HawkOwl: Renovate Both Schools; Cost-Benefit Does Not Support Reconfiguration

Julie HawkOwl, 2015/11/03

Letter to School Committee

Dear Committee Members,

I keep mulling this over and am concerned about a few other things.

This project seems to be driven by the finances of taking advantage of a two-for-one deal. Two things come to my mind when I consider this kind of “sale” advertisement: 1) Was the price before the sale over-inflated? 2) What reduction in quality permits the seller to offer this deal? Clearly, 1 does not apply to the issue at hand. But 2 does.

I think this is a very important consideration for the School committee. It may be cheaper to the town to reconfigure with MSBA money, but to what end? We lose so much of what we value. If we choose the reconfiguration, we will lose the depth of quality connection that we currently enjoy, the small school feel, the children being in the same building as their siblings. 

No matter how good a leader is at creating community, there is just no way for individuals to really connect/interconnect with such a large group of students and parents. It’s overwhelming. Having two separate schools divided between two wings would mean that districting would still apply—Mike’s argument that he is uncomfortable with the districting we currently have with the pockets of Fort River and Wildwood in the Crocker Farm district does not apply. The school would still have to implement some districting. How else would you decide which student/family is in which wing?

Two other issues that are near and dear to my heart are:

1) If kindergarteners and 1st graders are in a separate school than 2-6 graders, what will the plan be for Multicultural night, math night, literacy night, end of school picnics, first day of school parades? Will this be a sort of “Sophie’s choice” for parents? How is that supportive of our children and their relationship to their education? One parent goes to k-1 event with that child, other parent goes to 2-6 event with other child? What about all the single parents? They would have to choose. And I for one know from first-hand experience that having two Multicultural nights, and two math nights, and two literacy nights, etc means that our family STILL will have to choose. I tried last year to go to all of my Kindergartener’s events at Sunderland Elementary as well as all of my 3rd grader’s events at Wildwood. It was way too much for the kids and me. Too many special events is hard on daily life.

2) So many of our students are foreign students, here for a year or so. Imagine all the K-1 students from this populations who have a 2nd-6th grade sibling. The comfort of at least being in the same building as a family member should not be underrated. I feel sad thinking that we would go forward with a reconfiguration that would remove this opportunity for these children. Even my own children so dearly love finally being in the same school. It is like heaven for us. The reconfiguration will not affect my kids, but I wish for other families the same wealth of comfort that we enjoy.

Cost/benefit tradeoff. What are we willing to sacrifice? Social and academic achievement costs of reconfiguration are high. I’m not the only parent who has said “Elementary age students don’t really need a ‘state-of-the-art” building.” Are Amherst residents not willing to invest in their children? I thought we were “better” than the Federal Government (who spends so much more on defense than education).

Two for one usually sacrifices quality.

The fact is, both schools have needed renovations or replacement for years already. Fort River has already been a relatively recent recipient of MSBA grant funding—I’m not entirely clear what they did with the money. I think the town owes it to its children to replace both buildings, not reconfigure because it’s the cheapest way to do the job.