My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Amherst Schools News

There are two stories from this week's Gazette that I think will be of interest to my readers.

First, there is a story about a meeting with Dr. Andrew Chen (the math consultant hired by the superintendent to review K to 12 math). There are opportunities for parents to meet with Dr. Chen tomorrow (Wednesday). Here's the story link: http://gazettenet.com/2010/07/24/math-consultant-available-amherst.

Second, there is a story about the drop in enrollment at Amherst Regional Middle School (http://gazettenet.com/2010/07/24/amherst-middle-school-population-dropping). I want to make two points about this drop in enrollment:

  • parents with means (economic - to pay for private school - and/or job-wise - to be able to provide transportation to and from private/charter/choice schools) have many more options than parents without such means ... and it isn't good for our district or our schools if parents of means start to opt out. I hope the Regional SC and the superintendent and the principal take this drop in enrollment very seriously, and I really hope we can take steps (quickly) to make this school a more appealing choice for all families; and
  • although some will claim that parents are opting out of this school because of the negativity by certain SC members (like this one), I find it extremely hard to believe that parents are choosing to opt of our schools (and pay large sums of money to a private school and/or spend considerable time transporting their child to/from a private/choice/charter school) simply based on concerns expressed by 1 or 2 SC members -- the costs are simply too great to make such a decision with so little information.

The concerns about the middle school that I've expressed (on this blog, in meetings, in the paper) are concerns that I've heard expressed by many parents (and kids) for YEARS, and I am highly concerned that I'm continuing to hear the same types of concerns from parents of middle school students now as I hear from parents of 12th graders when they reflect on their child's experience in that school: it is one thing to have a problem (which occurs in all districts/schools over time), but it is another thing (and I think an unacceptable thing) to have a problem and refuse to acknowledge it and fix it over such a long period of time. I believe that parents who are considering whether to send their children to this school (in the face of concerns they've personally experienced with older siblings and/or heard from others) MIGHT be convinced to give this school a chance by statements (from the SC, superintendent, and principal) that reflect an awareness and understanding of the concerns parents and students have about this school as well as a commitment to address these concerns with a specific plan (and timeline). However, statements from district leaders that this school is actually excellent, there are no problems, and any concerns simply reflect the difficult age of middle school are hardly reassuring when people's own experience is so dramatically different from such statements. When I talk to kids and parents about the middle school (and I've talked to MANY), there are amazingly nuanced responses about strengths AND weaknesses of the school (suggesting that it is not just "a difficult age" or "a difficult transition"). I'm hopeful that the middle school will seek to build on its strengths, and work diligently (and quickly) on its weaknesses, in the upcoming year ... and I hope that as both a School Committee member who is highly committed to excellent public education for all kids AND as the mother of a rising 7th grader!

65 comments:

Michael Jacques said...

Catherine,

Do you know when central office will release information from the exit surveys for students leaving our school system? I hope it will be helpful in focusing changes that can bring these families back and stop the outward flow of students from our town.

Also do you know if there has been exit data gathered consistently in the past. It might be helpful to see if the number leaving our district is declining, maintaining, or growing year after year. If we could compare that information with changing demographics it would gives us a better understanding of the bigger picture of declining enrollment.

Nina Koch said...

"However, statements from district leaders that this school is actually excellent, there are no problems, and any concerns simply reflect the difficult age of middle school are hardly reassuring when people's own experience is so dramatically different from such statements."

Can you give even one example of such a statement from a district leader? When has anybody said there are no problems?

I can give an example where a district leader (Mike Hayes) acknowledged a need for change:

====================================

"I'm not ever stuck in one model," he responded. "I believe in continuous improvement."

Another parent asked if increased interest in private and charter schools means the middle school needs to change.

Hayes responded that although parents at open houses speak positively about the school, "I'm not someone who likes to sit around and do the same thing over and over."

Hayes said he has learned a lot from consultant Barry Beers, who delivered a critical report about the middle school last month. (Schlenter was not familiar with Beers' report.)

Beers told Hayes that he wrote to Geryk saying that as principal he could carry out the report's recommendations, he said.

Gazette, April 3
====================================

Dr. Beers returned to the middle school in May and observed that some important improvements had already taken place, with more to go.

Dr. Beers Return Visit

Okay, now it's your turn, Catherine. Please provide an example of a statement that fits your description. Or, perhaps you would be willing to revise your description.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, PLEASE assure us that, in spite of all that has gone on with the Amherst School Committee in the last 2-1/2 years, that we will be able to attract someone to come here to address these concerns you have!! I keep hearing parents say that no one worth their salt and in their right mind would apply here because of all the nonsense that goes on, and because of the battle the Amherst School Committee has waged against the administration and teachers. Can we somehow reverse this perception?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Mike - I have heard that we will get the exit data survey stuff in the fall ... but I've also heard from several families who are leaving the school system that they have yet to even get an exit survey. I hope that they will go out soon, as I think this is essential information to have. We do have data from the past on number of students who have opted out, but we haven't tracked it through surveys until this year (when the SC voted on a policy to collect such data).

Nina - I frankly hardly know where to start in my response, but I'll give two quick examples. First, and I'm quoting here, a number of middle school teachers wrote a letter to the Bulletin in May of 2009 (after I raised, at a SC meeting, public concerns about the MS and a desire to have an evaluation of this school), which included the following statements: "The faculty of the middle school is an outstanding one, with years of experience in many different schools. The vast majority of us feel it is the finest faculty we have had the opportunity to work with. However, what has remained constant during that time, is the somewhat negative perception held by some in the community, of both middle school age children and middle schools in general." No where in this letter is there any acknowledgment that there are problems -- what there is is intense criticism of me and Steve (which also occurred at subsequent SC meetings -- see ACTV). Second, those who attended the MS principal interviews will recall that Mike Hayes specifically noted that he first reaction to Beers' concerns was defensiveness ... not an awareness, acceptance, appreciation, etc. Finally, the statements you gave don't have anyone acknowledging any problems! They are vague statements like "I believe in continuous improvements!" Your turn - give me one example of anytime any MS principal or teacher or the superintendent has named a single thing that COULD and SHOULD be changed about the school (other than the criticism of the school by some SC members).

