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, December 7, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article in today's NYT:

Anonymous said...

In regard to Regionalization:
I understand why the hilltowns would want to keep their elem schools - I can see how it acts as the center of the town. However, the fact that they are looking into forming their own k-12 district boggles my mind. Why on earth would these self-proclaimed progressive towns want their children to spend their middle and high school years in the same white, mostly middle class, hyper-homogeneous environment? And how do they not see that by sequestering themselves in their small towns they abandon their responsibility to the general population of students?

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between sequestering yourself in the hilltowns bubble and sequestering yourself in the Amherst bubble????? Same difference.

Anonymous said...

Really?! Amherst's demographics are the same as the hilltowns? Oh, then I guess I stand corrected. Perhaps compared to Holyoke or Lawrence we are isolated from extreme poverty, but at least we educate a much greater share of children from low income families than Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham. The hilltowns shield themselves from that responsibility. Actually, the percentage of students from low income families in Amherst is equivalent to the state average (33%). In that regard we are NOT in a bubble.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few comments:

Anonymous 4:28 - yes, very interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous 1:03 - just to clarify; I believe the hilltowns are considering a K to 8 system (not a K to 12 system). And I believe that ultimately the residents of those towns, and their elected officials, should have the right to decide how best to educate their children. I also believe Amherst residents should have that same right.

Anonymous 8:11 - again, I believe that residents of all towns should get to decide how best to educate their children.

Anonymous 8:43 - it is certainly clear that the Amherst schools educate a far more diverse population than the hilltowns - both in terms of low income children but also in terms of ELL and children of color.

Anonymous said...

Maybe having a K-8 system allows a smaller community more time to instill the valves of the community before sending the kids off to the great big world.

I came up through a large school system and I can see the value in the smaller setting.

Abbie said...

And allows these hilltowns to escape the ARPS middle school altogether and the oh so very defensive 'everything is good except those pesky complainers' principle Mike Hayes.

Anonymous said...

Run Catherine Run -- the USAF has a saying "They are only shooting at you because you are over the target."

Run - you likely will win - and if you don't then the folk will get the schools they deserve. Which will become increasingly spartan as the override largess ceases...

Caren Rotello said...

Like Anon 1:10, I hope you will run for re-election. You'll have my vote!

Anonymous said...

I also hope you run again. You have helped bring about many positive changes in our schools, much of it just by asking questions and getting people talking. I am mostly thankful for the changes at the MS. It is vastly different from when my older kids attended. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

C.S., run.

You hear me?

Sam I Am said...


I can't help but respond to you after that last comment at 11:38.

It is so easy to sit there and take shots at the middle school as you so regularly do. Too bad you lack real evidence to back up what you say. I hope not too many people are sucked in by your overly biased and critical words. So many people who know SO much more than you about the school feel much differently about it than you portray.

Is the school perfect? No, what school is? Is every family happy about absolutely everything there? No, what school gets that? Has it been improving? Yes. Does it strive to continue to improve. Absolutely.

Your comment about Mike Hayes is so totally wrong.
He has engaged the faculty and challenged them to improve in many areas. How do you reconcile your comment that he is defensive and feels "everything is good except those pesky complainers" with the lengthy school IMPROVEMENT plan he worked so hard on and brought to the SC this summer. Did that plan say "keep everything the same and get rid of pesky complainers?". No, it actually listed many areas where he and other leaders in the school hope to make improvements.

You can keep characterizing the MS as an awful place that is to be avoided, but it just ain't so! And lots of people know this.

Did you take the time to look at the results of last year's parent survey by the school council? (It got a 77% return rate, which makes these pretty telling stats.) What do you make of all the positive responses showing lots (generally high 80's
to 90's %) of satisfied people. Is it 100%...well,no. Can the rate of satisfaction be improved...well, why not try? But 88% of people satisfied is s great place to try to improve from!

Oh, wait a minute. I don't have time to be bothered with facts and hard data for your opinions/accusations. I remember the article in the paper last spring. You shared with us all your "assessment" of the MS Math program, which was not even close to a legitimate assessment at all. You painted a rehashing of opinions as an "assessment" while actually doing no research or observation at all. As a scientist you should know better. One of your students would have failed if they tried to pass that piece of work off as an "assessment".

Why don't you visit the school sometime and see what is going on there. It is a good school working hard to be even better, and its community of parents, teachers and students deserve much better than to be dismissed and criticized in the offhand manner you regularly display. And the readers here deserve a much more accurate picture than you are willing, or apparently able, to give.

Oh, and by the way, we might all be willing to take you more seriously if you learned to spell "principal" correctly.

