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, November 2, 2010

Much Education Action in Amherst

I'm just posting a few quick articles from the Gazette that address issues of education in Amherst, and thus I thought would be of interest to my blog readers. Enjoy!

Here is an article just posted on line announcing Maria Geryk's intention to apply for the permanent superintendent job (

This article, from yesterday's Gazette, describes the formation of a committee in Leverett to study various alternatives to their school structure ( People interested in learning the other towns' explorations about education options should also check out the Shutesbury group's website, which describes a number of options they are considering, including pulling their 7th and 8th graders from the Amherst Regional Middle School and forming a K to 8 district with Leverett and Pelham (

Note: I have now fixed one of these links that wasn't working - sorry about that!


Anonymous said...

Has anyone stridently attacked the Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett members for talking about setting up their own K-8 district? Did they consult with their Amherst colleagues before they did this? Have they considered how this might affect the middle school and the Amherst kids there? How have they dared look at options for their students without the permission of the Amherst School Committee.

Or wait, can this somehow be blamed on certain Amherst School Committee members?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or so I hear.

Anonymous said...

Where's the math report from Dr. Chen from last night's meeting? I wasn't able to go and have been looking around the arps website for it?

Abbie said...

So what happened to the expected preliminary report by Dr. Chen? I went the meeting last night fully expecting a preliminary report by Dr. Chen (as POSTED on the ARPS website). Who changed the agenda?

I was already familiar with most of the material covered last night by Dr. Chen. What I expected and wanted to hear was about Amherst's Math program!

I feel cheated and feel like someone (the Administration?) is being less than open.

I want my 2 hours back from last night and I want to see that report posted IMMEDIATELY on the ARPS website. It is OUR report and we deserve to see it as soon as the Administration and faculty see it. This is not a way to treat the consumers, it breeds distrust...

Anonymous said...

Abbie, what was presented instead? I also thought he was going to present his report. I couldn't make it last night and was looking for the report on-line. From your comment, I assume it isn't available. Has anyone seen it?

Anonymous said...

I think everyone (i.e. superintendent, curriculum head, principals and teachers (all? some?) has the report except for the school committees, parents and other members of the public. Hard to understand why. I suppose someone could make a public records request to get it.

Anonymous said...

The big question, and I don't mean to be a conspiracy person, is: Will the report we see be the same one the super and principals have seen? I know for a fact that if the superintendent commissions the report, she can do with it as pleases, including have the author soften some harsh conclusions and change recommendations.

Catherine, can you guarantee us that the report released to the public will be the same one given to Maria Geryk?

Sam I Am said...

Please calm down everyone and don't make this into a conspiracy that does not exist.

If you attended last night Dr Chen was preceeded by Beth Graham (curriculum director) explaining why SHE asked HIM to wait to releasing his findings. She explained that it was out of respect for the school committee that the findings would be released to them next Tuesday as originally planned and not rolled out ahead of that.

There were school committee members there that could have interceded and said go ahead anyway but they did not. (Dr Chen was prepared to discuss his findings if they had) I can only conclude that they agreed with the plan as it was played out. So no need to make the district administration evil-doers here.

Dr Chen did offer an interesting context for the rollout next week. What he discussed will help us understand the why behind many of his findings. And if you really paid attention last night you can correctly presume what many of his recommendations specific to Amherst will likely be.

By the way no teachers, principals or curriculum heads have learned any more than the public. I believe he has discussed his report only with Beth Graham, the Math Curriculum Council, and I would presume the super, although I am not even certain of that.

The main problem last night was the mistake of having it out in the press, etc that he would be discussing something that he did not end up discussing. It was poor planning but not a conspiracy with intent to mislead anyone.

Anonymous said...

I think you all are assuming that the report is gong to be negative. And what if it's not? What if it gives a mixed picture ( which it probably will since that is the reality IMO) I can see already the conspiracy theorists are lining up to dismiss it out of hand.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure why everyone is assuming the teachers have already seen it. How on earth did that rumor get started???? As Sam I Am said, we haven't seen it.

