't interested in working for our district, as I have stated on REPEATED occasions in public at meetings. This isn't a threat - it is a statement that I believe an attorney who writes a letter saying she doesn't want to work for our district shouldn't be considered to work for our district! This letter is a matter of public record, and anyone can request it.

I would really hope people can focus on education issues, of which we have many, and not focus on one former SC member's reporting of a private conversation that occurred in the heat of anger -- and didn't involve threats to Farshid or the superintendent. It involved honest differences of opinion which have now been stated on the record repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

While I am appreciative of all the efforts of the volunteer school board members in improving our schools. I too think that much of the positive work that has been accomplished could AND should have been done with much more civility, maturity, and mutual respect for people and the process.
While continuous evaluation and improvement should be built into any organization and I believe it is a part of Amherst's schools that needs ongoing attention; this strive for progress should not be at the cost of our collective souls.
I encourage all involved not to sacrifice decency in the pursuit of progress. It has been very disheartening to witness the bickering, the bad publicity, and the back biting. I have 3 children in the Amherst Schools and yes, there is ample room for improvement, but there is ample room to applaud the strengths as well. I strongly believe that the negativity that is being generated is part of the problem of our schools and this problem needs to be addressed by our school committee.

Anonymous said...

Let he or she who has never said anything in exhaustion or frustration or impatience in a parking lot or a hallway or a bathroom that he or she would not want repeated in the Bulletin cast the first stone.

I think that this speaks more to Mr. Hajir's sense of his own personal purity than it does to any broader political climate in Amherst. It's politics, for God's sake, not croquet.

I come from a religious tradition that forgives minutiae like this. For example, I forgive Mr. Hajir for his lousy, inefficient, time-wasting chairing of meetings, his tendency to dominate them with endless talk, his graceless response in print to Dr. Rodriguez (when silence would have sufficed) and his demand that other members remain silent, and his parliamentary shenanigans especially with regard to Union 26.

Like all of them never happened.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:20 very well said.

Catherine,
You, Steve, Farshid having a conversation in a parking lot about matters related to schools? A conversation you thought to be private? What gives w/the open meeting laws here?

And you gave no response about the threat that you and Irv posed to Maria that the budget would be frozen if the searches continued. Too bad for you she was able to state that, under the contract of the superintendent, it is within his/her responsibilities to hire personnel as necessary. And that by expressing your demands and acting on them, the SC would be breaching the said contract.

So much for transparency huh?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Morse,

If you truly "forgave" Mr. Hajir for the list of things he supposedly needs to be forgiven for you would not be talking about them on a blog. If in your mind your gracious forgiveness of Mr. Hajir makes it so that these things never happened why are you writing about them here?

Steve and Catherine can get angry as much as they want and rant and rave about war on the Superintendent in the privacy of a parking lot. To me, the fact that they thought they could tell the Super what to do in hiring school personnel is the bigger issue. This is, purely and simply, an outrageous act of micro-managing the schools and over-stepping their authority as SC members. Their micro-managing did not stop at their parking lot rant. They continued to try to get the searches stopped and they continue to try to micro-manage things that are not in their domain.

This continuous micro-managing of he schools is what will keep the best candidates away from applying for the Super position. The current SC is not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

To August 12, 2010 2:20 PM: You ask for civility and mutual respect??? What about when the school committee puts out ideas for improving the schools and improving our financial mess...all being met with derogatory personal attacks from the peanut gallery at the school committee meetings and in this blog? You want civility? How about giving the school committee some civility and respect for all the work they do? akab

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 2:20 - thanks for the kind words about the new focus of the current SC on evaluation! In terms of bicking/negative publicity -- can you give specific examples of things that concerned you? I am trying to avoid sweeping generalizations. Thanks.

Rich - thanks. Well said.

