Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sweet Spot

Sweet kids promoting a sweet cause

Downtown Amherst transformed into a sugarholics paradise on Saturday afternoon with 20 businesses participating in the first annual "Amherst Mega Dessert Crawl".  The event was a town/gown affair jointly sponsored by Phi Sigma Pi, a co-ed national honor fraternity,  and the Amherst Business Improvement District.

 Bertucci's reported an overwhelming response.  Perfect location across from start at Kendrick Park

Over three hundred participants paid the bargain price of $20 for 20 coupons to exchange for a tasty treat.  The event attracted a bevy of UMass students -- some with their parents in tow -- local families and bargain conscious foodies. 

All proceeds benefit Reader To Reader program, a nonprofit agency that brings a magical gift to the underprivileged world wide:  books. 

David Mazor: Founding Executive Director of Reader to Reader and BID  Board of Directors member


Anonymous said...

It is sweet to see the college students to show kindness and good will to our town.
However our middle school doesn't have encouraging news for us.

Only 2 months into the new semester, We already heard a lot of troubling news from Amherst Regional Middle School.
Rhonda Cohen of Director of teaching and learning, and Ian Stith of director of K-8 Maths and science coordinator, two of
Superintendent Maria Geryk's all time favorites, have killed 7th Grade Honor Math program. They replace the traditional Honor Math program
in ARMS with a "Flex" program, Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith call the new program, "Math 7" and "Math 7 Flex". These two program are almost identical
except slight different names. They use same textbook, same course progress schedule, same weekly homework set. The name difference is just a pacifier
for the parents.
Just some background knowledge, Amherst school as well as many Massachusetts and other state schools have been offering Algebra and geometry in public
middle schools. Amherst Middle School has offered such curriculum choices for many years and with good results. Current 8th grader population has
about 50% students who have already learned algebra or is learning algebra in ARMS. But Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith is planning to stop this
curriculum choice. What they do, is to slow down the Math course progress, so when the current 7th Graders enter 8th grade, their math are so left
behind that School Administrator can argue that most current 7th graders are not ready for Algebra in 8th grade.
Now is already 2 months into the 7th grade middle school, the math class has been doing addition, substraction, multiplication, and division, the skills
that the elementary students have mastered. It is a waste of time for most middle schoolers. When many parents points out that spending two months
doing elementary math is a waste of middle schooler time. Students are not learning anything, and are getting bored. Rhonda Cohen said in a
Math Curriculum meeting that students are not considered to have mastered the material if they can not argiculate the material with perfect
clarity so they students can effectively teach their peer of the same material. Some parents are wondering whether Rhonda Cohen set bar so high as
equivalent of a Math teacher? If so, how would you measure your graduate. If they cannot articulate the Math material as clear as a teacher, he
has not mastered the material, and not allowed to enter 9th grade? People are wondering whether Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith is using this as
an excuse or a roadblock to prevent middle school students to have curriculum choice.

With 1 month to Thanksgiving and 2 month to Christmas,
Administrator is hoping that everyone will
get into the holiday mood and forget about this. The Rhonda Cohen & Ian Stith, Maria Geryk's favorite lieutenant for curriculum design already
have this figured out. I will not be surprised to hear next spring, when the the Regional school administrator claim that most of our
current 7th graders have not finished the pre-requisitives, so not ready for Algebra! So offering Algebra in 8th grade will damange your children's
learning! they hope nobody will remember that 50% of 8th Graders today are ready and learning algebra and give them much more opportunities in
high school. Administrator will use the sacrificed current 7th grader to set an example for all younger students and their parents to follow suite.
Rhonda Cohen and In Stith has been talking curriculum alignment for a year. But the elimination of Math honor program, elimination of
algebra and geometry class in middle school is a big MIS-ALIGNMENT of middle school and high school curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 11:49,

That certainly is bad. As the school committee is beholden to the administration and the few parents that tried to make any difference have moved or gone silent, I would strongly consider Kumon or tutors. The current administration will do nothing about your very valid concerns. They schools don't care, the Committee that we elect does not care, the paper wont pick up this valuable story, so take care of your own kids however you can. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:49 the post is a bit hard to read because of the formatting, but is REALLY important information. My kid is in 8th grade and has been telling me how the 7th graders aren't able to do honors math this year... This really ticks me off for my younger kid still in elementary school.

Why do they always do these things ON THE SLY, with out announcing or explaining ahead of time?

It makes us parents so angry.

Anonymous said...

A weird place to put an anti school rant. Let's focus: Reader to Reader recycles books to schools, some on Indian Reservations, which desperately need books. Thank you to the UMass sorority sisters and the BID who organized this fundraiser! Let's have more advertising in the future!

Dr. Ed said...

