Friday, January 15, 2016

Smaller Is Better

School Committee will vote Jan 19 on new school project

Just like the teacher/staff comments I uploaded earlier today, these numerous comments from concerned parents/guardians provide a fascinating glimpse into the exceedingly hard -- and unpopular -- choice the Amherst School Committee is about to make.

Click to enlarge/read
 Only two motions for Amherst School Committee to vote on at 1/19 meeting

And the people are mobilizing:

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am hoping that eventually unhappy elementary school parents will make the causal connection with a Town Meeting that has gone decades collectively unconcerned about the Town's tax base, while not one, but two elementary schools slipped into disrepair. If parents don't run for Town Meeting, parents' long-term concerns don't get met. The gains in our tax base that have occurred recently have been despite Town Meeting, not because of it. Exhibit A: see the persistent apocalyptic kvetching from many TM members about Kendrick Place, as well as the personal demonizing by them of Planning Board members and Planning Department employees, as if that building were the end of Amherst as we know it. Now multiply that resistance by every other planned project in compliance with the Master Plan that would contribute to our tax base. Any wonder we're resource-starved to fix our schools?

You have to make the political connections in Amherst's recent history, and realize that some of the people getting all stern in these public forums (e.g. Mr. O'Connor) have made the fiscal bed we're all sleeping in. Which in turn limits the equitable solutions our School Committee members have to choose from. A Town Meeting that does its business in a parallel universe separate from our daily consciousness is not good for us.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Hi Rich, I could buy your argument if (any) of the budgets presented by the SI in the last 10 years included such requests for repairs (in capital planning requests) and that they were refused. However, to my recollection (having served on TM for most of those 10 years) there have been no such requests. The Superindendents over the last decade are responsible for the current state of WW and FR schools. It has been their decisions or lack of (maybe deliberate?) that has brought us here. While I'm all for blaming the mindset and efforts of folks like Vince for contributing to our limited source of revenue collection (ie limit development anywhere all the time'), I think you missed the mark here...With all due respect.

Anonymous said...

To me what I take away from many of these comments is that patents don't understand what is being proposed. Kids are not going to be in a school with 750 kids. The building will house two separate schools with about 375 each.

Anonymous said...

This is slightly off topic but my son has the same history book I had 20 years ago at the high school & its originally dated 1992. Can we focus on education not reconstruction Amherst? Who is paying attention to these things?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the respect, Anon 2:57 p.m, and, as a TM member for most years since 2001, I'll agree to disagree, although I don't think we're far apart. I attribute more damage to the mindset against development than you do. OK, that's fair, but it's been with us for a long time. I think the limits of our tax base, pressing down for some time excessively on residential taxpayers, are constraining the whole discussion of capital improvements early in each annual process, in the usual birthplaces like JCPC and Finance Committee. Thus, they, including the much dreamed about fire station, never get to TM. They never get off the dime. And I think it's understood that the public can only absorb an override at most every 3 years. So I won't double down on my argument, and yours co-exists with mine.

But.....with a more vibrant business sector (not a big-box hell) from, say, 2000 on (like, as one small example, Trader Joe's located in Amherst, not Hadley), would we have a fire station by now? And maybe even one of these schools renovated? I think we would. And you know this: we have a considerable portion of TM membership that views business people who build things as evil. Attitudes in there matter.

Wednesday night, I saw at least one SC member looking very carefully at the price tags for the various options to be decided upon. And rightly so. Only Mr. O'Connor gets to blow that off as "no big deal."

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

The Southwest Towers were sold as three separate dorms -- this 2-school plan sounds similar...

Larry Kelley said...

Now that's what I call "institutional memory."

Anonymous said...

No, it's called "research" -- in this case for my MEd, although until recently UM still considered them 3 separate buildings in terms of housing assignments.

Anonymous said...