Abbie said...

Sam I Am said...

Do I understand you correctly Abbie, that you think the delay could be so the report can be "doctored" before it is released to the public. What leads you to that assumption? I can't help but point out it is a depressingly paranoid view.

A norm that is often used for meetings, discussions and even blogs could be "presume good intentions". I think we can presume that Dr Chen, the superintendent, the curriculum director, the Math curriculum council and the school committee do have good intentions. I also presume that the study was undertaken with the intent to fully and completely release the results to the public as has been done with all of the other recent studies done in our district.

You sure seem angry about something that has not occurred and also kind of ready to pick a fight.

Abbie said...

to anon@622 and Sam-I-am:

I fully expect the report to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our math program but I don't see how that relates posting the report or not.

I recall that the Beers and SPED reports appeared on the ARPS before a SC mtg but I could be wrong. Anyone know?

Sam-I-am- where is the 'original plan' to first release the report to the SC (without at the same time releasing it publicly)?

It seems to me that Dr. Chen's oral report at the next SC meeting will be most productive if the SC (and the public) have time to read the report before the meeting.

Catherine, as a SC member, were you consulted by Beth Graham about delaying the release of the report (out of respect).

Anonymous said...

Sam I Am -- how do you know what you know? You speak as an insider. Who are you? Do you work for the district? Did the school committees know they weren't getting the report? Are they really not getting the report "out of respect?"

Anonymous said...

To any citizen and/or conspiracy theorist:

If people want to see the report and any earlier drafts, they can send a letter to the Superintendent and request them under the Public Records law. Just note in your letter that you are making the request under the Public Records law and say what you are asking for. This can be done here or for any other reports and their drafts (the Beers and Hamer reports -- whatever). It's simple to do and reporters use it all the time. I believe the government body has 10 days to respond.

If you want more information on the law, go to the Commonwealth's website and type "public records request." The site will send you a section that has a sample letter, explains the limited exceptions. It's all in plain language.

Maybe in this situation, people should just email Beth Graham or Maria Geryk and ask to see a copy earlier. It sounds like doing so will promote trust and openness.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Hello all you conspiracy theorists out there. You really don't have to waste time doing a public records request. All you have to do is show up at the 11/9 SC meeting a week from now and listen to Dr. Chen give his report.

Don't you people have anything better to do?

Sam I Am said...

To Anon 7:55

You wrote:

Sam I Am -- how do you know what you know? You speak as an insider. Who are you? Do you work for the district? Did the school committees know they weren't getting the report? Are they really not getting the report "out of respect?"

My responses:
I wrote what I know because I attended the meeting and asked some questions of people there.

I do work in the district.

I choose to be basically anonymous as you, and many others clearly do also. Although I use my pseudonym to allow people to follow my train of thinking and not wonder if my comments, when I make them, are from more than one person.

I have no connection to the SC so I can not answer to what they did or did not know.

I am certainly not in the head of Ms Graham to question if her motives are any different than the "out of respect" that she offered. As stated earlier I choose to "assume good intentions" so I take her words as they were stated.

AND: By the way the school committee IS getting the report. That would be next Tuesday as originally scheduled. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

As an insider I can tell you that in the past a superintendent (in this case Dr. Rodriguez) had the final version of the Hamer report altered before it went to the public. He softened it a bit. That's a fact. I do not know if a public records request would necessarily uncover the first "draft" version. I don't know what the process is with the Math report. I think the safest thing to do is to have a member of the SC or public simply ask in the open if there were other drafts shown to the super, etc. and hope that you get an honest answer.

Remember, these consultants, no matter how good and honest, depend on contracts from Superintendents and can't be seen as undermining one of them.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to suggest that there is a conspiracy, only that if someone is worried about reports being changed, there is an easy way to find out. The purpose of the Public Records Request law and Open Meetings Act is to open up the workings of government to citizen scrutiny, which makes good sense. Also, I think the laws make government bodies more open since there is no real reason (or effective way) to withold most information.

