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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Education Updates from Amherst: Superintendent Search, Math, Study Halls, and More

This week's Amherst Bulletin was full of education news, so I wanted to get those stories posted quickly.

First, there is a longer version of the story I posted earlier this week from the Gazette on the superintendent search committee ( I am honored to have been chosen by the Amherst School Committee to participate on this committee, and think this is a great group of people to conduct the screening interviews. I look forward to our interviews on January 11th and 12th--and to announcing the three finalists to the School Committee on Wednesday, January 12th.

Second, there is a story on the discussion about elementary math from the last School Committee meeting ( We had a long discussion about this issue -- one I know is of concern to many parents -- at our meeting on Tuesday, December 21st so I encourage those interested to watch the meeting on ACTV. I really hope that the administration chooses to appoint a broader council to review the elementary recommendations in particular (the current math curriculum council has no representation from Wildwood parents at all), and that an action plan is developed to implement changes in our math program in time for the start of the 2011-2012 academic year. As I noted at the meeting, the dissatisfaction with elementary math has been widely-known at least since 2007 (when Jere Hochman first appointed a math curriculum council, of which I was a member), and these kids don't get to make up these lost years that we spend discussing what to do.

Third, there is an article describing the issue of study halls in the high school, as discussed at the last Regional School Committee meeting (  I remain concerned that students at ARHS have had mandatory study halls (sometimes as many as 2 per year) whereas students in other high schools in our area haven't had such a requirement.  It certainly seems like students should be able to fill their school day with classes (which could also allow kids to broaden their exposure to things like art and PE), and I hope the budget proposal we receive in January includes no required study halls. 

Finally, there are a few brief assorted updates on school issues that may be of interest to parents and community parents ( This story includes the names of those on the 6th Grade Task Force, an announcement that Steve Rivkin will be out of the country for about a month and a half on a Fulbright scholarship, and Kip Fonsch's recommendation that the schools steer some students to trade schools instead of the high school.

Note: I'll be away for much of the next week, without consistent access to email, so apologies if responses aren't posted quickly. Best wishes to all for a relaxing holiday season!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Superintendent Search Committee

So, the search committee for the superintendent is set -- and you can read about the members (and time line) on line at:

Let me just add a few points here.

First, we had a number of people apply to participate, and I was really sorry we were limited to so few spots (the search firm recommended a group of 7 or 8 and we went with 10). I am really thankful to all of those who submitted their names and were willing to spend 2 days helping with this very important task.

Second, we were very limited in terms of who could be selected -- we only had 4 spots available (since 3 were taken by SC members, 2 by teachers, 1 by an administrator), and of those 4 spots, we needed to have one spot for a Shutesbury resident and one spot for a Leverett resident. We also needed to make sure that these 4 spots included a town official, an elementary parent, and a regional parent.

Third, this search committee has an important job, which is to narrow the list of 5 candidates selected by the search firm to 3 finalists. However, ultimately the 10 members of the SC will choose from these 3. The superintendent choice must be agreed to by both the regional SC (5 members from Amherst, 2 from Pelham, 1 from Leverett, 1 from Shutesbury) and Union 26 (all 3 members from Pelham and 3 members from Amherst - me, Irv, Steve). The plan is to make this selection at a meeting on Thursday, January 20th at 8:30 pm.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amherst News: Still More on Math, Salaries, Study Halls

Now that my semester is over (well, at least the teaching part of it -- not yet the grading part of it), I'm catching up on assorted articles that I believe will be of interest to my readers. Enjoy!

Here's a late one from the Amherst Bulletin (November 19th) on the Amherst School Committee's discussion about the math report ( Data presented by Steve Rivkin at this meeting noted in particular the problems low income children in our schools are having with math compared to low income children in other districts. For those interested in elementary math, please come (or watch) the Amherst School Committee meeting this Tuesday (12-21, 7 pm, Amherst Town Hall), in which math is once again on the agenda!

