Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Remnders for this week including tonight's PGO gathering

Reminder: Wed, Feb 10th - early release day (1:20 pm)

Reminder: Tonight, Tues, Feb 9th, 7:30 pm: PGO gathering, 591 Bay Road, Amherst (Hallie Hughes' house)

Come meet PGO board members & other volunteers, & find out how to get more involved. The PGO is actively seeking more volunteers, including people to join the PGO Board. All Crocker Farm parents/guardians are automatically part of the PGO, and all volunteers are welcome, whether you can only give an hour or if you have time for more. Hope to see you there!

Refreshments will be served & additional desserts would be welcome & appreciated. Please RSVP if you can attend.
RSVP on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1968888920002305/
or email us at crockerfarmpgo@gmail.com

Also, feel free to pass this invitation along to any other Crocker farm parents or Crocker preschool parents who might be interested.   Parents/guardians for the Crocker Farm preschool are part of the Crocker Farm PGO. 

School Committee Meeting tonight (Feb 9th), 6 pm, FY2017 budget on the agenda

At the School Committee meeting tonight (6 pm, ARHS library), there will be a discussion of the FY2017 budget and the latest proposed additions & cuts.   A list of the proposed additions & cuts is available here:

Proposed additions include: salary increases so that all ARPS staff are paid at least minimum wage, additional paraeducators for Special Ed, wireless network upgrades, & nurses for field trips.

Proposed cuts include  elimination of the Director of Curriculum & Learning position, administrative cuts in the central office, & cuts to technology staff & districtwide supply & stipend budgets, At the elementary schools, the proposed budget eliminates the library assistant position at each library & reduces custodial staff.

The school librarians at Wildwood & Fort River have written public letters about what eliminating the library assistant positions will mean in terms of students' access to the school libraries.   These letters were posted on the Wildwood & Fort River PGO blogs:
Fort River PGO:  http://ftriver.blogspot.com/2016/02/library-paraprofessional-position-to-be.html 
Wildwood PGO:  http://wildwoodpgo.com/2016/02/04/letter-from-wildwood-librarian-school-committee-29/ 

The full FY2017 proposed Amherst elementary school budget is available here:

The agenda & packet of the materials for tonight's School Committee meeting is available here:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PGO Social Gathering Feb 9th - Hope to see you there!

Want to meet other Crocker Farm parents? Interested in getting more involved with the school's Parent & Guardian Organization (PGO) but not sure how to? 

At this informal social gathering, PGO leaders will talk about the PGO, the PGO's activities & opportunities for volunteering. The PGO welcomes each & every volunteer, people with a little time to give or a lot, & there are so many ways to get involved. Also, the PGO is currently seeking new PGO board members.

Refreshments will be served & additional desserts would be welcome & appreciated. Please RSVP if you can attend.
RSVP on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1968888920002305/
or email us at crockerfarmpgo@gmail.com

Date:  Tues, Feb 9th
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Parent Hallie Hughes' house, 591 Bay Road
Thanks for hosting, Hallie!  

If you are interested in volunteering but not available on Feb 9th, please email us or otherwise reach out.

Also, feel free to pass this invitation along to any other Crocker farm parents or Crocker preschool parents who might be interested (the preschool is part of the PGO). 

Best regards,
Tracy Zafian, PGO Chair

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Supporting Struggling Readers - Upcoming Workshops

Workshop series offered for staff and families by the ARPS District and SEPAC.
for parents/guardians of students of preK through Grade 12

Workshop #1 Nuts and Bolts of Dyslexia
When:  February 1, 2016            Time:  5:30-7:00pm       Where:  Amherst Regional High School, Library
Speakers:  Betsy Dinger, Renee Greenfield, Emily Pritchard, Tammy Sullivan-Daley
The workshop is an opportunity to learn some basic facts about why so many students struggle with reading.  Come learn about steps you can take to support your child/student.

