Catherine Corson: Release public comments and take them seriously

Letter sent to the School Committee

Jan. 14, 2016

Dear Members of the School Committee,

As you know, my primary concern throughout this process has been that we as a community of administrators, educators, parents, children and town members come together to support the fantastic public education in Amherst. It is important for both educator morale and public support of whatever option is ultimately chosen that educators and parents/guardians feel that their input was and will be taken seriously by the school committee.In that vein I want to support Jean Fay’s request last night that the open-ended responses made by 38% of the educators who responded to the survey be released to the public. To ask the educators to take time out of their day during one of the busiest weeks of the year and then not to acknowledge and/or share all of what they said would send the wrong message about the importance of their time and opinions. Likewise, I would also like to ask that the open-ended responses made by parents/guardians be released to the public, particularly because 50% of them (some 200+ people) provided comments.

I was surprised, as were many others, that there was no discussion of the survey at last night’s public forum. Many people were there under the impression that having the results ready for discussion yesterday was a core reason for the compressed time frame.

Second, as you know, I pushed hard for improvements to the survey before it went out. I remain disappointed that the factor questions were designed such that they did not provide more valuable information, that more efforts were not made—both in terms of question design and distribution/access—to ensure input from people who will most be affected by equity initiatives, and that all educators did not feel completely assured of anonymity. In particular, while it is apparent from last night’s public forum that many people in Amherst are concerned about equity, I wonder if it did not rank as high as it could have in the survey because they define equity differently than it was defined in the survey.

Nonetheless and importantly, the survey did produce reliable information about which of the options educators and parents/guardians support—namely that the majority of them oppose reconfiguration and support maintaining the K-6 structure. The fact that so many people voted for either renovating Wildwood alone or maintaining the K-6 structure in a twin school, even in spite of the heavy emphasis on reconfiguration in the survey design and background information lends even more credence to these results.

I might also note that the results also clearly demonstrate that the supporters of maintaining three small elementary schools are not just a small group of outspoken parents.


You have a very difficult decision before you, and I do not envy you, but as elected and publicly accountable officials, I urge you to acknowledge that hundreds of busy parents and educators made efforts to provide you with input under great time pressure. I urge you to take what they said seriously in your discussions and votes. If we are to move forward from this moment as a community behind the fantastic public education that we have in Amherst and the wonderful people who comprise it, it is important to convey that you are interested in what they—as the foundation of that system—have to say.


Catherine Corson



  1. Mary Lou Ferro

    Dear Supporters of Save Amherst’s Small Schools;

    As a thirty-two year veteran of this system I have had children, foster children and now grandchildren attend these schools. I also am a former employee–working in many departments–from the kitchen to the classroom and today I am a substitute teacher, para-educator, and cafeteria assistant, so I see children in many aspects of their day. I see the inequities–in how a child can acquire a tab in the cafeteria and refused a bottle of water–to the targeting of a 12 year-old child who has gained their scarlet letter across his forehead–receive weekly detentions, trips to the office and suspensions.

    I moved here from the Boston area because at that time the Amherst schools ranked third highest in the nation. Sadly that would not be true today. At last night’s meeting I was prepared to read from a small piece of paper (distributed by your group) a statement asking the school committee why there are so many administrators in this system. And it seems, if you watch closely, there are new administrative positions being created every month. There are also new ‘consultants’ put on the payroll much too often. This is, I believe, where the bulk of the tax payers money is going.

    I applaud your efforts and solidarity. I hope someone gets a good shake of a wake up call and this nonsense is stopped before it is too late.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,~Mary Lou Conca
    ARPS~School Equity Task Force, Wellness Committee-(I am fighting with them to serve our children clean, organic foods.)OASIS~Occupy Amherst Schools in SolidarityNAACP~Amherst Area, MA

    Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2016 04:48:25 +0000


    • Maria Kopicki

      Hi Mary Lou
      Thank you so much for your support. Our efforts are ongoing. We need to mobilize many voices to turn this tide. Let’s stay motivated and organized!!!


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