I'm also attaching a more recent piece from the Amherst Bulletin (also featuring a discussion at an Amherst School Committee meeting) in which Steve presented data on the relative salaries paid to administrators in Amherst versus Northampton ( As noted in this piece, Amherst has more administrators (e.g., we have assistant principals at the elementary level whereas Northampton does not), and we pay our administrators substantially more. Although interim superintendent Geryk notes that these differences are hard to compare because we are a regional district, I'm not clear why this is relevant (e.g., do our principals in MS and HS have different responsibilities because these schools include kids from 4 towns?).

The most recent Amherst Bulletin also included an examination of the issue of whether study halls in our high school should count as instruction time ( I've certainly heard concerns from parents about having their children spend time in study halls, and I'm very glad that a majority of the Regional School Committee voted to recommend the elimination of mandatory study halls last spring. I continue to be concerned that other high schools haven't had such a requirement, whereas our students have had to take one or two study halls each year (a point Rob Spence made at the last meeting).

Finally, there was a brief story about the leave of absence taken by Fort River principal Ray Sharick ( As I stated in the article, I hope all is well with Ray and his family and believe that privacy is deserved. Fortunately, there are now definite plans for his return in January (

One more note: I plan to post my December Education Matters column and two different views (one by middle school teacher Jamison Isler, one by Jim Oldham) in the next day or two. Since these three are all opinion pieces, I wanted to discuss these in a different post than the news stories.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Assorted News: International Achievement, Students' Ratings of Teachers, and Amherst (and Northampton) Education Updates

So much news to report ... in Amherst and beyond. Here are links to a number of interesting articles (and thanks again to blog readers who continue to send me great things to post).

First, there is an article from last week's New York Times on the differences in student achievement across cultures ( I certainly agree with Arne Duncan that these scores should be a wake up call.

Second, there is a fascinating article in today's New York Times on the high correlation between students' perceptions of teachers and student achievement ( I believe the research described in this article provides more evidence that we really should listen to what students say about the education they experience.

Third, I'm giving links to three pieces from the Hampshire Gazette.
  • The first describes continuing discussions by the Northampton School Committee in terms of start times (, an issue that is also under discussion in Amherst (I'm not sure of the status of this discussion in Amherst, but will ask for an update at the next regional meeting).
  • The second describes goals discussed by the Amherst School Committee at our last meeting ( As noted in this article, we will have a preliminary budget presented at our December 21st meeting--I strongly encourage parents interested in issues with budget implications (e.g., Spanish language program, instrumental music, math curriculum) to watch and/or attend this meeting and share their thoughts with the School Committee.
  • The third and final article describes the state of the elementary Spanish program in our schools ( As noted in this article, I am really pleased that we have finally implemented a world language program in our elementary schools (something the community has requested for a decade), but am concerned -- based on comments made by Sean Smith, the head of world language in our schools -- that the current 40 minutes a week provided may not be adequate to achieve the level of fluency he believed was important. I look forward to getting more clarity on this issue, and the future plans for implementing this program, soon.

More News: Evaluating Teachers, Early Starts (?), Regionalization, Partnerships, Elections

This post veers off in many different directions ... with the only common theme that the topics all relate to education (in Amherst or elsewhere). I look forward to hearing thoughts on any/all of these!

The first link is to a fascinating article from the New York Times on the use of new methods of conducting teacher evaluation, in part through using video-based observations of classroom instruction ( This article also discusses the importance of figuring out what classroom practices are linked to higher achievement and helping teachers learn effective strategies from watching other teachers.

Next, there is a link is to an article from the Amherst Bulletin a few weeks ago on the thoughts about regionalization ( This article raises many interesting points, and describes plans currently under discussion in Shutesbury to form either a K to 6 or K to 8 regional/union agreement with Leverett and Pelham.

Third is a link to a recent article from the Hampshire Gazette about the potential of changing start times in the Northampton schools ( I have been following the discussions in Northampton with interest, and look forward to learning whether they do or don't make a change. A similar task force has been appointed in Amherst (Rob Spence is the SC representative), and I am interested to see whether this group makes a similar recommendation about changing start times in our schools.

