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.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Disappointed By Some in Our Community: PLEASE Give the Process a Chance

I believe some of the best things about living in Amherst should be having a community in which there is an openness to all views, an acceptance of and respect for people from diverse backgrounds, and a real willingness to listen to all sides.

Thus, I've been dismayed to see a campaign to disparage our two external candidates with long and distinguished careers in multiple districts and to promote our  internal candidate.  Surely we can only make the determination of who is best for our district if we approach all our  finalists with an open mind, ready to learn more about their backgrounds and experiences and ask any questions we might have.  I hope that citizens who have received email blasts and read statements in the newspaper and/or on blogs on behalf of  a specific candidate will reserve judgment until they have heard and thoroughly researched each candidate’s record.  Surely our kids deserve better than this type of rush judgment.

Throughout my time as a member of the School Committee, and before that as co-head (with Steve Rivkin) of ACE, I have pushed for more community voices to be heard.  But I have never told people what those voices should say.  ACE has never supported a single School Committee candidate or superintendent finalist;  emails sent out to that listserv have always said simply "here are opportunities to learn more about these people and to share your view;  please let your view be known".  Similarly, I have never pushed a single School Committee candidate, or superintendent finalist;  I have simply informed people about opportunities to learn more about candidates/finalists and encouraged people to share their views (whatever those views might be).

Choosing a superintendent is an extremely important decision -- this choice will impact our schools and our community and our kids for a VERY long time.  I therefore continue to hope that all parents, teachers, and community members will take the time and energy needed to get to know more about the background, experience, and vision of all three finalists (through newspaper articles available on my blog, resumes and essay responses available on line at, and the interviews available on ACTV) ... and then, after reviewing this essential information, I hope to hear from as many people as possible about the pros/cons of each of the three finalists (emails can be sent to  Each School Committee member can then individually balance the relative pros/cons of each finalist noted by the community, our own individual impressions, and the considerable additional information we have (e.g., more extensive information about prior experiences, reports from numerous references) to make the best vote possible when we select a superintendent on Sunday, February 6th. 

Note:  I posted a quick version of this post yesterday and then felt I needed to give the post more thought and reflection -- then I posted a revised version of this post that was quite brief (as I was rushing out to the superintendent interview and then driving last night to New Jersey for a conference AFTER the interview).  I've now posted basically the original version -- but with slight revisions.  Will post all comments -- but please be respectful and do NOT comment on any of the finalists!


Anonymous said...


I don't understand the title to this blog post. It does not seem to fit with what you wrote.

Anonymous said...


I was able to read your more extensive entry earlier this morning entitled "Disappointed in Our Community".

This more recent version is likely to cause confusion, for those who didn't read your earlier post, when they read the sentence about "rush judgement".

Don't know why you edited your earlier post, but suggest you restore it or explain what you mean by
"rush judgement" in the later version.

Sam I Am said...

Hi Catherine-

Two questions for you:

1) When I saw this post earlier today it was much longer, with more details that explained the reference in the title to your being disappointed. I am wondering why you took out the paragraphs that explained who, and what actions, disappointed you.

2) In an earlier post in another strand someone referred to ACE as the action group that you "founded". You responded (Jan 18th, 11:23 AM) that ACE was not a group, just a "bunch of people who signed a letter". But in the above-mentioned paragraphs that have since disappeared from this post you referred to Ace as the group that you and Steve Rifkin "founded". Those seem like contradictory statements, near as I can tell. Just curious.

Looking forward to a decision on Feb 6th, one way or the other (or the other) so we can move forward from here.

Anonymous said...

I think that you need to listen to the opinions of community members/individuals no matter when they are conveyed and in what format. Not everyone is so organized and articulate to comment on the pros/cons of each finalist - and not everyone has the time to do so (parents of young kids??). I am afraid your post will discourage people from voicing their opinions if they are not able to do so in the manner in which you seem to be demanding. If someone wants to say "I think you should hire _______" and nothing more, then it is their right to tell the school committee that, and it is your obligation to listen to it and take it into as much consideration as someone who has the ability/time to write a 3 page essay on why candidate X should be hired.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the post that was up yesterday -- the one mentioning the Amherst school committee member who was overheard in public saying he had already decided who he was going to vote for?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:59 - I think you saw the in-between version ... sorry! I hope the newly revised (close to original) post clarifies why I've been disappointed.

