Connecting Dots


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2013fielddaybNancy Carlsson-Paige, Lesley University Professor Emerita, recently stated the following during an acceptance speech for the Deborah Meier award. Dr. Carlsson-Paige cites a statistic from the DOE Department of Civil Rights which reports that 8,000 Preschool students (!) were suspended at least once in a school year.

“There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing. They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply. Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.”

Anecdotally I know she is right, not only for low income early childhood classrooms, but upper grades as well. Kids may not always be direct in identifying what is bothering them; they sometimes show us with their actions. They “act out” with displeasure.

Brain-based research from experts such as Ken Wesson tells that children in Kindergarten are capable of 5-10 minutes direct instruction and learning before they become inattentive; fourth graders – my former wheel house – can sustain attention for 10-20 minutes.

The connection is that “mini” lessons, those short and focused bursts of direct instruction beginning a learning segment, are often 20 minutes or more. And when that is followed by more pencil/paper task work, there lies a recipe for disengagement. Now extend that: what happens when a 10-year old is asked to sit and engage in a high-stakes task such as our current MCAS test? Last spring most of my students wrote from 9 am to 2:35 with a 25 minute break for lunch during Long Composition, English Language Arts, and Mathematics Tests.

Teachers do what they can to make classrooms and lessons more active by allowing kids to get out of seats, work in different parts of the room, and through cooperative/collaborative learning activities. What is lacking, however, is recess and play time – time for socialization, for learning to negotiate with peers, for exercise, fresh air, and fun.

Make no mistake: play time is important to every child. And yet it is the first thing to be cut back when schedules are tightened to accommodate more time on tasks.

So when Dr. Carlsson-Paige is talking about a connection between allowing kids more recess and the number of discipline issues, we need to listen. Our kids are stressed out and need to get off the conveyor belt.

School Committee Meeting, 18 November 2015


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School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Two enterprising young guys.

All members present. Ms. Martin was presented with an award from Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) recognizing her work during 8 terms on the School Committee.

Tonight was a packed agenda which included 15 Motion Responses addressing the lengthy and sometimes obsolete list of motions from prior meetings.


Two new motions,  Agenda Item 6 (2015/415) and Agenda Item 8 (2015/425) sparked significant discussion/questions. Agenda Item 6 requests a report on the number of children of LPS teachers who are not residents of Lowell and who attend the City schools. Agenda Item 8 requests this same information with the additional data on whether or not this is compliant with School compliance policy.

Although not part of the new motions, these two agenda items and Agenda Item 7 (2015/424) are integrally connected to a prior notion by Mr. Elliot regarding the feasibility of a return to neighborhood schools. The two newer motions were put forward in response to constituents contacting school committee members. The constituents expressed concerns around a perception that the children of residents were wait-listed from their (first) choice schools within neighborhood zones because an out-of-district student had been given a seat.

Three School Committee members who spoke about the motions (Connie Martin, Kristin Ross-Sitcawich and Kim Scott) supported the continuation of the practice allowing out-of-district children of LPSD teachers a seat in the school system. Many questions about the number of students (from Dr. Khelfaoui that number is reported to be 37 children throughout the LPSD), how many children were placed into each school level (elementary, middle, high?), cost to the City (LPS do not participate in the Commonwealth “School Choice” program thereby limiting recouping any per pupil cost to the district), and whether or not the current policy which is based upon a memorandum that had received School Committee approval, needs to be reviewed and fine-tuned.

One of the main elements in reviewing policy is to determine whether there needs to be a change in wording to reflect whether or not there are available seats. Twice it was mentioned anecdotally that Lowell residents were seeking placements in an outside district when they could not have their child placed in one of the neighborhood school choices they desired. The actual number of students impacted and whether or not seat availability is a cause was not clear. An anecdote regarding a child of a teacher living in, for example, Pelham, NH, but being educated in Lowell, MA was given to illustrate a “cost” problem.

Item 7 (2015/424) requested that the Superintendent provide a review of school assignment process to ensure that the District is in compliance with policy (links below) and to propose a plan that would resolve any situations with students who were improperly placed in a school outside of their neighborhood school zone.