Using these laws is not an attack on anyone, just a check and a way to gather information from reluctant government bodies. Maybe if they were used more often by the conspiracy theorists, there would be fewer conspiracies.

What I see in the situation here is that many people went to a meeting expecting a report on math in Amherst and a talk about that report -- then didn't get it. 50 to 60 people came to hear about math in Amherst, which is how the meeting was advertised (not just in the paper). It's encourating to me that so many people care about this topic.

Now ony some people have the report and most don't. People's responses to this are what they are but it all could have been avoided by releasing the report on Monday. Then everyone, including the two (or three) school committees would have had time to read it before the next meetings. I'm sure that no one in the adminstration wanted to create suspicion but openness and information, early on, would have prevented it.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

It is clear that the administration blundered in how they let something be advertised and then delivered something different to thos who took the time to come out for two hours.

As the reason given was to respect the school committee I am curious what you feel about this Catherine. (or Steve or Rick or Debbie who were all there) I know you are busy, but when you have a chance can you give us your opinion on the decision to wait until Tuesday to offer Dr Chen's findings vs doing it last Monday.


Rick said...

The Amherst School Committee was told by the Superintendent yesterday that the report does not exist yet. The administration is asking Dr. Chen to provide it by Friday. Dr. Chen made a comment at the meeting that "he was ready to go"; he must have meant ready with a verbal report rather than the written one.

The communication aspect of this had problems. The Superintendent did state at the 10/26 Amherst School Committee meeting that the report would not be presented on Monday night ( - which did not get picked up by the press or others. However, on the ARPS website front page it still said "report preliminary findings".

On whether the report should be presented to the SC before the public, I don’t care one way or the other, but understand how the administration would think it's best to report to the SC first. Also, I don’t think we could have handled the 2 hour presentation plus the report and discussion all at one SC meeting. Personally I was glad to have one meeting be focused on getting educated about math instruction in general, and then have a later meeting be about specific recommendations for ARPS.

Speaking for myself and not the Regional School Committee.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

So, just to briefly add a few thoughts here.

First, I agree with Rick that the miscommunication about the math presentation was unfortunate. Although Maria did note at the last SC meeting (Amherst only, on October 26th) that the math presentation on November 1st would not include findings for Amherst at all, this was after she had announced at a prior SC meeting (Regional, October 12th perhaps?) that the presentation would include preliminary findings. In addition, both the Bulletin story and the ARPS website reported that preliminary findings would be presented. So, I'm very sorry that parents came ready to hear about findings from Amherst, and then weren't given this information.

Second, the School Committee was certainly not asked to share their thoughts about the timing of the presentation (by Beth Graham or anyone else), nor did (to the best of my knowledge) anyone on the SC ask for the report to be delayed so that it could first be presented at a SC meeting.

Third, I agree with Abbie that the presentation on the 9th would be more beneficial if the SC, parents, teachers, and community members had the opportunity to read the report ahead of time. I have asked for that to occur, and I hope it will. Although the SC typically gets reports a few days early (to read prior to the meeting), there are times in which these reports are also made public at an earlier time (this definitely happened with the special education report, which was put on the web prior to the SC meeting at which it was presented).

Fourth, my understanding (which could be wrong) is that the Math Curriculum Council (consisting of parents/teachers/administrators) met with Dr. Chen earlier that day and received some type of recommendations. I am not sure why those recommendations couldn't be shared with the public that evening, but that was a decision made by the administration -- not by Dr. Chen or the SC.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else depressed about the prospect of the Interim being part of this process?

I know, I know: we're all supposed to toe the line and be upbeat about it.

I just don't see how we aren't looking at a bottomless pit of conflict when it comes time to make a final selection.

This is going to be a mess.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon. November 3, 2010 9:15 PM. I don't see anything productive coming out of having an interim part of this process.

Anonymous said...

Agreed 100%.

Ed said...

When John Lombardi was fired the condition for being the Interim Chancellor was that you would not be permitted to apply for the position. Several qualified candidates then withdrew their names because they did want to apply for the position.

