Russ Vernon-Jones: Comments at Town Meeting, Jan. 30, 2017

Comments by Russ Vernon-Jones at Town Meeting, January 30, 2017

As an educator it is difficult for me to oppose a new school, but I oppose the proposal before us and I urge you to vote “No”. I was the principal of Fort River School for 18 years (and the dad of 2 Fort River and ARHS grads). I know the problems of the Fort River building, the needs, and also the high quality teaching that goes on there still. With Fort River we’ve had to live for more than 4 decades with a building that was a mistake from the beginning, in its design and program plan. We do need new or completely renovated schools. We will live with our new buildings for 50 years. We can’t afford to again build for an educational plan that doesn’t match what’s going to work best for our students, teachers, and families.

I believe the current proposal with the grade reconfiguration is a big mistake. I am a strong believer in K-6 schools, not only because they are better for students and families, but because in Amherst, they function as the building blocks of community for our entire town. We are a town divided in many ways. In our K-6 schools children and families from different racial and socio-economic circumstances all come together in manageable numbers and over time build community with each other. Over 7 or more years, families come to feel that the elementary school is their school. It just doesn’t happen in the same way in a town-wide school that they are only in for a few years.

In educating students, and in building community, relationships are key. Like it or not, we are voting on whether we will dismantle K-6 education in this town for many years to come. I don’t think that would be wise, and I don’t think the town has decided it wants that.

I support expanded early childhood education and educational equity. I don’t believe this proposal is the best way to achieve them.

Of course teachers want a new school. How could they not? But let’s be clear – in an anonymous survey of all elementary teachers when there were still other options, beside the grade reconfiguration, on the table, teachers decisively opposed the option now before us.

This building is a mistake. Please vote “No” and let’s come together to develop a proposal that a large majority of the town can support and that will serve our students, teachers and families well.