Another Reason for Increased Recess

2013fielddayaI wonder how many other adults have experienced this? After about 30 minutes of intense focus, there is a need to get up and move. For me, moving around when I am actively engaging my brain applies in nearly every circumstance, and I notice it most especially during some training or class when my brain is powered up and I’m trying hard to retain new information.

An article republished in the New York Times’ Well column made me think of how sitting and movement impact learning for all students regardless of age level. Written for runners and titled Can Running Make You Smarter, the article was originally published in July 2016. Here are some major take-aways from the article:

  • exercise fosters neurogenesis, or creation of neurons which cluster in the brain and increase ability for thinking and recall
  • physical stimulation is necessary for healthy brains
  • Cathepsin B protein, which helps muscles recover from exercise such as running, appears to be a factor in neurogenesis
  • in the study, more active subjects like runners had better and more improved tests scores for memory and thinking

So what’s the connection to students and learning? Here’s my take:

One of the first things schools jettison when time-on-task and test preparation becomes the focus, is recess. Recess is short-changed in many schools across the US even though research study after research study shows that children need recess and breaks from more academic pursuits in order to learn and think. Google the phrase “importance of recess” and page upon page of research pops up. And then, of course, you could just ask a teacher.

Recess is important. If this study is taken seriously, active play during recess appears to be even more important. Recently, in response to School Committee member Jackie Doherty’s motion of January 18, 2017, the Lowell Schools reported (click here for the report from the February 15 meeting packet) on the number of minutes allocated for recess at each Lowell Public Schools. The times ranged from zero minutes at Lowell High School and alternative school settings to 20 minutes at several elementary schools (25 for some Kindergarten classrooms).

The studies cited in Can Running Make You Smarter point once again to the importance of allowing students enough time to be active throughout the school day. Isn’t that a good reason to pay greater attention on finding some additional recess and play time in the school day?


School Committee Meeting, 15 March 2017

10012015FrenchStImagine for a moment that you are 10 years old, speak another language at home, and as kids sometimes do, have heard the adults in your family expressing concern about Immigration returning you and your family to another country where your life had been one filled with violence and poverty.  Worries about being removed from this new place where you had felt safe might naturally fill your waking thoughts. And those worries would, of course, extend to the place where you, a ten-year-old, spends the greater part of each day: your school. Last night, the Lowell School Committee ensured that, at least within the walls of school, a child whose family’s immigration status might be called in to question could know that they would not be forcibly removed from their school and classmates. While the School Committee’s motion and School Department’s response is reassuring for that child during time spent within the school setting, there is no guarantee of protection outside of it. Whether a 10-year-old refugee can differentiate that remains to be seen.

School Committee Meeting 15 March 2017

5 members present (Ms. Martin absent), Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Spotlight on Excellence & Permissions to Enter.

Please refer to packet and agenda. LTC neglected to start the broadcast at the beginning of this meeting.


Six motions :

  • 6.I. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases. Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases.
  • 6.II. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent ensure the LPS website is updated, links to packet reports are working, and each school page provides information on its School Site Council members, meeting times, agendas, and minutes along with other relevant school-specific dates, events and information. THIS IS WHERE THE MEETING COVERAGE BEGINS. 
  • 6.III. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent develop a class size policy for Lowell Public Schools that includes current status and goals for all grades K- 12.
  • 6.IV. [By Connie Martin And Robert Gignac] Request that the Administration prepare a resolution for consideration by the Lowell School Committee that clearly defines the district’s commitment to protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status and offers all LPS staff a clear procedure for ensuring that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be granted access to the Lowell Public Schools without the expressed permission of the Superintendent of Schools.

Taking Item 8.7 (resolution) which is the response at the same time. There was mention of a registered speaker, but that person did not materialize. The motion and response found in 8.VII are a response to discussion with Superintendent re families who had received letters from Immigration about their immigration status. Mr. Gignac feels it is imperative that the SC takes a formal position so that students do not feel unsafe or fearful while they are in school.