Anonymous 10:22 - well, I'm surprised that people would express concerns about the Amherst SC, when I've specifically heard praise about this SC's actions from many (e.g., adding Spanish and preschool for low income students are precisely the type of exciting things for superintendents to see in a district). The Amherst SC has tackled difficult things -- like closing a school and redistricting -- while the Regional SC has largely just maintained the status quo. However, I've heard that superintendents are HIGHLY concerned about taking jobs in which they may be run out of town by senior administrators and principals when they try to effect change ... which is precisely the rumor that has now gone around about Alberto's departure. Interestingly, at the retreat last week, the head of the MASC advised the SC to "don't let the search get away from you -- because principals and senior administrators really like to choose their own boss." I am truly concerned about this perception.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow Catherine. That statement from the MASC is troubling, and yet rings true. Amazing how the administration, principal, and the press can take a situation and turn it on its ear and blame the school committee. Thanks for all the hard work you do. A lot of us appreciate it.
akab

Joel said...

We have made multiple requests to the district office for our exit survey. My wife had a face-to-face meeting with Maria Geryk on another matter and was promised an exit survey. That was close to two months ago and no survey has been sent to us. We have friends who pulled their kids last year who never received exit surveys despite repeated requests. And, in conversations with families about carpooling to private schools we've heard that no one has received an exit survey.

To make matters worse, Regional SC chair Rick Hood dismisses parental concerns about these sort of issues as "anecdotes." He had some sort of communications committee and this stuff came up and he shut down discussions by demeaning parents as passing along mere "anecdotes."

Anonymous said...

We left the school system after middle school last year and we didn't get any exit surveys forms. Whom should I contact to give our feedback?

Anonymous said...

You’re right that there are serious problems with the middle school that need to be addressed, and I appreciate your readiness to tackle such problems.

You’re wrong to continually express amazement that anyone would dare to criticize the Amherst SC. What you may tout as achievements (the creation of a Spanish program) others may see as a misguided use of limited available funds. I wish, for once, that you would take your critics seriously and not just shoot down any opinion that does not align with your own.

Anonymous said...

There are so many people posting here about pulling their kids from our public schools!! Is anyone willing to share why they are leaving? I imagine it will be a different reason for every family, but most of us will never see the results from the exit surveys (and now we hear that few people even GET the surveys), so learning about other families' decisions on this blog would be very informative. We are also struggling to figure out what is best for our kids. If we knew there were carpools out there to different schools, that might help us figure out our options.

Experienced parent said...

The most common criticism I've heard from Amherst students about the middle school is that it isn't hard and they aren't asked to do much work. Older students say that the high school is much better and they like it more.

Think about this: the students want to do more work in middle school; they want to be more engaged by their teachers; they want to learn more. In a way, this is a good problem to have and a problem easy to solve.

lise said...

Regarding exit surveys. My daughter left the school system after 8th grade. She is now a rising junior in HS. We got a telephone call about a year ago (over a year after she left the system)that asked three or four questions about our decision. It was shortly after the policy change to do exit surveys - so it may be different now - but that was our experience.

Rick said...

“To make matters worse, Regional SC chair Rick Hood dismisses parental concerns about these sort of issues as "anecdotes." He had some sort of communications committee and this stuff came up and he shut down discussions by demeaning parents as passing along mere "anecdotes."”

Joel, that is completely wrong. What I was I saying at those meetings is that we need to collect those “anecdotes” as data, otherwise they remain as undocumented anecdotes. Thus I was proposing we try to put in place some kind of issue tracking system that would collect this data so we can see exactly what happened in any given situation and get a better idea of how many people are having a similar issue.

See: “Issue Resolution Flow Chart.pdf”
http://groups.google.com/group/arpscomm

This may or may not be a good idea (e.g. would people actually use the system or not) but that is what I was proposing, NOT “dismissing parental concerns”.

On exit surveys not happening, that is very bad. I will check out what is going on there.

Anonymous said...

Gee, whatever the opposite of "stuffing the ballot box" is, this business with the undistributed exit surveys is it!

Clearly, no news is good news for our school administrators.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Three quick things:

1. I've asked about exit surveys at several SC meetings, as I continue to hear from families who have left our district that they haven't received one. Individual SC members who aren't chair don't meet individually with Maria, so I haven't been able to ask her in a meeting and get a fuller answer. I hope Rick can get to the bottom of this.

2. Anonymous 9:00 - sorry I didn't clarify. I know lots of people criticize the Amherst SC ... and lots of people disagree with many of the things we've done (closing Marks Meadow, redistricting to achieve equitable schools, asking for an evaluation of our elementary math program, implementing Spanish language for all elementary kids, adding preschool for low income kids). But I guess I don't see the job of an SC member as doing the "most popular" thing -- if I did, I sure wouldn't have voted to close Marks Meadow, or redistrict, or add low income preschool spaces. I didn't hear any clamoring from the community for any of these measures, yet I felt these were the right decisions, and I feel very good about making these changes in our district. Would NOT making some of these changes have saved me some grief/pain/criticism? Sure. But I didn't run for SC to be "most liked" or "most popular" -- I ran for SC to make the schools as good as they could be for all kids, and I see these changes as precisely in line with that goal. I'd also note that all of these changes we've made were done on UNANIMOUS votes ... so, these are not changes that I wanted and that others opposed (or none of these would have happened). Do different people have different priorities? Sure -- I certainly didn't believe that most people in our district prioritized ending the practice of maintaining an elementary school that was over 50% low income kids.

3. Experienced parent - well said. Thanks. It is indeed a good problem to have ... and I hope it will be an easy one to solve.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
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Catherine A. Sanderson said...
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Anonymous said...

Amen to Experienced Parent:

Kids who want to be engaged more: this is a good problem and should be an easy problem to have. If you look at the work of the kids who participated over the years under the leadership of Jennifer Welborn in the regional and state-wide Middle School Science Fairs, you will see what kids have done with all that excess intellectual energy.

