Opinion: Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog. Amherst And Regional School Committee Meetings

Amherst Regional High School. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jennifer Shiao

Editor’s note: The Indy will now post Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog on Wednesday Mornings.The Wednesday posting will include all new posts to the blog since the previous Wednesday.  Shiao’s original posts can be found here.  An archive of her blog posts in The Indy can be found here.

Amherst School Committee Meeting: 1/18/22
This extra meeting of the Amherst (elementary) School Committee meeting was called in order to get an update on the elementary school building project. Margaret Wood, a consultant with Anser Advisory, is the owner’s project manager (OPM) on the project. The job of the OPM is to provide project-management guidance to the building committee and the town through the life of the project, manage communication and outreach with the community, and handle interactions with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). Margaret started the meeting by telling us that the MSBA is like “the bank” in this project. Since they are providing funding, they require documentation of our process and progress.

The next submission of documentation to the MSBA will occur in early March, and will include the preliminary design program (PDP). The PDP comprises the educational program, which is basically a description of how elementary education is delivered in Amherst and needs to be approved by the School Committee, plus a list of options for the project (# of students enrolled and in what grades, Wildwood vs Fort River site, renovation vs new construction).

I asked about the outreach plan to get input on the educational program, and the timing for viewing, voting on, and approving the ed program. The School Committee will view the educational program at our February 8 meeting, and the plan is to vote on it at our February 22 meeting.

Regional School Committee Meeting: 1/18/22
The public comments submitted for tonight’s Regional School Committee meeting were all regarding, and all in favor of, the project to renovate and improve the ARHS track and field. It struck me that someone involved in athletics must have sent an email blast to their contacts, asking them to submit comments for tonight’s meeting, which is great! It’s great to know that members of the public are paying attention to school committee agendas, know how to submit public comments, and encourage their peers to do so as well.

Observations from the meeting:

  • According to Superintendent Mike Morris, the ARHS track, and the field within it, is in very poor shape and has been for years. The condition and size of the field disqualifies it for some tournament games, which means that ARHS sometimes can’t host their own home game, and have to play on a neighboring district’s field. 
  • In addition, the orientation of the field and the surrounding landscape make it inaccessible for those wheelchair users and others with movement issues. 
  • The proposals the School Committee is considering involve renovating the field and track, changing the orientation to better make use of the space, and adding synthetic turf, or some combination of those variables. Finance Director Doug Slaughter proposed several ideas for how the four towns would share the cost of the renovations, including use of CPA (Community Preservation Act) funds. He also proposed a funding model whereby Amherst would pay more than its fair share, since the field is located in Amherst and would be a community resource for the town.
  • All committee members spoke in favor of the project. Member Gene Stamell of Leverett suggested that Leverett’s funds are limited and this could be a heavy lift for the small town. He also posited that Amherst should pay even more than the model Doug proposed.
  • Other funding sources, such as other state funds, sponsorships, and foundations, were discussed.
  • Mike shared in his Superintendent’s Report that 49 students received their booster shot at last Friday’s vaccine clinic, run by the town of Amherst at ARMS. He also shared an announcement made today by Governor Baker and education commissioner Riley that rapid tests would be made available for free to school staff and families soon. Lastly, he shared that the federal government’s website for requesting free at-home COVID tests is now up and running. Each household can receive four tests by mail.
  • We discussed and decided on membership on subcommittees and other areas that require a school committee representative:
    • Budget and Audit Subcommittee: Margaret Stancer, Irv Rhodes, Allison McDonald
    • Policy Subcommittee: Jennifer Shiao, Stephen Sullivan, Sarahbess Kenney, Peter Demling
    • Superintendent Evaluation Subcommittee: Stancer, Shiao, Sullivan, Rhodes
    • School Equity Advisory Committee: Ben Herrington, Rhodes
    • APEA (educators) contract negotiating team: McDonald, Kenney
    • AFSCME (maintenance/custodial) contract negotiating team: Kenney
    • APAA (assistant principals) contract negotiating team: Demling
    • Warrant Authorization: Rhodes
    • Clerical Merit Award Selection: Stancer
    • Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) Delegate: Shiao
    • Collaborative for Educational Services board: Sullivan
    • SEPAC( Special Education Parent Advisory Council) liaison: Sullivan
    • BiPAC (Bilingual Parent Advisory Council), also called MPAC (Multilingual Parent Advisory Council): Shiao

This blog reflects my own views about the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees – it does not represent the view of the committees, the district, or the superintendent. This blog complies with Open Meeting Law, as long as a quorum of School Committee members do not engage in deliberations in the comments. Comments are welcomed; commenters must register with their name and email address (email address will not be published). I may respond to comments, but I will not respond to all comments. Sign up here using the “follow blog via email” form to be notified when I post a new entry.  You can email me at jennifer@jenniferamherst.org.

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