Jim Leary spoke to the complexity of placements and some misunderstandings of school assignments using the geography outlined in the LPS zone system. He advocated that the three motions are directly connected to the issue of school assignment zones and neighborhood schools proposed (a motion Mr. Elliot made at a prior meeting). This is a huge and complicated issue for the School Department/School Committee and, while Dr. Khelfaoui has assigned a Task Force Committee from the Strategic Plan to study the issue, changes to the school assignment policy would most likely not be ready for implementation in 2016-17.

A little review about the geographic school zones might be helpful. Resulting from the 1987 (revised in 1996) LPS Desegregation Order/Plan , the city schools are divided into one of two zones. In reality, Lowell, has three, not two zones. The PDF of the LPS zone map is found here. A third “zone”  in the City includes those schools drawing students from all neighborhoods. They are designated “City Wide” schools and include Lowell High School, Bartlett, Lincoln, Moody, JG Pyne Arts, and Robinson. 

The remaining 15 middle and elementary schools are assigned a geographical zone. According to Mr. Leary, the geography of these zones can be confusing to parents. He cited the example of a 4th grader who attends the Washington School (Zone 2) is assigned to the Butler Middle School for Grade 5 (also Zone 2). Parents question this assignment as the Daley School (Zone 1) is much closer – on just the other side of Stevens Street. 

The actual assignment of students is made not only based on zone preferences, but on minority/non-minority student population and student service needs. For example, a particular special education program such as Life Skills may be offered only at a particular school. Other factors impact assignments as well.

I would agree with Mr. Leary that reviewing a move to neighborhood schools is going to be a giant undertaking. Paramount is the need for fidelity toward the court-ordered Desegregation Plan as well as consideration of parents who wish to send their children to nearby schools in their geographic neighborhood. It is not an easy revision to assigning students, and time will be needed to consider all aspects of school assignment as they are intertwined. 

The motions have been referred to the Policy Subcommittee (Kim Scott, chair; Kristin Ross-Sitcawich, Dave Conway, plus one Central Office representative).

Reports of the Superintendent

In an effort to clear up open and possibly obsolete motions, the Superintendent provided 16 responses to motions. Most of these were accepted without comment from the Committee; however, there was prolonged discussion surrounding three topics: Delayed Openings, Maintenance of buildings and grounds, and Newcomer Program resources.

Item 13 (2015/499) was the response to Ms. Scott’s motion regarding a delayed opening of school in lieu of cancellation and received the greatest attention from Committee members.  The school administration is prepared to move to 2-hour delays when there is agreement from the City DPW that roads/streets and schools can be cleaned up to ensure student and staff safety. However, this motion response will not be voted on until the next meeting (December 2, 2015) as several questions and issues need further attention.

Committee concerns and questions include coordination with partnerships providing before and after school services for parents who need child care in order to get to jobs regardless of weather situations, coordination with the City DPW, and LRT bus schedules. Mr. Gendron requested assurance that communications for delays would be clearly understood by all parents regardless of language barriers. Dr. Khelfaoui will bring definitive answers to concerns to the committee at the next meeting (December 2).

The advantage of a school delay over canceling school, from a teaching standpoint, means that instruction is not disrupted quite as much. The daily continuity of lessons is more or less intact. Last winter, the District cancelled school 8 times resulting in extending the school year further in to June when the weather and temperatures are not as conducive to learning. Tacking on time at the end of a school year may satisfy the Commonwealth’s requirement for number of days in session, but it is not what any teacher would call quality learning time – the weather is too nice be be indoors, the temperatures in classrooms can get extremely hot (that’s another issue), and students’ attention is waning as summer vacation is in sight. For families, travel plans that seemed reasonable when made in January or February, now become rescheduling headaches with extra expenses attached. 

MCAS dates and windows are impacted significantly when winter instructional time is lost due to cancellations. For the most part, the Commonwealth (DESE) does not move dates for testing. In fact I can recall only one time in almost 20 years that the Long Composition test date was moved due to weather. Losing instructional time ahead of testing can mean a topic that needs to be explored prior to MCAS may not be taught as deeply as students need. While a delay may not be ideal, my opinion is that instruction is less disrupted by a delay when that option is safely available. 

School building and ground maintenance (Agenda Item 19, 2015/421, and Agenda Item 14 (2015/410) were discussed. Some frustration expressed by School Committee members about the speed with which building/facility repairs are made by City. Committee wishes to regularly review open ticket items, thus this motion will not be “closed” and removed from the list of Motion Responses.

