My Goal in Blogging

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

Tuesday, 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.


Anonymous said...

Staying in Union 26 because of curriculum alignment is a joke of a reason. I mean, it's only been 109 years and we still don't have an aligned curriculum??!! LOL Obviously this has never been anyone's concern.

I didn't realize that we wouldn't be able to leave the Union until June 2011 -- I was thinking that we would be able to leave in time to be able to choose the next supt.

The only reason that would make me not want Amh to leave the Union is if Pelham agreed to defer to Amherst's choice in regard to supt.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with you, Catherine, but I believe this post is a tad inaccurate. You say that one of the reasons that people are giving for not wanting to dissolve Union 26 is because they dislike some Amherst SC members. I have read EVERY reason given by those suppoorting remaining in the Union and NOT ONE listed a reason for staying in the Union is that they dislike certain Amherst SC members.
NOT ONE!! A few people have said tha they believe the whole reason we are having this discussion is because you and Steve don't like the way the vote turned out in hiring Maria Geryk as Interim Supt. That is not the same as saying that they dislike you and Steve. Again, you are distorting people's view points to further your goals. Why don't you let people's words speak for themselves instead of trying to interpret their words for them. It may very well be that some people who support staying in the Union don't like you...I don't know. What I do know is that no one used that as a reason for staying in the Union.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous post (Anon: 3:10) 100%. We stayed in Union 26 because of curriculum alignment? That is a disgrace. There has been no real talk of curriculum alignment nor meaningful action towards that goal until this past year. Now, we finally have a dedicated curriculum Director. Let's see what happens.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 3:10 - it is clear that Union 26 exists to avoid the requirement of curriculum alignment ... which would have to exist in a regional agreement. So, yes, this isn't a great reason. I don't think it is reasonable to assume we could leave Union 26 so soon ... since the current superintendent's contract goes through June 30th. But I believe there is no way Pelham would defer to Amherst's choice on anything (as has been clear at each of the last divided votes).

Anonymous 3:29 - some people have indeed posted that they feel better represented by Pelham members so they prefer the current situation. But again, this is VERY short-sighted reasoning. If you disagree with the Amherst SC's actions, vote in new people. How about the Amherst residents who did vote for the current SC (all members currently on the Amherst SC got voted in by more people than live in Pelham)? Shouldn't those people have a right to be represented by their SC? That's the problem with the current situation -- Amherst SC members can't effectively represent the will of Amherst residents.

Anonymous 4:34 - I share your hope that with a new curriculum director, we can engage in not only curriculum alignment, but also evaluation. I look forward to seeing the recommendations from Dr. Chen and how Beth Graham and Maria Geryk implement any suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:29 here

Catherine your response does not address at all the inaccuracy in your post I pointed out. Not one single commenter said they support staying in Union 26 because they dislike current Amherst SC members. I think you need to take that part of your post out. Disagreeing with Amherst SC members, saying that Pelham SC members better represent them does not equate to disliking Amherst SC members.

Anonymous said...

Why should Pelham defer to Amherst's choice on anything? Next I suppose you'll be saying that Leverett and Shutesbury should be defering to Amherst on everything too!! What makes Amherst right in everything? Because you say so, Catherine? You are beyond belief!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 3:29/6:40 - I think the tenor of many of the reasons is clear. You might think it is not about dislike, but I think feeling that others represent you better is the same thing -- the feeling of disliking someone's judgment. Again, I'm going to focus on the bigger picture -- do residents of Amherst want to pay 95% of the bill for an elementary superintendent and have 50% of the vote in selecting that person? The larger point is that this is the question that we should all be answering. If you believe that this situation is appropriate, then you should vote to stay in Union 26. But your answer shouldn't have anything to do with the specific members on the SC today. That's my only point.

Anonymous 6:45 - I am clearly responding to an idea proposed by Anonymous 3:10 -- as you probably tell in my response. It is NOT my suggestion that Pelham defer to Amherst in anything, and I point out that they haven't do so, and would be unlikely to do so, so people (like Anonymous 3:10) shouldn't assume that will happen (and therefore stay in Union 26 with the assumption it would). Please read the comment I'm responding to BEFORE you make this type of an assumption/accusation.

On The List said...

From: Elaine Fronhofer>
To: Elaine Fronhofer
Sent: Mon, Oct 4, 2010 3:17 pm
Subject: Query put on "localocracy" by Catherine Sanderson needs your input


You may have heard of a new'ish website called Click here and you will see that Catherine Sanderson has put a question up asking whether Amherst supports her position that Amherst should get out of our 109 year old
superintendency union with Pelham.

Right now, the "voting" is close but Catherine's position is getting more votes. If you haven't cast your vote you might want to read what's been written
and do so -- it appears you can vote anonymously if that's important to you.

