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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Next Week's Meetings

There will be (at least) three SC meetings next week - and all will be important.

First, on Monday (2-14), we will meet to discuss the contract for the superintendent (this meeting might be mostly in executive session to hammer out details).  You can read a brief story on this meeting from Masslive at:  http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/02/amherst_school_committees_to_discuss_maria_geryk.html.

Then, on Tuesday (2-15) the Amherst SC will see the first FY12 list of budget cuts/adds, and on Wednesday (12-16), the Regional SC will see the first FY12 list of budget cuts/adds.  I believe the Amherst SC meeting will be carried live on ACTV (and thus held at Town Hall);  the other two meetings will be in the HS library and will be filmed by ACTV by not shown live.

67 comments:

Janet McGowan said...

Catherine, you will be missed. Here's my concern -- no one is addressing the issues that you, parents, Steve Rivkin and Amherst School Committee member have raised again and again. There was no talk of these problems when the superintendent decision was being made, no hilltown school committee member thought these issues were of concern. And now, there is no talk of it on this blog, except for your posting. Easier it seems for people to be angry at you, love Maria Geryk (or vis a versa) than be angry that our schools are not serving so many of our children.

Can someone, in the administration, school committee, anywhere talk about these points you raised in your post about your vote on superintendent? Here they are:

"In the Amherst elementary schools, we’ve seen a drop of 99 students this year compared to last, and this is 44 students fewer than we projected, with 30 students fewer than expected in kindergarten. In addition, we are seeing a massive change in the demographics in our elementary schools: over 50% of kindergartners currently in our schools are on free and reduced lunch (compared to 37% of overall elementary students, marking a dramatic shift). I find this really concerning, as it indicates to me that a growing number of families are opting out of our public schools.
I see a big achievement gap in our elementary schools. In our elementary schools, only 30% of African American students, 38% of Latino students, and 30% of low income students reach proficiency on MCAS math tests.
One of our three elementary schools (Fort River) showed declines in both ELA and Math MCAS scores for all students – the aggregate and most subgroups – from last year to this year.
I see problems in special education, with about 40% of parents not satisfied with their participation in their child's IEP, communication with staff, and the staff's responsiveness to their needs and concerns."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Janet - I share your concern ... and was struck by the absence of any concerns about these issues expressed by any of the non-Amherst SC members. I understand that the challenges faced in Leverett, Shutesbury, and Pelham are very different than the ones faced in Amherst ... but when we choose a superintendent, we need someone who can address the issues of all the towns. I wish that the non-Amherst members had been able to acknowledge these very real issues that are occurring in the Amherst elementary schools, and at least their hope that they would be addressed by the next superintendent. Perhaps all the members on the SC will be willing to consider whether there has been action on these issues when evaluating superintendent Geryk's performance later this year.

Abbie said...

It is becoming every more clear that for many reasons, Amherst Elementary Schools would best be served if they had their own superintendent. I know there will be no political will to make this change. I think the ES would be served best by having a superintendent whose only concern was the education of elementary kids and didn't have to dilute that focus by other responsibilities. I think that the current Superintendent position has too many responsibilities and as a consequence many of them remain inadequately addressed.

I agree with Janet, the hilltowns don't face the same issues that we do (and I believe they really don't care). The best we could do for Amherst kids is to somehow exit the regional system and find a superintendent for our elementary schools.

Rick said...

Hi Janet,

I certainly have concerns about this and other things, and please anyone with concerns please let me know (hoodr@arps.org). I certainly cannot “replace” Catherine, but part of what I ran on when running for school committee is to try to bring people with concerns together with people in the school system that might be able to address those concerns. So please know that I will try my best to do that. Janet you have been very helpful in that regard with organizing parent meetings with school administrators.

Specific concerns you mention on this post are:

a. Dropping enrollments

b. Increasing number of students on free & reduced lunch

On the first one, I believe the total elementary enrollment for this school year is:

K: 130
1: 165
2: 175
3: 167
4: 190
5: 175
6: 184

So, the 130 is 35 kids less than grade 1, or a 21% drop (assuming K is not normally lower for some reason, I don’t know). And if you average 4,5,6 (183) then K is a drop of 29% from those grades.

We need to find out:

a. How much of this is demographics (just population drop).

b. Of the number that is not due to demographics, where did they go and why?

Now, whatever drop is due to demographics is a good thing, because then we have more resources per student. Whatever drop is due to kids going to other schools is a bad thing, unless they did it because of very specific needs that are fulfilled by other schools that a general public school just isn’t going to be as good at fulfilling.

But I have not seen any data on this so have no idea at this time what the real story is, so we need to get that data.

On the increasing number of kids on free and reduced lunch, I believe that many of the programs that Ms. Geryk have started to implement such as RTI, PBIS and Instructional Rounds, can help with this situation. These things are all focused on making sure kids do not fall through the cracks, and kids on free and reduced lunch are more likely to fall through a crack. However, we will need to keep very close eye on this to see if these things are working.

Another thing that can help is reaching out to the families of these kids by working with the entire community, including our town government. I know that Ms. Geryk has started to do that, and that Irv Rhodes is very interested in helping out with that effort.

This is not easy but I hope we can work together to try to address these concerns.

Abbie said...

Hi Rick,

I seem to recall that the SC already asked (I believe several times) for the exact data that you just posted that you seek? For example, I thought that the district was supposed to contact families who are not staying in the system and collect that data. If the data hasn't been provided to the SC, then the questions becomes "Why not?" and "When will it?"

