published in the Amherst Bulletin, Nov. 19, 2016
As parents who have been involved in Save Amherst’s Small Schools, we are pleased by the vote of Town Meeting on Monday night to reject borrowing of $67 million to build a consolidated school on the Wildwood site.
We believe this plan, which would have required demolition of Fort River and Wildwood and reconfiguration of the whole elementary district, was not a good solution to the problems posed by our aging school buildings.
This plan would have put all children in Grades 2-6 north of the center in one new building, and all children in preschool, kindergarten and first grade at Crocker Farm in South Amherst. The splitting up of siblings between schools, along with increased busing, were cited by many parents as reasons why they could not support the plan.
But largely, their concerns were about losing the warmth and stability that our small K-6 schools provide to Amherst’s children, who become well-known to staff and teachers over a period of several years.
The value of the small K-6 schools such as we have in Amherst is well recognized by research and experience. It would be a mistake to tear apart this system, and the communities which have grown up, literally and figuratively, around our schools.
However, we take seriously the concerns raised by the school administration and those who supported the building plan, including the need for solutions to classroom design problems and the wish for improved air quality. We look forward to working with our neighbors as our town proceeds along a new path of inquiry about how to best achieve our common goals.
We see many good options for Amherst as we consider the best ways to improve and preserve our small schools. We hope for a fresh process that will include a thorough evaluation of renovation prospects at Wildwood and Fort River by experts with experience in conversion of open classrooms.
Many of our supporters would have accepted the “twin K-6” option to replace both Wildwood and Fort River, the choice clearly favored in surveys last winter, and that would preserve K-6 schools throughout our town.
Other good prospects that emerge from an open and comprehensive dialogue should be given full consideration.
A top priority is to constitute a new School Building Committee as soon as possible, and make sure that it is composed of people with a diversity of perspectives. The voices of parents and educators should be central to future decision-making, and attention paid to fiscal responsibility and the economic needs of the town as a whole.
We must move forward and begin the work of healing our community, and improving our buildings. Let’s use our time wisely and find common ground. Then let’s break ground together on a building plan we can all support.
Marla Goldberg-Jamate, of Amherst, is a member of Save Amherst’s Small Schools. It also was signed by Maria Kopicki and Laura Markstein Quilter, also members of SASS.