Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Glowing Review?

The worst state report card in seven years for Amherst Elementary Schools

Not sure what Amherst Regional School Committee members were looking at in a dispassionate way (it's hard not to be passionate about a personable lady) when they came up with such a saintly review of Maria Geryk's first year as superintendent without "interim" in front of it.

At $16,413 vs state average of $13,055, Amherst elementary schools have the highest average cost per student in the Valley , a student/teacher ratio of 10 to 1 when the state average is 13.9 to 1.

And with Amherst average teacher salaries at $66,000 that enviably low student teacher ratio adds up. Now throw in the 21 administrators (Elementary and Region) making over $85,000; which is why our average cost per child for "administration" is a whopping $698 vs state average of $446.

But we get less than whopping results--especially with low income and minority children, who failed to reach proficiency at a higher rate than state average. Our Special Education results are certainly not special, with 82% failing to reach proficiency vs state average of 70%. Particularly disconcerting since Maria Geryk came from a special ed background.

A background that does not, however, include a doctorate...in a town where coffee baristas have one.

Even though Regional School Committee member Debbie Gould's husband is employed by the Regional Schools she penned the only part of the evaluation made public. No direct conflict of interest I suppose, but a little open disclosure would have been nice.

Like when Dr. Rebecca Woodland from the UMass School of Education (where Ms. Geryk attended) appeared before the School Committee 9/22/10 to sing the praise of Maria, she could have mentioned the no-bid $96,000 teacher training contract Ms. Geryk gave her that very week.

According to School Committee minutes: "Rebecca Woodland, parent and UMass education professor, stated that she believes it is unwarranted and unwise to go forward with a Superintendent search and doing so would amount to a vote of no confidence in Ms. Geryk. She noted that she has worked with Superintendents across the state and Ms. Geryk has accomplished more in her seven months on the job than most new superintendents accomplish in three to five years."

And considering our lack of Adequate Yearly Progress this past year, Dr. Woodland's expensive services do not seem to have resulted in better teaching.

Such a glowing review after one year as "interim superintendent" and now a full year as real deal superintendent does not give Ms. Geryk much incentive to do anything differently. Maybe the schools do not require an entire 12 step rehab program, but they could unquestionably benefit by the first step: Admit there's a problem!

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you even have clue one about all the new programs Ms. Geryk has instituted since becoming Superintendent? The total school reform that is now occurring in our schools that will go a long way toward closing the achievement??? Do you know anything about educational reform - such as it takes time to see the results of the new programs - kinda like turning around a big ship! Your post smacks of blatant ignorance of what the exciting reforms that are happening in our schools today. No surprise there. You are not in the least bit interested in learning about them. You are only interested in bashing Maria Geryk. The part I don't understand is why people in this town hate her so much, including you. What has she ever done to you?
And you want to be on the school committee. You don't know the first thing about education.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I was waiting for the "big ship" metaphor. The Titanic was a "big ship."

Steve said...

I don't think pointing out what we pay is "bashing"

Anonymous said...

The whole post is bashing...Larry does not even begin to address all the new reform measures that have been put in place are continuing to be put in place to improve academic achievement. Yes, currently Amherst has some problems and Ms. Geryk is instituting whole system reform to address these problems. Yet, all Larry can do is point out the problems that currently exist w/o any attempt to acknowledge that Ms. Geryk is addressing those problems. To me, that is bashing.

Again, Larry, you are not a journalist - you are a muckraker. You don't even attempt to be even-handed. Have you ever considered interviewing Ms. Geryk to learn about all the new initiatives she is putting into place? Are you even interested in learning about them??? Or do you prefer to sit on the sidelines and hurl accusations.

Anonymous said...

To anon@854:

If there are no improvements on this year's MCAS? What will you say? Not enough time? At what point will we decide some of these reforms might not be effective? There is little in place now to actually determine whether ANY of these 'reforms' are effective, a point I think Ms Appy raised at a SC mtg. How will we know that they WORK? There was a huge investment in the elementary math (close to $500K), if this doesn't translate into increased achievement then it should be abandoned immediately and alternative approaches considered. This $500K (math curriculum director+math coaches), btw, happens to be about the gap in elementary funding (so this gap could be entirely attributed to this new math program 'reform', rather than increase in salaries, as stated in a recent Bulletin article)

Anonymous said...

You know this gets to be such an old topic. The school system can come up with all the reasons in the world as to why things aren't working, but let's be realistic. If this was a private business with a suffering product(students) then there would be swift and decisive action being taken place. Instead we get to listen to how they are working a reform, which will probably mean another committee to access and anlyze every nook and cranny to it's infinite proportion at some outragous cost. We pay allot to make this business run productivly, so this is not bashing it is requesting results in a timely manner. Which I can almost predict with certainty the school system won't even fathom to try and predict how long the reform around will take. As far as costs break it down folks, if all admin. and teachers are honest with themselves, take your yearly salary divide it by the actual hours you work per year and many will find they are doind well enough that they can't cry poverty to loud at an averge of $66,000 per year. Ms. Geryk should try some PR work and announce some of the things that she is doing it might make many of us much more understanding.

