Friday, January 15, 2016

Is Smaller Better?

Wildwood has plenty of space out back for a new building

Staff open ended comments on the Amherst Elementary School Building issue that came in via the recent survey (with a 50% response rate) give a telling snapshot look of this controversial issue.

I'm a little surprised school officials did not make it more widely available to the general public.

Well, maybe not so surprised.

Click link below to go to Scribd to better read:


Walter Graff said...

Surprised? You said in a post long ago that they were going to do what they wanted and you were right. The hint that this administration cares little about any input is right in front of you - hiding things, making things public on a need-to-know basis, making decisions without proper input. Let's face it, the school system has been in a free-fall for some time and this "restructuring" will be the icing on the cake.

I'd suggest if an Amherst parent is smart and truly cares for the education of their children, they get their kids out of the public schools in Amherst as fast as possible. Once you do, only then do you see how seriously lacking on all fronts the educational system in Amherst is.

Larry Kelley said...

Well what I really meant is I'm surprised they did not realize I would get my digital hands on it.

Anonymous said...

Yup, wait til you see the parent comments. But they are going to go right ahead and try to cram the megaschool down our throats, no matter how much the parents express that they don't want it, that they value small, community schools.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes I have seen the parent/guardian comments. Will put them up a little later today.

Laura Quilter said...

No surprise that the surveys were more or less buried.

The School District and School Committee Chair Appy only reluctantly surveyed staff/teachers and parents -- the people who are most intimately involved with the schools. They were forced to only by persistent parent pressure. They did their best to hobble the surveys (short time, electronic only, terribly vague / biased "factors") and STILL it's clear that the people who work and use the schools greatly favor K-6 models. Apparently the information about what the people who actually work and use the schools actually think and feel won't really make a difference, since 3 out of 5 School Committee members have avowed to vote for reconfiguration -- the positions they've had all along.

Let's hope they haven't miscalculated the willingness of the town to shell out big bucks for an unpopular educational model.

Yesterday at a "discussion forum" the Administration surprised us all by suddenly jumping on the bandwagon for expanded pre-K. It was a pretty obvious and cynical ploy that they dangled this at the last minute to make the reconfiguration more palatable -- the anti-big school contingent of parents have been arguing for months that we should use this as an opportunity to expand pre-K, and were told that it wasn't on the table. Honestly, if they had led with reconfiguration as a way to get universal full-day pre-K, I for one would have supported an otherwise bad grade configuration to get there.

But instead we were told no, and then at the last minute it was clearly coordinated to put it on the table, since the Administration and 3 votes all trotted it out in their compelling and planned personal statements. This sort of politicking is really disheartening and certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

But now that they've gone there, the Town should make the District and Board COMMIT to fully funding universal all-day pre-K.

Make them put (our) money where their mouth is: If they want us to support grade reconfiguration based on a tease of universal full-day preK, show us the money and make the commitment. Otherwise what they're presenting to the Town is
* an unpopular grade configuration, unpopular with teachers and parents alike.
* one large elementary school,
* an expensive building project,
* another expensive remodeling to get sufficient kindergarten rooms at Crocker Farm,
* an abandoned & empty building (Fort River, likely) to be demolished or expensively repurposed or remain as a blight,
* the pedagogical disadvantages of multiple transitions and large schools,
* long commutes -- and
* NOTHING innovative or new or exciting in the way of curriculum. No, I'm sorry -- "21st century learning", which apparently means lots of screens in the halls of the large elementary school?

So hopefully they will be serious about universal day-long pre-K. Otherwise I call bullshit as well as politics.

Anonymous said...

It's not a mega school. It's a large building housing two small schools.

Anonymous said...

Laura: I think the numbers indicate that all those families without means are able to send their kids to CR preK. I am not in favor of my tax dollars being used to fund preK for families of means. Parents of kids out of the elementary schools were not invited to participate in the survey (gee, why not? as it has huge impacts all around). I do not favor reconfiguring the grades and it is NOT supported as a good model for primary ed. I think the admin should provide data about when Amherst can reasonably expect renovation/replacement of Fort River to be (partly) funded by the state. I'm pretty sure that time-line can be predicted. If it is 3 years, for example (I think FR is 3 years younger than WW), then it might be best to wait three years in order to keep that 'neighborhood' school and keep the other elementary schools small and 'neighborhoody'. I hope folks of current elementary kids are taking into account that for many of them these changes WILL not affect their kids. It will take some years to move it forward, so think beyond your own experience...

If the decision is made to for a mega-school, then Amherst will have two large structures left abandoned (ARMS) due to decisions by Ms Geryk and SC members.... I think that would be shame and a will negatively impact Amherst for decades to come.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. From the get go Ms Geryk said that one of the reasons for grade reconfiguration and having an early childhood center at Crocker Farm with grades pre-k to 1st was the ability to have more pre-k classrooms. Right from the start. This is the idea that sold me on reconfiguration. I don't think universal pre-k is on the table yet but it's a smaller leap to make if you already have an expanded pre-k foot print. I think that is a vision for the future that SC members were talking about.
Also they are not offering one large elementary school. The proposal is for one large building housing two small schools.
Multiple transitions? Actually only one transition. From Crocker to new building.
Curriculum- how is it that you know that nothing new will be offered? Maybe you are right but you have no way of knowing that.
I am excited about the possibility of universal pre-k. We aren't there yet but we will be further down that road with an Early Childhood Center at Crocker Farm.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the politics referenced above.