To the concerned parent in the first post -- this s part of Common Core -- and should you want to fight this, I'd be happy to help in the background. It can be done.

Anonymous said...

As a 7th grader parent, I attended middle school's Math curriculum meeting. As I was sitting there, I grew frustrated with Rhonda Cohen's talk. Parents want real information and want to know the district's curriculum decision. She doesn't show empathy to parents's concerns and doesn't even answer parents's straightforward questions in a truthful and meaningful way.
Rhonda just plays her communication word games and deflect their questions. It is an insult on our intelligence. Is that what Rhonda Cohen is good for?

There are nothing concrete coming out of Rhonda. Rhonda's talk is so mercurial, and without information. She talks big talk, but when parents analyze her talk, and ask specific questions that concerns us in the middle school, you find everything she talks just puff of smoke, it evaporates, withnothing left. As a parent, you cannot plan your children's education from Rhonda's talking.

Rhonda usually talks about team approach to curriculum decision. The reality is that Rhonda decides things and Ian Stith is her mouthpiece. Middle School teachers are treated like Puppets. Rhonda Cohen has no Math training. Ian Stith has limited math teaching experience, clearly a junior guy in Math education. Maria Geryk, the superintendent has been talking about hiring Math coach to solve the district academic weakness. Now watch what got? Maria hired Ian Stith as Math coach, a junior guy to sit on top of experienced Math teachers in middle school, and giving them orders,and use middle school teachers as shields, disguised as team decisions, from the uninformed middle school parents.

Anonymous said...

If you think the quality of educational improvement is bad, would it make it equally worse to know that between Rhonda and Ian they make $200,000.00. Isn't that great $200K for positions that did not exist 5 years ago. Positions that are reenforcing the downward spiral of education in America, starting right here in Amherst.

Even worse, when this position was first discussed it was only supposed to cost $90,000. The outrageous cost overrun is the complete responsibility of Maria Geryk. No one else. She started with Beth Graham and continues throwing out money away. Why because show knows nothing about curriculum or development. She is floundering and hiring people to help her. But don't worry when the villagers get out there pitch forks and torches Maria will through Rhonda and / or Ian under the bus and hire someone else for even more money. Don't think I am right, then ask Beth Graham. Oh, that's right, you can't, she already went under the bus.

They system is a sham that only the School Committee can fix and they are gutless wonders. Oust the School Committee and have the new Committee out the administration as quick as you can before it gets worse. Geryk, Cohen, Stith, Mazur and more.

Anonymous said...

The common core is a set of minimum standards. It does not prevent anyone from accelerating kids. Don't blame bad curricular decisions on the Common Core.

Anonymous said...

We are so sad to watch our 7th graders squander their Math time in middle school, not learning any thing. When some of our parents ask school for more challenge work, what we get in return is more of the same JUNK homework, an increase in quantity, without more challenging in quality. It is almost like a revenge to the kids from the school that the parents dare to ask for more. The result is very discouraging for kids who want to learn the Math, their enthusiasm for pursue of Math is rewarded with punishment of more JUNK homework and WASTE more of kids time.

The current regional school curriculum team, Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith is failing our middle school. They maintain a dictatorship of what knowledge our kids are allowed to learn in Amherst school. Such curriculum dictatorship provides a very poisonous environment that is damaging kids education.

School Committee members. Bring out your gut. Villager demand your conscience. We are fed up with Rhonda Cohen, and Ian Stith.

Anonymous said...

It is clear from this blog that Capt Rick Hood has failed miserably as the communications guru to bring the administration and the parents together if a frustrated parents needs to use a posting on this blog to make an off topic remark to get the word out.

Rick do us all a favor and resign. You and the rest of the committee are failing the kids of Amherst year after year. You aught to sit in shame at every meeting.

Anonymous said...

It seems like there is a lot of pushback lately when school committee (SC) members try to question anything or even make almost any comments at SC meetings lately besides "good job!" to the superintendent and staff. The last SC meeting on Oct 22nd is a perfect example. The main agenda item was the presentation and approval of the district and school improvement plans. At the end of a long presentation on the plans, the SC was given the opportunity to ask questions. Some commented as well. I thought most of the questions and comments were fine, but the superintendent reacted strongly to them as did the chair of the regional SC, Kip Fonsh, who then made remarks about people "cannibalizing their allies." One SC member asked for a clarification regarding Mr. Fonsh's remarks and he said he didn't have further comment and would let his remarks stand on their own. This is not the first time that there has been tension among SC members, and between SC members and the administration at recent SC meetings, however the situation is getting worse. The superintendent has made it clear that she doesn't want to hear any criticisms, or even substantive questions from the SC, and that the SC should stick to its statutory responsibilities as she narrowly defines them.

