Jamate Statement on Article 38 (May 25, 2016)

Marla Jamate’s statement on Article 38, at Town Meeting, May 25, 2016:

“Good evening. We moved to Amherst from Whately in 2006, when our daughter Hannah was 2, because of Amherst’s reputation for excellent public schools. Hannah is finishing 6th grade at Crocker Farm, where her sister Ella is in first. They both benefit daily from the school’s small, K-6 structure. Hannah’s teachers from the early grades still take a friendly interest in her years later, and greet her in the halls or playground. Our principal, Mr. Shea, knows my children by name, and where they sit at lunch. To Ella’s delight, he sometimes even skips with her on the sidewalk at the day’s end.

Being well-known to a group of concerned adults as they grow creates a sense of stability for my children that would be hard to replicate. Older children can also proudly share their knowledge with much younger ones, through programs like Reading Buddies.

These and many other things I value about Crocker Farm could be lost, if all its pupils in grades 2 through 6 were shifted to a new, consolidated school building. That is why I am in favor of further exploration of renovating Wildwood and Fort River.

The proposed reconfiguration, assigning only pre-school, kindergarten and 1st grade pupils to Crocker Farm, would inconvenience many families. Two children born five years apart like mine could not attend the same school simultaneously. For her first two years at Crocker Farm, Ella has been comforted by her big sister’s presence.

As a South Amherst homeowner, I am concerned that our property values will decline if Crocker Farm is reduced to an early childhood center. Families might seek homes near the upper elementary schools their children would attend for more years. The $30 million dollars Amherst would spend on new construction would inflate our already-high taxes, and could drive away families like mine. The tax bill on our modest home currently tops $5,000 per year.

A renovation of Wildwood and Fort River might also allow Amherst to focus its resources on maintaining and improving the academic culture and curriculum that brings families here.

We love Crocker Farm, but are aware of issues in our elementary schools that will require real financial support to resolve. These include too-large class sizes, a shortage of textbooks and workbooks, and a lack of accelerated learning and in-depth science programs. Enrollment is declining steadily as more families send their children to charter schools. We badly need to study attrition and retention, and to consider an elementary foreign language program.

This morning, 5th and 6th graders at Crocker Farm, including Hannah, performed in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was so proud of these kids that I nearly cried. Afterward, I was able to stop in to Ella’s first-grade classroom, to peek at the fluffy chicks just hatched from an incubator. And I thought, Crocker Farm is well worth preserving, as it stands. For these and many other reasons, I urge you to support article 38, and the study which could help preserve our small schools.”