A Non-Knitter Knitting

img_1871Somewhere back in my past, someone in my family – possibly my Grandmother – showed me how to knit and purl.  And I’m pretty good with that as far as it goes. For the rest, I turn to Youtube videos. My grip on knitting skills is pretty tenuous, but I can make a mean scarf, a basic hat, and once I even made a pair of mittens.

So when the Womens’ march linked to published directions for signature Pussy Hats, well the pattern seemed like something I could handle, so I decided to give it a try. It would have been a lot easier had I not waited until the last possible moment to try to find pink yarn. I’ve learned that using a different yarn weight is not an easy change to make. However, I got some stellar advice from a local yarn shop, an easier pattern (!), and a set of circular needles. Love those circular needles.

Working with the much more bulky yarn that I was able to procure, produced a first hat that could have fit two heads. Despite having many students look at me over my career as if I had two heads, I find I do not. I have one. So, 3 days before the Boston March, I ripped the hat apart and re-rolled the yarn into a ball.

Attempt Number 2: the original Pussy Hat pattern. This was the pattern that I originally saw on the Interwebs and thought I could handle. Except the yarn was more bulky, the needles I had were 1 size too large, and I needed to do this quickly. Sure, all the elements of success were right there, weren’t they?

All of which is to say, when you see me on Saturday – if you see me in what I hope will be a sea of pink solidarity – my Pussy Hat will be quite flawed, just like I myself am. I will be wearing it proudly, however, because I did it. I finished it, and I learned from it. Despite the wrong turns I took some action.

Which seems like a metaphor for the next 4 years.

School Committee Meeting 18 January 2017

DSC_0044_edited-1School Committee Meeting 18 January 2017

6 present, 1 absent

Spotlight on Excellence:

Tonight’s Spotlight on Excellence featured the Stem Academy at the Rogers School and the meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance led by STEM Academy students. With over 600 students in Pre-K to Grade 5, the students in Grade 4 were nominated to not only present, but create the slideshow presented to the Committee. Most impressively, students from the STEM Academy are at varying stages of English language acquisition and powerfully demonstrate the integration of academic content.

First up, 2 students demonstrate a “spheros”, controlling it from keypads. The students’ demonstration highlighted the importance of experimentation and the scientific process and how their attempts at controlling the Spheros through a maze informed solutions to problems.

Working with the US Dept. of Wildlife, 3 students explained their project with Blandings Turtles. Investigating these turtles led students to investigate the impact of humans on the turtle habitat. The students not only have done research into their topic, they are creating a website about their subject.

The third project, Block Coding utilizing code.org, demonstrated students’ use of algorithms in coding. Students at the STEM routinely learn coding principles.

Growing Microgreens was the focus of the fourth student presentation. Students made a presentation documenting how  to grow microgreens and their nutritional value.  The STEM Academy has an on-going relationship with Mill City Grows and has one of the first School Gardens created in Lowell. The students distributed the fruits of their labor to members of the School Committee.

The final presentation was a demonstration of a DRONE used by students. The students use the Drone to help the City create images of Thorndike street renovation.  The highlight was a demonstration of the drone in the air. The video with be on Twitter @stemacademylps and on the STEM Academy facebook account.

Permissions to Enter

$66,500 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF) (6 yeas, 1 absent approved)


Five motions were presented

  • 7.1 (C. Martin): Requesting that the Administration, including all members who are cited as School Committee Representatives, provide the Lowell School Committee with a complete report on the history and current status of the charge filed by the LSAA regarding parking for Central Administration LSAA union members. This report should include:
    • the legal language differentiating a “charge” vs a “grievance” and notification protocols required by each,
    • a timeline of past meetings with Union leadership and
    • all associated documents and minutes from those meetings.
  • 7.II (R. Hoey): Request the Superintendent refer the Homework Policy to the Policy Subcommittee to review and revise if necessary.
  • 7.III (R. Gignac): Request the Superintendent provide a report on all extracurricular activities at each school throughout the district.

SC Gignac states parents have inquired about this information He is hopeful this information will also be populated on school individual website. SC Descoteaux would like to also know which activities have stipends.

