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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Two News Pieces on My Decision

I just wanted to draw my blog readers' attention to two new pieces that have covered my decision to not seek re-election.

First, you can now watch my interview on Amherst Media, with Issac Ben Ezra, via streaming:

Second, an ARHS student, Aidan Chesworth, has written a piece for the Graphic on my decision, and I'm pasting (with his permission) his story below. I'd just like to add one thing to his story for clarity - my three kids are still in the public schools, and I have no specific plans right now to have my own kids leave the public schools for the upcoming year. However, I didn't, and I don't, feel like I can make a commitment to keeping all of my kids in the public schools for the next three years, which is why I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to seek re-election.

Graphic//Catherine Sanderson
February 26th 2011
322 Words

Catherine Sanderson, a professor at Amherst Collage and three-year member of the Amherst school committee, announced recently that she would not run for school committee reelection. She is known throughout the community by supporters and critics alike for her progressive and reformist attitudes, as well as her popular school committee blog. The main reason for her decision was what she deemed her “loss of faith” in public schools.

Sanderson has received flak from anonymous commenters on her blog for her decision to pull her own children out of public schools. “I didn’t feel comfortable making decisions about the school and not having them affect my kids,” Sanderson said.

Her moral issues with staying on the school committee with children in alternate schooling did not run concurrent with the thoughts of other school administrators. While she wouldn’t mention specific names, Sanderson said that several school committee members had sent their children to private schools. Even ARHS principal Mark Jackson doesn’t send his child to public school. “It’s like if I walked into Chili’s for dinner, and saw the manager in the back eating Applebee’s food. I would think ‘why isn’t he eating here? Maybe I shouldn’t either,’” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said that her time as school committee member has caused her to become “more depressed” about public schooling. She fears the development of a two-tiered education system in America, where every family that can afford it sends their children to private school and public schools are exclusively for children from low-income households. This fear’s growth was facilitated by Amherst’s strong resistance to change, which Sanderson said she “didn’t understand the depth of” when she first ran for school committee.

Despite all of this, Sanderson said she was glad she served on the school committee. “Good things happened,” she said, and she was satisfied with many of the changes she helped realize. “If I ever felt the same passion and energy I felt in 2008 [in a different community], I would consider running again,” she said.


Anonymous said...

It saddens me in a way that you are not running. Perhaps it's more the reasons why than anything else. Your realization that Amherst is--always has been and I'm glad that you finally came to this conclusion--a two tiered system, as you so graciously put it. It looks like however committed to abolishing this two tiered system you may have been, you are going to join the ranks of those privately educating their children...sadder still... that what you left behind was a broken system, a closed high functioning elementary school, stopped open enrollment, which was in fact the one way poorer families could try and give their children an 'equal' opportunity at an education mostly received from the upper tier because of the location of their school in relation to the high end neighborhoods. I know you also pushed for redistricting, but you may not ever realize how disruptive this was to the many families you professed to be helping. :-(
And the gap continues to grow...

Anonymous said...

Once the Sanderson bashing dies away (nobody took up the drumbeat for the first time in a long time this week in the Bulletin), poor and minority parents may realize belatedly that they just lost a friend on the School Committee.

The best defense for the status quo is a good offense.

Anonymous said...

And my belief is that once Catherine Sanderson is gone poor and minority parents will realize that they have a new friend on the School Committee.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Because Katherine Appy will truly be a friend to the poor and minority community - not just say they are a friend.

Anonymous said...

Not bashing...really...just stating the obvious truth.
And the gap goes on....

Anonymous said...

And, what is KAtherine Appy's platform? What is she passionate about for our schools? What has she identified as areas of our school district that need improvement?

I have heard nothing about what she stands for. I did read something a while ago that says she wants to sit on the SC and listen to what the issues are. She lives in the town, and works for the schools (should that disqualify someone for being on SC, I wonder?), she should be current on issues, concerns etc. if she is to run.

Anonymous said...

Katherine Appy does not work for the schools.

Anonymous said...

Also not bashing but anon 2:39 is right. Katherine Appy doesn't seem to stand for anything other than being nice.
Being nice is grand, and can win popularity contests, but doesn't get things done. Catherine Sanderson stood for something and got bashed for that. What a town...
What will happen now to the elementary math curriculum, trimester system, parent concerns about the high school science curriculum. Katherine Appy will be nice and agreeable and nothing will change. I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

So......before she ever gets a chance to show her stuff, Katherine Appy is labeled in unflattering ways.
What a blog...

Anonymous said...

"What will happen now to the elementary math curriculum, trimester system, parent concerns about the high school science curriculum."

The SC has no control over any of these issues. Ms. Graham present a new action plan last week that concerns the ES math curriculum, as well as MS and HS math. The Superintendent accepted the plan and it is now in implementation stage. The trimester system will be part of contract negotiations this year. And from what I hear of the 9th grade science class, many many parents are very happy with it. It is not up to the SC to dictate science curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Will someone please post the link to Katherine Appy's blog?

Anonymous said...

A student newspaper is a "news piece" on your decision? Distributed to the students, assembled by a class? Really? That's a news piece that credits citing on your blog? Couldn't get any more substantial press to keep your name in lights?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:53
Appy has had the opportunity to "show her stuff"--what does she want to DO on the School Committee? This is her campaign time, and I haven't heard a thing. What's her position on Dr. Chen's math report? Why haven't we ever seen her speak at School Committee meetings?

Anonymous said...

Dear "I hope I'm wrong."

