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).

Motions

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.

School Committee Meeting, 1 February 2017

School Committee Meeting 01 February 2017

IMG_08906 present, 1 absent (S. Gendron) Onoste Omoyeni represented the students during this meeting.

After approval of minutes, SC Gignac requests Lowell HS Subcommittee/Joint Facilities meeting be taken out of order. 

Permissions to Enter

$20,665 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF) (6 yeas, 1 absent approved)

Motions

Nine motions were presented:

  • 6.I (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent and Administration at Lowell High School provide information regarding how many students walk to Lowell High School and how many students participate in athletic events. (Passes)

Mayor Kennedy is looking for updated information so that any decisions about Lowell High School’s renovation plans reflect that.  Ms. Omoyeni asks School Committee to consider equity in education. The current Lowell High site is centrally located; the impact of other site under consideration for the High School’s building project could have far-reaching impact on students.

  • 6.II (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent and Administration at Lowell High School provide an update on the proposal to institute a STEM curriculum or STEM Academy at Lowell High School. (Passes)
  • 6.III (E. Kennedy): Request to either postpone or cancel the School Committee meeting scheduled for April 19th, which falls during April school vacation. (To be discussed during Reports of Superintendent).
  • 6.IV (E. Kennedy): Request the Superintendent provide a report and update on the school department’s efforts towards recruitment designed to bring diversity to the Lowell High School faculty.

SC Gignac suggests diversity hiring report to include schools all levels, not just Lowell High School.

  • 6.V (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent direct the Lowell High School Administration to take advantage of the free tutoring services offered at the Dharma Center on Merrimack Street.

Mayor Kennedy attended an opening at this Center which is located in the same area as the Curriculum Office. Mayor Kennedy wants to bring this information to the Superintendent’s attention. (Passes)

  • 6.VI (R. Gignac): Request the Superintendent develop and distribute an Organizational Health Survey to all staff and parents throughout the district. (Passed)

SC Gignac would like 2 surveys: one for staff by building; one for parents by building. Focus on Leadership, Teaching Learning, Security, etc. Would like a sense of how each building’s organizational units are functioning and how parents feel. SC Doherty supports the idea as it speaks to the culture in our schools. Asks the Superintendent if LPSD currently doing something like this already (they are). Wonders if an implementation of surveys should consider how this data is collected.  Tim Blake, parent at the Sullivan school (and Leominster teacher) and on site council speaks about a survey the Sullivan Site Council developed. Mr. Blake found the electronic response to surveys increased parent participation.  Ms. Omoyeni advocates for a portion of the survey addressing school climate and comfort level of parent when contacting the school (translators available, cultural norms, etc.). Cautions that multiple language versions are necessary.

Dr. Khelfaoui cites Lowell’s participation in state-wide accountability group and how this type of survey (parent, faculty, student, etc) focuses accountability to include input from all stakeholders in accountability for a school district (part of ESSA, or Every Student Success Act). SC Descoteaux notes the success of the survey can be tied to the brevity of the survey.

  • 6.VII (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent send a letter of appreciation to Coach George Bossi, on behalf of the Lowell Public Schools and the Lowell School Committee, in recognition of Coach Bossi’s holiday wrestling tournament, held at the Paul Tsongas Arena annually, and known to bring large crowds into the city. (Passes)
  • 6.VIII (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent send a letter of congratulations to Coach Tom Cassidy, on behalf of the Lowell Public Schools and the Lowell School Committee, on Greater Lowell Technical High School Gryphons wrestling team’s recent win over Lowell High School. (Passes)
  • 6.IX (A. Descoteaux):  Have the Superintendent work with the Lowell High School administration to look into adding the IB (International Baccalaureate) program to offer our advanced HS students another opportunity in addition to AP course work. (Passes)

SC Descoteaux would like this offering available to advanced students if it is possible to incorporate such a program into the High School. SC Doherty notices that the program is offered for Elementary and Middle School as well; is this a program that would enhance younger students?  Superintendent Khelfaoui notes that advantages of the program, geared to Grades 11/12 and the preparatory programs (K-10). SC Doherty would like to know more about this as there are costs involved in having educators be certified as Advanced Placement coursework.

Subcommittee Meeting Reports

Finance Subcommittee

The minutes for the January 24 Finance Subcommittee Meeting are found here.  Two Special Education Reserve Fund line item was removed from discussion as there were new regulations regarding carry-over of Special Education Fund. SC Gignac makes motion to create a Special Education Reserve Fund (must go to the City Council). Once the Reserve Fund (currently circuit breaker funds are mandated just to fund outside Special Education placements) is approved, any monies can be expended for Special Education as determined by the Committee. (6 yeas, 1 absent) approved.