Some SC members in Amherst do whatever they want, regardless of what parents want, until their term runs out and they know another run would be an embarrassment and a confirmation of the people's disapproval. Others are able to run successfully for several terms. Complainers who feel like their elected leaders don't hear them and act against the will of the voters, or who just bow to a loud minority's demands in order to get re-elected, should get more involved in our democracy.

Anonymous said...

"omplainers who feel like their elected leaders don't hear them and act against the will of the voters, or who just bow to a loud minority's demands in order to get re-elected, should get more involved in our democracy."

People already do and to deaf ears.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Superintendent did not provide a link to parent or teacher comments in her Friday email to parents. Why get the thoughts of parents and teachers out?

Dr. Ed said...

You don't honestly believe we still live in a democracy, do you?

Anonymous said...

How long can the district ignore parents and teachers? How many of these elementary parents will take their children out of the schools after this?

Anonymous said...

An easy and welcome choice would be for the Amherst School Committee to delay their decision and take some time to listen to the parents, teachers and town residents. There is very strong support among parents, teachers and I think within our community to keep the 3 elementary schools as K-6 (mostly) neighborhood schools. I think most will want to see preschool education for all kids. How can we do this and utilize state money targeted at only one school?

Another school survey showed very little parent and student support for moving the 7th and 8th graders to the high school. I don't know what the teachers think about it but a survey with their thoughful personal comments would be useful. At the last Regional School Committee the cost estimate to adapt the high school for the middle school students was north of $900k as I remember it. Partly to give the middle school a separate entrance and keep them apart from the older students--a worrisome sign in itself.

And then there sits the middle school building in good shape with its nice classrooms, office by the front door, big gym, cafeteria, art rooms, auditoruim and stage, music practice rooms big enough for the band, courtyards, greenhouse, pool, and so on. It's pretty new but needs a new roof. Next to Wildwood, well under it's capacity, about to be emptied of its students and leased out.

In the fall, some elementary school parents -- just alerted to the fact that Fort River would likely close and Crocker Farm was no longer to be Pk-6--offered up the option of using the middle school or going to a K-8 school. As far as I can tell this option has never been looked at. I've suggested a K-8 school for the middle school instead of moving the 7th and 8th graders to the HS and I don't think that got a look either.

Here's my suggested option: build or rebuild a new elementary school with a preschool at the site of Fort River School. Split the cost with the state. Put a wing on the middle school for younger elementary kids and preschoolers. Put the wing where the boggy baseball field is. Have the Town of Amherst pay for this addition. Make the middle school a PK-6 elementary school or a PK-8 school. The town can lease space from the Regional School District or just buy the building (which will be basically putting money from one pocket to the other since we pay most of the regional school bill). Use the Wildwood site to build what may be the only dry sport fields in Amherst. Then all the elementary schools will have a preschool and these kids don't have to transition into an elementary school. And this may be an economical option that utilizes the middle school for what it was built for --our town and hilltown students.

Anonymous said...


…some more…

I've asked whether the middle school can be used by elementary students and have gotten several answers. This buidling can or can't be used for elementary students. Either the Regional Agreement says or doesn't say the building can only be used by regional students or it doesn't or maybe. Or it can be used by anyone taking Greenfield Community College classes or vocational students. Or it can be used by elementary students for swing space (with modifications for younger students). Or no one knows because it's owned by the regional district (which has the same superintendent and 5 Amherst school committee members so how hard would it be to find out?) Surely there is an answer to this question.

Using the middle school may be a great option. Or there may be a way to renovate Wildwood and Fort River economically, or to convince the state to put the money it would have into a bigger school into both schools. The district's perferred option may be best. But we won't know until we look at each carefully and with thought and budget numbers and time--and as a community working toward the common goal of doing what is best for our children -- and our group checkbook.