Anonymous 9:27 - sorry - I pushed publish too fast, and needed osme time to thoughtfully revise. I do believe there has been a rush to judgment (by some) and hope the whole community can give this process the time it deserves. The version posted now is basically what was in the original version (with a few changes that I felt were important).

Sam I Am:

1. Sorry - the version is up now that is basically how it was yesterday at first. Hope this is more clarifying.

2. ACE is a group of people who signed a letter 3 years ago. We've never met. We don't have a list serve. I have no idea who the vast majority of people who signed it are - haven't met them (to my knowledge). We (first me, then Steve) send out sporadic emails -- every few months -- when there are noteworthy things (e.g., SC elections, superintendent/principal searches) involving education in our community.

Is that a group? It is an email list ... I guess I don't see that as contradictory, in that it isn't a group with a particular ideology or core mission, other than great schools for all kids. But it isn't a group in that people who signed this letter vary in their particular views about almost everything (e.g., IMP versus traditional math, trimester/semester, SC candidates, superintendent choices). The goal of ACE was to increase parental involvement in our schools ... NOT to tell them what to think/how to vote ... just to tell them to share their thoughts.

I share your desire for February 6th ... we need some closure!

Anonymous 6:22 - obviously you can write to the SC and say "I support person X, please vote for him/her." I am telling you that those responses will have no impact on MY decision, which I think is honest (perhaps they will influence others on the SC). I have already received pro and con emails on ALL THREE finalsits ... and I'm not going to just tally up the votes and say "OK, more people told me they like Person X so that's how I'm voting." A number of people have written extremely detailed and thoughtful emails conveying their impressions of the finalists' strengths/weaknesses, and that type of information allows me to gain a broader view of how finalists appeared to the community, and that is really helpful to me in processing my own thoughts. I am not "demanding" that anyone communicate any of their thoughts to me at any time and in a particular way ... I'm just telling my blog readers that the type of comments I find most useful in thinking about how I will vote are those that lay out specifically what they think about the finalists, and why.

Anonymous 10:34 - the first part of that post described something that I've now cut from my blog post, so I deleted that post, and with it the second part (in which a Amherst SC member stated who he was voting for in public). However, it is totally fine for any/all of us to share in public who we are voting for ... that is allowed. If you have concerns about someone doing that, you should address it with him directly, however.

Anonymous said...


Please correct me if I am wrong. If we send out comments to they will only go the members of the Regional SC. But, Kathy Weilerstein is the Pelham member of Union 26 who is not on the Regional SC. So, if you only send emails to the regional SC email address, Kathy will not get the input. Shouldn't we also include her email address? I hesitate to include it in my post because I am not sure I know how her last name is spelled.

Could you please clarify if we should also send our comments to Kathy Weilerstein?

Anonymous said...

but when I signed the ACE letter, I thought it did have a core mission, like AP Chemistry, algebra in 8th grade and more science fairs. Isn't this the mission?

It says Our Mission on the web site.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My replies:

Anonymous 6:55 - all the emails to that address go to Debbie Westmoreland, who then sends them out to us (so there can be a bit of a delay -- like we don't get those emails all weekend). But Debbie sends out to whoever they should go to (e.g., if you email in about the elementary math curriculum, that goes just to the Amherst SC). So, I'm pretty certain Debbie is sending all these to Kathy W. A few times people have typed in all our addresses and have not typed in Kathy's -- when that has happened, I've forwarded the email to her directly (and others may be doing so as well).

