Thursday, February 9, 2012


Cutting Bully Columns

UPDATE 5:05 PM Friday:
See Comment at 5:02 PM today from Bart Hollander, Catherine Sanderson's husband.
Catherine Sanderson, as usual, hit a nerve with last week's column in the venerable Amherst Bulletin questioning the glowing evaluation the Regional School Committee bestowed upon Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk by highlighting those inconvenient truths about the high cost of education in Amherst with mediocre MCAS results, currently the most failing in over a half-dozen years.

This week's Amherst Bulletin has not one but two columns ganging up on Dr. Sanderson, written by three-out-of-four remaining Amherst School Committee members. Interestingly not a peep from any of the four hilltown committee members who presumably were as offended as the Amherst members. Or maybe Amherst has thin skinned public officials--especially now that Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin are gone.

How dare she point out the rosy report was penned by a Pelham School Committee member with a spouse working under the Superintendent!

Massachusetts public officials--both paid and volunteer--are held to a higher standard. It's not called "conflict of interest", it is called the "appearance of a conflict of interest". Kind of like in criminal cases the evidence must prove "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" vs. civil cases were it is a "preponderance of the evidence."

And having your volunteer spouse critique your highly paid boss clearly has the appearance of a conflict. The state, however, offers a simple solution: disclosure. You know, that thing called transparency--which we see very little of in Amherst.

Some might even argue appointing a high school student to the school committee smacks of an appearance of a conflict. Although we're told by reporter Nick Grabbe that the teacher was joking, newly appointed school committee member Solomon Goldstein-Rose was greeted with "I'm teaching my boss now" by a teacher at the High School on Tuesday.

Yeah, and you damn well better not give him too much homework!

Both columns use the same lame excuse town officials have relied on for 25 years protecting the Cherry Hill Golf Course: Wait until next year. Katherine Appy even manages to throw in liberals favorite boogeyman to blame, President Bush.

Yes, it takes time to turn around a big ship in a sea of molasses. But other nearby towns navigate in the same sea and seem to do as good a job in a far more cost efficient manner. As President Kennedy once said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." And Amherst has a rising tide of red ink.

Neither counter column answers that nagging question of why our cost per student is by far the highest in the area at $16,413 per student while state average is $13,055. Is it too much to ask why we don't get average adequate yearly progress when we pay 20% above average for our system?

Indeed, nobody likes a critic--especially when they're right!


Anonymous said...

I want to give the school committee the benefit of the doubt, but the more experience I have with the schools, the more I feel that I unfairly dismissed Catherine Sanderson's arguments. I dismissed them because my kid had truly great teachers, and I incorrectly assumed they were all great, but now that my kid has a mediocre teacher, I am trusting the schools and their hiring practices less and less and Sanderson more and more, and I'm coming to realize that the curriculum, in many cases, makes no logical sense.

Anonymous said...

Neither response addressed declining MCAS scores and why they are declining. What is the problem? What changed and got worse in the district? Do the new changes address the problems that no one in the administration or school committee will discuss? It's a black box.

Anonymous said...

A rising tide of red ink? Didn't we have a million dollar surplus in the town budget last year?

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. I am completely mystified as to why CF did not experience a bump in achievement (a systematic one).

Kira said...

Talking about the schools. As of last week it was just over a $500,000 deficit for the Elementary Schools and with cuts and borrowing it's now down to "only" $200,000.

LarryK said...

Oops. Slight technical difficulties.

Setting up a blog for my daughter Kira (when she goes to China) and it's created a Frankenstein with my blog, as you can see from the previous too quick of a response.

Anonymous said...

Ganging up on Catherine Sanderson???? Oh poor poor Catherine. As though she did not gang up on anyone. Sheesh! Get a grip, Larry.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if our high school is teaching the kind of reasoning I'm reading in this post?

Your kid had "truly great teachers" (plural) so you thought most of the teachers were "truly great." Then your kid "has a mediocre teacher" (singular) so now you are trusting the schools less and less and trusting Sanderson more.

Wow! Are you teaching your kids to reason like that, where one instance of mediocrity sways your entire opinion? I believe your child's teachers would call that shallow thinking and then they would likely encourage your child to take her thinking deeper.

You are consistent in your pattern as you state very generally with no specific reference to any part of the curriculum, "I'm coming to realize that the curriculum, in many cases, makes no logical sense."

Again, I can imagine one of your child's teachers saying "Gee, that's a generalization and we have to be careful with those. Do you have any evidence to support that thinking? Please state the evidence when you make claims to substantiate your thinking."

I suspect that teacher would also caution your child about the gross exaggerations you make about the curriculum when you state that in "many" cases it makes "no" sense. In this case, your choice of words is dismissing a good deal of the curriculum in the Amherst schools as illogical. Surely you can't mean that. Why would anyone, let alone an intelligent person like yourself, put their kids in schools where a good deal of hte curriculum makes no sense.

Indeed, that is completely illogical and makes me seriously question the entire community. Have we all gone mad?