Anonymous 11:52 - first, conversations between me, Steve, and Farshid don't violate the open meeting law -- that is only 3 people of a 9 member board. Second, I can't speak for other people on the SC's statements. I never said that the budget would be frozen (in private or in public), and I never voted to freeze the budget. I stated my opinion here, at meetings, and to Maria, that I believed the searches should stop. She disagreed. I believe SC members should give superintendents their honest opinions about the schools, and I've done so with each superintendent we've had. Then the superintendent can make up his/her own mind on each issue, but at least will know the SC's views. That strikes me as extremely desirable and indeed responsible.

Anonymous 6:41 - as I've said repeatedly, I thought the searches should have been stopped. So did many people on the board who are not being named in these emails, I guess because attacking Catherine and Steve is easier/more fun. That isn't micro-managing. That is expressing an opinion. Maria was free to accept or reject that opinion. But to be angry because some SC members had an opinion about something related to our schools, which they expressed to the superintendent, seems very odd. Can you give any specific examples of this supposed micro-managing? Again, focus on what I've done, not on your anger at me.

AKAB - good point. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Peanut Gallery" a/k/a citizens and taxpayers of the towns of Amherst, Shutesbury, Pelham and Leverett. We have the right to speak when we disagree with things the SC is doing, proposing or the way they are acting. Furthermore, generally the MOST uncivil commentors at the SC meetings have been Catherine and Steve supporters/cheerleaders. Catherine, Steve and Irv are bullies and a number of their supporters are as well - not all - but some.

I've been a resident of Amherst for over 35 years and I can't remember a time when the discourse among SC members and in general at SC members has been this uncivil.

There are alot of good things happening in the Amherst schools and there is room for improvement. It is not necessary to tear down our schools in order to improve them - much as Catherine, Steve and Irv and their supporters like to think it is necessary.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:31 - I'm really tired of accusations without facts. Can you name one thing I've said or done that is "bullying" (quite a volatile word to use), or that has been uncivil? This blog is not designed for anonymous posters to issue personal attacks on me, or other SC members. It is designed to discuss education. But if you feel that things I've done/said haven't been constructive (and this doesn't include things others have said, since I don't control Irv or Steve's behavior), feel free to share them (even anonymously). But list them -- describe them -- because I can't think of a single thing I've done that fits the description you've posted. And one more thing -- it isn't "tearing down the schools" to point out their problems. But comments like yours are exactly why the schools are in the shape they are now -- because people who want improvements are personally attacked and criticized for doing so.

Anonymous said...

If the previous school committee and the past and present school administration had done their jobs, maybe the present school committee wouldn't have to "micro manage" the administration. But the administration has only shown us they want to continue doing more of the same, which is why we're in an academic and fiscal mess. And when asked to do things the public expects of them, they drag their feet and stall. Also, they have proven that they don't want to improve, they keep hiring their buddies who agree with past agendas that don't work. They obviously need micro management. They don't produce anything, don't want to show the public why they chose a particular curriculum, they just want to go in whatever direction that pleases them. They feel they aren't answerable to anyone. And they're wrong. They are.

Anonymous said...

@10:06


Wrong?

The school's administration is the enemy of ~every single~ tax-payer in the town of Amherst.


This little game has got to be stopped.


It's time to stop renewing contracts.


Come on Maria Geryk, you wanted the job, now start doing something us. WE'RE paying ~your~ salary.

Anonymous said...

Have any of you who are relentlessly attacking Maria Geryk read the Superintendent's "District Improvement Plan: A Blueprint for Continuous Growth" that Ms. Geryk presented to the ARSC at their June 16, 2010 meeting? No? Then perhaps before relentlessly attacking her and all the administrators and teachers in the Amherst school you should read her plan for improving the schools in our district. Not one administrator or teacher has said that the Amherst schools are perfect and that there is no need to improve them. Not one. But there are plenty of folks who say that there is nothing good in our schools. Who believe there is nothing good in our schools.

It's apparently not ok to criticize SC members but its open season on teachers and administrators. It's time for a little fairness and evenhandness on this blog. And its time that people started learning about what Maria's goals and plans are for this year instead of knee jerk comments like "The school's administration is the enemy of ~every single~ tax-payer in the town of Amherst." or " Come on Maria Geryk, you wanted the job, now start doing something us. WE'RE paying ~your~ salary."

