Friday, October 16, 2015

Amherst Elementary School Closings?

108,000 sq ft Wildwood Elementary School built 1970 and 197,000 sq ft Middle School above center built 1969

The Amherst School Committee will hear school administrators "education plan" on Tuesday night that will set the future of Amherst Public Schools for the next 30 or 40 years.

The School Committee will not vote on that recommendation until their November 3rd meeting, and there is one "community forum" before that, on October 26.

 Wildwood Building Committee met last night at Middle School

That plan could very well consist of closing down Fort River Elementary School and merging/redistricting all the students into Crocker Farm Elementary School and a new mega-sized elementary school building to replace Wildwood Elementary School.


 Overhead presented yesterday to Wildwood Building Committee

Letter from concerned parents:

Click to enlarge/read

Fort River Elementary School

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that getting rid of neighborhood schools would be bad for both property values and the sense of community in town. If the issue is that we don't have the population to justify three schools (and I have no idea whether or not that is the case), I think it would be better to simply redistrict among two schools. But who has time to attend these meetings and say that? I don't.

Anonymous said...

Many towns have gotten rid of neighborhood schools and gone the way of grouping kids according to grade. This is not an off base proposal at all.

Anonymous said...

The most unfortunate scenario would be having a new school for Wildwood families and students while Fort River remains unaltered.

It is my understanding that if the district administration puts forth the grade reconfiguration to the school committee (pre-k to 1) and (2 to 6), and the committee accepts this, then Fort River will be included in the plans. If the school committee rejects the plan, the new building project will move forward with Wildwood but not Fort River.

The truth is that Wildwood School and Fort River have many problems. They are not sustainable for the next 10 to 20 years. Something has to be done!


Kevin said...

There has been a lot of discussion on this. What it comes down to is what the state will fund. Which is one school, Wildwood. But Fort River is also in dire condition and must be replaced. But the state will not fund two schools, Wildwood AND Fort River. It will only fund one. Our only option, therefore, is to build "a new Wildwood" in such a way that our school system accommodates Fort River students, too. Otherwise, East Amherst will be stuck sending their kids to a substandard school for the next twenty-five years. Or more. No one is to blame, that's just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

After destroying a local to build the school know Amherst wants to scrap it and enlarge Wildwood. Amherst stupid

Anonymous said...

What someone on the building committee said on facebook: "Learned last night that MSBA will not allow a new Pre-K-6 that replaces WW and FR. Also reminder that MSBA provides 68% of the funding for what we end up doing. It means that the only way to replace FR "now" (in the next 2 years) is to do the grades 2-6 school option ("2-6 school that replaces WW and Fort River"), which MSBA will allow. If we renovate WW or replace WW (the other 2 options) we have to wait an unknown amount of time to get: 1) MSBA approval for FR, and 2) town approval to fund another study, AND fund the 32% that MSBA does not pay for. Note that of course we do not yet have approval from the town for anything -- we don't know the costs yet -- so that will go to town meeting for approval in Fall 2016. It was also said last night that we will have at least preliminary cost estimates by end of 2015."

Anonymous said...

can someone explain why a 4th possibility isn't listed? After moving 7-8th grade to the HS (when hasn't the admin gotten what they proposed), why can't Amherst lease the MS instead of paying 10's of millions of dollars to build a brand new school at the WW site? It isn't like the state will pay the cost of the new building, the Town will pay the cost... surely the interest rate on 10's millions of $ won't be less the cost of leasing....or is that really a plan but first we need to regionalize so that with Amherst's very slim majority they could push it all through??? Cuz I can't see a real and rational reason for Amherst SC members and admin to support the regionalization plan...

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I don't believe the state will fund the cost (maybe a little bit) for a new school. Where are you getting your information?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:46, the school district has entered a feasibility study with the MSBA. This is a state board; one cent of every dollar you spend goes to the MSBA. Their only job is to fund new school projects across the state. The district and architects have already been working with this agency. And, it is anticipated that the MSBA will fund 68% of the project.

Anonymous said...

alright, if the cost of a new big elementary school is ~40 million (westfield's new one is about that) and the state pays 64%, that still leaves $15 million needed from Amherst. Say the elementary school leased ARMS (instead of GCC) at $100,000/year. It would take 144 years to equal the $15 million (not even including interest). Seems like a good deal to rent. I doubt that GCC would pay anywhere near $100,000/year. Think about it!

Anonymous said...

Were the mold issues at Wildwood and Fort River ever resolved?

Anonymous said...