Under the MGL, the SC "shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools"; evidently, according to the superintendent, this doesn't give them the right to question any aspects of the school improvement plan (except re: small clarification). One of the other SC's responsibilities is to "select and terminate the superintendent." The SC should remember that they are the superintendent's boss and not the other way around.

With the current climate, I can understand SC members' reluctance to speak up more, but if they do not, who will? The SC gives little weight to public comments in their decision-making, and the superintendent has already shown that she'll do what she wants, what she thinks is right, regardless of public feedback against any proposed policies, curriculum changes, or budget cuts.

Anonymous said...

To those who say that the school committee members don't care, I'm sure they all do. Why would they spend so much of their time volunteering in an almost thankless position being criticized on all sides, if they didn't. School committee members may not always or often speak up at meetings, but they all care.

I wish the print media paid more attention to the issues in our schools right now so that people wouldn't need to take to the comment section of an unrelated post on this blog to express their concerns.

Anonymous said...

Now, now, now: criticizing the Amherst schools is strictly forbidden. These posts are all anonymous for a reason.

The print media is not in a position to report about problems that emerge from the grass-roots level, at the level of parents talking with their kids about what is happening in school. We elected School Committee members to do that, and then they were systematically taken down.

Anonymous said...

I very much fear that the admin is maneuvering to remove 8th grade algebra. It should concern everyone when the Cohen et al states that discussions about changes to 8th grade math will take place in the spring. By that time all decisions will have been made and any discussion will be futile. Don't ask me why they would want to remove 8th grade algebra- it certainly isn't a requirement/suggestion in the Common Core. The only motive I can think of is that one way to close the achievement gap is to reduce achievement at the top. Any other ideas about possible motive to remove 8th grade algebra? BTW, algebra in 8th grade is TYPICAL, if we drop it, we will be atypical.
Without 8th grade algebra, it becomes nearly impossible to get to calculus in HS (maybe that's the motive?).

Anonymous said...

Larry, you should start a second blog "Only in the Amherst School System". Boy everybody has their own personal ax to grind on that subject. How they went from what you posted to where they are now is astounding.

Anonymous said...

what about school committee mtgs with very pointed remarks, such as those made by Mr. Fonsh? "cannibalizing"? really?

Anonymous said...

I lthink Maria geryk is responsible to this mess in middle school curriculum. She is not equipped with skill set that is required of a superintendent. She doesn't have the vision for our school district. She doesn't have the ability to hire and manage a truly exceptional administration team to carry a district vision to its success. Maria Geryk's hiring of curriculum directors has been troublesome. Hiring/firing Beth Graham, the previous director of curriculum, and the hiring of Rhonda Cohen, director of teaching and learning, and Ian Stith, k-8 math and science coordinator have all proved to be disastrous. The current curriculum mess in middle school is not a surprise for many of us. Just firing Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith is not going to solve the problem, because the problem is Maria Geryk, who is clearly lack superintendent leadership.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this positive story where students are involved, Larry. I think they should have advertised it more. I did not know it was happening until I saw your story - I would have made a point of getting into town and bought something if I had known about it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:39 said "The superintendent has made it clear that she doesn't want to hear any criticisms, or even substantive questions from the SC, and that the SC should stick to its statutory responsibilities as she narrowly defines them."

This is a completely untrue statement. I have watched the SC meeting you reference 3 times now. Ms. Geryk said that she was always open to criticism and suggestions and critical questions. What she said she strongly opposed at the meeting was criticism of her staff that was occurring at the meeting - and rightly so. She said that the District Improvement Plan was HER plan and that the SC should direct all remarks about the plan to her and not her staff. She also said criticism of the plan was not appropriate at that time from the SC. She was presenting information to them - not asking for their approval. Her evaluation is the time for the SC to evaluate whether she has carried out the goals of the Plan.
Further, Ms. Geryk does not personally decide what are the SC's roles and responsibilities - those are laid out by statute. You don't like the statute, then work to change it. The SC's role, by statute, is to vote on the budget, set policy and hire and evaluate the Superintendent. Period. Writing a District Improvement Plan or changing it is not part of their job. And it is certainly WAY OUT of line for them to criticize staff.
If you watch the ENTIRE SC meeting in question, you will understand Kip Fonsh's comments. For the first time in memory, the Superintendent has put together a plan to concretely address the achievement gap. There are concrete steps being taken to address the continues racism present in our schools. And yet, her plan was strongly criticized by those who purport to be strongly interested in addressing the very things that are addressed in the District Improvement Plan - with no one offering any constructive steps on how they would address the problem. Clearly the Superintendent and these critical SC members have the same goals. Yet all the SC members could do was criticize and try to sabotage the very things that are being put in to place to address the problem they so strongly advocate for. So, yes, they are cannibalizing their allies so to speak.
I encourage everyone to watch this very important meeting either on demand on their computer or on Ch 15 on tv. You can't help but be moved by the passion of those presenting.

