Sunday, March 23, 2014

Local Election Fever

Noon today, Amherst town center.  Note Select Board candidates don't even bother

With actual town-wide contests on the ballot, Tuesday's election will draw twice the voter turnout as last year's snoozer.

Although, that's not saying much since last year Amherst -- where even the H is silent -- saw a pitiful showing at the election booth of only 6.6%; compared to 69% the previous year for the Presidential contest (which in Massachusetts is not much of a contest).

And with two of four Select Board candidates firmly representing the status quo establishment vying for two open seats, and with each voter allowed to vote for two candidates, Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg and Amherst Housing Authority Chair Connie Kruger are nothing if not unbeatable.

The other two candidates -- John Boothroyd and Helen Berg -- can flip a coin to see who's last. Although considering her eccentricities, let's hope it's Helen Berg.

When it comes to the Select Board race -- after the tumultuous years of Czar Anne Awad, his lordship Gerry Weiss and t-shirt tosser Rob Kusner -- the last six years have been pretty smooth sailing.

Well, other than the perennial national embarrassment over censoring the commemorative American flags in the downtown on 9/11.

So I'm quite comfortable with Steinberg and Kruger assuming top leadership roles in town government, as it's not like "changing horses in mid stream." 

The School Committee is a different matter altogether.  Amherst has champagne costs with lite beer results.  And the PC problem, also a PR nightmare, of racism and bullying has been an issue for many years; an issue the current School Committee has done nothing to solve.

So I'm more than up for giving an outsider a chance -- especially since Vira Douangmany is not your usual white-bread upper middle class automaton, and her husband owns a small business.  Maybe now the connection between expensive school costs bringing on high property taxes in a town that has a tiny commercial tax base will be understood.

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority is dead but if it is ever revived it wouldn't hurt to have a stakeholder with some passion on board, so I will be voting for Paige Wilder, even though we strongly disagreed on the Gateway Project.

Phillips Street was the only area in the Gateway that was officially ruled "decadent" (making it easier to take by eminent domain) by a certified consultant, so maybe some day the ARA will take the  street, flatten it, and build something we can all be proud of.  That is, if they ever meet again. 

Same can be said for Amherst Housing Authority.  While I would strongly disagree with Tracy Lee Saraia Grace Boutilier's quest to take Echo Village Apartments by eminent domain (they are not considered "decadent") she would still bring an impassioned outsider perspective informed by experience.

Ah, Town Meeting -- that overwhelmingly white, overly educated bastion of democracy. Until Amherst grows up and switches to a more professional Mayor/Council it's the only game in town (what the gambler said about a rigged operation).

I can't argue with the recommendations of Sustainable Amherst, but I find it interesting the long-time Town Meeting members they did not endorse:  Media mogul Isaac BenEzra, landlord Richard Gold, Nonny Burack, Rob Kusner, Mary Wentworth to name a few. 

Matthew Cunningham-Cook (the UMass student who brought us the $15/hr Minimum Wage article slapped down by Town Meeting last week), also fails to garner an endorsement, which, after the recent debacle is more than understandable.

We do have a handful of other students running for Town Meeting, so in all likelihood some will be successful.  Of course Town Meeting drags on until June, so it will be interesting to check their attendance records after UMass lets out.  


Anonymous said...

Pam Rooney should absolutely have your vote for ARA. She is passionate, smart and committed to making the right decisions for smart growth. Wilder voted no to North Amherst form-based code, no to Atkins form-based zoning. This kind of anti-business strategy is not what we need at this time.

Granted, ARA is dormant, but do reconsider your choice.

Larry Kelley said...

As a resident of Fearing Street, Wilder has a vested interest in solving the rowdy-students-living-in-slums problem that has plagued this town for far too long.

Anonymous said...

That doesn't mean she exercising good judgement in decisions that impact other parts of town, ie N. Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Do not forget that Appy was recruited to defeat Catherine Sanderson.

I don't think we need to know anything else do we? Although did you remember to renew your drivers' license (and any other professional license you may have)? I did....