If you want to read even more about this issue first, click here and read the comments under a recent post in regarding the recent joint Amherst/Pelham SC mtg and for even more reading you can click here and read a comment I wrote last spring on this issue that was published in the Bulletin.

Most importantly, go to localocracy and vote and then see if you can rope a few more people into doing the same.

Elaine Fronhofer

LarryK4 said...

This controversy sure has been good for Localocracy, as I noticed their number of eyeballs have jumped almost 50% in the last week from 120 to 177.

Anonymous Voter said...

I am very disappointed in your comment:
"You might think it is not about dislike, but I think feeling that others represent you better is the same thing -- the feeling of disliking someone's judgment."

As an Amherst voter, I use different criteria for making my decisions. They can include trusting and respecting (not always agreeing with) the judgment of an elected official. But "liking"? "Likeblity" can be an important factor, but not in and of itself.

In this regard, your understanding of responses to your positions makes you seem like an elected official with a very thin skin, and where different opinions are experienced as personal affronts.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:21 - maybe liking isn't the right choice -- fine to substitute respect/trust. Again, my point is that whatever word you use here, the key thing is that Union 26 is a much bigger issue than who is on the SC at a given time. In other words, whether someone likes/hates/respects/dislikes/admires/trusts the current Amherst SC isn't relevant ... what the key thing is whether you believe, as a resident of Amherst, that voters in Amherst should be able to elect SC members who share their views (whatever those views are) and that those SC members should be able to have the power to choose a superintendent (since Amherst is the only town of our size in the entire state that lacks that power).

One more thing -- I've been accused (rightly and wrongly) of lots of different things. But it is very hard for me to imagine that having a thin skin is even plausible!

Anonymous said...

You talk about voters electing members of the SC who share their, the voters, views. Never once did Union 26 come up in any campaign for SC - so how you can say that anyone in Amherst elected you and Steve based on the two of you wanting to leave Union 26? The idea is ludicrous. And, as the vote on localocracy shows, the people of Amherst are split down the middle on this topic...hardly a mandate to leave the Union. When the town is so evenly split, seems that the thing to do is nothing. I wonder if you can tell me what harm has befallen the students of Amherst because of Union 26?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:01 - in my campaign, I talked clearly about the use of data and research to drive decision-making, and the use of comparisons to other districts. If you compare Amherst to all other towns in MA, we are the only one of our size to not control the superintendent vote. Many of the people who voted for me are in fact pushing me to get out of Union 26.

But regardless, when I ran, the state law forbid towns from exiting unions! Michael DeChiara, SC member from Shutesbury, managed to get this law changed a few months ago -- if he hadn't done so, we couldn't be discussing this because it would be illegal.

One more thing - I didn't campaign on closing Marks Meadow or redistricting or adding Spanish. But I did all of those things because they were the right thing to do, even if they weren't politically popular.

Is getting out of Union 26 the right thing to do? That's the question -- and I'm not going to be swayed by personal attacks and accusations made anonymously on my blog. If you have a content-based reason why we should get out, or stay in, please share it.

Perhaps you can share your thoughts as to why Amherst should be the only town in MA of our size that can't control a superintendent search in which it pays 87% of the costs of that superintendent.

Anonymous said...

I do not think I have attacked you in my comment...I simply pointed out that you cannot say that you were elected due to your stand on Union 26, neither can you say you have a mandate to leave Union 26. And again I ask, what harm has befallen any child in Amherst due to being in Union 26?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:22 - my point is that much of what I've done on the SC wasn't decided by the voters or a mandate. Certainly I didn't have a mandate to close a school, redistrict, etc. I did what I thought was right, and I will continue to do that as long as I serve.

I have grave concerns about how well the schools are meeting the needs of all kids, and it is not clear to me that Amherst kids benefit from having a superintendent who is simultaneously and equally hired and evaluated by a small, largely white, affluent town and a very large diverse town with many different needs (much higher % of low income kids, much higher racial diversity). I believe that is why all other towns the size of Amherst have chosen to hire their own superintendent.

Perhaps you can tell me how you think the current arrangement benefits kids in Amherst, and whether you think a regional agreement with Pelham would be less beneficial to Amherst kids?

Anonymous said...


Reading your comment about towns the size of Amherst hiring their own Supt prompted a question to come to mind. Do you foresee that if Amherst leaves Union 26 there is the possiblity that Amherst will hire a Supt for the elementary schools different then the Supt hired for the region?

Anonymous said...

Catherine said: "Certainly I didn't have a mandate to close a school, redistrict, etc. I did what I thought was right, and I will continue to do that as long as I serve."