Anonymous said...

When I saw my 7 grade kid Math homework, it's a joke. It is elementary Math. I give that homework to my younger child of 2 grade lower, he can do it correctly. What a holy shit of this curriculum improvement plan! I ask my kid to get it done quickly just to getting over it and move on to something else. My kid wants good grade and spends hours to do it in a stupid way they learn it at school. I asked my kid you know better, faster way to do it, why not? My kid explains to me, he has to show the steps in the math notebook what they have learned the teacher taught them at school, otherwise he might not get credit even he knows a better way and get it right more efficiently. I asked my kid to do one question the teacher' way to show you know that stuff. Then finish of other repetitive questions in an efficient way and explains why. This way he can save some time. My kid won't listen to me, he still want to get good credit. I can see he is sad to have to compromise, but he is such a conforming kid. I told him not to worry, do as I said. I can attach a note on his notebook to the Math teacher. If he doesn't get credit, I will talk to the principal. My kid said he respect his teacher. But the teacher doesn't have much freedom to choose what to teach. My kid' classmate told him, the order comes from above.

What kind of institution these administrators are trying to turn our school into? Brainwashing them? Give back our school!

Anonymous said...

There used to be a blog about the schools: Catherine Sanderson's when she was on the School Committee. That blog always had a lot of reader traffic and comments, and in my opinion, a lot of useful information about the schools, with Sanderson responding to almost all questions and comments. Sanderson worked hard as a school committee member and on her blog and it showed.... and then her blog was shut down once she was no longer on the school committee. It would be great to have another blog that focused on our schools. I miss Sanderson's contributions to the discussions about our schools.

Whenever "Only in the Republic of Amherst" posts any school-related story, again there is lot of interest and user comments. The schools are an important topic for many in the community, and there is not as much satisfaction with the schools as the superintendent and some school committee members would have one think. On the school-related posts, it seems as though many people weigh in (not Dr. Ed and other well known comments). Unfortunately, as pointed out earlier almost all the posters, including myself, are anonymous. If it was easier to ask critical questions of the ARPS administration, then people might be more willing to give their names. But as the experience of School Committee members at recent meetings show, even they, the elected officials for our schools, are not allowed to question the administration on almost any topic. It is so discouraging, and I don't see anything changing under the current leadership.

Walter Graff said...

And I get yelled at for calling Geryk a horrible administrator. I wasn't wrong.

Rhonda and Ian make over $200k together but Geryk alone makes more than the governor of the state of Massachusetts. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Can't blame the School committee. If they don't follow the rules and do as they are told, they are pushed out. Those that dare challenge are sent to the corn field.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:43 am:

That was very well stated. These schools are insulated from the usual processes and debate that make democratic institutions work.

Anonymous said...

Maria has had a least three years to communicate her plan, vision, agenda. It is clear from the postings that she has failed both on the School Committee and in the eyes of the general public when you have one poster that thinks she is doing great passionate work (thought with little explanation for what that is) and another expressing how bad the curriculum is in the 7th grade. If Maria is such an amazing communications person why can't she or Rhonda in a very systematic way express where they are going with curriculum for math. Either they don't know, in which case they should resign or they do know, and they are trying to roll it out piece by piece because it is so reprehensible that we would all be up in arms if we knew the end goal was.

The administrations is failing. Maria does not have the chops to deal with the diversity in Amherst long term. Anyone can sit in her chair and be a place holder short term, just like she did. It takes real experience to fix the problems that exist in Amherst. The SC needs to push her out and find someone who has proven they can make real meaningful change.

Anonymous said...

When you live in a community heavily populated with educators at a number of different levels, those who work inside our public schools have additional political resources to enable them to do what they want without oversight.

The first line of defense then is that those asking the questions and making the criticisms "lack civility" and things deteriorate from there. And eventually all is ostensibly calm again.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:23:
If the school committee is not allowed to give substantive comments on the school and district improvement plans, then the school committee's approving the plans seems to me little more than a "rubber stamp" of approval. Is the school committee allow to ask for changes or not approve the proposed plan-- it sure doesn't sound like it.

Like yourself, I too have watched the 10/22 School Committee meeting more than once, and found the presentation on the district and school improvement plans to be quite informative, and I too urge other people to do the same. The recording of the meeting is found online here:

However, unlike you, I didn't find almost any of the comments and questions by the SC members after the presentation to be problematic; what would be the proper forum for SC members or the public to question the plans, the goals, and the implementation strategies of the superintendent? You seem to suggest there is none.