Anonymous said...

Even if Amherst doesn't become a city, wouldn't it make sense to absorb the ARA and AHA into the town government? (This would automatically happen if Amherst did become a city.) This would be a common-sense thing to do....

Larry Kelley said...

Nah, I kind of like the idea they are somewhat autonomous.

Anonymous said...

With a median age of 62, it will be 24 years before Town Meeting are all dead and we can actually get some housing in Amherst. All they care about is themselves.


Anonymous said...

I actually agree w/you Larry. Appy = status quo...time to go. Let's give Vira a chance. Tired of the top down management style and lack of insight when major decisions are being made then have to pick up the pieces later.

Anonymous said...

It's Vira Douangmany not Vera.

I hope that she will be elected and that we will end the era of our superintendent, Kip Fonsh, and Katherine Appy having their own (non-quorum) meetings regarding our schools and the school committee outside of public view and public criticism(when they set up agendas, etc.)

Anonymous said...

The only schools that seem not to be imploding are Wildwood and ARHS, both run by Principals who began their careers long before the current administration began. Someone has got to come clean on why these schools are failing so many kids, why so many families are leaving these schools in droves if they have the means, and why so many principals come and go (often to the central office without having accomplished much)??? Appy would deny every one of these problems. At least Vira sees there are big problems and just nodding yes and applauding Ms. Geryk's latest initiative isn't very helpful or productive.

Anonymous said...

as a Crocker Farm parent, I think CF is doing well at creating a positive school & learning environment for all students. CF also has a real sense of community which from what friends describing is missing at some of the other Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

Anon 347. When Maria and Katherine and Kip get together to set the agendas they are not doing anything different than has been done for decades. That's how it is done. The chairs solicit input from the entire committees and then set the agenda. If Shabbaz were today chair of either committee the same process would be followed. Would it be bad then?

Anonymous said...

Katherine Appy has never said there are no problems in the schools. She in fact would say just the opposite. That is why she has supported many of the proven new initiatives that have been started to address these problems.
Has anyone noticed that Vira has no ideas to meet the schools challenges? She has a lot of nice sounding rhetoric but no substance. Where's the beef?

Anonymous said...

Draft Sanderson

Anonymous said...

Uh, Sanderson lives in Hadley now..though she choices her kids into that awful school system known as the Amherst Public Schools!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if either of the candidates for School Committee believe that our public schools must serve ALL students?

Anonymous said...

Others may have a more comprehensive knowledge than I do of Katherine Appy's performance as a School Committee member. I did not vote for her last time. I was disappointed by how Ms. Sanderson and Mr. Rivkin's work on SC was summarily trashed here in town. The history about them seems to have congealed into the conventional wisdom, with which I respectfully disagree.

I admit that I was a little annoyed by Appy's insistence on running against the last School Committee three years ago, and chagrined that she has been bringing it up again lately. She now has her own record to run on.

But careful listening to her videotaped statement, currently being run and archived on Amherst Media, indicates someone who understands what many of the problems are. She articulates very clearly an agenda of change in the schools. She does not sound like simply a status quo candidate. She used the phrase "national embarrassment" to characterize sharply the achievement disparities in our schools. She speaks more in specifics than her opponent does in a corresponding video statement.

If she wasn't clear on this point three years ago, her remarks indicate that she is aware now that the problems in the schools amount to more than just some real or imagined problem with civility within the School Committee. Some may have a better command than I do about how well she has addressed these problems in the past 3 years.

I would also note that she has received the continued support of a number of people who have already served on School Committee, who know first-hand how difficult it is.

I don't know how I'm going to vote, but, for the good of our schools, I do think she needs a closer look before Tuesday, more than a simple dismissal as the "anti-Sanderson". Her video statement is a good place to start.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

As others have noted, I now live in Hadley (which is lovely by the way), so I'm not voting. But I believe current SC members should be judged not on their words but on their actions during their time on the board. Ms. Appy has served for three years and thus should be able to speak directly to the changes she pushed for in the schools, and the results she has seen. I served for three years and in that time we had to search for a superintendent three times (very time consuming). But I could still point to specific things I pushed for and accomplished - closing marks meadow, re districting the elementary schools, requiring outside reviews of ARMS and math, instituting a Spanish language program in all elementary schools. I believe the decision to elect a SC member is the most important decision Amherst voters make, and I hope voters will consider not just words but actions.