Mr. Hoey asks Superintendent if this resolution could negatively impact government grants. When the City Council took up the Sanctuary City issue earlier this year, one of the reasons for not supporting such a motion was that the City, highly dependent upon federal funding, could possibly find those funds removed or suspended should Lowell adopt a sanctuary city policy.  Superintendent  states he does not know the definitive answer to this query; however, Dr. Khelfaoui notes that tonight’s policy is reflective of the state policy. Students need to feel safe in schools or they are not learning. Ms. Omoyeni expresses support for this motion on behalf of the students at LHS.  Mr. Gendron also expresses support; Lowell is and continues to be a city of immigrants and we should support them by removing any concerns that these students could potentially be removed forcibly from school during the school day.

Ms. Doherty echoes this sentiment as does Mr. Descoteaux. Superintendent Khelfaoui reiterates that the policy as presented tonight has been in place in the LPSD. It has been vetted by the Police Department and is legally correct.  Dr. Khelfaoui states that this policy is intended to reassure children, some of whom have already received notices from Immigration, that whatever their status, the children can regard their school as a place of safety.

Mr. Gendron reiterates that it is exactly because of the situation at the federal level that Lowell needs to put this policy in writing for peace of mind and safety of students and their families. Ms. Omoyeni also notes anectdotally that there have been some increased absences and it is the moral obligation of our community to ensure that students know they are safe.  Mr. Kennedy notes the difference in the role of the school committee as different from the City Council in creating a sancutary city.  In response to Mr. Hoey’s question about how ICE would know a students’ status, Dr. Khelfaoui responds that there is legal processes in place which prohibit just anyone from accessing students’ school records.

This issue is divisive and complicated and, as I am not a legal expert. I do note that bowing to pressure and threats about loss of funding from the federal government concerns me. Other cities such as Boston – also heavily reliant on federal funds – have taken steps to become sanctuary cities.  Role Call:  5 yeas, 1 abstain, 1 absent – approved

  • 6.V. [Robert J. Hoey]: Request a report from the Superintendent regarding the total cost of security and safety in our schools, including the amount we spend on resource officers, security and security equipment.
  • 6.VI. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent provide a response to the contract offer from the Lowell School Committee. Referred to Executive Session which follows this meeting.

Policy Subcommittee

Review of Homework Policy and Staff Sick Time.

Ms. Desmond reviews the current policy which is based on number of minutes. She is approaching building leaders to reinforce that homework might be differentiated and evaluated in a more meaningful way.  Mr. Gendron notes that a student has contacted all the Committee members and his wish is that homework is less about quantity and more about making homework a more effective activity. Ms. Omoyeni also speaks to the importance of ensuring that homework is designed to be more than busywork.

The second part of the report was about sick time. This report was intended to provide information to the City. Ms. Doherty noted a motion was made to request Human Resources formalize the policy on staff attendance on purpose. Accepted as a report of progress.

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were 9 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

8.I. Food Service Presentation At Satellite Sites & Food Truck Approval Documents

The food truck purchase would be (partially) reimbursed through the distribution of summer meals. The vehicle would also be used during the school year to transport meals to satellite schools (those without food prep kitchens).

Mr. Gignac clarifies that $14K is returned to Aramark for meals served; $45K costs include personnel in the Food Service Department working through the summer. Questions re re-serving food that has been stored in the (refriegerated) truck. Leaving food in a truck, even if refrigerated is a concern (break-ins). Expresses the opinion that we should fix what we currently have and does not feel that the $14K in administrative fees turned back to Aramark is problematic.

Mr. Hoey asks who is paying for the truck; Dr. Khelfaoui confirms the truck is paid from the “revolving account”, which is also used for other direct costs for the food program. The money originates from the federal government. Mr. Hoey also notes that cafeteria staff is hired to work 3.5 hours daily. Advocates for a 5 hour day.

Ms. Doherty notes the reality of poverty in Massachusetts and in Lowell. Being able to feed students throughout the summer and taking the food to where the children play/are, will lead to a positive outcome.

