Catherine Corson: Key community meeting on tap for future of Amherst schools
Friday, January 8, 2016
To the editor:
The confrontation over the parent/guardian survey is the latest in a series of unfortunate conflicts over the proposed elementary school reconfiguration.
Rather than spend time clarifying the details, which are public record, I want to focus instead on the importance of public engagement. The multiple changes being proposed to the Amherst schools—including the elementary school consolidation and reconfiguration, the consolidation of the middle and high schools, and regionalization—all have implications that extend beyond the schools. They will impact taxes, traffic flow, neighborhood composition and town planning more broadly. For this reason, everyone, no matter what his or her relationship is with the schools, should become informed.
While the district has made a number of commendable outreach efforts, there have been several obstacles to public engagement, not the least of which is that many parents thought the Wildwood Building Project was about renovating Wildwood, not about using the Massachusetts School Building Authority funds to reconfigure the elementary school system.
For months, numerous people have been advocating for surveys of educators and parents/guardians to solicit a broader range of input than can the district’s valuable public information sessions. However, the rushed way in which they were finally pushed through over the December holiday break and the resulting confusing and partial nature of some of the questions undermines their potential contribution.
However, I encourage parents/guardians to use this moment as a starting point to inform yourself and to voice your opinions. Attend the January 13th public forum at 6:30 in the Amherst High School Library—the last chance to learn more about the proposed grade reconfiguration before the final vote on January 19th or write to the school committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I want to reflect on why a growing group of courageous educators and parents, many of whom have children who will have finished elementary school by the time the changes occur, are concerned. In a national climate in which everyone seems to think their schools need to do more and educators are asked to operate within numerous disempowering mandates, the fact that so many parents love and want to keep core aspects of the Amherst public elementary schools not just for their own but for future children is important.
It is not because they are emotional and don’t like change as I have heard more than one administrator say. It is because, despite attending multiple information sessions, asking critical questions, and reading extensively to become informed, these educators and parents are still not convinced that the reconfiguration will be better than the current three small school system. I have heard many say that they are willing to be convinced, but like school and building committee members, they are still waiting to see detailed budget comparisons, comparative educational analysis, and discussion of how each will affect town planning.
Some of this information has been promised at the January 13th forum, unfortunately giving our elected and publicly accountable school committee members less than a week before the vote to digest it and to ask about ambiguities or omissions. Yet, they will be making a decision that will affect not just our children but also the entire town for decades to come.