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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Who is on the K-16 math council and what have they done in the past?

How many parents are on the counci?

Is there parent representation for each school level (i.e. elementary, middle and high school)?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Rob Spence that the time to act on addressing the achievement gap is now -- and whether we start with elementary teacher content training in math only or we pair that training with a new curriculum that better meets the needs of ALL students - we should do it now and not wait another year to act.

In regard to the list of the bloated administrator salaries in Amherst, the athletic director salary was not included which is 92,000/year in Amherst compared with Northampton which is 40,000/year - and although the Noho AD position is .67 that would make the full time salary equivalent to 61,000/yr. And, I know that our AD has had a tough year and I have NO complaints with her performance - I think that the salary for that position in out of control.

Anonymous said...

Ask your high school student whether he has played "Wikitag" yet in "directed study." I guess there's not enough time at home to do that, so school gives kids a chance to learn new games in Principal Jackson's beloved "directed study."

I hope he knows that it's okay sometimes to say, oh, you're right, those are study halls, let's see what we can do to provide our students with the requisite hours in learning. It's okay to make a mistake. But it's not okay to lie and pretend!

Anonymous said...

If your high school student is playing Wikitag during their directed study time, a/k/a study hall, perhaps you should talk to your high schooler about how they should be using that time. There are many industrious students who are using that time appropriately and getting benefit from time well-spent.

Anonymous said...

I still don't get the study hall-directed study thing. The middle school has directed study that focuses on math. The high school has study halls with a teacher that focuses on .... what instruction? Does the Dept of Ed have anything to say on what amherst is/is not doing?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:36-
It's not up to my daughter whether she can receive more instruction during that directed study as mandated by Massachusetts--she has no choice--there is no instruction to receive. She has plenty of time to do homework at home, at school she is entitled to be TAUGHT! Study halls are NOT considered hours in learning by the state, and ARHS "directed studies" are study halls.

Anonymous said...


Who is on the K-16 math council, what have they done in the past and what is their role now?


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:16 - good question! I was on the math council for 2 years, and in that time, virtually nothing happened -- it was a group of people who met a few times a year and talked about math. I found it somewhat frustrating, in that decisions weren't made, data wasn't examined, etc. It was basically a group of teachers and a few professors talking about math teaching philosophy.

You can see the current list of members here:

Interestingly, new members have been added without having an open process -- typically an announcement appears on the website seeking volunteers, and then the superintendent selects from the volunteers. In this case, however, particular parents seem to have been selected to be invited to participate.

Rich and bold said...

"In this case, however, particular parents seem to have been selected to be invited to participate."

Sounds unbiased.

Hope they'll be serving that aromatic organic french roast that makes everyone so lovey dovey!

Anonymous said...


"In this case,however, particular parents seem to have been selected to be invited to participate."

Sounds like you have some information that makes you think that Maria stacked the committee. Could you elaborate? I would hope you wouldn't throw this vague suggestion out there without some specific evidence to support such a claim.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:31 - it is clear that an announcement seeking broad participation didn't go out, and therefore all parents didn't have an opportunity to participate (I've had parents ask me how to participate, and I've asked in an open meeting on TV whether new parents will be added, and have been told no). So, those who were added were clearly selected by someone and individually recruited.

Ed said...

So, those who were added were clearly selected by someone and individually recruited.

If true, that is getting really close to violations of the public meeting laws and state ethics laws.

The basic concept of an ethics law violation is that you have access to something that a member of the general public does not. If you receive an invitation that the general public did not get -- and this includes residents who are not parents -- then one does have to start wondering about the ethics laws.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- you've already delegitimized with your comments anything that comes out of the math council. When I look at the membership I see many members who are experts in teaching math.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:18 - I believe the intent of such a council is to provide a balanced view of the parent and teacher perspective on math (and on other domains). I know many parents with strong math backgrounds who would love to participate, and haven't been invited (including math professors at our local colleges/universities, engineers, etc.). I know many teachers who are excellent at teaching math in our schools and haven't been invited to participate. I believe membership in such an important decision-making body should be open to all those who want to contribute, or at least open at the level of putting in an application, because I believe having a diversity of views results in a better decision for our kids. You may not share this view, which is fine. But my comments were not about the lack of expertise among this group, as you imply.

Anonymous said...

Quite clearly, it is not possible to have everyone who is interested in being on the council actually on the council. The council would become much too large and unwieldly. And I might add, just because you imply that the council does not have a balance of view points does not make it so. And yes your words are an attempto to delegitmize any recommendations that come from their work with the curriculum director. But I must add, only your rabid supporters will think the recommendations are not legitimate because of the make-up of the council.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:38 - I served on the council for 2 years, and I heard the nature of the discussions. They were not neutral, and there was very little interest in looking at data. I have heard similar things about the current council from multiple sources.