At the Morse household, we had a deal going into ninth grade: if it turned out to be "more Middle School", we were going to get out. I am relieved to say that things changed. But, at that point, we were running out of patience with "education running in place". There were some wonderful exceptions to this (the music program and Jennifer Welborn's teaching both during and after class), but we were discouraged.
As a believer in the public schools, I was completely and vehemently opposed to the idea of applying to PVPA, and I almost lost the argument.

Yes, this should be an easy problem to fix.

Rich Morse

Rick said...

From Superintendent Geryk:

“The exit survey is in place and will be sent out to all families who withdrew their child(ren) this past school year. I expect this mailing to be sent early next week. It has always been the intention, this year, to capture this information at the end of the year from the central office. After this initial mailing, we intend to have this survey provided to families from the school level at the time of being withdrawn. You can assure people that this will be taking place as planned.”

So, it looks like the deal is that this year a bulk mailing to all will be done, then going forward it will be done individually as families withdraw (although most probably withdraw between school years anyhow). I will make a reminder for myself in September to check on whether the survey data has been tabulated and can be distributed to the SC.

Nina Koch said...

Sorry, Catherine, you did not provide an example that fits your description. It needs to be from a district leader and it needs to say that the middle school is excellent and there are no problems. I don't see that in your examples.

Actually you are a little behind in your homework. You said you had national evidence that IMP students don't perform as well in college, but you were unable to provide that evidence when pushed. You said the NCTM Standards are ideological, but you have yet to provide an example of something written in the standards that would fit that description.

Now for my turn, you asked me for an example of a statement that mentioned things that we want to change about the middle school. That's easy. The school improvement plan does exactly that. If Mike Hayes comes to you in August and hands you a blank piece of paper, then I guess he will be saying there is nothing to improve. But if he comes to you with a list of things they are going to work on, you will have what you asked for.

At the district level, Maria Geryk has already presented a draft version of her District Improvement Plan. This, too, is a list of things that need to be improved. I think what she put together is well-thought out and very ambitious. She is going to be asking a lot of us, but she is also a very good motivator and brings out the best in people.

Joel said...

Rick,

I know you mean well, but you tend to look at parents' complaints and concerns as "anecdotes" and administrators' assurances that "it's all good" as facts.

The convoluted flow chart speaks to the problem. Parents feel as though they have to jump through multiple hoops because administrators ignore them or, frankly, lie to them.

Moreover, the system as it functions now and your proposed flow chart also reveal the ridiculousness of our system's two great claims: "Every Child, Every Day," and that we have a "social justice agenda."

At present and with your proposed system, parents have to invest a lot of time and energy to get answers to simple questions (talk to any parent of a rising 7th grader about how many different answers they got about the math curriculum and extensions from Mike Hayes). If our district cares so deeply about every child, every day, parents wouldn't have to invest the sort of time it takes to get simple answers to simple questions, e.g., those regarding MS math.

And, to simultaneously argue that we believe in social justice, but that parents must be free during business hours to have multiple meetings with administrators to get basic questions answered is just ridiculous. It is hard to reconcile the posturing about social justice and the fact that single parents, people with multiple part-time jobs, people who feel intimidated by the school administration, people who are uncomfortable speaking English (esp. to authority figures), etc. have to navigate either the current system or your proposed, multi-stage, issue ticket system.

Abbie said...

Catherine,

I appreciate all you and the other SC members are doing and I imagine that it is incredibly frustrating. While I believe that the SC can create some real changes (like those you noted), I can see that improving the system in some ways is FUNDAMENTALLY limited. This critical limitation is one experienced by virtually all public school districts and is (finally) being addressed by but a few districts.

The problem is the impossibility of removing (weak/bad/abusive) teachers from employment once they have professional status. Until we create a mechanism where these teachers can be purged from the system we are limited in improving the educational experience for our kids. These teachers are a drain on our finances (as they are often put into place-holding positions like "intervention") and harm our kids' education.

I fully believe that bad teachers are the minority and that we have many excellent, even 'master' teachers. But we are stuck with these (small number of) teachers who would be fired, if the district could. I imagine it must be very frustrating for our good teachers (and our good but not yet 'professional' teachers) to see these 'firable' teachers going on and on, year after year, collecting their very large salaries and having to do jack to earn it because they are literally untouchable.

I very much urge those negotiating the next contract to insist on including a mechanism whereby teachers can actually be fired.

Yes to more challenge said...

I like the idea of upping the work load in MS. Students are ready for it.

In fact, I think this is one of the recommendations from the Beers report.

However it would help if hte SC learned how to better conduct itself. The often condescending tone of several members continues to darken the entire process.

You need to learn how to discuss programs without dismissing out of hand the ones that don't fit your narrow views of what education is.

What have you actually done to help build the MS into a stronger school? I'm hearing the principal state publicly that he believes in continuous improvement. Ok. Let's keep going.

If you actually help build a strong, positive school, then people will flock to it. If you continue to beat it publicly then it will continue to have a soiled reputation.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you don't have the data reported in today's gazette posted here. It refutes your claims that Amherst's students in math are damaged by some of the non-traditional math programs the school system uses. Is that why you haven't posted it?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich Morse - I hear very similar stories from many parents regarding the middle school experience ... and I'll just note that your daughter attended the MS many years before I was on the SC, right? So, the public concerns I've raised about the MS didn't create the bad feelings about this school in many parents/kids. My concerns were simply public, whereas concerns were previously expressed privately.

Rick - thanks for sending this information to us. I hope families will report back as to when these exit surveys arrive, as I do think this is very important information to have, particularly since the SC will hear school improvement plans in August.

Nina - I believe the letter in the paper (signed by many MS teachers -- including curriculum heads) indeed says the school/staff is outstanding ... but again, my point is that I have yet to hear a SINGLE thing said by the superintendent or the principal or any regional SC member othan than myself and Steve that describes any problems in the MS or any solutions. I find that concerning -- maybe you don't. And it is GREAT if we are going to get a school improvement plan in a month that states some improvements -- that will mean that the concerns I've raised for 2 years as a member of SC and the concerns that other parents have raised for years will perhaps now be addressed. I guess it might be a bit hard for many parents to get really excited learning that after 2 to 5 years, and heavy pushing by a SC member, some changes will be made. That pace of change (and again, this is change that you say might be coming this fall) is hard for those of us with kids in the schools.