And then I imagine your child's teacher would give your writing a grade of C-. Shallow thinking, lack of detailed support and gross exagg.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 2:27,

It's a blog, not a termpaper.

Anonymous said...

For a school system that is so mediocre we certainly send an awful lot of kids off to college, and very good colleges at that.

News Bulletin to the Amherst folks:


As much as a bitter Catherine Sanderson would like you to think it is.

Anonymous said...

To anon. 2:27: You really didn't need to write an essay about what a terrible writer I am. Just one more reason why so many people are hesitant to express their views.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:27's question: "Why would anyone, let alone an intelligent person like yourself, put their kids in schools where a good deal of hte curriculum makes no sense."

One person's answer (and apologies if the writing is not up to your standard): Because we had misplaced faith in the schools, don't want to move and can't afford private education.

Anonymous said...

THE SKY IS NOT FALLING........except for the children of the poor in our community.

So, if our kids are getting into great colleges, that should be the only yardstick?

What about kids who don't go to college? Don't they deserve an education, too?

Let me count the ways in which the status quo is defended, and dissent is suppressed in this community.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 3:36

I'm not at all surprised that the children of college professors, medical doctors, lawyers, and yes public school teachers are admitted to good colleges.

For the money we spend per pupil and for the excessive self congratulatory talk about our commitment to "social justice," we sure don't serve the kids on free and reduced lunch, the children of working-class single parents, the children of immigrants, the children of people who never went to college, and so on.

Sure, the kids going to the Ivies and other great schools do fine. They would be doing fine just about anywhere. Where's the value added for having the most expensive district in the region? Where are the results for all the self flagellation on issues of race, and all the "innovative" curricular interventions?

Take the top 25 kids from ARHS and put them anywhere and they do great. What is this school system doing for everyone else?

Bart Hollander said...

In a town that ravenously embraces the Emperor Has No Clothes philosophy to its public schools, we have a new princess for the emperor - bravo Katherine Appy!

I am tickled that a woman with no apparent teaching experience at any level holds the opinion that Catherine Sanderson's editorial entitled "Another View of School Chief's Record" comprised "claims [that] are inaccurate, harmfully divisive and set the worst possible educational example for our students." Putting aside the fact that I can't imagine that Ms. Sanderson's editorial was intended as an educational example for anyone, Ms. Appy might check with the countless students spanning many years who have enjoyed first-hand the "educational example" that Professor Sanderson sets before flinging that personal barb.

To borrow a phrase from the sporting world that I favor, you [Ms. Appy] can't hold her jockstrap (no really, not even close).

Ms. Appy claims to cherish "open debate about schools" from one side of her mouth, but from the other charges that "truly open debate is constrained whenever people question with gratuitous and unfounded allegations the motivations and capacities of other citizens." Hhmm. I thought Ms. Sanderson's piece was all about presenting some data -- data that some might find confounding and hard to reconcile with the rather rosy view our School Committee has presented regarding our Superintendent.

That's discourse and debate, isn't it?

It was no surprise to me that Ms. Sanderson's piece, in which she had the audacity to suggest that our schools are not performing up to snuff based on objective data collected by the State, drew a rapid response from the usual suspects who pay only lip service to the value of "open debate."

But I must admit to some surprise at the personal nature of the attack from Ms. Appy, who I understood (up until now) was the goodwill ambassador of our new School Committee. I am proud again of Ms. Sanderson's willingness to take her lumps to present a position that she believes in.

Bart Hollander -- Catherine Sanderson's husband.

Anonymous said...

You tell 'em Bart!

Anonymous said...

The new theme that is going to get repeated over and over and over is: "you haven't given her a chance." So we see Rhodes, Hood, and Appy attempt to rewrite history and redefine the reality we're in now.

The Obama comparison presented in the Bulletin was convenient since most of us have it in mind going into this election. We know that Obama was in a ditch when he started and many of us give him credit for driving us out of it, but still with a ways to go. We feel protective of his reputation so we should naturally feel the same way about poor Ms. Geryk.

So we were in a similar ditch with our schools when Ms. Geryk took over? Comparable to the desperate plight of our national economy in January of 2009? Created by whom, past school committees? My recollection is that we were once told that, contrary to Ms. Sanderson's criticisms, there were no deep systemic problems with our schools, only temporary ones that some more override money would solve. Now they're telling us that Ms. Geryk took over in the face of Bush-like mismanagement? Who knew?

The cheerleading about our schools and about Ms. Geryk's stewardship of them (and let's remember: she's been here in an administrative capacity for years) keeps changing to attempt to accomodate the lousy data. Next we'll be told that the data is completely irrelevant. Wait for it.......

The folks that we elected will say anything. "Aren't the Emperor's clothes magnificent? To say otherwise......well....would be to lack civility."

Anonymous said...

You tell'em, Bart.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:

Do the people who support Maria really think the people who don’t support her want her to fail. We don’t, because that means our kids fail. I want to see Maria succeed, I really do. I don’t want to move, I don’t want to consider private or charter school.