Anonymous said...

To Anon. December 11, 2010 1:14 AM

I agree with Abby, and I speak from having put two kids thru that middle school while Mike was the math department head and principal. There is no direction in the middle school. Their entire charter, for what seems like forever, has been, just let the kids get adjusted to being brought together as a large group, and then we'll ship them off to high school. Screw the fact that they won't be prepared, or that they get less homework in the middle school than in elementary school. There is no challenging work for the kids who want it. The parents who have the ability provide it to their kids. There's a real reward for doing well in school! You have to spend all day in school, now because they're not doing their job, you get to do MORE work at home (or a tutoring center) because if you don't, you won't be prepared in high school or beyond. People who speak badly of the middle school do so because they've "been there, done that, got the t-shirt". AND to repeat what someone else has said on this blog, I am completely DAZZLED by those who continue to write how great things are, and the system just needs a little tweaking.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm just going to add one thing here ... and that is to say that I have heard from parents this year (and I have a student in the school this year) that the MS is more challenging than it has been in the past ... and I am hopeful that things are headed in the right direction. My child is doing homework, and is enjoying his experience there, and really loves his teachers. So, this isn't to say that there aren't things that could be better (which I believe is true of all schools, and in fact is certainly true of the college in which I work) ... but I will say that I am encouraged by what I have seen first-hand, and I do hear from parents with older kids that the MS is better this year than it has been previously, and I'm really thankful that that is true (as a parent and a SC member). I just did want to note that.

Abbie said...

Sam-I am

I spent time this summer with Mike Hayes in meetings about the MS math program. I refer to his defensiveness about that program specifically, the last regional SC mtg. It is my belief that without parent pressure there would have not have been the changes to the extensions program this year, where the extensions material was integrated into the lesson. There is no promise (that I know of) that it will continue after the first trimester. To my knowledge, information about the 7th grade test to get into 8th grade algebra was as poorly communicated as previously and largely left up to the student to decide. I also went to parent meetings with Dr. Chen. At all those meetings, extensions and the arcane route for 7th graders to get into 8th algebra was discussed by many parents. Even a previous School Committee member said that even though he was a School Committee member and thought that he understood things pretty well, even he couldn’t understand that 7th grade test process!

About data--- I have never seen Mike Hayes present data at a SC meeting. Have you? He says that data exists but, to my knowledge it hasn’t been presented to the SC and public at a SC mtg. If it has please tell me when, and I can look at the ACTV tape.

I would love to have data about parent satisfaction with the MS math program, unfortunately the design of the recent ARPS math parent survey makes that impossible. However, I invite you to read the comments- there you will find many examples of parent dissatisfaction with the 7th grade math program design. Asking that extension be incorporated into the lesson does not seem to be asking a lot, but surprisingly, it was (and may still be)!

Mike himself has said that ‘extensions’ has not closed the achievement gap. Some of that may be due to lack of elementary school preparation, indeed he says give him the 6th graders and they will do better. Maybe he could, maybe he couldn’t. It might go back further to k-5 math, how will he take that on? I believe Mike Hayes is in favor of the Investigations math curriculum. Someone tell me if they have heard otherwise…

about my misspelling- how old are you? Really, that petty? ummm

Abbie said...


please tell me specifically what was incorrect in my newspaper editorial about MS math?

Anonymous said...

From my perspective Mike Hayes seems to be working very hard to address the issues that have been raised by parents, SC, Beers report. I too have noticed an uptick in the amount of work my child is doing compared to last year at the MS.

I really appreciate Mike Hayes's effort and dedication to his job.

It is a great combination to have a motivated and cooperative admin at the MS and an active SC (as opposed to a passive SC that only defers to faculty and staff to make all the decisions)!

I hope we can keep this combination for another 3 years if CS decides to run again and the town recognizes her past achievements and contributions.

Abbie said...

Sami-I am:

merriam-webster definitions:

assessment: the action or an instance of assessing

assess: to determine the importance, size, or value of

Data analysis is not included anywhere in the definition of assessment.

Anonymous said...

I have a child in the 8th grade who is a strong student wants to learn and is working really hard. (the same is true for last year although this year the pace has increased as it should)She does at least two hours of homework a night AND has done some challenge work in English and Social Studies that is way above the level of 8th grade and is really challenge work. As parents however you need to not sit back and let it all happen. Students ELECT to do the challenge assignments or not. In order to keep on top of things all you need to do is get on the computer and see the assignements for the week. I am shocked at some parents (many who complain about rigor) who are clueless about the challenge assignments and/or when something comes home to be signed indicating whether their child is doing the challenge work signs off no but then goes on to talk about no rigor. Talking with some of her friends however I do think the amount of challenge and homework is different from team to team but I frankly at times wish there was less homework on nights when her outside activities pull her away from home until 7:00 and she is up later than I would wish doing her work. Room for improvement homework or way at least on her team.

