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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meeting Update AND Superintendent's Forum

I'll do a longer blog post soon about last night's (very good) Amherst School Committee Meeting, but two quick things for now:

1. We voted last night to form a task force to study the governance of the Amherst elementary schools, as you can read about in the Gazette article ( We've spent a lot of time discussing various options on this, and I've heard a lot of different views, and ultimately I believe we need to have a better understanding of the financial implications of the current arrangement -- as well as any alternative arrangement -- so I am really glad the Amherst SC all voted to support the formation of this task force. Steve has agreed to participate, and may be joined by another member of the Amherst SC, and will certainly be joined by 1 or more members of the Amherst Finance Committee.

2. There is a public forum regarding the superintendent selection (and the characteristics/qualities community members/parents/teachers want in this person) so please come share your thoughts: 7 pm tonight (Wednesday), ARHS auditorium. You can also fill out a survey on line sharing your thoughts (

Friday, October 22, 2010

Math: A Few Updates to The Bulletin

I know there is considerable interest in math in this district, so I was pleased to see the brief piece by Nick Grabbe on the upcoming math review in this week's Bulletin (, and in particular the publicity for the presentation of the math review by Dr. Chen on Monday, November 1st, at 6:30 pm in the middle school. But I'd like to point out a few things that I wished had been noted in this important story.

First, the piece points out the rise in 6th grade math scores, and that is indicated as evidence that the Investigations curriculum is effective. However, Investigations is a K to 5 curriculum only; our 6th graders use a new curriculum called Impact, which a number of parents (including myself) pushed for for two years. Thus, any improvement in 6th grade scores is due to the new curriculum, which was adopted last year for the first time, and not to Investigations, since 6th graders don't use Investigations.

Second, I'm surprised the story didn't mention that the 3rd grade math scores (the first math scores collected by MCAS, which follow 4 years of Investigations) in Amherst are below the state average. To be precise, only 18% of the 3rd graders in Amherst scored at the Advanced level in math, compared to a state average of 25%. That really suggests that our district is not helping kids to achieve at the highest level. However, even more concerning was the finding that 14% of the kids in Amherst scored at the warning level in math, compared to the state average of 11%. So, our district has more kids at the very bottom level than the state average AND fewer kids at the top.

Third, it is not that "some parents and School Committee members" express concern about Investigations; there has been long-standing concern about Investigations among parents AND teachers in Amherst since at least 2007 (see for the math program report which I assisted with under the direction of Jere Hochman and includes negative comments by parents and teachers about Investigations) and there is a large national debate about this curriculum. You can read about the concerns (including petitions to eliminate Investigations) across the country simply by googling "Investigations" and "math". You will find many links showing concerns. In other words, the Amherst debate isn't really an Amherst debate; it is a national debate (and frankly, a very important national debate).

Finally, and most importantly, I think the key piece of information that should have appeared in the story is not opinion - mine, parents, teachers, School Committee members - but data. Because frankly, I'm not interested in having a curriculum simply based on what some people like (whether those people are parents, teachers, SC members, etc.). I want a curriculum that works to teach math. And I've attached a link to an article reporting a random assignment study published last summer (funded by the US Department of Education) showing that Investigations was the weakest of the 4 elementary math curriculum studied ( Here's a brief summary:

Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools reports on the relative impacts of four math curricula on first-grade mathematics achievement. The curricula were selected to represent diverse approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. The four curricula are Investigations in Number, Data, and Space; Math Expressions; Saxon Math; and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. First-grade math achievement was significantly higher in schools randomly assigned to Math Expressions or Saxon Math than in those schools assigned to Investigations in Number, Data, and Space or to Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. This study is being conducted as part of the National Assessment of Title I. The report cleared IES peer review on February 2, 2009.

