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, September 23, 2010

My Thoughts on Hiring a Superintendent

There is a big story in tomorrow's Gazette on the most recent Regional School Committee drama: here's the link to that piece (

I just want to add a few additional thoughts about this very important issue.

I was really disappointed in last night’s meeting, and in particular the extent to which all of the hill town School Committee representatives voted to halt the hiring of the superintendent search firm (the bid would have expired in 5 days, so any delay would have meant we lost this contract -- the only offer we received). This topic was not on the night’s agenda and other School Committee members were not given the courtesy of learning of this monumental motion prior to the meeting (which initiated as a motion by Ms. Luschen from Shutesbury -- which was seconded by I believe Kip Fonsch from Leverett -- to simply hire Ms. Geryk permanently and conduct no search). Also, since there was a unanimous vote at the last meeting to hire a search committee to assist with hiring a superintendent, there was no reason for School Committee members or the general public to expect that any discussion involving making an appointment without a search would be proposed. It felt a bit like an ambush political tactic rather than a sincere desire for an open discussion.

Some people have noted that the Amherst SB just appointed John Musante without a search, and suggested that we should follow that lead. However, there are three key differences between these two situations. John has a long tenure as the key assistant to the Town Manager, he was a finalist in the previous search four years ago, and finally, the Select Board made this appointment only after a significant public process to solicit input from the community. So, these are really not comparable situations.

I have no idea whether Maria Geryk would or would not emerge at the best candidate in an open evaluation process. But I would expect any qualified candidate for superintendent would welcome, and in fact insist on, such a process where he or she could demonstrate to the community their qualifications. This is how a candidate gains broad support from not only the School Committee but the broader community (not just teachers and principals, but parents and community members as well).

Members from the hill towns spoke passionately about Maria’s excellent performance over the last 7 months. Certainly she appears to have support from the staff of the school system who appear to see her as bringing stability to the schools. Personally, I am impressed with Maria’s communication skills and her ability to build bridges to the community (such as the coffee with the superintendent and the hiring of the ombudsman). However, virtually all of the improvements and evaluations around instruction and curriculum accomplished recently were started well before Maria’s tenure. Programs such as the improvements in the middle school, creation of the First Day event, expansion of the preschool program, hiring a staff person to assist with Five College collaboration, the hiring of Dr. Chen for the math review, and implementation of the afterschool and summer school intervention support were started before she was appointed interim superintendent (and initiated with former superintendent Dr. Alberto Rodriguez). She has yet to go through a planning cycle for developing district goals, or develop any specific plans in response to external evaluations such as the special education review or math curriculum review. I believe it is fair to judge people on their body of work, and unlike John Musante, Maria’s work as superintendent has occurred over a very short period of time. She has not had the chance to demonstrate her effectiveness.

On the other hand, Maria has been in charge of the special education program for many years. The recent external review of this program raised a number of serious issues (as have been noted by many parents of children in special education for years). Whether these concerns reflect on Maria’s ability to serve as superintendent would be clarified by a real search process. Many parents, including parents of children in special education, have expressed concerns about Maria as superintendent. She does not at this time appear to have the unanimous public endorsement that John Musante received during the public comment on his proposed appointment.

Moreover, I have never seen Maria Geryk’s resume, and to the best of my knowledge neither has any member of the School Committee. She has never been through an interview process, there are no answers on record as to her views on critical issues to the school such as academic rigor, social justice, and budget priorities. This is due diligence we are obligated to do as a town and as a School Committee. It is also the best possible way for any candidate to win the support of the community.

I believe hiring a superintendent is the single most important thing a School Committee does, and believe the community should have an opportunity to share their thoughts about the qualifications for such a hire. Do we want someone with experience as a classroom teacher or principal? Do we want someone with a doctorate? Do we want someone with experience on budgets and finances, or curriculum and instruction, or hiring and mentoring teachers/principals? Do we not care about experience and just want someone who is a strong communicator or is supported by current teachers? I believe the way to make the best hire is by going through a fair and open process in which both internal and external candidates are given full consideration and evaluated on their merits, experiences, backgrounds, and ideas. I believe that is how we will end up with a superintendent that reflects the values of the community and has the broad support of the community. I hope that members of the Regional School Committee who represent the hill towns will allow such a process to occur so that the entire community can have confidence in the person we hire in January, and that we can provide that person with the support and respect he or she deserves.


Anonymous said...

I have such a bad feeling that we are in for another year of drama, another year of demonizing the hilltowns, another year of acting as though everyone on the Amherst SC is, like Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way."

If I were a superintendent candidate I would hop across the river and apply for the Northampton job.

Anonymous said...

No, no, no, Anonymous 10:01 pm.

Your really big fear is that a search might yield an outside qualified candidate with outstanding credentials that many people were truly enthused about.

Yikes! What would we do then????

We need to head this off right now.

Anonymous said...

um, hello 10:41:

We have a candidate in the job right now that many people are enthused about.

How ironic will it be when we say good bye to this supt just because the Amherst group, and I live in Amherst, wants to show us they can control this situation. They want to show their power so much that they are willing to disrupt the smooth, productive operation in place right now.
The Amherst school committee members are willing to jeopardize the schools just so they can show people who is in charge.
All I can say is thank god these people aren't any closer to the school's operation.
I'd hate to have that kind of thinking teaching one of my kids.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I completely agree. If Maria turns out to be the best candidate then we can all sleep peacefully at night knowing that we have the best possible person doing this important job.

Anonymous said...

10:41- If I remember correctly the last 2 super searches yielded outside candidates - one of whom (Hochman) folks were very enthusiastic about hiring and another whom many, not all for sure, were also happy with.

And FYI- your snarky, dismissive comment does nothing to ffurther the discussion.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts: no one on the Amherst SC has said they won't hire Maria IF she demonstrates she is the best candidate. And, as we've seen demonstrated before, a superintendent can be hired with full opposition of 4 of the 5 Amherst members anyway! All that I've said, and I believe all the other Amherst members have said, is that we need a search to figure out who the best candidate is, and we can't possibly know that now. Some people are enthused about Maria. Others are not. Others would like to carefully compare the qualifications/experiences of different candidates (including Maria) to make a decision.

The sides here are not "Maria" versus "NOT Maria." The sides are "Maria" versus "consider Maria and other candidates."

And, let's remember -- the candidate preferred by the community last time (certainly based on comments the public gave) was David Sklarz, an experienced New England superintendent. I've often wondered how things would have been different if we had made THAT hire.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who doesn't want to pursue a search for a superintendent is just plain lazy. No one is saying they don't want Maria, they just want a pool to choose from. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and for your information, that is one of the charter's of the School Committee. And i hope we don't have to endure a post from Rick telling us to modulate our posts. Stay on your own blog Rick.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the Amherst members voting to conduct a search -- or actually standing firm in the decision (that was already made) to conduct a search. It really is the best way to move forward in a unified way. And, it was quite a power play on the part of the hilltowns to try to take control and derail the process in the way that they wanted it to go. Hmm, that sounds like a familiar accusation - where have I heard that before?!

Abbie said...

I find it very interesting that some folks who are critical of what they view as 'bullying' behavior by the Amherst SC seem to be fine with, indeed enthusiastic about, the dictatorial move made by the hill towns at the last meeting. They attempted to directly appoint Ms Geryk as the permanent SI without ANY open process or review. They wanted it done RIGHT then. Any actions done by Amherst SC members pales by comparison with the hubrus of the hill town SC members at the last meeting.

Wake-up folks- we aren't living in North Korea. It wasn't right and it wasn't ethical. Yes, anyone can move a motion (as Rick points out) but that doesn't mean folks can't be outraged by that motion.

Ed said...

Three questions:

First, how can you have an employee without a resume on file? Who hired her?

Second, does she or does she not have a superitendent's certificate? That is a public record and I will look it up when I have a chance. This is K-12, not higher ed, and the teachers, principals & supt all have to have a DoE (or whatever Deval is calling it this week) certification.

Third, as to the question of if an EdD is necessary, the question is if they have any value at all -- and in a town with no fewer than 3 colleges, exactly how can we justify paying teachers more for a doctorate if the Supt doesn't have one????

Anonymous said...

Northampton appointed a search committee made up of administrators, teachers, parents, school committee members and community members, and will also use a search consultant to assist (although it's unclear to me what that consultant will do). Why can't the regional school district do the same thing? Clearly the RSC has reached a point of dysfunction that renders it unable to execute this process effectively, and in a way that will be seen as legitimate by all concerned (i.e., one group or another will find the process illegitimate for various reasons). A search committee appointed by the RSC can bring in both public comment that is representative of the interested constituencies, and legitimacy in the eyes of a greater number of individuals from all four towns.

Anonymous said...

Abbie, I find your description of the hilltown reps’ actions as “dictatorial” and your reference to North Korea offensive. I work with refugees who escaped despotic regimes and my clients would be truly mystified by your overblown language. Please tone down the rhetoric and preserve some perspective.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:31 - I think a search committee is a great idea - but I have two concerns that I think make this less viable for Amherst. First, I think the challenge is that this is MUCH easier to do in a single town (e.g., just Amherst) than in district that includes 4 towns. The Northampton search committee has two SC representatives, meaning that two of the four towns in our district would be unrepresented (and I imagine residents of those towns would be concerned about this lack of representation). Second, the SC ultimately votes on the finalists, so in a sense, you don't want a search committee to bring forward candidates who aren't going to earn the support of a majority of the SC (which could be risky with a search committee).

Abbie said...

To anon@11:31

dictatorial (def): inclined to dictate or command; imperious; overbearing (those dictated to in this case refers to all the community members who would be denied a voice in the process, if Ms Geryk were immediately appointed as moved).

WRT to N. Korea it was a reference to the likely replacement of the current leader (ie Kim Jong Il) with his son, of which little is known, and, of course, the population has no say in the appointment of their new leader.

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting when someone describes the SC as "dysfunctional."

Here's what's happened over the last 3 or so years. The voters of Amherst have overwhelmingly supported the election of people who want to push the schools to be better. They have elected people who don't just smile and take the super or various principals at their word, as previous SCs did. Some members, e.g., Catherine, have been upfront about change and have made direct proposals for changes. Others, e.g., Rick, have been more quietly supportive of some change. He's been cautious, but mindful of the problems.

Sadly, the administration has resisted most of the proposals. And, for whatever reason, the folks from the hill towns have opposed most or all of these proposals as well.

So, the 5 Amherst SC members who have received literally thousands of votes for change are blocked via Union 26 on some issues and by getting to Rick's good nature and discomfort with conflict and pealed him off, so that there are 5-4 votes on the regional committee.

Dysfunction in this case is the will of the vast majority of the people (the Amherst voters) being stymied by staff (the super and principals) in league with the hill town SC members, which BTW seem to have some rather direct and indirect ties to teachers and administrators in the system.

The dysfunction isn't coming from Amherst, but it's super easy to blame Amherst when the staff and hill towns dig in against any change.

Anonymous said...

Anon September 24, 2010 12:00 PM: Well Said!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It has been alluded to in some comments that some members of the SC have spouses and direct family members teaching in the schools.

Do these members recuse themselves when matters relating to that school are discussed? It seems that their spouses, etc could definitely benefit from their votes.

Curious observer said...