Anonymous said...

Something I find interesting about this SC election is, based on endorsements in the Bulletin adverts, the way it has divided residents who have otherwise been political allies. Douangmany's campaign has highlighted our differences.

As I scan the names of endorsees, I realize that the many of the people supporting Appy are people who have earned my respect and admiration for work they have accomplished in the community: Tony Maroulis, State Representative Ellen Story, Nancy Buffone, Irv Rhodes, Derek Kellogg, several of my children's teachers, so on. All people who have displayed positive, forward thinking approaches that have resulted in accomplishments.

Many of the names on Douangmany's list are people I have in the past or currently thought of as divisive and non-constructive elements in town: Kathleen Anderson, Camila Carpio, Stephanie Gelfan, Vince O'Connor, Jim Oldham, Amilcar Shabazz, Mary Wentworth, so on. These people represent to me residents who have emphasized negative approaches that have typically been marked by attempts to block or undermine positive initiatives by leaders in our community.

Larry Kelley said...

I love the way you call people out by name ... as an Anon.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Anon 7:49 is simply making explicit how many people decide whom to vote for in this town.

You've heard of "guilt by association". This is "disqualification by association."

Yes, it's an easier way to make a decision, especially when we haven't been paying attention to date. It's similar to buying (or avoiding) products by the endorsing celebrities we love (or dislike): not all that deep.

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice how many people who formerly served in town-wide office are now living somewhere else?

We chew them up, and we spit them out.

Something to remember when you're getting ready to fire off your next snarky comment on this blog.

Anonymous said...

True, not very deep, but every politician relies on endorsements, always has, small town to national politics. I assume that's the reason politicians, including Appy and Douangmany solicit endorsements: to help us to determine who we wish to vote for. The endorsements have definitely helped guide my decision in this upcoming election.

Anonymous said...

Rich, I just watched the video at your suggestion. After, it makes me more sure to vote for Vira. I had been wavering as there is no doubt that Ms. Appy has put some serious time into SC and served many hours in sub-committees. However, watching her video makes me even more convinced that she "buys" every thing that is provided to her by Ms. Geryk without the slightest skepticism. Lets start- first we had MAP testing (she refers to teachers abilities to track students performance and intervene) which for some unexplained reason was dropped after a couple of years (we were told this was a proven program of success) now replaced with another similar program (no reports of either program are posted and presumably never produced). PBIS- in what school is this program active? Has she seen a report of its success? She brings up Math success. While this is true, this change came before her time, I believe, and first resisted by the SI (who kept investigations) and finally changed over when Ms. Cohen came (all this during enormous pressure by the community). So in my view the only (possible) positive change she could fairly associate herself with is Steps to success and the family center. Both have just started, so their failure or success is uncertain (while both cost an enormous amount of resources). Has ARMS improved while she has served on the SC? Have there even been any surveys of ARMS members?
I want someone to represent me on SC, ask questions, be skeptical, ask of the SI the question asked by those at public comment time (since they have no voice or expectation of an answer).

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, I'm waiting for some Anon to suggest I endorsed Steinberg and Kruger because I really want the other two to win.

Anonymous said...

I'll try again. Katherine Appy has said several times that our schools should serve ALL students. This is in response to Anon 658's question. I have heard her say it and seen it in writing several times.

Anonymous said...

Andy and Connie will be great. Lots of town government experience. I am more familiar with Andys work and am very impressed with his calm demeanor and hard capable work he has done.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anon 8:29 for your detailed response.

I am struggling with this SC choice. (Select Board is easy.) I don't really believe in leaving it blank, especially in a contest about our schools, with so much at stake.