Since it has become clear that after 2 years Maria is not going to make changes then are only hope is the SC. The problem is the SC members don’t represent us they all talk about working with the administration. It is one thing to work within budgets and constraints with the administration, to give the people who elect you the best possible education for their kids. This is not our SC. Our committee, and I hope you are listening, have become a rubber stamp assembly.

Amherst spends way too much money to have so many unhappy parents in our school system. So either our school administration can start making meaningful, clearly quantifiable changes or the people of this town that support the status quo, should get used to taking the heat from well informed people like Catherine Sanderson for years to come.

Anonymous said...

The reality is that Maria has been in charge of the schools for 2 years. When she became the interim she hit the ground running and continued with many if not all of A-rods changes. She collaborated with just about every corner of Amherst and it was clear that she intended to do her best to stay in that position permanently.

Two years later the schools are not burning down and they are still operating. So has Maria been a good place holder, certainly. Has she played the political game well and organized an army of allies? Well I would say she has done this with the skill of any federal level politician. Let us face it she is nice, personable, and easy to talk to.

But this is where the rubber hits the road. Has anything improved? Do the concerned parents see a light at the end of any tunnel? Whether it is SPED, racial equality, academic rigor, etc, certainly not the ones I talk to. No one sees any change. Nothing! We see more talk, more you don’t understand, more give us more time, more we need more money, more assistants, more studies, and more we will get back to you. Ahh, the status quo.

I don’t blame Maria for all of our problems, except for SPED, she owns all of that after 10 years the good the bad, and the ugly. What I do hold her accountable for is her handling of change in the district. She has been the leader for 2 years. Lets not make excuses that she has only has the contract for 1 that is a load of crap. If she pushed half as hard for academic rigor or fiscal restraint, as she has to keep the superintendencey and collaborate with everyone under the sun, then articles like Sanderson’s would never have been published.

Do the people who support Maria really think the people who don’t support her want her to fail. We don’t, because that means our kids fail. I want to see Maria succeed, I really do. I don’t want to move, I don’t want to consider private or charter school.

Since it has become clear that after 2 years Maria is not going to make changes then are only hope is the SC. The problem is the SC members don’t represent us they all talk about working with the administration. It is one thing to work within budgets and constraints with the administration, to give the people who elect you the best possible education for their kids. This is not our SC. Our committee, and I hope you are listening, have become a rubber stamp assembly.

Amherst spends way too much money to have so many unhappy parents in our school system. So either our school administration can start making meaningful, clearly quantifiable changes or the people of this town that support the status quo, should get used to taking the heat from well informed people like Catherine Sanderson for years to come.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's a blog, anon 3:27, so, as you infer, one can simply say anything, without grounding any of it in fact.

Maybe if Newt Gingrich was you kid's teacher you'd be satisfied, since you have adopted his rhetorical style.

Oh, it's a blog, so we are allowed to spew whatever half formed thought rises out of the muck.

That's very clear on this blog.

Got news for you. If your kid is writing like you are, you won't have to worry about paying for college, because she ain't gettin in, pardner.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Bart. You go boy. You're credibility on the Catherine Sanderson story is clearly without question.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice that Sanderson and Rivkin talk and argue about numbers, programs and poor results -- and that their critics argue and talk about them? They make it personal, outraged that Rivkin and Sanderson are using facts to draw conclusions that don't reflect nicely on our schools.
Why not keep the debate on the numbers, programs and results and turn it away from attacking those that dared say something?

I also get the impression the school committee doesn't have a handle on what is going on. For ex. the Rhodes-Hood response looks at Amherst birthrates skipping the fact that lots of families move into Amherst each year. The important fact isn't how many 5-6 year olds were born here, but how many live here-- and are many going elsewhere. Also, can they explain the high costs, just once?

Kira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryK said...

Bart strikes me as more than a credible witness. Way more so than a Cowardly Anon Nitwit.

You can question his objectivity--but certainly NOT his credibility.

Anonymous said...

The real problem is the SC. Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin were working to make administrators and teachers accountable. The backlash was stunning. The Amherst Center crowd (whose kids are in private and charter schools, btw), the teachers, administrators (some of whom have kids in private schools, btw) exploded with anger and character assassination. Sanderson and Rivkin were shown the door. The LAST thing anyone wanted was an honest discussion of what we're getting for all that money.

Rick Hood seems to have run out of bordom. He had zero experience working with our schools. His kids didn't even attend our elementary schools. He moved here after selling the yacht business he inherited. Upon being elected -- with zero experience -- he lobbied to become SC chair. This gave his hobby even more umph.

Irv Rhodes talks as if he's in the US Senate. Every decision is momentous and every move he makes is calculated to keep him from going out on a limb. He's a disaster. He is incapable of making a real decision.

Katherine Appy seems to be pleasant and a supporter of the schools until anyone criticizes those schools or its leaders. Then, she just loses her mind and viciously attacks the messenger.