Anonymous said...

Info about the 7th grade math test:

Looks pretty clear to me

Sam I Am said...

To Abbie and Anon 7:37 AM

I think that one point I really wanted to come out of what I wrote I neglected to make clearly. And it is this:

I know there have been people unhappy with aspects of the middle school in the past. That has been made perfectly clear over and over.

I want to suggest that the most useful thing to do would be to keep the conversation about the middle school now and where it can go in the future. A constant rehashing of complaints and criticisms from the past really wastes a lot of peoples time and energy.

I will gladly acknowledge that there were issues in the past. I will acknowledge that there are still areas that could be improved. Please let's focus on the now, and the future, of the school.

Catherine: Thank you for your words. They relate to the present and therefore become more useful to your readers and to any conversation than re-hearing old business for the umpteenth time.

Abbie- I will address more of what you asked of me in a future post when time allows.

Ed said...

I am shocked at some parents (many who complain about rigor) who are clueless about the challenge assignments

And I am shocked that no one has yet raised the point I intend to: IT IS LEVEL OF WORK AND NOT QUANTITY THAT MATTERS!!!!!

If you have parents seeing their kids do all the sophomoric busywork, of course they are going to sign off on the rest of it -- who wouldn't? It is the same thing as the "extensions" -- even though you are able to do higher level stuff, you have to do all this really boring stuff, and then some more really boring stuff in order to do it. And you are a 14-year-old boy with hormones running wild and can think of a whole lot more fun things to do, and ?????

Anonymous said...

I'm happy that the middle school is doing a better job. I think what still rankles a lot of people is that it took an act of God to get them to do something...and that there is still resistance. To have to do the kind of research and leg work the school committee has had to do is above and beyond what any group of volunteers should have to do, AND they get attacked for doing it. The town is crazy if they don't re-elect Steve, Catherine and Irv.

Anonymous said...

Why has no one commented on Amherst Bulletin article about the link between Ms. Geryk and the UMass contractor. The article states that the contractor, without identifying herself, praised Ms. Geryk and urged her immediate hiring as permanent SI.

Am I the only one that finds that a bit unethical?

We won't make any progress in our schools until they are properly run. Transparency of contracting and fiscal accountability is an important component of that.

Read the link!

Anonymous said...

I am really tired of hearing the phrase "children of color" in the same breath with low income children and diverse population. Amherst schools (and those who exert some influence within the schools) run that phrase over and over again, beaming with misplaced pride. I knew it was time to leave the Amherst school system when my kids came home and asked what was it that made them so diverse!

Voting resident with a lot of friends said...

"Run - you likely will win - and if you don't then the folk will get the schools they deserve. Which will become increasingly spartan as the override largess ceases..."

Not sure of the logical twist and leap over the void here.

Why will the schools become increasingly spartan because Catherine will have lost the election?

Sure, go ahead and run Catherine and check the community pulse on your negativity.

Were you listening at all when the search firm reported on what the focus groups think of the tone of your blog? Or when they talked about the combative mindset of the school committee.

That was an election poll, in case you haven't thought about that. I think we already know how the people are leaning.

Yeah, I wonder how our schools will ever survive if you lose? Gee.

Eddy said...

I thought the juxtaposition of the two columns in the Bulletin last week was fascinating.

There you were telling us all how much the schools need to take some constructive criticism. Then you pointed out every negative observation in the reports commissioned by our last superintendent, Arod. Wonder why he didn't do that analysis? Didn't we pay him to study our district?

Then right under your column was Mr. Isler's column where he called you out and pointed out your clear abandonment of your stated goals when you were running for election.

How's that constructive criticism part going? You working on that too?

Will your new campaign promise include the negative tone and combative attitude? Will you promise to continue declaring what's wrong with the schools?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Voter with friends - as I said in the piece I've attached, I will make a decision in late January about whether to run. I certainly know that some people share your view that pointing out where our schools aren't working for kids is negative -- I hear that loud and clear. But it is hard for me to see how things can get fixed in our schools without pointing out the problems. And I understand that it is far easier to not hear criticisms -- by School Committee members and/or on blogs. But for me, this isn't about what makes adults feel good ... it is about what helps kids learn. That's why I pushed for closing Marks Meadow (so that we could better allocate limited resources and have smaller class sizes and rich art/music for all kids), it is why I pushed for redistricting (because research shows that it is better to not cluster low income kids in a single school), and it is why I pushed for a new evaluation policy (because it is important to know if our programs/curricula actually work).

