Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One is the Loneliest Number

Fort River Elementary School 

The revolving door for principals in the Amherst Public School System is certainly not slowing down any.  Two more announced their departures just in the past six weeks, each with only two years at the helm.

And some parents were not overly happy with the process to replace Bobbie Finocchio at Fort River School.

Out of three finalists only one remained (Doreen Cunningham) as Patty Bode, one of the finalists, was just assigned interim Principal of the Regional Middle School to replace Marisa Mendonsa.

Update:  They changed their minds

The Select  Board hired Bernie Lynch, a professional headhunter, who instituted a nationwide search for our new Town Manager.  Out of 45 good resumes a committee whittled it down to three and even though one dropped out at the last minute the Select Board still had two excellent candidates to chose from.

Although if they don't make an announcement tonight at Town Meeting about their chosen candidate, Maria Capriola, people are going to start wondering if she changed her mind.

Unlike the Town Manager search this school principal search has thus far involved far less public input.  Anointing the only remaining candidate could breed even more mistrust, making an already challenging job untenable.

The administration figured that out.  According to HR Director Kathy Mazur they are going to do a do over:

 Click to enlarge/read


NICNYC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Is there some kind of Select Board meeting tonight at the Middle School? Some sort of big announcement?

Anonymous said...

The school system is this town may be a little dysfunctional. Just a tad, little, tiny bit.

Anonymous said...

Is the initial contract for principals 2 years?

Was the executive SC session to discuss the departure of the middle school principal?

Will we ever know?

Anonymous said...

Especially the School Board we elect which has not not managed to be a cohesive, functional unit in many years.

Dr. Ed said...

I'm going to say this again: Yet another administrator coming out of SPED. An undergrad minor in SPED, certified in Connecticut which I believe only requires 30 semester/hours (i.e. credits), with a lot of the SPED courses also counting for both the general 30 hours and for specific things like child development and methods (how to teach a subject).

My concern is that SPED is 10% of the student body -- but developing a curriculum and pedagogy with your basis of knowledge only being that 10% is every bit as unjust as back when it was exclusively around the 90%.

I'm not saying she doesn't know it, but where is her knowledge in meeting the needs of those "inside the bell curve" of abilities, as well as the outliers on the right (i.e. Gifted & Talented)? I don't see it in any of the jobs she's moved up into, and without access to her transcripts, well...

Likewise a MA in Bilingual/Bicultural Curriculum & Instruction. My immediate first thought in reading the Spanish version of the letter was "and what about Kmher?"
And my second was "which Spanish-speaking culture?" -- there isn't just one!
And on a practical sense, you also start getting into dialects, so you aren't even talking one Spanish language.

And third, ELL versus ESL, and while MA mandates ELL, I believe CT still has ESL.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't care about the unique curriculum & pedagogical needs of ELL students, only that it should be in addition to the basic curricular & pedagogical needs of all students.

A Principal needs to be a generalists, and she's a specialist.

One member of the leadership team who is a specialist in one field is fine, but when they all are, there is the tendency toward "groupthink."

No Nina, I'm not personally attacking this woman, whom I've never met, I'm merely identifying an issue that parents and others need to ask about.

She -- or whoever is hired -- needs to be the principal for all the children in that school, and no matter how well she may know the needs of some, she really needs to know the needs of all.

Dr. Ed said...

Anon 2:16, if it was, remember back to my articulation of the posted reasons for the exec session, and how it was one-or-more of those mentioned, *any* one.

Dr. Ed said...

One final thought -- Doctoral Programs rarely hire their own grads -- those of you in academia know this and why.

Likewise, a Supt whose background is in SPED ought to be hiring a staff with different backgrounds than hers for a diversity of perspectives. Say someone who was an Athletic Director or Social Studies Dept Chair. (Or Art Dept Chair at an Arts Magnet School.)

We keep seeing SPED and/or Mental Health backgrounds...

Dr. Ed said...

Prior to Ed Reform. Principals had tenure -- not sure if they could keep it if they had it as a teacher or not.

