AMHERST SCHOOL COMMITTEE CONDUCTS LIMITED BUSINESS AMIDST PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

Fort River Elementary School in Amherst.

The Amherst School Committee met remotely on March 26, 2020 with a limited agenda.  The four current members and Superintendent Morris were all present via video conference.  

The first order of business was to suspend public comment because of the current restrictions against public gatherings due to the pandemic. Chair Allison McDonald explained that while the Town does not currently have a system in place to allow the public to participate remotely, a solution is being pursued. In the meantime, emails to School Committee members were encouraged. 

On the subject of school choice, Morris re-stated his recommendation from the March 2nd meeting that non-Amherst residents continue to be allowed to “Choice In” to Amherst’s elementary schools, but that for the 2020-2021 school year, only kindergarten slots would be available, and those would be limited to 8-10 students, citing concerns about the potential impact of school choice on anticipated building projects.  The committee voted unanimously to follow this recommendation. A more detailed look at this subject is available here.

The committee also voted unanimously to approve the Student Opportunity Act Plan offered by Morris.  This statewide program provides funding to school districts to support programs aimed at closing achievement gaps among subgroups of students.  Amherst’s plan focuses on “multiple subgroups who are underrepresented in advanced-level courses in mathematics at the secondary level. These subgroups are: African-American students; Latino students; low-income students; and students with special needs.”  It proposes having a “Middle School Math teacher work with upper-grade, high-promise elementary students to support their academic growth and motivation to take on advanced math courses when they arrive at the Middle School level” as well as having a high school math teacher work with sixth grade teachers to help implement the new math curriculum.  

In other business, two school committee members volunteered to serve on the Budget Coordinating Group. This collection of elected officials and Town staff is tasked with examining and helping to coordinate the Town’s various operating budget needs, much like the Joint Capital Planning Committee does with capital needs. McDonald and Kerry Spitzer will take on what was described by Morris to be a heavy time commitment, partly because of the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Town Council President Lynn Griesemer joined the meeting by phone to discuss the process for filling the School Committee vacancy, left open when Eric Nakajima resigned in February.  The Committee discussed a list of suggested questions, solicited from members of the School Committee and Town Council, to be asked of applicants pursuing the vacant seat.  There was agreement to allow McDonald and Griesemer to cull the list to 7 or 8 questions, and to consider asking applicants to respond in writing,rather than verbally, to some.  The School Committee discussed, but decided against, creating a set of criteria to be used as guidance in selecting the successful candidate, instead opting to let their votes on the candidates signal their opinions.  It was revealed during this discussion that because only two people have submitted letters of interest at this point, both the interviews and vote by the Town Council and School Committee will occur on April 14th, unless a larger pool of applicants emerges before the deadline on March 30th.  

The meeting adjourned without plans for future agenda items until such time as the Town Manager indicates that regular meetings may resume.

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