As a former Instructional Technology Specialist, I am puzzled – and often frustrated by the Lowell Public Schools’ web presence. The revision to the District website is very attractive and clean-looking; however, locating information is frequently a problem. As an example, tonight I attempted to find the Doors Open Lowell Public Schools schedule for the rest of the year so that information could be included in the STEM Academy’s spotlight information. The calendar link does not appear to function and the individual school’s websites are equally non-functional.  This is something that, in my opinion, needs to be rethought. Before a revision to a webpage goes “live”, the revision needs to have functionality and links tested to ensure that they work properly

  • 7.IV (J. Doherty): Request the Superintendent porvide the committee with a report on the time allocated for students to have recess, lunch, physical education and health at each of our elementary and middle schools. Please include in the report any government mandates or recommendations regarding time allotted for these activities as well as if students are allowed to talk during lunch.

School Committee members have had some conversations with parents who express concerns over time allocations for recess and lunch in particular.  Parents are particularly concerned about reports of “silent lunch” periods – not those times when silent lunch is used as a behavior modification, but silent lunch periods used as a general practice. The Superintendent had queried building administrators and noted that silent lunches were isolated incidents and now resolved.

Students are under quite a lot of academic pressure during each day; they need to be able to socialize during “down time”. English Language Learners need opportunities to practice social language – lunch time is an opportunity for that.  If there is an expectation for students to eat silently as a matter of course, that expectation is unreasonable. 

Students may need to learn to appropriately socialize while eating, but an expectation that students, especially elementary aged students, will sit in silence while eating is unreasonable. I can understand that as a behavior modification, out of control and/or inappropriate lunch room behavior may occasionally result in a silent lunch, but as a general practice, no. 

I’ve had numerous conversations with parents of students who have concerns about the amount of time allocated for eating and for recess and physical activity. That is also a concern of mine.

  • 7.V (J. Doherty): In view of the upcoming implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this fall, request the Superintendent develop local measures of assessment focused on the whole child such as school culture, social and emotional learning, and the arts.

ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and many people who are of the mind that there is too much emphasis on academic testing see this as a step in the right direction. ESSA encourages schools and districts to ook at other factors that indicate school success. SC Doherty notes how these idea support the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan and Vision. Can we determine how to measure those other factors; how can we measure things like school culture, for example.? How do we show “evidence” of good schools outside of using standardized academic testing?

Superintendent Khelfaoui refers to the Massachusetts Consolrtion for Educational Assessments (he is chair). Currently 6 districts are meeting to research and explore this very topic. Each of the six districts is represented by the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Teachers’ Union. They are working together to determine performance assessments that track accountability which will include other means of measuring quality schools.  Lowell is on the cutting edge of this and lots of work has been done over the past 5 months.

SC Martin mentions a MassINC call on Friday – more info on the changes resulting from ESSA.

Lowell’s Superintendent and UTL President Georges should be commended for working on this complicated, and historically politically charged issue. Test scores from standardized testing are indeed never going away, but there should be so much more that goes into determination of how a school is valued.  

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 8.1 Participation Opportunities in Food and Nutrition Program

There seemed to have been some misunderstanding of what was being requested. There was quite a lengthy discussion of opportunities for feeding students over the summer (or during the evening) through acquisition of a food truck. The report presented tonight asks the School Committe for their input as to whether or not to pursue the permissions (zoning for example) that would make such a program a viable option.

The cost of the food truck would seemingly be picked up by reimbursements to the Food Service Accounts and, like the free-to-every-student breakfast and lunch programs, cost the City and School Department nothing.

SC Doherty makes a motion to support exploring this opportunity, which eventually passes.

However, the original motion was a request for food trucks on an occasional basis for LHS students. these trucks would be sources of different foods (more ethnic variety). According to the report included in the packet, this would result in non-reimbursement for these meals.

Additional discussions about the satellite school meals (satellite schools are those without kitchens – those meals are cooked at the STEM Academy and transported to the schools without kitchens) and wasted food.

Motion roll call: 6 yeas, 1 absent approved

  • 8.II Science and Engineering Fair Update

SC Martin offers thanks and encouragement for moving forward with these opportunities. She would like the schools to continue to be mindful of opportunities, some of which can be at the Univeristy. SC Hoey asks for clarification about LHS student participation (1?). Ms. Desmond explains that while 1 LHS was selected to participate in the MIT Science Fair, several other high school students did participate. Ms. Desmond notes the $35,000 cost associated with science fair impelemntation and the pursuit of mini grant funding for the same.