Also, unlike you, I did find Mr. Fonsh's comments to be over the top and not constructive for the discussion. His use of the word "cannibalizing" in describing some of his fellow school committee members definitely raises the level of the potential conflict in the discussion and is not a term I'd use with people I am trying to get along with. Some other recent school committee meetings have had some tense moments between school committee members, and with the superintendent but not to this level. The situation is escalating and I think it is a problem.

Anonymous said...

I think the Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith refuse to recognize a simple fact, that each child is unique, physically, socially, intelliecturally, and emotionally. We all accept that each child has a specific height that can be different from another child of same birth date. Some children like soccer, others like cross country. Academic speaking, some like Math, other like English literature. These are natural, and undeniable. We are human beings are we are all different. There is nothing wrong to recognize such a fact. Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith likes to use "Common Core" as an excuse for what is allowed and what is not allowed to teach and learn in Amherst Schools. Rhonda and Ian's arguments is fundamentally flawed and misleading.

As one previous post pointed out, "Common Core" is a guideline for minimum requirement for kids to learn. "Common Core" doesn't ban curriculum acceleration. If a child is interested in Math and is capable to learn Math at a faster paste, the school should provide environment that support such child's growth. If another child is interested in English literature, and is good at it, let this child excel at it and move faster. Our children have amazing and diverse academic interests and capabilities. School should provide a nurturing and encouraging ground for kids to learn and grow. At the same time, school can use common core as baseline skills that all children should learn. "Common Core" and curriculum acceleration are compatible with each other.

Amherst Regional school has about 250 students in each grade. Our school district has the critical mass (large enough student population) to allow acceleration in different academic area without too much cost. Acceleration in different academic subject area is a strength of Amherst curriculum tradition. Curriculum improvement plan should keep the good part of old curriculum plan. Don't fix things that are doing well, or you will get worse.

I can understand that Maria Geryk is not curriculum expert and has failed once on her hiring and firing of previous curriculum director, Beth Graham. School district has given Maria Geryk a second chance. And the current curriculum directors, Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith are using a wrong approach to reduce performance gap. Their practice will systematically and uniformally reduce the whole district performance level down the road. Their goal is to get the minimum academic requirement, and along the way, they will harm a whole spectrum of students in their pursue of diverse interests and learnings.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:05
The school committee did not have to vote to approve the District Improvement Plan. There was no vote to approve of the District Improvement Plan. The place to evaluate the success of the plan is at the Superintendent's evaluation. I did not find any of the criticism offered during the meeting to be constructive.
I agree with you that Kip's use of the word cannibalism was unfortunate but I agree with the sentiment he was trying to express, albeit not well. We finally have an administration taking concrete steps to address the achievement gap and overt racism in the schools and there are some on the SC who do not want the administration to be successful. They do nothing but criticize and offer no suggestions of how they would do things differently. It is a start. The ideas may not succeed but we are FINALLY starting and trying. Let's see what happens first before dismissing them out of hand.

Anon 12:01
I did not say that Maria Geryk was passionate - I said some of the staff members who spoke at that meeting spoke very passionately about the work they are doing and about their experiences during and after a four day workshop they took regarding diversity issues.

Anonymous said...

Wait for it:

"You folks simply want a private school education without paying for it."

Wait for it, because there's a manual, a playbook for how rhetorically to put down this kind of criticism from Amherst Region parents.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:30 pm:
This is Anon 12:05 pm again. Yes, you are correct (my mistake): there was no vote on the District Improvement Plan at the Oct 22nd meeting. However, there were votes on the Pelham SIP, the Amherst elementary SIPs, and the regional SIP. There was no comment or discussion specifically about any of those SIPs before these votes; given the tenor of the earlier discussion and those final remarks after the presentation which focused on the district SIP, this is no surprise. None of the SIPs were reviewed in detail at the meeting. My questions are still similar to the one I already asked: Could the School Committee actually vote against any of the SIPs? (and would this be at all likely?) Further, since the SIPs are deemed to be outside of the review of the School Committee, because the SIPs don't involve policy (not that I agree fully with this interpretation), why does the School Committee even vote on them? and how can this vote be anything more than a procedural "rubber stamp"?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:43 am - thanks for the nice comment about my blog. I believe that that sort of open communication on behalf of a SC member was very useful for many parents and community members, but remember, my blog was directly opposed by other SC members (including a letter to the Attorney General requesting it be stopped). Steve Rivkin and I wrote a column on education for several years while on the SC, and again, that piece was designed to increase awareness of what was and was not occurring in our schools. Yet that piece also regularly drew criticism from many, including harsh and personal criticism. I have come to the belief that this community isn't comfortable having a real dialogue about the education we provide; attempts to question decisions or policies or request information are often met with accusations of bad tone, etc., and most people therefore simply give up trying (they see the problems, but are no longer willing to take the heat by raising them in public). Unfortunately, I believe the education in our schools suffers as a result of a lack of ability to ask such questions, demand evidence-based decision-making, and hold our highly paid administrators to high standards. It is why an increasing number of families of means are choosing private school, hiring private tutors, and moving away from Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:10
This is Anon 12:30.