As a community, we need to make the time. The community and parents have had very little time to participate in these decisions which have been in the works for years. Let's finally break the pattern of district adminstrators spending years looking a problem, making a decision, then pasting a bit of public "process" in at the end. The result? Creating a sad and large and pointless amount of anger, tension, angst and wasted time as parents try to mobilize and have their ideas and concerns heard and addressed. (Any wonder that so many families opt out of our schools?) Let's create a school community where the voices of teachers, parents and students are heard. The surveys have many eloquent voices. Let's take the time to listen to them.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

It was depressing reading the parent/guardian comments. The clear majority favors keeping three K-6 schools in their current locations. Many strong arguments were given for this. Somehow, in reaction to State funding coming in for just one school, the SC has created an elaborate, expensive, poorly-conceived plan for a mega-school that the community does not want. As someone whose children have already graduated, I won't be voting for an override for a plan with such clear opposition from parents and guardians. Although I would vote for one that uses the State funding as intended, and provides Town funds to renovate Fort River.

In terms of equity, the proposed plan will negatively impact many families living on or near the poverty level, especially regarding transportation. To continue an example given in one of the written parent comments, consider a family with children at all the affected grade levels. Now consider having no car and trying to handle the coordination of 3 schools, student events, after-school activities, etc. It's untenable - and very inequitable.

Anonymous said...

8:23 PM, could you offer actual data and facts and statistics, maybe case studies, maybe refer to some research, to support the opinion that the proposed plan will negatively impact families living at or near poverty? It sounds like hogwash to me. I've seen people write letters, make comments, saying "research shows", but they don't offer data or sources. The school leaders have offered research data to support their proposals.

I don't see any of the people rejecting the proposals offering anything but opinions based on fears expressed by their peers. And the argument about "not enough time to participate" is exactly why we have a representative democracy. If your opinions are in the majority and your leaders are acting against them, well it should be pretty easy to oust them and elect someone who listens to the "will of the people". (But of course that means that one of you might have to try to get yourself elected.)

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the School Committee members that closed Mark's Meadow conduct surveys of staff and parent and community members about their opinions on the matter? Would it have made a difference?

Anonymous said...

anon@1148: Never believe the "research" the Admin offers unless you look it up yourself, find that it is peer-reviewed and accepted as valid research. Then read it yourself. Tons of good research shows the value preK for low income. Is there research that shows providing preK for low income offsets the potential stress and anxiety of changing schools between 1st and 2nd grade?? Anon@11:50 closing Marks Meadow is small potatoes compared to the decision to change our district to preK-1, 2-6. Not something the community wants but that hasn't ever stopped the Admin before, has it? If we change to that model, more families will choice out...or not move here at all. Does the SC think about that?

Laura Quilter said...

Anon 11:48 pm, here's a discussion of one 2015 paper that looked at a large cohort of public school kids and carefully reviewed earlier research -- and found unmistakable harms to socioeconomically disadvantaged kids (disproportionately kids of color, as we all know) and to kids with disabilities: https://saveamherstssmallschools.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/large-schools-harm-kids-with-disabilities-kids-from-socioeconomically-disadvantaged-backgrounds/

Also a fact sheet with a number of links to relevant research: https://saveamherstssmallschools.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/tradeofftablepublic.pdf

Anonymous said...

There are many communities in MA that are not K-6 schools and the kids and families seem to do just fine. Some are in western MA including Granby and South Hadley. My daughter lives in such a community in the eastern part of the state and her kids enjoy their grade based schools. This is not an unconventional way to configure schools. You folks need to get a grip.

Anonymous said...

So Ms. Quilter, your point then is that there is dueling research. That shouldn't surprise anyone in a college town. I just hope you have put as much time into choosing wise political representatives as you have into doing counter-research against the administration, because they are the ones you elected to make these decisions, and it seems like after they did their research and homework, they disagree with you. And my guess is that the SC members who will vote in favor of the school's bold and forward thinking proposal will regain their seats if they choose to run again. But if you think a majority disagrees, well then run a candidate, there are enough of you who seem to want to be involved and who think you have more integrity than the current SC members, and who also believe you are better at sifting through and understanding current academic research.