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Abbie - although I certainly see the benefits of having a K to 12 system in terms of vertical alignment, I share your view that the needs of the Amherst elementary schools are just very, very different than those in regional schools and non-Amherst elementary schools, and I certainly didn't hear any understanding or appreciation of these challenges by the non-Amherst members at Sunday's meeting.

Rick - a few quick things.

First, we know that enrollment this year is not just 99 kids lower, but 44 kids lower than PROJECTED ... so that means it is not merely a reflection of demographic changes (e.g., lower birth rate) since the projections take that into account.

Second, the fact that the % of kids on free/reduced lunch is so much higher in kindergarten than in the other grades, and so much higher now in elementary schools than it was 5 years ago, indicates clearly that families of means are opting out of our schools.

We also have data that we have already seen showing that - Alberto Rodriguez reached out to ALL families (by phone) who had left our schools and asked why they had left; this information was given to the SC (although never presented at a meeting) last spring. Maria Geryk also sent an exit survey to families who had chosen to leave our schools last year, although this letter was sent in August (nearly 2 months after school ended) and didn't include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for returning it, and thus response rates were very low. It is also impossible to reach the kindergarten families who chose not to enter our schools (30 fewer than projected) since they never actually enrolled. But it is clear that these families are opting out of our public schools.

I share your hope that the SC will address these issues, although they have been brought up repeatedly and not addressed in the past year.

Finally, although I share your appreciation for Janet McGowan's willingness to organize meetings between school administration and parents, I'd be interested in hearing from Janet as to whether she felt these meetings had resulted in any changes that improve education for all kids (or just an opportunity for parents to share their feelings).

Abbie - you are correct that the SC has requested this data repeatedly, and has received much of it.

Anonymous said...

"that the district was supposed to contact families who are not staying in the system and collect that data. "

Abby:
The families Rick is referencing are kindergarten families...so families that are not yet in the ditrict.

Rick said...

Hi Abbie,

On this "I thought that the district was supposed to contact families who are not staying in the system and collect that data". Yes that is definitely true, I just don’t recall ever getting that data (but Catherine does, so maybe I missed it).

On data about what makes up the decrease in grade K, such as population changes, and what other schools kids went to and why, I really don’t recall getting any of that.

I have just asked those questions so will let you know what I hear.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if it's really something new that the percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch is higher in kindergarten than in other grades. Since many preschools have K programs, I would guess that it's not uncommon for higher-income parents to keep their kids at that school for kindergarten and then switch to public school for first grade. Doesn't mean they have any big problem with the public schools.

Anonymous said...

Rick-
The part that puzzles me is why Maria has not collected this information. This is the kind of thing she needs to look at!

Anonymous said...

This is the useful function that this "hateful blog" continues to serve: dialogue on the issues.

When it was bad, it was very, very bad, but when it was good, it was very, very good. Sort of like the right to free speech in general: the good with the bad.

I wish that Catherine opponents had not hung every single bad post on this blog around her neck. But it seems that they had a motive to do so.

Anonymous said...

Second, the fact that the % of kids on free/reduced lunch is so much higher in kindergarten than in the other grades, and so much higher now in elementary schools than it was 5 years ago, indicates clearly that families of means are opting out of our schools.

It does not "clearly" mean anything of the sort. Alternative explanations or contributing factors could include (1) the economy is in a persistent slump and more families are eligible for free/reduced lunch, and/or (2) more families are aware of and taking advantage of the free/reduced lunch program.

There is insufficient data on which to make the interpretive leap that you do.

Anonymous said...

"I wish that Catherine opponents had not hung every single bad post on this blog around her neck."

She runs the blog, right? So who should take responsibility? She came on strong with an agressive approach. To argue that ends the discussion because it would be to deny fact. She is aggressive. Nothing wrong with that in a lot of situations.


However, when you are a public official and come on strong from the beginning, you don't leave yourself much room to move. If the strong approach doesn't work, you have alienated a lot of people.

If the strong approach does work, then you have the results you want and can realize that strong works with that crowd.

Know your audience.

CS set the tone and others picked up it.

Simple equation.

You want to play hard ball. Ok, there are plenty of people around here capable of that, too.

Don't expect the hardball will go in only one direction.

If CS has taken a much quieter approach, she would not have had nearly the blow back that she received.

Please stop trying to make this appear as if CS has zero responsibility for the tough sledding she ran into.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 1:34 - we've seen data in other years, and there has never been a difference between the % of kids on free/reduced lunch in kindergarten versus other grades. I'm not aware of any preschools that have a kindergarten AND don't have a 1st (etc.) grade, so I don't see why families would leave their kids just for this one year.

Anonymous 2:38 - so, perhaps the economy is bad ... which of course it is ... but why then do we see changes in Amherst that we don't see in Northampton (where the economy is also bad)? In Amherst in 2006-2007 (five years ago), we had 28% of kids on free/reduced lunch - which climbed to 29, then 32, then 34, now 37. In Northampton, the climb was 25 to 28 to 26 to 30 to 29. That is a 9 point jump in Amherst, and a 4 point jump in Northampton. Similarly, Pelham has moved from 8% low income kids (in 2005-2006) to 7, then 7, then 7, then 6. So, in the same 5 years of a bad economy, Pelham has shown fewer low income kids. It is hard for me to see this as evidence of a bad economy.