When it was obvious that all Amherst members of the Regional School Committee were unhappy with the surprise motion, did Interim Superintendent speak and pull herself out of consideration for an Immediate appointment? The suprise motion clearly generated frustration and tension among school committee members. And clearly there wasn't support for the immediate appointment from any Amherst School Committee member.

At that point she should have pulled herself out of contention. And she would have shown the qualities of leadership and political smarts that the superintendent job requires.

Why then did Geryk sit there silently and allow the unproductive, tense debate continue? Would she want this job without support from the Amherst members (or at least most of them)? And where does she go from here?

Anonymous said...

I think a search committee is a great idea - but I have two concerns that I think make this less viable for Amherst. First, I think the challenge is that this is MUCH easier to do in a single town (e.g., just Amherst) than in district that includes 4 towns. The Northampton search committee has two SC representatives, meaning that two of the four towns in our district would be unrepresented (and I imagine residents of those towns would be concerned about this lack of representation).

One possible option is to have 4 SC members on the search committee, one from each town, and then put together the rest of the committee with members of other interested constituencies -- teachers, administrators, parents, etc. -- presumably weighted toward Amherst residents, all things considered.

Second, the SC ultimately votes on the finalists, so in a sense, you don't want a search committee to bring forward candidates who aren't going to earn the support of a majority of the SC (which could be risky with a search committee).

The point of the search committee, to my mind, would be to have a formal process of representative public input in the search. If a majority of the RSC rejects their recommendations, then presumably they would be held accountable for that rejection at the ballot box.

It's clear that the process of this search will be as important to the future of the regional schools as the outcome. If the process is not seen as legitimate by all parties, the future superintendent will end up wasting time on more divisive town politics than on educational matters, in which case, it wouldn't matter who is chosen.

Anonymous said...

it looks to me - an Amherst resident - that the Amherst School Committee members have successfully demonized the hilltowns so now whenever they disagree with Amherst, the knee jerk reaction is "They're anti-change" or "They want the status quo" or "They're not as progressive as us."

not Amherst's finest moment.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick things here:

Anonymous 1:58 - personally, I'd be opposed to a search committee in which Amherst got one SC member on the search committee, given that Amherst hires a super to represent them at elementary and region. Why should Shutesbury and Leverett who only use our schools for 7 to 12 get the SAME representation as Amherst (and that is ignoring the issue about Amherst having 80+% of the residents and school population)? That is an example of the problem of having a search committee -- I can EASILY see a contentious debate and who is on it.

Anonymous 2:50 - I guess I don't see why demonizing the hill towns is a fair accusation. A member from Shutesbury voted to appoint Maria permanently, without any notice to any other member, and that motion was seconded by a member from Leverett. This is factual. People might think it is a great idea -- or a bad idea -- but it isn't demonizing to state a fact. And all members of the hill towns voted to delay hiring the search firm (which would in effect have eliminated our ability to have a search firm, which three weeks before we had all said was crucial!).

Imagine the outrage if I had made a similar motion, and it was seconded by Steve, and then narrowly was voted down by the hilltowns (and one Amherst member). I would be accused of power politics, and an ambush, etc. That's the whole point Abbie was trying to make.

The motion made by a member of the hill towns AND seconded by a member of the hill towns was inappropriate and lacked common courtesy to other members of the SC. That's not demonizing -- it is stating what happened, and I am surprised that anyone would think this was a fair approach to selecting a superintendent to govern schools representing four towns.

Abbie said...

I would put it one step further, CS, than just being discourteous to the SC, it was also discourteous to the public of every town that is represented by the SC. I don't know whether those SC members 'invited' input from their own community members, but I am positive that as an Amherst community member, I wasn't offered any opportunity to weigh in, just like the other thousands of Amherst residents.

Anonymous said...

Curious Observer:

Were you at Wed's SC meeting? I would not characterize the debate as tense and unproductive. Difficult maybe but not at all unproductive. I think alot of people are commenting on this blog about a meeting that they have not seen based on Catherine's characterization of the meeting. There was alot of frank and good discussion. Yes, the motion was inappropriate and Ms. Luschen herself acknowledged that and apologized for it and amended it to a more proper motion. That led to I though a very good discussion about public input to the selection of the next Super.
Additionally, although some would like to believe it to be true, the SC never even came close to appointing Maria Geryk as Permanent Super on Wednesday night. It was never going to happen. Not even close. So, another hyperbolic comment can be shot down along with the equally hyperbolic reaction from the masses to the supposed almost coup that was supposedly almost pulled off by the hilltowns.

Would be nice if the folks on this blog could get their facts straight. And no, I do not live in the hilltowns and I do not support appointing Maria to the Super's position without a search. And I do support less stur up the masses rhetoric by any and all members of the School Committee.

Anonymous said...

See for what appears to me to be a qualified apology from Ms. Luschen, posted in the last hour or two.

Can we move on? Because the point has been made, and now we're into overkill.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing (for Anonymous 1:58) - one of the differences between the Amherst SC representatives and the representatives from the hill towns is in fact the extent to which they are held accountable at the ballot box -- meaning this is a great way of holding Amherst SC members accountable, but not such a great way of holding others accountable.

In Amherst, School Committee elections are quite intense -- there are lawn signs, televised debates, interviews in the newspaper, signature ads, etc. In the most recent election in Amherst, 5 candidates ran for two seats (40% of people got elected), and the winning candidates each garned 1900 to 2500 votes. I can't find any press coverage at any time for any School Committee election in any of the hill towns (someone point me to the coverage, if it exists), nor have I ever seen a lawn sign or signature ad for any SC member from a hill town. The most recent Shutesbury election (posted on the town clerk's website) is from 2008, and lists three winners (with 4 candidates, meaning 75% of those who run get elected). Similarly, in March, Debbie Gould stepped down from the SC because she was going to be out of the country for a while, and another member (Nora Maroulis) took her place (I guess with some appointment by the SB). Then, when Debbie returned in June, Nora stepped down and Debbie re-appeared, and then in July, when Tracy Farnham moved out of town, Nora returned. All of these changes within 3 or 4 months in Pelham happened without elections/lawn signs/debates. In contrast, if I went out of town for three months, there would likely be several candidates to replace me and the SC and SB would have to discuss the merits of each and vote (as occurred in 2007 when Alisa Brewer stepped down from the SC), and it is extremely unlikely that I would be able to return and just walk back into my seat three months later. Again, I'm just pointing out that getting elected in Amherst is VERY different from getting elected in the other towns, meaning I'd imagine SC members are much less accountable (and visible) in the hill towns than in Amherst.

Abbie said...

to anon@3:44

I couldn't attend the mtg (CF picnic and this season's nasty cold) but I eagerly await its posting on ACTV.

While it may have been that Ms. Geryk would not have been appointed directly that evening, the result of a majority voting NOT to hire the search company would essentially kill the process for this year, a fact that I am sure is understood by all SC members. IMO, we are already a bit late into the process, but not yet irreparably so.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - you are precisely right about the effect of such a vote, which did indeed occur by ALL four members of the hill towns. Remember that in August, all members of the Regional SC voted to hire a search firm, and Ms. Luschen and Ms. Gould spoke about the importance, and indeed necessity, of having a firm do this work. Thus, it was quite a surprise to everyone that this motion was even on the table, and a delay to hire this firm (again, which had ALREADY BEEN AGREED TO) would have killed to search for the year.

I will also note that every time people say "Maria is perfect, we should just hire her" it has the effect of reducing the candidate pool for superintendent -- which I imagine the residents of the hill towns know well. As prospective candidates read about Amherst, if they learn that the current SC members have already decided who they will support (prior to even seeing who else might emerge), it will decrease interest in this position (as has clearly been told to members of the SC by the head of MASC). It is entirely inappropriate for anyone on the SC to announce who would or would not be perfect for the job until we've seen the candidates.

And I would hope that those who support Maria would have enough confidence in her ability and attributes to want her to win this position in a fair process, and not one in which the pool has been dramatically reduced based on the extensive pro-Maria comments in public settings.

Anonymous said...

I don't hear anyone saying "Maria is perfect, we should just hire her". I hear people saying she's doing a good job and may deserve the job, but I've not heard anyone attribute perfection to her. Catherine, could you please cite where you're hearing that?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:05 - there have been several comments at SC meetings, including those at the last meeting, in which people said she should definitely be given the job immediately. Did they say she was "perfect"? I'm not sure, but I don't see that as the key point! We have someone who was elected as interim superintendent in a controversial vote (no current members of the Amherst SC supported her selection and no members of the public were notified of the potential selection and thus allowed to comment) and has served in this role for 7 months. Her primary contributions during this time have been to implement plans created by the former superintendent, and she has yet to present a budget, make any curriculum decisions, or evaluate any programs. Thus, it seems far, far too early to me for anyone to claim that she's done a good enough job to deserve cancelling a seach and appointing her pemanent superintendent. That was my point, as I bet you understood well.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two more thoughts:

Anonymous 12:59 - sorry to not answer your question earlier. Debbie Gould is required to recuse herself when stuff involving contract negotiations are discussed, since of course she would be influenced by raises given to district staff. I don't know if that will apply to Kip Fonsch (but guess it could, if we were to vote on changing retirement benefits or something). But in other areas, all members can fully participate (e.g., Debbie can vote to hire a superintendent, which is in a sense voting to hire her spouse's boss's boss).

Anonymous 4:26 - I'm disappointed Kristen didn't choose to post an apology on my blog, since she did want to clarify her intentions with that motion. However, let me point out two things. First, she certainly could have emailed the entire SC, or at least the chair/vice chair, prior to the meeting to alert people to the intended motion. Had she done that, we could have planned the meeting more carefully, and she would have had a chance to think through the motion in a more thoughtful and respectful way. Second, she points out (in her "apology") that other people make motions all the time, and uses the example of my motion on implementing the Spanish language program. However, with that motion, I sent it around to all members of the SC and the superintendent PRIOR to the meeting (at least 24 hours before the meeting) and my motion appeared on the agenda. That is the appropriate and courtesy way to have a discussion, and I really hope all members of the SC will follow that approach in the future.

Anonymous said...

Three points.
1) No one is pointing out that the unmitigated praise of M. Geryk at the meeting appeared to have been well coordinated. I cannot believe that it is just a coincidence that several residents and friends of Maria showed up at a RSC meeting with professions of unqualified praise the same night an out of left field motion was made to appoint the acting super w/o further review.

Why isn't there outrage about that type of inside politics.

Why aren't we asking if there was a violation of the open meeting law. I bet there was.

2) The budget of the District exceeds $40MM - please correct me if I am wrong here - Ask yourselves, would any 40 million dollar organization hire a CEO w/o examining their resume? Without opening up the position to competitive sourcing ?

The attempt to hire M. Geryk on the sly is symptomatic of the problems we have in this district. It appears to me that she has no independent experience running such a large organization. The subset of this organization - SPED - which she did run is in chaos and received poor reviews in the last year. Is that relevant ?

3) Echo of other concerns on the blog - how can we have a Super w/o a CV on file ? Why doesn't she quell the concerns and just publish the document? Is there something to hide ?

Anonymous said...


Catherine A. Sanderson for superintendent.

Oh yes.

Anonymous said...


How can you have any hope of convincing anyone else on RSC of the rightness of your positions if you are so busy talking about them personally on your blog?