Anonymous 7:18 - well, the ACE letter that people signed didn't actually have any specifics. Then, a smaller group met a few times (in 2007/2008) and came up wtih priorities (like adding AP chem and science fairs), but in fairness, the ACE letter didn't have such details so I hesitate to say that was the "mission". The mission (as noted on the website) is about excellent schools for all kids ... but for some that might be AP chem, and for others that might not be. I certainly don't think I could say 100% of those who signed ACE wanted AP Chemistry. The mission was broader because different people have different ways of thinking about excellent (e.g., for some that might have been reducing the achievement gap, or continued music programs), and again, my point was that ACE has never taken a stand on a SC candidate (even when Steve and I ran) or an a principal or superintendent.

Anonymous said...

I share your disappointment about the disparagement of outside candidates, especially before they have had a chance to be heard. I only wish you had included disappointment in the ongoing disparagement of Ms. Geryk that has been taking place. Sure, she has her supporters and may have a leg up among some in the community for the permanent position. But there are many other very vocal people who have worked systematically to discredit her credentials and speak poorly of her at any opportunity. If you are going to be fair in your assessment of community behavior related to this process, you really should be calling out those folks as well.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:08 - I actually see two important distinctions here. First, Ms. Geryk has been in our community for a while, so it is natural that people have largely formed an impression about her (pro or con). I believe it is actually OK for those impressions to be formed, because obviously those are based on considerable information over a long period of time (unlike a 2 hour interview). So, some people have formed positive impressions of her (which they are sharing) and others have formed negative impressions (which they are sharing). That strikes me as the pro AND con of being an internal candidate!

Second, I haven't heard a single person who opposes Ms. Geryk suggesting that the SC stop the search right now and vote for Dr. Kohn or Dr. Bayless. Not a single person has suggested to me that we halt the search, and there isn't (to the best of my knowledge) a website campaiging against her appointment.

So, I see two sides: one side who is saying "appoint Ms. Geryk now and stop the search without even meeting the two outside finalists and getting to know them a bit and ask them questions" and the other side is saying "let's let all three finalists come and then make a decision about who is the best fit." I believe the first of these sides is being inappropriate, as I have noted, and I fully support (and am in) the second side.

However, if at any point a side organizes to stop the search and immediately appoint Dr. Kohn or Dr. Bayless without even giving Ms. Geryk a chance to interview, I will certainly call that side out, as that would be highly inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

I think you're finding a way to justify the negative noise about Ms. Geryk, which has been taking place for a LONG time on this blog and elsewhere, while at the same time searching for reasons to decry the negative noise about others. Before we even HAD outside candidates Maria was being ripped apart at every opportunity by those resenting her appointment and the desire by some of that appointment to remain in effect. You say, "I believe some of the best things about living in Amherst should be having a community in which there is an openness to all views, an acceptance of and respect for people from diverse backgrounds, and a real willingness to listen to all sides." Yet there has not been that acceptance and respect of views in favor of Ms. Geryk's candidacy AT ALL among certain factions of the community. And there has been a lot of viciousness directed towards her. We can have a chicken and egg argument about what has led to all the inflamed feelings around this, but your expectations for behavior would have a lot more credibility if you extended them to all the different camps of opinion in town. And, for clarity's sake, I am someone who has disagreed with the public campaigning for our internal candidate, the Leverett SB's attempt at interference in the process and the negative sniping at our other two finalists. But bad behavior is bad behavior and it is just plain wrong to admonish some of it while turning a blind eye to the rest.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:54 - I think parents and community members have a right to express their views about the superintendent, who is a very high paid public figure and ultimately is accountable for the direction of our schools. Parents and community members have interacted with Maria Geryk for the last 10 months, in her role as superintendent, and I think they have every right to express both positive and negative things about her job performance (just as they did about Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Hochman).

In contrast, parents and community members don't know Dr. Kohn or Dr. Bayless ... and therefore I've been concerned that some people in our community were willing to make assumptions about them based on some google searches and without ever meeting them or giving them a chance to answer questions. That is the concern I expressed on my blog, and it is the concern I will continue to express.