Fourth, I'm attaching a link to the story in last week's Amherst Bulletin about the partnership Maria Geryk has arranged in which our district pays faculty and graduate students from the U Mass school of education for various services (

Finally, here is a link to a recent story on about the upcoming Amherst School Committee election in March of 2011 ( As I noted to this reporter, I have not yet made a decision about whether I will run for re-election, but plan to do so in late January.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Articles on Education in Amherst: Math (again), Budgets, Superintendent Search

My apologies for the less frequent updates here ... this is a hectic time of my semester, so I'm not as up to date on my postings as I normally am. But I hope my blog readers will enjoy these three pieces related to education in Amherst.

First, here is a link to a thoughtful piece by Lisa Kosanovic published in the Amherst Bulletin about the current math debate ( I found her observations very insightful (particularly since she is both a math teacher in Holyoke and a parent with kids in the Amherst schools).

Second, here is a link to my November Education Matters piece, which focuses on the School Committee's role in managing budgets in a way that is responsible to tax payers (

Finally, here is a link to a Gazette story on the characteristics identified by the search firm as needed for the new superintendent ( I believe it is always helpful to have an outside perspective, and certainly agree that an effective superintendent needs to be able to work to bring boards together around a common vision -- something the Amherst School Committee actually has done quite well (and has been doing for sometime) but something that Regional School Committee has struggled with at times (and certainly it is more challenging to bring people together on a larger board with more diversity of opinions and views).

But I'd also encourage community members - and indeed prospective superintendent candidates - to actually check out the meetings on ACTV ... because the vast majority of meetings (even at the regional level) are in fact constructive and respectful (even when we disagree). At last week's meeting, we had a pretty long debate about expanding the membership of the search committee, and ultimately the motion to move to 10 members (and include residents of Leverett and Shutesbury) passed unanimously. Last night we had a long discussion about a motion by Steve Rivkin about gathering information on the effectiveness of the two different math programs in the high school -- and this motion ultimately passed by a large (though not unanimous) majority. So, is there active and vigorous discussion? Absolutely. But ultimately I believe this type of debate leads to better decision-making, and thus better outcomes for kids, which I think is something parents, teachers, School Committee members, and superintendents should want.

Superintendent Search Committee

Note: This announcement is now posted on the ARPS website (, and I would strongly encourage applications for anyone interested in serving in this important way (and free on the 11th and 12th of January!). We have 5 open spaces (3 School Committee members and 2 teachers are already on the committee), and those will include at least one government official and two parents (one elementary, one regional) as well as representation from Leverett and Shutesbury. Please let me know if you have questions.

Apply to be a member of the Superintendent Search Committee

If you would like to submit your name to be considered as a member of the Superintendent Search Committee, please click here to send an email to: Rick Hood, Catherine Sanderson and Nora Maroulis before 11 pm, December 15, 2010.

Note that members of the search committee MUST be available for the following dates and times:

January 5 (time TBA, but will be at night, likely 6pm) - a 2 hour meeting with HYA to prep the search committee for the interviews

January 11
10:00am - 12:00pm - Interview #1
12:15pm - 2:15pm - Interview #2
2:30pm - 4:30pm - Interview #3

January 12
12:00pm - 2:00pm - Interview #4
2:15pm - 4:15pm - Interview #5
4:30pm - discussion and choice of 3 finalists
Night (time unspecified, probably 6pm) - presentation of the 3 finalists to the full school committee

NOTE: the times shown above could change so please plan on being available from 9am to 6pm on January 11 and 12.

In your email please include the following:

• Name
• Phone number
• Are you a parent, citizen, government official, school administrator or student?
• What school(s) do you have children in: none, ARHS, ARMS, Amherst Elementary, Pelham Elementary, Leverett Elementary or Shutesbury Elementary?
• What town do you reside in: Amherst, Pelham, Leverett or Shutesbury?
• Please state in a paragraph or two why you would make a good member of the search committee.

We will be choosing members of the committee by the end of December, most likely by the end of week ending December 18.

Thank you for your interest. If you have any questions please contact Rick Hood (, 413-320-3611).

Rick Hood, Catherine Sanderson, Nora Maroulis
School Committee members of the Superintendent Search Committee