Officials craft improvement plan for Amherst’s Crocker Farm School

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Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2019 1:17:38 PM

AMHERST — With performance on the MCAS tests putting Crocker Farm Elementary School in a state classification of requiring assistance or intervention, school officials are seeking a state grant to support a school improvement plan for enhancing academics, social and emotional well-being and community outreach.

At a recent forum focused on the Amherst public schools, though, residents voiced concern that Crocker Farm had a subgroup, specifically economically disadvantaged children, whose performance triggered the need for focused and targeted support. Economically disadvantaged students make up 29.4 percent of the school’s population.

Vira Douangmany Cage, a former School Committee member, told the School Committee and Superintendent Michael Morris at the forum that she hopes the targeted assistance intervention will ensure students at the South Amherst school are achieving at the same level as their peers at Wildwood and Fort River schools.

“I’d like to make sure we’re monitoring their progress and achievement and that they are adequately prepared for middle school,” Cage said.

Morris said the school improvement plan was collaboratively developed by 10 staff members and 10 Crocker Farm families in a process that took much of the last academic year. Its contents were presented to the School Committee in May and is underway this school year.

According to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, almost $2.1 million is available to implement plans in districts with one or more schools identified under the Massachusetts District and School Accountability System.

Still, Morris said that state assessments don’t tell the full story of education at Crocker Farm, though both Wildwood and Fort River made “substantial progress” toward their targets.

“Crocker Farm did find that their MCAS scores last year didn’t align with the local assessments,” Morris said. “I’ll be candid to say we trust our local assessments more than MCAS, but we are responsible for responding to MCAS scores.”

Michael Burkart of Aubinwood Road said he was curious about Crocker Farm’s designation when demographics, including economically disadvantaged, are the same proportion at Wildwood, and there are even more low-income students at Fort River.

“Crocker Farm is the only school that’s designated in need of intervention, and yet its demographics don’t really differ from Wildwood or from Fort River,” Burkart said. 

Morris reiterated that the district didn’t see these results in local school assessments of math and reading and that Crocker Farm students did as well as their peers.

“We don’t build all of our instruction around MCAS,” Morris said.

He said taking the MCAS tests on a computer for the first time may have been a factor in the lower scores.

Addressing the achievement gap

The issue of the achievement gap specific to students at Crocker Farm has existed previously and was taken up by the School Committee a decade ago when in 2009 it voted to close one of the four elementary schools, Mark’s Meadow, and implement a redistricting plan.

Under that plan, the committee changed the district lines to equalize the percentages of children from low-income households across the three remaining elementary schools.

Crocker Farm was specifically a focus of opposition to that redistricting, with many parents defending a since-abandoned practice of clustering Latino students at the South Amherst school.

At the time, Crocker Farm had a higher percentage of low-income children than the other schools, as well as a larger percentage of students with limited proficiency in English.

Crocker Farm Principal Derek Shea said the school improvement plan has been fully operational and involves all of K-6 students and families, as well as the greater school community.

Three active committees — the Social Justice Committee, Engaged Learning Committee, and the Well-Being Committee — are meeting regularly to plan and then present and facilitate staff professional developmental training, Shea said.

The first objective of the plan is engaged learning, with a goal of having 78 percent of all Crocker Farm students perform within grade-level expectations by June through strategies that include incorporating inclusive, evidence-based instructional practices into whole and small group instruction, and providing each student with culturally sustaining learning experiences that promote engaged learning and equitable access.

The second objective of the plan focuses on relationships: cultivating connections among students, staff and families, and the community. Teachers sending home biweekly electronic communication is one way to support this goal.

The third objective of the plan is well-being, fostering students’ emotional strength and resilience, with students receiving tiered intervention supports for behavior and social emotional learning.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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