I would guess that there are others, wisely quieter than me, who read this blog and are also trying to sort this one out, here at the eleventh hour.

I am interested in what others have to say on the candidates. I note that the "sensible center" notables are supporting Appy, although there have been some conspicuous defections.

Having looked in on the SC meetings via Amherst Media, I must say that they are currently the hardest slog in all of elected officialdom in Amherst.(Library trustees meetings are bullet-trains in comparison.) You can shovel the jargon. Signing up for 3 more years of that takes some fortitude, and deserves some measure of respect. Someone has to do it. The victory party is small recompense.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Is it true that one of Vira's ideas is to have PGO members run the Central Office? Did she say that at the LWV candidate night?

Anonymous said...

Yes Vira did say that PRO members should work in central office and yes she did say it at the LWV candidate night. It would bea way to save money.

Anonymous said...

I am supporting Katherine Appy for a second term. Many new programs have been started during her term and I think she deserves another 3 years to see them through. There is a steep learning curve to serving on the school committee and i think it's important to have the continuity on the committee of folks serving 2 terms if they are willing to serve 2 terms.
Katherine has been a workhorse and I wonder who will step up if she is not there. She now has a wealth of experience, serving on the team that recently negotiated new contracts with teachers and staff, serving for 2 years on the regionalization committee, serving on the joint capital planning committee, serving on the budget coordinating committee, chairing the Amherst school committee for2 years. She was instrumental in bringing the Brite Program to amherst, a highly successful program I'm Brookline. She has been in conversations with amherst college to bring funding to the schools. I could go on and on. I think of Katherine wants to step up and volunteer to serve our community with this level of commitment for 3 more years she deserves our vote and thanks. We havea known workhorse with 3 years of valuable experience under her belt versus an unknown quantity who asks us for our vote based on nothing. I've listened to Vira on a number of occasions, read her Web page and her candidate statement and i have no idea what she stands for, what programs she supports, what specifically she wants to change. I am not willing to risk a vote on such an unknown quantity. Katherine Appy has my vote to serve for 3 more years and my Thank you for her last 3 years of service.

Anonymous said...

Yup, having parents work at 40 plus hour a week jobs for free that they aren't qualified for would be a way to save money. She could then be the voice for them on the school committee, as they will be poor and exploited.

Wow. A little out of touch?

Walter Graff said...

If you vote for Appy you are supporting a failing school system in Amherst. The woman is a shill. Vera is new and not as experienced in politics, but that is good. Let her stir up some trouble and pull some covers off the bed so we can see even more of the waste and corruption that is the Amherst school system. Appy might as well be spelled apathy. She's jumping out of her pants to stay in the Amherst SC but as Ms Sanderson says, look what she's done. I'll take it further, look what she had the potential to do and didn't. How much longer must we wait. Vera is a person new to the system. Let's see what she offers. Can't be worse than what we have now. Appy's had her chance to make a difference and other than go along with the plan she's been a nothing like Geryk. Schools don't have time for long term plans. They need to have swift change to better our students experience and education. It's time for change.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 1002. Sorry for the typos. I did all of that on my phone and sometimes the spelling auto correct does some weird things. :(.

Anonymous said...

Douangmany has got Graff's endorsement now, add him to the list. What more do you need to know?

Anonymous said...

Yea a school committee with members stirring up trouble is the way to a better educational experience for our kids. No thank you.

Larry Kelley said...

"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

Say, every three years or so.

Walter Graff said...

"Yea a school committee with members stirring up trouble is the way to a better educational experience for our kids. No thank you. "

Classic Amherst thinking. Let's not do what's better, let's not see what's on the other side, let's not make a wave in a waveless system, lets just leave it all alone and maintain status quo. No wonder why the Amherst school system and the town government are such a failure.

It always comes down to approval, not through exemplary public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of the panem et circenses that is the town of Amherst.

In this town The Retreat and a day of UMASS debauchery is more important than our children's education. Don't stir up the system, it's easier to leave it dysfunctional as it is now.