And in terms of your slams about math ... another reader gave a link to a paper I referred to -- I posted that link (but perhaps didn't personally try to take credit for finding it?). And if you read the math literature (even as simple as the "math wars wikipedia" site), you see NCTM described as ideological. Maybe you believe in that ideology -- and that's great. But I expect an objective math evaluation that doesn't prejudge the type of math we provide.

Abbie: three quick responses here. First, yes, I am totally frustrated! Second, I don't think we can change the teachers' contract in a way that violates union rules/regulations (which I think are pretty strong). Third, I actually don't think that bad teachers are the problem ... I mean, I am sure there are some bad teachers in Amherst (like in all districts), but I think there are far more good and great teachers. What I think is the problem is that the district has just hired all these teachers (bad/good/great) and then said "do whatever you want." And that means that each teacher does his/her own thing, and that really doesn't help a district have vertical/horizontal alignment. It means a student's experience is totally determined by whatever teacher he/she has and the next year's teacher might not even know what each child does/doesn't know. Relatedly, and for some reason I just don't understand at all, the Amherst district prides itself on doing whatever it wants, without any regard to what other districts/schools have. So, we have a 7th grade math program no one else has (extensions), a 9th grade science program no one else has (ecology), a trimester system (very unique in MA and across the country), and so on. That isn't, in my opinion, a strength -- we seem to re-invent the wheel at every opportunity, instead of saying "hey, there are some really good wheels out there -- let's borrow one!"

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Yes to more Challenge - three quick things:

1. I am glad you agree that the MS could be more challenging. I hope that is in the school improvement plan that Nina has promised will include good changes!

2. Can you be precise about what I've done that is negative/condescending? I'd like examples instead of anonymous accusations.

3. I've done a number of things to help make the MS a strong, positive school. As the parent of a 3rd grader, I wrote a letter to Jere Hochman asking for a review of elementary math so that all kids could come into the MS better prepared. I also joined the MS principal search committee (4 years ago) to try to hire a leader who could turn this school around (Jere Hochman failed the search and put Mike Hayes and Fran Ziperstein in charge). Then I joined the math curriculum council, when I pushed for examining extensions, requiring 8th grade algebra for all kids, and recommended getting a math textbook for the MS (which it now has, and didn't before). Next, I started ACE, an advocacy organization, and in our first set of priorities, we asked the SC to adopt a goal of 8th grade algebra for all kids. Then, I ran for SC and won a seat, and asked, in this capacity, for an evaluation of the MS. All of those things are specific things I've done to improve the MS in a positive way. But it is too bad that these efforts are all ignored in your post -- and you accuse me of saying "beat it publicly" because I've raised, in public, the concerns that MANY parents have had for years.

Anonymous 1:20 - actually, I'm on vacation right now and I'm not in MA, and thus I'm not getting the Gazette. If you have a link you'd like me to post -- send it along. And I'm saddened by your decision to make an anonymous accusation that I'm not publishing some great news. However, I've never made a claim that our students are damaged by participation in IMP math (though that is precisely how any suggestion that we evaluate anything in our disrict is interpreted) -- I've said that some research suggests there are problems with IMP math in terms of college preparation, and therefore we should evaluate what we are doing. If we have in fact done such an evaluation and it reveals our students in IMP are doing just as well or better (and that is reported in the Gazette), that's great!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
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Anonymous said...

It's important to point this out so that we get the history straight: I was hearing complaints about the Amherst public schools from vigilant, conscientious parents, who were NOT of color, from the late 1990's on, long before Ms. Sanderson arrived on the scene.

I paid them no mind at the time because we had a tremendous six-year experience with our child at Crocker.

As someone who voted for Catherine last time and expects to again, I love these schools and I have a great deal of fondness for those folks who have taught my child. We moved to Amherst for the schools.

I don't agree with everything that Catherine has said or done over the past two and a half years. It's probably understatement to say that she has a tendency to choose candor over tact just about every time. She says things that I would have chosen to leave unsaid (amazingly). I also worry that the demands for accountability may have overtaxed the administration's ability to respond thoroughly and intelligently. But I approve of the overall direction in which she is pushing the schools.

And I'm convinced that, given the ferocity of the pushback from both within the schools, from students, and from citizens who think that Catherine is going about this all wrong (how much similar public criticism was there of Kathleen Anderson or Vladimir Morales in similar roles?), only a very select group of individuals in town are equipped with the thick skin to do it. I know that I personally could not. There's a reason why this undercurrent of unhappiness has kept silent for so long.

Rich Morse

Nina Koch said...

"some research suggests there are problems with IMP math in terms of college preparation"

Still waiting for this research. The paper by Dr. Wu is not research and doesn't have any data on student performance. It's a review of a very early version of the IMP curriculum. Evidently you have not read that paper, nor have you read the NCTM Standards and yet you feel qualified to characterize both of them.

I will recommend again that you spend some time reading the standards. They are a statement of what students should be able to do. See if you find anything in the list that you think is a bad idea.

Or, to paraphrase Sam I Am, "Try them try them you may like them!"

Lin said...

Maria Geryk has a history of withholding information, breaking promises and extending deadlines when it comes to information-gathering from parents. The MS improvemment plan, the exit surveys and the special education review are three examples. In her capacity as Special Education Director--now known as Director of Student Services--, she was even more irresponsible in this area because former superintendent Hochman shielded her from criticism--ask any SPEDPAC parent--and because parents of disabled students are not treated equally by the School Committee (what I mean by that is that their concerns are not taken as seriously as parents of children in regular education.) Can you tell me if the exit survey has been or will be given to parents of children with special needs? I hope we will not be left out because of that tired, old excuse: It would violate our confidentiality. Also, it comes as no surprise to us that the special ed survey fell short. Reread this blog at the time when parents were upset that Ms. Geryk was making the choice of who the evaluating firm would be. Thank you for the opportunity to write here.

Not Good Enough in Math to Help My Kids said...

The chart in the paper actually shows that whatever Amherst is doing in math... it should continue doing. Especially if you like to compare out district with our neighbor, Northampton, and the state... on MCAS math we're doing better.