Eddy - I just want to make two quick points. First, Alberto certainly he didn't create these problems in the 8 months that he was here, though I believe we all benefit from learning of these problems. Second, I ran on a very clear mission -- I focused on using data to make decisions and comparing our schools to others. I've continued with that focus throughout my time on the SC, and plan to continue to do so for the remainder of my time. I'm frankly not sure of what goals he (or you) believe I've abandoned. I understand that pointing out problems in the schools feels uncomfortable to some people -- obviously you. And yes, if I run, and if I'm re-elected, I will continue to share my honest views about things in our schools, and that will likely include things that are working well AND things that aren't working well. I believe that is how systems get better, and I believe that there is no more important system than public schools.

Sam I Am said...

To Abbie:

Hi, I am finally responding back about what I thought was wrong with your editorial piece last spring.

In a nutshell, it was, I felt, not what it was portrayed to be. When I hear someone is finally putting their "assessment" of something on paper, I presume that they are sharing their personal observations of the actual thing they are assessing.

I will offer an example: When you tell me your assessment of the Harry Potter movie, I assume that you actually saw it and are telling me about what you personally saw. I do not assume that you are telling me a summary of other people's opinions of the movie, unless you tell me that is what you are doing.

I do feel that your piece was a rehash of other people's opinions of the program you were writing about. So, I would have called it a review of opinions. My concern is that the readers of the piece were misled into believing that you actually did the legwork to learn about the program for yourself, rather than just to repeat the word on the street. This distinction is where my main issue lies.

I do not believe that you came to see for yourself anything about the program. Did you watch any classrooms and/or teachers and students in action before you very clearly stated your "assessment" that no teaching is going on? Did you meet with any teachers and ask to see the materials that were being used to teach extensions? Did you ask to see any of the letters that are sent home that explain to parents the philosophy of asking students to "struggle" with challenging problems that they might not "get" right away? (I think Dr Chen praised that policy as having them exercise their mental muscle.)

You corrected me on the point that an assessment does not require data. Yes, that was inaccurate on my part.

Then you asked me to tell you what I felt was incorrect about your piece. My two answers to that are that it was portrayed as conclusions that you had come to after doing personal observations and research (like seeing the movie YOURSELF) not just as the rehashing of opinions that it was. AND that if you had come in and watched and asked questions and learned, that you very likely would have come to a different set of conclusions as you would have understood much more about the goals and intentions of the program. you may remember a main request from a previous post was that we engage in the far more productive discussion about the present and future, and not the past. (And also that you stop dissing the principal with those ridiculous phrases) I did not want to be rude and ignore your questions to me, but I also do not want to continue with an old conversation about a program that is not really relevant any longer.

I hope you feel I have answered your questions.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I have followed the discussion of extensions since it began (2005), and I'd like to offer a few thoughts. First, I think this was a very well-intentioned idea, since the goal was to open up advanced math options to more students. Second, I think the reality of that goal was not as effective as we as a system would like. I believe it is clear (based on data provided in surveys from students and parents) that all of the extensions materal was not being regularly taught in the classroom - and that makes sense (e.g., if you are a teacher with 20 kids, and only 6 or 7 are doing extensions, and those tend to be the higher achieving kids anyway, you would naturally be more likely to make sure to focus on the non-extensions material since it was relevant to more of the kids). I believe it is also clear that 12 and 13-year-olds sometimes made the choice to NOT do extensions because they didn't want to do extra homework (and I believe that parents were not fully informed about the consequences of this choice 7th graders were making). I therefore do not think this approach was a good idea -- as I noted myself in a column in the Bulletin in December of 2007 (before my own child had entered the MS). It is also not an approach used in other districts.

A number of parents -- including me, including Abbie -- signed a letter last spring asking for extensions material to be required of all students and asking for information to be more clearly conveyed to parents about the choice their 7th grader would make. We had several meetings to discuss this with the middle school administration, and I am pleased that both of these requests were followed (e.g., extensions are now required -- at least for the first trimester -- and information has been fully conveyed to parents). That is encouraging on both fronts, and I have noted that change in my column, at SC meetings, and on my blog.

Anonymous said...

What is happening with extensions now in the 2nd trimester? As the parent of a current 7th grader I'm still not clear on that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:40

That sounds like a good question for your child's teacher, not for this blog.

Perhaps that is what the teachers meant by the "Ask a Teacher" buttons.