Whole Foods should have never changed their name. It was perfect for this town.

Anonymous said...

Parents of Amherst -- are your children better off now than they were three years ago? Taxpayers of Amherst, are your taxes lower than they were three years ago?

The term is "any port in a storm" -- I honestly don't believe that anyone could make things worse than they already are. Desperate times call for desperate measures and even if Vera is not the ideal candidate, she at least is an outsider.

Even if she is nothing more than a muckraker who stirs things up, never forget that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

Anonymous said...

"a school committee with members stirring up trouble is the way to a better educational experience for our kids"

As opposed to what the kids aren't getting now?

And besides, if everything is so good now, have you no faith that Maria G and the rest of the folks won't be able to say that?

Anonymous said...

7:49 pm:
Vira Douangmany is not just supported by malcontents. A number of important people in this community are publicly supporting her campaign (including former and present school officials): Russ Vernon-Jones, Susan Kennedy Marx, Baer Tierkel, Claire Bertrand, Bonnie MacCracken. Plus, Ellen Story said in her endorsement in the Amherst Bulletin, that she knows and likes Vira Douangmany very much, and would definitely vote for her in the future, but that she was supporting Appy this time since Appy wants to continue to serve on School Committee and that we as a community should support people who do want to continue service like this. I think that's nice, but I don't think that Appy's presence on the school committee has been as positive as Ellen Story suggests (Ellen Story has no children in the public schools), and I think that 3 more years is too long to wait for some real, positive change. 3 years is a long time in the education of a child, and I don't want mine to have wait that long.

Also, imho, bringing back full-time specials teachers in the elementary schools (after cutting them previously to save a small amount of $ in the multi-million dollar school budget) should not be touted as an accomplishment for Appy and the administration. Why were these cuts made in the first place? The cuts caused harm in the specials programs and teachers' morale for very little gain, & the administration has realized this in restoring these positions for next year.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Graff an Sunderland resident, and therefore can't vote in Amherst elections?

Anonymous said...

Yup, Rich I agree that it is a hard call. Maybe the best outcome is that Appy wins and continues her undisputed hard work but Vira comes in at a close second, which will encourage her to run next year. Next year we have two members who should be replaced (and probably want to) Rick Hood and Shabazz.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:17 AM:

You wrote: "I think that 3 more years is too long to wait for some real, positive change. 3 years is a long time in the education of a child, and I don't want mine to have wait that long."

What immediate and positive change do you believe Vira will initiate and see executed within the next 3 years if she is elected? She has not offered any particulars that I am aware of.

Anonymous said...

The SC members up for re-election next year are Shabbaz and Lawrence O'Brien - Rick Hood was re-elected last year.

Anonymous said...

I think Vira D. means that instead of hiring more and more central administrators, the district should look to parents (inc. those of school councils) for help, experience and insights. She has said that Amherst has a wealth of experience in the community and the schools work with parents more. Who could disagree?

Also, on the vague front, Katherine A. ran on air the first time around with only general happy statements That's what first-time candidates do. Katherine had no experience and had a steep learning curve 3 years ago, was that a reason to not elect her? (Did she even have an opponent?)

But now she has a record. How has Appy's work helped students in the past 3 years? Has student learned improved? If there is no evidence, doesnt' that say a lot? Are things smoother and better run? Lots of administrator turmoil and tension in several schools. Is the middle school stronger academically? Saying she is outraged by the achievement gap doesn't say so much since it's been a long standing problem and nothing has changed.

If the only thng Appy can say is wait mnore years to see academic improvements and Vira D. is new, that's pretty small potatoes.

Anonymous said...

I think something any member could do immediately is demand more accountability and transparency of the central office. These were agendas of Rick Hood's, I believe, but has anyone observed any improvement? If anything I think its become more bizantine and arcane. Every single new and existing program/initiative should have clearly stated goals/objectives, measurements for determining effectiveness, periodic review. These reports should be available to the SC and community, presumably they exist. If not, they should be and it would be insane if our district doesn't produce them- they actually mean something and aren't just "more work for our poor overworked highly paid administrators".
There used to be a poorly populated "Reports" section on the ARPS website. Now there is no central location (apparently).
Did the review of elementary science happen last year? Where is the report? The current Administration has done a very good job at all levels at increasing opacity for community members.