But I don't believe that the loudest, most activist parents in town have cornered the market on wisdom and vision for the best configured educational environments for our children.

I know that this wasn't coordinated, but when parents are putting their children at the microphone in public forums to attempt to pull at our heart strings, I call that a form of demagoguery: really dirty pool in this particular debate.

I can respect reasoned debate and respectful public pressure, but the conspiracy theories are not resonating with me. This looks to me like a very open public process to me. I see SC members sitting there hour after hour listening carefully to everything that's said. Who in leadership in this town has EVER been successful at manipulating public opinion? We don't believe at face value anything anyone in authority tells us.

So just what exactly is the Kool-Aid that is being fed to these School Committee members? How does the brainwashing take place? Or is it simply that opponents can't accept that the homework School Committee members are doing brings them to a different place?

Rich Morse

Laura Quilter said...

Anon 10:08am: "The proposal is for one large building housing two small schools. Multiple transitions? Actually only one transition. From Crocker to new building. "

The District is recommending reconfiguration, meaning, K1 at Crocker; and then either twin 2-6 or graded 2-4, 5-6. The former (twin 2-6) would involve districting and "two schools", which the District wants to get away from. (This, like the twin K-6, was presented as an option because it was clear that the all-town-grade-levels were unpopular.)

The latter (graded 2-4 and 5-6 wings) would involve an additional transition between the wings, and a "large school" which doesn't seem to bother the District but is unpopular.

If you want to argue there's no transitions between the 2-4 and 5-6 wings, okay. Then you're acknowledging it's a "large school".

If you want to believe in the twin 2-6, go ahead. But the District has made it clear that's not their preferred model because it doesn't get at what they want -- to eliminate redistricting.

Anonymous said...

The superintendent made it very clear yesterday she wants twin 2-6 wings. 2-4 and 5-6 will not happen.

Mommy, I don't like them taking your money said...


-Squeaky Squeaks






Anonymous said...

I'm fairly sure that one SC member is worried that the twin, fairly autonomous wings will eventually evolve into one big school.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen Traphagen asked who would be the one to decide if the twin wings remain 2-6 and Mike Morris responded that they would bring it back to the SC to decide.

Anonymous said...

"universal pre-k."

Pre-k is nothing more than baby sitting. Study after study shows that absolutely nothing children "learn" in pre-k ever becomes part of their ability or conscious. One of the most recent of the numerous studies that show it's a complete waste comes from Tennessee. Since 2004, Tennessee has offered state-subsidized prekindergarten, enrolling more than 18,000 of the state’s neediest 4-year-olds. An early evaluation showed that, as you’d expect, youngsters who attended pre-K made substantial gains in math, language and reading. ALL OF THE gains had evaporated by the end of kindergarten or said another way, ask your 10 year-old what they remember from pre-k or just ask yourself what you recall, that is if your parents didn't make the time to care for you during the day.

It's called "universal" because no one feels they should be penalized for having a job and not being able to be a full-time parent.

Anonymous said...

anon@12:46: just because you don't remember something doesn't mean it has no value. People learn to learn, I believe that is a bit part of preK. I think all the research shows extremely strong correlation with preK access and academic success for low income kids. Don't make up shit.

Anonymous said...

Not going anywhere is very sad for you.

Anonymous said...

This is a complex issue that isn't a conspiracy, as far as I can tell. But my proclivity isn't tin foil hats so maybe I'm missing something or don't listen to enough Chomsky or smoke enough weed.

The school leadership gets paid diddly, has to put up with all manner of entitled parents and there is some nefarious plan they are concocting behind the scenes to what end? What is their pay off? Doing what they think is best for kids?

There is a group of parents that is quite vocal and certain that their vision is the right one. I'm not so sure. The majority of parents, who responded to the survey, wanted to rebuild Wildwood with no consideration for Fort River. Really? These are the people we want (27% response rate) making the decisions about the educational direction of our schools? Let me guess: almost all white, check, highly educated, perhaps overly, check, think they speak for everyone and have privileges most of the parents and students of Amherst don't have, check. A vortex of loud and proud Ph.Ds, M.Ds. and JDs. They seem pretty certain they know what the town wants and needs.

The staff was split and it seems that many are ok with the super's plan. What is the uproar about? Equity?

Anonymous said...

Just posted the comment and perhaps was brash. Could you not publish the last rambling comment? Or put both up but the last might have been a bit harsh but tried to express that I'm not sure anyone knows what all of Amherst wants.

Anonymous said...

Don't back off, Anon 7:57 p.m. You had it right the first time.

Tom Simpson said...

Two 375 student "neighborhood" schools in one building may or may not be a good solution, but don't forget about all the ancillary things that go with one building in one location- the teachers for 750 students all arriving and leaving at the same times on the same street(s), the buses for 750 students all arriving and leaving at the same times on the same street(s), the parents' cars all arriving and leaving on the same street(s) at the same times, the supplies for 750 students and teachers all coming on delivery trucks to the same location on the same street(s). There may be other things to think about as well.