Workshop#2 Movie & Panel Discussion                                               
When:  February 8, 2016            Time:  5:30-7:30pm       Where:  Amherst Regional High School, Library               
Movie:  Dislecksia:  The Movie 
Is your child/student a struggling or reluctant reader? If so, please consider joining us for a unique opportunity to watch an award-winning film about dyslexia and participate in a panel discussion. Our panelists offer a wide range of perspective!  

Workshop#3 Book Club:  Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz
When:  February 29, 2016          Time:  5:30-7:00pm       Where:  Amherst Regional High School, Library
Book: This book is a must read for anyone with a child/student who struggles to read. It’s not a sign of intelligence or limitation of one’s potential.  Let’s discuss what we learned and steps we can take to help students with their learning differences. It’s never too late to make sure the proper supports are in place.  Please read the book ahead of time!

Please let us know if you can attend!  Email: sepac@arps.org or call 413-687-4255

Childcare provided with advanced notice. Please RSVP for childcare as soon as possible.
All workshops are free and open to the public!

Amherst College Day with Crocker Farm

From the Superintendent's weekly newsletter (Jan 29th):
On January 21th, Crocker Farm students in fifth and sixth grade had the opportunity to share the morning with over 100 students, professors, and coaches from Amherst College. The annual Amherst College Day at Crocker Farm focused on “growth mindset” and keynote speaker, Professor C. Rhonda Cobham-Sander (the Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of Black Studies and English at Amherst College) helped inspire the oldest learners in the school. Crocker Farm was fortunate to have a diverse cadre of presenters including representatives from Chemistry, Economics,Math, Football,Women's Ice Hockey, Track and Field, Tennis, Men's Lacrosse, Library and Information Technology, Softball,Men's Soccer,Computer Science, and Baseball. All sessions focused upon the idea of "Yes I can!" and perseverance as students at Crocker Farm work toward attaining individual and team/ school-wide goals. 
Thank you to Amherst College & all the participating staff & students!

Amherst Lions Ski & Skate Sale -- Lions are still seeking more payments from Friday purchases that weren't charged

The Amherst Lions Club is still out quite a bit of money from the Ski & Skate sales at Crocker Farm on Friday, Jan 9th, when the credit card machine malfunctioned & none of the credit or debit card charges went through.

If you or anyone you know was at the sale that night & paid by credit/debit & weren't charged, payments are still grateful being accepted. Checks should be made be out to the Amherst Lions Club, & sent to Denise O'Donovan at the Amherst Regional Middle School, 170 Chestnut Street, Amherst, MA 01002

The proceeds from this event is 100% distributed back to ARPS (including Crocker Farm!) & the community. This event was not school-sponsored but we asking for help since the Lions are such strong community partners who support ARPS in many ways.

If you have any questions please contact Amherst Lions Club Ski & Skate Sale coordinator, Todd Cromack, at tacromack@comcast.net.

Thank you! 

Mike Morris & Katherine Appy commentary in the Amherst Bulletin re: the elementary school reconfiguration

Here's the link to the Bulletin article:  http://www.amherstbulletin.com/commentary/20737579-95/katherine-appy-mike-morris-advancing-equity-and-excellence-in-amherst-elementary-schools

Mike Morris is the Assistant Superintendent of the Amherst Regional Public Schools
Katherine Appy is the chair of the Amherst School Committee

Last week the Amherst School Committee voted 4-1 to reconfigure our schools. The plan is for Crocker Farm to become an early childhood center, pre-kindergarten through first grade, and to construct a new building housing two co-located schools, second through sixth grade. This vote came after much public engagement — including multiple community forums and PGO, school committee and small group meetings — and was based on an educational recommendation made by the superintendent and supported by the assistant superintendent, all three elementary school principals and other educational leaders.

In our view, this reconfiguration is the best option to advance educational equity and excellence. Research has consistently shown that an investment in early childhood education has a great impact on closing the achievement gap.
Our own local data tells us that Amherst students who do not attend pre-school are at a great disadvantage when entering our schools that lasts well into their academic careers. For all children to have the best chance to realize their full potential, they must have access to a high-quality pre-school education.

The reconfiguration does exactly that. We would be able to add two additional pre-school classrooms, which would provide an early learning experience for students who cannot now attend pre-school because of cost, space in our pre-school program, transportation or other factors.

