Letter sent to the School Committee
Jan. 14, 2016
Dear Members of the School Committee,
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.