Is there no place for personal tact, diplomacy, and delicacy in trying to establish a basis for persuasion inside the Committee? Or do you just assume that each member has staked out his/her position and is going to sit there for the duration?

At times the constant chatter on this blog about individual members, their relatives, and their motives undermines the opportunity for public discussion, debate, and, hopefully, the changing of minds. It's hard to convince people on the substance who have already been alienated by the gossip and the personal stuff.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 7:30 - good points. I have heard from several people that the promotion of Maria Geryk at the meeting was highly coordinated and several audience members clearly knew it was going to happen. It is also clear that some of the speakers benefit from Maria's continued service as superintendent (e.g., one of the speakers has been hired as a consultant by Maria already, another is a current teacher in the schools). I share your belief that hiring a superintendent is an extremely important decision, and would merit a careful review of the candidate's credentials and qualifications, including their CV. As Steve noted in today's Gazette article, I also believe it would be important for SC members to understand the nature of some of the concerns about the special education program (which Maria headed for several years) prior to making such an appointment. I hope all members of the Regional SC will strongly support moving forward with an open and fair process.

Anonymous 7:46 - hey, I'd be very happy to not be superintendent and not be on the SC ... I really just want our public schools to provide an engaging and challenging curriculum to all children so that our kids have the same advantages that other kids have in terms of preparation for college and beyond! I'd be more than happy to find another (slightly less public) volunteer job -- but after feeling dissatisfied with the schools for years, and hearing that dissatisfaction from others, I felt I had to run to try to make a difference. I honestly don't know if I've been successful in making the changes I really wanted to make ... but I do know I'm giving it my all (at a fairly steep cost, frankly).

Anonymous 9:33 - I've tried my hardest, and I continue to try my hardest, to work cooperatively and respectfully with all members of the RSC. I would certainly never surprise members of this committee with a serious motion, for example. And I don't think it is inappropriate to note that two of the regional SC members do have very close ties to ARHS, which I believe may at times influence their views. This is the same as I imagine being a professor at Amherst College - and seeing the range of preparation students have when they arrive and its impact on their success - influences my views on the SC (and Steve's). That isn't rude or inappropriate -- it is factual (and the fact is, 50% of the hill town members are directly connected to ARHS, whereas 0% of the Amherst members are connected to our public schools).

I believe Kristen's motion was inappropriate, for all the reasons I've stated, and I think it is fair for me to express my disappointment on my blog -- given that I also expressed it in the meeting to her directly. I would hope that all members of the Regional SC would vote on all matters based on what they see as best for the students in our schools -- and not based on personal relationships or perceived slights. This blog is simply my opportunity to share my thoughts with the community -- and for the community to share their thoughts with me.

Anonymous said...

How could a professor of psychology be so smart about so many things yet be so dense about creating the right atmosphere for constructive engagement with people she disagrees with?

This is simply not the way, especially when you stray from the substance of educational issues into speculating about political motives and hyperventilating about meetings.

It's fine to be candid. But it's counterproductive to ignore human nature in trying to get things done. People cannot be expected to respond well to being talked about behind their backs (or on their computer screens). It's just not conducive to listening.

There's a reason why diplomats go through all the ceremonial motions to establish respect and cordiality with foreign leaders, with whom they may have fundamental disagreements. There's an implicit recognition there of what it takes to prepare human beings, with all their attendant egos, pride, and sensitivities, to be able to listen. Those doing all the bowing and hand-shaking presumably want to accomplish something.

You are simply living out a self-fulfilling prophecy of growing polarization in the politics that drive our schools. And I fully expect that you won't get what I'm saying. But I'm someone who deeply supports what you are trying to accomplish.

If you mess this up, we're sunk, with ever growing numbers of parents opting out. Let's not let the public, self-righteous antics of Mr.Hajir confuse us; we have to do better and operate on a higher level than that.

The discussion on this thread and the one before it, and your comments on them, are simply not helping the overall cause. It just promotes the downward spiral.

Please listen before it's too late. We need a full superintendent search, but one that is done with elected leaders and citizens listening to each other, trusting in each other's sincerity, trying to keep the best interest of the children of the Region clearly in mind.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:04 - I appreciate the sentiment in which I believe your comments are made, and I appreciate your support of the changes I'm trying to make. And I'm trying as hard as I can to make changes, and work with others on the SC (both inside and outside of meetings). If you have specific advice for me on what to do and how to do it, send me a private email: (in which it is easier to have a dialogue than on a blog in which one of the persons is anonymous).

But here's the reality - I haven't seen evidence in many of my RSC colleagues that they are in fact interested in the same things that are of interest to me. And this isn't to say I'm right or they are right -- I think there are fundamental differences in how we see our schools (both as they are now and in what they could/should become). Perhaps I'm wrong -- but I've attended SC meetings with virtually all of these members for a year now (except Nora Maroulis), and I haven't seen that we are necessarily interested in the same things, and in virtually all cases, members from the hill towns tend to show greater support for the administration (whether it was Alberto or Maria) than members from Amherst. Again, that's my observation.

One more thing -- I can dislike someone personally and still vote with them if I believe their vote is in the best interest of children. I didn't run for SC to make friends or be liked (and I'm sure many who read this are saying that's really good!). I ran to help make changes in our schools so that our schools could live up to their full potential. I can vote with any member of the SC at any time if I believe they have an idea that will benefit children -- it just isn't personal for me (e.g., my vote for or against something has nothing to do with my personal feelings for the person who suggested an idea), just as I like Steve personally (obviously) but will vote against him (and have done so) if/when I disagree with his view. And as we embark on what I hope will be a full and open search for a superintendent, I will certainly be open to hearing ideas from all members of the RSC about the qualities and attributes we need in a superintendent. I simply hope that these members haven't already made up their minds as to how they will vote (I certainly haven't), and that they too will go into this process with an open mind.

Anonymous said...

OK, so the praise of Maria Geryk was well-coordinated.

But where does the outrage about that get us?

Whether we like or not, the Regional SC is the cast of characters we've got. I personally know that Debbie Gould is as fine a public servant as anyone in the Amherst contingent, despite the attempt to taint her about her husband teaching at ARHS. (Both are wonderful people.)

We have to dance with the one who brung us, so how about it?

Perhaps we might try something new: friendly persuasion.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've read you several times say that "I didn't run to make friends or to be liked" as if that were the end of the discussion.

It's not.

Your ability to get others in power to listen may not technically involve "being liked", but it's part of what an elected leader has to have. You can't just sit there and expound and expect that to work by itself; what you say has to have some power to it. And so your public persona matters!

Frequently I believe that your comments about colleagues on the Regional Committee on this blog undercuts any potential for that power for you.

If other members are not interested in what you're interested in about our schools, well, over time that becomes a shared failure in communication and deliberation: theirs but also yours.

You may give yourself a pass with "I didn't get on the Committee to be liked", but you don't get one from me. That comment presents a whole discussion in and of itself about your effectiveness on a committee in which you can't do anything without the cooperation of others.

And, as for the Regional Committee, you are coming to a huge impasse, one that you will have to be instrumental through the power of your public personality in trying to break amicably. That can't be accomplished on this blog, but the prospects for it can certainly be damaged considerably here.

If we need to have a big conversation on how one does statecraft in Amherst (and it admittedly ain't easy), let's have it here.

Anonymous said...

And Kip Fonsh is working very hard in his relatively new role on the RSC. He reads alot of material to prepare, he listens carefully during the meetings, makes well-thought out contributions to the discussions and deliberations of the committee. Whether you agree with him or not, he is working VERY hard to do the best job he can for our children.
Do the people of Amherst really believe that the folks in the hill towns do not want excellent schools? What a ridiculous thought. The Amherst members of the RSC need to stop demonizing the hill town members and stop trying to dissect non-existent motives on the part of the hill town members and they need to actually start to work together in a collaborative spirit for the benefit of all of our children. I fear for the future of our schools due to the Amherst members of the SC. They see a conspiracy and bad motives in everything. Enough already!!! Sheesh, September isn't over yet and the RSC is back to the disfunctional antics that were so prevalent last school year.
Kristen made an over the top motion and once she realized its inappropriateness she apologized and amended it. But would some members of the Amherst SC move beyond her mistake or let her move beyond it? Oh no!!! Too much political capital here.


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:23 - I think Debbie Gould is a thoughtful and intelligent person, and I too like and admire her contributions to the SC. I also believe that it is hard to imagine that it is easy for anyone to criticize or disagree with their spouse's boss! That isn't to say that Debbie isn't a great person or a great SC member ... but realistically, I would find it very difficult, almost impossible, to publicly express concerns about actions of my spouse's boss which I would think would put her in a more difficult situation than other members of the SC without this personal connection (and yet sometimes the SC may need to do this, as the SC did this year in not supporting the HS improvement plan). That's not criticizing Debbie or her motives or goals -- it is just stating that she is in a more difficult position than other members of the Regional SC who have no connection to the district.

Anonymous 11:42 (probably the same person as Anonymous 11:04) - I don't need a free pass ... but I guess I also don't feel comfortable accepting this type of criticism on my blog from someone who doesn't feel comfortable using their own name. There are 9 members on the Regional SC. The members each have to vote as they believe is right. You aren't seeing votes that are 8 people voting one way and Catherine voting a different way. You are seeing repeated votes in which most or all of the Amherst members vote one way, and all of the non-Amherst members vote a different way. Does that mean that the problem is my blog? Or my persona? Does Irv, or Steve, or Rick, or Rob have any role in failing to get support for ideas/motions from the hilltown members? I'm just wondering why this is all my fault ... or if you are privately emailing the other Amherst SC members to express your concerns?

So, help me understand -- why is it that most motions in Amherst are unanimous, and we are getting huge amounts of things done and changed in our schools all the time (e.g., closing a school, redistricting, adding Spanish language) and yet these same people are totally ineffective at getting things done at the regional level? Do you see any role or responsibility of any member on the Regional SC that isn't me? And if so, what?

Anonymous 11:43 - so, first, I agree that Kip Fonsch comes prepares and does his homework. At his very first meeting this July, he spoke passionately against accepting school choice seats into the MS, and although I had always voted to accept school choice seats before, I listened to his views, agreed with him, and supported his vote (which then passed).

And one question for you -- if the Amherst SC is responsible for all the choas and turmoil at the regional level, then why is the Amherst SC working together so collaboratively and effectively at the elementary level (e.g., closing a school, redistricting, adding Spanish)? I guess I don't see how one can simultaneously view the Amherst members as the problem when the Amherst elementary schools are undergoing great changes to improve education for all kids with the unanimous support of all SC members AND view the Amherst SC members as the major problem messing up the good things the hill town SC members are trying to do at the regional level. Can you give a single example of something the regional SC members have tried to do (other than halt hiring the superintendent search firm) that the Amherst SC members have blocked or opposed? I literally can't think of anything. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

When I read what's going on at the Regional School Committee level, the nonsense with the hilltowns trying to appoint Maria to the position of Superintendent, I'm just soooo glad I moved my kids out of the public schools. The Amherst School committee has done a phenomenal job, but is running up against a brick wall at the regional level. Dump the hilltowns, they're sinking the ship.

Anonymous said...


As an Amherst resident I believe your advocacy on my behalf is right on. I should also suggest that despite the noise you and your colleagues have been successful on some very important reforms. You have taken the heat for the tough decisions but not been the recipients of deserved praise.