Have the Amherst schools done a better outreach lately of getting kids/families to fill out the forms? I don't know of any such efforts - and I haven't experienced any changes as a parent or been made aware of any efforts as a SC member. And let's remember - these changes in demographics are coupled with fewer kids in our schools and fewer kids than projected in our schools.

I hope we can acknowledge the very real possibility that families of means are opting out of our schools - instead of just trying to brush this possibility under the rug. I don't see any data that supports any conclusion.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - Marta Guavara, under the direction of Dr. Rodriguez, gathered precisely the data Abbie is referring to - I'm sure you could request this data from her/Maria. It was given to the SC last February (prior to your election in March).

Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert, but it seems logical that their would be a higher percentage of kindergarten children qualifying for reduced/free lunch than older kids. Why? Because their parents are younger and in a college town, in particular there is a large income gap between young parents and older parents. How many of these kindergarteners are children of grad students or post-docs who fall into the category that is called, I believe, "poverty by choice" -- a temporary situation as a result of their student status.

I have lived in other similar college towns and the demographics were the same.

Brain said...

The high and increasing percentage of kindergartenders in Amherst on free and reduced lunch is because many of these are children of grad students and post-docs who are poor by choice while they finish their education. Northampton doesn't see this because most UMass grad students do not live in Northampton. I'd like to see the data for Hadley.

Also, I know for a fact that there is a greater push and education to get parents, particularly international grad students at UMass, to apply for free and reduced lunch for their children entering school.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

The current 6th grade class is 29% low income ... the current kindergarten class is 52% low income (the 1st through 5th grade numbers vary from 32% to 39%). I am puzzled as to how we can explain these differences via U Mass pushing more people to apply (the rates are the same at all schools and U Mass graduate student/post doc housing is all in WW, so that doesn't explain similar numbers at FR and CF), or living in a college town (which has been true for a long time - this isn't a change!). And although I'm sure grad student kids are younger, are they all kindergarten? I doubt it - and we see 52% in kindergarten and 39% in 1st grade and 37% in 2nd grade. This is a really big difference, and it is not a difference we have seen before in our numbers (e.g., such a giant gap by age) nor is it a difference we are seeing in other towns (e.g., Hadley has increased from 12% to 17% of low income kids during the same 5 years Amherst has climbed from 28 to 37%).

Anonymous said...

It would make a lot of sense that when families are first enrolling their children in school -- usually kindergarten -- that there is greater attention paid to their enrolling in the free/reduced lunch program. Families of older kids may be less aware, and are not so pointedly reminded each year that the program exists.

Also, Amherst has a higher poverty rate than Northampton, and more families/households living on the edge of poverty -- the exact people who might be more likely to take new advantage of free/reduced lunch in hard times.

My overall point is that this issue very likely has multiple causes -- economy, higher reporting and maybe even,as you suggest, some loss of wealthier families from the district. But it is far from "clear" that the latter is the primary or even a strongly contributing factor.

You are choosing to focus on the possible factor that supports your broader criticisms of the district rather than more objectively analyzing the problem. As many people have tried to point out to you on many different occasions, in a number of different contexts: that is NOT data-driven decision making. Rather, it is the selective use of data (or, in the case, highly speculative interpretation of data) to make a point.

Brain said...

1. Your statement that "U Mass graduate student/post doc housing is all in WW." is flat out wrong.

Not all UMass grad students or post docs live in designated housing or areas. They live throughout the town.

2. Without analyzing or knowing how many people are actually ELIGIBLE for free lunches not just how many APPLY AND ARE ACCEPTED, all of this hand-wringing is mere speculation.

The data you really want to find is average household income of enrolled students in Amherst public schools and how that has changed over time in relation to the average household income of the town.

That will tell you what you really want to know: are wealthy people pulling their children out of the school?

Judging the quality or popularity of the schools based on kindergarten free lunch recipients is grasping at straws, at best.

Anonymous said...

I just don't see what difference any of these FRL kindergarten numbers mean. How will knowing the reasons impact the quality of education in Amherst. All the discussion around this issue seems like a red herring to me.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response: Luckily for me, I'm not going to be on the SC 6 weeks from now, so I guess this is going to be something for others to figure out. There are indeed lots of pieces of data that it would be very interesting to have. I don't believe the schools collect data on household incomes, so that won't be data available for us to examine.

I'm glad that some (or one?) anonymous posters feel that there are many good reasons for the rapid increase in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch in our schools over the last 5 years, as well as the rapid increase in kindergarteners on free/reduced lunch.

These anonymous posters raise many ideas:

1. Perhaps new kindergarten families this year were encouraged to enroll more than in the past (and if so, this program was very successful - kudos to U Mass for these great outreach efforts).

2. Perhaps the economy is bad so more families are eligible (though that doesn't seem to be true in Northampton or Pelham or Hadley).

3. Perhaps more kindergarteners are staying in preschool (although that doesn't seem to be true in Northampton and it is hard to see how this would change over time and it is hard to see why families make this choice in tough economic times).

4. Perhaps Amherst is more poor than Northampton (again the argument here would have to be that Amherst and Northampton were about the same 5 years ago, but now Amherst is much poorer).