The Hill Town folks are as awful as the day is long. They have their white, upper-middle-class class schools and they like everything just as it is. The Pelham crowd is the worst. Amherst subsidizes their lilly white school without poor kids and Maria does EVERYTHING she can to keep them happy -- at the expense of Amherst and its kids.

Oh, and Rick and Irv spoke at HS graduation. Why? Did anyone there want to sit through that? Of course not, but they don't have jobs and they take themselves very, very seriously and Maria and Mark Jackson toss them a cookie and rub their bellies and they roll over and let them do whatever they want.

Anonymous said...

"Got news for you. If your kid is writing like you are, you won't have to worry about paying for college, because she ain't gettin in, pardner.

February 11, 2012 8:24 AM"

I can't speak for the Anon you are being critical of, but this is exactly why I want our schools to be better. I didn't go to college and I want my children to have a better education than I did. If I speak in public or write anything in this town I'm well aware of folks like you who are correcting my grammar or spelling. Oh well, it doesn't change the fact I care about my kids and they deserve as good an education as those with college educated parents. So far ARPS is 50/50 for mine. One in college, one dropped out of HS. Hoping the next does better.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice how many more comments there are when LarryK brings up a schools topic on this blog?

Argue all you want, but there is genuine unhappiness about the public schools in this town. And all the kvetching and tut-tutting about civility is not going to change that.

We have an administration that is top-heavy with high salaries and taxpayers don't see that they are getting enough for that money. And, yes, IT IS about that less fortunate kid, not the ones going to Yale.

LarryK said...

And the comments tend to have "legs"... continuing on for days and days.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it is about all the kids, not one type over another. Let's stop talking about the people and start talking about the facts--in the paper, at school committee meetings, in town meeting, on blogs and to the candidates. We all need to speak up about the issues and facts.

Joel said...

Like a previous poster, I'm fascinated by how many hits Larry gets when he discusses ARPS. This town truly misses Catherine and her blog. This is the only self professed progressive community that can't handle dissent. There's an awful lot of name calling and real nastiness if anyone challenges the status quo. So, I'll do some name calling: The defenders of our schools, even when they are right, are incredibly conservative. They hate debate and dissent and obey and even worship power. Just watch Rick Hood at an SC meeting. What would Maria have to say for him to object?

And now a simple question: Exactly how long should we give this SC and these administrators to turn things around? The Obama/economy analogy is really stupid. How on earth can anyone compare ARPS with the world's largest economy? Does Maria face the equivalent of Republican opposition, European belt tightening and the perfidy of the big banks?

Even with that disconnect, my sense is that President Obama will have more success in a shorter period of time than our town's leadership. He gets that there are real problems to be fixed. In Amherst we put a child on the School Committee.

And, let's get beyond dismissing MCAS results. Are they flawed? Of course, they are, but they're also universally applied in the Commonwealth. The tests' flaws are shared across communities and so are valuable for making comparisons. And, if Amherst is so incredibly unique (which truly it is not), where are the great studies from the UMass School of Ed on Amherst as so unique? The fact is that we aren't an outlier in the ways the defenders of the status quo claim.

We are outliers in a couple of disturbing categories, however. Our results per dollar spent are bad. And, the percentage of principals, administrators, SC members, and public school enthusiasts who either don't have school-age kids or have kids in private and charter schools is very high.

Anonymous said...

I am particularly interested in the apparent assumption that only rich kids coming out of the Amherst schools are the ones going to schools like Yale. What is behind that assumption? Why do the people on this blog assume that children from middle-class, lower middle-class or lower class families are not accomplished enough to attend Yale? or Amherst College? I think I see a decidedly rascist and classist bent on this blog. No surprise there.

On another note, is anyone on this blog aware that representatives from school systems across the nation are coming to Amherst to learn about the new innovative programs Maria Geryk has started in the Amherst schools? To learn how they too can begin implementing these new initiatives in their school systems? No, we did not see the results of these new iniatives in our MCAS scores last year as the school system was just beginning to implement them toward the end of the year last year. We probably won't see their affects in this year's MCAS scores either because they are so new. Yea, we don't like to hear that it takes time for these new programs to bear fruit but unfortunately, Amherst is not unique in that fact.

I find the ignorance of what is REALLY going on in our schools on this blog to be stunning. No one here is really interested in knowing what is going on - it's easier and much more fun to just lob attacks. I get that. But when attacks are made from a position of ignorance it makes it just that much easier to just plain ignore them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with several of the previous authors about both the style and substance of the debate. For me, I wonder why disagreements so quickly become disagreeable? The entry at 2:27 on February 10th is an example. You attacked the author for use of overgeneralization based on the performance of one teacher. Then in a touch of irony that would make Monty Python jealous you decide that this one author now makes you “seriously question the entire community.” This is the type of Jerry Springer-with-big-words-tactics that marginalizes people who are unwilling to bully others and it erodes public discourse. Whether you agree or disagree with a person who is contributing their time as a well-intended public servant or a private citizen contributing a response to a blog is destructive and unworthy of use in a democracy.