That said, I still believe that the "extensions" in MS have to go. At least IMP is evidence-based and has graduates (and their families) who can talk about its benefits in their lives.

I have not met one MS student (or their family members) who speaks highly of the extension process nor have I seen any evidence or evaluation of its efficacy.

Keep IMP, stop extensions. Align elementary math so that every student in MS can take algebra and go on to succeed in HS math.

Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Rich Morse said, "I also worry that the demands for accountability may have overtaxed the administration's ability to respond thoroughly and intelligently."

I agree and share those concerns. And I'll take it farther.

I believe that the failure to meet these demands gets used by SC members to paint a very negative incompetent picture of an administration that is doing its best .... and isn't doing a terrible job of catching up to the winds of change that are blowing in Amherst.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich - I believe "candor over tact" is a reasonable description of the choices I've made ... and I watched the SC for a LONG time being very nice and cordial with one another and the superintendent ... and meanwhile, I heard parents complain bitterly about numerous aspects of our schools (elementary math and the MS and special ed would be the three most common concerns I heard expressed), and saw no sign of action on behalf of the SC/administration. Regardless of whether people like me/hate me -- during my time on SC there has been an outside review of the MS, an outside review of special ed, and an outside review of K to 12 math. I call that progress, and I believe the results of those outside reviews will benefit all kids.

Nina - I am really trying to respond constructively to your posts, but I wish you could show me the same courtesy in your postings. That being said, I've read numerous papers on math, including the one by Dr. Wu (on concerns about math), and the one by Dr. Milgram (showing differences in SAT scores for those in IMP versus traditional math. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree about whether papers from math professors at Berkeley (Wu) and Stanford (Milgram) count as research.

I also don't think it is an SC member's job to decide on the standards of any discipline -- whether I personally like the NCTM standards just isn't relevant. There is no way that all SC members could be expected to be up to speed on all curriculum/programs in a school district and how they fit with current policy/standards.

What IS the role of the SC is setting policies about evaluation ... so, what I've said is NOT "I like IMP" or "I hate the standards" -- it is that I believe we should have objective and rigorous evaluations of all our programs, including IMP. I continue to hope that you will voice your strong support for such an evaluation, since that is really what is essential, right?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich - I believe "candor over tact" is a reasonable description of the choices I've made ... and I watched the SC for a LONG time being very nice and cordial with one another and the superintendent ... and meanwhile, I heard parents complain bitterly about numerous aspects of our schools (elementary math and the MS and special ed would be the three most common concerns I heard expressed), and saw no sign of action on behalf of the SC/administration. Regardless of whether people like me/hate me -- during my time on SC there has been an outside review of the MS, an outside review of special ed, and an outside review of K to 12 math. I call that progress, and I believe the results of those outside reviews will benefit all kids.

Nina - I am really trying to respond constructively to your posts, but I wish you could show me the same courtesy in your postings. That being said, I've read numerous papers on math, including the one by Dr. Wu (on concerns about math), and the one by Dr. Milgram (showing differences in SAT scores for those in IMP versus traditional math. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree about whether papers from math professors at Berkeley (Wu) and Stanford (Milgram) count as research.

I also don't think it is an SC member's job to decide on the standards of any discipline -- whether I personally like the NCTM standards just isn't relevant. There is no way that all SC members could be expected to be up to speed on all curriculum/programs in a school district and how they fit with current policy/standards.

What IS the role of the SC is setting policies about evaluation ... so, what I've said is NOT "I like IMP" or "I hate the standards" -- it is that I believe we should have objective and rigorous evaluations of all our programs, including IMP. I continue to hope that you will voice your strong support for such an evaluation, since that is really what is essential, right?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich - I believe "candor over tact" is a reasonable description of the choices I've made ... and I watched the SC for a LONG time being very nice and cordial with one another and the superintendent ... and meanwhile, I heard parents complain bitterly about numerous aspects of our schools (elementary math and the MS and special ed would be the three most common concerns I heard expressed), and saw no sign of action on behalf of the SC/administration. Regardless of whether people like me/hate me -- during my time on SC there has been an outside review of the MS, an outside review of special ed, and an outside review of K to 12 math. I call that progress, and I believe the results of those outside reviews will benefit all kids.

Nina - I am really trying to respond constructively to your posts, but I wish you could show me the same courtesy in your postings. That being said, I've read numerous papers on math, including the one by Dr. Wu (on concerns about math), and the one by Dr. Milgram (showing differences in SAT scores for those in IMP versus traditional math. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree about whether papers from math professors at Berkeley (Wu) and Stanford (Milgram) count as research.

I also don't think it is an SC member's job to decide on the standards of any discipline -- whether I personally like the NCTM standards just isn't relevant. There is no way that all SC members could be expected to be up to speed on all curriculum/programs in a school district and how they fit with current policy/standards.

What IS the role of the SC is setting policies about evaluation ... so, what I've said is NOT "I like IMP" or "I hate the standards" -- it is that I believe we should have objective and rigorous evaluations of all our programs, including IMP. I continue to hope that you will voice your strong support for such an evaluation, since that is really what is essential, right?

Abbie said...

Having read Farshid Hajir's commentary in the Bulletin: I have 2 comments. (1) His pointed criticisms belie his words of wanting a turning point. I guess he really wanted the last word. He (and Ms. Geryk) was totally wrong on trying to bring the Regional SC into the Union 26 issue by using a 'Regional SC meeting' for this issue. This alone warranted his resignation, in my view.
(2) He says 'As we head into a new year involving a possible superintendent search'. Since when did this search become just a 'possibility'? His words suggest to me that there is something going on in the background to keep Ms. Geryk as SI, without an open search. NOT OK! She may well rise to the top of an open search, and that would be an acceptable outcome but ONLY if there is an open and transparent search. The ad for the search ought to be close to going out... Any status to report?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - my response to your two thoughts.

1. I found Farshid's comments unfortunate, and really do wish that he had managed to stay out of the Union 26 discussion.