Regarding food quality, Mr. Gignac notes positive improvements in food quality in a short amount of time.

Providing meals to children throughout the summer is something Lowell should support. When the Commonwealth calculates the “Economically Disadvantaged” student percentage in Lowell at 55%, it is an understatement of reality borne by fuzzy mathematical computation. I taught in several schools where the actual number of students in poverty was over 90%. Those kids are hungry and school meals, as well as food provided by organizations like Merrimack Valley Food Bank, might be the only nutrition they receive.  

In my opinion, expanding food distribution throughout the summer is a moral obligation to help children in need. What I am having difficulty understanding is the fact that the School Department is being asked to purchase a new truck for Aramark. This new truck would be used for summer food distribution as well as delivery of meals to satellite schools during the school year (satellite schools are schools without food preparation facilities). The “administrative” costs for the summer food program is $14,000, which is the cost Aramark assesses for what I understand is overhead at the corporate level.

The new truck will ostensibly be purchased to distribute meals to students “where they are” during the summer months. Those places include program sites, playgrounds, etc.  The new truck will be used to replace 3 smaller vehicles currently in use for school-year meal delivery to satellite schools. Because the truck is bigger and has a refrigeration feature (no warming option), only 2 food service employees will be needed to staff it, eliminating need for one food service employee for 2017-18.  

Roll call to send truck request to bid (4 yeas, 2 nay, 1 absent). Approved. Report accepted as a report of progress.

8.II. Dropout Prevention And Recovery Documents LHS dropout rate reflects the hard work and coordination of efforts PreK-Grade 12.  LHS Dropout rate is 1.8% (below the Massachusetts state average) for 2 years in a row.

8.III. Extracurricular Activities Update Documents

8.IV. K-12 Student Population By Zip Code Documents Ms. Doherty requests the report be referred to Finance/Student Services Subcommittee.

8.V. Management Letter Documents: Mr. Gignac asks about some funds that had been returned to DESE, but then returned to LPS and used for a summer SpEd program.

8.VI. Response To Mayor Kennedy’s Motion Of 02/01/17 Regarding STEM Academy At LHS Documents 

8.VII. Rights Of Undocumented Students And Protocols For ICE Access In Schools

Documents Taken previously

8.VIII. Monthly Financial Report Documents Referred to next Finance Subcommittee Meeting.

8.IX. Response To Robert Hoey’s Motion Of 01/04/17 Regarding Diversity Hiring Efforts

Documents Mr. Hoey requests Anne Sheehy’s explanation of Paraprofessional cohort and the opportunity to obtain teaching licensure. Lowell has applied to offer licensure through a program in the district which would in turn create a pool of diverse candidates for teaching positions. Ms. Doherty spoke to encouragement of students in High School who would be candidates for paraprofessional positions and who might go on to a career as an educator. Mr. Gignac reminds that there is state aid/assistance for tuition through EEC (Early Education & Care).

All approved 6 yeas, 1 absent

All conference requests were also approved.

Following adjournment, the Committee went into Executive Session.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.

The Test Participation Penalty

I wonder how many parents have submitted a letter to opt a child out of state mandated testing (MCAS2.0)? And in the process of opting-out, were any of those parents called to discuss their choice with the school administrator? IMG_1596

According to the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, parents need to have a choice in a child’s education. It appears, however, that “choice” has limits.

According to state and federal government, there should be a “choice” of educational setting.  School setting is a choice, whether it is public, charter, private, or religious. That’s a good choice according to the government. Using federal funds to pay for vouchers? That’s the current federal proposal. And our government claims that that kind of choice is also a “good” choice.

However, if you exercise your parental judgement by choosing to opt your child out of long, arduous, standardized tests like MCAS 2.0 or PARCC, then your choice as a parent is questionable. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education really does not want parents to make that choice. Why? Because in assessments, unless a significant number of students participate in those tests, the reported results may become skewed or inaccurate.