Also included during the Finance Subcommittee discussion was a report of transfers by Mr. Cassidy and year-to-date budget expenditures.

Joint Facilities & Lowell High Subcommittee (also 1/24/2017)

Meeting notes can be found here.

Mr. Martin, Head of School, gives a brief presentation  and notes the LHS project is the largest school project in history of MSBA.  Public can access documents and progress through the LHS site on the City of Lowell website (see link here).

The members of the committee visioning this project came from a broad cross-section of stakeholders. The architects will work to refine the resulting parameters for a 21st century Lowell High School. It was interesting to note that the net affect of a transition to a flexible classroom plan is that, even with increased enrollment, the number of classroom spaces will be decreased. Notes this occurs because the rooms will not be assigned to a single staff member, but will be flexibly programmed throughout the day. Presentation Powerpoint is here.

Dr. Amy McLeod presents the Education Program and Programming for the future and how the architects will use this information to plan for a new High School. The visioning group feels that the structure of the school with a separate Freshman Academy is still important, however, including the Freshman Academy as a wing or separate section of a new High School would be more inclusive.

Important updates will address adaptability and flexibility as well as technology needs (creating equitable access to technology) and appropriate science configurations. Another big space is to include teacher planning space. The group feels that clustering classrooms for interdisciplinary studies will allow for advantages where learning crosses the boundaries of a strict, structured curriculum.

Take a look at the last slide on the Powerpoint Presentation. The amount of thoughtful consideration into what Lowell High students need and what is important and valued in the High School, becomes apparent.

MSBA needs document generated by stakeholders can be located here.

Motion to accept this Subcommittee Report (6 yeas, 1 absent), Approved.

Reports of the Superintendent

  • Online Community Resource Guide. Ms. Durkin notes that the resource guide is currently live on the LPSD website.  It is not all-encompassing; however, there is information that can be elaborated on. (Student Support Services); the goal is to update this information quarterly and will include Early Childhood information. The resources will be pushed out to school websites.

This is a valuable resource for everyone working with students in the Lowell School System – parents, students, and educators.  The website is easily accessed from the LPSD website by navigating to Departments-Student Support Services-Community Resources (direct link here)

  • Chapter 70 State Aid The total budget is anticipated to increase by $6.107 million (about a 3.3% increase). About 80% of the funding comes from the Commonwealth and the balance is provided by the City in either cash contribution or in-kind contribution (for example amounts the city “charges” for things like snow removal). The City’s contribution would increase by about $1.1 Million for the 2017-2018 school year making the City’s contribution a bit over $40 million.

Information from City Manager on Wednesday afternoon indicated the non-cash contribution will increase but the cash contribution will decrease by $1 Million. The net effect is a $3.82 increase FY17 and FY18. SC Doherty asked for and received clarification that the cash received from the City would be less even though the Chapter 70 formula indicates an increased City contribution to schools. Several factors contribute to a decrease in cash contribution:

  • non-cash contribution increases and
  • charter school assessment increase of $1.8 Million

SC Doherty also clarifies that Chapter 70 is all state funding, not federal (true). Lowell’s budget has a large proportion of federal grant funding, and, all of those funds are in question pending what may or may not happen with a new administration in Washington.

Foundation Budget Estimates (oh boy). Foundation budgets are – as I understand them – the amounts of funding the state determines necessary for education. This is generated at the state and is based on enrollments and a set of expense categories (here’s DESE link; read it at your own peril).  On the state level, there have been several attempts to update the expense amounts that drive the foundation budget calculations. Some of those expense computations have not be updated in over 20 years; it doesn’t take a degree in finance to understand that 20-year-old numbers are bound to be erroneous. The impact of out-of-date calculation is to underfund education on the state level which of course, trickles down to the local level. 

  • Budget Meeting Dates

The proposed meetings as published in the packed are here and will hopefully be updated to reflect some changes that were approved including: a) date revision for first meeting to 4/12, b) the second meeting (4/26) will be with Finance Subcommitteef and c) location of final budget adoption meetings will be in council chambers so as to allow for broadcast on LTC.

New Business:

A transfer of $500 to create a Coral Supplies account (approved); disposal of surplus supplies (approved)

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

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.

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)

Motions

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)

Motions

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.