Tenure is a "continuing Contract" -- all contracts are annual, but if you successfully complete three, they MUST offer you one each continuing year which you can accept or not. Exceptions are RIF (reduction in force) or grounds to terminate tenure status (or loss of certificate).

Intention of Ed Reform was to eliminate job security of Supts & Principals -- to be able to easily fire them for poor school performance -- but to give them the power to do things in the schools to fix them.

2-year may be compromise, intent was to have it "do or die" every spring.

TSLC is evaluating 20 year impact of this...

Anonymous said...

I liked Larry Kelly's blog better before it became the Dr. Ed blog.

Geesh; like to hear yourself talk much?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, his social media site has become a real pit, too, especially in the last couple of weeks. I'm certain I'm not the only one to have noticed.

Anonymous said...

Gee Ed, don't hold anything back tell us how you really feel. We all know it's all about you anyway.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that when any one of the female school admins (I can think of four right off the top of my head) is endlessly and personally attacked, like they have been for several years online and in public, none of the long-time male school principals (Jackson, Yaffe, Shea, Slovin) stand up and say "enough is enough" of the personal attacks on their friends and colleagues? That no other male official in this town stands up and says "unacceptable" to some of the rhetoric that is directed here and elsewhere online toward many female employees? That almost every male official gets to pretty much fly under the radar in this town when it comes to personal and professional scrutiny, and the women in leadership roles are subjected to extra?

The long-term and persistent bad behavior exhibited in this town must be shocking and appalling to people from other places who stop to pay attention.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just true, so the males stay quiet.
Just sayin...

Anonymous said...

When I see a ton of Ed comments I will reflect on this quote from him
"Someone has way, way, WAY, too much time on his/her/its hands.


May 17, 2016 at 11:34 PM"

Thanks for that one, Ed.

Anonymous said...

Ed, a job would cure your excess of free time.

Dr. Ed said...

I think I was quite clear about my opinion of Jackson, particularly after the incident with Sanderson (who is, incidentally, female).

I still think the schmuck should have been fired for that. It is, however, irrelevant to things which I am attempting to bring to the attention of the parents. I am attempting to provide information -- which can be ignored. Think like the ski patrol who posts avalanche warning signs, it's not their fault when some idiot ignores them...

Parents, I'm telling you the questions I'd ask -- it's your call to ask them.

Dr. Ed said...

Oh, and Nina, you want to see what actually ARE personal attacks, see above.

Anonymous said...

Ed didn't I just read somewhere you saying you don't attack people personally? DO YOU KNOW WHAT SCHMUCK MEANS?

Dr. Ed said...

Any man who physically intimidates a woman who weighs 100 lbs less than he is a schmuck.

Does anyone honestly wish to disagree with this?

Larry, you know my size. I've had heated disagreements with women, one of whom only weighed 87 lbs at the time, but I assure you that none of them ever had any concerns for their physical safety.

Had I been present at that meeting, I have no doubt what I would have done: "point of order, what part of 'violence against women' are we not opposed to?!?"

Anonymous said...

Geryk Gotta Go.

Anonymous said...

Facts matter. Right Mr Ed? Mr Jackson did not physically intimidate anyone. He strongly offered a differing opinion. I was there that night. I know what I saw. You, Mr. Ed, are a horse's ass.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ed at 2:23 has a point that much of the experience and knowledge of senior administration is in Sp/Ed. The lack of generalist educational knowledge and experience might help explain some of the oddly rigid and contorted approaches to curriculum we've seen.

In all the controversial curricular choices over the past few years, we've seen several repeating patterns:
(1) An out-of-the-box curriculum chosen, replacing more home-grown curriculum;
(2) Curricula that are very good at permitting teacher-led differentiation of students with varying strengths, weaknesses, and knowledge sets, being removed, and replaced by curriculum that are aimed solely or primarily at bringing up kids at risk of performing poorly on tests; and
(3) Curricula and pedagogical approaches being implemented in a rigid, top-down manner.

The high school math curriculum; the middle school workshop model; elementary "Everyday Math", "SuperKids", co-teaching models, and elimination of language support at elementary and reduction at upper levels all fit these patterns.