Again, I'm glad to have this discussion about data - and I believe I'm the only one actually posting data (and this isn't a "selective use of data" since I'm presenting ALL the data I have!) and I'm also the only one posting using my actual name.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so we don't know for sure that the sudden increase in the percentage of kids on FRL in kindergarten is due to middle-class and affluent parents fleeing the district. We can't know for sure that that's the cause.

But, we have two interesting facts. First, the number of kindergarteners is dropping rapidly and more rapidly that predicted. Given that demographic trends (i.e., births) begin 5-6 years before kindergarten and the schools estimate enrollments using those data, we can say that something interesting is happening. Fewer kids than expected by the system are entering the system.

The next fact is that the percentage of kids on FRL popped and is much higher than in Northampton, Pelham, etc. And, the number is higher than previous numbers for kindergarten in Amherst. That is, something different seems to be happening now.

So, might the issue be that the number of kids on free and reduced lunch has held steady (they are the numerator in this equation) and that the percentage of FRL kids would decrease with increased enrollments of kids of all social classes and increase with decreased enrollments of kids of all social classes (i.e., the denominator in the equation)?

So, isn't the most obvious answer -- given no other town seems to have this movement in the percentage of kids on FRL -- that poverty isn't up in Amherst more than anywhere else, but the size of the kindergarten has shrunk (a fact) and perhaps most of the shrinkage is among kids not on FRL?

Any other answer would involve a lot more moving parts and variables. It's sort of obvious what's happening. And, it's sort of obvious that the usual suspects on the SC, in the administration, and throughout town would rather craft a thousand elaborate theories than look at what's happening in front of them.

Rick said...

A few things for now:

Every year Amherst does a census which is supposed to tell us how many kids of each age there are. One problem is that it has historically been around 30% low – in other words, 30% of the kids are not reported in the census. This is not good and perhaps Amherst should get better at enforcing the census. But it is what it is, so in projecting incoming class, a 1.3 factor has to be applied to the census. If it is always exactly 30%, then it doesn’t really matter, but it’s not.

If you compare 2011 to 2010, the “5 year earlier birth rate” was 170 for 2010 and 135 for 2011, or a drop of 35. That does not take into account kids who moved in or out of Amherst during those 5 years, but it is one piece of the answer for 2010/2011. Note in 2009 it was also 170, so there was no drop from 2009 to 2010. Back in 1999 it was 196.

Data does exist on where each of the kids in the census goes to school and that is reported to the state, but that relies on surveying schools in the area to find out what Amherst kids go to those schools. I am getting that tomorrow.

On the free and reduced lunch increase: one factor is that in 2008 there was a push to get families to turn in the forms. The reason for the push is that we get more Title 1 funding with a higher the free and reduced % so we wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anyone. This is too bad in a way because it would be tough to figure out what effect this had; might be able to tell by looking at 2008/2009.

The above are all just pieces of information which doesn’t really answer anything, but it does illustrate that there are many pieces to look at in getting the answers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,

Are you even willing to entertain the idea that many families are in fact leaving our schools for other options?

You mention a lot of possible explanations. I would love to see you admit that an increasing number of unhappy parents might be a possibility.

And, maybe all those families are crazy and just don't get it, but isn't it possible that they object to the way our schools are managed and that more of them may leave with the recent appointment of Maria Geryk?

Are you willing to admit that an increasing number of families believe that our schools aren't what they should be and are getting worse?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious what data exists for that argument... That more families are opting out of Amherst schools for their kindergarten aged kids. And, where are they going? It would seem that at least anecdotal info should be available on this if the numbers are as large as being presumed here. It is one thing to note a decline in enrollment and quite another to make assumptions about what they mean.

Tom Porter said...

Methinks that Anon 6:56 has hit it on the head - pull-out in K this year is extraordinary and also predominantly non-FRL, and Anon 8:38 has called the question.

Rick, interested to hear what the information you receive tomorrow will reveal.

And another thing: precisely how many new kindergarteners are we expecting in September?

Anonymous said...

You always slam the "hilltowns" for being homogeneous ... but how diverse is any private school your children will attend?

Anonymous said...

Parents are not going to pull their children out of the schools because of the Superintendent. That is to far removed from our lives. That would be like leaving town because you didn't like the Town Manager, etc.

We were at Berkshire East the other day, and someone from out of town, commented to my wife on the ski lift, at how laughable we are to the world outside of Amherst.

Their should definetly be a gag order in place. The aggression that comes from this School Committee is embarassing.

Anonymous said...

The question is, are Amherst's public schools evolving even gradually into the kind of schools we see elsewhere in America, including in our own region? Where it is simply assumed that relatively wealthy parents will take their kids elsewhere, thereby creating a disproportionate population of poor and lower middle class kids.

I think that that concern underlies just about everything Catherine Sanderson has been advocating. And for that, she has been labeled "elitist".

Ok, go ahead: ignore it and maybe it will go away.

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to define "aggression" for us in this context. I assume that it's an accusation here.

Is that what badly behaved women do in public? Aggression?

Aggression. You need to get specific with us, when you use such summary, conclusory words.

Is it at all possible that "aggression" could be good? Do we all have to "mellow out" at all times? Just what are the values underlying the word "aggression" as a pejorative term? That we prize civility over all other values?

Frankly, I'm proud to live in a community that claims to care this much about education. I just want it to live up to it.

Rick said...

Are you even willing to entertain the idea that many families are in fact leaving our schools for other options?

Yes.

You mention a lot of possible explanations. I would love to see you admit that an increasing number of unhappy parents might be a possibility.