2. I had also assumed that we would conduct a full and open search for a new superintendent, which could certainly include an application from Maria. However, Farshid's replacement on the SC (Kip Fonsch, former ARHS teacher) from Leverett said at the last SC meeting (July 22nd) that he believed the district needed stability right now and therefore we should appoint Maria Geryk as the permanent superintendent without conducting a search or having any public comment. We also learned from Kathy Mazur that this would be perfectly legal. So, it is apparently now an open question as to whether any search for a superintendent will occur at all.

I did say that I opposed this approach, as did several other Amherst SC members, and I made a motion that the chairs of the three SCs (Irv, Rick, Debbie) meet to work on a timeline for conducting a search and getting together materials for a search. I believe comments on this topic could be sent to the whole SC (schoolcommittee@arps.org).

Anonymous said...

Already it appears that, for some Regional School Committee members, this is going to be the proverbial "nationwide search".

Someone needs to explain the functional value of "stability". Who actually needs "stability"? And at what point is "stability" the same as "inertia"? And will we know it when we get there?

Once we get past the rhetoric justifying Ms. Geryk's tenure ad infinitum, just what are we talking about here? In the memorable recent words of Mr. Churchill expressed in a different context, this quest for "stability" seems like "a solution looking for a problem".

Anonymous said...

In the interest of full disclosure, just how many School Committee members in any of the four towns are one or two degrees of separation from a public school pay or pension check? (A joint checking account=one degree of separation)

Anonymous said...

no matter how much I dont care for your way of doing things, Catherine -- I believe tact is an important asset in our elected officials, espeically in SMALL TOWN politics-- undermining the effort for an open search would be a terrible terrible mistake. An open process, where Maria Geryk - if interested - could submit her resume (and presumably her record) for consideration seems to me to be the only option for a SC that wants to avoid pettiness and get back to the business of conducting transparent business on behalf of our children and our school communities.

Stability does not have to be disrupted by such a search nor is it unattainable with the possibility of a new superintendent or a re-upping of Ms. Geryk.

It will be the height of dysfunction if the SC fractures over this point. And rather than seeing it as us/them, as a voter, I will hold every member responsible.

Jeff Singleton said...

As a member of the Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee I can tell you that the inability to identify and respond to the concerns of those leaving schools in a district is widespread in public education. So is resentment toward criticism and a tendency to "shoot the messenger."

This is why liberals like myself often become conservatives. Just getting a district to implement an exit survey seems like trying to turn the Titanic. Thus "market mechanisms" - that is, the threat that the organization will go out of business if it does not listen to customers - seems like the only way to get those in charge to listen to parents.

I strongly favor exit surveys (and surveys of those who stay!) But they can be tricky without a good methodology and people of good will to interpret the data. The reasons why people make their choices are so diverse and contradictory that there is a tendency to throw up one/s hands and say nothing can be learned from it.

...especially if that is what you are inclined to do anyway.

Jeff Singleton
Gill-Montague School Committee

Jeff Singleton said...

As a member of the Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee I can tell you that the resistance to listening to the concerns of those who leave district schools is widespread. We have had declining enrollments for years (often leaving for Amherst!) but until recently district leaders have reacted with denial and resentment. Hopefully that is changing but until you establish good mechanisms for identifying problems and a strong problem-solving culture within the district it will not happen.

Why should implementing an exit survey be like trying to turn the Titanic? That is why liberals like myself often become conservatives. It sometimes appears as if "the market" - that is the threat of going out of business- is the only way to get institutions to pay attention to their customer base.That is why Charter schools are appealing to me - if parents choose not to send kids to them they will go out of business.

Having said that, exit surveys (which I support) can be tricky if not implemented with good will and a good methodology. The reasons for the choices parents make are so varied and sometimes contradictory that it is easy to throw up one's hands and say nothing can be learned from them...

especially if that is what you are inclined to say!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:14 - I believe the community should have input on the selection of a superintendent, and I was quite surprised to hear both Kip and Farshid's thoughts that this was not their view. Each SC member can then evaluate whether stability in leadership is a better outcome than change, depending on the candidates and their qualifications. I hope this will indeed occur.

Anonymous 10:34 - none of the Amherst members on the SC have any link to the public schools in terms of finances. Two of the 4 regional members not from Amherst do: one is a former ARHS teacher and one is married to a current ARHS teacher.

Anonymous 9:01 - I agree that a full and open search will be very important. I believe residents in Amherst at least would be quite concerned if the regional SC voted to not conduct a search at all and simply appoint the current interim.

Jeff - thanks for your words ... though I'm not sure if it makes me feel any better that the problems we see in Amherst aren't entirely unique! Have you been able to implement exit surveys?

Abbie said...

Hi Catherine,

I've tried to run the votes to see how votes would affect running a SI search. Please educate me if I am wrong on this- if all Amherst SC members voted for a SI search and all the other members voted against, wouldn't it still pass? Region: 5-4 (5 yes from Amherst and 4 no from non-Amherst members) and Union 26: 3-3 (3 yes from Amherst and 3 no from Pelham)? Thus, winning by a single vote?

This being, of course, what I think is an unlikely scenario...

Anonymous said...

I;m interested in CS response to: 2:27 on July 30 from "Not Good Enough in Math to Help My Kids"..

Anonymous said...

O.K., Kip and Farshid have appeared to suggest that stability, in the form of Maria, is a positive.
You say, "Each SC member can then evaluate whether stability in leadership is a better outcome than change".
I'm wondering if you think it's possible the schools could have BOTH Maria and change?

Nina Koch said...

The exit surveys are being mailed this week.

Anonymous said...

At the end of this school year, I called the District office and asked about an exit survey. The woman on the phone told me she'd call me back. After waiting for her to do so for a week, I called again, on the day before the last day of school. The woman who helped me this time put me on hold, and when she came back, she told me that the Superintendent knew that I was calling (I had given my name when I called) and that I would have the survey tomorrow. I asked if I should look for it in the kids' backpacks or if it would be e-mailed to me. The woman rather curtly replied, "The Superintendent knows who you are and you'll get the survey tomorrow."

It never came, of course. I thought about e-mailing members of School Committee, but at the end of the day, I am just tired of fighting for things.

Traci Wolfe

Ed said...

Those numbers will increase somewhat in the fall when the schools learn about incoming graduate student families, she said.