There is so much talk about "project based" and "team-based teaching" and other educational terms du jour, but in the implementation it all falls apart. When you talk to teachers they feel afraid to voice criticisms lest they suffer retaliation. That is not a good sign. And we hear all the time that we are losing droves of middle school teachers.

Can we get a set of numbers on how many teachers have come and gone in the last ten years? And their average experience? Are we losing more experienced teachers now than in the past? Or are the retention stats all just normal fluctuation and noise?

Dr. Ed said...

Anon 9:18 -- I believe number of teachers leaving each year, their specialty, and years of service is a public statistic, reported to DESE annually. (Along with teachers hired.) DESE may compile it, not sure.

Any member of the school committee ought to either have been given this figure for the end of the 2014-5 school year, or be able to get it. Maine requires this be reported to the state by the following December, not sure about MA. (Remember that state doesn't want uncertified teachers, and hence keeps track of who is teaching.)

Incidentally, low turnover is one of the metrics that schools are rated by, it's something that prospective teachers & principals often look at.

Anonymous said...

won't it be hard to find a principal for a school that is being closed?

Nina Koch said...

To 9:18 AM,

I don't see how the choice of IMP for the high school fits the things you listed. IMP is very good for differentiation of instruction because the problems are so rich, with multiple points of entry. This means that different students can approach the problem in different ways. They can also take the problem to different levels of abstraction. Have you looked at the curriculum? Have you tried some of the problems?

And it certainly wasn't implemented in a top-down, rigid manner. Math teachers spent a long time (over a year) working through a standards-based process to compare different curricula. There was no foregone conclusion that we would end up with IMP. In fact, I assumed at the outset that we would not. But as we went through the process, IMP emerged as the curriculum that would best meet the criteria we had identified.

Anonymous said...

IMP was chosen over objection of the parents and students. Only 1/10 students each year had been choosing IMP over the traditional math sequence. At least students had a choice. Anecdotally my son's friends who took IMP reported struggling with SATs and ACTs. There was never any data provided showing that IMP was a more effective model. The public process was a farce...some of the teachers decided, and this group project model was forced on all. Those students who excel at math are frustrated because they do all the work in the learning groups. Those who don't really understand aren't taught. They're told to ask fellow students. No wonder students are opting for schools like Chinese Immersion! And then those of us with kids left in public school have to deal with more limited funding and larger classes. Math teachers need to understand the consequences of their "PC" choice --watch students opt for charter schools and see the charter $$$ flow out of Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

In a couple of years, the failure of IMP will be self-evident. Math ACT and SAT scores will drop precipitously (w 2 contributing factors: many of our strongest students will have left the district and the remaining students won't have been prepared well). Time WILL tell.

Laura Quilter said...

Anon 9:18 --

Retention rates are at DESE. . You can look at it by District or School. It only goes back to 2009 and up to 2015 (so does not yet include this school year).

In that time, the Middle School retention rate has been as low as 74%, high of 93% in 2013, but mostly mid/low 80%, averaging 82% without the two outlier years.

2009 74%
2010 79%
2011 81%
2012 80%
2013 93%
2014 86%
2015 84%

To get data before that would require talking to DESE or the Superintendent's office if they have it that far back.

It looks like this is about in the middle of the pack for the state. It's certainly not high performing, but this kind of perennial performance issue could be caused by systemic things like people not wanting to live out in rural MA, salary differentials, etc. There doesn't seem to be enough flux to say that there is in fact an "exodus" out of the middle school.

On the other hand, this is just retention data, and doesn't by itself say anything about which teachers are leaving, and whether it's more experienced teachers leaving, as has been alleged. One could look through the DESE stats to see something about "years of experience". I see "age of teacher" and some certification data but nothing struck me as obviously correlating with "years of experience".

On retention rates alone, though, the "exodus from the middle school" claim does not seem to be justified, at least up until last year.

Anonymous said...

