Nina Shandler: Do not repeat mistakes; why not use middle school?

Do not repeat mistakes with big Amherst schools
Nina Shandler
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017

Here’s a question: Why not transform the Amherst Middle School into an elementary school campus?

The large sprawling building, with its individual classrooms, could accommodate two K-through-6 “schools” in separate areas of the building. To ensure a smaller, less chaotic, feel, the “schools” could operate on slightly different schedules, with buses from one geographic neighborhood arriving and leaving a half hour later than the other geographic neighborhood.

Given declining enrollment and demographic changes, such a simple solution would enable educators and parents to evaluate the efficacy of transporting the town’s children to one location without making an irreversible $64 million commitment; an expenditure, steeped in controversy, which promises to raise already onerous property taxes, and further discourage young families from purchasing homes in our town.

Looking to further practical possibilities: if, and only if, the health issues associated with Wildwood School could be fully resolved, might that school be transformed into a state-of-the-art technical-vocational school? The large open spaces, currently a detriment to elementary classroom teaching, may well prove advantageous as workshop areas for cultivating the advanced skills needed for an increasingly highly skilled workforce.

These questions are in no way intended to demean the needs of our children. As a psychologist who worked at Fort River for nearly a decade, I am intimately aware of the health issues and the design shortcomings of our elementary schools.

As a parent of adult children who benefited greatly from their Amherst educations, I maintain enormous respect for and commitment to our educators.

I only hope that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past by building two large schools, which will eventually prove a detriment to educational excellence.

Nina Shandler
Amherst

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