The issue of test participation rates is part of the newest federal education act, ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). The current DESE draft of Massachusetts’ ESSA application states that:

E. Participation Rate. Describe how the State is factoring the requirement for 95 percent student participation in assessments into its system of annual meaningful differentiation of schools consistent with the requirements of 34 C.F.R. § 200.15.

A school’s summative performance level will be lowered if that school assesses less than 95% of students in the aggregate or for any subgroup that meets a minimum N size of 20.

Broken down to simpler terms, this statement means that if a group of parents decides that MCAS 2.0, the standardized test in Massachusetts, is harmful to their child, the entire school and school district could be penalized. The penalty is to lower a school’s rating (Level 1, high to Level 5, low) by one level if less than 95% of students eligible for testing participate.

Here’s a mathematical example: A Pre-K through Grade 4 school may have 500 students. The two grades that participate in state testing within that school are Grades 3 and 4. Perhaps there are 100 students in each of these grades (200 total). If the parents of 11 student request that their children be excused from MCAS 2.0, as is their parental right, then according to the regulation, the state will lower the school’s level rating by one.

I believe a new feature of the ESSA draft is that participation rates apply to subgroups of students. An example of a subgroup would  be a group of students from a given school who are also identified as English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, or Economically Disadvantaged students.  Applying the 5% non-participation rate penalty, if there are 25 children identified as Students with Disabilities in Grades 3 and 4, and parents of as few as 2 students choose to opt them out, then the school’s level rating could be lowered.

The stakes for building and district administrators to maintain excellent school ratings are quite high, and therein lies the conflict between parental choice and the unfair penalties for participation rates. The feds bully the states, the states in turn bully the districts, and the principals and parents are caught up in a conflict of choosing what is best for students.

Parents should not have their decision as to whether or not to subject their child to standardized MCAS 2.0 testing questioned if opting-out is truly a choice. If too many opt-outs skew the test results, maybe it’s time to look at the value of the assessment.

Not-the-Notes Blog 1 March 2017

2017-mar-01_walkinglowell_0456Something happened this evening preventing the live broadcast of Lowell’s School Committee Meeting for March 1. Until the taped meeting materializes, there won’t be any notes about what transpired; however, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to think about.

Found in the Permissions to Enter, are 4 requests totaling $882,470. All of these requests are expenditures from the Special Education Tuition account and are for Out of District (OOD) costs to agencies servicing student Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

When the services necessary to provide a free and adequate education for a student cannot be met within the local school district, they must be contracted out. It is the legal responsibility of the school district to ensure that all students have access to the educational services that they need, and if the services cannot be provided from within, the district must provide those services through an agency that can. No one gets turned away because educational needs are challenging.

All of the recent talk about vouchers and funding and such got me thinking about this. With the implementation of a voucher, or “school choice” program, would there be a requirement for all school settings (public, charter, private/religious) to equitably accept students regardless of special education need?

Here’s how that is playing out right now in Lowell. Students receiving services are counted as Students with Disabilities on DESE’s student profile for Lowell Public School District. This number is reported at 16% (data from 2016-17). There are several educational environments for special education service delivery as shown in the following graphic. This data, the most recent on DESE’s Lowell Public Schools profile site, is from 2015 and is the most recent reported on DESE’s site. The data includes children aged 6-21 with IEPs.


Lowell Public Schools, Educational Environments (2015 data)


In thinking about what might happen should a voucher program become reality, I took a look at what currently occurs with traditional public schools and charter schools. Charter Schools should reflect a similar demographic to the local public school district. In principle, sometimes charter schools do, but sometimes they do not.

In Lowell, the Community Charter School reports 15.5% of enrolled students have disabilities, yet the Collegiate Charter School reports 11.6% (both 2016-17 data, same timeframe as reported for LPSD above).

Using the most recent data available for educational environments (2015), however, reveals that sometimes digging deeper into data can be interesting. Take a look at the data specifying educational environment, especially those environments that require specialized intervention and services, such as Out of District placements.