As for the issues of test scores and spending, I think it is right for these questions to be asked and answered. Politely. I would not mind that scores were low if the trade-off were long-term success and happiness for the students. If 100% of students eventually pass the exams and are able to reach his or her potential I would not worry whether that took place in 4th grade or in 12th- so long as the goals were attained. However, the second part of the deal is paramount. In lower elementary school students do not have daily science and social studies, but alternate. Activities like celebrations of learning, interdisciplinary units, and hands-on activities seem largely sacrificed on the altar of time on learning and worksheets. In my opinion, that is a mistake. Younger kids need to understand the world through touch and experience. Fun, creativity, and inspiration are the foundations of later learning and positive contributions to society and academia. For me, there is an overemphasis on test scores at the sacrifice or getting kids to love learning. But to see that the emphasis on test scores is not coming to fruition is beyond disappointing. Frankly, I think good teachers and inspiring instruction are being held hostage to extra sessions of math and English. That’s just my opinion and I expect there will be disagreement with both my limited view, my reasoning, and my conclusions, but only civil debate clarifies the community’s thinking and keeps public schools available as a viable option to every child.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon 11:37

I thought the defense of Maria was that she hasn't had time to bring about meaningful change. If that's the case, how is that educators from all over America are using their ever shrinking budgets to fund trips to Amherst to study programs that haven't had time to prove themselves effective?

And, there's nothing classist or racist about pointing out that our schools aren't serving kids of color and working-class kids. Check to see who is going to the top private schools and hard to get into state schools (Michigan, Berkeley, UVA, UNC, etc.). Are they the children of professionals or kids on free and reduced lunch?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anon 11:50 for such a thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anonymously because I have kids in the schools and I've seen enough to know that you don't put your name out there if you're being critical.

I just don't get why Maria's supporters and people who think the schools are so good post anonymously. I get the sense that a lot of teachers defend themselves and their bosses anonymously.

But what I want to know is when will we see the results from all these innovative programs? One poster said we haven't given Maria enough time and that the MCAS scores probably won't improve next year or the year after. Let's give Maria the benefit of the doubt. Let's give her a full five years. I think that this is her third full year. Give her next year and the year after. In year six if things haven't improved much, let's fire her. Let's fire her entire team. That only seems fair. They make a ton of money (more than in any other district in the region), so they either produce results or go. Simple.

If they are improving, then we will know that they're earning those $100k-plus salaries. If not, then they have to go.

How can anyone oppose basic accountability, especially for the highest paid public employees?

Anonymous said...

why would educators flock to amherst to learn about new programs just implemented that haven't been proven to work? that makes no sense to me. also geryk didn't create these programs -- and hood and rhodes says that they are already proven. which is true?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to examine the educational achievements of the parents of the amherst students getting into top colleges versus the students going into the community college system. Money is one issue, but parents' education is a bigger one. Also, look into who finishes college, not just starts.

Anonymous said...

I think you can have hands on, project based education and high test scores on MCAS, NEAP, etc. Declining test scores show there is a problem. What is it?

Anonymous said...

These little outbreaks of discussion about the schools on LarryK's blog indicate that Appy, Tierkel, Bertrand, Temkin, and the rest of the Emily Post Coalition have not quite succeeded in putting the genie back in the bottle with their repeated claims that all argument on the schools that they disagree with is "bad behavior". .

Anonymous said...

I think that a lot of the credit being given to Ms. Geryk for new 'innovative' programs actually belongs to Mike Morris. My understanding is that he is the one who championed the use of PBIS and Map testing (with the ok of Rodriguez and Maria) as a part of the CF improvement plan (required I believe because of their continued AYP status). If these are the programs being touted as being innovative, I hate to break it to you folks but we are actually behind the curve here and these programs have been used by hundreds (perhaps more) of districts in the country, albeit not universally. I assume that 11:37 refers to the group of elementary schools that Mike Morris has become a grouped up with (I don't see Ms. Geryks hand in it) and folks from these different districts (mostly New England) visit each other. Bu let’s be clear about these two programs (PBIS and MAP) they are ONLY monitoring tools and what matters is what happens with the data collected. This is a good move forward, but on their own will do absolutely NOTHING for our students’ emotional, behavioral or academic progress. They need to be followed up with proven academic and behavior supports, and I think this is the area where most critical folks believe our schools (elementary/MS) lack substance. I think that Ms. Appy (others on the SC?) might not understand these programs. She seems to have a vision of our teams of teachers sitting around and discussing each individual student and his/her PBIS and MAP data. I don’t know what the students are doing in her scheme, while the teachers are meeting. There isn’t much time in the week for teachers to meet, as she seems to envision in her piece. If these new innovations are effective we should see some improvement in the next MCAS, yes we likely wouldn’t see the full effect of their implementation but we ought to get something to show for it.