This business about how the administration has successfully pulled the wool over the school committee's eyes for years, and that they are doing the opposite of what most parents want, sounds desperate, amounts to name-calling, and we've seen it all before every time a major decision must be made (remember when everyone whose kid went to Mark's Meadow said Ms. Sanderson wasn't listening to the majority of parents concerns and was doing whatever she wanted?) The people who want to continue educating our kids within the ridiculous building mistakes made in the seventies are fearful of real change, and represent the status quo.

Anonymous said...

anon@12:59: citing those schools doesn't help your argument, it hurts it. Those schools' records of achievement are hardly enviable. Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Quilter, you'll want to follow me some more on this one.

You've pulled some interesting research from the UMass data banks, but I haven't heard a worthy presentation from any of your fellow detractors on how this research relates specifically to our town's predicament, our childrens's needs. I mean, anyone can cite a bunch of research these days, it doesn't take hours in the stacks like it used to.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell so far, none of the research Ms. Quilter cited speaks to the effects of a brand new, state-of-the-art building, within a uniquely involved community, with an administration focused on equity in an entirely unprecedented way, and with one of the most talented teaching staffs in W MA, on disadvantaged children.

And some (many) of the schools used in the research Ms. Quilter has presented us with have almost nothing in common with what the administration is proposing, not even square footage.

Anonymous said...

Annon @12:09 please stop being so childish "name-calling", come on. Ms Quiltor is citing very valid research of which the administration has provided very little other than talking to other schools in MA that have moved to the same system. What are their administrators going to say? That it was a mistake? Of course not.
Also, there are not many people calling for keeping the "ridiculous building mistakes". Most people, including the majority of the anonymous teachers surveyed, are very happy with the compromise of a new twin k-6 school that would solve all the building issues but keep the proven k-6 system.
It's funny how the current principals all write letters in support of loosing k-6 but the only former principal who does not work directly for Maria spoke out vehemently against the idea. It's also funny how the administration has always said our educators are behind this, but as soon as we do an anonymous survey, it is clear that they are not.

Anonymous said...

I have not been able to find any information posted on the ARPS website (including the long PP file) that shows or supports why the Admin favors the reconfiguring of grades vs twin (pre)k-6. Why isn't that available (I'm talking to you, anon@9:24!!)?? It is pretty overwhelming that those polled (parents and teachers) want to keep k-6 (and most are willing to adapt to a twin preK-6 building). The change proposed (reconfiguring grades) is HUGE, the entire Amherst school community (all the thr 12th grade) should have been polled. After all many of those polled with Elementary kids will also not be directly affected in the current time line, yet they got a voice. In fact, if the admin had provided time, the two choices could have been on a ballot.

Anonymous said...

The voters, most of whom have no kids in K-12, haven't weighed in yet.

You got Orville, of Orville+Gert fame, threatening to torpedo the project at TM. If you can't trust him, who can your trust? (Note to Small School advocates--distance yourself from Orville! And Vince!!)

You got the very vocal small school people who are publicly trying to humiliate the SC, the Super, and other parents

This inside fighting has a good chance of killing all projects. Rule #1: don't give your kids their allowance if they constantly fight with each other.

Relax people. There's a really good proposal on the table. Embrace it.

Anonymous said...

taken from http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/cm1115gov.html.
"the board must be responsive to the community it serves." Before taking this momentous decision, the SC members ought to review their (and the Superintendent's) respective roles.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a really good proposal on the table that solves most the issues and is quite cost effective -the twin K-6 option.

Again, please stop being childish, no one is trying to humiliate anyone.

The thing that has the most chance of killing this project is choosing an option which only 30% or so of parents and teachers support, when there is a great compromise on the table that I think most town folk would get behind.