As you say, a super majority of Amherst representatives votes together most of the time yet on many issues central to the reform of our District you are thwarted by inside politics.

If the initiatives of 80% of the Amherst SC are consistently denied I would be in favor of withdrawal from the Union 26 agreement. What is wrong with letting the Hill Towns, who clearly enjoy their freedom to support the status quo without paying the full cost, work out a system of educating their children with out our involvement. It seems to me that this is what they want.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point.

After you've done your analysis of what's wrong about Regional School Committee, then what's your plan of action?

If one find one's ball in a sandtrap in golf, one doesn't then just stand there and fume about the sandtrap being there. Knowing what you know, how are you playing this from here on?

Does speculating publicly about the limits of Debbie Gould's options help anything?

Joel said...

I find the ongoing comments about Catherine's tone to be frankly sickening. (Tone! Tone!)

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never . . . oh except in the happy valley were ACTIONS have not impact but TONE kills.

Grow up people.

Okay, let me see if I understand the argue about tone. The hill town SC members and the super and some teachers and staff cannot bring themselves to support good policy because of the tone of the person proposing the policy?

If that's so, those people should just go away. A policy is good or bad or mixed. The tone of the person presenting it is besides the point. Anyone who says otherwise is essentially claiming that adults in positions of responsibility can and do act like little children whose feelings are easily hurt when Mommy talks mean to them. Our schools suffer because these "adults" are off in a corner crying about the awful tone of the mean lady from Amherst College.

Does anyone honestly believe that if Mother Theresa had proposed closing Marks Meadow school that there wouldn't have been a firestorm of protest? If Obama called for AP classes I would have to read a mindless column in the Bulletin about his racism.

I don't know their motives, but the hill towns' SC members and many teachers and staff members want to torpedo an open search and make Maria the super. Fine, that's their right.

Challenging that highly unusual move -- no one has even seen the woman's cv -- means that you have a nasty tone.

Here's the narrative from the anonymous postings who oppose everything Catherine does or proposes:

"She's a bitch."

That's what you're saying when you talk about her tone. If you analyze someone's positions, politics, actions, etc., you talk about them as people with ideas. When you criticize a woman for the way she talks or for her tone, you're calling her out as a "bitch."

It's sickening.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that you don't want to accept anonymous criticism of you on your blog, but are perfectly happy to accept, agree with and heartily encourage anonymous criticism of others? There is an obvious and alarming disconnect there.

I was struck by the fact that we only received one of four possible bids for the superintendent search. Is there an easy explanation for that, other than that we are seen by the outside world as a demanding and brutally contentious entity to work for? And what ramifications does that suggest for the pool of candidates we are likely to attract for superintendency? Those who truly do care about what's best for kids and education in this community need to start thinking about that. We can and will differ about what IS best. But we need to stop demonizing each other in the process. And before you suggest, Catherine, that I'm someone who condones the attempts to demonize you, I don't. We all need to get a grip. A process took place at the last RSC meeting that was less than ideal. But a discussion took place and a path was agreed upon for proceeding. Let's let that path take it's course without having to rehash it's pros and cons and the motives or integrity of those who agree or disagree with it.

Anonymous said...

We need to get out of the regional agreement. It's not working. Let them find their way with another district.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:43 - sadly, I've heard this now from several parents. And I will certainly say that the events of this week have been very disappointing for parents with kids currently in our schools.

Anonymous 7:05 - thanks for the kind words. And just one clarification -- Amherst could vote to withdraw from Union 26, which is our elementary union with Pelham. However, we can't get out of the regional agreement (or the Regional SC) without votes from all four town SCs and town meetings ... meaning realistically, the regional agreement just isn't going to change.

Anonymous 7:42 - what I'm going to do is what I've done all along: do my homework, talk to as many people as I can, and vote for policies and programs that benefit kids. I strongly hope that if other members of the Regional SC agree with my votes, they will be able to vote along with me even if they personally don't like me. If you have other suggestions, feel free to share them -- my private email is

Joel - ummm, I don't have much to add to what you wrote ... and I appreciate your willingness to use your name (which oddly, all of those who criticize my tone don't feel comfortable doing).

Anonymous 9:17 - I think it is inappropriate to say something mean about someone behind their back, which is exactly what anonymous comments that criticize me are doing. If you find fault with what I'm doing, have the courage to identify yourself -- which seems like common decency.

In terms of the bids, the group of Debbie/Irv/Steve wrote specs that required certain things of firms (e.g., having done 5 superintendent searches in MA). If the firm hadn't done that, they couldn't apply (and at least one of the firms, and possibly more, hadn't met that requirement). When we searched for a firm to hire a superintendent after Jere Hochman left, only two firms applied (and I believe we sent it out more broadly that time and not just to two firms). I agree that the events of Wednesday night were really disappointing, and I too hope we can now move on (as I've said repeatedly) and focus on conducting a fair and open search for the best superintendent we can find.

Anonymous said...

All of these things can be true:

1) One can support the initiatives of Catherine and intend to vote for her next spring.

2) One can appreciate this blog for keeping constituents informed on what is happening in School Committee and on educational issues nation-wide.

3) One can view the constant criticism of Catherine, including the constant barrage coming from Farshid and the crowd as unfair, sexist, and stifling to the public debate.


4) One can also see the political gnashing of teeth, the speculating about others' motives, the contstant indignation, the "exposes" of the associations of RSC members, the "us versus them" tone featured on this blog as entirely counter-productive in building the kinds of coalitions on the Committee in which everyone is seen as winning.

Yes, politics ain't beanbag, and it's for grownups, but it also does not need to be unnecessarily confrontational and polarized. Ultimately that kind of politics goes nowhere, which is where we're headed right now.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 9:35 - we can't get out of the regional agreement. Any changes require approval of all towns (at town meeting) AND the approval of all the SCs. So, even if Amherst, Shutesbury, and Pelham wanted to change it/end it, Leverett could block it (for example). It just isn't going to change, and we all need to accept that.

Anonymous 9:43 - well said ... and about the best contribution I've personally seen on this post. I agree with all of your 4 points. So, tell me, where do we go from here? I promise to continue to work with all members of the Regional SC to make changes that work on behalf of kids in our schools. I supported the requests of Kristen and Debbie at the August meeting to hire a major search firm (I had initially proposed going for a more local firm at a cheaper cost, but I was persuaded by their views). I supported Kip's opposition to taking in more choice students to the middle school (also I initially had supported taking in more kids, and had voted that way in all prior opportunities). I hope that the Regional SC can have a very active and productive year, and I hope that can include a real openness towards exploring all possible superintendent candidates with an open mind, since ultimately this decision is one that will have an extremely long-term impact on education in Amherst.

Ed said...

Debbie can vote to hire a superintendent, which is in a sense voting to hire her spouse's boss's boss).

Exactly how is that not a violation of the state ethics laws? I know that in Maine (which has far less stringent laws) you simply can't be ON the school committee if any member of your family is on the payroll. No exceptions

Second, and I have this from a very good source in DC, all it will take is just one African American Amherst citizen to file a voting rights complaint and the whole shell game is over. His/her/its vote is being "diluted" by the hilltown board members being elected with fewer voters and the US Dept of Justice would throw the whole board out.

Third, can anyone tell me all of the Hilltown folk who are on the UMass payroll as either faculty or staff (I am thinking of a certain woman whom I bluntly told to shut up at one SC meeting -- we talk about obnoxious UMass students, I see obnoxious UMass administrators behaving badly.

Ultimate Irony: It is the rich white hilltown folk versus the economically challenged and diverse Amherst -- and it is Amherst College on the side of diversity & social justice while the UMass folk (who do the talk) aren't walking the walk...

Ed said...

603 CMR 7.14(12) states:
(12) Public Record. Each school district shall maintain as a public record, in a central location or in each school, a list of all staff members whose employment is governed by 603 CMR 7.00, indicating the role in which each is employed and the credential that authorizes such employment. (emphasis added).

Now this would include the Superintendent-paid-more-than-the-Town-Manager and might be worth checking out. Does she have a regular certificate or a provisional one?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ed - two quick things. First, I believe all three members of the Pelham SC (including the two members from Pelham who serve on the Regional SC) work at U Mass (Steve and I obviously work at Amherst College, Kristen from Shutesbury works at Hampshire College, Kip and Irv are retired, Rob is a doctor, and Rick is self-employed). Second, my undestanding is that Maria has a superintendent's license or certification (she did serve as interim for a brief period last year).

Alison Donta-Venman said...

While I disagreed with the thoughts of the hilltown representatives at the meeting last week, I don't think they should be demonized. For all I know, their constituents really ARE happy with the current situation at ARMS and ARHS and want to stay with the current acting Superintendent. In that case, they are simply looking out for the best interests of the people they serve. That is what I want the representatives from Amherst to do--represent the people of Amherst by withdrawing from Union 26.

As has been pointed out numerous times here and elsewhere, the population and student body from the hilltowns is different (both in terms of race/ethnicity and interms of income) than the population of Amherst. Given that alone, it is not surprising that the representatives from Shutesbury, Leverett, and Pelham might want something different in a Superintendent (and in other things). From what I understand, it would take a minor miracle to dissolve the Regional Agreement among the four towns, but it would take just a majority vote by the Amherst School Committee to withdraw from Union 26. To do so would reduce the Pelham representation in to the decision-making regarding a Superintendent. It would also make the job of the next Superintendent easier since he/she would no longer have to represent three separate School Committees/districts. It would eliminate the controversial situation that exists currently of one school in the Union (Pelham) taking school choice dollars from another (Amherst).

Rob, Rick, Irv, Catherine, and Steve, the people of Amherst elected you to be our voice and do what is in the best interests of our kids. Please vote to withdraw from Union 26 because it is best for Amherst. Last week clearly illustrated that the representatives from the hilltowns are doing what is best for their towns. And, although I don't agree with their motion or their methods, I do admire them for standing up for what their constituency wants. Please do the same for us.

ken said...


Take your pick between these 2 replies:

Reply A: Joel, I don't really agree with your perspective on this. I believe tone matters in an attempt to create a dialog. Unless it's a fight to the death, in which case tone does not matter, and the loudest, most aggressive monologue wins. Please explain if I didn't fully get what you'd meant.

Reply B: Joel, you're an absolute moron for believing that tone doesn't matter! Sheesh, I can't believe any intelligent wouldn't get this!

It really doesn't matter?

Joel said...


Thanks for proving my point. Yes, Catherine and her supporters call out people like you as morons. That happens all the time.

First of all, the tone argument is a red herring. You cannot find an instance of Catherine using an inappropriate tone or demeaning someone at an SC meeting, but it's her tone that you criticize. Mark Jackson spoke out of turn (during a period of no public comment) and yelled at and demeaned members of the SC as he worked to have Maria appointed his boss for 17 months and probably beyond.. I've never seen the supporters of the status quo attack his tone because they like him and share his views.

But back to tone as an issue for adults: I know very overweigh man in his mid-60s who doesn't exercise and has a horrible diet. He stopped going to his doctor because that doctor told him flat out that he was overweight and his diet and lifestyle were to blame. That man didn't like his doctor's tone. He doesn't go to doctors at all because he doesn't like their prognosis, oh I mean tone.

If we are to take you seriously as an educator, you have to show that you focus on ideas and not someone's body language or tone.