Yes, admit that is very possible.

And, maybe all those families are crazy and just don't get it, but isn't it possible that they object to the way our schools are managed and that more of them may leave with the recent appointment of Maria Geryk?

Sure it is possible that some people object to the way our schools are managed. If they think it will get worse with appointment of Maria Geryk, then we obviously disagree.

Are you willing to admit that an increasing number of families believe that our schools aren't what they should be and are getting worse?

Maybe - whether it's increasing or the same, not sure. Doesn't matter much to me because if there are any that "believe that our schools aren't what they should be" then that's not good.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:12 - I don't think I've "slammed" the hilltowns for being homogenous. It is just a fact that those towns are much more affluent and have fewer kids of color than Amherst. The diversity of the Amherst schools is precisely one of the reasons we moved here and I hoped to be able to have my kids attend our schools K to 12. Obviously that is a big disadvantage of private school for me (and I imagine for many parents), and that is certainly one of the factors families have to weigh when making choices about where their kids attend school.

Anonymous 9:12 - Do I think families will pull their kids because they don't like the superintendent? No - that certainly seems laughable. Do I think families will pull their kids when they don't feel comfortable with the education their kids are getting? Yes. Do I feel that the superintendent plays a major role in influencing the type of education provided in our schools? Yes.

I actually think the parallel with the town manager is wrong, because the difference is that kids have a very limited time to be educated - you can't hold them in place and wait for the schools to improve. I am totally comfortable living in a town and waiting for it to improve while I continue to live there. But for children, each year in school really matters, and if parents don't think a school is working for their kids, they can and do make other options. It is a lot easier to drive your kid to a public school in another town or a private school or a charter school than to sell your house and/or find a new job. That is really the difference.

Anonymous said...

There is a continuing problem with a public school system that has teachers and administrators who believe that there is absolutely no limitation on their right to participate in the public processes to determine their boss as well the elected officials sworn to oversee them. It's a problem that will linger on well after the Sanderson term of service.

Why? Because such full participation undermines the public's perception of their professionalism. How? Teachers and administrators have "goodies" to dispense within the community, grades and college recommendation letters and extra help. In that respect, they have a quasi-judicial function in our lives. If they are seen as squaring off with other members of the community on political issues regarding the schools, this may undercut the belief that they are being fair to the children of those opposing citizens in distributing those "goodies".

I think that this consideration went out the window in recent weeks. And for many of us, we now see school employees as being the most potent force in town on political matters involving schools. It contradicts the whole notion of citizen oversight of a public institution, in this case, a school system.

I know that it's hard to be restrained in commenting on matters one cares so much about. And I know that some think that the First Amendment is the only thing that is relevant to school employees' rights to speak out and make Email appeals. Although I don't doubt the fervent sincerity and public spirit of school employees in getting in the middle of these debates, I respectfully believe that it has been a mistake.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Rich, you are right about the "goodies." Before one of the override votes my childs HS teachers were saying that they may not have time to write college recommendations if there were cutbacks. Yes my HS junior was very upset!

Tom Porter said...

Anon 9:12 PM:

"but how diverse is any private school your children will attend?"

This may not be what you wish to hear, but Deerfield Academy has greater diversity of student body than Amherst Regional High School. Greater number of cultures, language groups, and countries of origin represented; wider range of socio-economic means. And 24% of the student body is on full-need financial aid - that is, receiving at least 99% coverage of annual tuition & fees.

But there is a dress code, so I guess you could say that they all look a bit 'alike.'

Anonymous said...

Rich, It's not "goodies" it's power. And it gets exercised in our children's lives every day. And in the high school junior's life, it can affect their college choices and future.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused-I keep seeing posts that say the K enrollment has dropped this year. Why then is my child in a K class that has 22 kids in it? That seems like a large number to me. The K classroom next door to my child has 21 kids.

Anonymous said...

Catherine,

I am still mulling your question about the math meetings and their impact. I know many parents are very frustrated but, strangely, still come to the meetings. I am in that camp. It feels like a lot of effort with little result, but I might be wrong because there have been some changes.

What do other parents and school committee members think who have attended our meetings think?

I'll write more later.

Janet

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:39 - because enrollment has dropped, the number of kindergarten classes has been reduced. I am betting your child is at Fort River, where for years and years there has been 3 kindergarten classes. But this year, there are only 2. The reduction in enrollment means that some classes will in fact be larger, in part because you can't balance out additional kids that enroll late as well when you must divide them only between 2 classes as opposed to 3 (or in some grades at Fort River and Wildwood, 4 classes).

Anonymous said...

Tom Porter: Deerfield Academy is relatively diverse b/c it's a world-class boarding school whose student body reflects its international reputation. However, private elementary schools such as the Common School are extremely homogeneous.

Abbie said...

I look forward to hearing more details about the program that is to be implemented around assessment and intervention. Will this mean more tests for kids? I thought that report cards were assessments. How will the data collected from the assessments be better than those from report cards? I understand the importance for entering kindergartners as they haven't had any report cards yet. I also see the potential value in an assessment at the beginning of each grade but I also see that the previous year's last report card also includes information. How much will this program cost? Why can't we use the data from report cards to drive decisions about intervention? How is that incomplete?

Anonymous said...