Lastly, the response to Mr. Leary’s motion (Agenda Item 21, 2015/427) regarding state and federal resources available to defray the cost of Newcomer Programs was discussed  The actual cost of the program is reported at $20,000-$22,000 per student while reimbursement is currently $12,000 per student.  Letters to the legislative delegations have not resulted in any satisfactory response. There was a discussion about the transparency of how the Commonwealth chooses school districts for the Newcomer programs – what is the criteria for receiving districts? The financial impact of this program on LPS is continuing to be felt in budget and resources for all students. Referred to both Student Support (Kristin Ross-Sitcawich (Chair), Dave Conway, Kim Scott and Jeannine Durkin, Adm. Representative) and Curriculum Subcommittees (Chairperson, Connie Martin (Chair), Jim Leary, Kim Scott, Claire Abrams, Adm. Representative).

A brief conversation took place about the recent decision by DESE to implement MCAS 2.0 as a fully technology-dependent assessment by 2019. Many questions are still to be answered about how the state plans to support (i.e., financially) urban districts needing technology infrastructure build-outs to support the tech demands of the test administration.

Following the open meeting, the Committee went into Executive Session to discuss updates to the UTL contract negotiations, litigation and grievances.

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.

Truthiness in Local Education


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The current Mayor of Lowell, Rodney Elliot, recently posited this gem in our local newspaper. Take a look at the bulleted items, if you have not already read this, and be outraged. Note the date on the letter – the day after the City elections. Could this be a manipulation of facts engineered for personal gain such as a second term as mayor?

This bullet from the article caught my attention as it points to a fundamental problem with the article and appears to include unattributed misinformation. Here’s a quote:DSC_0161

“Instructional time increase to state average of 275 minutes (4 hours, 35 minutes a day). Lowell is at 255. Most states exceed 300 minutes.”

Let’s take a closer look at what Mr. Elliot is saying.  As Blogger Gerry Nutter pointed out in today’s post, State Law mandates the amount of instructional time in a school year. The times mandated are 900 HOURS (54,000 minutes) per school year (elementary) and 990 HOURS (59,400 minutes) per school year (Middle & High School). And because in education, there is no such thing as “simple arithmetic” in getting to the minutes that count toward an academic day, some number manipulation is required. Time spent in recess, transition times, lunch or breakfast do not count.

In the realm of activities that do and do not count as education, I suppose administering 3 days of MCAS testing (975 minutes) last spring might also be disallowed. But I digress.

When Mr. Elliot wants to talk instructional time using minutes per day, his argument needs a bit more scrutiny. Simply throwing a out a claim that Lowell teachers instruct students for just 255 minutes a day is more than a bit misleading. What is his source for the claim that “most states exceed 300 minutes”.

An elementary school day (I’ll use an example of the school from which I recently retired) is 6 hours and 20 minutes (380 minutes) from start to finish. To be precise, an additional 5 minutes is “unassigned” at the end of a school day for teachers only and is not included in the 380 calculation. Let’s subtract 15 minutes at the beginning of the day because the “tardy” bell rings 15 minutes after the other students have arrived and universal breakfast is served during that time as breakfast. 6 hours and 5 minutes (365 minutes).

Less 30 minutes for lunch and recess leaves 5 hours 35 minutes (335 minutes). Students attend Allied Arts classes for 50 minutes every day (physical education, art, music, content/library). THEY are still receiving instruction, albeit from another professional. Even if a generous 10 minutes is allocated daily for transitioning between rooms (many teachers no longer take whole classes to the bathroom, students sign out when they need to leave), the number of instructional minutes is 325 which is more than the 255 minutes Mr. Elliot reports Lowell teachers spend and even above 275 minutes which he claims as a state “average”.

So what about the classroom teachers? If the students aren’t in the room, what is that prep time used for? Four days of the week, the teacher is given prep time of 50 minutes; one day each week is reserved for Common Planning, or some type of professional meeting involving all the teachers at a grade level. While not directly instructing students at this time, prep time activities support students (and families) in many ways.

Prep time really involves: phone calls and follow up with parents, report writing and preparation for SpED team meetings (sometimes even the meetings take place in this timeframe), helping students process behavior issues, correcting assessment (and sometimes administering assessments), preparing materials for lessons, planning co-teaching activities with colleagues, mentoring a new teacher, meeting with an administrator for evaluation/student concerns. It is not a “free” period – time to put up the feet and chat with another teacher. I feel the minutes a teacher spends preparing do impact instruction and should go right back into the teaching day.