  • 8.III Sick Time Report

SC Hoey appreciates the report as it stands; would appreciate a report broken down by school. SC Doherty recommends via motion that the report should be referred to the Policy Subcommittee to discuss attendance incentives for staff and to review staff attendance policy.

  • 8.IV December Financial Report

SC Gignac raises questions about budget transfers that need to be prepared to offset negative balances in some accounts. Mr. Frisch states budget adjustments are ongoing starting in January. SC.Gignac refers SC Gignac’s question about the Suspense Account (2400, 577771 for $179K) on page 3.  Mr. Gignac makes motion to refer to Finance Subcommittee.

  • 8.V Lowell High School Education Program and Space Use Plan The detail is found in this PDF document.

This report was taken first at request of SC Gignac.  Head of School Martin presents the documents forwarded from Educational Leadership Team (ELT). Next steps is to refer this document to the subcommittee, with the approval of School Committee then sent to City Council. Visioning sessions inclusive of the LHS community (cross-section), compilation of the ideas and documentation of the programs needed/desired at LHS.

SC Gignac – motion to refer plan to joint meeting of LHS Subcommittee and Facilities Subcommittee next Tuesday at 8 pm. SC Doherty suggests that this joint meeting be held at the STEM Academy television studio.  Questions in advance of the subcommittee meeting would be best handled by email so the architect and project managers as well as ELT can be queried. The meeting next Tuesday will be for clarification and inquiry – vote on the report will be February 1. Questions can be directed to Assistant Superintendent Durkin.

  • 8.VI Facilities Maintenance Report

Student Representative Leahy notes heating issues. Requests resolution as fast as possible; all three LHS buildings were cold today.  Superintendent Khelfaoui concurs and notes the age of systems in several schools makes this challenging. He has received emails from parents and students.

The age and disfunction of heating (and AC systems) and leaks in roofs are a major concern. The SC members all express a feeling of urgency. Mayor Kennedy cautions blame-assignment and finger-pointing; we all have to work together on this.  He has asked departments to identify the most egredious issues. Mr. Underwood notes that there must be a response to these emergencies; there is frustration, but we are not pointing fingers. We need to figure out how to resolve these issues without fear of hurt feelings. Notes the response to emergency by DPW is excellent. Mr. Kennedy says he will have a report at the next meeting. Ms. Leahy expresses gratitude toward Facilities and DPW. SC Hoey notes city and schools just need to get along a little bit better. Not here to have a war with the City.

Motions accepted and placed on file.

  • 8.VII Home Education

Approved (6 yeas, 1 absent)

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved (6 yeas, 1 absent)

To download meeting agenda and support documentation, click here and navigate to the School Committee meetings. The agenda are organized by date. 

Finding Joy

For Christmas, my Mother (see Mom, I can use the preferred nomenclature!) gifted me with The Book of Joy. The book, a record of a 2015 meet-up between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is a wonderful chronicle of a week-long conversation between these two as they attempt to answer the question “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?”

Really, finding that “joy” is a challenge for many of us. There’s a bit of fatalism in this. We cannot always control our universe and for those of us with the control-freak gene, that causes conflict.

…Anguish and sadness in many ways are things that you cannot control. They happen.

And then, there was this

There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?

I’ve thought of these words often over the past 24 hours. So much of what I trusted in, believed in, thought of as givens, has been turned on its head. For me, there is little I can control so the question really does become, how can I use this as something positive?

Last Sunday, the actress Meryl Streep used her time on the microphone at the Golden Globes to do just that. Like Ms. Streep, one of the most pivotal, unforgettable moments of the past Presidential campaign was the sight of Candidate Trump mocking a disabled reporter. It shocked and angered me. And was followed by a seemingly never-ending barrage of events, each one more concerning than the next. And yet, the Candidate has become the President-elect and will shortly be installed in office.

Can those of us who are disheartened by this escape? I don’t believe we can, nor do I believe we should. Because if we don’t stand for what we believe in – whether it is health care or education or treatment of our fellow citizens who are less fortunate and who struggle – we have lost the moment for change.