I believe that elementary kids in Amherst deserve an excellent math curriculum that will provide them with a thorough basis in mathematics so that they can build on this knowledge in MS and HS math and science courses. If the best curriculum for our kids is Investigations, that's great -- we already own it! And I believe we all need to focus on the facts, and not ideology, and I have serious concerns about both our 3rd grade math scores (again, following 4 years of Investigations) and the results of this randomized study showing Investigations is the worst of the 4 curriculum. I really hope Dr. Chen's report can provide useful information to the district moving forward, and I hope all those interested in this topic will try to attend his presentation on November 1st.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

There Is No 'War on Teachers'

Note: This is an interesting oped on education which appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. The author (Eric A. Hanushek) is a professor at Stanford University (and a frequent co-author with Steve Rivkin), and is a well-regarded expert on issues in education.

No longer is education reform an issue of liberals vs. conservatives. In Washington, the Obama administration's Race to the Top program rewarded states for making significant policy changes such as supporting charter schools. In Los Angeles, the Times published the effectiveness rankings-and names-of 6,000 teachers. And nationwide, the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which strongly criticizes the public education system, continues to succeed at the box office.

All sides of the educational policy debate now accept that the key determinant of school effectiveness is teachers-that effective teachers get good achievement results for all children, while ineffective teachers hurt all students, regardless of background. Also increasingly accepted is that the interests of teachers unions aren't the same as the interests of children, or even of most teachers.

Until recently, the unions asserted that they spoke for teachers and that they should judge which reforms are good. Any proposal they didn't like, they labeled part of a "war on teachers." Their first response to the Los Angeles Times and to "Waiting for 'Superman'" has been to drag out that familiar line. According to the American Federation of Teachers, "The film's central themes-that all public school teachers are bad, that all charter schools are good and that teachers' unions are to blame for failing schools-are incomplete and inaccurate, and they do a disservice to the millions of good teachers in our schools who work their hearts out every day."

What's really going on is different. President Obama states that we can't tolerate bad teachers in classrooms, and he has promoted rewarding the most effective teachers so they stay in the classroom. The Los Angeles Times published data identifying both effective and ineffective teachers. And "Waiting for 'Superman'" (in which I provide commentary) highlighted exceptional teachers and pointed out that teachers unions don't focus enough on teacher quality.

This is not a war on teachers en masse. It is recognition of what every parent knows: Some teachers are exceptional, but a small number are dreadful. And if that is the case, we should think of ways to change the balance.

My research-which has focused on teacher quality as measured by what students learn with different teachers-indicates that a small proportion of teachers at the bottom is dragging down our schools. The typical teacher is both hard-working and effective. But if we could replace the bottom 5%-10% of teachers with an average teacher-not a superstar-we could dramatically improve student achievement. The U.S. could move from below average in international comparisons to near the top.

Teachers unions say they don't want bad teachers in the classrooms, but then they assert that we can't adequately judge teachers and they act to defend them all. Thus unions defend teachers in "rubber rooms"- where they are sent after being accused of improper behavior or found to be extraordinarily ineffective-on the grounds that due process rights require such treatment. (In a perverse way, rubber rooms are good as long as it is not feasible to remove teachers that are harming kids; it is better to pay these teachers not to teach than to have more children suffer.)

So we are seeing not a war on teachers, but a war on the blunt and detrimental policies of teachers unions. If unions continue not to represent the vast numbers of highly effective teachers, but instead to lump them in with the ineffective teachers, they will continue doing a disservice to students, to most of their own members, and to the nation.

There is a place for an enlightened union that accepts the simple premise that teacher performance is an integral part of effecting reform. As the late Albert Shanker said in 1985, when he was president of the American Federation of Teachers: "Teachers must be viewed . . . as a group that acts on behalf of its clients and takes responsibility for the quality and performance of its own ranks."

The bottom line is that focusing on effective teachers cannot be taken as a liberal or conservative position. It's time for the unions to drop their polemics and stop propping up the bottom.

