At the school committee meeting on 9/6/16, Acting Superintendent Mike Morris reported on concerns from a community member about a group of kids who are districted to Wildwood being sent to 3 different schools in 3 years if the grade reconfiguration plan is instituted. This would happen to kids who would be kindergarteners in 2019-2020. That year they would be at the Phase 1 portion of the new building (while Phase 2 construction is underway). The next year (2020-2021), when grade reconfiguration starts and they are in 1st grade, they would be sent to the Crocker Farm campus. The year after that, as 2nd graders they would be sent back to one of the “co-located schools” at the new building.
Citing the inadvisability of multiple transitions, Mr. Morris’ proposed solution is to have current Crocker Farm 2nd graders stay at that building as 6th graders in 2020-2021, when they are supposed to switch over to the new building with all the other 6th graders in town. That would place these 6th graders in a school now otherwise filled with PreK – 1st graders only. This would make room at the new building to allow the Wildwood kids to stay there and not have to ping pong back and forth between schools, but they would be the only 1st graders in a school filled with 2nd – 6th graders.
At least two different people pointed out this problem to Mr. Morris prior to the School Committee’s vote in favor of grade reconfiguration. Mr. Morris seems to have forgotten that they also explained that it is not just kindergarteners districted to Wildwood that would face this problem but those districted to Fort River as well. Finally, the Phase 1 area where the kindergarteners in question would spend 2019-2020 is not designed for kindergarteners but for 2nd – 6th graders, so without facilities appropriate to this age group.
Mr. Morris presented this idea to the School Committee this past week and wanted to know whether they thought it was okay for him to survey the families of current Crocker Farm 2nd graders to see how they would feel about this. You can watch this discussion on Amherst Media (https://amherstmedia.org/content/amherst-school-committee-9-6-16; at minutes 0:55 to 1:06). While I appreciate the fact that he wants to find out how they feel, the last time they took a survey the results were ignored by the School Committee and we ended up with a proposed grade reconfiguration plan that teachers and parents clearly opposed.
This is another example of how the school administration has a blind spot about the problems associated with this proposal. They did not listen when we warned them about this very issue many months ago and they continue to plow ahead despite the many other serious flaws in this plan. In this particular instance, at least 40-60 really young kids are going to have to transition schools 3 times in as many years. The choice they are offering is whether twice that number of kids face those multiple transitions or twice that number spend a school year as the only 1st graders among 700 older kids and the only 6th graders among 4 to 7 year olds.
P.S. At this same School Committee meeting, Mr. Morris discussed ideas that came out of the early childhood center visioning group. One proposal was a “student ambassador” program. This would involve regular “site visits” (not further explained) between pairs of students (1st with 5th graders, kindergarteners with 4th graders, preschoolers with 2nd or 3rd graders) so that when the younger kids go to the new school they would have a built in buddy. This feeble and unrealistic attempt to recreate the benefits of actual PreK-6 school was discussed without the slightest hint of irony.