I agree with you. I have a copy of the DIP but not of the SIP. I believe the presentation was of the DIP. I do not know how the SIPs intersect the DIP. I also do not know why the SC votes on the SIP. I remember on year maybe 3 or 4 years ago when the SC did not like the high school SIP and they either voted not to accept it or they told Mark Jackson that they were going to vote that way and he pulled the plan as presented. The SC told him what they did not like about it and he went back, changed it and brought it before the SC again, at which time the SC approved it. So, there is precedent for the SC not approving SIPs.
In the past, the SIPs were not presented on the same night as the DIP so it was easier to see how they differed. Now, I don't know how the SIPs differ from the SIP. Also, in the past, each ES presented their SIPs individually and they were voted on individually. At the 10/22 meeting, all the ES SIPs were voted on in one vote. So, not sure how that could happen. Each school's School Council is supposed to develop an SIP for their individual school. I do not know if that is happening now.

Lots of questions for sure about the SIPs and DIP and how they correlate and intersect. It's a mystery for sure.

Anonymous said...

Dr Sanderson,

You now live in Hadley and choice into Amherst schools. If you do not like what is happening in the Amherst schools you should keep your kids in Hadley or choice into a different school system. How about Northampton?
By choicing into Amherst, you make a clear statement that the Amherst schools ain't so bad after all.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:41 pm - like many parents, a number of factors go into my decision about where my kids will attend school, and indeed one of my children is already in private school. The fact that for 2 of my children, staying in the Amherst schools for this year represented the best option taking all factors into account (academics, social, etc.) doesn't mean the Amherst schools don't have room to improve, and in fact, I'm included in the group of parents of means who are supplementing the education my kids receive in various ways. Yet your comment illustrates precisely my point - you aren't contributing to the discussion about the quality of the schools, but suggesting I should not share my thoughts (although you are choosing to do so anonymously, whereas I am posting using my actual name).

Anonymous said...

anon@1:41 PM:
are you ok with dropping 8th grade algebra (meaning our HS students won't have the option to take calculus)? I very much believe this is seriously being considered. Why? I've asked Dr. Cohen and she didn't rule it out. Again, I've no idea why they would consider such a radical change. I think unless this brought up now, the decision will be made and then a priori it is reality (in the spring). No feedback accepted. I'd love to be assured otherwise...I think this should be a legitimate topic for the SC to address/question. It seems some folks think the only recourse left to the SC and public is the review process (after the fact) of the super. Really? That would be a recipe for disaster.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sanderson,

I did not say you should not share your thoughts. You should share your thoughts as much as you like. It is your First Amendment right to do so. I said, if you are not happy in the Amherst schools you should choice your kids elsewhere. The fact that you choice to Amherst shows you think they are not so bad after all. No school system, and as a matter of fact no system of any kind, is perfect. But the quality of some school systems are better than others...and I suggest that Amherst is better than most if not all in the area. Knowing how much you value education, if there was a better public school system in the area I am sure you would have choiced your kids into that system.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 1:41.

I did not say anything about 8th grade algebra. I made a comment about Dr. Sanderson and her choice to send her kids to Amherst. Please do not put words in my mouth.

I would like to learn more about the middle school math program changes. I would like to see a town-wide presentation about K-12 math curriculum and what the administration is attempting to do with their curricular changes.

Anonymous said...

anon@ 2:40 PM
the admin has already announced that they will inform the community in the spring about the math curriculum plans (final word on that) for 8th grade (and perhaps HS). Of course, the spring is when these plans will need to be decided to begin implementation, meaning the decision will have been made. Like it or leave it...

Anonymous said...

anon 2:40 PM
the admin has already announced that plans for 8th grade math (and HS?) will be presented in the spring. There appears to be no other invitation/opportunity for community input. Of course the spring is when implementation will have to begin. If you are concerned you need to contact the administration. (not that it will have the least affect on anything as just one voice at one time)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

This will be my last comment on my children's education (again, feel free to talk about the quality of the Amherst schools, which is the topic). Like many families, education decisions are complicated for my family. They are complicated by finances (e.g., can you afford private school) and logistics (e.g., do you have time/availability to drive to a private/charter/choice school). Like many parents, I make decisions for my own children's education based on the totality of many factors, and based on these factors (academic, social, logistics, finances). Are the Amherst schools educationally good enough for me to send my children there? Yes. Are they as good as they could be for the amount of money spent on these schools? No.

Anonymous said...