We can, however, reach for positivity. We can stand through protest, we can stand by reaching out to disenfranchised and fearful. We can empower our lawmakers to also stand firm by contacting them when there is an important policy vote. We can let them know we are watching.

We can rise to the challenges ahead of us. What positivity can be made from all of this?

School Committee Meeting, 04 January 2017

2017-jan-03_walkinglowell_0187School Committee Meeting 04 January 2017

All members present.

Prior to the beginning of the regular agenda, there was a Special Meeting of the School Committee in order to discuss a contract offer for the Superintendent of Schools.  SC Hoey made a motion to accept the last contract offer from the Superintendent; however the most recent offer – the one presented to the Committee at this meeting – had been through some contract revisions suggested by both parties and the Law Department. 

SC Gendron makes a substitute motion to go into Executive Session in order to discuss the changes being presented tonight (passes 6 yeas, 1 nay). The Committee then went into Executive Session for the purpose of discussing the most recent iteration of the Superintendent’s contract. The Executive Session seems to have ended around 7:08 pm without approval of a Superintendent’s contract. 

The regular School Committee Meeting begins at 7:18 pm.

Permissions to Enter

$361,751 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet on p 25-26.  (7 yeas, approved)


Three motions were presented

  • 2016/497 (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent direct Human Resources to provide a sick time report indicating how sick time is tracked and reviewed across the district. SC Hoey mentions the Sick Leave buy-back at the time of retirement and that this should be celebrated. (accepted)
  • 2016/498 (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent direct Human Resources to provide a report on the percentage of male and female teachers and paraprofessionals to inform our diversity in hiring efforts. After SC Hoey presents the motion, SC Descoteaux adds that at the elementary level, the pool of candidates traditionally has more female candidates. (accepted)
  • 2016/505 (J. Doherty): Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a comprehensive update on the Lowell High School Latin Lyceum program, including any changes since 2014 related to admission standards, enrollment, and curriculum, as well as plans relative to LHS designation as a participant in School Choice. Report should include information as to how the Latin Lyceum is marketed to colleges, including copy of letter sent along with student transcripts. SC Doherty would also like to see the job description for the lead teacher. (approved)

Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 2016 /478 Special Education 2016-2017 Year to Date Report Jennifer McCrystal shared a presentation on the current state of Special Education. Of the 2,402 students receiving SPED services, 13% have an autism diagnosis, which is a higher percentage than all other urban districts and surrounding districts. A comment during this part of the presentation makes me wonder: How many students from surrounding districts come to Lowell having been “counseled” by another school district to move within district in order to receive services? 

There were some unpredicted increases in Autism students who have entered the Lowell schools and are receiving services in substantially separate classrooms and also a large increase in students (10 additional students) who receive Out Of District (OOD) services. The Special Education Department added key positions last year and that has assisted the LPS in keeping students in-district where in prior times, students would have been placed out of district. Building capacity within the Lowell School District is a significant cost saving for the schools and taxpayers as out-of-district placements can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Take a close look at the Permissions to Enter that are listed for each meeting to get a glimpse into the costs associated with out of district placements.

As Ms. McCrystal pointed out, because of unanticipated placements, the Special Education Department needs to either find out-of-district (OOD) placements or increase LPS capacity to keep these children within the LPSD. Therefore, there are requests for 3 new teachers and 9 new paraprofessionals to be hired in phases starting immediately through  April 3.

One student with Autism is an average cost of $100,000 with a total of $1.26 million for the remaining time left in this academic year. By investing in LPS in-district capacity, there would be an ultimate saving of about $1,000,000. SC Gendron asks where the funding for out of district placements would come from. As Superintendent Khelfaoui notes, the decision is not going to be whether or not to spend, it will be how much to spend and the LPSD will be obligated to find the funds to honor the individual education plans (IEPs) developed for the identified students (including use of Circuit Breaker funds).

SC Gendron makes motion to move ahead with finding the funding and hire staff/find space to accommodate these students in-district. SC Gignac offers an amended motion to fund Phases 1 and 2 of the proposed motion with a referral of Phase 3 to the Finance Subcommittee.

SC Hoey spoke with some staff who made suggestions to the kinds of therapists that would possibly save money. Ms. McCrystal notes that the Special Education Department is working with the Mayor and City to find a location for a possible day school which would allow the LPSD to keep more out of district placements in district. See Meeting Packet p 37-46.