Mr. Hanushek is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Inadequate evaluations hamper progress in our school system

This is a link to an oped by Steve Rivkin in last week's Amherst Bulletin which I think raises a number of very important points ( Steve's professional work examines the economics of education, and therefore he brings a depth of understanding of the research on education to his School Committee work (in fact, he was recently asked to present research on the effects of class size on achievement to the Brookline School Committee). I found this oped fascinating, and hope my blog readers will enjoy it as well.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Superintendent Search 2010

Note: This announcement is now on the website, which I think is a great example of the extent to which this search firm is gathering information from all stakeholders. Please take a few minutes to click on the link to the survey to share your thoughts about the qualities we need in a superintendent, and encourage your friends/neighbors/colleagues to do the same (

Our school district is now in the process of searching for a new Superintendent of Schools to begin work in July 2011. Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates has been hired to assist the School Committees in this search process. Consultants Al Argenziano and John Connolly of HYA will begin their work by helping the community define the qualities, skills and experience that the public is looking for in a Superintendent. The work to develop this leadership profile will occur on October 27 and October 28, during which time a variety of meetings will occur with school, parent, and community groups. In addition, a public forum will be held on Wednesday, October 27 at 7:00 pm in the ARHS Auditorium. The list of groups scheduled to meet with the consultants will be announced in the next few days.

In addition to holding public forums, we are now posting an online survey to seek your input in the process of hiring a new superintendent. This survey is designed to gather your perception on the importance of various characteristics commonly found in effective superintendents. The information will be used by the School Committees to determine the "Desired Characteristics" of our next superintendent. Select the survey link below that best represents your relationship to the School District.

Please continue to check this site for updates as the search process occurs. We deeply appreciate your participation in this important endeavor.

Rick Hood, Chair
Regional School Committee

Irv Rhodes, Chair
Amherst School Committee

Debbie Gould, Chair
Pelham School Committee

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Updated Summary: Regional Meeting 10-12-10

Here is my longer summary of the 4 hour meeting from Tuesday night (as I described briefly in the prior post).

The meeting started with a two-hour meeting with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (the search firm hired to assist with the superintendent search). Two men from HYA presented considerable information about the search process, including time line, potential questions for candidates, and strategies for gathering feedback. This is clearly a very experienced firm (they handled the Newton superintendent search last year), and I was extremely impressed with the amount of information they provided. I encourage people to watch the meeting when they can (it is already being shown on ACTV), but here is a brief summary of the steps:

First, HYA will be in Amherst on October 27th and 28th to meet with various stakeholder groups (e.g., principals, teachers, PGO and School Council members, town government officials, etc.) and individually with each SC member, and to hold a public forum. The goal of this visit is to get information from our community about what we are looking for in terms of characteristics important in a new leader. They will also create a survey that people can complete on line describing such characteristics. This strikes me as really helpful in terms of gathering information from many community members to guide what they are looking for in terms of recruiting a superintendent.

Second, they have recommended that a search committee be created, and the Regional SC approved this idea at the meeting. This committee will consist (per their recommendation) of 8 members: 3 SC members (one chosen by the Pelham SC, one by the Amherst SC, one by the Regional SC), 2 teachers/staff/administrators (1 elementary, one MS/HS), 2 parents (1 elementary, 1 MS/HS), and a town government official. The MS/HS parents and town government officials could be from any of the towns, whereas the elementary parents need to be in either Amherst or Pelham (since the superintendent doesn't supervise the Leverett and Shutesbury elementary schools). This search committee will have a pretty limited role - narrowing the 5 semi-finalists selected by the search firm (based on their belief about who would best fit our needs) to 3 finalists (e.g., eliminating, following interviews, the two candidates that are a less good fit). The SC would then meet with all 3 finalists in public, and ultimately choose the person who was the best fit from these. Information on submitting your name for consideration for inclusion will be posted on the ARPS website soon -- and I encourage all interested parents/teachers/government officials to apply (the SC members chosen to serve on this search committee with chose the specific people for this committee from those who submit their names).

