Increasing access to early childhood education, developing a plan to address the school buildings, and improving student wellness are among the goals of the Superintendent of Schools, Michael Morris over the next academic year. The Amherst and Regional School Committees recently approved the Superintendent’s goals for both the elementary and secondary school districts.
Five goals were set for the Amherst elementary district: 1) develop potential models for increasing access to early childhood education through collaboration with the Town of Amherst and Community Action/Head Start; 2) make progress on capital plan projects and engage the broader community about improving Fort River and Wildwood, regardless of the MSBA’s decision in December; 3) make progress on School Improvement Plans; 4) implement and evaluate the new “Caminantes” Dual Language program; and 5) develop a wellness framework to address vaping prevention and LGBTQ+ inclusion.
For the secondary/regional district, four goals were set: 1) improve student wellness including looking at substance abuse/vaping, LGBTQ+ inclusion, mental health, and later start times; 2) explore the viability and implications of moving sixth grade to the middle school; 3) increase staff diversity, both in terms of recruitment and retention; and 4) complete the Strategic Planning process.
Many of the goals relate to topics that have already been discussed extensively, according to Amherst School Committee Chair Anastasia Ordonez, although there are also some newer issues on the lists. “I’m thrilled that early childhood education is on here,” said Ordonez. “We never quite got it on the goals for the Superintendent, or even for ourselves. Hopefully we can see some resolution in the upcoming year.”
Morris said that a report on increasing access to early childhood education is due to be completed by the end of November and will be presented at the December 17th Amherst School Committee meeting. Sources of funding may not be determined by then but the likely budget impact should be known in time for budgeting for the next fiscal year. “It’s hard to imagine this being a small amount,” said Morris.
When discussing draft goals for the secondary level, Morris said that studying later start times for the middle and high schools “is going to take a significant amount of time, energy and resources.” The results of a transportation study that looked last year at the impact of later start times from a transportation perspective was presented to the Regional School Committee in September.
Two of the Superintendent’s goals — studying moving 6th grade to the middle school and addressing Wildwood and Fort River school buildings — will also be topics of discussion at a public forum on the schools to be held sometime in November, a meeting mandated by the new Town Charter. However, according to Ordonez, it is unclear whether there will be a substantive back and forth between the public and the Committee at the forum.
The potential move of sixth grade to the middle school affects all districts and is related to the goal of addressing Wildwood and Fort River. Moving ~150 students from elementary to middle school is one way to reduce the population to be accommodated in a potential new building of no more than 600 students, which is the framework proposed in the district’s funding submission to the state. An advisory board consisting of school administrators, staff, and parents has been meeting since May to explore models of educating sixth grade in the middle school. Their work is due to finish in January 2020 with a decision currently slated for January 2021. According to Morris, the earliest a potential move would take place would be fall 2022, affecting current third graders.