  • 2016 /487 Response to Connie Martin’s Motion of 12/07/16 Regarding Science and Engineering Fair Opportunities. SC Martin notes that the work in Science and Engineering Fairs has been growing over time and would like to hear about future potential for partnering with the University and/or potential for state-wide/national expansion. While there continues to be work done to develop the Science and Engineering curricula, he development of a robust science curriculum is manifesting itself and an increase in opportunities for students in science and engineering projects will continue as the programs grow. See Meeting Packet p 48.
  • 2016 /506 Lease for Central Office Space SC Gendron inquires as to whether a vote is needed (Response: just looking to make SC members aware of a possible future RFP which could save the City money as well as consolidate central offices. Currently the offices are in both 155 and 144 Merrimack Street).

Mr. Frisch notes that ideally it would be better to have all staff in a single location. SC Gendron remarks that the central location on Merrimack St. benefits the City and expresses his confusion in the School Department exploring the possibility of leaving. Superintendent Khelfaoui notes that this is really an exploration ahead of renewing or renegotiating a lease. SC Gignac notes Central Office is looking to increase square footage and questions whether there is a need for that sized footprint.  Mr. Frisch notes that there does seem to be a need for conference space (needs survey).

SC Hoey notes the impact on businesses of keeping the school department downtown. Mr. Frisch states that there could be some savings could may include, for example, using LPSD resources clean the space for a savings of $36,000. SC Hoey brings up parking which was in the original RFP and will be in the 2017 RFP as well. SC Gignac mentions parking and clarifies that the landlord is expected to pay for parking.

SC Gendron cautions that the RFP should be for gathering information and not about parking. Mayor Kennedy notes that the current RFP did give preference to Downtown and that he would not look favorably on moving out of Downtown. See Meeting Packet p. 77-78

  • 2016 489 Quarterly Report on Motions and  2016/507 Personnel Report (approved)
  • 2016 /501 Home Education (7 yeas, approved)

New Business

  • Acceptance of $42,000 award to Robinson School (Yellowstone Park trip) (approved)
  • Career Academy 501(c)(3) status (approved)
  • Permission to post positions Early Childhood Specialist 6 yeas, 1 absent approved
  • Permission to Post Data Analyst (grant funded) 6 yeas, 1 absent, approved
  • Permission to Post Sales Associate (increase in number of hours) 7 yeas, approved
  • Permission to Post LHS Graduation Mentor 7 yeas, approved
  • Acceptance of Grant of $2,500 to Murkland School 7 yeas approved

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved.

SC Gendron supports the trip, but questions the extension of the trips into academic time. SC Doherty notes that there has been a policy (previously developed) discouraging travel opportunities and overnight trips requiring substitute teachers for chaperones/students missing academics.

Meeting Packet can be found here.

Square Peg, Round Hole

newbasketsHuffington Post published a blog entry by Gay Groover Christmus recently that resonated with me as a retired educator who taught pre-NCLB. The article, “4 Things Worse Than Not Learning to Read in Kindergarten” is well worth the read time for anyone wondering about the current state of education policy, and I would encourage you to do so.

Think about the absurd notion that every child leaving Kindergarten must be able to read at a particular, and I would call it arbitrary, level. And if the child does not, there is a “problem” that needs to be addressed immediately.

If your family is like mine, you can recall some family member who disliked and/or struggled with reading throughout K-12 schooling, yet, in adulthood achieved career and academic success. What would have happened had that family member had to endure the current state of early childhood “no exceptions” education?

I believe each child is different and comes to any academic task with different background, different motivation, different readiness levels. Yet, here we are in the 21st century attempting to industrialize and mechanize reading (and math and writing) so children don’t “fall behind”. Fall behind what? If a child doesn’t read F&P Level C by the end of Kindergarten, does that really mean the child needs to be labeled as academically failing for the next 12 years and beyond? I say no.

The collective and public “we” has a lack of trust in educators’ judgement and our public schools that didn’t exist when I started my career. Political expedience is reversing the narrative that our schools provide excellence in education for all students to a mantra-like chant of  a “failing” public education system (a post or two for another time, perhaps).