Lowell Community Charter School, Educational Environments (2015 data)


Collegiate Charter School of Lowell, Educational Environments (2015 data)

Neither of the two charter schools have special education students needing either substantially separate services or separate schools/facilities/homebound-hospital placements?

So as the proponents of a voucher, or “choice” system continue to push their agenda forward, I’ll be watching to see if those hollering about choice for all families and students really mean all. Or do they mean just those students with less challenging needs.


It Doesn’t End with Vouchers

flipoutIf you don’t know about H.R. 610, here is a link to the text and the bill’s progress. I urge you to follow it and, if you feel strongly about it, respond to it. While my Congressional Representative is not a member of the House Committee currently reviewing this legislation, I want her to know exactly how this bill will impact our Local Education Agency (LEA).

A tacked on provision in this legislation can be found at the very end: dismantling (my word) of the No Hungry Kids Act. Under the No Hungry Kids Act, fruit and vegetable offerings increased and low- and non-fat milk was offered. Those requirements would be removed. Additionally, the proposal in HR610 would eliminate monitoring school lunch/breakfast choices for sodium, trans fats and saturated fats.

Why does this matter? Childhood and adult obesity continues to be a factor in health and well-being. In school food programs students are exposed to healthier eating options. If you are unfamiliar with the effects of less healthy food choices, read Michael Pollan or Mark Bittman or Jamie Oliver. If you want to see the results of eating high-sodium, high-fat and out of balance carbs, see the film Supersize Me.

Students who receive school lunches in high poverty (economically disadvantaged – to use MA DESE’s new terminology) currently have more healthy choices. Unbelievably, HR610 proposes to change that by eliminating the requirements for low sodium, low fat and fresh fruit/vegetable choices.

To what purpose?  The cynic in me wonders what giant food supplier or lobby is balking at the “expense” of providing students with healthy breakfasts and lunches.

Keeping school food service as a healthy eating opportunity gives me yet another reason to stay on top of HR610.

What’s the Plan Phil?

DSC_0161Remember the episode of Modern Family when Phil attempted to save the old family station wagon from rolling down a hill by jumping on the hood? (video clip here)

What’s the plan, Phil?

Pretty sure I used that same phrase while reading through HR610 this week. HR610, a bill introduced by Representative King (R, IA),  which offers among other things, vouchers to all families of school-aged children in the name of school choice. In fact the “short title” of this legislation is “Choices in Education Act of 2017“. I have a lot of questions about this without even debating that “choices” in schooling already exist (a post for another day).

So here we go:


Just scroll through the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (and subsequent amendments and reauthorizations). This is the education bill HR610 proposes to replace. School libraries, migratory students, students in poverty, neglected and impoverished students, homeless students, English Language Learners. HR610 will do away with all of the legislation that began in 1965 during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. All of it. What will support those students? A voucher program funded through block grants, apparently.


So here are some of my questions:

The funding: Although HR610 does not come right out and say it directly, can we all suppose that by eliminating the Elementary & Secondary Act of 1965 and all of the amendments, any further funding of current federal grant programs will disappear?  And through elimination of this funding source, what services currently available to students and families will disappear?

This financial report, from the Feb. 15 2017 Lowell School Committee Meeting shows the sources of Grant Funding and expenditures to date. <report>. Picking out the obvious federal funding (Title I, II, III) would include $7,386,139 and eliminate services for student support (for example, social workers in the case of Title I).  Additional federal grants fund the 21st Century Schools programs. If those grants were eliminated, there would no longer be extended day or enrichment programs for students. Need homework help? Tough darts.

Another report from the 15 February school committee notes ALL grant funding – private and government. Now look at this line from HR610 just in case there was any doubt that the federal government wishes to have a hand on non-federal monies (This quote is from Section 105).


Will this language from section 105 necessitate re-allocation of STATE funding toward a voucher program as well?

Who is counting the students and when: The program proposed in HR610 necessitates an accurate count of ALL students in a local education agency (LEA). By ALL, HR610 means all students attending public, charter, private (religious schools included here) and those who are home-schooled.