What is a "Listening Session"? How is it different from a "forum"? Who does the listening, who does the talking?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered how moving 6th grade to the middle school could help this situation?

Anonymous said...

No questioning of what can be changed so parents don't pull their kids out of our schools. Just blindly accepting this downward spiral.

Anonymous said...

Yes, strange how Amherst continues to build schools that will be abandoned, yet seeks to build one more just in order to sop up state funds. Sort of like tthe developers who built the Hampshire Mall across the street from the Mountain Farms Mall that had been built 3 years earlier, killing it. Or like Lowe's and Home Depot overbuilding each other with mausoleums on route 9 that are clean, spacious and vacant of customers.

Instead, what if we installed a visionary school administration and elected a visionary school committee, and they noticed that families keep removing their children from the Amherst public school rolls to place them in higher performing private, parochial and charter schools? Demand exists for Arts, Language, Science! Or even a school that teaches the classics of the Western canon! Has anyone noticed for instance that less than ten years ago, at ARHS Awards Night, as many as 6-8 seniors would be receiving awards for superior distinction at NATIONAL Level for Russian language study? And a similar number for Chinese, and other great languages? Those programs are completely gone today!

And we puzzle over why Amherst parents are moving their kids to the Chinese Immersion school.

Amherst: outclassed over and over, but blundering ahead to build a new school building, one that will become a museum as its population shrinks every one of the next 35 years....

Anonymous said...

Enough with the LGBTQ crap in the middle school. Have you seen it? "You're an ally if : you call someone homophobic." Really? This is the kind of divisiveness they're teaching in our school? How about a wall display touting hetero sex? Oh no, can't do that! You really should visit the ARMS library. See for yourself how your tax dollars are being spent.

Dr. Ed said...

Enough with the LGBTQ crap in the middle school. Have you seen it? "You're an ally if : you call someone homophobic." Really? This is the kind of divisiveness they're teaching in our school? How about a wall display touting hetero sex? Oh no, can't do that! You really should visit the ARMS library.

If you think that is bad, wait until you see Common Corpse - and you won't even be able to see your child's actual curriculum, just a sanitized version of it.

There's even talk of using eye scans to ensure that only the child can see what is on the child's laptop, even in the parent's home. I think this is bullshite...


Anonymous said...

Leverett & Shutesbury both built their elementary schools based on enrollment projections at the time. That growth & those projections haven't materialized, & my understanding is both schools are under-enrolled right now given their size. I would hate for Amherst to fall into a similar pattern.

UMass-Amherst recently renovated Marks Meadow (at a cost of $20 million) and fully uses it today. I hate to think about Amherst abandoning so many schools (Wildwood, Fort River, ARMS) just to then request a new shiny bigger, "better" school. Is new always "better"? Is bigger? Can any of the current spaces, such as ARMS, be reused for classrooms for other age students? There is already talk of relocating the HS' Southeast Campus there if the MS & HS consolidate, and the ARMS building can't be all that bad if the plans are being made to house LSSE and GCC classes there.

Even with the MSBA paying much of the cost, the Amherst share of a new school could be $10-$15+ millions dollars. These costs will need be approved by Amherst Town Meeting, whose members will need to understanding clearly the benefits of the elementary consolidation option (the district's preferred option) if that's what's approved by the School Committee.

I have also heard that the elementary school construction may require a budget override, a vote by Amherst's registered voters. Will voters support an increase in property taxes for the project? The school district needs to make a more compelling case before an override vote would win. The last few override votes have been close.

Anonymous said...

will never again vote for an override to give yet money to the Amherst schools, never again given the decisions and policies that have been made for the schools by the SC and Superintendent.

Dr. Ed said...

How about a wall display touting hetero sex?

It's more than that -- women are able to demand not to be "hit on" and to be able to set boundaries and how is my not being interested in gay men any different?

Anyone remember "Tailgate" and the infamous remark "what do you think will happen when you (female USN) walk through a hallway filled with drunken aviators?"

Well why shouldn't I have the same right? When I have to bluntly state "which one of you is prepared to die for your friend's fun" -- as I once had to do to get out of a now-closed restroom in a now-closed rest area -- yes, it was a bit after Midnight on a warm August night, I was trying to get some water for my car's radiator and left the parking lot blowing live steam and not particularly caring...

This is why the State of Maine closed all the rest areas in the state excepting about five which not only are staffed with state employees 24/7 but usually have a state trooper assigned to them.