She is doing something! And I am pleased with what she has done so far.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:11 - I don't know of anyone who is relentlessly attacking Maria, or anyone who is saying everything about our schools is bad, or anyone who has attacked teachers. Not on this blog, and not elsewhere.

What I do know is that any comments by SC members or parents suggesting ways for our schools to improve is met with anger and personal attacks, which doesn't help people feel like there is in fact a spirit of improvement.

And just for the record, the SC votes on the goals for the district, and we haven't done so. Maria presented a very tentative plan for things she would like to work on, which she said at the time would be revised heavily, so I don't think we have a sense now of what the district goals are for the upcoming year. I hope those do get set and voted on by the SC at our next meeting.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Catherine. The posts on this blog are a never-ending criticism of teachers and administrators and the schools in general. Several of the last several posts have been nothing but criticism. NONE of your supporters ever has anything good to say about the schools. You have nothing good to say about the schools.

One of our teachers was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and it was met with a ho hum reaction from most on the SC. There are many good things happening in our schools every single day that you and your supporters choose to ignore.

AND I am not saying that all is rosy in our schools...its not...there is room for improvement in all of our schools and I think you would be hard-pressed to find any teacher or administrator who disagrees with that statement. So its time that everyone stopped saying that the teacher and administrators are against change and improvement.

It would, however, be nice, for a change, to hear you say one good thing about our schools. Or for any of your supporters to say one good thing about the schools.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:38 - three quick points.

1. I can't control what "my supporters" do or don't say, and given the range of people who email me privately with support, I feel quite confident that many of "my supporters" do in fact say good thing about the schools repeatedly (I've seen such comments at meetings and in the Bulletin). You probably don't identify those people as my supporters, however.

2. I've said numerous good things about our schools on this blog and in meetings. I've talked about the high quality feedback provided by HS social studies teachers EVEN though they have large classes. I've talked about the rich music program (that was one of the reasons to close MM to maintain it). I've talked about the benefits of the wood technology/carving program at the HS (one of the reasons I supported larger HS class sizes to save it) and the world language program (one of the reasons I wanted to expand it to elementary schools). I talked at a recent meeting about the letter from Mike Hayes providing information on summer math and reading assignments. Yet you don't remember or take note of these comments I've made, because they don't fit with your image of me as tearing down the schools.

3. I'm very glad to hear you say that you believe the schools could improve. What is your role in the schools, and what improvements do you think should be made?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:38 here

I have no role in the schools. I am neither a teacher, admiistrator or staff person.

I do however think we have fabulous schools AND improvements can be made in the following areas:

1. Communication
2. horizontal and vertical alignment
3. I hope the MS continues to use Dr. Beers report to make a variety of improvements at the MS
4. I have no experience with Extensions so I can't make any comment,good or bad, about them.
5. I wish it were an option for kids to take Biology in the 9th grade for those who want to take Biology. I'd like to hear why that is not an option and hear the reasoning behin everyone taking the same thing. I've heard alot of good things about the current 9th grade science class and I believe in having options where possible.

As an aside...I think Amherst has started to really look at budget issues much more closely than in the past and I think the CBAC did a fantastic job! I hope it is reconstituted again this school year, either with the same people or new folks or a little bit of both.

There are alot of good things happening in our schools in addition to things that can be improved upon. But what many of us citizens and many teachers hear over and over, day in and day out, is how bad our schools are. They hear this ceaselessly from SC members and SOME parents. And I know that lot of teachers are demoralized and just plain tired of the constant attack. There has got to be away that we can work on improving the schools w/o the constant drumbeat of criticism. Many school systems do it. Why is Amherst so different? If Amherst can't figure out how continue to improve our schools on an ongoing basis without beating everyone over the head while doing it,we will lose our best and brightest teachers.