I am not so sure. TA funding at UMass has fallen through the floor, the student loan market tightened up at the same time that traditional-aged students are going to grad school because of the economy (and as a means to defer repayment of their loans).

More parents of secondary students are opting to send their children to private or charter schools or to home-school them, Mazur said.

While I agree with you Catherine on the fear of Amherst becoming like some parts of Connecticut where only the servant's children attend the public schools, home schooling is the poor man's private school.

And - trying to say this neutrally - there isn't the level of religious fervor in Amherst that exists elsewhere in the country - we don't have parents upset about the ARSD teaching evolution or sex ed - so why the significant home schooling in Amherst?

Is it because the Middle School s****? Yes, Nina, I said that -- and I will go one step further and remind everyone that the home schooling movement exists entirely in response to parental concerns about schools.

Home schooling does not exist because parents think that the local schools are great. No, Nina, it exists as the desperate attempt of parents who love their children too much to subject them to schools they find unacceptable. Parents who believe that whatever they can cobble together for a curriculum is going to be far superior to what the professional educators are offering...

And when are we going to talk about bullying and violence in the Middle School? That is what I, personally, have always heard whispered as the biggest concern over there.

Ed said...

Catherine - do you have any demographic and SES info on the parents who are leaving the public schools?

We can presume that they are white wealthy 2-parent families -- that is what I read between the lines of your posting -- but I would want to see some data to support it.

First, wealthy two-parent minority families (of which there are quite a few in Amherst) act identically to rich white parents. They won't admit it, but they do -- once family income gets to six figures, particularly $150K or more, money more predicts actions than race.

And if the wealthy minority children are being pulled out of the uber-progressive ARSD, well wouldn't that be interesting to know.

And if it is NOT the wealthy but the middle class who are pulling kids out of the ARSD, this in many cases is worse because you will wind up with a dual district -- some kids with lots of home resources and some with no home.

Catherine, respectfully, I am not willing to buy your claim that it is the wealthy parents who are leaving the district without some evidence supporting it. Yes private school is expensive and there is the transportation issue.

But the charter and religious schools aren't that expensive and poor people also have access to cars. It isn't always easy to coordinate but I have seen parents work together and it isn't as big a burden to drive to a distant school if you are only doing it one day a week.

And homeschooling -- you don't need money for that.

The questions I would ask - and these can't be asked this directly:

1: Household income, including value of any public assistance (including Sect 8), and percentage of income coming from public assistance if any.

2: Number of parents in household, are they married to each other or not, and are they the biological parents of the child?

3: First language(s) of the parent(s) -- and then what the parent(s) want the child's first language to be. (A lot of immigrants insist that English be their child's first language - their native language is an acceptable second one, but they don't want their child to have an accent).

4: Demographics. Not just race and sexual orientation but also extent to which organized religion (any organized religion) is important and political orientation (e.g. "whom do you hate more, Bush or Obama?").

5: Social issues -- extent to which child was removed to keep child away from a specific peer group (specific named individuals whom the parent didn't want child associating with - not just racial or class bigotry but specific kids) or to remove the child from the influence of drugs, violence, or (particularly in the case of girls) sexual activities.

Now I know that Nina is going to say that the ARSD is some Shangri-La but I spent a decade conversing with low income parents on a daily basis and it isn't just the rich parents who are upset. And this was before Catherine & Steve were on the school committee...

Anonymous said...

Nina, thank you for informing us that the exit surveys are going out. Can you give any acknowledgment that it took a lot of "coaxing" to get the admin to actually follow through with this request -- and also that this might be an example of why people are frustrated with the way that issues and requests are dealt with at ARPS?

Anonymous said...

And why are we assuming that they are only going out because they were coaxed? Perhaps the administration was busy doing other equally important things.

That is the main problem I have with the majority of people who post here on this blog...EVERYONE assumes the worst of the schools.

The administration NEVER said that they did not want to do the exit surveys. Just because they did not come out as soon as some wanted does NOT mean that they needed to be coaxed to do them.

Anonymous said...

When it takes multiple calls, messages, none of which get returned, yeah coaxing is the right word. My exit survey didn't come for several years after my kids left the district, and they were telling people the exit surveys were going out at the end of each year. This just wasn't true. It IS important that the school district send these forms out and find out WHY people are leaving the district. Of course they have other stuff going on, but this is important also. I bet it took coaxing, and then some.

Anonymous said...

"The administration NEVER said that they did not want to do the exit surveys. Just because they did not come out as soon as some wanted does NOT mean that they needed to be coaxed to do them."


Coaxed??


LOL


They need to be TOLD what to do...
as a parent tells their child to clean up their room.

Not trying to be negative but, that's exactly how it is...

Jeff Singleton said...

Catherine asks:"Have you [Gill-Montague School District] been able to implement exit surveys?"

We have not implemented exit surveys (and to be honest I'm not exactly sure what an exit survey is!) What the new Superintendent Carl Ladd has finally done is implement a survey of parents who have "choiced out" of the district under the school choice program (a big problem for us). They have gotten a lot of responses and are attempting to pull together some sort of report.

However, this raises some key expertise and admin capacity issues for me. I am not convinced the administrators of these districts have the expertise, time etc to actually do this kind of analysis well. Not intended as a criticism of our Superintendent but are ed people really trained and do they have time to do this sort of thing? It's not as simple as it might appear.

This gets into broader policy issues actually - the ability of these relatively large and expensive organizations to do the kind of policy analysis they need to do. Especially in the context of all the stuff thrown at them by the state and federal governments (not to mention internet bloggers like us!)

Keep in mind you are asking a social question - why do parents/kids leave public schools - that is not on the radar screen of the state and national ed leadership. Our district was declared under-performing because of a lack of "adequate yearly progress" on MCAS by certain "subgroups." Not only were these terms barely defined in the evaluations (and in fact the measure of AYP may have been methodologically invalid!) but the evaluators did not seem to notice that the school district was leaking huge numbers of middle class students.

must remain anonymous, sorry said...

