Sharma: Reconfiguration is unpopular, expensive, and INEQUITABLE.

 PDF version of letter

January 15, 2016

Dear School Committee Members,

I read with much dismay in the Gazette this morning that you will likely vote for the school reconfiguration plan for the Amherst schools. I am shocked that that would be the way you all are leaning for the following reasons:

At the forum on Wed. January 13, the only voice that supported this proposal was the superintendent. The parent /staff survey backed other plans. Michael Morris, Assistant Superintendent, cited much research about the success of students being directly related to smaller community schools and longevity of relationships. This proposal supports neither.

The re-configuration model was the MOST EXPENSIVE plan offered.

Ms. Geryk spoke about this reconfiguration plan as being the most equitable for the disadvantaged students. She cited no evidence to support this, though, to her credit, she appeared passionate about it. Her presentation felt a little like “trust me….this IS the most equitable”….end of story.

Equity is achieved by making sure all schools are equally well funded and managed. This means programs and staff to support the needs of disadvantaged students are present where needed and that disadvantaged students and families have school personnel who care about them and advocate directly and daily for their success. It has nothing to do with location or “catchment areas” of the schools. We have learned that from the history of “busing” in this country of many decades ago. I think the use of the word “neighborhood” has muddled the message. I do not think people who advocate for this mean they want their children to go to a school “down the street”. I think it means they want a small,community oriented school that feels personal and caring.

The idea of an early childhood program sounds new and meaningful. But I see this as a way of dumping all the same age children in one program for 2 short years…children with struggles will barely get their feet on the ground before they then are moved to new school, new personnel new programs. This DOES result in regression in academics, behavior, emotional adjustment, family trust and collaboration etc. This is not best for the most disadvantaged.

Why do I believe/know all of this? I am a guidance counselor in a district that has just this model. Students are in an “early childhood program” for kindergarten, move to a new school for 1st through 3rd grade, move to a new school for 4th through 6th, then onto middle school and high school. I work in the 1st- 3rd program. The children who come from well adjusted, socio economically secure families and have have no learning or behavior problems survive fine. But the struggling children who come to us from the kindergarten program lose growth as do the children who transition to 4th grade from our school. Children with ANY challenges get literally lost in the cracks. No matter how hard we work, it happens everyday.

I have often said to my colleagues that this feels like assembly line education; children are widgets that get moved from one setting to the next and lose much in the transition. Relationships break down, learning gets lost, adjustment issues impact behavior and pose emotional stress. In this era of 30% of students experiencing some level of anxiety, this is a BAD IDEA! If the superintendent really cares about equity, she should be talking to her staff on , the ground about how to serve those in need, not try and solve it by housing more students together in an effort to afford them them the same “aka” equitable education.

My children have graduated from the Amherst schools. They were advantaged greatly by the long term relationships they had with staff, K-6. Some of this relationships still persist. My investment in this issue is as a concerned citizen, educator and tax payer. I know your job is hard. I hope you are trying to consider the the input you solicited.

Good luck.

Mary Crotty Sharma