Third, the Search Committee will meet in early January for 2 days to conduct the interviews with the five semi-finalists, and to narrow that down to 3 finalists. The SC will then meet with the three finalists in public (and give them tours, set up meetings with teachers/parents/staff/community members) in mid-January, with the goal of finalizing the selection by January 20th or so.

I am now the only person on the Regional SC or Amherst SC who participated in the last search to hire Dr. Rodriguez (and for the record, I voted for Dr. David Sklarz in that vote), and it is very interesting to me that this search differs so much from the search we did two years ago. One key difference is that last time the SC met in executive session with all 8 semi-finalists (it appears this is certainly illegal to do now, and may well have been illegal to do at the time). Another key difference is that the SC last time reviewed all the applications, and then chose the 8 semi-finalists, whereas now, the search firm is doing the work of narrowing the pool. This strikes me as frankly a very good idea, since this search firm actually had considerable expertise in finding good superintendents and presumably they know what they are looking for.

Next, we turned to the regular Regional School Committee meeting. This meeting started with public comment from several parents and community members: Michael DeChiara (head of Shutesbury SC) opposed the idea of the search firm narrowing the list of semi-finalists to 5, Julia Rueschemeyer presented a petition signed by 97 parents/community members supporting a fair and open superintendent search process for internal and external candidates, Michael Aronson presented a list of qualifications required by the Granby SC in their superintendent search, and Marylou Theilman (former Regional SC chair) supported the use of a fair and open superintendent search in terms of the affirmative action policy and the six-figure salary.

Superintendent Maria Geryk then provided her update on various upcoming events in the district. I'd particularly like to point out the math survey, which families of current students are invited to fill out a brief survey as part of the comprehensive K-12 Math Review (go to, and you will see the link under latest news). Parents are asked to complete the survey by Wednesday, October 27, so please try to make time to do so. They are still working on a date for Andrew Chen to visit Amherst and present his findings, so stay tuned for that -- probably November.

We then turned to new business. This included a brief re-vote of last year's budget (based on the change in how some things are calculated, NOT a change in the overall number), a discussion of school committee norms (including trying not to introduce surprise motions and trying to treat all members with respect), and an update on the transition to the new law firm selected for special education (Amherst and Regional SCs have voted to select a new law firm but Pelham has not done so yet). There was also a discussion regarding budget priorities (largely to avoid having the administrators created budgets that the SC then rejected, as happened last year with the proposal from Mark Jackson to require 3 study halls in the HS), and a discussion of district goals (which should be presented and voted on in the near future). The Regional SC prioritized implementing the recommendations from the special education report, improving teaching effectiveness/instruction/evaluation, and reducing the achievement gap (though Steve noted that really should be raising achievement for all kids, not just reducing the gap). More discussion of these district goals will follow at the next Regional SC meeting, which is next THURSDAY, October 21st.

We then had a few brief updates from various subcommittees, including the policy subcommittee (policies will be presented soon for voting) and the budget subcommittee (a line item budget is being created).

Finally, we had a brief discussion about items for upcoming meetings, which requests to send our ranked list of items to Rick for potential inclusion at a subsequent meeting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Regional School Committee Meeting, October 12, 2010

This will be a brief update to say we had a very productive meeting tonight. The meeting started with a 2 hour open meeting with the search firm assisting us with the superintendent search and they were just excellent. You can read about this aspect of the meeting in the linked Gazette article( I will provide a fuller view of the superintendent search process -- which we need lots of community input about -- and will also provide a fuller update of the regional meeting tomorrow.

Assorted Updates and Volunteer Options

Just wanted to let my blog readers know a few things - so this will be fast.