In Massachusetts, the counts of students has historically taken place on October 1, meaning that a student who is not registered for school in a district on September 29 and arrives, say on October 2nd, is not included in the Foundation Enrollment (click here for MA guidelines on who is included in the count) and therefore not part of the calculation for the Foundation Budget or per pupil allocation from the state. Wherever that student was on October 1st receives the funding for the student for that academic year.

The inverse of that is also true for a student who transfers out of a district on October 2, so while this makes my accounting-brain crazy, statistically, it probably is pretty close unless an entire school closed in mid-year and resulted in a large population of new students flooding a local district.

Since private school students and home-schooled students are not included in the current method of calculation it follows that adding in those students to any enrollment numbers would make a difference in the resulting amounts of money allocated per pupil. The bottom line would mean that traditional public schools would receive less funding per student. Slice the pie a bit thinner because more need a share.

For a community such as Lowell with a large contingent of students with challenging needs, even less resources will no doubt have devastating results on the students who most need the supports and services currently in place. What will be eliminated?

A few more questions, so bear with me:

Under Section 105.2, HR610 requires that the amount of the voucher may not exceed the cost of tuition (fees, and transportation) for a private school or the cost of homeschooling?


For me, this provision opens up a number of issues. Are private (and religious) schools and home-schoolers willing to open their financial records to auditing so that a federal overseer can confirm that the voucher does not exceed the costs as defined by HR610? What costs will be allowed for home-schooling families. Program costs? Costs for the space within a dwelling (like a home office)?  And for both private and home-schools, will the same requirements for time on task and academic year now apply? Will private schools  be required to accept every student regardless of academic need or disability, or will those students either sign away their rights to a free and equitable education or just not receive the services that they require for academic success?

Public schools have open doors; they accept every student and provide not only academic support but often social supports. I’m not certain that this proposed legislation does anything more than pander to a select group, and it concerns me. The students who require the supports provided by federal title grants will be hurt by HR610, and I cannot in good conscience support it.

“What’s the plan, Phil?” Other than dismantling public education, I’m not sure.

School Committee: 15 February 2017

DSC_0442School Committee Meeting 15 February 2017

6 present, SC Descoteaux absent, Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Mr. Gignac requests taking Eagle Scout Michael Wojas’ report on textile recycling out of order.

Permissions to Enter

Usually the Permissions to Enter are not all that controversial.  Not tonight. The inclusion of a request for $4,921,313 for Aramark (1 year contract extension) generated about 45 minutes of discussion (my comments follow).

$4,981,113 in expenses ($4,921,313 allocated to Aramark in order to exercise a 1-year option for food service management in 2017-18), See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF)

SC Gignac speaks to some issues he noticed during a recent visit to a satellite school (in food-service lingo, that would be a school where there is no kitchen. The lunches are prepared at another site (the Rogers) and transported.). SC Gignac noted the unappetizing appearance of the food, noting that the hot meal he observed was unidentifiable, and the marginally acceptable freshness. The director of the school shared he/she had to sort through a bin of fresh food (fruit, I believe) and remove rotten food. Mr. Gignac noted that the serving size (the school serves middle- and high-school age youth) was small, the presentation was unappetizing and the quality not acceptable. He notes that some schools with kitchen have experienced similar issues with food service in the past and expresses discomfort in awaarding a 1-year contract extension to Aramark.

The Aramark representative (name not given) cites some possible transportation issues that resulted in the food quality; however, the portion sizes provided are regulated by USDA and Aramark adheres to those portion regulations.

SC Gignac questions why satellite schools do not have more than one food choice. Aramark representative states there are some choices (hot meal, salad, and sandwich choice). Both SC Gignac and SC Hoey who were making a visit noted that on this visit a salad and “hot meal” were offered, but not the sandwich option which should have offered.  Both SC members note that school lunch is especially important to students in this setting as the in-school meal is possibly the only meal the students access. SC Gignac repeats that he would like to see an improvement prior to awarding an extension. SC Hoey notes that the quality of food at the alternative school (LeBlanc) was poor; the food quality was unacceptable and needs to be improved.  SC Gignac photographed the food he observed during his school visit and shared that image with other school committee members.