To me, this change in mindset which morphed over my career as an educator and my days as a parent of a school-aged child is most distressing. The narrative of failure and fear of failing to “effectively” educate students – even when the educational demands are inappropriate – is manufactured by ed-reformers with an obvious agenda.  Children, particularly early education students, are suffering for it. They are being taught academics before they are ready to retain and use them; we are forcing a square peg into a round hole.

What happens to those children when they are forced to perform academically before they are  ready and prepared to acquire academic skills like reading? Resentment, frustration, aversion to learning, and a missed opportunity to foster a love for the act of reading (or math, or writing) and discovering literature as that child matures. What learning is left to the side because there is no time to explore?

Yes, of course, there are some children who are ready to read as kindergarten students, and a skilled educator not only recognizes that readiness, but designs instruction to meet that child’s needs. Should a child need more support, or when there is a learning challenge, trust that the same educator will seek out solutions and work with parents to ensure that child receives that support that is needed.

What Ms. Christmus’ article reminds us is that unrealistic expectations and demands really should have no place in a child’s education.

School Committee Meeting 07 December 2016

School Committee Meeting 07 December 2016

2016-nov-26_cityoflights_lhsbandSix present, Ms. Martin Absent

Prior to the beginning of the regular agenda, SC Gignac makes a motion to refer Item 13 to Negotiations subcommittee. Item 13 was a report of the Superintendent for the Policy on Admission of Children of Non-resident School Employees . Public input and/or comment will be allowed during the subcommittee’s meeting when that meeting is scheduled.

Spotlight on Excellence

Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School recently was recognized by National Title I Association for closing the student achievement gap and is one of two Massachusetts receiving recognition for their achievements. Principal McLean described the collaborative culture at the Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School that brought this school from the 11th percentile (meaning 89% of all other schools performed better) to the 57th percentile over 5 years. The school’s achievement is impressive and national recognition of the school is well deserved. A large contingent of PMES teachers also attended last evening’s meeting. Over February School vacation, members of the school faculty have been invited to attend the annual Title I meeting in California where they will receive national recognition.

A second spotlight on excellence highlighted the United Teachers of Lowell’s FirstBook “Books on Wheels” event where over 450 educators and 2,000 students received free new books. A video of the event can be found here and the introductory remarks for the video hereOn a personal note, we’d like to thank the cast of thousands who made this event come together. The Books on Wheels event exceeded our expectations by every measure and we are looking forward to planning for the next round after the first of the year. If you would like to be part of our early planning, please let us know.

Permissions to Enter

$319,023 in expenses approved, including a $0 expenditure for Middlesex Community College to provide a dental hygiene program for Lowell Public Schools.. See detail in the Meeting Packet on p 29-31. 6 yea, 1 absent – approved.


Four motions were presented

  • 2016/460 (S. Gendron): School of the Month Program. Once every month a school is highlighted with a brief presentation during which students in attendance from the school will lead the Committee in the Pledge of Allegiance. (approved)
  • 2016/461 (C. Martin): Science Fair Opportunities at the LPS and plans for expansion(s) during 2017 or 2018. (approved)
  • 2016/468 (R. Hoey): Letter of Appreciation to Moody School for Veteran’s Day Presentation on 11/17. SC Hoey notes the excellence of the music program and the program honoring veterans. In discussion, SC Descoteaux notes that the Butler School’s Veteran’s Day performance is also exemplary and Mayor Kennedy notes the excellence of the LHS Choir during the City Hall Open House. A suggestion was made to recognize all three schools’ groups for their excellence.
  • 2016/469 (R. Hoey): Previously taken during Spotlight on Excellence.

Subcommittee Report

Meeting notes of the Lowell High School Subcommittee (2016/464) were presented by Mr. Gignac, chair of the committee.  The subcommittee addressed specific language necessary to include School Committee participation by a student representative from Lowell High School (for the balance of 2016-17 the representatives would rotate between LHS Sr. Class President and Vice President). While a non-voting position, this member would provide advisory role especially during discussions relating to Lowell High. Following a roll call vote, Ms. Onotse Omoyeni. LHS Senior Class President was invited to join the committee for the remainder of the meeting as student representative. (Meeting Notes, pages 40-41).