This is really important, Catherine. I really wish some of your readers and SC members could take this to heart. I know I am probably going to be bashed for saying it...c'est la vie...it has to be said. I wish we could figure out how to work on this as a real team with collegiality. A team of SC, adminisration, teachers and parents. There has got to be a way to stop attacking each other,undestand what each person's role is and all work together to make the Amherst schools the best in the state.

I know I'm rambling so I'll stop now. Hopefully these words will make a difference in one person.

Anonymous said...

Hug a school employee.

Better yet, hug an administrator.

Give 'em some love.

Anonymous said...

Expressing love for a public institution by trying to hold it accountable?

Brothers and sisters, that is SO 1960's!

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:38 here

I just wrote and VERY LONG extended post that for some reason did not go through. Anyway, I just don't have time to write it all out again so I'll summarize:

I have no role in the schools.

Things that can be improved upon:

Communication
horizonatl and vertical alignment

3. MS - I hope the MS will continue to use Dr. Beers report to focus their work on making improvements in the school.

4. 9th grade science - I hear lots of good things about the current 9th grade science course. Even so, I wonder if its possible to allow some kids to take biology in the 9th grade if they so desire. I'd like to hear the reasoning for making the current 9th grade science class mandatory.

As an aside...I thought the CBAC did a great job last year in helping us all learn more about our budget and budget process - I hope it will be reconstituted again.

Finally, I think we have fabulous schools that can be better. However the teachers and administrators in our school today are subjected to a constant drumbeat of negative comments and they hear constantly how bad our schools are. Teachers and administrators are demoralized and just plain tired from the never-ending criticism. If this continues, we will lose our best and brightest teachers.

My question to you Catherine and to all of your blog readers is this: Why can't we continue to work on a continuous plan to improve the schools while at the same time acknowledging what's good in our schools, while at the same time saying out loud..we have some great teachers!!! who are working very hard.

Why can't we all work together as a team, each of us with our on roles, working together to make our schools the best that they can be. It's a puzzle to me why we think that heaping a constant barrage of criticism on our teachers and administrators is going to some how improve our schools. You know what I mean, Catherine. You can play ignorante of what I am trying to describe but all you have to do is read some of the blog postings from the last few days here and you'll see what I mean. I was particularly offended by the post where someone said that Maria needed to be "told what to do just like a child needs to be told what to do." I can't imagine how you could defend such a statement (I know you did not make it but you continue to say that there is no attacks on Maria).

Ok, I'll stop. Enough said.

Let the bashing begin!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:10/2:31 - let me clarify -- I have to be on my email to approve a post. When I'm now on my email, the posts don't go up (and then when I'm back on my email, I put them through). So, sometimes there is a lag between posting and it appearing -- sorry!

But here's my response:

I agree that we could improve our schools in the way you suggest - communication, alignment, the MS (and extensions), and 9th grade science. In terms of each of those: I pushed for a policy requiring annual surveys so parents could share their views and I pushed for an on-line suggestion box (the old SC voted this down) so parents could communicate. I've asked for reviews of our curriculum repeatedly so that we can work on alignment. I pushed for a survey of the MS a year ago (was criticized in the Bulletin and at SC meetings by many MS teachers for this request), and I pushed to include an evaluation of the MS on district goals last year. I have requested a review of extensions since 2007, even prior to my time on the SC, and pushed for this to be included in the review of the MS this year. I have asked for biology to be an option for 9th graders since the start of our new (unprecedented) 9th grade science course, and the science teachers and SC have refused to make this an option (because they would like all 9th graders to have a common science experience). I have no idea whether this course is good or not -- what I do know is that it limits kids' opportunities to study science in the HS and thus isn't in use in any other district I've been able to find in the country (certainly not in any other district in MSAN or in our comparison group). So, I've pushed for precisely the types of improvements you'd like to see. And I don't know of anyone else on the SC in prior years who has pushed for all or even most of these. I also have pushed hard on budget issues -- and supported the continuation of CBAC this spring -- and I agree that they did a fabulous job and should be continued next year.