Anonymous said...

Yea, if the new programs don't show any changes in one year let's throw them out and start over again!!! One year for major changes and improvement is more than enough time! I'm with you Anon 9:51!

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget that there have been multiple outside studies done of our schools by real and respected experts. Once those experts found real problems and suggested solutions that would entail real work -- as opposed to more funding for teacher training and more $85,000 -$120,000 per year administrators -- those reports were tossed.

Amherst could fix lots of its problems if it realized it isn't unique and special and if it just did what other similar towns do, rather than throw money at administrators and hire "coaches" to teach our highly paid teachers how to teach.

Jason Perry said...

Scary that the defense of this overspending is couched in "edu-speak." "Total school reform,"new programs," "big ships (!!!)."

Pretty threatening to ask questions about whether dollars are being well spent. How dare anyone ask if there are results or even more distantly, if the results, such as they are, are a good return on investment. SPEND, that's the answer. Just don't ask where the money is going, and DON'T EVER ask if there are conflicts of interest. That will certainly get you crossed off people's Christmas card list.

Get 'em, LK!

LarryK4 said...

Thanks Jay. (Somebody has to).

Steve said...

Isn't that the truth Jason... nice

Anonymous said...

With all the taxes that are going into our schools, we have a right to find out how our schools fare academically. Ms. Geryk is a perfectly nice person, but she might not be a strong advocate for changing current policies or strengthening our programs. I wouldn't mind the Bulletin's reporting if it was objective, that is, written with at least some of evidence of changes made to improve our system. This is not a personal vendetta against Geryk, it is just asking that the facts be made accessible to the public; then maybe we can figure out if what's currently being employed is actually working. thanks for this post Larry. isabel

Anonymous said...

folks should read the report (http://www.arps.org/node/3582) and associated documents. I would hardly call the review "glowing". In many areas, her performance is deemed proficient. Is that glowing? But I wonder why only 3 Amherst SC members submitted evaluations? Perhaps, Rivkin left before the deadline, but who else didn't provide and evaluation? Did I miss something?

I hope Ms. Geryk improves in the areas indicated. She is a very nice person and I believe her heart is mostly in the right place.

LarryK4 said...

I was going by the Gazette/Bulletin article, which a lot of people rely on (although less and less these days).

Anonymous said...

Rob Spence did not fill out his evaluation - at least that is what the paper said. An exemplary member of our School committee.

Anonymous said...

"I would hardly call the review "glowing". In many areas, her performance is deemed proficient. Is that glowing? But I wonder"

Proficient is one level below exemplary. I would say that is pretty good. Maria got all exemplary or proficient on her "report card" - in other words, all As and Bs. I would not call that too shabby!

LarryK4 said...

Well according the front page of tomorrow's Amherst Bulletin, she "aced" it.

Anonymous said...

Did you bother looking at how many school districts are failing to make AYP, including the vaunted comparison districts? I love it when people trivialize how easy it is to make changes to a system to improve outcomes. It happens in the private sector as well as the public. Let's look at local health clubs for example. A couple were under performing financially, so management implemented changes which resulted in a quick turn around. Oops, bad example...

This is not to make excuses for anyone. Real changes are needed, but to expect a entrenched system to change in such a short time is unreasonable. The effort is being expended to create the needed change. As for salaries, most of these were in place before current administration. If the people are doing their jobs well, can you just fire them because their salary is deemed by some too high?

Let's go back to MCAS results. Is this the only benchmark for success? It's an important measurement, but to some, it seems to be the only measurement. If it's so critical, why aren't private schools required to pass MCAS?

LarryK4 said...

Belchertown made AYP in both ELA and Math in 2011 overall and for all subgroups and spent $10,619 per student, about $6,000 per student less than Amherst.

Now multiply that difference by 1,100 students!

Anonymous said...

Is it exemplary of Maria Geryk to have chosen Beth Graham for math curriculum and then to keep Beth even though she wasn't up for the job and hire yet another administrator who won't improve the math curriculum? Has anyone heard of any academic initiative Ms. Geryk has put forward? The current "yes men" school committee (including yes woman appy) won't ever make meaningful change. But as long as all the adults are happy about that, who cares about the kids?

Like, really, I am goinna... said...

I only wish I could say everything i knew...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with anon. January 26, 2012 9:38 PM. The schools here are not doing their job. The school committee is a joke. We pulled our kids from the public schools in 2000, and have never looked back. It was the best decision we ever made.