Team Roach Patrol said...

"I find the ignorance of what is REALLY going on in our schools on this blog to be stunning. No one here is really interested in knowing what is going on - it's easier and much more fun to just lob attacks. I get that. But when attacks are made from a position of ignorance it makes it just that much easier to just plain ignore them.

February 11, 2012 11:37 AM"

In the same way Maria ignores this blog?

I mean, isn't her silence amazing?

Nothing to add, Ms. Geryk?

Nothing at all?


p.s. It's not a trivial little blog anymore... Maria.

Anonymous said...

"The LAST thing anyone wanted was an honest discussion of what we're getting for all that money."

BINGO, Anon 9:31! The Church Of Public Education's dogma is infallible and not open to question.

Team Roach Patrol said...

Mark Prince seems to be doing QUITE well in Northampton.

Hmmmm, wonder why the lynched him in Amherst...

"A committee of teachers, administrators and Superintendent Brian Salzer is meeting monthly to review a model evaluation system the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education created using the new standards. School districts can adopt, adapt or revise the model, but all changes must be approved by the state.

Committee member Mark Prince, the city's director of academic effectiveness, said some aspects of the model are already in place in Northampton.

"The new system follows a five-step cycle of goal-setting and planning for professional development, and that we have in place," he said. "What's new is that the cycle is now based on student growth."

The model has teachers and administrators setting one student learning goal and one professional practice goal as benchmarks for evaluations.

"It's a great reflective opportunity," Prince said. "The evaluation tool focuses on our practice but in a way that also gets us to focus on student learning."


Anonymous said...

"I just don't get why Maria's supporters and people who think the schools are so good post anonymously. I get the sense that a lot of teachers defend themselves and their bosses anonymously."

And people who are anti-Maria don't post anonymously????? Come on. Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Does Anon 2:20 know that Amherst, under Maria Geryk, is also implementing programs where teachers and administrators meet to discuss reflectively around student learning growth and outcomes?

If Maria were working in Northampton we would all be praising her accomplishments. Admit it, anyone who is superintendent in Amherst is going to get bashed.

Anonymous said...

"p.s. It's not a trivial little blog anymore... Maria."

Uh, yea it is. It's a fun place to come visit but it is nothing but trivial.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:05,

You are assuming alot and putting it to paper as though it were the gospel truth. Pretty typical of this insignificant blog.

BTW, if student achievment improves, no one, but no one, will credit Maria Geryk. We all know that so lets not pretend that there isn't a knee jerk antagonism to Maria Geryk on this blog.

Anonymous said...

"I think that this is her third full year"

This is Maria's FIRST full year as full superintendent. As an interim Superintendent, yes she can begin to do some things, but she really did not have free-reign to put into place all the programs she wanted to put into place.

I think the poster said that MCAS scores likely would not go up this year, the first year of implementation. I did not see them say next year or the year after that. Let's try to read and repeat things more carefully here.

Anonymous said...

Where's the data on the 4 year old REQUIRED 9th grade environmental/earth science class that was supposed to improve science grades in later years? The high school will lose any relevant data when this year's seniors graduate. I know that the science team that created the course have won some awards....but they have not been able to present data that their course is working. Change for whose sake? The teachers? It also has taken away opportunities for kids to take biology as a 1st year student.

Anonymous said...

I get that MCAS scores don't tell the whole story. But I think it's clear that they're one way to compare ourselves to similar districts. Why are our scores below average and our spending above? It does not make me a Republican to want to hear some evidence that my tax dollars are being spent effectively. No one, as far as I can tell, has made a compelling case for the high per pupil spending. My spouse is a teacher in another district, where pay is higher, taxes are lower, test scores are higher, classroom creativity is higher, student engagement is higher and respect for teachers as professionals is higher. So I am not against high taxes or high salaries for teachers. I just want it to be money well spent.

Anonymous said...

Repeat after me:

1) "You haven't given her a chance."

2) "The data means nothing."

3) "Our kids get into great colleges. End of discussion."

4) "It's not one school system. It's three: Amherst, Amherst/Pelham, and the Region, nearly impossible to manage."

5) "Be patient. These programs have just been implemented."

6) "The redistricting led to major disruptions, which had an effect on test scores."

7) "Each one of these highly paid administrators frees up teachers to do what they do best."

8) "You really just don't know what goes on in our schools."

Congratulations, you are now ready to be part of the educational establishment in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:20 I want to move where is this district
Anon 9:24 It is nice to know someone else understands how the coolaid works

Anonymous said...


anon@2:05 here. I'd like to know what wasn't true in my post (I'd never post gospel). Is Mike Morris undeserving of credit for PBIS and RTI/MAP testing? Are these not just monitoring tools? Are the visitors from afar visiting to view implementation of programs other than PBIS and RTI? Are these programs not used by hundreds of districts? I admit I can't know what was in Ms Appy's mind and that's why I'm careful and just say it 'seems' like...