SOME in the gay community want is the right to hit on any man they want to, even ones they aren't sexually interested in -- something frat boys like to do too -- and I don't see why this is any less reprehensible than the stuff women have demanded not be done to them.

And what the rest of the Gay (etc) community needs to understand is that a lot of what they consider heterosexism and homophobia is actually boundary setting,. If they don't like it being done that way, then establish some other way for it to be done. And find some way to make distinctions between criminal behavior which I doubt you support and interactions of consenting adults.

Never forget that the Charlie Howard murder occurred because the 14-year-old had just been sexually assaulted and he went back there with his two older/bigger friends. He shouldn't have done it, but Jason Vassell shouldn't have left his dorm room either.

Unlike the PVTA, the Bangor (ME) bus system was hub & spoke at the time -- the hub was the bus stop on State Street (US Route 2 North) -- on the bridge over the Kenduskeag Stream and while there *were* male high school students there prostituting themselves (for drugs and drug money) to the gay men who hung out there most warm summer nights (I heard "from at least five states and two Canadian Provinces that night") - this kid was just trying to go somewhere on the bus system.

Other than that it was low tide in August and Howard would have lived had he merely stood up instead of panicking, I trust most of us have heard about the gay man thrown off the bridge in Bangor back in 1984 -- and other than the fact that I think that all three of them were also intoxicated -- and who their parents were -- I trust most folks know the rest of the story.


No, you don't. Just beyond the bridge is a parking lot, with no fence (back then) and "rip-rap" down to the Kenduskeag which is in a concrete channel at this point.
Howard's boyfriend witnessed him land in the river and pulled a fire alarm (this was before cell phones) and then disappeared like a thief into the night. Now the perps had been taught (by their quite important-in-Bangor parents) to never hang around, to disappear before the cops showed up and they did immediately after throwing him over the railing.

If anyone I cared about -- or (in most cases) a random stranger -- had been thrown in and was drowning, I would have gone in after the person. Most women I know would, some of my female friends aren't very big, but I have no doubt they would have at least waded in until the water was too deep to continue -- and there was less than three feet of water there so it wouldn't have been. A friend of mine would not have been left there to die -- 30 years later, that still bothers me.

I don't think it is homophobic to say that I wouldn't have left a friend behind.

Anonymous said...

MSBA is funded by a fiscally challenged Commonwelth. Remember that too///

Anonymous said...

Since Crocker Farm is overcrowded right now, & the soonest any new/renovated school would open is Sept 2019, won't the district need to look at doing some redistricting regardless of what option the School Committee votes in favor of?

It seems like just a few years ago that the district last redistricted for the elementary schools, even though I guess it's actually been six years. Still that's not all that long ago.

It does make me wonder though if the district has challenges accurately projecting future elementary school populations 6-7 years old, how much we should believe their figures for the next 30-40+ years, the expected life time of a new school.

Anonymous said...

Would constructing a new, trophy school building stop the families running out of Amherst School district for better education opportunities? No. It would not. Does putting 15 million dollar or so new school building cost on the back of Amherst taxpayers, as the school enrollment dwindle year after year, sound like a prudent economic decision? No, it does not.

Anonymous said...

How dare these parents seek the best possible education and future for their children!!?!

What kind of privilege-seeking monsters are they?

Anonymous said...

The best possible education? Go to the middle school. Look at the displays there. Sit in on a meeting of the LGBTQ club. (Used to be the Gay-Straight Alliance, but now if you din't support the agenda, you're a 'hater," or a homophobe.). Go to the Middle School and look at the displays in the library. We celebrate diversity, ( unless your politics are not our own.). 3.4% of Americans identify as LGBT. But 100% of the space for 7th and 8th graders which is devoted to human sexuality is LGBTQ. And parents could not care less. Wouldn't a little balance be nice? And this bit about "you're an ally if you call someone a homophobe," really is about as divisive as it gets. But keep telling yourself this is the best possible education.

Rick Hood said...

@October 16, 2015 at 7:20 PM
“It is my understanding that if the district administration puts forth the grade reconfiguration to the school committee (pre-k to 1) and (2 to 6), and the committee accepts this, then Fort River will be included in the plans. If the school committee rejects the plan, the new building project will move forward with Wildwood but not Fort River.”

Yes correct. Also, if we do not do the 2-6 plan, and renovate or build a new WW, then not only would we have to wait until MSBA approves FR, but we would also then have to get Town Meeting to approve another $1,000,000 feasibility study (an MSBA requirement) and we would have to do a second debt exclusion override (to cover the 32% MSBA does not cover). And, the total cost of doing separate WW and FR projects would surely be a lot higher than the one 2-6 option.

