As a lecturer at UMass, Evan knows a student’s learning environment affects outcomes. A building in disrepair, a classroom without natural light, or poor design can all hamper a student’s engagement. In this regard, Amherst schools are holding back their students. And while we should commend the teachers and staff who fully commit themselves to their students, we should also be providing them with the infrastructure they need to be effective. Deferred maintenance is no longer an option. Amherst needs schools that provide students with modern classrooms with actual walls and natural light, that adapt to Amherst’s changing enrollments and demographics, and that can do so within tight budget constraints.
Serving All Students
The demographics of Amherst schools are changing. Over time the proportion of Amherst students who qualify as economically disadvantaged has grown. Nearly 20% of students have a disability. And the schools are becoming more diverse; Amherst schools are now majority minority, with a doubling of the percentage of Hispanic students over the past two decades. There have also been notable increases in English language learners (ELL) and students whose first language is not English. Amherst schools must respond to these trends by ensuring the schools have the physical and programmatic resources to support all students. Evan supports the proposed Dual Language Program the district is piloting at Fort River in Fall 2019. We need to continue to support all students and secure equal access to opportunity for disadvantaged or marginalized communities.
Research has established the value of preschool to a child's education, but too many families in Amherst do not have access to early childhood education. For families, barriers include cost of attendance, transportation, and the lack of available slots. The demand for access to preschool is there, and Amherst should be working to ensure universal preschool access. But current funding levels are inadequate to meet the need, and existing preschool classes are at capacity. Additional classes are constrained by staff availability and the lack of physical space. Town Council must work to develop proposals that can allocate funding and space to better meet the need.