Ed said, "And homeschooling. You don't need money for that." This is so innaccurate. We homeschooled our son on two different occasions: once in the middle school years and once in the high school years. He was in special education and he lost all of his therapeutic services:speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, academic interventions and social skills training. Our health insurance paid for some of these services but we had to pay the majority out of pocket. We had to provide transportation to these appointments which impeded our ability to work. Also, my wife had to reduce her job hours from full time to part time so that she could stay home with our son, who, because of his disability, could not be left home alone. When I came home after work, she went out again to work at another part time job in the evening. We incurred great debt because we chose home schooling, and our time together as a family was fractured. You may wonder why we put ourselves and our other children through this. It was because the special education program in Amherst was deplorable, and my son was not making progress in any area. We were never given any kind of exit survey, nor did we receive any kind of guidence around home schooling cirriculum, as is required by law. I would like to say that I think disabled students in Amherst are not treated fairly. They are not valued for the diversity they bring to a school. Homeschooling is not a free luxery. I know that we could have sued Amherst and maybe won but we could not afford the retainer that the lawyer required. It is sad to say that even an alledged rapist or murderer is given a free lawyer in this county but not a disabled child who is alledgedly being mistreated at school. There will not be social justice in our schools until disabled kids are included in the picture, along with children of color and those of low economic means. God help those who belong to all 3 groups.

Anonymous said...

I am certainly not an expert but have an observation that has been occurring to me lately.

Why is special education under the auspices of the Dept of Education and not under the auspices of health organization with medical and psychological expertise such as Dept of Developmental Services? Disabilities appear to me to be health related--physical/developmental, mental/behavioral which could be better served by the medical working with psychological community to service students and school system rather than squeezing the $ out of education taxes and using some trained (rarely medically) and a lot of untrained personnel.

There's an awful lot of duplicate effort that is going on as well and I do think it's due to our necessary reliance on the school structure to serve children of all abilities.

I know this is would mean wholesale change but it has always seemed to me that we expect our teachers and schools to absorb this huge endeavor as just "education" when there is so much more to consider.


E.S.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about why a few people were so anxious to have the surveys mailed out in such a hurry. The responses would be the same if sent home in a kid's backpack on the last day of school or 20 work days after the last day of school, so what's the rush? It implies to me that some people don't see the survey as a tool to gather data as much as they do another venue to vent and complain, which they just couldn't wait to do some more. I believe Irv is right; some people are just angry and unhappy no matter what.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:23 - I would imagine people believed (including me) that the surveys should have gone out quickly, so that the district could learn what feedback was provided. If that feedback was provided in the early summer, perhaps it could be used to implement changes for the upcoming year. But if the feedback is provided at the end of August, that is more difficult to do. That is why I give surveys at the end of each class I teach -- so that I can re-vamp my class accordingly. It would be hard to do that if I waited and contacted students 3 weeks before I taught the class again.

Anonymous said...

Surveys too quickly? My child left the district last year and we never received a survey even though the claim was that one would be sent whenever a child left. Wouldn't it make sense that a form go out the day (or next) when notice of withdrawal is received? Unless no one really cared why kids are leaving.

Anonymous said...

Administration could care less if kids are leaving. All they think about is when they'll be seeing their next salary increases.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm posting a revised version of the comment from Anonymous 12:14 to avoid name-calling (I have deleted two sentences):

"Me too - we pulled our child from the district last year and did not receive a survey.

My belief is the administration - as is normal for them - does not want to hear from anyone that could possibly criticize their approach. That is why these surveys are spotty at best.

That said, I believe that we have great potential in our system. Good and excellent teachers abound. But like a sports team, absentee management - malfeasant management with goals that are not oriented toward educating children but toward feathering their nest or retaining control of a $20MM system - will fail to produce a winning team. The players (teachers) need good and firm management.

The school committee needs to decapitate the system, reform the system and utilize the fine resources we still retain in house."

Mary said...

To Anon August 12 8:39am,
I think it took courage for you to pose your question because it is so politically incorrect. However you admit that you are not an expert. Your suggestion that special ed be removed from the department of education is the way it was many years ago before the Americans with Disabilities Act was made into law. It is simply unjust to segregate disabled children from non-disabled children under most circumstances. Special Education law requires that there be a level playing field in education. For example, wheel chair access. Why should a child who uses a wheel chair have to go to a separate school from his siblings and neighbors? School districts must address the special needs of students in order to allow them to access the cirriculum. If a child has cerebal palsy and cannot hold a pencil, then a school occupational therapist must use methods and adaptatations to teach the child to write or type. If a child has a vision loss, adaptations must be made so that the child can travel throughout the school, thus a vision specialist may teach him how to use a cane, or a scribe may take notes from the chalkboard for the student. If a child has a speech impairment, a speech and language pathologist will provide services so that the child will eventually be able to be understood well. All of these skills are required to get an education. Medical personnel and psychologists are not teachers. They may be consulted by schools, but if a disability is preventing a child from learning a cirriculum, the responsibility to help the child access an education belongs to educators. This doesn't mean that the school is responsible for all of the child's needs--only what he needs to be educated. For example, if a child has a neurological impairment such as autism, the school must provide communication training because it is necessary to be able to communicate in order to learn. But this does not mean that the school has to teach the child how to be a great orator or public speaker, unless those opportunities were offered to every other student. I hope this somewhat answers your question. The scope of it is too broad for a blog!

Anonymous said...

Well it is now Sept 2 add one more voice to the list of those who have not received an exit-survey.

Our children completed the 2009-10 school year in Amherst and we were, frankly, dismayed on multiple fronts.

The "exit", which last year seemed like a tough decision, now seems so glaringly obvious to me.

I have a lot of things to say in an exit survey--some of them actually incisive and intelligent, if you ask me, and some that could be helpful to the district as a whole. Alas it seems as if no one cares.

This indifference seems to further vindicate our decision to give up on Amherst public schools.

It is truly sad and so very disappointing. I think that it needs to be said that if a critical mass of families of means depart (read that as families who value a strong education, who are invested in that education, who have other options...), then the task of making the district high performing and high achieving becomes more and more unlikely, and eventually highly improbable.

Thank you Catherine for your noble (and hopefully not sisyphean) efforts. We will be watching from the sidelines.