And in terms of your comment "But what many of us citizens and many teachers hear over and over, day in and day out, is how bad our schools are. They hear this ceaselessly from SC members and SOME parents." Can you point to specific examples of times I've said this? Again, I don't think I've ever said "our schools are so bad" -- and let's remember, I have three kids in our schools, and trust me, I will pull them as soon as I believe our schools so bad. But what I believe is that when I say "we should improve X, Y, and Z" (just like you have), people hear that as "Catherine says our schools are so bad." And that is because the norm in this town is NOT to criticize anything about our schools ... so any criticism is seen as extremely harmful and overly negative.

Sure there are good things happening. But I think it is irresponsible if SC members just sit around and talk about how great things are -- when what we should focus on is making them BETTER. And one more thing - I hear from teachers all the time who totally agree with what I'm saying (and experience the same frustrations) ... they just can't say so to their colleagues. I know teachers who are really frustrated by our lack of AP chemistry, the use of trimesters at the HS, the lack of distinct honors classes in English at the HS, the low math/science requirements at the HS, the elementary math curriculum, the MS experience, etc. They have just learned to keep those frustrations to themselves ... especially after they see the bashing I've taken from some of their colleagues.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:10/2:31 - let me clarify -- I have to be on my email to approve a post. When I'm now on my email, the posts don't go up (and then when I'm back on my email, I put them through). So, sometimes there is a lag between posting and it appearing -- sorry!

But here's my response:

I agree that we could improve our schools in the way you suggest - communication, alignment, the MS (and extensions), and 9th grade science. In terms of each of those: I pushed for a policy requiring annual surveys so parents could share their views and I pushed for an on-line suggestion box (the old SC voted this down) so parents could communicate. I've asked for reviews of our curriculum repeatedly so that we can work on alignment. I pushed for a survey of the MS a year ago (was criticized in the Bulletin and at SC meetings by many MS teachers for this request), and I pushed to include an evaluation of the MS on district goals last year. I have requested a review of extensions since 2007, even prior to my time on the SC, and pushed for this to be included in the review of the MS this year. I have asked for biology to be an option for 9th graders since the start of our new (unprecedented) 9th grade science course, and the science teachers and SC have refused to make this an option (because they would like all 9th graders to have a common science experience). I have no idea whether this course is good or not -- what I do know is that it limits kids' opportunities to study science in the HS and thus isn't in use in any other district I've been able to find in the country (certainly not in any other district in MSAN or in our comparison group). So, I've pushed for precisely the types of improvements you'd like to see. And I don't know of anyone else on the SC in prior years who has pushed for all or even most of these. I also have pushed hard on budget issues -- and supported the continuation of CBAC this spring -- and I agree that they did a fabulous job and should be continued next year.

And in terms of your comment "But what many of us citizens and many teachers hear over and over, day in and day out, is how bad our schools are. They hear this ceaselessly from SC members and SOME parents." Can you point to specific examples of times I've said this? Again, I don't think I've ever said "our schools are so bad" -- and let's remember, I have three kids in our schools, and trust me, I will pull them as soon as I believe our schools so bad. But what I believe is that when I say "we should improve X, Y, and Z" (just like you have), people hear that as "Catherine says our schools are so bad." And that is because the norm in this town is NOT to criticize anything about our schools ... so any criticism is seen as extremely harmful and overly negative.

Sure there are good things happening. But I think it is irresponsible if SC members just sit around and talk about how great things are -- when what we should focus on is making them BETTER. And one more thing - I hear from teachers all the time who totally agree with what I'm saying (and experience the same frustrations) ... they just can't say so to their colleagues. I know teachers who are really frustrated by our lack of AP chemistry, the use of trimesters at the HS, the lack of distinct honors classes in English at the HS, the low math/science requirements at the HS, the elementary math curriculum, the MS experience, etc. They have just learned to keep those frustrations to themselves ... especially after they see the bashing I've taken from some of their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

You say that you want to identify problem areas in our schools and work on them, while affirming the overall quality of the schools?