Catherine-this is a K classroom at CF where there are usually just 2 K classrooms. 22 kindergartners seems like a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

tom
get real about diversity at deerfield...i graduated from DA in 2008...the kids who were on financial aid...were all the kids brought there to play sports for post-graduate....no foreign kid was on financial aid unless the prince of jordan is going broke

Anonymous said...

catherine, do you believe the national search failed? geryk went through the whole giant, expensive process you wanted, , and you said you would embrace whoever was chosen. and you actually said you would embrace whoever was chosen AFTER geryk was selected as one of the 3 finalists. what changed? should we ask for our money back from the search firm?

by the way... that was a killer interview she gave. don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

That's not true at all about Deerfield. You obviously did not go there, in 2008 or any other year. My child went there and said it was more diverse than the high school here. Not only that, EVERYONE mingled. There were no cliques. There were groups who definitely enjoyed each others company, but everyone was friends with everyone. Kids from different grades hung out together. Kids from differently ethnicities and countries hung out together. It is very diverse, and they most definitely have scholarships that are ethnicity specific. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catherine A. Sanderson said...

So, I'm trying to post all comments, but want to remind blog readers the point of this blog is to discuss education issues and/or share your thoughts/questions with me. Attacks on me, or other posters, don't help contribute to that dialogue.

Anonymous said...

well then, clearly we should try to be a lot more like deerfield academy.

clearly.

CF parent said...

Catherine,
The Town of Amherst has started advertising for tenants for the Butternut affordable housing project on Longmeadow Dr. The development will contain 26 units, many of them for families. 1) Which Amherst elementary school district will the students living in the development be included in, 2) has the school district/school committee projected how many new students are expected to enter the Amherst schools as a result of this project?
I think that of this project was considered in the elementary school redistricting, but am not sure anymore, so an update would be most helpful. Many thanks!
Thanks!

janet McGowan said...

Catherine, you asked: How I feel about the parent math meetings? The parents started the meetings frustrated; I think most of us remain so. Maybe we have accomplished more than I think, but it doesn’t feel that way. Here’s some history.
I organized these meetings between parents and some administrators last spring, a little while after I had joined the Communications Taskforce set up by interim superintendent Geryk, with Rick Hood as chair. I joined the Communications Task Force because I thought no one in the school administration was interested in what parents and students had to say. If I had a problem with my child and school, I talked only with the teacher or guidance counselor. If they couldn’t solve the problem I dropped it; my experience had been that principals ignored the difficult problems. I know that students and parents have a great deal of information about the schools and classes. I hoped that I could make a difference on the Task Force by explaining the problems I saw and experienced and suggesting concrete solutions. Boy, was I wrong.
In the first Communications Taskforce meeting, many problems were discussed and all sorts of solutions to the lack of communication between the schools, parents and teachers were raised. People had a lot of ideas. An internet helpdesk for parents asking questions, a system for principals to track complaints to teachers to see if and how they were resolved, an independent website for parents to ask questions, surveying students about their courses, etc. Then, just before the second Taskforce meeting, the acting superintendent sent a memo removing the part of the Taskforce's charge that dealt with improving parent and student communication with the schools. The second meeting appears to have been the Taskforce’s last. In the fall, I wrote to the acting superintendent asking if the Taskforce was dead. No answer. Rick Hood tells me he faults himself for the death of the Taskforce.
....more...

Janet McGowan also said...

Around the time of the two Taskforce meetings, a friend copied me on her email exchange with the ARMS principal over when 6th grade parents would be told about the test to place students out of 7th grade math and into Honors Algebra. For years, this test was unknown to many parents. Feeling the spirit of the Communications Taskforce, I suggested to my friend that she should organize a meeting between the principal and parents. After raising this issue for years, she didn’t want to, so I organized a meeting. I invited Rick Hood to join in because I knew he cared about the issue of poor communication – and so he could hear how the system really worked for many parents.
Fifteen parents met three times with ARMS administrators for about 90 minutes each time. More parents wanted to attend, but I thought our group was already too large and discouraged them from joining. Most parents complained of getting little information about the test to place out of 7th grade math and into Honors Algebra. The test itself was challenged. Some students failing the test had been put into the Honors Algebra class after parental pressure – then went on to earn A’s. We thought the test should be shorter, be given at the end of 6th grade and that weight be given to 6th grade teacher recommendations and 6th grade test scores. Low numbers of ARMS students complete algebra by the end of 8th grade -- especially low-income students – compared to other schools. (Unlike other middle schools, ARMS has no regular 7 or 8th grade algebra classes.) Parents also had many problems with the 7th grade Extensions program. They thought 12 and 13 year-olds shouldn’t make decisions about whether to take on the extra Extensions problems when this decision affected their math program through the end of high school. Extensions also often required a large amount of parental coaching. Nothing we said was unique. Parents had talked about these problems for years.
Results? The 7th grade math class was changed and improved to incorporate and teach the Extension problems as part of regular 7th grade math curriculum, not leaving it to 7th graders to decide. Information on 7th grade math routes went out last spring to 6ht grade parents, information was posted on the ARMS website, as were summer math problems. A few more 7th graders made it into Honors Algebra. I think that our at times noisy math group can claim these changes.
But this fall parents were not told when the 2-hour afterschool test for Honors Algebra was being held. The accuracy and fairness of the selection process (and this long test) are still unclear to me. There are still no regular algebra classes offered to 7th and 8th graders, unlike other schools.

....more...

Anonymous said...

