Amherst School Committee discusses partnership with CRESS

AMHERST – Amherst Public Schools is working on a partnership with the city’s Department of Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS), the details of which were discussed at the school committee meeting on 20 September, as well as updates on various policies and developments within the district.

The committee was joined by CRESS Director Earl Miller for part of the meeting to discuss CRESS’s involvement with the Amherst Regional Public Schools (ARPS). Superintendent Michael Morris announced that he and Miller were drafting a memorandum of understanding (MOA) that would detail the exact functions and responsibilities of CRESS within the district. As such, these guidelines are not yet concrete, but the meeting still provided general information on the capacities and objectives of CRESS, as well as comments from the committee on its vision of the department’s involvement.

Miller explained that he and the CRESS team see a direct connection between the town of Amherst and its schools. Many CRESS counterparts in other cities do not explicitly mention the school system in their charges, but CRESS does, an aid to what Miller describes as CRESS’s “family-centered” mission statement.

Asked about the nature of CRESS’s engagement with schools, particularly at the elementary level, Miller spoke of two primary roles. The first was as a consultant. CRESS can speak with students, their teachers, and parents to determine what kind of specialist help the child needs, including for mental health issues, and then call an appropriate provider directly to put the student and their family in contact with the right resources.

The other main aspect is, as Miller put it, simply “problem solving”. This can translate into a wide variety of services to be performed as needed. Some examples given were driving students to and from school if there are problems with and/or on the school bus, supervising students during recess to give teachers time to catch up on work and send native Spanish speaking CRESS members read to Fort River for the Spanish language program there.

Morris added that a significant part of CRESS’s problem-solving capacity comes through mediating disputes without the pressure and tension that can come from police involvement in such cases. From Morris’ perspective, one of the biggest problems with ARPS is that students face challenges outside of school following them inside of school, such as conflict between adults, which can affect children in school, and Miller agreed with that sentiment.

The committee showed high levels of support for involving CRESS in the ARPS community, with some minor concerns addressed by Miller. Committee member Irv Rhodes was concerned that the town of Amherst was beginning to take compensation for CRESS services from the school budget. He did not want the ARPS to lose funding for services that he felt were already more or less provided with current district resources.

Miller said that while he can’t speak for the city, he “has no intention of billing anyone” and that CRESS “hasn’t even scratched the surface of its fundraising yet.” grant” to require additional payment.

Morris also came to the defense of CRESS by pointing out that the department would provide services that are not currently available in the district, such as the skilled dispute mediation mentioned above.

Several members admitted that although the district has a great relationship with the police department, they have a strict policy of no police presence in schools and did not want CRESS’s involvement to lead to an overbearing, overbearing presence. in the hallways.

Miller was quick to dispel those concerns. He was adamant that CRESS is not a law enforcement agency. This means that they do no surveillance, they do not seek to identify future criminals still in childhood and they only practice consensual engagement. He explained that consensual engagement means that even if CRESS is called upon to deal with an issue or an individual, the person will not be obligated to work with CRESS. In the case of the school district, CRESS would also obtain parental permission before assisting or referring children.

Furthermore, he firmly asserted that CRESS would never be involved in assisting the deportation process of undocumented students or families, nor would it arrest students (arrests are within the sole jurisdiction of the police department; CRESS aims to end every interaction without punishment). He felt it was imperative to get feedback from the committee before drafting the MOU so that everyone could be on the same page and CRESS could better serve the entire community. . Finally, he said that CRESS would focus on solving targeted problems. This means that when faced with a problem that they do not have an answer to, teachers can call CRESS to come and help them, and once the problem is solved, CRESS employees will leave and take care of other business. They won’t be an everyday fixture in schools, patrolling the hallways like a school resource constable would. The committee plans to bring Miller back for a future meeting when the MOA is more developed.

Superintendent’s report

Morris shared further updates in his superintendent’s report. The first was an acknowledgment and a moment of silence in honor of the late Anna Burns, a junior from Amherst-Pelham Regional High School who passed away the previous week.

The district will host an in-person open house for the first time in three years. Crocker Farms took place on September 28, Fort River will take place on October 6, Wildwood will take place on October 13, and the Crocker Farms Early Years Center will host theirs on October 12. Parents and members of the community are invited to stop and take a look at the facilities and the work of students and faculty. Morris noted that subsequent parent-teacher conferences will be held in person with a virtual attendance option for parents.

The Fort River Parent-Guardian organization unveiled its mural at its popsicle party, with “easily triple-digit attendance” according to Morris.

In terms of enrollment, Fort River’s K-6 student body is larger than Wildwood or Crocker Farms, at 380 students versus 323 and 290, respectively. This is a significant change from the past 10 years, with implications for staff, resources and programs. Morris said the matter will be discussed further at a future meeting.

Safety walks have been completed (and some are still ongoing) around schools in the district, during which staff walk through buildings and grounds with members of the Amherst Police and Fire Department. Walkers discuss potential safety issues and research solutions, while noting what works well. Morris wanted to thank all of the police and fire department employees who participated in the marches.

Crocker Farms Librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno was the keynote speaker at the city’s annual Puerto Rican Heritage Day on Sept. 23. Santiago-Centeno will be recognized and awarded by State House over the next few weeks for her contribution to education.

The Caminantes Program Extended Absence and Transfer Policy was updated at the meeting. Allowable periods of absence without losing a student’s place in the program are as follows: K-2 can miss up to 45 days, while third- through fifth-graders can miss up to 90 days. Longer absences must be made up with the Caminantes team, and students will be assessed before and after their absence to determine if their return is appropriate. Leaves of absence must be for a good reason, such as family emergencies, the reason being that the district does not want students or families to come and go, which could disrupt the program. Students wishing to transfer into the program must come from a Spanish-speaking family with at least demonstrated intermediate proficiency in speaking and listening, or former participants of another dual-language program who have demonstrated appropriate proficiency. Morris also unveiled a new promotional video for the program during its update.

The primary school construction project has moved into the schematic design phase. Morris reported seeing 3D projections of the school’s internal and external design, which, although still very much subject to change, he says are very promising and exciting. Right now, he and other members of the subcommittee are meeting with architects and specialists to configure things like window sizes, environmental sustainability measures, sports facilities, and cost-conscious approaches to materials. and building.

The committee ended the meeting with a discussion on returning to in-person meetings. A virtual option will still be available for committee members and public attendees, but the committee debated whether returning to the town hall would be appropriate or whether the high school library would be a better option due to its location. increased size, also allowing for greater attendance. such as better ventilation and social distancing to allay fears of the spread of COVID-19. The committee agreed to take action on the matter at its next meeting, which will take place on October 18.