First, tonight's Regional SC meeting starts at 6 pm (Town Hall, live on ACTV) and will start with a two hour meeting with the newly hired superintendent search firm. I'm interested to learn more about the firm's thoughts re. time line and qualifications, and believe this will be a very informative meeting. Then the actual meeting will start at 8 pm -- the big thing on the agenda is a discussion of budgets priorities.

Second, the SC is seeking community volunteers for various task forces. There are two announcements already posted on the ARPS website ( One of these groups will focus on budget stuff - picking up on the remaining work from last year's Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee, and the other examine the pros/cons of a possible change in school start times - studying whether the elementary and regional schools could change their start times. You can volunteer for either by contacting Kimberly Stender ( There will also be volunteers needed soon for the Amherst SC's Task Force on considering moving the 6th grade to the MS -- stay tuned if you are interested in volunteering for that one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Education Matters: Schools taking measures to close achievement gap

This is just a quick post to attach the link to my most recent Education Matters column from the Amherst Bulletin (

I'll be doing a post this weekend summarizing the last Amherst SC Meeting (Tuesday, September 28th), so look out for that if you are interested (we discussed the MCAS results for all three schools and voted to form a task force to examine moving the 6th grade to the middle school).

Also, the next Regional SC meeting will be this Tuesday, October 12th, and will start at 6 pm. The first 2 hours will be with the superintendent search firm we've hired -- this is open to the public so feel free to come (or watch on TV).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Feedback Wanted on Localocracy

I've just posted a new question on localocracy, because I realized from reading the responses (and in particular the reasons given) that my first question wasn't really clear. Once again, if you are an Amherst registered voter, you can go on this site and vote (and you can vote anonymously if you want) or you can ask a question to get more information ( I've pasted my entire localocracy post below, just FYI -- and I'd be glad to hear thoughts/questions here as well (though will look to localocracy to see how the tally of actual registered voters goes). As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

So, I have read through all of the very helpful reasons/questions given on my last issue, and realize that a number of people were confused about what precisely that question asked … hence this question will be similar, but a bit more direct to help voters learn about the key issue, and to hopefully provide more useful feedback. Much of the information I posted on the last issue is still relevant (e.g., Amherst is in a union with Pelham, votes are shared equally on hiring/evaluating the superintendent, there is currently no written formula in terms of how those costs are shared, etc.), but I’m also presenting some new information about an option that I’d love to get feedback on.

Basically there are three options – Amherst can stay in the current Union 26 situation (this has pretty mixed support — some feel it is fine, some feel it needs to be fixed), Amherst can form its own K to 6 district (although this might be possible, the state would certainly come in because Pelham would need to find some new situation, and that probably isn’t fast/easy), or Amherst and Pelham can form a joint elementary regional district (like the current 7 to 12 arrangement, but with 2 towns instead of 4). I’d like to get feedback on the desirability of exploring this third possibility, forming a regional elementary district, for three reasons.

First, many of the people who supported staying in Union 26 expressed support for maintaining a strong relationship with Pelham. Having a regional agreement would actually strengthen the current arrangement, as there would be a single SC making all policy decisions for the Amherst and Pelham schools (e.g., like we have 3 schools now in Amherst, this would just be 4). This would make curriculum alignment and sharing of resources easier (e.g., right now the Amherst schools have Spanish and Pelham does not, both SCs could adopt different math curriculum, etc.). It would also simplify the superintendent’s job somewhat (e.g., managing two budgets, not 3; reporting to 2 SCs, not 3).

Second, many of the people who supported getting out of Union 26 expressed concern about the inequity in voting (e.g., a town with 10% of the population having 50% of the vote in hiring/evaluating a superintendent). A regional agreement would mean the two towns could get a different number of school committee seats, and thus would not require equal representation.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it seems that it is impossible to know whether either Amherst or Pelham would like a regional elementary agreement unless these two towns starting talking to each other in terms of what the terms would be (so that we could see if mutually-agreeable terms could be reached). For example, the towns would have to agree on how costs would be divided, if students living in one town could attend school in the other town, the number of School Committee seats each town would have, and the rules (if any) governing major changes (e.g., closing a school could require the support of Town Meeting of that town). I’m sure there are other details, but these are the types of things that would have to be discussed before either town could know if a regional agreement was in fact a good idea. It might therefore make sense for such discussions to start sooner rather than later so that both towns would know whether a regional elementary agreement might be a viable option moving forward.