So at a minimum, disallowing the preparation time, a teacher spends an average 285 minutes teaching; however, counting preparation time – as it should count – the daily minutes rise to 325. Bottom line: This time is essential to a teacher’s responsibilities. This IS work time.

If you’re keeping track, the tally is between 285 and 325 minutes of teaching per day, not 255 and not 275 as reported by the Mayor.

So my question remains: where is the truth? Because, I for one am tired of education and hard-working educators being tossed around as collateral by politicians with an ax to grind.

School Committee Meeting, 5 November 2015


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Meeting: Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All members present.

The day after local elections and a short agenda made for a quick public meeting – under 1 hour. The Committee met in Executive Session for an update of UTL negotiations/grievances after the public portion of the agenda.

IMG_0891Most of the 19 agenda items were passed or accepted without much discussion.


Agenda Item 11, (2015/395) LHS Athletics – Rule 53 Waiver Request, generated some clarifying questions.  The Rule 53 Waiver Request, apparently an annual agenda item, applies to 7th and 8th grade students audition for “selected” high school sports (swimming/diving, hockey). While the aim of the LHS programs in these sports is to have a feeder system through the Middle Schools, there are costs associated with these sports that make that difficult.  In the meantime, 7th and 8th grade student athletes are prepared for participation through the waiver, which passed.


Some time was spent summarizing Agenda Item 8 (2015/383), the Report from the Curriculum Subcommittee. The four-item focus of this meeting was:

  1. Average age of textbook,
  2. Kindergarten Report Card,
  3. Eureka Math (elementary),
  4. iReady implementation.

A chart of the textbooks in use (see meeting packet) shows there is a need for new materials in the Middle School science (text 1998) and Grade 7 ancient history texts (1995?).

While individual student textbooks become more and more obsolete and the use of “multi-platform programs” becomes more frequent, curriculum focus shifts from following a teachers’ guide to teaching standards (Common Core, NEXT Science Standards, link HERE for Massachusetts standards). The conflict in this approach comes when the program authors interpret a standard; it is important to remember that program publishers such as Pearson are trying to make a profit. Sometimes the connection between an activity and an important standard can be a bit fuzzy.

In my opinion and experience, “textbooks” are becoming less of a one-book-per-student purchase and more of a curriculum or program purchase. For example, the textbooks listed for the Elementary program, my area of experience/expertise, include 

  • Children Discovering Justice (a program based on inquiry experiences led by the teacher),
  • FOSS Science (mainly experiential, led by teacher, brief readings in a textbook collection),
  • Eureka Math (developed from EngageNY curriculum units – teacher scripts/lessons),
  • iReady (individualized Computer Assisted Instruction in Reading/Math),
  • Calkins Writing Units (lesson sequences, relies on example texts) 
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction Toolkit reading guides (suggested scripts, uses trade books)

Adequate and in-time professional development/training will be the key to success with these programs. For the lessons to be successful, teachers need to anticipate and prepare materials (the FOSS Kits for example take hours of teacher preparation). Educators also need to be thoughtful about how the individual students in the classroom will need to be supported. While the LPSD provides some trade books for teaching lessons, it was often my experience that these books, referred to as mentor texts, came from teachers’ personal finances. The school district as a whole needs to continually review the effectiveness of the programs for our students in reaching standards. Notice I didn’t say passing a test.

A second subcommittee meeting’s notes, Personnel, and Agenda Item 13, addressed Dr. Khelfaoui’s evaluation.  Dr. Khelfaoui’s evaluation tool is directed by the Massachusetts (DESE) Department of Elementary & Secondary Education regulations, however, the specific professional and student goals are his own and were accepted.

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.

Why Vote?


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This is a local election day in Lowell, MA. Both City Council and School Committee representatives will be decided upon by the end of the day. Local pundits are predicting a low turnout, and I for one hope they are totally off base. Not exercising your right to vote is something that I just don’t understand. Don’t people want to have a voice in who represents them?