Anonymous said...

Alison said "Rob, Rick, Irv, Catherine, and Steve, the people of Amherst elected you to be our voice and do what is in the best interests of our kids. Please vote to withdraw from Union 26 because it is best for Amherst. Last week clearly illustrated that the representatives from the hilltowns are doing what is best for their towns. And, although I don't agree with their motion or their methods, I do admire them for standing up for what their constituency wants. Please do the same for us."

I am a resident of Amherst and I do not agree with the statement made by Alison above when she says that the hill town represetatives are standing up only for their constituency. I totally agree with what they were saying...that we should get more public input into the process before moving forward. When did getting more public input all of sudden become something only the citizens of the hill towns would want?"

A second point - I am a resident of Amherst and I DO NOT want Amherst to leave Union 26. Rob, Rick, Irv, Catherine, and Steve, the people of Amherst elected you to be our voice and do what is in the best interests of our kids. Please DO NOT vote to withdraw from Union 26 because it is NOT best for Amherst.

Ed said...

Allison: The reason why I asked CS how many of the hilltown folk were UM Fac/Staff was because the mantra of Social Justice Theory, which UMass preaches, is that you do not look after your best interests when that conflicts with the needs of oppressed populations.

This is what I mean by "walking the walk" versus just "talking the talk."

Take Catherine for example, her personal best interests would have been to keep the existing (illegal) "green line" where all the homeowners of means sent their kids to one elementary school while all the folks living in subsidized housing sent theirs to another -- and instead she championed the redistricting.

She "walked the walk."

What the hilltown folk ought to do is either (a) practice what they preach or (b) renounce Social Justice Theory. These are people who deny me financial aid for college (illegally, I might add) so as to promote "social justice" but when their best interests are at stake, they turn back to the rich white elitists that they truly are.

Why don't we call this what it is: "Hilltown Racism." And it is a violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act, and the Feds would act if anyone filed a complaint....

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:46 - I'd like to know what you see as the advantages for Amherst of the Union 26 arrangement, because in my experience, people who understand the unique Union 26 arrangement (and how it places Amherst is the most disadvantaged union in the state of MA) tend to share Alison's feelings. Can you describe how this arrangement benefits education for kids in Amherst? Thanks much for sharing your thoughts -- since this is on the agenda for our Tuesday meeting!

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I have to be anonymous due to concerns about retaliation.

I would encourage the Amherst SC to withdraw from Union 26 for many of the reasons stated above - and to be sure that Amherst voters have more of a say in how the administration that is responsible to the SC is staffed.

While I may not share Ed's political views in general, I share his concerns about voting rights. As a taxpayer paying =over $7000 in taxes each year to support this school system, I want excellence, fiscal responsibility and an administration that listens to our elected representatives.

At the moment we have distinct mediocrity, fiscal profligacy, and insider politics that thwarts the will of representatives representing the vast majority of the population of the region (Mr. Hood please take note).

Anonymous said...

I'm not doubting Anon 12:23PM's concern about retaliation.

But it raises the question: have people of a certain view about our schools been retaliated against in the past?

Anyone with any experience on this?

Abbie said...

I agree with Alison that the hill town SC members needed to express the views of their constituents (which I hope they solicited in some way). I do think the timing was bad. The horse was in the blocks, to pull the horse out meant it wasn't going to run. Maybe the SC members from Leverett, Shutesbury, and Pelham don't agree with this view, or they really do want to keep Ms Geryk as Sup. It doesn't seem to matter at this point, as they lost the vote and the search firm is to be hired. I also assume (and I think they should) that any further attempts to derail/end the process will also be outvoted by the Amherst SC members.

But back to education--- it looks like our 3rd grade kids in all the Amherst Elementary schools did really badly on the math MCAS (quite a lot below the state's average). I am not surprised. My only experience so far has been through 3rd grade, and I think its been pretty deficient, as I've repeatedly posted. This poor MCAS performance happened despite this past year's 'Achievement Academy' offered to low performing/struggling kids. Not a promising math start for our kids...

I hope this result gets special scrutiny because I think it is telling us something very important.

ken said...


First, though it may surprise you, whether you take me seriously as an educator or not is completely irrelevant to me. It's whether the place I work for and the districts I serve do or not that matters (oh yes, and anyone who wants to buy my book--cha ching). So far, so good, on those scores.

Second, in terms of dealing with Catherine's ideas, I think I have posted more dealing with real data and concepts than anyone (at least as much as I've looked) on this blog, either pro or con. So maybe you just didn't read this blog at those times.

Finally, I was wondering whether you'd make the patently silly and facile connection between my use of the word "moron" and any implication you thought I might be making to actual words Catherine or you or anyone else has been using about "us" (since tone doesn't matter to you at all, I feel ok putting it that way). Of course, that had nothing to do at all with what I wrote, as I was merely trying to highlight the issue of tone for its own sake since you so eloquently called it 'sickening' to bring up the issue of tone at all.

My point, Joel, was that dueling monologues is the way to go if it's collision sport politics, in which case tone is irrelevant, but it does matter when it's an attempt at collaborative politics. I would think that public conversation about our schools should be collaborative, but apparently we don't see it in the same way.

Anonymous said...

Are the MCAS scores posted somewhere where we can see them?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:53 - the primary concern I've heard expressed is by high school parents, who sometimes have concerns but feel that conveying those could influence the letters of reference their child receives. It is very difficult, obviously, to prove whether retaliation occurs. I have 3 kids in the schools, including a child in the middle school where he is being taught by several teachers who signed a letter to the Bulletin criticizing me by name, and I personally haven't experienced any teachers (or principals) engaging in any behavior towards any of my children that I would describe as retaliation. I believe my children have all been treated fairly by all teachers/principals, which of course is appropriate and should be expected but is also somewhat reassuring!

Abbie - I agree with you that the 3rd grade MCAS scores are very concerning. For those who aren't following the MCAS stuff so regularly, our 3rd grade math MCAS scores show more of our kids are in the failing category than in the state average and fewer of our kids are in the advanced category than the state average. These scores are particularly bad for students of color and low income students. For example, across the state 24% of African American 3rd graders are in warning (as are 20% of low income students). But in Amherst, 40% of African American students and 27% of low income students are in this category. I look forward to hearing a productive discussion of this very important issue at the School Committee meeting this Tuesday (Amherst portion starts at 8 pm).

Ken - I don't really want to talk about my tone, as I really prefer to talk about content (and I agree that you have presented information on content, and would frankly be interested in hearing your thoughts about the very low 3rd grade math MCAS scores -- which are occurring after 4 years of Investigations). However, can you point out either (a) times that you have seen me in a meeting treat other members of the SC inappropriately, and (b) times that you have seen anyone else on SC or in the administration use what you would consider a bad tone? It all seems to focus on me, and I guess that seems unfair (and inaccurate) to me, and I'm willing to guess to Joel.

Anonymous 4:45 - I'm going to do a whole separate blog post on this, but you can get all MCAS results (by grade, by school, by subgroup, etc.) by going to:

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I hope when the Amherst SC discusses the MCAS scores and AYP the discussion will not be focused on pointing fingers or attempting to afix blame for the low scores but will instead be focused on.."OK, we have a problem here - how can we ALL work together to come up with a solution." When I say all, I mean all the stake-holders: SC, Superintendent, principals, staff.
I am so tired of all the finger pointing that goes on. Lets come together for once for the sake of our kids.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 5:38 - I share your hope that the discussion can have this tone. Two more thoughts. First, it is really up to the superintendent to decide how to solve this (the SC can offer advice, but really, it isn't our call). Second, I would hope we would use this opportunity to look to districts in which traditionally underperforming students are performing well, and I would hope we could try to copy some of these efforts and NOT re-invent the wheel.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the low MCAS scores, one very important factor in this particular underperforming demographic is...what's going on at home. Is anyone going to address this? The teachers and schools can only do so much.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 5:50 - I certainly agree ... but I have trouble coming up with a plausible hypothesis about why low income and African American kids in Amherst do worse than low income and African American kids across the state. That's what I'm finding particularly concerning -- because to me, this suggests it isn't just about what's going on at home/prior to school (which shouldn't differ as a function of where you live in in Massachusetts). I believe one solution that we should seriously explore is expanding preschool for low income kids -- Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Hamer both made this recommendation last year as a way to increase achievement in this population and I believe this should be a goal we continue to implement this year.

Anonymous said...

I am so curious about the role of geography in this discussion. "Members from the hill towns" oppose Ms. Sanderson's point of view - as if their elevation is relevant?
It sounds sort of like you're calling 'em yokels ...

Anonymous said...

I don't hear that sentiment at all. No one's ever come close to suggesting that the people in the hill towns are yokels. They're a completely different demographic and don't understand what Amherst's needs are. I think most people have pointed out that a lot of UMass professors and administration live in the hill towns.

Ken said...


I made no allusions to your tone in this particular discussion thread, as I have not seen the meeting on TV and was not there. Others raised the issue, and then Joel made the case that the entire notion of bringing up tone as being important in a public debate was "sickening" to him. I replied to Joel's contention. I have noted times in the past where I've felt from your posts or newspaper column or quotes from you in the paper that tone was an issue, but like you, I have no desire to go back over that ground.

As far as Investigations goes, I have always maintained that Amherst does not do a good enough job teaching low income students (in general), and you will remember that I myself stated that our math MCAS growth scores for African-American and ESL students, altho higher than the state average, were too far from the achievement of other subgroups. I am now into 3 years removed from Amherst's schools, and so am not aware of present classsroom practices at 3rd grade to comment specifically in that regard. But you may also recall that I raised the issue of MCAS growth in the past, and indeed, though I have not examined Amherst's 2010 results closely, it appears that growth over time is still high. The argument being, it's where you end up on the MCAS (in 6th) that's more important than where you start (in 3rd), and Investigations as is taught in Amherst does seem to foster growth (as measured by MCAS) over the period from 3rd-5th, and then the 6th grade curriculum moves it forward from there.

If you go on the DESE website, you can find scatterplots of MCAS growth at different testing grades, along with a "SGP" (student growth percentile) listing of all towns in MA. Last I looked, Amherst's aggregate SGP from 3rd-6th grade in math was 60, at the bottom end of "excellent" growth, with an SGP of 40-60 being the average range. (As an aside, Newton's math SGP on this list is in the mid-50s, even with the "superior" Everyday Math; however, Newton's score covers grades 3-12, while Amherst proper's is just grades 3-6, I believe, so it's not really fair to make a direct comparison.)

Because this particular SGP data does not disaggregate by subgroups, I don't know what the "official" low income, ESL, Latino, etc SGP would look like, but Amherst should be able to calculate that with DESE's help, I think. Of course, in each town's district profile page on the DESE website, you can see grade-by-grade what the CPI and SGP are for the aggregate as well as subgroup disaggregated scores, but I don't know DESE's "official" SGP calculation formula. I calculate growth looking at a subgroup's CPI in 3rd, and then their CPI in 6th 4 years' later, which is a gross but valid measure of growt, tho not nearly as data sensitive as DESE's.

I hope this answers your question.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ken - you actually can get subgroup growth data, just FYI. If you look at all Amherst elementary schools for all grades for math, whites have a 58 SGP (state average if 50) and non-low-income have a 59 SGP (state average is 52), whereas low-income kids have 45 (state average is 47) and Hispanics have 44 (state average is 47). African Americans are too few to have a separate count. So, my read is that our White students and non-low income are doing better than the state average, but our low income and Hispanics are doing at or below state averages. That strikes me as problematic.

