Forging a partnership between Amherst College and Amherst Schools

Published: 01/27/2022 12:33:21 Modified: 01/27/2022 12:32:05 In the spring of 2021, as Amherst Public Schools faced yet another bud...



Published: 01/27/2022 12:33:21

Modified: 01/27/2022 12:32:05

In the spring of 2021, as Amherst Public Schools faced yet another budget shortfall, the question arose in this article whether Amherst College could support K-12 education in the town that bears its name.

While these articles have focused on the wealth of Amherst College, I think the question of whether and how Amherst College should and/or could contribute to local public schools is a much deeper question than “what is Amherst College Can Afford? »

It’s about the role Amherst College believes the local community plays in its own existence and growth, and what that means for its investment in the city. As the college celebrates its bicentennial and seeks a successor to President Biddy Martin, now may be the perfect time for this venerable institution to reflect on its role in the wider local community.

As a nonprofit entity, Amherst College must spend its money on things directly related to its mission and purpose. This mission can be interpreted in a broad sense: for example in the summer of 2020 Matching donations to Amherst of his own alumni to donate nearly $100,000 to several organizations linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. There is no doubt that the leadership of Amherst College chose to do so because these donations, and their impact on its own student body, served its stated goals of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Their recent donation of $200,000 to downtown Amherst initiatives shows they recognize that the vitality of the town and the college are linked. Amherst College has been a national leader in access to elite college education for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Does he value that same access to educational excellence for children in his hometown, where the Ministry of Primary and Secondary’s latest profile identifies 29.7% of our students as economically disadvantaged and 43.7% as with high needs?

Although there is wider interest in legislate on PILOT-type contributions colleges and universities in Massachusetts, much of this activity has focused on institutions in the eastern part of the Commonwealth. Perhaps the most relevant comparator for the town of Amherst is here in western Massachusetts: Amherst’s sister (really, parent) school, Williams College.

More recently, Williams donated $5 million capital projects related to the partially publicly funded renovation of Mount Greylock Secondary School. Earlier, Williams made similar targeting Investment of $1.1 million at Williamstown Elementary School. In addition to these one-time monetary donations, since 2011, Williams has donated $200,000 per year to the local (regional) school district.

Since 2014, Amherst College has donated $75,000 annually to our local schools, primarily to support critical Family Center staff positions.

Williams has invested in local public schools not only because she cares about her community, but also because these schools are essential to her own mission. Faculty and staff want good schools for their children, which makes a healthy local school district important for recruiting and retaining the college workforce. Maybe it’s time to ask Amherst College if the same is true here an hour and a half east.

Support for our schools could include direct investments, but it could also include much more. Amherst College already generously offers free access to some of its courses to our high school students – what else could the college offer if it saw itself as an active partner in local education?

On 80 Williams College students are placed directly into the local primary school each semester, participating in a range of educational programs that benefit not only local school children but also the students themselves. A similar number Williams students work with high school students through a college-funded center in high school.

This fall, Amherst Regional High School hosted its 25th Amherst Invitational Cross Country Meet on the grounds of Hampshire College, hosted by a large group of volunteers from UMass cross country teams. Across the river from Amherst, Smith College offers access to its athletic facilities to local high schools, often at little or no cost.

Based on my 21 years of teaching experience at another well-resourced college, I’m sure there are students, staff, and faculty at Amherst who could provide us with compelling examples of the unmet needs that exist. on their campus. There are undoubtedly students on financial aid who are still struggling to make ends meet due to the economic pressures on their families. There are probably classes that seem too big and essential activities that feel underfunded.

We cannot “shame” Amherst College for serving as a bank account for our public schools, nor should we. But perhaps Amherst College can begin to see itself more consciously as embedded in a larger educational context in the local community, and perhaps college leadership can explore what that might look like for Amherst College and Amherst Schools. to work together on educational excellence and access to this city that we share.

Kate Queeney, of Amherst, works at Smith College. The opinions in this column are his own and not those of his employer.



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