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School board candidates talk at forum

Incumbent Katherine Appy, of 100 Red Gate Lane, and challenger Viraphanh Douangmany, of 12 Longmeadow Drive, are seeking the one three-year seat on the school board available in the March 25 election. They spoke Tuesday night during a two-hour forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in the Town Room at Town Hall.

Appy, a clinical psychologist and the mother of six boys, said it is an embarrassment that children are not succeeding as well as they should, either because of class or race issues or not being sufficiently challenged in the classroom.

“I think we have really good schools and I think they can get better,” Appy said.

Appy said she has supported standards-based curriculum so all children have access to the same information, has championed programs that foster parents’ interest in children’s education, such as introducing an integrated arts education model at the elementary schools, and has advocated for full day preschool that will be added next year.

Appy said she has worked hard advocating for programs that close the achievement gap, such as Steps to Success. “We have to have equity in our schools,” Appy said.

But she added that change will take time. “I think there are really programs in place that are starting to address the achievement gap,” Appy said.

Appy said she holds regular office hours to hear from the community.

Declining enrollment is an issue, but adding full-day preschool demonstrates that a corner is being turned. “In fact, programs are not being cut,” Appy said.

She disagrees with the view that there are too many administrators. ”Our central office is actually smaller than it was 10 years ago,” Appy said. “It’s smaller with more work.”

Douangmany, a parent of two children at Crocker Farm School and a stepson at the high school, said parents are impatient, indicated by declining enrollment and some removing their children from schools for alternative education.

“A lot of parents don’t have the luxury to wait a few years,” said Douangmany, who describes herself as a community organizer. She has worked as a graduate assistant at the Women of Color Leadership Network which is part of the Center for Women and Community at UMass.

A native of Laos who came to the United States when she was 6 years old, Doungmany said she wants a school system that will allow children to get the best education possible.

“I want my children to be able to go to Harvard, go to Yale, make no mistake about that,” Douangmany said.

She said she does not believe Amherst needs more workshops about how parents discipline or educate their children in their homes.

“I think there’s discontent in the community because progress isn’t made quickly enough or that the community concerns, priorities and proposals haven’t gotten adequate attention or support from the administration,” Douangmany said.

Douangmany said she would prefer to see more assets be directed to classroom teachers. “I believe more money should trickle down or should be provided directly in the hands of teachers,” she added.

And Douangmany believes the voices of parents are critical. “We must include the voice of parents, we must include the voices of educators in our area, the voices of consultants in our area,” she said.

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