Anonymous said...

Actually I believe Vira said quite explicitly that PGO members should do the work of the Central Office, not simply that we should look to parents for insight and experience. What leads you to believe she meant something other than what she explicitly said at the candidates forum?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:48, there is a report that outlines those things you ask about for new programs and initiatives - it's called the District Improvement Plan. It was presented to the SC in a very long meeting in the fall and it is on the ARPS webpage.

Anonymous said...

I think Rick Hood really tries, and that he gets pushback when he tries to advocate for improvements and change just as community members and some of other members on the school committee do.

In a number of school committee (SC) meetings since school started in Sept, there has been noticeable tension when school committee members ask questions about or in any way (often as gently as possible) make their own suggestions about school administrators about what have presented. The SC meeting in which the superintendent and the staff presented the District Improvement Plan is one example at which SC members' comments were not well received.

Reports that are presented to the SC are now available from the ARPS web site under the School Committee page, 2013-2014 Reports & Presentations. Having this material online in a timely manner is one of the things that Rick Hood and other SC members asked for a number of times. Finally, the administration listened.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:02 am (& earlier Anons on this topic)
I listened to the LWV forum again & I don't believe that in Vira Douangmany's comments in response to a question about our school districts' costs for the central office & administration, she was saying that the central office administrators & staff should be replaced by PGO members, just that the parents involved in the PGOs are a great resource that could help our schools more and be more involved than they are. I think this is true with the School Governance Councils as well; and Vira Douangmany is an active member of Crocker Farm's. People can hear the LWV forum question & Vira's response & Katherine Appy's, for themselves beginning at 1 hour 6 min 40 sec on the Amherst Media video of the forum on their web site.

Anonymous said...

"Also, on the vague front, Katherine A. ran on air the first time around with only general happy statements"

My recollection is that she was elected on the basis of three words: "not Catherine Sanderson."

OK, she's had her three years and where are we? Hence "not Katherine Appy" seems equally valid, does it not?

Who lets clowns pick their pocket? said...

"Whole Foods should have never changed their name. It was perfect for this town."


Beautiful Wally...


Anonymous said...

anon @1011:
are you kidding me? You think the school district plan is a report of the goals of the new initiatives, how they will be evaluated, and the progress (or lack thereof)? I looked closely at the district improvement plan ( and then I looked for the "reports" we should expect (see under "Evidence" column in the 2013-2014 Reports and Presentation. Gee, guess what? There are NO reports. If these reports even exist (or were completed, some dates provided for January reports) they are not available to the community and not to the SC. This is what the SC should demand, something Katherine Appy hasn't done. Will Vira? The SC had every right to take issue and question the school improvement report and unnecessarily rebuked by the SI. I didn't hear Ms. Appy's voice. In what part of the document is each new initiative/program addressed for review? No wonder we flounder, reeling from one costly initiative (associated with new staff) to another, with little to show.

Anonymous said...

anon@1014: Given the response of the SI to the questions and requests for more information and transparency from members of the SC, I hope their annual evaluation of the SI strongly reflects her efforts and performance in that regard. Lets see something that the SC CAN do. Give her a poor evaluation, don't give her a raise.

Anonymous said...

From Mass Live:

She [Vira Douanmany] said there is no one on the School Committee that has an immigrant background. “I understand the challenges…of what children of immigrant backgrounds are going through.” She said she wants to “honor and validate that experience.”

After leaving Laos, her family stayed in a Thai refugee camp before arriving in Boston. “Excelling in school was a way to survive as a newcomer. Public education saved our lives,” she wrote in her bio.

The town has residents from myriad countries including El Salvador and Cambodia, she said.
Living in apartment, she feels her socio economic background is shared by a majority who live in town.