Anonymous said...

I've read a number of comments here that the hill-town members of the Regional SC are only looking after their own constitutents, ie kids from the hill towns. This idea is ludicrous. All members of the Regional SC make decision that affect all the children in the Reginal schools. At the regional level, the hill town members represent children from Amherst as well as children from Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury and the Amherst SC members represent the interests of not only the children of Amherst but also of the hill towns. Traditionally that is how it has been and I would hope it still is. Do people on this blog really think the hill town SC reps somehow want an inferior middle school and high school and the Amherst members are the only ones who are interested in excellent schools?

A false dichotomy has been created between Amherst and the hill towns..and it is not serving our students well.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response to Anonymous 7:59 -

So, I think you raise a good point, and I want to clarify two reasons why I think this dichotomy does exist (and SHOULD exist).

I do NOT think members from the hill towns want bad schools. But I think there are other crucial differences.

First, SC members from Leverett and Shutesbury should be entirely concerned about a superintendent's experience in MS/HS, whereas members from Amherst and Pelham need to care about K to 12. That is one of the reasons I voted for Sklarz (who had served as a K to 12 superintendent in three different districts) and not Rodriguez (who had almost entirely HS experience only). There may well be differences in superintendents in terms of their relatively strength/experience in younger versus older grades, and I'd certainly imagine those from different towns might weight such experience differently (since Shutesbury and Leverett don't have their kids in our system K to 6).

Second, the populations of the three towns differ not only in size, but also in terms of diversity of race and income. The Amherst population is one that is much more diverse than any of the three towns, and therefore it makes sense that choosing a superintendent with demonstrated experience in reducing achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds might be weighted more importantly by Amherst SC members than those from the hill towns (which are almost all white and have relatively few low income children).

None of this means that some members want bad schools and some want good schools -- it just means they may prioritize different things, including the experience and background of a superintendent. Greenwich and New Haven are two towns in CT, and when their SCs look for superintendents, I'm sure they both want good schools. But I'd be surprised if the things the New Haven board looked for where identical to the things the Greenwich board looked for -- and yet in our system, we require that type of agreement (hence the divergent views become quite apparent). This isn't demonizing anyone ... it is just stating that different SC members are elected by people from very different towns, and we need to acknowledge that difference and not pretend it isn't a factor.

ken said...


Of course it is problematic, like it is similarly problematic for nearly every district in the state, across all math programs. (I am aware of the SGP data you are referring to. But if you look at the "MCAS student growth report" link right above the subgroup score link, you will see the list I am referring to, which has the Amherst SGP at 60; I'm not really sure why it's different, which is why I suggested contacting DESE.) But we agree on the problem, which I have never shied away from pointing out, both when I worked in Amherst and after.

But the key question is whether it is the program, or the fact that our teachers have not been trained well in working with certain populations. The philosophy of the program makes its adaptation to different populations more pressing, but it doesn't mean it can't be done. When I worked with a 4th grade teacher in an ESL inclusion classroom my last year at Fort River, EVERY student's math MCAS score went up (using Investigations), and on average the bottom scores rose more than the top. So to me, it's a question of a) if or how teachers are trained to teach diverse populations, b) whether administrators are trained to observe, support and evaluate teacher practice in those ways, and c) whether they are actively attentive to this aspect of the job. I am too far removed to know the answers to a, b and c.

It is also important to examine why certain groups are doing more poorly. For instance, Latino students graduating our schools in 6th in 2008 had the highest growth from 3rd grade (comparing CPI scores) of ANY subgroup. The program hasn't changed, and the teachers have not changed (other than normal turnover), so why would Latino students now be doing so poorly 9relatively speaking)?

Michael Jacques said...

Over the past several weeks there has been much vocal sentiment regarding the choice for a Superintendent for our school district. Many people have weighed in that they think an inside candidate is the right choice for Amherst. I feel this course of action is very damaging to a fair and open search process for a future Superintendent for our schools.

It is unconscionable that members of the public, administrators and some school committee members are pushing to appoint an internal candidate without even interviewing or requesting her resume. When has anyone heard of someone being offered a position with a six-figure salary, which oversees a $48 million dollar budget, without an interview or submission of a resume? This is simply unheard of. What is worse is that the candidate in question has been quoted publicly as being unsure of her candidacy.

I would urge everyone to refrain from voicing such opinions until a finalist candidate selection is made several months from now. Anything less will damage the process and put into question the quality of any candidate applying for this job. Glenn Koocher, head of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, has even stated that strong candidates tend not to apply when there are interim position holders who are perceived as a sure thing. The absence of an above reproach selection process cheats the residents of all 4 towns, the administration, and most of all the students.

So I say to any candidates out there, please apply to the Amherst Regional School system. Many residents of the Amherst community truly want an open and fair process regardless of what the current vocal opinion appears to be. At least 5 members of the Regional School Committee have echoed this when they cast a vote to conducting a Superintendent search. There are hundreds if not thousands of people in Amherst who are looking forward to welcoming qualified candidates into our rich, diverse, and wonderful community. We want to attract candidates with strong educational backgrounds and more importantly with a proven track record of accomplishments as superintendents, principals, or leaders in their current school districts

We have wonderful community to live, grow, and work in. I, many other residents, and school committee members will work hard to ensure that every candidate is afforded an equal chance, as this is a great opportunity to work and live in the Amherst area.

Michael Jacques said...


So I say to any candidates out there, please apply to the Amherst Regional School system. Many residents of the Amherst community truly want an open and fair process regardless of what the current vocal opinion appears to be. At least 5 members of the Regional School Committee have echoed this when they cast a vote to conducting a Superintendent search. There are hundreds if not thousands of people in Amherst who are looking forward to welcoming qualified candidates into our rich, diverse, and wonderful community. We want to attract candidates with strong educational backgrounds and more importantly with a proven track record of accomplishments as superintendents, principals, or leaders in their current school districts

We have wonderful community to live, grow, and work in. I, many other residents, and school committee members will work hard to ensure that every candidate is afforded an equal chance, as this is a great opportunity to work and live in the Amherst area.

ken said...


A couple of other MCAS-related notes. If you look at Easthampton, who we know now uses Everyday Math, you will see that in 4th grade, their SGP's are very high--60s-70s--including low income students. Yet in 5th and 6th grades, SGPs are much lower, their 5th grade low income SGP being only around 15, which is extremely low. But just like I would not conclude that Investigations as a program is poor because of our somewhat lower subgroup scores (which are still within the average range, btw), I would not conclude that Everyday Math as a program is bad because of their much, much lower subgroup scores. Conversely, you would need to conclude logically that everyday Math is bad if you concluded that investigations is bad from these scores. It's how teachers are teaching that matters.

Second, I applied my growth look at scores of some subgroups from 2007 to 2010 (3rd-6th). SGP measures do not presently track one cohort of students across an entire grade span. The following list has our CPI growth followed by the state after the backslash:

low income: +6.9/+0.4
LEP : -4.9/-2.9
African-Am: +7.1/+0.3
Hispanic : +0.9/+0.4
Title 1 : +11.5/-10.1

As you can see, we outpaced the state in growth in all but one group, LEP. That's more problematic to pinpoint because of the movement of students (usually higher achieving) out of the program, and perhaps some new students who are lower achieving over that span of years. Our ESL population declined from 32 to 28 over that time frame, so clearly there was some amount of demographic shifting as well as program exits. However, it is what it is until we get more specific data. But overall, one could not conclude that our program that spurs on this type of comparative growth is bad.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion (based on service in the Amherst schools) our kids are failing because, in part, the touch-feely/kinder-gentler behavior management at the elementary level has long outlived its usefulness.

The amount of time wasted on controlling and disciplining students -- from all backgrounds -- is shocking.

Kids from academically unsupportive homes need much more productive learning time and stricter behavior management in order to play catch up. This does not happen consistently throughout the schools.

Some teachers have strong behavior management going on, despite the loosey-goosey culture of the building their classroom is in. Others are less capable at this task and so the default setting -- whatever is tolerated around the building -- is in play.

To me the worst form of classism/racism is letting kids be kids. As if they aren't able to do better? And it's not limited to children from Section 8 housing. Rudeness is endemic.

Anonymous said...

To Anon. September 27, 2010 11:44 AM, very well said. Thank you!

ken said...

Anon 11:44,

To some degree I agree with you, though i might frame it in a more nuanced way. There are many issues beyond behavior that come into play. But the reason I am addressing your post is your use of language. Maybe it's because of the fact that I am a language teacher that it strikes me so much. But you used the word "failing" to characterize some (many?) of our students. Earlier in this thread, someone dropped the descriptor "terrible" characterizing the state of our schools. That earlier one got no response, as I imagine this one would also not have other than my reaction--though I daresay, had I, for instance, characterized our schools as "wonderful," I would likely have generated a quick, negative response, from Catherine as well as others. On this blog, extreme statements like "terrible schools" and "failing students" are the linguistic currency that gets freely passed around, and this shared language create the context of the conversation. If something is "terrible" and students are "failing," it's a crisis that needs immediate "fixing."

However, the reality--supported by all kinds of data--is that our schools are neither wonderful nor terrible, and our students are not "failing." We have very good schools that face the same issues that districts all over the state, and nation, are facing: there is a gap everyone wants to close between higher and lower achievers in our district, which breaks down by ethnicity and social class lines much of the time--but they are not "failing" students unless the meaning of the word has changed significantly while I wasn't looking. Their MCAS growth, as Catherine and I had been discussing, is average, and average growth is not synonymous with failure. There are differences of opinion about what needs changing and how, but that is a different matter.

So I would ask, exactly what do/did you mean by "failure?"

Anonymous said...

Maybe now that the local college, UMass, is going to start accepting high school AP classes for credit, allowing kids to graduate in 3 years; the local public schools might start taking the idea of offering more AP classes seriously.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm racing out to a meeting, but briefly:

Mike - GREAT letter! Thanks! I agree with all you said.

Ken - I basically agree with your description of our schools (though not with your assumption that I only respond quickly to those who say our schools are "great" -- as you can see, I didn't respond to Mike's post at all either because my day was frantic).

Anonymous 6:55 - is this a chance in U Mass policy? If so, that's really important for the RSC to know as it could certainly influence our kids' ability to pay for college there!

Anonymous said...

I meant "failing" as in those failing to make AYP or adequare progress on the MCAS.

I am interested in what you said about 6th grade being a more important test year than 3rd, when kids are taking the MCAS for the first time so their low score may be more of a reflection of new ness to test-taking than math or LA ability.

I agree, it's not a very good choice of words, and in no way did I mean that the Amherst schools are terrible or failing (although I am worried that the elemntary schools seem to have more and more kids who arrive without sufficient background knowledge, strong vocabulary in any language, learning and thinking skills, early literacy and home support in place).

And it's not so much the behavior that's the problem. Kids are kids. It's the way it's dealt with by adults.

To me, showing respect for children is asking for their best.

Too bad we can't have a Roger Wallace in every classroom.

ken said...


I stand corrected. Posting that our schools are wonderful would have garnered a negative reaction, just not a quick one.

Anonymous said...