Reports of the Superintendent

There were five items under Reports of the Superintendent, including 2016/470 which was taken out of order (motion to refer to Negotiating Subcommittee) during prior to the Spotlight on Excellence.

  • 2016/470: Policy for Admission of Non-Resident School Employees This report has been referred to the Negotiations Subcommittee.
  • 2016/476: LPS Strategic Plan Presentation The LPS Strategic Plan was presented by the Accountability Office. The work on the plan began in September 0215 and included community input. Subgroups analyzed data and generated reports and recommendations throughout the process resulting in a vision (Inspire-Engage-Empower).

The Pillars of Urban Excellence support the vision and values of the Lowell Public Schools:

  • Pillar 1: Teaching and Learning (broken down to 4 objectives)
  • Pillar 2: Students Learn in a Respectful and Joyful Community that Attends to the Whole Child
  • Pillar 3: Students Learn from a Highly Qualified, Expert and Diverse Workforce
  • Pillar 4: Every Educator Engages Parents, The Community and Partners
  • Pillar 5:  All Schools Have Adequate, Equitable and Safe Facilities and Resources

To make the plan a meaningful document, there needs to be accountability, not as a punishment tool, but as a support structure. How do we get to where we want to be. The LPSD is establish targets and benchmarks (in the process of developing this) through a “data dashboard”. Test scores will be part of the data dashboard and can be changed based on test scores and other measures of student achievement. A Human Resources dashboard will enable the District to monitor efforts toward meeting the District’s goals for a diverse teaching staff. There will also be capability to track, using real-time tracking, class sizes and enrollments.

The plan was well received with some suggestions and thoughts to aligning the district plan and goals to data gathering and evaluation. Accepted as report of progress.

  • 2016/472: Disposal of Surplus Supplies  See pages 49-58 of the Meeting Packet. (6 yeas, 1 absent approved).
  • 2016/475: Request to Reschedule the April 5, 2017 Early Release Day A substitute early release alternative date would be to move this early release to Wednesday, March 29. The original date of April 5 had been developed prior to the state’s MCAS window publication. (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved).
  • 2016/477: Health and Wellness Policy Advisory Committee SC Doherty was nominated and appointed to this advisory committee.

Convention and Conference Requests (2) were all approved.

Due to the proximity of the next meeting (12/21) to the Christmas holiday, the regular school committee meeting of 12/21 is cancelled. There will be a special meeting, the date for which is to be determined, to discuss/approve items related to the Lowell High School project.

Meeting Packet can be found here.


Speak Out, First of Many

Last week, the president-elect selected Elizabeth DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education.  If there was ever a more unqualified candidate for such a post, I can’t think of one. Ms. DeVos, a former Michigan GOP state party chair, is a billionaire philanthropist. Apparently that meets the qualifications for heading the US Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos heads a PAC, All Children Matter, along with her husband. Founded in 2003 All Children Matter promotes school vouchers. In fact, Ms. DeVos, has been active as an advocate for school choice and vouchers as evidenced from this notation on her Wikipedia Page:

During the 1990s, she served on the boards of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, which sought to expand school choice through vouchers and tax credits. She and her husband worked for the successful passage of Michigan’s first charter-school bill in 1993, and for the unsuccessful effort in 2000 to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers.

There is plenty more about this nominee that skews her viewpoint toward privatizing traditional public schools and, thereby, diverting essential and needed funding away from the education efforts for ALL children.  DeVos is a member of the board of Foundation for Excellence in Education  and  Chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which according to Wikipedia,

describes itself as “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.”

So with a bias toward vouchers, charter schools, and “choice”, the Department of Education should be in good hands, right?

The time for speaking out is now, before Ms. DeVos’ nomination is approved. Take a close look at the policies and positions Betsy DeVos supports, where she directs her considerable financial resources, and then decide if you are willing to wait to see how this plays out.

My hope is that educators, parents and those interested in education of all students flood the phone lines of our Senators who will make a recommendation on this nomination – those Senators sitting on the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions <link here, scroll to the bottom to see which Senators are on the committee and then contact them>.

If you live in Massachusetts, one of our Senators, Elizabeth Warren, is a member of that committee. Call her office and register your opinion: Washington Office (202) 224-4543, Boston Office (617) 565-3170, or Springfield Office (413) 788-2690.