MinniePalmerFlournoyafter1891In the late part of the 19th century, women and especially married women had little in the way of citizen’s rights and they most certainly could not vote or hold office. While unmarried women could inherit money, married women could not. I’ve been reading the history of women’s voting rights in one of my ancestral heartlands, Missouri, and while this is Missouri’s story, there are probably many commonalities with other states.

My great grandmother, Minnie Palmer Flournoy was made a young widow in 1891 when her husband Richard was killed in a tragic train accident. As a widow with two very young children, she had to fight the railroad through an attorney to get a settlement for Richard’s untimely death. I have that correspondence in my genealogy files. If memory serves me correctly, she received the princely sum of $500.

When women of Missouri demonstrated for the suffragette movement, my great-grandmother was part of that. I often have wondered if her motivation and support for the 19th Amendment could have had its beginning in the treatment she received from the railroad when her husband died.

Nearly every time that I vote, I think of the courage my great-grandmother had to muster to participate in the suffragette marches. I am grateful, but also awed because women like Minnie Flournoy had the extraordinary courage to demand the right to participate in our representative democracy. They did not give up on this idea even when the measures were defeated as they were several times in Missouri.

This morning I voted as I have on nearly every Election Day since I was old enough to do so. To do otherwise would be a disservice to those women who recognized a wrong that needed to be made right.

PARCC: The Elevator Speech


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This morning, I was greeted by more “alleged news” (thanks Jack Cole for THAT gem) purporting that “Educators Urge State Board to Adopt PARCC Exam“. Despite the fact that this news is sourced in the Statehouse News Service and, therefore, just a press release unworthy of front page space, I call baloney.  Here is why: helpme

  1. PARCC is not proven to measure college and career readiness any better than the current MCAS test. Now I could go off on a tangent about the merits of any single, high-stakes test in predicting future success for students, but I’ll stick to the fact that in this era, testing rules. If the new assessment doesn’t do what it is touted to do, why bother to change?
  2. PARCC is expensive. PARCC is administered electronically. That means network and hardware expenses above and beyond what cash-strapped schools already have in place. So, instead of hiring staff or purchasing materials to support programs, a school district is supposed to buy technology upgrades for the purpose of testing. In addition, the time needed to administer PARCC is “expensive” in that instead of learning something, anything, kids are busy with an assessment of dubious value.
  3. PARCC puts many urban districts at a disadvantage.  I taught in a school with a 90%+ poverty level. My kids were not regularly exposed to technology unless they were accessing it in school. The PARCC samples I’ve seen require a high-degree of manipulation between reading a question, computation and/or side work, and moving items around a screen to create an answer. So for kids like my former students, PARCC becomes more a test of technology skill.
  4. PARCC is owned by Pearson.  Pearson – the giant conglomeration owning lots and lots of curriculum resources and now they own the PARCC test. Pearson also dabbles in teacher effectiveness, which (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn) is tied to the assessments (those assessments are very ones Pearson also owns). In the old days, the US government would call this a monopoly. Now it’s simply sweet one-stop shopping. What could possibly go wrong there?

Why in the world does Massachusetts continue to entertain alignment to PARCC? I have no idea.

School Committee Meeting, 21 October 2015


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DSC_0044_edited-1What follows are some highlights from a very lengthy School Committee meeting. In place of a bulleted list of meeting agenda items (the meetings are televised and rebroadcast by LTC), I’ve included some explanatory commentary. Why?  Education issues are often fairly complicated; we use too many acronyms and assume what is obvious to those of us who live in the educational world is just as obviously clear to those who may not.

I decided to make School Committee Meeting commentary part of my education blogging for several reasons, the main purpose is to clarify why we should all care about and pay attention to local decisions impacting our schools. When we all understand the implications of decisions and work together to support Lowell on the path to becoming one of the great urban school districts, everyone, but especially our children, benefits.

So here is my first offering, a synthesis of the major points of the meeting.My own opinions are highlighted in italics. If you have suggestions and or commentary that might make these posts more informative and helpful, I welcome them.

Meeting Wednesday, October 21, 2015

All seven committee members were present for this meeting. The Spotlight on Education portion of the meeting highlighted the achievements of the Kindergarten through Grade 8 Summer Math Program.

