Amherst needs school plan with broad support
Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Jan. 27, 2017
I strongly believe that Amherst needs to replace or renovate the Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools but I voted against the ballot question on Nov. 8 and I urge Town Meeting members to again vote against the proposal on Jan. 30.
The existing proposal for a new school on the Wildwood site continues to divide parents, teachers, and the community at-large even though most agree that the schools must be replaced or renovated.
One likely reason for this division is a lack of evidence that the proposed grade reconfiguration is educationally sound. (For those unfamiliar with the proposal, the new school would contain Wildwood and Fort River as co-located Grades 2-6 schools while Crocker Farm would become a K-1 school with a preschool.)
I have looked at the arguments made by proponents of reconfiguration but have seen nothing showing that separating students in this way has better or even equal educational outcomes than the existing K-6 configuration. In fact, research shows that K-6 schools are optimal for student learning and strong parent involvement. The value of keeping students in the same supportive community of adults for seven years cannot be overstated.
It’s difficult to understand why sound educational principles were not at the core of this discussion from the beginning. I understand that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has told the interim superintendent, Michael Morris, that if the project fails again at Town Meeting, Amherst may withdraw this proposal immediately and submit a new application that will be considered by the MSBA in 2017.
I’m excited that we will have another opportunity to build a state-of-the-art school for our children. I hope we will have an inclusive process that results in a sound building and educational plan that has broad community support.