U Mass has always awarded AP credit what is new is a formalized three year program for student in three majors-economics, music and sociology. In the new program students are selected by the University based on the number of AP credits they bring in. I believe you need 8 in order to qualify and also need to take summer courses. The article in the Gazette today states that there is the hope that the program will increase in 8-10 majors in the humanities- this will not be available for the more technical/science/engineering programs.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so the AP credits thing is market-driven. Interesting.

ken said...


I agree that having a Roger in every classroom would be a great step to be able to take. I don't know that he's up for being cloned, though...

I understand better now what you meant by "fail," and I appreciate your clarification. AYP is a complex issue and I might still avoid the word "fail" in this context, unless the scores were abysmal.

As far as MCAS test grades go, I didn't mean to imply that 6th was more important than 3rd. But ideally there is MCAS growth between third and 6th grade. In many schools, there are up and down years, but in the end, if the MCAS CPI score of 6th graders is less than their CPI when they started "MCAS-ing" in 3rd, it means negative growth. Although present NCLB regs make looking at individual MCAS years necessary for districts, the reality is that MCAS scores over time and across grades is a better indicator of the overall effectiveness of a school in developing math or reading skills. I hope this clarifies my thinking for you.

Anonymous said...

In response to Michael Jacques,
I agree with your sentiments about not "tainting" or circumventing the search process by attempting to preordain our interim superintendent. I hope you will extend your concern to those who are actively disparaging Ms. Geryk as a potential successful candidate in that search before her hat is even in the ring. It seems particularly inappropriate for school committee members, who will be the hiring committee, to be publicly questioning Ms. Geryk's credentials, as Steve did at the last meeting and as Catherine has, repeatedly, here. Comments like, lets see what comes of her "collaborations and coffees" are belittling, snarky and unprofessional. I have served on numerous search committees and the consistent point that is always driven home is the responsibility that position holds for professional standards of confidentiality and respect. I would like to see all our SC representatives, whether they come from the hills or down here in the valley, embrace that simple standard of decency.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:23 - I'm really glad you share Mike's desire, and my desire, to have a fair and open search in which all candidates are considered objectively. That is indeed really important.

And please read my initial post and subsequent comments carefully so that you have a more accurate version of my comments - which do not criticize Maria Geryk in any way. I simply noted, and I will note again, that in terms of what I'm looking for in a superintendent (internal or external), it is leadership on issues of curriculum, instruction, and evaluation. Since Maria has only been superintendent for 7 months, her record thus far has been one of following plans set up by others (e.g., initiated by Dr. Rodriguez) and initiating community building (which I specifically noted was valuable). But when parents talk to me about their concerns about our schools, it has never one time been about their lack of opportunity to have coffee with the superintendent. It has been about the experience their kids have day in and day out in our schools -- the curriculum, the instruction, the expectations, the challenge, the support, the engagement. And I'm planning on voting for a superintendent who has the desire and ability to serve as an instructional leader, because that is what I see as essential in helping our district live up to its full potential. That isn't snarky or unprofessional, and it doesn't have anything to do with Maria. Similarly, I don't recall anything Steve has said that criticized Maria? Again, I'm stating what I'm looking for in a superintendent, and that strikes me as honest and fair. I certainly haven't said whether Maria does or does not have the ability to serve as an instructional leader -- which is information that I believe the community would all learn together if/when she chooses to submit an application.

Anonymous said...

Aw, Catherine, the hell with all this stuff about instruction, curriculum, leadership, and evaluation. It just creates conflict over things that matter, and who needs that?

You can look at CVs all you want. All I'm looking for is a Superintendent who can give me the appearance of empathy. Especially if she can give it to me over a really full-bodied French roast.

Nina Koch said...


You say that you just want Maria to be part of a process and if she is the best candidate, then she will be hired. I agree with that statement. I think there should be a process, (although I would prefer that the process involve waiting until this spring to decide about the need for a search).

But you don't leave it there. You proceed to look for multiple ways to say something negative about Maria, and now you are following that up by claiming that you haven't said anything negative.

Look at your dismissive comments about coffee and collaboration. You say that no one has ever mentioned to you that they want to have coffee with the superintendent. Well, of course they don't literally talk about coffee, but have people mentioned that they feel the central office needs to be more responsive to the public, or that they have concerns that aren't being listened to? Yes they have, and the coffees are just one of the many ways that Maria is attempting to deal with that. Yet you dismiss it.

As for the collaboration piece, that is all about curriculum and instruction, and Maria is the person who is making it happen. To my knowledge, no one was talking about the concept of instructional rounds when Alberto was here. And it's not a small matter. I would recommend people take a look at the ACTV show that discusses the new partnership with UMass:

Roundtable Discussion

What I see is three impressive women talking intelligently about teaching and learning, with very specific plans for how to improve instruction in the district. Listen as they talk about the difference between congenial and collegial professional interactions. Listen as they talk about how they are going to bring about change in a meaningful, enduring way. I can only assume that you haven't watched the show, Catherine, because I can't imagine that after watching it you would say you are "not concerned" about the collaboration with UMass. You said you want an educational leader, and that is what I see demonstrated on that television screen.

Did Alberto initiate the hiring of Dr. Rossi-Ray Taylor as a social justice consultant for the district? Did Alberto hire a curriculum director? Did Alberto hire an ombudsman? Did Alberto cultivate an enhanced partnership with ACTV? Did Alberto convince Amherst College to fund a position for the schools? Did Alberto successfully launch the math program review? (He did identify Dr. Chen as a consultant, but he had not managed to hire him or to get the review underway.) What did the First Day celebration look like under previous superintendents?

It is in fact a negative thing to say that Maria is only carrying out plans initiated by someone else and it is also not true.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:23
You are right on with your comments and express my sentiments exactly. Catherine and Steve have indeed begun their critique of Maria as a candidate for the Superintendent's position before the search has begun, before Maria has submitted an application for the job. Steve making comments in the press and as you say, Catherine making snarky and unprofessional comments here. Maria hasn't done anything except follow the plans of others??? That's not a critique of Maria? It most certainly is...and it's not a very accurate critique.
Yes, Catherine and Steve are critiquing a possible SC candidate in public, in the media before the search has begun and this has created an extremely uneven playing field for the process. I've never seen such unprofessional behavior by members of the SC. I for one am fed up.
The search process should go forward and Catherine and Steve should stop critiquing Maria before the process has really gotten underway.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anonymously because I have had direct contact with Maria. She smiled, said very comforting things, and then failed to act. We had to call her office repeatedly about a simple request. She never followed through.

Communication is more than just listening or appearing to listen to people.

I think it's fascinating that a number of teachers and staff who don't even live in Amherst are advocating for her. It's completely inappropriate for an employee to lobby for the hiring of their boss.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people need to get out of Amherst and see the real world. I think people in this town have super thin skin. I haven't read or heard anything critical or "snarky" (what a stupid word) about Maria. They have stated very matter of factly that if Maria goes thru the search process and comes out the best candidate they will vote for her. NO corporation would hire someone without a search, not at the salary you're looking at paying the superintendent here. You people are uninformed if you want to just put her in and pay her that kind of money without a search for someone who has already done the job of superintendent at another school district. And YOU are muddying the waters making it almost impossible to get strong candidates to even want to apply. Shame on all of you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:58 - I'm hoping you are being sarcastic ... but anyway, my key point is that different people look for different things in a superintendent. I'm being clear about what I'm looking for, and I think that candor would be appreciated! I hope we will have many qualified candidates who can serve as an instructional leader, and that could certainly include Maria.

Nina - I am glad that you agree that there should be a fair and open process, and I hope you are right that the best candidate will emerge from that process. I continue to disagree that stating what Maria has/hasn't done is negative -- it is factual. She has only been in the job a few months, and therefore couldn't possibly have done as much as someone who had served in that job in a longer period. We haven't yet had the opportunity to go through a budget process, for example. That isn't her fault!

In terms of the coffee/collaboration stuff: I've heard lots of parents say that they have in fact been listened to, by principals, superintendents, SC members, etc. And that after they had been listened to, nothing changed, so I'm very cautious about interpreting communication with the superintendent as change in instruction. Perhaps you are more optimistic. In 2006, I was one of a number of parents who wrote a letter to Jere Hochman asking for some changes in our math program. He met with us, was very responsive on email, formed a committee to study math, conducted parent surveys, etc. And guess what: virtually nothing changed at all in our math program (7th and 8th grade math got textbooks). So, did I feel listened to? Yes? Did math change for my kids and other kids in the district? No. I don't think it would have been different if it had been over coffee.

Similarly, maybe instructional rounds will be effective at improving instruction. Is there research from other districts showing that? Perhaps you could point my blog readers to emirical articles demonstrating its effectiveness on achievement -- that would be very helpful to me and I'm sure others.

In terms of what Alberto did -- yes, he tried to hire a curriculum director but ultimately wasn't pleased with the candidates (I was on this search committee and agreed), he found Dr. Chen, he started the discussions involving First Day, and he initiated the Five College position with Amherst College. Maria did hire Dr. Rossi-Ray Taylor as a social justice consultant for the district, who in turn recommended hiring an ombudsman? I don't see an enhanced partnership with ACTV as an important educational change in our district, but perhaps you do, and that's fine.

Again, as the search progresses, I believe all candidates (internal and external) will have the opportunity to demonstrate their backgrounds/experiences/qualifications, and that is indeed a good thing for our community and our schools.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with Nina here. (BTW, is Nina a resident of any of the towns in the region or is she just trying to hire her own boss?)

Members of the SC have experiences with Maria that shape their opinions.

Members of the SC and community advocating for Maria don't have a clue about who else might apply, but they are essentially advocating against those unknown candidates.

Calling for Maria's hiring or delaying the search, which is the same thing in practice, is tantamount to saying that you aren't willing to support any potential candidates even though you have no idea if those candidates might be wonderful experts in all the areas we need to focus on.

Having an opinion about someone (Maria) with whom you've worked makes perfect sense.

Having an opinion about a pool of candidates that hasn't even been formed yet doesn't make a lot of sense and clearly isn't about finding the best person. It's about hiring the person that won't pull you out of your comfort zone.

More than "stability" we need someone who is willing to challenge the teachers and staff on behalf of students, not make the teachers and staff happy no matter what the impact on the kids.

Anonymous said...

That's the key...challenge the teachers and staff. Maria will not do that. So that we know. And yes, the staff IS trying to hire their own boss. Has anyone been watching Education Nation on NBC?

Curious observer said...

It's fair to look at the broad claims made by people about what a wonderful job the interim superintendent has done by carefully reviewing what actions she has taken and why. Especially if those making the claims advocated that she be hired immediately, which they did. The claims made about her expertise and excellence were sweeping, but also vague, making many wonder what exactly the interim superintendent has done since March.

If the interim superintendent is just continuing efforts started by others, it's just a fact, but a fact worth knowing. Not having experience as a classroom teacher or as a principal is another fact. She did hire a curriuculum director but the money for the position was already allocated and most other districts have this position. Many teachers applauded and gave her standing ovation at a meeting. She didn't start First Day and a lot of people came this year.

Let's bring out the facts and not be accused of evil intent in doing so. The actions of administrators are open to public discussion, just as the actions of other public officials.

