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Minutes of the Amherst School Committee Meeting of March 9, 2011
Submitted by WestmorelandD on Fri, 03/11/2011 - 5:09pm.
Amherst School Committee
Regular Meeting of Amherst School Committee
March 9, 2011
Library, Amherst Regional High School
Irv Rhodes, Chair Maria Geryk, Interim Superintendent
Rick Hood Beth Graham, Dir. of Curr., Instruction and Assessment
Rob Spence Mike Hayes, ARMS Principal
Catherine Sanderson Jerry Champagne, Information Systems Director
Kathy Mazur, Human Resources Director
Absent: Mike Morris, Crocker Farm Principal
Steve Rivkin Nick Yaffe, Wildwood Principal
Karen Lowe, Fort River Interim Assistant Principal
Susan Kennedy Marx, Fort River Interim Principal
Derek Shea, Crocker Farm Assistant Principal
Debbie Westmoreland, Recorder
1. Welcome 7:01 p.m.
A. Call to Order—Mr. Rhodes called the meeting to order at 7:01 p.m. and reviewed the agenda. He noted that he is adding, at the Chair’s discretion, a discussion of the Math Program Review. Mr. Rhodes noted that in anticipation of voting the budget tonight not needing a second meeting in March, he wants to recognize Catherine Sanderson for her service to the School Committee. Ms. Geryk also thanked Ms. Sanderson for the countless hours she has put into her service to the schools.
2. Announcements and Public Comments 7:07 p.m.
Janet McGowan, parent, requested that the math program review be posted on the district website. She asked if the Superintendent plans to accept the recommendations of Ms. Graham without public comment. Ms. Geryk explained that this is a multi-year action plan so it is a living document. She noted that she does not plan to take input because input was taken at the front end of the review process, and it is now time to move forward with implementing the work of the plan. Jacqueline Kang, Fort River parent, stated that she read the math plan when she found it on the website today. She expressed concern that there has not been enough action taken on the math curriculum up until now. She said parents’ morale is very low, especially at Fort River where they have had a very hard time this year. Ms. Sanderson said these comments are the same complaints she hears from parents all the time. She noted that Ms. Graham said there would be a public forum on the math program review but it never happened. Ms. Sanderson said that the math program review was not listed on tonight’s agenda so parents who might be interested are not in attendance. She stated that this model for doing things in the district is appalling. Mr. Rhodes noted that the report can be postponed until the next meeting in March. Ms. Sanderson stated that she is not interested in having another School Committee meeting to hear the math presentation. She wants to have a public forum in which parents can participate and ask questions. Ms. Sanderson made a motion that there be a posted open meeting on March 22 in which parents can discuss math in Amherst. Mr. Spence seconded. Mr. Hood asked for the Superintendent’s thoughts on having a public forum. Ms. Geryk stated that she is open to having a forum but she would like to know what format the School Committee is considering. Mr. Hood noted that he believes it would be helpful to have math experts from the district in attendance to answer questions as well. Ms. Graham arrived at the meeting during the discussion and asked for clarification of what the purpose of the feedback will be. Mr. Spence said it will be an opportunity for the administration to hear from parents and to determine if they believe the feedback warrants changes in the action plan. Ms. Graham noted that she does not believe the K-16 Math Council members will participate in such a forum and there is a feeling that they do not want to be subjected to backlash for their work. Mr. Spence said he is dumbfounded that he is hearing Ms. Graham say she is not interested in hearing feedback from parents. Ms. Graham clarified that she did not say that. Ms. Geryk stated that she does not want people to get the misperception that having a public forum means there will be an ongoing dialogue resulting in changes to the action plan because it is imperative to begin the work. She said this is not an open-ended process and the district just spent five months doing the work, which including getting input and feedback from the community at the front end. Mr. Rhodes recommended that the March 22 meeting be posted as a school committee meeting. Ms. Sanderson made a motion to amend her original motion to read that the Amherst School Committee meeting of March 22 will include exclusively a public forum on elementary math in Amherst. Mr. Spence seconded and the motion to amend passed unanimously. Ms. Sanderson’s amended motion then also passed unanimously.
3. Superintendent’s Update 7:04 p.m.
Ms. Geryk reported on the “Let’s Move Amherst” event scheduled for April 3, 2011. Mr. Morris reported that Crocker Farm student Emma Schneider qualified for the State Geography Bee in Worcester next month. He also expressed appreciation for the good work Ray Sharick did during his tenure as Principal at Fort River.