According to numbers provided by the ARPS administration & shared with Town Mtg members, charter school enrollment for Amherst kids for both the elementary & regional (MS/HS) is up considerably in the last few years. I believe this is a retention issue.

From FY2011-FY2016 (the current school year), Amherst MS & HS student enrollments in charter schools have grown by 30 students and elementary enrollments in charter schools have grown by 43 students. That is 73 students who have left ARPS schools for charter schools over a 6-year period, 40 of these students left in the last year alone.

For FY2017, the ARPS administrators have projected that the number of MS/HS students and elementary students at charter schools will increase by another 13 & 3 students respectively. And it should be noted too the last year's ARPS projections of charter school enrollment increases underestimated the number that actually enrolled in charter schools.

Some parents I talked with have said how frustrated they are with ARPS's inability/ unwillingness to provide adequate challenge to students who are ready for acceleration in math and other subjects and, for parents whose children now go elsewhere, and how happy are that they have left ARPS schools and that their children are now getting a better education. Some teachers also express the same frustrations. They want to be able to do more for these students themselves, but feel discouraged from doing so by administrators. As a parent with a child in the ARPS schools myself, I feel frustrated by this as well & frustrated that the administration doesn't seem to listen more to my fellow parents or to teachers, both of whom have much firsthand experience with children and their educational needs.

Dr. Ed said...

Laura, that 84.2% figure is for the Amherst Elementary Schools -- note how it lists 3 principals -- that'd be CF, FR, & WW. It'd have to be 5 if it included ARMS& ARHS, 6 if it included Pelham.

(You have to look at the Org Codes.)

Hence Mid/High is:

This shows 83.3% retained.

Note two Principals, one retained. Hence while they claim this data is for FY-2015, the 2014-2015 school year, when did the MS principal vacancy occur? Memory is that it was the year before, which (if accurate) means one of two things.

A: DESE is reporting the figure from the prior year and interpreting it being the number of last year's teachers that you started the 14-15 year with.

B: Number of new hires in Sept of 2014.

Either way, if the now-departing MS principal filled a vacancy on the 2015 report, which has to be the case as Mark Jackson is the only other principal, then any teachers who left after she arrived aren't reflected, they will show up in the 2016 & 2017 statistics.

"On retention rates alone, though, the "exodus from the middle school" claim does not seem to be justified, at least up until last year. "

The BEGINNING of last year.

Dr. Ed said...

Number of teachers: ARMS/ARHS State
General Education 88.3 60,285.9
Special Education 25.4 8,746.8
Career Vocational Technical 0.0 1,953.8
English Language Learner 2.9 1,399.0

Totals 116.5 72,309.1

I'm struck by the ratio of general to special education in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

My child's middle school team in 7th grade lost all but one of her core teachers, who were "looping-up to 8th grade". Thus, no continuity between the 7th grade teachers to the 8th grade on one team. Teachers were brought down from the HS to fill the vacancies, and had to learn curriculum, workshop model, co-teaching model their first year back (or ever) at the middle school. There are no studies that I can see, other than 1 that is postivie for IMP math. I haven't met a HS student yet who likes it (though I'm sure there are some in the building). Some kids just don't learn well with the constant group work. Especially if they are introverted, and do not want to constantly ask questions of the group. Also, being young teens, some are too embarrassed to ask or contribute to the group for lots of social reasons. Some group work is great, but group work everyday in math has been frustrating. Also, parents pulling their kids out are not being given an exit interview. You have to ask for one, and press them on it. There is an exodus from the elementary and middle school. Just walk into the main office of each building, and ask how many forms they had to fill out this year. The middle school had a stack at the end of last year, and more this year. Find out how many kids in Williston are from Amherst. The number keeps growing.

Dr. Ed said...

Anon 12:55:

As to IMP (Interactive Math Program), here is what a UC-Berkley Math Professor had to sat about it:
NB: He was asked by its supporters to review it...

As to the so-called "math wars", well, these folk don't muck like IMO Math:

As to the larger concept of group learning, well, it's every bit as much a mistake as classrooms without walls. Beyond the inherent socialist nature of it, it inherently sets the pace of learning at the median, so if you don't have homogeneous grouping (i.e. tracking), the only kids who benefit are those exactly at the median.