Anonymous said...

When my kids were in Fort River there were well over 600 kids attending school there and I don't remember any issues with staff cars, busses or delivery trucks.

Anonymous said...

Have the costs of demolishing the existing WW & FR buildings been included in the cost estimates of the larger school option, or is the thinking that FR could be reused for other town purposes? if FR is not demolished, who will pay the bill for its continued upkeep?

Amherst tax payers can only afford so much....

Laura Quilter said...

Anon 8:08 pm:

The costs for demolishing ONE building are included, but not both. For instance, if the construction is on FR site, then FR demo costs are included (but not WW). If the construction is on WW site, then WW demo costs are included (but not FR).

Anonymous said...

The surveys conducted by the SC of the staff clearly show that the teachers who support the administration's proposal rank equity first generally as a goal, while the teachers who oppose the administration's plan and who want small schools ranked equity 4th and 5th generally. Not placing equity above all other concerns is totally unacceptable! The SC (-1) did the right thing

Anonymous said...

Ms. Quilter still has not eloquently stated her counter-position, (nor has Vira!), yet she continues to bits and pieces of facts, and yet last night she breathlessly told the professional and mature members of the SC that they are wrong and 8% of the most vocal parents in town are right. (NOT a majority of parents, not even enough to win an SC election, and I certainly didn't hear from parents of kids who live in Amherst's "Projects".) I was surprised that she is an attorney and that was the best presentation she could come up with for open comment at SC. Best presentations were Mike Morris and Kathleen Traphagen, they both have obviously done a lot of homework and have come to difficult but ethically correct conclusions.

Anonymous said...

The SC ignores the community's clear preference for small neighborhood schools at their peril. I for one will not vote for an override for a mega-school. Bet there are a lot of others who feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

I would gladly accept a future defeat in exchange for taking the ethically and morally correct actions now. It's cowards who make decision based on demands made by a small minority disguising themselves as "the community".

I've heard a lot of people in response to their opinions being rejected talk about "peril" and "dangerous decisions" and other words you might use to describe fear.

Anonymous said...

Seriously--somebody named "Anonymous" is calling everybody who disagrees with him a coward? And apparently there's only one "ethically and morally correct action" that can be taken here, so everybody who voices a differing opinion is unethical and immoral to boot. Get a grip, "anonymous."

I have come to a different conclusion than you have, but my reasoning is just as valid as yours. I also want the best for all children in Amherst, but I don't think the mega-school solution (not buying the "two separate schools in one building" nonsense) is the way to get there.

Anonymous said...

I haven't come to a conclusion actually, I'm putting my support behind the plan and the reasons the administration put forth, based on the research they pored though, and that they have cited extensively. Coupled with the finance and social aspects of the plan that were detailed, I was especially moved and swayed by how their conclusions as well as some on the board's conclusions were based on a solid moral and ethical platform.

How did you come to your different conclusion, 11:39 PM? I haven't seen any kind of complete or compelling plan or argument in opposition to the administration's, just "we disagree, we want things to stay the same" from the same people who have disagreed publicly with the last one hundred decisions the board or administration has made, and "there's research out there that once I have completely read and processed will support my conclusion."

Explain your valid reasoning please.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:36 AM didn't call everyone who disagrees with her a coward, she called politicians and administrators who make decisions based on loud squawks from a few people cowards.

Anonymous said...

I guess we'll find out whether it's "a few people cowards" when the debt exclusion fails by a long shot. (Frankly this one looks so unpopular I predict it won't even get past town meeting.)

BTW I am not one of those people who disagrees with every decision the SC or administration makes. Most of the time I agree with them. In this case I don't because I have personally experienced the difference between a small neighborhood elementary school and a mega-school like the one proposed. I've seen for myself which one works better for kids, families, and local communities. Are you gonna call my conclusions invalid because they're not "research based"?

Anonymous said...

You folks do realize that if this plan fails either at town meeting or the override vote that Wildwood and Fort River will stay just as they are. For many years to come. It will be several years before the MSBA votes to give Amherst any money. Is that what everyone wants? I hope so cuz that is what you will get. I'm sure the staff will be thrilled to have to keep working under the untenable conditions they have long put up with. Go ahead. Vote this down. My kids are nearly done with the ES. I wish all the parents with kids who have not reached the ES good luck. I hope you enjoy your unhealthy school with classrooms that are not conducive to learning. Yes the school will be small and it MAY be in your neighborhood. But your child will have to put up with an unhealthy environment and open classrooms that are very noisy and very hard to learn in. So many of you folks don't have a clue.

Anonymous said...

And our kids with the greatest obstacles to overcome are the ones most negatively affected by the loud, unhealthy environment, but some of the parents of the "regular" kids and most of their teachers aren't thinking about them, at all. When Fort River and Wildwood were built, the plan the residents of Amherst supported was to send those with the greatest educational needs away and unseen. Maybe that's not what they were explicitly supporting, but that's exactly what "institutionalized" bias means.