One thing we know before we find out anything about Ms. Appy is that you are prejudice. Here you are publicly exclaiming your views based on hearsay.

Bravo to that dead weight aspect of our town who can't let go of the fact that Ms. Sanderson decided to not run again.

How long will this, "Gee here are some more reasons I decided not to run" go on?

So, she stepped down. Get over it and try to keep an open mind until Ms. Appy gives you something specific to whine about.

Anonymous said...

There is still some hope among parents that Irv Rhodes and Steve Rivkin will continue to push for improvements even after Catherine is no longer on the SC. Unfortunately, it takes a majority vote for things to get done. I wish them luck!

Anonymous said...

What's this?

No more gratuitous shots at Catherine Sanderson in this week's Bulletin?

Are we coming to the end of an era?

What will these holier than thou types do to amuse themselves now?

Actually, I think we know. One down, three to go.

Anonymous said...

Actually it's one down and two to go.

Anonymous said...

Katherine Appy has spoken about her views. They really boil down to one thing: we need to support teachers. Teachers have to be supported even at the expense of everything else. They are the experts and any critique of the system will be seen as a critique of teachers.

I am a teacher and I am uncomfortable with this position.

Anonymous said...

Here's what Katherine Appy actually says on her Web site:

My Vision

My vision for the Amherst public schools is founded on the belief that the goals of excellence and equity are compatible. Schools should inspire and support every student’s fullest potential. Academic achievement is fundamental, but it is also inseparable from other forms of development –social, physical, political, emotional and artistic.

I believe schools improve when there is open and civil communication and collaboration among teachers, parents, guardians, and administrators. When change grows out of common effort and mutual respect even difficult choices can earn enough consent to enact them effectively. A top down approach to school reform doesn’t work. Teachers and administrators should be recognized for the professionals they are and treated as such. As a member of the school committee, I will use my skills and commitment to foster the kind of collaborative structure that produces positive change.

My Priorities

1/ Student Success: We need a more expansive definition of student achievement, one that includes and promotes the rich variety of gifts education should foster. We should prepare students not just for the next test or the next curricular step, but for a life of challenges and opportunities. My definition of achievement includes creativity, curiosity, and the willingness to take intellectual risks and accept new challenges. The challenge is to promote and measure in a broad and forward-thinking manner.

2/ Inclusion: Successful school systems thrive on collaboration; they respectfully encourage the participation of community members, parents and guardians, teachers, students, and administrators. The ultimate goal is not collaboration itself, but collaboration is a necessary precondition for the kind of open and trusting debate that produces the most meaningful and enduring reform.

3/ Civic Responsibility: Successful schools do not isolate academic goals from the effort to promote citizenship and moral courage. As Thurgood Marshall said, the first priority of education is “ learning to live together as fellow citizens.” The School Committee should be a model of civic involvement for our students; it should exemplify civil, democratic debate in pursuit of the public good.

Anonymous said...

Essentially this sounds like a classic case of manipulating the goalposts to guarantee our schools get to claim success. Is Ms. Appy seeking to have achievement defined as politeness and poetry and some vague idea of "moral courage"?

Using Ms. Appy's guidelines, we may be able to conclude we are the MOST successful school system in the country, since it allows us to ignore those metrics that are commonly used to evaluate the success of children, teachers, schools, and administrators in the nation and around the world.

Under these guidelines, I can't imagine we can hold anyone accountable at all, including Ms. Appy.

But the real point is this: Where is the evidence that students are *not* being encouraged to be creative or to express themselves? Where is the evidence they are *not* taught about civic responsibility or that they don't learn about moral courage? Where is the evidence that these problems are hindering our children as they progress through life? What research can Ms. Appy share with us that leads her to believe that these matters are what need to be addressed in our schools as opposed to other pressing issues?

I would also honestly like to know: what specific policies or practices have made other teachers feel unsupported and not included?

Now, I do think there is evidence that many people *don't* think there should be collaboration - including Ms. Appy - especially if it involves anyone being held accountable or using evidence driven practices. Ms. Appy wants to the SC to dramatically narrow its responsibilities, for example. Teachers should be considered experts and not be questioned. Principals should be supported and not questioned. To do otherwise, I'll bet, would be deemed "uncivil" and not "collaborative."

If my impression is wrong, I'd truly like to hear more from her about how authentic collaboration could be implemented and how she intends to create a space where, for example, teachers feel free to disagree with other powerful teachers in the schools, where parents feel free to discuss matters that worry them without fear that their kids' recommendations will not be written, and where administrators feel free to give the SC, teachers, and parents the data we need in a timely manner to make difficult decisions and make changes - even if that data might reflect poorly on the schools.

Given that the school system has limited time (half day Wednesdays anyone? Multiple study halls?) and limited budgets, I certainly hope Ms. Appy's worldview doesn't lead to new initiatives (which I can see becoming yet more thinly disguised study halls) with the intent to teach children about how to be creative or morally courageous. Those ideas should be communicated, and teachers like me have ALWAYS communicated them, as we teach core subjects. What we need is for students to be challenged with reading, math, science, history, geography, languages, art and music. What we don't need is more digression from the core. The truth is, in life - no matter what job or career they choose - learning to be better and more critical readers and writers, to have better math skills, to know history and languages, is only going to help our students. The less we focus on these core subjects, the more we leave behind the kids who need it most.

Ethan said...

To: March 20, 2:53

Amen. It's great to see a post like this, especially coming from a teacher.