LarryK4 said...

Exactly why I allow "Anon" comments.

(And have to put up with all the Cowardly Anon Nitwit comments in order to get to the gems.)

Anonymous said...

all we hear is how excellent the amherst schools are, so are the teachers, test scores are high. then we hear the budget cuts are devastating, test scores are declining, reforms are being implemented to address problems that no administrator talks about openly. we have 3 reports by outside experts outlining serious problems but no one talks about them. which is it--excellence or serious problems that need change? what are the problems?

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, school officials learned from town officials who make excuses for annual losses at the moribund municipal golf course by citing the weather and how new revenue initiatives are underway that will save the day.

It is indeed fitting that this year LSSEs annual big play production is "Annie" (The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, Tommorow)

Kathy Perry said...

Maria Geryk has no clue what goes on in our schools. She thrives on insulating herself from the day to day problems and certainly has no interest in hearing anything but glowing reports from parents. If your child is struggling she does not want to know about the issues and does not communicate directly with parents. She has failed to file reports of Educator misconduct as the law requires and the School Committee doesn't seem to be interested in rectifying that situation. Our schools are failing to provide an adequate education for many children and yet, the laws written to protect the most vunerable students are ignored by both Maria Geryk and the School Committee. Shame on you all!

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:23 good point, are the schools excellent or in dire straits? Which is it? And really, why do we always get bombed with edu-jargon? Programs, reforms, initiatives being instituted left and right but they never seem to work out, do they, and sure enough a few months down the road demands are made for more funding for more vaguely-defined initiatives and programs and reforms but there is never an admission that the previous ones were flops. Come on, how tough is it to teach kids to read and write and add and subtract using a long-proven curriculum instead of expensive novelties?

Anonymous said...

Who in the administration is in charge of curriculum now that Beth Graham has been taken off of it? And what happended to the math plan? Maybe this can go into the superintendent's newsletter.

Anonymous said...

The SC's recommendation to accept up to 40 school choice students in the elem. schools has me greatly concerned. It may be a way to bring in revenue for the schools, but it could have negative impacts elsewhere in terms of classroom size and students ability to learn, and ultimately test scores as well. The SC has said they the target class size for elem. schools is 22-24 students per class depending on the grade. That is more than the current state average class size, and is a lot for one teacher. Plus one a school choice student is accepted by the district, the district is obligated to allow them to attend Amherst schools from then on. I am particularly concerned about the recommendation to accept up to 12 school choice students for kindergarten. 12 students is more than half a classroom worth, and some of those seats could be better in kept in reserve for Amherst residents for future years --- living in a college town, there are ups and downs in elem. school enrollments from year to year, and incoming students/staff may not enroll their children in the schools until the last minute.

I love Roach Patrol! said...

Well at least we have Admiral Rick Hood working for us.

The guy's amazing isn't he?

(Anyone?)


p.s. How comes Geryk never responds here? I mean, this blog is not some trivial little deal anymore, is it?


Maria?

Anonymous said...

To Anon. January 28, 2012 6:28 AM

It really is easy to teach the kids the basics. The problem is Amherst. They want all the other touchy feely stuff included in the curriculum. Instead of basic math, the teachers and administration want it to include racial bias, or bullying, or some other stuff that is probably over a lot of the elementary school kids' heads. The basics are easy. They just don't stick to the basics here...because Amherst is "special".

Anonymous said...

The ignorance exhibited on this blog is really astounding at times.

Anonymous said...

what was of particular concern this last year is that CF did not improve overall and it should have as its kids meeting free and reduced lunch status dropped immensely (~60% to 40%). The topic came up when discussing how all the schools achievement dropped. I believe it was Irv who blithely excused this drop by stating is was due to redistricting and that many of the schools' demographics changed (although FR changed little). But CFs demographics (in terms of % FRL) actually improved, but its achievement didn't. Yet no one seems to have noticed or care. WHY?

Anonymous said...

The reason is because the Geryk culture is one of externalizing responsibility.

MCAS dropping - its the poor folk.

Math failing - not enough money for teachers....

The list can go on. The stats are telling. High cost, low performance, parents with means removing their kids.

That is what I'm doing. The next step is to sell my house in Amherst and move to Hadely or NOHO where at least the sun shines on the process of education.

Anonymous said...

For all of those people who have written that Maria has multiple programs in place to make things better could you please give us specifics. What are those programs, who are they designed to help, and how and when will we know they are working? It all looks status quo to me nothing better nothing worse. Place holders on the SC sometimes asking questions but never with any consequences for bad performance. There is no accountability. None. And if you are going to move I think Hadley is becoming over priced. NOHO looks like a better bet.

Anonymous said...

I actually don't understand how a student can be a voting member of School Committee, because of the obvious conflict of interest.