Windows and Walls for Our Kids by 2025

Amherst Forward prioritizes getting all our elementary school children into appropriate learning environments ASAP. We support our School Committee’s urgent efforts to ensure our town gets back in the state funding pipeline (MSBA) this year, so Amherst can replace or renovate the costly, unaccessible, and obsolete Fort River and Wildwood buildings before our current kindergartners leave elementary school.

Watch Superintendent Morris’ 15-minute video outlining the current situation and proposed one-building solution. No video access? Check out the slide presentation here.   



Today’s Challenges

  • Unacceptable educational environment at Wildwood and Fort River: The open-classroom design has proved to be educationally unsound.

  • Accessibility: Wildwood and Fort River are not accessible for students, staff, and visitors with disabilities.

  • Safety: The layout of both buildings does not meet modern expectations for school safety.

  • Maintenance costs: The costs of maintaining obsolete buildings are estimated to be unacceptably high. (Presentation begins on page 7 of the linked document.)

  • Equity: Today there is a demonstrable student population/enrollment imbalance among schools.

  • Declining enrollments: Amherst elementary school enrollments have been steadily declining for decades, forcing a reassessment of maintaining three elementary school buildings.   

  • Pre-K access: Our current infrastructure does not provide sufficient affordable Pre-K options.

Proposed Vision Statement for a One-Building Solution

The current solution proposed by school administrators seeks to fulfill these guidelines:  

  • Provides a high-quality learning environment for all students, in ADA-accessible rooms with walls and natural light.

  • Provides reasonably maintainable buildings.

  • Addresses both buildings before our Kindergarten students leave elementary school (within the next six years).

  • Is fiscally responsible to the Town of Amherst.

A one-building solution would help with improving social equity benefits by decreasing the number of students bused away from the school closest to them.

What the current proposal does not do:

  • Determine a location: no location has been picked.

  • Include an education plan or enrollment zones.

  • Offer building design suggestions.

  • Reconfigure grades: This would be a K-5 or K-6 school. With current enrollment and the Dual Language Program in this school, the number of classes per grade would match the range of classes per grade and class sizes of our current schools.



Why now?

Children and staff at Fort River and Wildwood need safe school buildings that are conducive to learning and teaching. The MSBA has made it clear to Superintendent Morris that it wants Amherst to reach some consensus before submitting another proposal—if our town cannot reach this consensus, the MSBA has suggested we not apply this year. Watch Superintendent Mike Morris’ presentation showcasing the urgency in submitting a Statement of Interest (SOI) by April 12, 2019.

What Can You Do Today to Show Support?

  • On Monday, March 11, Amherst School Committee voted unanimously in favor of the current school project proposal. All members cited broad support for this “reasonable compromise” expressed by Amherst residents during community-wide Listening Sessions held February 27-March 6. You can read the full report from the Listening Sessions on the MSBA Statement of Interest page.

  • Contact Town Council to reiterate the urgency of Amherst’s getting back into the MSBA funding pipeline this year! Email your Councilors and attend the Town Council meeting scheduled for Monday, March 18.

  • Spread the word: Get your friends and neighbors, colleagues, and family who are Amherst voters/residents to attend and email, too!



A Closer Look: Structural Problems at Wildwood & Fort River

Layout:

  • Open-classroom design of Wildwood (built in 1970) and Fort River (1973) buildings puts kids in inadequate learning environments: Four classrooms in each “quad” are acoustically open to each other; partial height partitions offer visual separation but no sound barrier; students have to walk through other classrooms to reach bathrooms and other parts of the building, causing constant interruptions.

  • Many of the regularly occupied classroom spaces do not have windows.

  • This school design, popular in the 1960s and ’70s, has since been universally abandoned.

Buildings Not ADA-Compliant:

  • A February 2019 report identified areas of noncompliance at all our schools: 33 were found at Wildwood and 29 at Fort River.

  • Limits independence and inclusion of many students, staff, and families, not only those using wheelchairs: corridors widths and door clearance are  inadequate; bathroom stalls are not large enough for wheelchairs or for aids to accompany students; bathroom fixtures and other knobs are difficult to operate.

  • Inadvertently teaches all students that independence and inclusion are not valued.

Health and Safety:

  • Reception is not located at entry, giving visitors access to classrooms before they reach the office.

  • No sprinkler system; electrical systems manufacturer has poor safety record.

  • Constant battle with mold and rodents.

  • Teachers Union stated at a January 17 School Committee meeting that conditions in both buildings are becoming barriers to learning.

Maintenance:

  • Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, windows, and roofing are all at the end of their useful life.

  • One local architect described the quality of the buildings as “little more than circus tents.”

  • The district must spend approximately $12 million in the next five years to keep the rain out and the heat on (for comparison, a 2016 proposal to replace both buildings would have cost Amherst taxpayers $32 million).

  • Constant maintenance means constant disruption to school teaching environment.

Enrollment Imbalances Among Schools:

  • Overcrowding at Crocker Farm: K-6 class sizes likely to increase because of insufficient space to accommodate increasing students in enrollment zone.

  • Socioeconomic balance: Studies show that when 40 to 50 percent of students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, school performance dramatically decreases no matter the amount of additional resources expended; Fort River is approaching this threshold.

  • Two-thirds of students in our outstanding, intensive Special Education programs do not attend school with the neighbors and siblings in their designated enrollment zone. Amherst does an excellent job of keeping these students in-district and assembling a critical mass of students with like needs in one school. But out-of-enrollment zone placements create barriers to entering and leaving these programs, require families to juggle transportation and other challenges of having siblings in different schools, and makes full integration into the student’s school community and home community challenging.

  • Programming for English Language Learners is limited: A critical mass of similar languages and abilities often doesn’t exist at any given school; resources cannot be consolidated

Pre-K Options Are Insufficient:

  • Quality preschool provides lifelong benefits.

  • Many students have no pre-K experience: Of the 16% of incoming kindergartners  who have no preschool experience, most are English Language Learners (ELL) and from low-income families.

  • Programming is extremely limited: This year, students may only enroll for up to 14 hours/week.

  • Limited space makes maintaining appropriate ratios for an integrated model difficult as Special Education enrollment continues to increase.

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!

Contact Town Council to reiterate the urgency of Amherst’s getting back into the MSBA funding pipeline this year! Email your Councilors and attend the Town Council meeting scheduled for Monday, March 18. For more information and to get involved, contact us.