Another advantage of the reconfiguration model is that students will no longer be bused away from their neighborhood peers based on their socio-economic status or their special learning needs. Currently, many low income students are bused to other schools to achieve socio-economic balance in all our elementary schools.

Children in specialized special education programs also attend schools outside their enrollment zones. The reconfiguration plan will eliminate the need for these practices.

The new second through sixth grade schools will offer high quality classrooms, thus overcoming the many structural problems plaguing the Fort River and Wildwood schools, which include an open classroom design that poses enormous challenges to effective teaching and learning.

By providing far greater acoustic privacy, the new classrooms will enhance education for all students and make possible the project based, interactive learning that our students deserve. Students with special needs and ELL students will be particularly advantaged by the new design.

We understand that there are some in the community who believe this will be one large school of 750 students. In reality, the new, or newly renovated, school building would house two distinct schools within it, each with around 375 students, which is smaller than the current population at Wildwood.

Each school would have its own principal, teacher teams, and culture. The only shared instructional spaces would be a gymnasium, which would be oversized for an elementary school, allowing for enhanced community use after school hours, and an oversized library, which would allow for a greater selection of books than would typically be available for elementary school students.

The schools would also include a “makerspace” — an indoor science and technology playground designed to promote creative hands-on play and learning.

Cost estimates show that reconfiguration will be roughly $20 million less expensive than renovating or rebuilding Wildwood using Massachusetts School Building Authority funds and renovating Fort River with town funds.

We firmly believe that this reconfiguration model promotes educational equity, provides a superior environment for engaged teaching and learning, will maximize achievement for all students, and gives us the most cost effective plan to resolve the critical structural issues facing two of our elementary schools.

MS & HS Consolidation Updates & the ARPS Administration's Recommendations

The Superintendent's weekly newsletter (Jan 29th) included the administration's recommendations regarding the consolidation of the MS and HS into one building.  One of the main recommendations is that the Regional School Committee's vote regarding consolidation be delayed until Fall 2016, with the consolidation to occur for the fall of 2018 at the earliest. 

The administration's full report is available at this link (MS-HS report)


One year ago, the district launched the 7-12 Consolidation project with an expectation that consolidation could occur by September 2017. The funding gap and ability of the four towns to pay their assessments for the Regional Schools and their municipal departments, including the local elementary schools, is increasingly challenging. Declining enrollment in three of the four towns and significant reliance on choice funding in two of the four towns is putting into question the viability and sustainability of local schools. At the same time,each of our communities highly values the education and the variety of opportunities being provided to our children. Also significant is that the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools are distinguished by having an exceptional teaching staff committed to serving all children and to providing an enriching and vibrant educational experience. The Regional Schools,despite having lost some low enrollment courses over the past several years, remain unique in the depth and breadth of core educational offerings,elective courses,extracurricular and athletic clubs and activities. 

It is not an overstatement to say that consolidation will be an historic change for the district.Our K-12 schools once educated almost 4,000 students. Now there are fewer than 2,700 students in Amherst, Pelham and the Region,with half this number at our Regional middle school and high school. If you remove the Choice students from the K-12 population, there are 180 fewer students. The capacity of the high school is,on paper,more than sufficient to house all of these students. Space and financial savings are important and students and staff could simply be moved; however, maintaining the exceptional quality of an Amherst education must be the lens through which this work is done. Great consideration has been given to the potential expanded opportunities consolidation could mean for our students. The study of potential consolidation considered how to maintain the high quality of education provided to students,stop the annual budget cutting and also more wholly prepare students for the future by providing them with the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century. As a community,can we both consolidate and take the necessary steps to maintain and enhance how students are educated? What is the shared community vision,what do we value and can we afford it?