SC Doherty proposes a motion like to take the Aramark expenditure out of Permissions to Enter.

The unnamed Aramark representative mentions that the Lowell management group is working with Worcester’s operation to learn if there are improvements that can be initiated in Lowell.  Mayor Kennedy asks for explanation as to why a sandwich choice would have be missing from a day’s delivery (snow days, delivery issues, food choice not ordered).  If I understood this conversation correctly, there was an assertion that the school clerk at times makes lunch selection decisions (see my comments following). 

A second Aramark representative, Sharon Lagasse, visited Worcester’s satellite program and explains that the hope is to learn some techniques for efficiency that could be implemented in Lowell to improve satellite school food service.

SC Gignac asks for permission for LeBlanc Social Worker to speak to the concerns from the school’s perspective (older students need more food/larger portion, noticing the difference in portion sizes and options offered at LHS (where some of the students at this school originate) causes students to feel that they don’t deserve equitably food service quality, and sometimes lunch offering is a motivation for students to attend school).

Dr. Khelfaoui asserts that delaying the line item approval is a bad idea. He expresses disappointment that he is hearing about the meal issues for the first time at this school committee meeting. States that he will issue a directive about the procedure for lunch choice will be in place as of tomorrow and feels this is a communication issue, not a food quality issue.

SC Gendron asks if delaying this line item from tonight’s Permissions until next meeting would have any ill-effects. Mr. Frisch feels he can give a report of what corrections can be or have been be implemented by the next meeting and the line item can be re-entered.  Ms. Omoyeni speaks in favor of SC Doherty’s motion – not a punitive process but an investigative process. Roll call 6 yeas, 1 absent, approved.

Some years ago, there was an effort to provide students with more than one choice for lunch: a hot choice, a salad, and a sandwich. To manage food preparations, students at the elementary school where I taught (which did have a kitchen), made their lunch choice of lunch from the menu when they arrived in the morning. Those lunch counts were sent to the school clerk in the morning and forwarded to the kitchen staff.  In a satellite school, I’d imagine that a similar process takes place with the count of how many lunches of each category sent to the central kitchen by the school’s clerk. The policy at the time in the school in which I worked was that students who arrived tardy, were served the hot lunch choice by default. I wonder if the reference to a clerk “making lunch choices” might be confused with the clerk transmitting lunch counts and, if a student arrived tardy, the sandwich/salad choices were not available for practicality. 

School lunch, as some Committee Members noted, can sometimes be the only real meal a student eats during a day – that is a sad fact for some students living below the poverty line. Lunches that are unappealing and fresh foods that have gone beyond expiration should never be served no matter what. Pressing the pause button before engaging an extension of a food contract, even a one-year contract, not only sends the message that the School Committee cares about the quality of meals served to our students, but lets a very large corporate contractor know that the expectation for quality and healthy food service is a priority. As Ms. Omoyeni noted, this pause is not punitive, it is informative.

SC Martin does not participate in the CTI line item for permission to enter ($9,000). 5 yeas, 2 absent, approved.

All other permissions were approved (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved).


Three motions made, all by SC Doherty.

  • 6.I. [J Doherty]: Request the City Manager to provide the Committee with a report that details the City’s Maintenance of Effort Agreement for the last 3 years related to expenditures on the schools. (Typographical error; correction underlined).

Maintenance of Effort funding is sizeable and SC Doherty would like to examine how these services a provided to the schools. SC Hoey supports the motion and thinks the information should have been made available and transparent 25 years ago. Mayor Kennedy thinks it is worthwhile to go through the Maintenance of Effort jointly between Schools and City administrations. Passed.

The Maintenance of Effort amounts confuse me; I understand that some services are provided to the school department by the city (data processing, snow removal as examples). Making these expenditures transparent hopefully will improve understanding of costs and funding between the school department and the city. 