@October 16, 2015 at 7:45 PM
“can someone explain why a 4th possibility isn't listed? After moving 7-8th grade to the HS (when hasn't the admin gotten what they proposed), why can't Amherst lease the MS instead of paying 10's of millions of dollars to build a brand new school at the WW site?”

MSBA will not allow that. If we go the renovation route, it has to be the Wildwood building we renovate.

@October 17, 2015 at 5:40 PM
“Since Crocker Farm is overcrowded right now, & the soonest any new/renovated school would open is Sept 2019, won't the district need to look at doing some redistricting regardless of what option the School Committee votes in favor of?”

Yes, that is quite possible.

Anonymous said...

Rick, why would the MSBA not allow the Amherst District to lease the MS (assuming it becomes vacate)? Little or no renovation required. If some is, it would be far far less than Amherst's share of building a new mega-school. We don't HAVE to build anything...do we?

Anonymous said...

Rick, why does the decision have to be made so quickly? Why can't the district wait before making such a huge decision? Why not wait until the decision is made to move the MS into the HS. If it moves, then the MS could be leased. Surely that would have to happen anyway if WW were to close for any renovation/replacement. Where else would all those WW kids go? If Ms Geryk thinks building a brand new elementary school will be her crowning legacy, she ought to reconsider...I think the sentiment among Amherst tax payers, is the schools are getting more then enough resources...and won't be happy to drop another $15 million.

Rick Hood said...

There is no "why" with the MSBA rules, it's just the rules. Any renovation has to be on the existing WW building.

But the the other issue with using ARMS is that Amherst must own whatever land the MSBA funds are used for, and MSBA does not fund the purchase of land, so for that reason alone, the ARMS building is not viable, assuming Amherst would not want to fund 100% of the purchase of the ARMS land and building, assuming the Region would agree to sell it to Amherst to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I'm bisexual. I don't think the schools need to adopt my sexual agenda. Or anyone's. I'm also a black man who's Republican. Talk about the haters coming out of the liberal woodwork. They cannot stand a black Republican. Celebrate diversity indeed.

Anonymous said...

Just wait until the middle schoolers get mixed in with the high school crowd.

Anonymous said...

It is other people's money, i.e. taxpayer's money. Just spend it. Let taxpayers shoulder everything. Plead with your children's education, and do a property tax hike override. Cry for your children's future, and steal from your pocket.

Anonymous said...

Rick, no where did I suggest we buy the MS, are you being deliberately obtuse? If it becomes vacant (when the 7-8th graders move), the Amherst district could LEASE the building instead of GCC as proposed. I am not sure the MS needs any renovation but if it does I am sure it would be well below the cost of building a brand new mega-elementary school (well below Amherst's predicted share of $10 million).

Surely it has been suggested that the WW students would move into the MS during any renovation or rebuilding. Where else could they go?

Rick Hood said...

@ October 18, 2015 at 8:16 PM
"Rick, why does the decision have to be made so quickly?"
It is not quick from my point of view as an SC member because I have been following this for a long time. I understand how it seems quick to many in the public, who did not pick up on the fact that a 2-6 school was one of the options (even though we talked about that at SC meetings from day 1). So long as we have heard from enough of the public to hear all possible concerns, so that we can accurately weigh the pros and cons of each option, then I am very comfortable voting on November 3 for one of the 3 options. We are hearing from a lot of people via the forums, meetings with PGOs and emails we are receiving, so I feel like I am getting the input on concerns I need to make sure I know all the pros and cons to each option.

But to answer your question, we have to vote on November 3 (or say by mid-November) to stay on the MSBA timeline.

@ October 19, 2015 at 6:44 AM
No I am not being "deliberately obtuse". Read my second paragraph. Probably the disconnect here is your assumption that "little or no renovation required" which I believe is not a good one, especially if it becomes a 2-6, which is needed if we want to replace FR also, which we do. I doubt that it would take a lot less than 32% of the total cost of a new 2-6 school to renovate ARMS to be the 2-6. ARMS currently houses 2 grades - and is under capacity so let's say it can house 3 grades, that still leaves a need for space to house 2 more grades. In additional to all that, the uses being talked about for the ARMS building, like having GCC courses there for our students and the public to take seem great to me. We also still need some of the ARMS building to keep housing admin (they are not moving) and possibly bring back some technical/vocational courses.