If you think that Amherst schools are not returning sufficient value for the tax money they receive, prepare for the ad hominem attacks.

See above.

Anonymous said...

"This will be my last comment on my children's education (again, feel free to talk about the quality of the Amherst schools, which is the topic)."

Really? I thought Larry's post was about the Dessert Crawl, but all you nut jobs went off into cuckooland.

Larry Kelley said...

Just demonstrates the pent up frustration.

I do have a school related public documents post I've been sitting on for a while.

About time to trot it out I guess.

Anonymous said...

For those in the know about what the school committee is allowed to do, ie set policy. Could the school committee set a policy that Algebra will be offered in the 8th grade subsequently geometry, algebra II, pre-calc, and calculus by 12th grade. The schools can determine curriculum but the committee can be definitive about the will of the town for what is offered.

If the administration makes a major change in spring as has been suggested and this change is a major departure from what is offered now it would show complete apathy for the 4 towns community at large by the administration.

Going out the sharpen the pitch fork and make a few torches just in case.

Anonymous said...

Maria Geryk, as the top boss of Amherst School district, bans any comments or critism to her curriculum improvement plan, and bans any comments or critism to her staffs. Maria Geryk considers this curriculum improvement plan a personal crusade. The official perception of this plan means personal victory for Maria Geryk. Of course she doesn't want anybody to comment on it. She will be the sole megaphone and reporter for this plan to the school commitee. School committe rubber stamp it and turn to the press for an official success story.

But the devil is in the details. The improvement plan in paper can be all rosy and glory. But the implementation of the plan is all that matters. The current mess around middle school 7th grade math curriculum change has inflicts so much pain and anger among middle school parents. People starts to realize why the Maria Geryk, Rhonda Cohen, and Ian Stith have been so evasive, and secretive when communicating the implementation of this plan, and what these people are up to, and what their hidden agenda are.
Starting spring 2013, Rhonda & Ian starts to paint the rosy picture of their curriculum plan for middle school to parents. There is no details. It is just a kind of "Trust me". They pretend to listen to communitiy input, but in fact, all the good suggestions are throwing down the toilet the moment they got them. Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith have it all planned, but without truthfuly communicating it. They are afraid the parents will bring out all the pitchforkes and torches and chase them into the cornfield.

They talk with ambiguity. Their talk can be intepreted in all different ways. If you are information seeker, you are out of luck. Rhonda and Ian want you to believe the end result is as good as the picture. I am afraid in the end, it is too late, and the academic learning of students in several grades will all be slaughtered.

Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith continue to practice this communication game in middle school. When parents ask them many times what the Math curriculum offering will be next year when current 7th grade becomes 8th grade, Rhonda Cohen and Ian Stith continue to evade a clear and truthful answer. Obviously they hide their true intention. They simply say they are working on it and will announcement next spring. They have it all figured out and just won't tell you now. They will use the current 7th graders to build a case for them and sacrifice them all.

Top boss bans public comments, her chief lieutenants evasively communicate and mislead. The parents are kept in the dark. We will watch the current several grades of students acadmic performance march toward slaughter house. How cruel! What a shame!

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:30/1:39
The approved SIPs are all available on the new ARPS web site (

I too am confused about the SIPs and the SIP process. The SC voted on an updated SIP for my kid's elementary school, but the school's school council was not involved with creating it. I thought that was one of the main functions of school councils under the MGL.

Anonymous said...

Miss your input Catherine!

Anonymous said...

I also thought creating the SIP was the school Council's primary job. If they are not doing it anymore what are they doing. Also, I would like to know what is the practice in other communities? I also thought it was the school Council's responsibility under MGL to write the SIP. When did this change in Amherst?

Anonymous said...

Central office has shown no desire to meet the needs of students who can do more than the minimum standards of the state frameworks. It starts in the elementary schools where Everyday math is used. Everyday math is a good curriculum but does not address the needs of the many students who need more than those grade level standards. There is no systemic approach being developed to do this so it is all up to the individual teacher. No quality math program is built that way. Soon, no one who comes through the elementary schools will be prepared for advanced math so the advancement problem will be solved!

Anonymous said...

re: the SIPs, all the schools have school councils. I just don't think that some of these councils are very active.

Anonymous said...

to any Anon on the SIP thing.

I served under 3 different principles on school councils. They all operate differently. I have not read MGL so I can not comment on that. One of the principals gave more information and listened a little less. Others gave lots of information and wanted lots of feedback and would discuss how the SIP could be modified based on parental needs and current trends in the schools. There seems to be a wide range of use of the councils depending on the leader. Really not sure which was better ultimately.

I think good curriculum and high standards in the classroom are they key. The whole DIP and SIP things feels like administrators and bureaucrats justifying their existence. Lots of feel good intentions and words with limited outcome or proof of success.