And the intent often is explicitly socialist, what wants me want to scream are the teachers who view the whole educational process as a means to teach group dynamics & social justice as opposed to the designated academic subject matter such as Math or Reading.

The one thing I disagree with Professor Wu on is that everyone doesn't need to learn advanced math -- we live in a world where even auto repair involves computer diagnostics. "P-0138" comes to mind...

Laura Quilter said...

On retention rates (of staff):

The DESE statistics do not count staff that move within the District. So the problems cited by Anon at 12:55 pm (two comments up) would not be reflected in the DESE stats.

-- Please note, I'm not saying there are NOT staff retention problems. Just that they are not reflected in the basic DESE staff retention statistics. If there are staff retention problems, then they must lie in (a) other years; (b) timing windows that are not adequately reflective in DESE; or (c) some other aspect of the data -- like teachers moving within the system, more experienced teachers leaving at a disproportionate rate, etc. One would need more data than is on the DESE site to see what's going on with staff retention.

On STUDENT retention: I completely agree that we need a close examination. At Town Meeting, several members raised this question, and were non-responsively answered by the School Administration. There was a suggestion that the School Committee undertake a study or investigation, and I hope that happens. Otherwise we're just looking at a lot of raw departure numbers without much explanation as to why, and without, therefore, any way of figuring out how to correct it. My suspicion is that people are increasingly leaving for more academically challenging schools, but that's just based on parent chit-chat. We need something more comprehensive and rigorous. The exit survey data is not very helpful, and it is widely reported that parents are often not requested to take the survey. I think they absolutely should have studied this question before proposing a $60-$70 million reconfiguration of the elementary schools that, as unpopular as it is, is definitely going to drive people away. I now know of 7 preschool families that have been looking at options other than Amherst Elementary Schools. If they choose charter, that could be alone would cost Amherst a lot of money.

Anonymous said...

For last school year, the district reported only 33 or so respondents to the exit survey for K-12. That quite clearly is not capturing many or maybe most of the families that are leaving. The reported numbers include families that are relocating away from Amherst.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Quilter's comment that is important to understand more about WHY families are opting for other schooling choices for their children, not just to collect data indicating that they have left. The ARPS enrollment figures & the growth of enrollments in charter, choice, & vocational schools already show that.

Rick Hood said...

The exit survey is available here:

The results are here: (there is a link on the home page part way down the page) ...and they do indicate reasons why people leave.

You can’t force people to take the survey. What I would suggest is sending it certified mail to prove it was sent.

Laura Quilter said...

Sending it certified is a good idea. I have heard from parents who said absolutely they did not get it, and I don't believe I've heard from the School Administration that they absolutely sent it. Sending it certified would resolve those issues.

I will say this District seriously needs some help in survey design.

Anonymous said...

I know a number of families who have pulled their families from the Amherst schools & none of them have received the exit survey unless they requested it. Is the exit survey distributed by the Central Office or by individual schools or both? If it comes from schools, maybe some schools are sending it out more than other schools.

Also is the survey sent out/given out with a return address, stamped envelope? If not, doing so might increase the response rates as well.

Yes, it's true that you can't force people to take a survey, but the district could do a better job of distributing the survey & looking into why families are leaving. The committee proposed by the superintendent to look into this issue could be a good first start. Although it's hard to get excited about another committee, if this one had some specific goals, a reasonable time frame, and there was a mutual understanding about what the information collected would be used for, it could be a very worthwhile endeavor. Also, I would hope that there would be a good representation of parents/guardians on the committee. Too many ARPS committees have mainly staff & administration membership with just a few parents.

Rick Hood said...

For exit surveys: certified mail and return stamped envelope = problem solved, or as well as you can solve the issue of people not getting surveys.

What we need are not just surveys of people who left, but surveys of people who are still here. And by “people” I mean students, teachers and parents, not just parents.