“All parents love their children.” And she said they want to see their children succeed.

As part of her campaign platform, she said she will fight for “quality instruction, smaller class size, and expanded access to structured academic support and enrichment programs as well as robust arts, language, and athletic programs. We must refocus our budget priorities on classroom instruction and a curriculum that recognizes, affirms, and builds upon the strengths and gifts of each student.”

And she said, “I will engage in serious, honest, and transparent deliberations and will represent those who want more than the status quo.”

Anonymous said...

Dear readers,

I am writing to ask you to vote for Vira Douangmany for School Committee tomorrow. I've talked with Vira, read about her, and listened to many people who highly recommend her. Here's why she has my vote:

1. A compelling life story. Her family fled Laos and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before they came to Boston when Vira was 8. Her mother cleaned hotel rooms until she injured herself. Vira went to Boston public schools and eventually graduated from Boston Latin Academy, the best public high school. She also did Upward Bound. She got a B.A. from UMass and went onto become a community organizer. When she says of her family, "Public education saved our lives," I know what she means. School and my teachers who looked out for me changed my life. She wants to pay this back.

2. A diligent reader of files and perhaps compulsive organizer of people. Vira stopped paid work to help her nephew get his conviction for murder overturned. He won his motion for a new trial, was re-tried and then acquitted of the charges. As you can imagine, this was not easy to do. Vira read the case files, got her nephew better legal help, and organized family and friends and allies. Afterwards, she helped a neighbor who faced criminal charges in Northampton that were eventually dismissed. Again, she pulled together friends, family and officials.

When she talked about her efforts, I thought, I know your type. (I love people who read the file and original documents.) I felt assured she would do the painstaking work it takes to be an effective school committee member. She will not be afraid to speak up--and she will reach out and involve parents and teachers.

3. She sees the problems we see in the schools. We talked about how very little information goes out to parents from the central administration and there is very little parent involvement in major decision-making. (Forget about involving students.) There is little open talk of problems, different solutions and evidence about what works. But there are school improvement plans, new hires in central administration, new programs launched… and then what? Maybe inconsistent implementation and evaluation, with another central administrative hire and new program. How has any of this helped?

4. Vira has skin in the game. She has two kids in the elementary school (Crocker Farm) and one the high school. Change is urgent for her. She knows our schools are the only and best shot for our kids. She wants high academic achievement for her kids and all kids.

5. She's nice, very smart and will listen to you. Vira seems tough and firm, in a calm way.

6. The Move Over and Make Some Room at the Table factor. While our kids attend very diverse schools (about half of elementary schools are non-white) and study, play and work together--our town government, committees, staff, town meeting members, school committees aren't so diverse. It's really, really white, with very few low-income people. (Can I get any blunter?) And while white and affluent people in Amherst (and elsewhere) are generally nice and worthy people, it's time to move over and make some more room at the table. The diversity we have here in Amherst with people of many backgrounds, incomes, experiences, and perspectives isn't a problem. It's our great strength as a community. But diversity is not our great strength as decision-makers. We need much more diversity to talk things out and make better decisions for our kids.

7. I felt hopeful after talking to her. I can't give guarantees, but I felt that Vira would become a strong advocate for parents, students and change if she was elected to school committee.

So that's my thinking and I hope you vote for Vira Douangmany. And please vote regardless of who you pick. It's what people all over the world are fighting to be able to do.


Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

A contest for a crucially important seat on a horribly dysfunctional, non-performing committee.

The choice is between an establishment appeaser and a community organizer.

Heaven help us!

Anonymous said...

The choice is clear. Make the administration earn their money. Vote for the community organizer. The status-quo is an easy pay check. maybe just maybe it will lite a fire under some of the dead wood on the committee.

Hilda said...

I have read all 59 comments and found them very useful. Who to vote for is a very difficult decision for those of "a certain age" who no longer have connections to the schools. I think that I have a very clear idea now what to do in the voting booth. Thank you all!! Hilda