But also let's evaluate the quality of the interim superintendent's work a bit later. She's only been in this position a few months. This process of evaluation -- outside the usual process by the school committee -- was set in motion by her admirers and it may cause more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

So, let's fast forward for a moment to January 2011. The Super search has moved forward, candidates have applied, including Maria. Just for the sake of argument lets say five candidates in total have applied.

Now, out of those five, only one has been pre-critiqued and critized by members of the SC outside the normal search process. Does anyone here think the search process has not been tainted? Has not been slanted? Does anyone think none of the five applicants are climbing a steep hill made by members of the SC?

It's time for Catherine and Steve and any other SC member who might be tempted to pre-critique Superintendent candidates to stop critiquing Maria before the process has begun. And it's time for Rick Hood, chair of the Superintendent search committee to step up to the plate and STOP this inappropriate behavior.

I would have alot more confidence in this search process if Amherst had formed a search committee like Northampton did. At this point, this spectacle is driving me to consider an alternative educational setting for my child. I have no confidence in the ability of the Superintendent search committee to carry out a fair process.

Anonymous said...

Nina, Catherine et al,

The biggest topic of discussion in the past year - and most contentious for taxpayers and parents - was the override.

Coffees and PR are a red herring that it serves neither side to mention.

I believe that it is a mistake not to focus on fiscal management as completely central to the Superintendent issue. From what I see Ms. Geryk has no track record on dealing with budgets - and certainly not budgets in excess of $40MM. What I have heard is that her track record shows a failure keeping the Special Education budget in line.

I encourage you to focus on this financial issue because WITHOUT A SOUND FINANCIAL FOOTING OUR SYSTEM REMAINS AT RISK. If the SC hires a Super w/o a track record in dealing with this kind of issue it is malfeasant and abdicating all responsibility. This is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Nina lives in South Deerfield

Curious observer said...

Anon 8:48. The problem also is that it looks to many that the hill town members of the Regional School Committee have already lined up behind Maria Geryk tainting the selection process. This may or may not be true, but adding to your concerns about "pre" there is an appearance she has been pre-approved.

Here's hoping that all school committee members keep an open mind and give each candidates a hard, honest and objective consideration.

Anonymous said...

Please list specific examples of how Maria Geryk has been criticized or even critiqued by any members of the SC.

Anonymous said...

Steve Rivkin's comment in the newspaper was a critique of her qualifications for the job and all you have to do is read this blog for Catherine's many many many comments.

Anonymous said...

To Anon. September 29, 2010 8:48 AM

Catherine already stated the reasons why this would not work here. Northampton is not a regional school system like ours is. We would have the same unbalanced voting for a superintendent that we have with the regional committee now.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm not going to respond to each and every comment here, since really they all involve the same general theme (on one side or the other). There is both a blessing and a curse in being an internal candidate - that is ALWAYS true. When Mike Hayes was hired as the principal of the MS, some people spoke about how great he had been (because they knew him in a much more in depth way than the outside finalist) and others spoke about him in a more concerned way (because they had experienced more problematic interactions with him and obviously couldn't have had such interactions with the outside finalist). That's just the reality because we ALWAYS have more information (good and bad) about internal candidates.

If Maria decides to become a candidate (and again, to the best of my knowledge she hasn't even made a decision she wants to be considered!), she will experience the same benefit and curse. People who have interacted with her during coffees or have worked with her will describe their views at a much greater level of detail than any external candidate (again, for better or for worse). At the last Regional SC meeting, several audience members AND SC members talked about how great she was and what a good job she was doing - that was their opinion, and they all have a right to that opinion. Steve noted at the meeting that the SC evaluates the superintendent, and since we haven't done that yet with Maria, it is far too early to determine the nature of this evaluation. He also said in the paper that he had concerns about hiring a superintendent (Maria or otherwise) who had no experience as a classroom teacher or principal. That isn't criticizing Maria's work or efforts in her current role -- it is stating the qualifications he'd prefer to see in a superintendent (which could apply to other people considering applying as well as Maria). I've said I will base my vote on the person's experience in instructional leadership, and in particular evidence of their effectiveness. I haven't personally seen signs that Maria can be effective in this way, but I believe that it is too early to tell (and luckily we have several months before a hire will be made during which time we will learn more about Maria's leadership and we will learn more about the qualities of other candidates). I will vote for the candidate that I believe will best serve as an instructional leader in our district (which is why last time I voted for Sklarz, who had a DEMONSTRATED track record in leading three different school districts effectively) - and if that person is Maria, I will certainly vote for her. I would just hope that my other SC colleagues would keep an open mind and be willing to consider voting for not only Maria, but also for external candidates (which of course isn't possible if we were to vote to call off the search at this point).

Anonymous said...

The Curious Case of the Hill Towns

I wonder why the Hill Towns SC members are so much in lockstep with the idea of scrapping the Super search and appointing Maria. Other Hill Town SC members and some of the same, voted in March to give her an unprecedented 17 month term as acting, even though no one has apparently ever seen her cv.

It's no exaggeration to say the Hill Town SC members really like and respect Maria and want her to be the permanent super asap.

Only they know why they are doing this, but it's curious.

Leverett and Shutesbury only deal with her on the regional level, and yet they want her to also be the Union 26 Super. Folks from those two towns repeatedly claim that THEY need Union 26 to stay whole, despite the fact that they have nothing to do with it.

Moreover, the Hill Town SC member who first moved to make Maria permanent sends her kid to a charter school for MS, not ARMS.

Add to that, the Hill Town SC members seem to be universally opposed to moving 6th grade to ARMS.

In other words, they want Maria to run the Regional system, but they don't want too much to do with that system.

They want Maria to run Union 26 and for the Union to stay as is, but they have nothing to do with the union.

Why is this? I honestly don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like clarification about what EXACT comments were made by any SC member that were critical of Maria Geryk. And how about just ONE example of the so called "many, many, many" critical comments that CS has made regarding Maria Geryk on this blog.

What Steve Rivkin quote from the newspaper is being referred to as critical?

Anonymous said...

What blog are you reading anon 1:29? Because if you're reading this one there would be no need for clarification. Catherine, in my view, is being completely unprofessional in allowing and participating in the public vetting of Maria Geryk as a candidate for superintendent. It is inappropriate. And you will probably say it was inappropriate for the hilltown candidates to seek to circumvent the search process by voicing their support for Maria's candidacy. And I would agree! But two wrongs don't make a right. We all were supposed to learn that lesson in kindergarten right? So can't we all just chill and, in the process, request that ALL SC members chill as well? This conversation is more than unproductive it is damaging to the future viability of ALL potential candidates for leadership in our school district. Let's start acting like grown ups as opposed to a bunch of disgruntled children in an unsupervised school yard.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 9:54 - two quick responses here, and then I share your hope that we can move on to talk about education. First, the public vetting of Maria as a candidate began at the Sept. 22nd meeting from the public (including those who have been hired by Maria from U Mass), which was followed by comments from some SC members (who expressed their own support for Maria). So, that is public vetting -- on meetings and on TV and in the newspaper. I hope you are conveying your feelings about this type of public vetting to all SC members, and not just the one with the blog. Second, I believe that all SC members should keep an open mind about the hire, and I have promised to do so. I hope that all other members of the SC, and indeed the public, will do the same.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, you are being disingenuous when you promise to keep an open mind about the hiring process. As other commenters have noted, you have repeatedly been dismissive of Maria Geryk. And while you criticize the tone of anyone who dares to disagree with you, you have no hesitation about expressing your own opinions in a strident tone.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:54

So my question is this: If people are talking about making Maria the permanent super, your view is that no one (people with kids in the system, tax payers, employees) may criticize her performance?

Because she MAY be a candidate, what she does right now cannot be spoken of? How does that make any sense.

Look, Maria's main job was as the SPED administrator. An outside evaluation, loads of parents, and the courts have plenty to say that's critical of her performance in her main job.

Are we now supposed to shut up and not discuss that because she may be a candidate for another job?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 8:39 - I will support the finalist who I believe will best serve as the instructional leader in our district. If that is Maria, I will strongly support her. What I've said is that I'm not convinced as of now (without seeing direct evidence of her ability to serve in this way as of yet -- in her relatively brief period in this job AND without seeing any of the other candidates for this position) that she will ultimately be the strongest candidate. And it is impossible for me to imagine how anyone in this town could decide RIGHT NOW that Maria is so clearly strongly that all other potential candidates that we don't even know about that we don't need to do a search. I promise to vote for Maria if she is the strongest candidate. In return, I hope that all SC members who are now suggesting we don't even necessarily need to do a search will promise to also support the best candidate - even if that person is NOT Maria. That is the only way this is a fair process, which the community needs and deserves.

Anonymous 9:26 - it does seem very odd that apparently we can praise what we've seen Maria do (e.g., set up the coffees, start a TV show, hire an ombudsmen) but we can't criticize anything she does? Is that true of all superintendents from now on, or just those who might be candidates for jobs? Again, there are advantages and disadvantages of being an inside candidate, and that has to strike both ways.

Nina Koch said...

"it does seem very odd that apparently we can praise what we've seen Maria do (e.g., set up the coffees, start a TV show, hire an ombudsmen) but we can't criticize anything she does?"

Oh so you admit that you are criticizing. I thought you were just very neutrally and objectively laying out the facts.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - I'm disappointed in your response, since my point was quite clear, and I imagine you understood it. Several people have said, in public, great things about Maria. You have said great things about Maria on my blog. You haven't expressed any concerns about those statements (e.g., that isn't really fair to outside candidates for superintendent). Yet when people on the SC or on my blog criticize her (or even make statements that it is too early to determine her effectiveness which I continue to not belief is a criticism), you believe that is inappropriate. You can't have it both ways, and Maria can't have it both ways. If you are an inside candidate, people will speak about what you've done they've liked, and what they've done that you haven't liked. That's just the reality. I've said I'll vote for Maria if she's the best candidate -- so has Steve (in fact, he's quoted in the Bulletin today saying that). That seems to me precisely the position that ALL SC members, teachers, principals, parents, and community members should be taking right now, when we haven't seen who the finalists will be and what the experiences and qualifications THEY bring to the table.

Anonymous said...

Criticize: appraise, evaluate. I guess those of you who see the word criticize as bad are the same ones who don't like the word discipline and have tried to change it to "guide". Nina, I'm convinced that if it was mid-day out and Catherine said, it's daytime, you'd argue, no it's not, it's nighttime. akab

Anonymous said...

Catherine, didn't the facilitator at the School Committee Retreat specifically tell school committee members NOT to let the school and associated administration pick their own boss????? Wouldn't we all like to choose our boss, or our spouses boss. Where can I sign up??? Oh yeah, Amherst Public Schools, that's where. akab

ken said...

Anonymous 7:59,

I am pasting the meanings of "criticize" from You will see that meaning #1 in both usages is negative, and therefore you are basically saying that people who use the word in its most common dictionary sense have something wrong with them.

   /ˈkrɪtəˌsaɪz/ Show Spelled [krit-uh-sahyz] Show IPA verb, -cized, -ciz·ing.
–verb (used with object)
1. to censure or find fault with.
2. to judge or discuss the merits and faults of: to criticize three novels in one review.
–verb (used without object)
3. to find fault; judge unfavorably or harshly.
4. to make judgments as to merits and faults.

But then again, as often happens on this blog, why should we let facts get in the way of a good argument!?