The Superintendent instituted this in the spring: I am not a parent of a kid in school (getting old) but I am sure they all got notices about it. The PGOs all had it in their news feeds also and I got it in my email cuz I subscribe to the ARHS PGO news.

For example:


Let's see how those surveys went in terms of participation and results. It is critical that surveys like this are done every year so that trends can be seen. Snapshots are almost useless, unless you can compare them to other districts, and even then, 1 year does not mean much.

Dr. Ed said...

Rick, you also need a disinterested person conducting it, which is why I would have UMass do it.

Ask now and they can put it on the list for the fall, spring at the latest -- they so one a week.

Only problem is that they will publish the results, no matter what they are. Team Maria won't be able to censor it, which is why I don't expect it ever to be done.

Laura Quilter said...

Re Rick at 8:47 pm:

We've actually had a family survey for as long as I've been involved with Wildwood (since fall 2012). What happened this year is we switched from the local survey, to the University of Chicago survey. I'll be interested to see the data, but as a survey, it wasn't quite right. The family survey had a lot of locally specific stuff and needed a lot of redesign. But the University of Chicago survey seemed apparently to be not designed for our specific school system and specific challenges, so it was missing questions targeting some things, and was clearly targeting parent satisfaction for other kinds of districts -- maybe large urban school systems. It wasn't awful, but it was clearly not exactly the right fit.

As for the multiple years -- you're right, which is why it's sort of disappointing that we just switched gears at this critical point in time. So all the longitudinal data and comparators from all the previous years of the Family Survey are not available.

Both the "Family Survey" and the new University of Chicago family survey just were given to families staying in the school system. We need a different survey for families exiting the system or taking a child out of the system.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments on the University of Chicago surveys. One astute parent mentioned that when the parent survey link first went live, it actually included a different school district's name. It definitely wasn't tailored to Amherst.

re: the exit survey for leaving families, the Superintendent's e-newsletter to ARPS families for this past week (May 20th) included the following:
"REMINDER: We value feedback from our families who leave the Amherst, Pelham or Regional Schools for any reason. Parents/guardians are requested to complete an exit survey when they withdraw their child or children. These surveys are available from the registrar
or the clerical staff in any of the principals' offices."

A few thoughts on this:
It wasn't clear to me whether staff at the schools are actually requesting that parents/guardians complete the exit survey & giving them a copy of the survey, or whether the district is asking that parents/guardians take the step of getting a copy of the survey and completing and returning it on their own.

The sentence "These surveys are available from the.... " makes it sound to me as if parents/guardians are supposed to seek out the survey on their own.

I wonder if families whose children are leaving the district are still reading the superintendent's e-newsletter, assuming they were even reading it beforehand. Maybe this isn't the best way to reach these families. Also, to my knowledge the district has never shared how many families are sent the e-newsletter and how many typically open the link. Maybe this isn't the best way to reach these families.

The exit survey online at (Rick Hood shared the link earlier) includes a cover letter from "Maria Geryk, Interim Superintendent of Schools." The survey could use a little updating, including on that count.

Rick Hood made some excellent suggestions which I think would help more families receive and do the survey, including giving an pre-paid envelope with the survey and sending them certified mail or with delivery confirmation.

Like he, I think it is good for the district to do regular surveying of families, both staying families and ones who leave. However, I also think that some parents/guardians may feel some fatigue with ARPS surveys. Quite a few surveys are sent out to parents and usually parents are not provided much information about what the surveys show, what steps will be taken by district and school administrators in response to the survey results, etc. Instead of such information, most often parents are given another survey. It can be quite frustrating.

I am curious, for example, about the response rates to the Univ of Chicago surveys. One plus is that staff/teachers, students, and parents were all surveyed. It would great if the administration would share the survey results and next steps. More surveys alone are not the answer.

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...

They have one.. What we, need is, follow up or someone to pretend like they actually care when a family leaves. The surveys are handed out thecines that come back I was, told are not reviewed thoroughly or at all.

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...

If no one is tracking the actual data the data is useless

Anonymous said...

The middle school assistant principal job is posted. Another one gone?