In early January, our math group met with the new curriculum director who had told me that she wanted to hear from parents. At the meeting, we discussed elementary math in light of Dr. Chen’s report. Many parents agreed with Chen’s assessment and pressed for a textbook committee to be established immediately so that a new program could be in place by the fall. We had been talking about these problems for years and felt that finding a solution was urgent. The result has been that two parents were added to the K-16 math council and there are plans for a textbook committee but it has not met yet since the curriculum director has been waiting two months for the arrival of the textbooks to be reviewed. Maybe these changes are a consequence of our meetings, maybe not. People have been pushing for changes in elementary math for years.
Are these a lot of results? It sure doesn’t feel like it. But the parents math group will meet again with the curriculum director to talk about math in the other schools.
I now think there is an administrative control over information that just I cannot understand. Are we in the Bourne Conspiracy or an episode of Hoarders? Simple questions take many emails or meetings to get answered. Some information is never provided. A few months ago a parent contacted me to ask me how to file a Public Records Request because no one in the administration would say who was on the K-16 Math Council. I recently learned that a parent had to file a Public Records Request to get a copy of the CORE evaluation of the elementary schools. Is any of this information a secret? Similarly, The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, formed a year ago to gathering information on the town and school budget, disbanded because they couldn’t get answers to their questions.

Despite my involvement and interest, I actually don't know what the acting superintendent, the new curriculum director or the K-16 Council think about the Chen report. Do they agree with his analysis of problems and solutions I was told that there would be a town-wide meeting for parents to discuss the Chen report (released last November). Now, into mid- February and I just found out no meeting will be held. A draft Action Plan has been issued by the curriculum director and the K-16 Math Council. None of the parents in our math group bothered to ask for a copy. One parent simply filed a Public Records request for it.
A parent of color recently told me that many minority parents no longer get involved in the schools since their concerns are routinely ignored. The absence of parents of color at the superintendent search meetings I attended confirmed this lack of involvement. I know many SPED parents feel the same way. I truly understand.
It seems to me that the push for change in recent years has come from parents – and school committee members with children in the schools. We feel a sense of urgency. We know time goes fast and how deeply kids are affected by their schooling. Years lost ignoring and examining and re-examining problems cannot be recovered. Many children, particularly low-income students, struggle academically in our schools for years. I know many teachers share our sense of urgency but wonder whom else?

Janet McGowan

Debbie Gabor said...

Janet, I share your sense of urgency. I believe there needs to be immediate formation of a textbook committee, with elementary teachers as essential members. They could use a rubric, as well as their classroom expertise, to compare, say, four sets of textbooks, including Investigations and Primary Mathematics, and pick the most effective and relevant curriculum to use in the fall of 2011. I know that parent volunteers would happily call publishers and ask for rush delivery of sample books, so our teachers can get to work on the comparison right away.

Anonymous said...

to anon 8:51 a.m. please read my post again...i did not say there wasn't any diversity i said most of the international kids did not receive financial aid ....2 very different things.....

Tom Porter said...

Anon. Feb 12 11:57 PM:

by the way... that was a killer interview [Geryk] gave. don't you agree?

I agree. As long as you don't listen too closely. Go back and play it again,
http://bit.ly/Gerykspeak
only this time, take this challenge:

Move the slider to anywhere in the 2+ hour interview, then transcribe the next 2 or 3 sentences you hear.

Does the language present facts, answer the question asked? Or does it focus on interaction dynamics, concentrate on intentions, feelings and self esteem? When the question is "What results have you generated?" and the response is something along the lines of, "The teachers are SO excited to HAVE these conversations, become engaged in believing in the whole child and creating a dialog with the possibility of real results in a community of shared responsibility where everyone feels valued," you have to sift away the ed-speak and you may not find much else.

I have not met Ms. Geryk, and I confess I found myself really drawn to her as I watched the entire interview. So engaged, yet the words so elusive. I easily see why many of the teachers may like her. For me though, the lingo was so impenetrable, the mumbo so jumbo, that I came away baffled.

I'm sure others heard differently. Maybe it was a 'killer' interview. It certainly did the trick.

Anonymous said...

Janet McGowan has just summarized our problems. And they go on and on and on; it's a lack of responsiveness.

"Ignore them and they will go away."

So our administrators wait us out. Hey, that has worked in the past. Parents get tired; their kids move through the schools so their concerns become moot. Wait them out, and they will go away. Works every time.

Anonymous said...

Catherine: will you please explain to us why you (and Steve) didn't fight for us, and for Dr. Rodriguez, and for the kids, when Dr. Rodriguez was presented with the information that is in the evaluation he received the day before he resigned?

Things would be better if he stayed, right?

Why did you let it just "happen"?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Janet - thanks for the detailed list of things that have been attempted and things that have failed. I agree it gets frustrating. I met with Jere Hochman in January of 2006 (and SC members Andy and Elaine) to share concerns re. math (along with many other parents). We are now in February of 2011 and nothing has changed. It is indeed frustrating.

Tom - I think people saw each of the superintendent interviews in very different ways - as Kathy W. actually noted during the superintendent selection meeting. But I actually believe interviews are less relevant than actual performance - and so when I voted, it was more on the totality of the person's experience and accomplishments than on what he/she said during a 2 hour interview.

Anonymous 10:13 - as you probably know, I can't comment on events and discussions that occurred in executive session, and what anyone did or did not say at any point. Dr. Rodriguez decided to leave following a meeting with the three chairs: Andy, Farshid, and Tracy. I wasn't at that meeting, so I can't possibly even know what factors led him to decide to resign.