So, quite clearly you do not care what the voters think. You presume to know what is best? What's the point in having forums about anything? You could have a forum where 90% of the people say they want you to do X but you think Y is better so you'll Y? matter what the public thinks????
Why are we all taking the time to comment on are going to do what you matter what the rest of the town thinks. Why are you pretending to want to hear what others think? You quite clearly don't care what the voters in Amherst think. What makes you think that what you think is the best for Amherst is truly the best?

Anonymous said...

Does a decision that is "truly the best" exist? Isn't that a subjective term?

Based on Localocracy (which has a large margin of error) -- either of the choices concerning Union 26 would be in line with a large number of Amherst voters.

Bashing the SC (or particular members of the SC) is just a technique that bratty adults use to try to get their way and make the SC back down - it's worked well in the past and I'm glad to see that it doesn't work with the current SC.

Concerned Amherst Taxpayer said...

"Why are you pretending to want to hear what others think? You quite clearly don't care what the voters in Amherst think. What makes you think that what you think is the best for Amherst is truly the best?"

I couldn't agree more. Ms. Sanderson has created an environment where people must weigh in as to whether they believe the entire school organization is a corrupt band of insiders who are somehow getting one over on the town.

Despite the Amherst schools historically strong record and reputation, Ms. Sanderson has from day 1 painted a picture of borderline failing schools suffering from insider manipulation.

Does the system have some things to work on? Sure, what system doesn't? Do the people working for the schools want to work toward continuous improvement? Has anyone asked the people, or are you all content to follow Ms. Sanderson?

It is interesting to me that some of the loudest, most militant voices on this blog are adults who don't even have kids in the schools.
Sure, you are absolutely entitled to express your opinion. I'm not disagreeing with that. But I find it ironic that one of Ms. Sanderson's selling points on the potential union 26 dissolution is concern with white elitists wanting to determine school policy.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:52 - you have to judge for yourself whether I've listened and whether was I've done is for the best. I've voted unanimously with all members of the Amherst SC to close Marks Meadow, and then to redistrict. Did we listen? Some would say yes (the closing was delayed a year, some lines were re-drawn), some would say no (redistricting happened and a school closed). Where those good decisions? Some would say yes, some would say no. I'd love it if you could find me an issue that you feel 100% confident you know what all voters want, because I have yet to find one.

I'm doing the best I can. I don't have to have a blog to share my thoughts and discuss my ideas with anonymous posters. But I do, because I value listening. I'd really appreciate it if you could post something on the content, and not just a personal attack.

You could certainly run for SC if you believe you would be more effective in that role than I have been. That is how we really find out what the Amherst voters want.

Anonymous 5:47 - good point! I think we need to remember that, as others have pointed out, there is a big silent majority ... and on one really knows what they think until they hit the polls to vote for particular SC candidates.

Concerned Amherst Taxpayer - I'm glad you recognize that the schools, like all things, could use improvement. I'm glad you believe that is good to acknowledge, and that you see this as an important step in making changes. Too often people who say there are things that could be improved are shouted down, and attacked in highly personal ways. Thank you for your wisdom in rising above that.

And in terms of your last remark re. "white elitists" -- look at what I've focused on as a member of the SC: closing a school to provide more intervention/music at all the schools, redistricting to decrease the concentration of poverty, adding a Spanish language program to increase involvement among Latino parents, and adding a preschool program for low income kids. I'm glad to focus on my record ... but it is probably easier to ignore that record and judge me (from your anonymous perch) based on my skin color and where I live/work, although you know nothing about me and my family's income situation or background.

Anonymous said...

One has to live in Amherst for only a year or two before one realizes just how deeply, deeply conservative our politics are. Don't be fooled by the Town Meeting resolutions in which we instruct others outside our borders about what justice is.

Locally we have a lip-lock with the status quo, that even a couple of troublemakers on School Committee cannot rend asunder. We can justify to ourselves even the most profound forms of unfairness; we've done it before. So this moment of rebellion, this brief flirtation with reform, like all the others before it, shall pass.

Tom Porter said...

I love it:

The reasons given by those Localocrats in favor of evaluating alternative terms for a productive working relationship between Amherst and Pelham appear to be rooted in practical impact - how do the terms affect decisions and results.

The reasons given for perpetuating the Union 26 terms as currently written are mostly emotional.

Of course a vote cast emotionally is worth the same as a vote cast after careful consideration, and that's our system. No problem with that.

As for the "like/dislike" issue, I think some of you in favor of locking in Union 26 status quo need to ask yourselves whether, if you heard the idea to review Union 26 raised instead by Rick Hood, or Nora Maroulis, or Rob Spence, or Debbie Gould... would you give the idea a bit more respectful consideration?