Sorry, that's too much public negativity.

Any way that you can figure out how to do that in secret?

Anonymous said...

I do believe that I see the beginnings of a couple of beautifully circular arguments right here on this blog, arguments that will serve certain interests very well in the weeks and months ahead.

From Anon 6:41 am this morning:

"This continuous micro-managing of the schools is what will keep the best candidates away from applying for the Super position".....Gee, I wonder which Super candidate will benefit from that, but nicely done, Anon 6:41 am.

And another circular argument: The bad-mouthing of the schools on this blog and in public meetings by Sanderson, Rivkin, and Rhodes is triggering an exodus of parents from the Amherst schools.

They criticize, causing others to leave, causing more criticism, causing more leaving.

No independent reality, just perception, all caused strictly by 3 damned trouble-makers on School Committee. Wow.

Time to saddle up and take those logical gems on the road on behalf of the much beloved Status Quo.

Anonymous said...

The steady decline of a once distinguished school system begins with a single step, say, the political beat-down of a dedicated reformer, a beat-down based on style rather than substance.

"Catherine, you are so badly behaved, so rude, so un-lady-like, so uncivil." This is where we are, right back where we started for women in politics. It's a straitjacket.

Can anyone imagine sitting, say, Irv Rhodes down, looking him in the eyes, and patronizingly saying to him, "Look, Irv, it's not what you say, but how you go about things that is the problem."?

Abbie said...

I gotta wonder at Andy Churchill's ability to process information. I will give him a break and consider that maybe he didn't see the information provided in the Bulletin Article- those 154 folks that responded with their reasons for leaving the school system sure seem '"dissatisfied" and while their reasons are various they all reflect dissatisfaction to me. I find it hard to interpret those reasons as anything other than as dissatisfied.

The schools aren't all bad and in some areas, in our experience, they have been great (eg. writing) and we have had some great teachers. There! Now Mr. Churchill can't put me in the category of 'parents behaving badly and uniformly trashing our schools'. But there are a few areas where there have been problems for a long time, for example MATH in the elementary schools and middle school, and if there was a god I'm sure that even he/she couldn't change it with an act.

Mr. Churchill was at the meeting with the Math consultant and I didn't hear him praising the middle school math program, I believe he referred to its opacity??? Opaque even to one as familiar with the schools as himself.

I would be pretty darn pleased with our schools with only a FEW changes:

1) change ES math curriculum (I don't think many teachers even like it).

2) Change the MS math program: 7th grade preAlgebra, 8th grade: Algebra, Honors Algebra

3) make 8th grade Biology an option

4) switch to semesters in HS

Would Mr. Churchill suggest these changes are "unrealistic expectations"??? Really? Cuz virtually every other school system in the country has these things.

Anonymous said...

Maria Geryk, anointed savior of Amherst's school administrators.


The Christ has risen amen and AMEN!!!

Anonymous said...

Andy Churchill's characterization of parents who are unhappy with the schools because they have "unrealistic expectations" is a really stupid comment. Unrealistic that they offer differentiated teaching? Most other school districts do it. Semester system rather than trimester? Most other school districts do it. Curriculum alignment horizontally and vertically? What school district doesn't do this? Only Amherst. What's unrealistic about expecting a school district to educate its kids? Just the basics, focus in on the basics and get the job done. Doesn't seem unrealistic to me. Feels like we're heading in right direction too with the present school committee.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Andy stated specifically what he believes are the "unrealistic expectations" some parents have. You are trying to put words in Andy's mouth. It's what happens on this blog all the time.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, some of us wonder...

Have you ever posted a comment or comments "anonomously" on your own blog?

Thanks, just curious.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:26 - Andy's comments indicated that dissatisfaction results from unrealistic expectations, and as someone who was on the SC for 6 years, I am quite certain Andy has a good sense of what parents' concerns are. I guess he sees those concerns as unrealistic, based on his comments. The concerns I hear on the SC most frequently are about the middle school, the math program in the elementary and middle school, and special education. And I find all of those concerns valid, and important to try to address. I guess Andy feels differently.