What I think is important to acknowledge is that Dr. Rodriguez brought an outsider's eye on our district (not only his own but also through hiring outside experts such as Dr. Hamer and Dr. Beers), and was very willing to acknowledge problems (he did not seem to share the pattern we've seen historically of ignoring/denying problems and hoping they will go away). Moreover, and as I said at the meeting last Sunday, I am struck by the real differences in which Dr. Rodriguez was treated by our community (the SC and the administration) versus Ms. Geryk. Dr. Rodriguez was given 8 months (4 months after we had set goals) to have a midterm evaluation, whereas Ms. Geryk hasn't had any evaluation in her 11 months. Dr. Rodriguez was held to strict deadlines (and met them) - and produced the first budget in December. It is February 14th as I write this, and we have yet to see a budget for Amherst or Regional (two budget meetings have been canceled since budgets weren't ready). It is hard for me to understand why Dr. Rodriguez was held to such different standards than Ms. Geryk.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two more thoughts (following up on Janet's long commentary on communication/lackthereof in the district):

1. I am on the SC, a pretty involved parent, and attended all three math meetings this spring/summer. And I had NO IDEA when the test for 8th grade algebra was given. I remember the MS sent out several robo-calls the first week of school: one was to announce picture day, one was to announce a .25 cent change in the price of lunch, and one was to announce fall sport options. Yet there was no call or email or letter about the placement test, and I learned about this test only from a friend, who asked me if my son had taken it (my son hadn't shared any information with me about the test).

2. I have written 3 textbooks, and in my experience, publishers are very eager to get copies of their books into the hands of people who will potentially adopt them (such requests are often sent via overnight mail, in my experience). I am very surprised that the Chen report was delivered in October and it is February and our curriculum director still hasn't received copies of the material she needs. That is really unfortunate, and I hope Ms. Graham is able to follow up on her requests and make sure these materials are delivered promptly so that this important work of reviewing books can occur.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

CF Parent - my recollection from when we voted on the redistricting is a number of these apartments are actually one-bedrooms, and hence the thought was these are not going to go to families. But this increase was considered at the time of the redistricting (as well as other potential affordable housing developments in other parts of town), and this development is districted in CF. Our goal in the redistricting was to stay within 5 to 10% at all schools, and we are actually within 1% right now (all three schools are 37 or 38%), so even some increase would allow us to stay within our target. I believe we will see enrollment projections at a meeting this week (this will go with budget projections, presumably), and it is possible some additional kids will be projected to be in CF as a result (though I'm not sure how much of this housing would be ready by this fall?).

CF parent said...

Catherine,
The Butternut housing project is being advertised for initial occupancy this June 1st. According to information on the web site of the developer (HAP), the 26 units break down as follows:
• Three 1-bedroom apartments
• Fourteen 2-bedroom apartments
• Nine 3-bedroom townhouses

70% of the units are being reserved for families that already live or work in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

"...(Geryk) hasn't had an evaluation in her 11 months."

Well, yeah, but Geryk has never been our superintendent; she's just been a "filler" until we spent the sufficient time, money, and other resources to find the right person.

Anonymous said...

The letter from the town manager says Butternut Farm will be taking applications for a lottery on April 15 for initial occupancy on 6/1. The HAP website says 3 one bedroom, 14 two bedroom and 9 three bedroom. More info at
haphousing.org/butternut

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Butternut link on Town website

HAP Butternut link (more details)

Butternut Lottery Information Session at Jones Library Thursday March 3, 2011 7pm

Brain said...

Blogger Tom Porter said...

"This may not be what you wish to hear, but Deerfield Academy has greater diversity of student body than Amherst Regional High School. Greater number of cultures, language groups, and countries of origin represented; wider range of socio-economic means. And 24% of the student body is on full-need financial aid - that is, receiving at least 99% coverage of annual tuition & fees."

Mr. Porter may want to re-read the Deerfield Academy website. It does not say that 24% of the student body is on full-need financial aid. It says that "over 24% of our financial aid recipients received full need grants."

There is a BIG difference.

Deerfield also says that 35% of the student body receives financial aid. So, 24% of 35% of the student body is getting full need grants.

Who wants to do the math? OK, I'll do it.

That's 8% not 24%.

See: http://www.deerfield.edu/apply/6/Financial_Aid

Brain said...

Tom Porter also said:

"Deerfield Academy has greater diversity of student body than Amherst Regional High School. Greater number of cultures, language groups, and countries of origin represented; wider range of socio-economic means."

Well, obviously, Deerfield is going to have students from greater countries of origins and number of cultures. It is a private boarding school that draws people from all over the world. What do you expect? Public schools by definition draw people from their own geographic area. Are you suggesting that the Amherst Public Schools start recruiting wealthy students from California, Asia or Africa, like Deerfield does?

With regard to diversity, the fact that 65% (2/3) of the Deerfield student body is able to pay the $43,800 a year tuition, room and board ($31,400 for day student) does not speak highly to a diverse economic background for its students.

Could 65% of the students in the Amherst Public Schools afford to pay $43,800 per student?

What percentage of students at Deerfield would qualify for free school lunch using the criteria used the Amherst schools? Is it as high as 50% -- a figure cited about the Amherst public schools and used as both a point of concern and also a bragging point to show our diversity?