One of the first agenda items to receive close attention was Item 7, a motion to go on record in opposition to the PARCC Tests (Partnership to Assess Readiness for College and Careers) by Steve Gendron.  After discussion, the committee has decided to approve communicating opposition to PARCC with a “friendly amendment”. The operative words “at this time” expressed the reservations discussed: namely that the PARCC will be very expensive in terms of time and equipment and, at this writing, those expenses seem to fall on local school budgets. I have previously written about my own concerns regarding PARCC tests and will reblog those posts separately.

As the Lowell Schools, and most of the schools across the US, are currently tying curriculum to the Common Core Standards, there could be a perceived disconnect between the curriculum (Common Core) and the standardized tests (MCAS, PARCC and Smart-Balance used in some states). This is a complicated issue as the Common Core standards themselves are controversial, and there are efforts underway to return Massachusetts to prior curriculum standards.  

Additionally, Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Education (DESE – Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), just this week suggested the PARCC could be replaced by a hybrid of the MCAS (current) assessment system. (see link to Commonwealth Magazine). This hybrid is referenced as MCAS 2.0. It is unknown whether MCAS 2.0 will just look like a mildly reworked PARCC, thereby not making any substantive change. Mr. Chester is also head of the PARCC Consortium, a group formed to advance the use of this test throughout the US as a way to test Common Core standards. In my opinion, if even the Commissioner who has a bias toward adopting PARCC,  is abandoning this assessment, there is reason to question whether or not to adopt it at all.

As for the expense of PARCC implementation in Lowell, there are several factors. The technology infrastructure was overloaded last year when a pilot, or small group of schools experimented with the test administration on iPads and laptops.  Additional technology infrastructure and hardware would be required. Estimates are currently in the $2 million range. That’s $2 million that Lowell does not have laying around. In the words of Mr. Leary, the state (or feds) need to “fund the mandate”. 

Newcomer Programs and Additional ELL Teachers

As an urban district, it is not a surprise that Lowell has a rather large population (29%) of English Language Learners which include newcomers. Mr. Leary noted that the newcomer program costs were reimbursed (by the state?) at about a 50% rate, leaving the City and School Department budget to come up with the rest.  Given the 29% ELL population, the shortfall numbers will not be sustainable and will impact other budgetary items and programs.

The School Department prepared a detailed rationale and analysis of the need for assistance and issued a letter to our congressional representatives at the federal level.  The Committee has requested that Dr. Khelfaoui and his administration continue to keep the need for (financial) assistance on the minds of legislators at both state and federal levels and perhaps work in coordination with other schools in similar circumstance to bring this to the forefront.

In a related agenda item, Lowell Schools have requested 5 additional ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers to support the mandated 45 minutes per day support for higher performing ELLs (English Language Learners) and 90+ minutes per day support for early English acquisition students. Performance levels are tested and tracked via yearly testing. Note: All classroom teachers are required to have an “endorsement” on their teaching license that they have been trained in differentiation techniques for ELLs. An ESL teacher has more specialized training to help students acquire English skills needed in content areas, for example.

The School Committee supported this motion; the funding for the 5 positions will be presented at the next meeting. Funding is pending approval at the state level to transfer money from an Early Childhood revolving account.

Other Agenda Items

Two other agenda items were discussed more thoroughly: a motion from Kim Scott to address quality of food in the cafeteria (including returning to in-house food services) and a review of the District finances.

As the contract with Aramark is expiring this year, the Committee members would like to survey students and families about the food quality, and review Aramark’s performance ahead of any decisions to renew or revise the food services contract.

A review of the budget expenses by Mr. Antonelli revealed that the district has expended or encumbered about 18% of the budget and this is considered within the normal range of operations.  There is a concern, however, that the budgeted amount for insurance will show a deficit by the end of the fiscal year. This seems to be due to more employees choosing the indemnity plan. When questioned further, Mr. Antonelli explained that the budgeted amount is derived after consultation with the City CFO and generated prior to the Open Enrollment period when employees choose their insurance plan. Therefore, while the budgeted amount may be a “best guess”, there are factors which can cause it to be inaccurate.

The agenda and meeting packet for this meeting can be found at this link.

Strategic Planning Launch, October 14, 2015


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These are my notes from the Strategic Planning Launch held October 14, 2015. (Lowell: Imagine Our Future Public Meeting). The meeting was held in the Burgoyne Theater at LHS Freshman Academy. In attendance were many school and district administrators, at least 2 current school committee members along with several candidates for school committee, parents, teachers, UTL leadership, community partner representatives, and interested community members.