I'd be grateful if you could correct any errors. When people just say that's wrong (all of it, some of it, one thing), it really seems meant to shut down any discussion. I realize this blog is a poor place for such, but I believe there are a few posters interested in the idea of discussion (sadly lacking in any other venue).

Anonymous said...

"implementing programs where teachers and administrators meet to discuss reflectively around student learning growth and outcomes"

This is just the kind of vague language that leaves even Amherst parents and taxpayers rolling their eyes. More programs being implemented at ever greater cost. Forget about tangible results, let's just discuss reflectively around student learning growth. After that let's set up a steering committee to propose modalities and maybe a task force to conceptualize baseline data norms.

Anonymous said...

Shall we call it "edu-speak"?

It's language designed to obfuscate.

Anonymous said...

What reasons are being given for declining MCAS scores?

Anonymous said...

To anon. February 12, 2012 12:37 PM

You hit the nail on the head. That's Amherst...all Amherst. Edu-speak. No results, nothing tangible, just babble.

Anonymous said...

The things Maria and others in the school administration say are not edu-speak, not babble. This blog is where the true babbling occurs. Much of what masquerades as discussion on this blog is nothing but babble. It is so much easier to sit around taking pot shots at the superintendent and school committee than it is to spend time finding out about the innovative school reform measures Ms. Geryk is working on putting into place. These are initiatives that have been proven to be effective all across the nation. It is true that Amherst is behind many school systems in instituting these reforms. But Maria Geryk is the Superintendent who is bringing Amherst into the 21st century. But all she gets, on this blog anyway, are pot-shots and accusations of speaking in edu-speak, of babbling. Well, when you are in the world of education, I would expect that eduspeak is the language one would speak. I sometimes hear economists, for example, talk in econo-speak (yea I made that word up). Because I am not an economist I have no clue what they are talking about. But I don't call it babble. I don't blame the economist for speaking a language I don't know. If I am interested in the topic, I learn about it. I try to learn the language of that realm so that I can understand, in my example, the econo-speak. I don't sit back and ignorantly call it babbling.

So, blog minions, continue to throw ignorant pot-shots at Maria Geryk and do nothing to try to educate yourselves on what she is trying to do. It continues to make for good entertainment to read this babble but the comments on this blog do nothing to move the discussion forward.

Anonymous said...

The problem (or maybe advantage) with edu-speak is that regular people have no idea of what the administrators are talking about. There are common, easily understood words that could be substituted but then the meaning would become clear. Wouldn't that be a goal? Or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe "regular" people could try to find out what the "edu-speak" means before calling it babble and putting the initiatives down.

Anonymous said...

Okay, what are the "initiatives" -- in normal language?

Anonymous said...

Tiered teaching and learning
Instructional Rounds
Professional Learning Communities
Collaborative Teaching
Instructional Leadership

These are just a few. As an example of how some of the practices Ms. Geryk is implementing can affect student outcomes, read an article published in the New York times on 9/27/10 entitled "4100 Massachusetts Students Prove Small isnt Always Better." This is an article about school reform efforts in the Brocton, MA schools. See also a report published by Ronald F. Ferguson entitled How High Schools Become Exemplary. These two articles focus on high schools but the mehods used can translate to Elementary and Middle schools as well.

One should also go to the ARPS website under the topic Instruction and Learning to learn more about specific school reform intiatives here in Amherst.

These methods have proved successful across the nation in raising achievment in all students and, thus, they are successful in closing the achievement gap.

Maria Geryk is overseeing much exciting work here in Amherst. People should take the time to find out about it instead of sitting around taking pot-shots.

Anonymous said...

I'm not taking pot-shots here, but the last post demonstrates the problem.

I have no visual, operational sense of what any of this means: Tiered teaching and learning (?); Operational Rounds (?); Professional Learning Communities (?); Collaborative Teaching (?); Instructional Leadership (?). So when Ms. Geryk and others talk about these (what? programs, initiatives, what are they?), the language they use serves to intimidate and to exclude. I'm not saying that there is nothing worthwhile going on, but how can non-educators understand it in terms of what actually goes on inside the four walls of a school building?

Remember: we had a blog that took on these issues, and many of you posting on here in defense of the current regime didn't like it.

There is simply too much jargon in the current discussion in SC meetings. Perhaps it's too early, but the numbers give no support YET to the notion that something good is happening.

Those of us with any sense of political realism, however, know that Maria Geryk is going to get a very long-term opportunity, perhaps decades, to prove that she can make real progress. We've made a very big bet on her.

Ed said...

No, I don't think that Maria G will be here very long and I will tell you why. She has no anchor.

There is no one in her administration (or on the SC) with the ability to tell her that she is wrong. On anything.

No one with the ability to quietly (or not so quietly) say "Maria don't do this." She has no check or balance, no one (but herself) holding herself accountable.

So when she stumbles, and she will if she is human, she will tumble to her destruction because she has removed the safety net. It will be spectacular - and sad - but she will self destruct in a very big way. And soon -- within 3-4 years.