 It is important to remember that the renovation and expansion project on the current high school took place 20 years ago. Regardless of consolidation, there are updates and upgrades that should take place. While working with JCJ architects, it was pointed out that the free standing,handicapped accessible corridor that connects two old portions of the high school building is not actually ADA compliant. Alone, this improvement will cost more than $350,000. Funds must be invested to correct this,but might it also make sense to look at enclosing an adjoining courtyard and expanding that space? Another code requirement will be adding girls?toilets in the locker room area to accommodate the additional females in the building. Converting some office and storage space into classrooms needed in order to consolidate could cost hundreds of thousands more.There are some funds for high school improvements in the capital budget that can be used for this purpose,and an initial investment of $800,000 is needed. 

Combining the middle and high schools is not enough to bridge the financial gap faced by the Region. Our communities need to stop working from a belief that K-12 Regionalization is a dead concept and start considering what is at stake if we do not both regionalize and smartly consolidate.

With any consolidation,we will save well over $700,000 annually in staffing and utility efficiencies. Adding in K-12 Regionalization would realize and additional $300,000 annual savings. It is time for our communities to look seriously at the practical and financial benefits of regionalizing our schools. This is a critical decision for the future of our communities and the education of our students. 

Consolidation seems inevitable if we are to financially sustain the rich opportunities we currently offer our students. What the consolidation looks like and how it is operationalized is crucial,and there are many unanswered questions at this time. These questions include educational and practical concerns such as: 
* finalizing a bell schedule for a consolidated school, 
* clearly identifying the number of staff sharing space, 
* determining how special education and ELL programming will work in a consolidated building and whether these programs can be partially or wholly merged for students in all grade levels,
* determining the number of computer labs needed and whether the district will adopt a 1:1 computer program so that each student has a personal computer device,
* determining what access students in Grades 7 and 8 will have to electives,and
*  carving out space to accommodate storage,meeting rooms,etc. 

Concurrent with considering consolidating, repurposing of the Middle School is a major undertaking,and presently there is no articulated vision for the facility other than the apparent desire and need to sustain the building for present and future educational purposes. This topic is a crucial one which requires significant community input and thoughtful planning. It would be a mistake to rush planning or make hasty decisions in the interest of covering overhead costs,without regard to planning for capital improvements that will surely be needed over time. 

Last, and of equal importance, is the recent Amherst School Committee decision to reconfigure the elementary school structure and build a new school. This is a major project that will continue to require significant public input and support and sustained attention from our town officials,employees and the community at large. It is our belief that some period of time should pass before asking our community to formally engage in decisions about 7-12 consolidation. 

For these reasons, it is the recommendation of administration that a decision by the Regional School Committee concerning 7 through 12 consolidation at the Regional High School be held until Fall 2016,with consolidation not to occur before September 2018-- one year later than originally planned. In order to fund the gap anticipated for FY18, the district will continue to effect reductions through appropriate district-level and building-based cuts and, potentially, the one-time use of funds from the Excess and Deficiency and/or School Choice accounts. In the interim, the following groups will be established in order to address outstanding consolidation questions: 
* Operational Working Group 
* Educational Working Group for 7-12 Schedule and Curriculum 
* Vocational Programming Group
* Middle School Repurposing Group 

Community members with interest and expertise in the above areas are invited to join the discussion and help articulate the educational vision for our district moving forward.

UMass Babysitter Meet & Greet

Babysitters, are you looking for a job?
Families, do you need a babysitter?

Come to the Babysitter Meet & Greet
When: Thursday, February 04, 2016

Time: 5:30PM - 7:30PM
Where: Cape Cod Lounge
320 Student Union (lobby level), UMass

Light Refreshments served!

Interested? Visit umocss.org to
access the Eventbrite page

(not a school or PGO-sponsored event)

Bridge Family Resource Center on University Drive

The new Bridge Family Resource Center 
* serves youth and their families ages 0-18 (although we won't turn anyone away).
* has a variety of programs from toddler/baby playgroups to parent/youth support groups.

All programs are free.  

Programs include:
* Dad's Support Group:  Thursdays, 5:30-7:00 pm
* Parent Self-Care Club: Thursdays, 5:30-7:00 pm
* Grandparent Support Group:  Mondays, 4-5:30 pm
* Infant & Toddler Play Group, Fridays, 10-11:30 am

Click on the images to enlarge them



(not a school or PGO-sponsored event)