And one important point for all to keep in mind: because of the various details and logistics that would have to be worked out if and when a decision was made to change the current configuration in any way, such a change could not go into effect until next summer at the earliest (e.g., none of this could impact the upcoming superintendent hire either way).

So, my question is whether the Amherst School Committee should ask the Pelham School Committee to explore the the benefits of a regional agreement for both towns. A “Yes” vote means you believe this exploration should occur, and a “No” vote means you believe this exploration should NOT occur (meaning you could believe that the current situation is preferable to a regional elementary agreement and no discussion should happen regarding changing it, OR you believe Amherst should form its own district that doesn’t include Pelham). I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Evaluating Localocracy's Approach

So, I've been an eager supporter of localocracy (, because I believe it is an essential way in which we can get more information about what the public thinks. But that is only true if people are reading the information provided and then forming an opinion. I am disappointed with how many people are voting (on either side) with misinformation and that doesn't help the discussion.

Here are a few examples:

1. Some people are voting to end Union 26 because of the inequity in budget spending between Amherst and Pelham. But that issue can be totally solved without dissolving the union. That isn't a reason in and of itself to end the union.

2. Some people are voting to stay in Union 26 because they feel that Amherst and Pelham should work towards great alignment in the curriculum and share the costs of a superintendent. Both of those goals can be entirely accomplished BETTER if Amherst and Pelham form a regional agreement, meaning they form ONE School Committee and the superintendent manages ONE elementary budget, than if they stay in the current union.

3. Some people are voting to stay in Union 26 because they dislike current Amherst SC members (including me!). But the issue of staying in Union 26 is much bigger than the current Amherst SC ... because in a few years, we might very well have quite different people on the SC, who are elected by Amherst voters with their own goals/ideas. Would people still want the Amherst SC to not have the power to select a superintendent if they liked those members (because if we don't get out, that will still be the case, no matter WHO is on the Amherst SC).

4. Most importantly, people don't understand that Union 26 has nothing to do with hiring Maria Geryk. In fact, if Amherst SC members want to veto Maria's permanent appointment as superintendent, that can happen right now in the current situation! The three Amherst members of Union 26 are Irv, me, and Steve (we all voted against Maria's appointment as interim in March). Changing Union 26 has nothing to do with hiring a superintendent in the next 4 months (it couldn't possibly happen that fast -- probably June 30, 2011 at the earliest). The question is not whether you are pro-Maria or pro-ending Union 26. The question is what is best for the town of Amherst, and in particular the children of Amherst. Is it better for the Amherst voters to be able to elect SC members who they want, and then to have those SC members be able to exert more than 50% of the way in their superintendent (given that Amherst pays 95% of the elementary bill)?

Again, I'd love to hear what voters think -- but I really hope all voters will actually read the information presented, and the questions posed and answered by various people BEFORE choosing a side. The point is not to amass points for one's view -- the point is to help inform people about the salient issues, and then have those people vote ONCE they've become educated. It is quite clear from reading the reasons given for various votes that this just isn't happening.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Math: In Amherst and Elsewhere

So, today brought forth two different points for me about math in Amherst quite directly.

First, I read the front-page story in the New York Times on the growing number of districts moving to Singapore Math ( Districts using this math program include public schools in elite districts (e.g., Scarsdale), elite private schools (e.g., Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls attend school), and inner-city schools in New York City. Interestingly, this is the math program used by the Chinese Charter School in Hadley and by the AIMS program for African American children in Amherst (a Saturday math program). It is interesting to read about the experiences (good and bad) districts have had with this program ... and this article certainly reminds me of how much I'm looking forward to hearing a review of our math curriculum/program by Dr. Andrew Chen (the math consultant located by former superintendent Dr. Alberto Rodriguez).