If a new WW were built there is (barely) room to build it next to the current one, so WW students could stay in the current building. But yes, leasing ARMS for a year to put WW students there might be an option, but leasing is not a permanent option for the reasons I mention.

Anonymous said...

So the MS does not have 36 classrooms? Is that the bottom line? Are you sure? Ten years ago, the MS could house well over 600 students. As far as renovations, it isn't clear what changes (you imply) are needed to make a MS accessible to 2-6 graders.

It sounds to me like you have made up your mind....

Anonymous said...

This cake was baked years ago before the 3 options were selected. This month or two of "public process" is the icing. Incredible that the school committee and admin did not feel it had to send clear info out to the school community about the school closings. Business as usual.

Rick Hood said...

@ October 19, 2015 at 9:36 AM
Rather than continue this debate, what is important for now are which option we choose: 1) renovate the WW building, 2) build a new WW building, or 3) reconfigure to have PreK-1 at CF and 2-6 in another building. How and where we do options 2 and 3 does not have to be decided yet and requires more study. So, there is more time to decide whether or not using ARMS works for options 2 or 3.

“It sounds to me like you have made up your mind….”
No, it is way too early to make up my mind on anything to do with implementation of 1,2 or 3.

Anonymous said...

"way too early to make up my mind on anything to do with implementation of 1,2 or 3" but isn't that what you are deciding Nov 3rd (in two weeks?)?

Rick Hood said...

@ October 19, 2015 at 2:43 PM
To repeat what I said above, we are voting on 1,2 or 3 on November 3:
1) renovate the WW building,
2) build a new WW building, or
3) reconfigure to have PreK-1 at CF and 2-6 in another building.
How and where we do options 2 and 3 does not have to be decided yet and requires more study. So, there is more time to decide whether or not using ARMS works for options 2 or 3.


Implementation = "How and where we do options 2 and 3"

Anonymous said...

Hear. Hear.

Anonymous said...

Rick, and other SC members and School Admin:

I understand the need to act on the funding we are eligible for right now. I support a new building for 2-6 built at the WW site.

However, why is the SC not addressing the fundamental issue of why so many families are leaving for private and charter schools? Or is that the job of the Admin, and not of the SC? I submit that one major reason why a majority of families are leaving is that the Amherst elementary/middle schools are not challenging our higher learners, primarily in Math/Science. In reading, it is all about reading at your "just right level." In Math, the ones who find math easy and get it quickly are told to occupy themselves quietly instead of being given math that is their "just right level." Instead, the Administration specifically implements building-wide rules that no child is to go above grade level in math, ever, in the elementary school.

Why is this one issue (of not challenging our higher learners) NEVER brought up as an issue to be tackled in the school budget? It seems like a big budget issue if many families are leaving for charter schools. It also seems to be an issue in that some of the most involved families in the PGO and School Committee try their best for years to improve the system by volunteering tirelessly, only to finally take their kids out of the Amherst public schools and send them to private/charter schools when they realize their own kids' needs are not being met.

If - there were plans to address the aggreggated higher learners at the future preK-1 and 2-6 schools (because now you will have 20-some high learners per grade all together in one building) - then that WILL be an incentive for families of high learners to support a preK-1 and a 2-6 school. However, I have heard (and correct me if I am wrong) that if and when the 7/8th graders are moved to the ARHS building, they will still NOT be allowed to take high school classes (which is what I see as one of the main benefits of moving the 7/8th graders to the high school building).

Anonymous said...

How can our 'higher' learners learn in an atmosphere lacking in discipline. When I applied for my first teaching position in a city nearby, I had to write an essay on the meaning of discipline in the schools. That question would never be asked here in the ARPS ststem today.

Rick Hood said...

@October 20, 2015 at 2:09 PM
It is brought up at SC meetings, for example when we reviewed this exit survey report:
http://bit.ly/1GgKiJq

Anonymous said...

Even though the powers that be say there is no differentiation of math curriculum, you still need to fight for it. Some teachers still do it, just quietly. Push to have your higher learner take algebra in the 7th grade, or better yet in the summer. Then, the school has to let your child take geometry the next year! You have to keep fighting to get what your child needs, or take him/her out and find it elsewhere. The school does no exit interviews, though they say they now do it. They don't care why you leave...and the surely don't want to ask those who dislike the education why they are leaving. This has gone on for years.

Anonymous said...

sorry anon@824. The track you describe is no longer an option. Next year there will be no geometry (this year either is was gone or available to only a few). We are IMP only now.