Public education needs an overhaul not just Amherst. Amherst just wastes more money doing the same thing as other schools, they just like to say they are better.

Anonymous said...

I think I will try to find the time to do some research on SIPs and how they are supposed to function under MGL.

Anonymous said...

Is this really the place for this discussion/debate?

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the MGL on school councils & SIPs:

Here's a link to the MA Dept of Educ. (DESE) guidance on school councils & SIPs:

I'm not sure all the ARPS school councils & SIPs function as well as they could.

Plus the statute above reads,"Nothing contained in this section shall prevent the school committee from granting a school council additional authority in the area of educational policy." ummm, yeah, as though that would ever happen in this town.

Anonymous said...

From the DESE guidance (link posted earlier):

Q: When should the annual school improvement plans be submitted, and to whom?

A: Plans are submitted annually to the school committee. As reviewing and approving authorities, school committees have the discretion to set their own schedule and timelines for the submission and review of the improvement plans. School committees are strongly encouraged to support the efforts of councils and work collaboratively with them.

Q: May a school committee approve or disapprove parts of a school improvement plan?

A: Yes. Planning is a dynamic and interactive process. The process of review can be an ongoing conversation between the school committee and the school site councils in its school district. Unapproved elements of the plan can be sent back to the sites for further development and can be resubmitted in a revised form. Unnecessary barriers which hinder the process should be avoided.

This does not sound much like the approval process used in this district, which includes little (if any) review by school committee members, and the approval of all the elementary school SIPs in one single vote.

Our school committee members could do so much more under the statutes than they are allowed to here.

Anonymous said...

Common core is the minimum state curriculum requirement. Use common core to remove algebra and geometry is misleading. We should maintain these courses offering to give student curriculum choice.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 8:32

You are right that this is not the best place for discussion and debate. If the proper place for discussion and debate felt like it was making a difference than this discussion would not continue. This is a direct result of years of neglect by various administrations with respect to student and parental needs. This is a symptom of a much greater problem.

It would be great to see it debated in the proper arena. this does not mean having administrators listen to parents and ignoring them, but actually make significant changes to DIPs and SIPs based on the discussion.

If math is any indication of the process in action, then it is clear the process and the administrators continue to fail.

Anonymous said...

This MGL section includes to DIPs and SIPs

Anonymous said...

How hard would it be to post information on the current middle school math program, its problems, suggested solutions, changes being considered and evidence supporting the proposed changes? Maybe even ask for feedback from parents and students?

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

This debate is about school curriculum choice for the students. Amherst students, 8th grade and above, currently have a curriculum choice. They can and have taken Algebra and Geometry classes in middle school, and accelerated math class in high school. They are happy about it. There is no doubt about it. Just ask parents and students. Curriculum choice is considered almost as students's rights to learn and grow in Amherst and many other towns. To take this right away, you are taking the happiness away from families. You got to have really, really valid reasons.

One reason I can think of, umm, could be health reasons, like, if you take algebra or geometry in middle school, you life expectancy will greatly shortened, and you will die before you reach 20 years old. I cannot figure out any other reason why middle school students are not allow to learn Algebra or Geometry in middle school.

School Curriculum choice is so important and we should write it in the state education statue or Amherst education charter if we have one, or we can create one. Any deviation away from this curriculum choice, should be fully debated, and agreed upon if ever, by the parents/students/teachers from four towns.

Curriculum choice give family more options and opportunities to adapt each family/children's need. I see no harm there.

Taking away student's curriculum choice by forcing it through current 7th grade students in middle school without community debate and overwhelming community agreement and support, it is dictatorship. Implementing this curriculum change without proper communication is sneaky leadership.

Anonymous said...


That is a wonderful thought. Simply put in writing were Cohen is going with the math program. I think that is as likely to happen as the surfacing of illusive report on the benefits to trimester system that have been refereed to over the last 10 years yet no one has every produced a copy. That a hint for anyone who has the report. Send it to Larry so we can all read it.

Anonymous said...

I went on the curriculum website at All of the information is outdated and no longer what is happening.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:03.

The Central office doesn't have manpower to write the math curriculum change for the public to know? I don't think so.

Kill the program when everyone is asleep. That way will not alarm the villagers.

You do not hear any bad news from main media. You either hear it from your neighbor who has a son or daughter in middle school, or here in the blog. Check back often.

Anonymous said...

From last October's Update on Teaching and Learning:

"Transparency: high levels of coordination and communication among educators, students, and parents."

Anonymous said...

Mention Amherst schools on this blog, and it's like popping the cork on a champagne bottle, except what comes flowing out is lots of bottled-up unhappiness.

It's like the public opinion in an authoritarian regime: repressed.