Anonymous 8:28 - thanks for the great question! Yes, I actually post anonymously all the time -- all of the comments praising me, or my efforts on the SC, were actually written by me, so that I could build a false sense of support in this community for my efforts via my blog. I was find it depressing that every single comment was negative about me on my own blog, so I figured that I'd just start writing a bunch of positive comments to cheer myself up. I find that posting anonymously on my own blog is a very good use of my time, which I have plenty of, what with being a professor and having three small kids and serving on the SC.

So, now that I've answered your question, with about the same amount of respect as you gave me in your posting, let's point out the key difference - I'm actually posting using my own name. Why don't you have the courage to ask that ludicrous question using your own name?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Catherine for the funny post!
akab

Anonymous said...

Did you answer my question? I must have missed it. Again, have you ever posted comments anonomously on your own blog? I see a tongue in cheek response, but nowhere do you actually say "yes I have" or "no I have not." Unless, am I supposed to interpret your sarcastic response in some specific way? To me, as it sits now, because you danced around the question and changed the subject, it's a clear "yes, I have."

I am very sorry if you found my question ludicrous and disrespectful, I cannot imagine why it impacted you that way. Please explain how my legitimate question was disrespectful. Would there be something wrong with you posting anonomously once in a while?

Why aren't you brave enough to turn off the "anon" option so that only people who log in can post comments? Is it because we'd see that most of the anon comments which criticize the schools are posted by you and about two of your friends?

Also, what is your job title? Are you an "associate" professor or a full professor? Some of us are just wondering exactly what your position at the college is, you always just say "professor".

Thanks Catherine.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:26 -

1. I have never, not one single time, at any point, posted anonymously on my blog. Or on anyone else's blog for that matter.

2. I have chosen to allow anonymous posting because I believe that some parents and teachers want to participate in this dialogue but fear retribution if they use their own names. Perhaps that is why you are choosing that option yourself? I certainly do prefer when people post using their own names - and although you suggest that all of the posts praising me are written by one or two of my friends (or I write them all myself), it is certainly possible that one person (such as you) simply repeatedly posts all negative comments, right?!?

3. I am a full professor. I'm curious as to why "some of us" are wondering that. Do you feel differently about my positions on the SC if I'm an assistant or an associate or a full professor?

Now, given your interest in not allowing anonymous comments, I'd really appreciate it if you could post your full name. Thanks so much.

Abbie said...

To anon@1026:

You are completely rude, an utter hypocrite and coward. What gall you have asking those questions anonymously!

My observation is that the vast majority of folks that post-nonanonymously (a minority of posts, BTW) are in fact NOT those fervently praising our schools. I guess that reflects who has integrity and accountability for their opinions and views.

I actually would prefer that folks couldn't post anonymously, because cowardly folks like you couldn't snipe away without being visible. Grow up! Or perhaps you are a child, and if so then I'll give you a break and hope you learn from future experience? I can only imagine that someone without much world experience would think there is any importance or relevance to whether or not Catherine is an assistant/associate/full professor or indeed her profession at all! What matters is the substance of her views and opinions- take it, leave it, or debate it...

Anonymous said...

Re: August 16, 2010 10:26 AM

I think this poster is one of the high school kids. It's very sophmoric. Not worth responding to.
akab

Anonymous said...

I agree with akab that Anonymous 10:26 sounds like a high school student, but one who is brimming with curiosity. Otherwise, why all the questions?

Well, if anonymous 10:26 is still reading looking for the answers to some of those questions, may I suggest the Amherst College website, www.amherst.edu? Then type in the name "Catherine Sanderson" into the Search box, and you can read about some of Ms. Sanderson's professional pursuits there. And you might find that her intellect has roamed around a bit over the years, into some OTHER topics that might be of interest to high school students.

But the additional information will tend to contradict this popular image of her as The Dragonlady of the Regional School Committee, so it may not be welcomed.

Rich Morse