4. Unfinished/Continuing Business 7:41 p.m.
A. FY12 Amherst Schools Budget
DOCUMENTS: Updated pages for the Amherst Public Schools Proposed FY12 Budget binder; FY12 Building Staffing with 0% Cut in Chapter 70 Funding; Amherst School District Enrollments (as of March 9, 2011)
Ms. Geryk distributed updated documents reflecting changes in budget information since the last Amherst School Committee meeting. Ms. Mazur reported that during a recent GIC audit of Retired Teachers Insurance, clerical errors were identified involving 11 Regional retirees who were coded as Amherst employees and two Amherst retirees who were coded as Regional employees. She outlined the effect of the error adjustments on the Amherst FY12 budget. Ms. Geryk reviewed the updated additions and reductions list, noting that the classroom teacher cut was reduced from seven to six in case coverage is needed for classes currently on the bubble. She also noted that she believes we can rework the instrumental music model to begin in third grade and can expand Spanish instruction to begin in third grade. Ms. Geryk also reviewed the FY12 building staffing report, noting the changes from the current FY11 staffing. Mr. Rhodes reminded the committee that they will be voting the bottom line budget at this time and will vote on budget cost centers at a future meeting. Mr. Spence asked if the Town, Finance Committee and BCG are all on board with the bottom line number in this proposed budget. Mr. Hood explained the process that has been followed in requesting funds above the original budgeting guidelines, concluding that the BCG is O.K. with the request. Ms. Geryk noted that Town Manager John Musante and Town Treasurer Sandy Poole are confident that the proposed budget can be supported. Ms. Sanderson said she is confused by the absence of support for the Spanish language program since it will continue to be offered only for 40 minutes per week as part of the specials rotation. Ms. Geryk stated that the final recommendation of Mr. Smith and the working committee was that the program be implemented in the way it has been. Ms. Sanderson requested that Mr. Smith’s report be forwarded to the School Committee and posted on the district website. Ms. Geryk cautioned the School Committee that if Spanish is to be implemented outside the specials rotation, there will need to be a serious discussion of what will be taken out of the elementary schedule to accommodate it. Ms. Sanderson stated that a grant-funded Chinese program was implemented at Wildwood a few years ago for 1.5 hours per week and it seemed to have worked well. She does not understand why it is problematic now to implement a different language at all of the schools. Ms. Geryk said she will be happy to have Mr. Smith provide an update for the School Committee and will ask for input regarding the Chinese program implementation that was done at Wildwood. Mr. Rhodes noted that a wider conversation about the elementary schedule is on the radar and will happen in the near future. Mr. Hood made a motion to approve the bottom-line budget for the Amherst elementary schools for FY12 in the amount of $20,758,598.00. Mr. Spence seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
B. K-12 Math Program Review 2010-2011
DOCUMENT: K-12 Math Program Review 2010-2011
Based on the earlier discussion, Mr. Graham was asked not to make a presentation. Instead, the School Committee moved directly into questions and comments on the report. Mr. Rhodes asked if the Common Core Standards (CCS) will be integrated into the MCAS tests. Ms. Graham said that MCAS will contain elements of the CCS beginning next year, will be more aligned in 2013, and will be a completely new testing method beginning in 2014. Ms. Graham noted that publishers scramble to align their textbooks with any new standards and said we will need to be wary of claims that any text will have been completely aligned with the Common Core Standards as early as this summer. She does anticipate that there will be supplemental documents available this summer and the texts will be fully aligned later. Mr. Rhodes asked how to ensure that all sixth grade students have access to appropriate information and opportunities to prepare themselves for the transition to seventh grade math. Mr. Hayes explained that the assessments will now be done in the spring during sixth grade so students will know if they are ready for algebra honors or if they are close. In the latter case, teachers can let them know what they can work on to prepare. Mr. Hayes reported that he and Nate Whittiker are working on a summer school program that will be available for those students who are close to readiness. Mr. Spence asked if any portion of the sixth grade placement test will be used to place students in any other way, for example, in taking extensions. Mr. Hayes explained that Extensions is now a word of the past at ARMS because all students are now doing honors level math. He noted that a system is also being developed to determine which students should take the placement test because they do not want students’ first experience with Middle School to be a test that contains concepts they have not been taught. Mr. Spence asked if there is a cap on the number of students who can take eighth grade Algebra Honors in seventh grade. Mr. Hayes explained that there is no limit on the number; however, because the numbers have been increasing, consideration is being given to adding a seventh grade algebra course. Mr. Rhodes asked about the math/special education dual certification