  • 6.II. [J Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a report of the transportation cost estimates of bussing students to a high school at Cawley over the next 12 years based on the number of students by neighborhood currently attending our schools.

SC Doherty would like this information as the Lowell High School project costs are calculated and how those costs might impact future budgeting.

  • 6.III. [J Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a report that looks at our K-12 student population by zip code to determine the number of students from each neighborhood.

In addition to this information, SC Gignac asks about the status for zoning of schools. Ms. Durkin notes that the location of a STEM middle school may impact such a report. SC Gendron asks about neighborhood zoning (moving from city-wide to neighborhood bus scenarios); Ms. Durkin can include this; however, the desegregation plan either has to be vacated or adhered to and this will have an impact on creating city-wide busing. The creation of City-wide schools was a result of the desegregation plan and ensure that equity is achieved. SC Martin notes the profound impact of vacating a desegregation order (she would not be opposed to such a move if it negates the primacy of every child attending a desegregated school in Lowell). Passed

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 8 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 7.I Knowledge Bowl Schedule (see packet for dates and competition details)
  • 7.II Lowell High School Graduation Date & Speaker Announcement (see packet for information)
  • 7.III. Response To Robert Gignac’s Motion Of 01/18/17 Regarding Extracurricular Activities Throughout The District

SC Gignac requests the addition of how many student participate.

  • 7.IV. Response To Jacqueline Doherty’s Motion Of 01/18/17 Regarding The Time Allocated For Recess, Lunch, Physical Education, And Health

Registered speaker (Darcie Boyer) member of City-wide Parent Council and LEJA. Thanks the administration for report but notes the disparity of times across the schools. The CPC will examine this issue in more detail at their next meeting. Notes the importance of lunch/nourishment and free time to student well-being.

So many studies remind and inform us that in order to be ready for of learning and retain learning, students need a balance of “down time” – play and academic time. Students of all ages need to be active, to expend excess energy,  to socialize, to have a brain break. So with all this information on the importance of social and emotional health, why do schools continue to shave away recess time? Why are 6 and 7 year olds asked to sit still and work their brains without a break?

As the academic demands have increased on students, the response has generally been to increase “time on task” to the point that young learners are expected to sit still far beyond what they are developmentally capable of doing. Here’s a link from Harvard Medical School  as an example of why it is so important to give students down time, but don’t stop with just one opinion.

 Fifteen minutes of recess (which oftentimes includes getting ready to go outside and walking to the play area); 20 minutes (or less) to walk to the cafeteria, go through a lunch line, and eat – none of this is adequate for student well-being.

SC Doherty thanks administration for the information; notes 10-minute recess, 15-minute lunches do not include transport.  Makes a motion to refer report jointly to Curriculum and Student Services subcommittees to find some way to return to other aspects now that NCLB has been replaced by ESSA. SC Martin would like some additional information about the disparity of times between urban and suburban districts. Passed.

  • 7.V. Monthly Budget Report
  • 7.VI and 7.VII School Calendar and School Committee Meeting Dates for 2017-18
  • 7.VIII. Personnel Report

All superintendent’s reports 7.I through 7.V passed. 7.VI approved by roll call (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved). 7.VII (first reading – no action). 7.VIII approved.

New Business:

Educational Research request approved (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved)

(Taken out of order): Michael Wojas, a LHS 2016 graduate, gives an update on his Eagle Scout project, a textile recycling effort which was a collaboration with Lowell’s Solid Waste and Recycling as well as Bay State Textiles. Mr. Wojas who is enlisting in the Navy at the end of February, has designed a project to recycle effort. The monies raised through the recycling project results in some fundraising based on the amount of textiles collected and recycled. Currently, recycling boxes are sited at 15 Lowell schools, with the hope that middle schools will become involved in the near future. To date just under 2,000 pounds of textiles resulting in rebates of $7,731 which then go to support the schools. The Lincoln School, Morey School and Reilly School have been the top collectors of textiles. The bin upkeep is maintained by Bay State Textiles at no cost to the City.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.