But regardless, I do not see how opening up membership (asking people to apply who are interested) to the broader community would be a bad thing - it is precisely what we do with all other committees. What if we selected people for the 6th grade task force who all had a particular view? That would be really inappropriate, and I believe that approach would result in a less good decision.

Michael Jacques said...

I find the K-16 math council an interesting body. On one hand they certainly are an enthusiastic well educated group of math professionals. I am sure like all sides of the math debate they have great intentions about what is best for all kids. This body from the web site is listed as a non decision making body and if left to that role there certainly would be no controversy.

However they are being included in the discussion for the future of math in Amherst. They are taking their personal knowledge, view points, Dr. Chens report, the math survey, etc. to help guide Maria and Beth toward a decision on how to proceed. Certainly seeking advice is not wrong but when I perceive that advice might be the final solution for math in Amherst, the K-16 body becomes a very elevated high stakes entity in the Amherst school system.

Even that on the surface might not be so bad except the public does not have continuous minutes from their meetings. We don’t know how they think or what they discuss. Also it is unclear how one becomes a member of this committee. A lack of transparency has been sighted by many as one of the larger issues in Amherst and unfortunately this falls into that category.

There are also some teachers (Roger Wallace) that I would like to see on that committee. Roger has a reputation of really reaching kids with math. I think it would be great for the district to have that kind of in the trenches work, which has yielded, by all accounts, some really great results, included in the committee.

The other issue with this council is that we now have a Curriculum Director, U-mass consultant, and a report by a recognized expert. I believe in accountability. I don’t want to see people in the future referencing the K-16 views as the reason for stagnating math progress. I want to see the administrators taking the burden of decision making onto their shoulders regardless of where the ideas come from. We have well paid staff with the experience to make these decisions. I would like to know their personal opinions because after years of experience they should have one and it should be one they are willing to commit to.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Michael Jacques 9:58. We finally have a paid F/T Curriculum Director, who comes into our district with lots of years of experience. Plus we have a highly paid outside consultant, Dr. Chen who reported on the pros and cons of our current math curriculum and ways to improve. Let's move forward from discussion and make decision based on the recommendations these qualified people make, and that we have paid to do this job.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:31 is back.

You say, "So, those who were added were clearly selected by someone and individually recruited."

You don't specifically respond to my question about whether you have information about Maria's involvement in this. If not her, than who? If it was someone other than her, did he/she do it without her knowledge or approval?

I'm asking you to say something, rather than imply something.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:31 - I have no idea how they were added ... except that I know that an announcement wasn't made opening up the opportunity to volunteer service on this committee to all members of the community (as is required by our evaluation policy and as typically happens with all other task forces). I wish that approach had been used, as I think the process used to make decisions that impact education in our district matters considerably. I asked, at the last meeting, for the superintendent to open up the council to new members via an open announcement -- I do not know whether she will do this or not.

Birdie Champ said...

I am a parent of a special needs student in Fort River, a homeschooled teen, and am one of the parents who applied for the math committee but was not selected. I am a licensed 5-7 science teacher, and a doctoral student in education, focused on math, science, and technology. I have no problems with the committee that was chosen, but my initial reaction was similar to Catherine's. How did these people get selected?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:31 is back again

You say, "I have no idea how they were added"

But, then you say, "except that I know an announcement wasn't made opening up an opportunity..."

I think it's important that we know who you think was responsible for that announcement being limited in its scope. If not the superintendent, then who?

You also say, "I also asked..." and wonder whether the superintendent will or will not respond to your satisfaction.

The whole thread feels like an indictment of Maria, without really naming her. Am I missing something?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:31 - I think you are asking great questions -- I unfortunately don't have the answers. I honestly have no idea who made the decision to invite more people, or how -- perhaps it was Maria. It could have been Beth Graham. It could have been Mike Hayes (who has at times served as the chair of the math curriculum council). It could have been all members of the math council working together to brainstorm new members. If you'd like to know the answer to this, you could write to the superintendent and/or the entire SC and/or the chairs of the SC (Irv and Rick), and perhaps you could get an answer that way. I also do think it is possible that a new announcement will go up asking for more participation to really open up this process -- which I requested at the last meeting. I made that request to Maria, and it is obviously up to her to decide how to proceed.

birdiechamp said...

@8:31: Wondering what your intent is here? Likely I'm the one missing something because I am new to reading this blog and am not aware of the nuances or the details of the politics, but I don't see anything implicating Maria, except for your comments. I watched the 12/3 school committee meeting, and liked what Maria had put together (though I'd like to see the curriculum).

Please don't throw me into the group of "rabid supporters", but the only "claim" I see Catherine making is that some of the members where chosen without it being open, which is a legitimate concern to me, because I would have liked an opportunity to apply.