I do agree that the small school advocates would do well distancing themselves from nuts like Vince. That will get them no where. He wants to build 2 schools on separate sites, one with town money only, raising our taxes by $400 to 500(?)/yr.

Building 2 separate schools on one site that share some facilities seems like a good compromise and will raise our taxes by $200 to $300 and keep k-6 which the majority clearly want

Anonymous said...

We only know what 30% of 27% of parents want. That makes it 8% of all parents. Only 27% of parents filled out the survey.

Anonymous said...

10:53 AM : Are you saying "ONLY" $200 to $300? Are you kidding? Do you honestly think us normal-salaried folks out here can afford that? Your version of cost effective is a joke.

Anonymous said...

anon@12:26: given the limited opportunity to participate in the survey (limited time and limited invitations), the only data we have is from those who submitted. Who do we have to thank for that? Ms Geryk and the SC. One might think they don't really want parents and the community to offer their opinions...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but what a ridiculous thing to say. You never get 100% of people filling out a survey. It is always sample of people and in this case more than enough for an accurate representation of what people think. Plus 50% of teachers filled one out...

Anonymous said...

Cost effective as in better than paying for 2 separate schools on separate sites (and cheaper for that matter than the administrations option of the larger 750 grade 2-6 school and the many unknown costs of renovating Crocker farm to make it preK-1.

I didn't say it was affordable, that is another question altogether. But I do believe it will be easier for tax payers to stomach if they know teachers and parents are behind it -right?
The administration's option could very well lead to a no vote and a loss of money from the state.

Anonymous said...

I am a Crocker Farm parent with a child in 1st grade. I am going to be asked to approve an override for over $200 in taxes a year so that he has to move out of a school he has grown to love to a large school on the other side of town that very few people want.

If there is an option on the table that can re-build fort River and wildwood (efficiently) and keep our k-6 small schools, I would vote for an override of $200 to pay for that. But the grade reconfiguration option, are you kidding, no chance.

Anonymous said...

yes, I do think that the SC and Ms Geryk might find that the community won't support funding their (preferred) option of reconfiguring grades. The town could very well miss an opportunity for the option most preferred by teachers and parents- twin k-6. If that happens it will be a shame and likely the end of Ms Geryk's job.

Anonymous said...

It is not the preferred option of JUST Ms Geryk and the SC. All the principals, the SPED director, the director of equity and the coordinator of the Family Center all said the reconfigured schools was also their choice.

Anonymous said...

2:13
I was not a big Maria Geryk supporter, but on this issue she is showing real leadership. As is most of the SC.

I think you're misreading the non-parent community, except for Vince and Orville.

Also, the SC hires and fires the Superintendent, and on this issue they agree with her (save Vira), so how will she lose her job?

Anonymous said...

Yes the preferred choice of all the principals who work for Ms Geryk. Interesting that a former principal spoke out vehemently against the idea...

Also interesting that 60% of special Ed teachers when asked anonymously found the twin K-6 option favorable and only 40% found grade reconfiguration favorable. Also interesting that only 20% of special Ed parents find grade reconfiguration favorable. Funny, this is one of the administrations main reasons for recommending the change....

Anonymous said...

anon@3:54. If the grade reconfiguration model is chosen but not supported by many parents and community members, they may not support funding it, hence the lost opportunity to fund the twin k-6 instead. If this were to happen, don't you think that future SC members will hold Ms Geryk accountable?

Anonymous said...

Is it so amazing that all the people working under Geryk, her direct hires support her idea. Yet the teachers don't. And they only speak anonymously. Makes you wonder.

Anonymous said...

The surveys clearly show that the teachers who support the administration's proposal rank equity first generally as a goal, while the teachers who oppose the administrations 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...

yes, anon@1246: Ms Geryk's recipe for equity consists of to making everything the exactly the same.

Anonymous said...

I must have left the room to make a sandwich during the "make everything exactly the same" part of the admin's presentation.