And it will because she didn't have anyone there but "yes" men and women, no one there to stand up to her...

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:51 - You can find more information about these various initiatives on the ARPS website under "Instruction and Learning" under the academics button. Also, Maria has done a number of tv discussion of some of these things on ACTV, which you can find and watch on the ACTV website. You could also probably find general information on these topics by just googling them.

Anonymous said...

Or, someone could just take a couple minutes to spell it out to us who've been trying to figure it out, but just need it in plain English...

Ciera Bobowiec said...

Hey I noticed that nobody mentioned the students on the school board. I don't like it when people discriminate like that. Age-ism is a rising problem in our country, and it has been for quite a while. Since 1917 when the infamous George Todd proposed a resolution to deny young people the right to fight in the army, the country has found itself on quite a periolous slippery slope towards the spontaneoue execution of people under the age of 18. Therefore we must work together to undermine this new trend and hopefully we can restore this glorious republic of Amherst, and then the country as a whole, to its former glory.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43 - Maria and the rest of the administrative team have been taking the time to spell it out for you and explain it - its on the arps website and on the ACTV videos. If you are too lazy to go to the arps website or the actv website to get the information thats your problem.

Anonymous said...

It looks like almost all the new initiatives are aimed at improving teaching, with one addressing children's poor behavior. Is poor teaching the key problem in the district? When was this openly discussed?

Or is it low income kids less prepared than kids with preschool or other early enrichment? Or is it a weak math curriculum? Or the elementary schools that fell into a situation of economic segregation? Or that each had their own subculture? Or low expectations? Or families not supporting their kids? Or what?

Did any of the three recent (largely negative) expert reports on the schools suggest these fixes? Why spend the effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars without openly talking out the problems, proven solutions and then get the community on board to implement them?

Anonymous said...

and instead of being mean and snarky you could have taken that time and helped clarify just one of the initiatives to someone who states they just dont understand them. What the heck is wrong with people? It is more that one person here saying help us understand.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right - I was unnessarily snarky and I apologize.

LarryK said...

Last I looked the videos on Amherst Media get almost zero traffic. Maybe Maria should start a blog.

Anonymous said...

I also noticed you can access the videos thru the arps website - under the News button

LarryK said...

I'm sure the ARPS website gets more traffic than Amherst Media. Of course the main town website get's around 1,500 visiters per day. It would be interesting to see who gets more traffic between the town and schools.

Anonymous said...

Maybe any superintendent who is doing her job is too busy to be blogging, which appears to be a leisure activity anyway, a new form of recreation.

I would much rather the supt do her job and leave the unfounded specualtion on the recent demise of the schools to all of the rest of us chicken littles, present company included.

Since we're going to blame her for everything, anyway, why do we need her voice?

LarryK said...

Because presumably she has all the answers. And if they are correct, why be afraid to publish them?

Anonymous said...

To the person who took the time to write what the initiatives are, thank you. I will take a look at the links and areas you mention to learn more about them. I am assuming that the success or failure of these initiatives will be measured by the improvements in student performance especially the low income groups. Would you say that is fair?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the list. The only one of those (Tiered teaching and learning
Instructional Rounds
Professional Learning Communities
Collaborative Teaching
Instructional Leadership) I found on the ARPS website is 'Teacher Collaboration Instructional Improvement Project'. Is this the same as the 'Collaborative Teaching' you list. I also looked at the article that you cite, and which a team of Amherst English teachers participated in its development. You are possibly a HS English teacher. I am beginning to think that like there is an achievement gap, there is also an ES/MS vs HS experience gap. From all I have ever heard, HS is nirvana and glorious. For those of us whose kids are still in ES and MS, its a very different ballgame. I expect that some of the causes of will soon hit the HS. Currently HS is something like 20% Free and reduced lunch, right? The elementary schools are around 40%, with an incoming kindergarten class around 50%, I believe. This change in demographics is the biggest thing to hit our district probably EVER. It seems like most of the day in ES is spent on crowd control, instead of learning. I know Ms. Geryk is hoping that will change, but for kids in ES/MS it can't be soon enough. I would hope that HS teachers might make the effort to understand that its not just whining but that the ES/MS experience is very different. Respectfully yours,

Anonymous said...

great post anon 1:29

I looked at the data on the DESE web site. It is quite scary how much the low income population is growing in Amherst. It is up slightly in the 3 smaller towns. The low income population has grown from 16.2% in 2006 to 24.9% in 2012 on the regional level. The Amherst schools have gone from 26.8% to 38.7% over the same time. I believe the tipping point for schools experiencing difficulties in meeting educational goals is when the low income population exceeds 1/3. If you are right than the MS and HS will have difficult times ahead.

Wes Musty said...

To all who are ripping on people for posting long responses: Just because you're too lazy to read the entire response doesn't make it bad. Everyone here needs to get a life!

LarryK said...

Last I looked, you were here.

Anonymous said...

But, yes, let's build MORE low income housing...