The advantage of being an interim anything is that you get hired for a position that you otherwise wouldn't be considered for, often that you don't have the academic qualifications for -- and you get to list this on your CV and maybe get a similar position somewhere else. But the price you pay is that you clearly are temporary, that you aren't staying.

And the larger problem here is what happened at GE when Jack Welch picked a successor -- the other two were forced to leave the corporation. And if the SC does not pick the interim, now that she has declared an interest to have that job, how will she be able to go back to her earlier position and work cooperatively with a new Supt?

Anonymous said...

Exactly, Ed. Exactly.

Caren Rotello said...

If Maria Geryk does not emerge as the top candidate in the search, then I would expect her to step down from her interim position and work well with the new Superintendent, because that's what professionals do.

The job of the search committee and the school committee is ONLY to choose the best person for the job. Their job is NOT to worry about how Ms. Geryk might react if she is not chosen. (Are they also supposed to worry about how the other candidates might react if not chosen? Of course not.)

I have confidence that the search consultants will present a strong set of candidates. I hope that the SC will hire the strongest candidate, whoever that is.

LarryK4 said...

Look what happened not to long ago with our search for a new Police Chief.

We had two highly-capable, top-notch, super-experienced in house candidates (and all around good guys), one of whom was the "interim position" Chief while the process unfolded.

He was not chosen and soon thereafter left APD for a Chief's position out there in the eastern part of the state.

A great loss to the department.

Anonymous said...

Let's not pretend that this is a level playing field.

Every time I turn on the TV and go over to ACTV, Maria Geryk is on. This is not unintentional. It's a campaign.

Anonymous said...

That's for sure.

Anonymous said...

But she lacks the credentials to make it through the selection process, no?

Anonymous said...

what credentials does she lack to make it thru the process?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Just a quick comment here: Maria Geryk has announced that she is submitting her materials to the serach firm. Other candidates will do the same, and the search firm will come forward with semi-finalists who they believe are qualified, and the entire community will see the three finalists chosen by the search committee. I do not believe it is appropriate now for the community to discuss the merits of the only candidate that we now know (pro or con) ... I believe, and Caren wrote eloquently, that we will see three finalists, and that the SC should select the best of those three. But we should all remember that potential superintendent candidates are very likely exploring this area now, and reading blogs, so I'd appreciate it if we could all focus on reminding superintendent candidates that this is a great place to work, with active and involved parents and community members who care deeply about public education and who desperately want a superintendent who can help our schools live up to their full (great) potential.

ken said...

Thank you, Catherine.

Michael Jacques said...

To Caren Rotello,

Very well said. I agree completely.

Ed said...

One more thing on what Caren & Catherine wrote - there is a reason why the search firm's initial screening is confidential -- it enables people who didn't make the cut to not jeopardize their current jobs, be they internal or external candidates.

And hence I have to question the appropriateness of both her announcing that she had done this confidential thing and the appropriateness of the media reporting her statement that she had.

I am not saying that the media couldn't do this -- you can print the names of rape victims if you wish -- only the appropriateness of doing so. And the "professionalism" of a district employee publicizing her confidential action, now that she has told everyone she wants the job, everything she does will be viewed as furthering that objective...

Anonymous said...

"But we should all remember that potential superintendent candidates are very likely exploring this area now, and reading blogs, so I'd appreciate it if we could all focus on reminding superintendent candidates that this is a great place to work, with active and involved parents and community members who care deeply about public education and who desperately want a superintendent who can help our schools live up to their full (great) potential."

Why don't we let our last superintendent speak to our next:

"My purpose in writing this piece is to factually educate this great community as to the real challenges facing these districts, the actual work that was done on behalf of all children, and provide a sobering assessment to the next permanent Superintendent of the work that needs to be done as well as a glimpse into the courage necessary to do it."

They deserve to know. We have a responsibility to tell them.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:49-

Thanks for posting the letter from Dr Rodriguez. I read it at the time of his resignation - but had forgotten many of the very relevant assessments of our district. This is helpful to look at as we think about screening candidates for the supt position.