Goldberg-Jamate: Please consider twin K6 (Letter to School Committee 6/21)

Letter to the Amherst School Committee

June 21, 2016

My name is Marla Goldberg-Jamate and I’m one of many Amherst parents and residents who are concerned about the plan to consolidate and reconfigure our elementary schools. This plan represents a major and expensive overhaul of our district, which would lead to a significant increase in property taxes.

I am here tonight to urge the School Committee to reconsider its plan, especially the component of grade reconfiguration.

I believe we need a fiscally-responsible plan for fixing building-based problems at Fort River and Wildwood, without eliminating Crocker Farm as a K-6 elementary school. We also need to be mindful of the pressing need for curriculum improvements district-wide, which may require significant spending. If voters agree this fall to a tax increase of several hundred dollars for school construction, they may not be willing to accept a schools-based override again for many years. Innovations such as two-way Spanish-English language immersion and expeditionary learning are being tried with success in public elementary schools elsewhere, and could make our district more competitive with the charter schools that now siphon off many bright pupils. Our district also needs a better, stronger science curriculum, and improved textbooks and workbooks for many subjects.

The grade reconfiguration plan would lead to disruptive transitions for children as they move between schools, and force siblings more than two years apart to attend separate schools. Commutes would be longer and more complicated. Breaking up our K-6 model would deny kids the advantages of peer mentoring, and of growing in place with trusted adults.

Crocker Farm, which would be converted to an early education center, is now a thriving, diverse K-6 elementary school. As an anchor of the South Amherst community, it should not be sacrificed to solve infrastructure issues at other schools. Last Friday I went to my older daughter’s 6th grade graduation at Crocker, attended even by retired teachers who wanted to see children they taught years ago graduate. Today, as Crocker kids boarded buses for the last time this year, teachers waved, sang and clapped for the children, whom they know so well.

For Amherst families several miles south of the center, the proposed grade 2-6 building on the Wildwood site would be so distant that some might simply choice their children into neighboring towns, including Belchertown, where MCAS scores are currently higher.

Our district, although wanting to offer more partially-subsidized preschool slots, does not have the requisite public funds at hand. If, at some point, funding is found, I believe preschool space could be identified in other, underutilized school buildings. It would be sensible for any new construction to have plumbing in place to accommodate possible preschool classrooms.

In a parent/staff survey conducted this past January, less than a third of respondents were “open to considering” grade reconfiguration. However, respondents indicated a willingness to accept twin schools at the Wildwood site, if K-6 grade configuration is kept. This is an option that the state has offered, and many people appear ready to support, even if their first choice was preservation of our three neighborhood schools. A twin K-6 campus, including a reasonable amount of open play space, is an option that stands a chance of gaining significant voter approval. We urge you to consider this compromise.

Please visit the website, Save Amherst’s Small Schools, at https://saveamherstssmallschools.wordpress.com/

Sincerely,

Marla Goldberg-Jamate

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