Continued public input is solicited through an online survey (link here).

Those in attendance were welcomed by Jill Lang, Freshman Academy Director, followed by presentation of colors by the LHS JROTC and the Star Spangled Banner sung by members of the LHS Chorus.  Superintendent Khelfaoui welcomed the attendees and translation of this message was provided in several languages.

A video created by LET Channel 22, What Makes Lowell Schools Special, was shown to introduce those in attendance to some of the positives in the Lowell Schools. Hopefully,  Central Office can make this video available to the public on a YouTube channel or link to LET22.

Superintendent Khelfaoui explained the purpose for creating a strategic plan: to develop a multi-year strategic plan for continued growth and development of the Lowell Public Schools. The resulting plan will be developed through a series of public and issue-focused meetings which will include all stakeholders in the Public Schools. These stakeholders include: Administration, Faculty Members, Parents/Guardians, School Partners and interested community members.

The inclusionary goal is to encourage people with diverse perspectives from throughout Lowell to participate in surveys, focus groups and committees. Dr. Khelfaoui cited his work in the Arlington (VA) Public Schools in this area (see link). Part of the strategic planning process, data analysis, has already begun through the LPS Leadership Academy (administrators). Claire Abrams (Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment) and  Jeanine Durkin (Assistant Superintendent of Student Services) explained the types of participation and time commitments that will be needed over the next months (late October through Spring 2016) in order to develop a strategic plan. The final version of the strategic plan will be presented to the School Committee. These are the four ways in which stakeholders might participate:

  • Strategic Task Force: 10 or more members focused on a specific topic of relevance (minimum 3 meetings)
  • Strategic Synthesis Team: Will combine all the reports of the Strategic Task Force Teams into a report for the Superintendent (minimum 6 meetings)
  • Focus Groups: 10 or more stakeholders sharing common expertise and interests (1 meeting)
  • Public Forums: groups of stakeholders meet to discuss concerns and issues (1 meeting)

Attendee were invited to complete this survey (link here) and indicate any level of participation they were interested in.  If you were unable to attend the meeting, please use the survey to voice your opinion/preference and willingness to participate in the future.

The evening ended with a well-appreciated performance by the LHS Band.

When Data Matters


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DSC_0162As noted previously, the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Education has taken up a discussion on whether or not to raise the cap on Charter Schools.  While I worked the entirety of my career in a non-charter environment (10 year private schools, 20 years public), I do have a bias on the topic. It concerns me when a corporation, such as Sabis or Kipp, runs the school. It concerns me that the funding of corporately managed charter schools comes from a local cash-strapped district. And it concerns me when the make up of the student body is not a mirror of traditional public schools in the same district. When charter schools adhere to what was their initial charge – to become incubators of innovations in education and to share their findings – that is a good reason to engage with charter schools.

Suzanne Bump, Massachusetts State Auditor, testified before the Joint Committee this week. She was not testifying to encourage or discourage lifting the cap. The State Auditor wanted to exam the claims that counts of students on waiting lists were inaccurate, that there are inconsistencies in charter renewals, and the charge of lack of collaboration between public schools and private schools. Here are her words:

It had been my hope that an audit would examine not just the topics I mentioned. Another goal had been to get meaningful, unbiased, and complete data so that when this annual debate next took place, you and the public would have access to more facts. I have long believed in, and as State Auditor am committed to, the notion that better information makes for better public policy.

We especially wanted to know whether the student bodies of charters shared the demographic characteristics of the sending districts, as the law requires, and whether there were measurable differences in the academic outcomes of the competing systems.

And the result?

As the audit indicates, however, we could not answer those questions because we found the data collected and published by DESE to be unreliable.

Is this the very same “data” that the Governor used to plead for increasing the cap on Charter Schools? Data that the State Auditor characterizes as “unreliable”?

Please, please, please read the two-page remarks for yourself. My data mantra has always been “garbage in, garbage, out”. That surely seems to apply here and it is not a good basis on which to make important educational decisions.

One final quote from Ms. Bumps’ remarks, sums it up:

This is the 21st century. We have the brain power and we have the ability to get the information necessary to inform our decision-making, so let’s base decisions about the future of our kids, our economy, our society on facts

Yes. That is exactly when data matters.


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