Second, I received my second child's very first MCAS scores in the mail (he is now a 4th grader at Fort River). I am not going to talk specifically about my own child's performance, but the information provided to all parents included not only how your child does (in both math and English language arts) by also how your child's scores compare to the district and state averages. In a district in which many families have connections to higher education institutions and/or advanced degrees, both Amherst as a district and Fort River Elementary School were below the state average in math. Only 13% of kids in 3rd grade at Fort River, and 18% of the kids in Amherst, scored at the Advanced level, compared to a state average of 25%. That really suggests that our district is not helping kids to achieve at the highest level. However, even more concerning was the finding that 24% of the 3rd graders at Fort River and 14% of the kids in Amherst scored at the warning level, compared to the state average of 11%. So, our district also has more kids at the very bottom level than the state average. In sum, after 4 years in the Amherst schools (K to 3rd), more kids are at the warning level than the state average in math AND fewer kids are at the advanced level than the state average in math. As a School Committee member, a strong proponent of public education, and a mom, I find these numbers highly, highly concerning.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Update on Localocracy Voting

So, the localocracy voting has been fascinating -- and apparently there has been more action on this topic of Union 26 than on other topics they've posed! The voting is pretty much tied as of now (though with relatively few voters on either side -- 10 to 15 people on each). I am finding two things very informative:

First, the reasons people give for getting out of Union 26 are pretty much what one might expect -- concerns about Amherst subsidizing another town and concerns about Amherst tax payers being denied equal representation. However, the reasons people give for staying in Union 26 largely focus on two issues: it has worked well for years (this strikes me as somewhat debatable, given that Amherst does subsidize Pelham!) and that we don't like/trust the current SC. It is obviously fine to dislike me (or Steve, or all of us), but I hope all voters remember that this isn't about the current SC and whether you like them. It is about whether you believe Amherst voters should have the right to vote in SC members they do like, and then whether you believe those SC members should have the right to choose a superintendent (since Amherst pays 95% of the superintendent's salary and has 90% of the kids). I hope that everyone who votes to stay in Union 26 is sure they would still support that vote if in a few years they really liked the new Amherst SC.

Second, the majority of people who have voted to stay in Union 26 have clear ties to the current school administration, whereas none of those who believe Amherst should exit Union 26 have such ties. Several current or former teachers/principals - or their spouses - have voted to stay in Union 26 (Aaron Kropf, David Mullins, Russ Vernon-Jones, Carol Sharick), as have several former SC members (Elaine Brighty, Alice Swift). It is clear that the Union 26 arrangement has felt quite comfortable to those who have long ties to the Amherst educational system.

It is clear from the voting patterns, and reasons provided, that some people in Amherst are really split on this issue (and probably on many), although it is entirely unclear where the silent majority really falls. I continue to believe that public officials need to hear from as many people as possible - hence my desire to do this blog - so I really hope that all of my blog readers who live in Amherst will sign up for localocracy (go to, which just takes a minute (they ask for your name and birthdate and address to verify that you are a registered voter in Amherst). You can then read the full issue I've proposed, and you can vote YES or NO (and give a reason if you want). Before you submit your vote, you can choose whether to use your name or to be anonymous (so, I was wrong about this before -- you CAN vote anonymously) . Again, there are many people in Amherst whose voice is not being heard, so I encourage all my blog readers to vote (either way -- I want honest and objective information on what the public thinks) and to send the localocracy link to their friends/neighbors/colleagues and encourage them to sign up and express their thoughts as well! This is a very easy way to participate in politics in Amherst (even anonymously!) and we all benefit from hearing more voices.