mentioned in the action plan. Ms. Graham explained that teachers with special education certification have a lot of instructional strategies and they are working to develop a model that legitimizes the role of every adult in the classroom. She noted that if there is a collaborative model between all of the teachers in the classroom, more students have a chance of success in math. Mr. Rhodes suggested that math and literacy would also be a good combination. Mr. Spence said that he hopes that since all publishers will be aligning their texts with the CCS, this will be viewed as an opportunity to look at all of the texts as a blank slate with no allegiance to the current one. He also noted that many parents he speaks to have expressed a feeling that their kids are not getting the level of math they need at school, including in the area of mathematical ideas, not just computational skills. Mr. Spence asked for concrete examples of how students’ math experience will be different over the next two years based on the math action plan. Ms. Graham explained that the universal screening the district has just begun to implement will allow teachers to develop challenge materials at the level at which each student is functioning. This will require the teachers to be better at differentiation of instruction. Mr. Spence asked what models are being considered to ensure that level of differentiation. Ms. Graham said the benefit of RTI is the development of universal strategies and materials and teachers will be able to assess three times per year. Ms. Geryk noted that we have a responsibility to monitor progress of all students and adjust the model of service delivery to meet their needs. She explained that the data we are gathering will cause us to be held accountable. Mr. Spence noted that having new differentiation strategies and better implementation of differentiation is something parents will be looking for. Mr. Rhodes said he assumes there will be a lag because teachers will be receiving so much data and it will put tremendous pressure on teachers to support students at so many levels, noting that implementation is a process. Ms. Geryk said the teacher teams are beginning to look at data now and she does anticipate substantial changes for September. Mr. Morris noted that district and school-based leadership in mathematics is one of the ways to support teacher. He explained that one of the tools the district is using evaluates students in each of the five state strands, by standard which provides valuable information on where each student’s work needs to be concentrated. Mr. Morris noted that the differentiation question is very real and it becomes more difficult as class sizes increase. Ms. Sanderson said that the math action plan model appears to be an expensive one that will have consequences to other areas of the schools. She asked what it would cost on an annual basis if the plan is fully implemented and how it will be funded in light of the current fiscal realities. Ms. Graham stated that the plan is audacious and ambitious as is needed in order to transform math. She said it will cost $150,000 for a new textbook K-5 and the district is looking into grant and corporate funding for coaches. The coordinator position is in the budget. Ms. Geryk noted that there is up-front cost to the professional development, but with a coaching model the district is building internal expertise with coaches who can provide future professional development. Mr. Spence said he hopes we will consider selecting a new text that will potentially require less professional development for teachers. Ms. Sanderson asked if the textbook committee has been formed. Ms. Graham confirmed that it has and Lauren Mattone and Amy Wolpin are the co-chairs. The first meeting is scheduled for March 21, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. Ms. Sanderson asked why two curriculums named in the Mathematica Study—Saxon and Math Expressions—were not included in the curricula to be reviewed. Ms. Graham said Saxon was not chosen because it is a scripted, skills-based curriculum that does not address critical, conceptual thinking. Ms. Sanderson said she would have hoped the textbook committee would have the chance to consider and discuss those curriculums. Ms. Graham stated that a scripted, skill and drill curriculum does not fit the philosophy of the district. Ms. Sanderson asked how the curriculum chosen for consideration by the textbook committee was selected. Ms. Graham said all of the texts chosen, other than Singapore Math, are being used successfully in at least one of our state or national comparison districts and she made the decision about which to include. Mr. Hood asked about professional development opportunities. Ms. Geryk outlined the short-term and long-term plan for fulfilling the need for professional development. Mr. Rhodes thanked Ms. Graham for her presentation.
6. New Business 9:17 p.m.
A. Accept Gifts
DOCUMENT: Memo to Amherst School Committee from Mary Wallace, District Treasurer (dated 3/1/11)
Ms. Sanderson made a motion to accept a $500 donation for the Crocker Farm library. Mr. Hood seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
7. Subcommittees None
8. School Committee Planning 9:18 p.m.
A. Calendar—School Committee public forum on Tuesday, March 22 at Amherst Town Hall.
B. Items for Future Agendas
5. Adjournment 9:19 p.m.
Ms. Sanderson made a motion to adjourn at 9:19 p.m. Mr. Hood seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Approved April 26, 2011
Last updated July 18, 2011