The change is the thing


2015 has been a transition year for me – personally and professionally. What had always been has flipped end over end, and now there is a new lens through which the world is viewed. There is no holding on to the old as this world and the environment around me is always changing. Kind of like this image – sometimes a new point of view changes everything. And, while sometimes met with less than enthusiastic appreciation, the change is the thing.

So here’s to 2016 and to meeting the changes a new year will undoubtedly bring. To looking at things from a new perspective. And to health and happiness to you and your families.

Year End Loose Ends

Project Learn

IMG_0200Recently I had the pleasure of talking about education with LZ Nunn and Brittany Burgess from Project Learn, a nonprofit supporting education and educators. LZ recently accepted the challenge of becoming the ED of Project Learn.

One of the topics we tossed around was grant writing, and ways Project Learn might offer support to teachers and staff who would like to pursue grant funded projects and activities. As a follow-up, LZ found this grant announcement that some teachers might want to pursue:

Grant Alert Detail

Fund for Teachers Grants
Sponsor: Fund for Teachers
Submitted: 10/27/2015 12:00:00 AM

Fund for Teachers provides educators, possessing a broad vision of what it means to teach and learn, the resources needed to pursue self-designed professional learning experiences. FFT grants are used for an unlimited variety of projects; all designed to create enhanced learning environments for teachers, their students and their school communities.

Award amounts vary. K-12 Teachers are eligible to apply.

Deadline: January 28, 2016

Please Note: The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS) does not administer this funding opportunity.

Please contact Fund for Teachers for more information and to apply for this funding:

Clicking on the links will take applicants to the requirements and application process. Here’s a great opportunity for teachers to design their own PD and get funding to pursue it.

Common Core, Common Care

Valerie Strauss, the author of a Washington Post OP-Ed, The Answer Sheet, often posts something that sparks my thinking. Her latest column, What Happened When a Troubled Little Boy Appeared at My Classroom Door highlights the story of transient students who challenge us not only as educators, but as humans. Please read this post and think of all the teachers you know, particularly here in Lowell who create safe communities of learners despite challenges of society.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Larry Ferlazzo, another highly regarded Education Week author as well as teacher, writes a yearly column predicting what will happen in education throughout the coming year.  Last year’s column (click here), highlighted issues in education such as E-rate funding and VAM (time to break out the Google). I think #1 is spot-on: the drive to increase technology in schools is not necessarily for enhancing learning. New technology is really needed to support the new tests that will be electronically administered by 2017 (MCAS 2.0 or PARCC – they’re going to put the same demands on our kids).

And to find out what Mr. Ferlazzo predicts for 2016 check out the latest right here.

School Committee Meeting Notes, 16 December 2015

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, December 16, 2015

IMG_0890All members present.

This is the last meeting for 2015 and therefore, the last time this particular group of members will meet as a School Committee.

The published agenda for this meeting was 33 items long, and given some of the topics, I thought we all might need to pack sleeping bags and snacks.  However, the Reports of the Superintendent – all 17 of them – were taken as a whole leaving more time to allow departing members to make farewell commentary.

Special Orders of Business

This meeting highlighted the achievements of four teams from Lowell High: Cheerleading, Crew, Boys’ Cross Country, Girls’ Cross Country and Boys’ Soccer. Along with the team members, special recognition was given to coaches and senior members of each team.

The new interim principal for the Stoklosa School (replacing Nancy O’Loughlin, retiring this month) was introduced. Roland Boucher, retired administrator has been named interim principal through the end of this school year.

Permission To Enter

Usually I do not comment on these transactions because they are often routine approvals for items such as expenses incurred for Special Education plans. However, a newly added request from Safe Havens International, Inc. <link to site their site here and click on Services> ($67,458) was added to this agenda item (2015/487) in response to a 2012 motion requesting a comprehensive school safety evaluation. 

Safe Havens is slated to begin study of individual schools as well as Central Office in March 2016; the study will continue for about 4 months after which a report will address physical safety, safety policy, bullying, suicide prevention, and all manner of crisis management in each individual school building as well as the District as a whole. Mr. Antonelli recognized the significant role the legislative contingent, particularly Dave Nangle, played in obtaining funds to perform this study – something that most likely would not have been possible given the leaness of the budget and budget forecasts for 2016.


Agenda Item 9 (2015/500) made by Steve Gendron requested a study of participation in sports programs. Citing Commonwealth Magazine’s statistics on sports participation and school drop-out rates, Mr. Gendron would like an analysis of which programs at Lowell High have the greatest participation in hopes of duplicating their success in other sports programs. Dave Conway wisely commented that not just sports, but other extra-curricular activities might have similar positive impacts. I agree! Music, drama, and other outlets and extra-curricular opportunities need to be preserved and valued for their positive effect on students.

Agenda Item 10 (2015/501) made by Kim Scott requested the Superintendent develop a “plan to immediately notify the parents of guardians of any Lowell Public School student that has been bullied, physically assaulted or verbally insulted during the school day.” Ms. Scott noted that along with the recent incident at LHS, she has been contacted by several parents of students who were mistreated and whose parents were not immediately notified.

As Dr. Khelfaoui stated, a protocol for notifications and processes in school safety already exists, and staff members review this every year. As much as everyone would like this to be failure-proof, it obviously is not and Ms. Scott’s motion points out a need to examine when and why failures in the procedures have occurred. Jeannine Durkin, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services, will undoubtedly remind all staff of the importance in following reporting protocols – but again, when breakdowns occur, it is important to look at why and fix them. 

On a similar note, Dr. Khelfaoui indicated that the much anticipated report regarding the incident at Lowell High this past fall should be on his desk “Thursday or Friday” (12/17 or 12/18).

Subcommittee Meeting Notes

  • Policy Subcommittee Meeting Notes only (discussion at 12/2 meeting). (2-hour school delay policy previously approved)
  • Personnel Subcommittee Meeting Notes only (discussion at 12/2 meeting). I was surprised that no mention of Mr. McHugh was made (rumored to have been named to the CFO position; has decided to remain in Lynn according to news reports). 
  • Personnel Subcommittee Meeting of 12/16/2015 did not occur.

Reports of the Superintendent

Items 14-29 were taken as a whole. Kim Scott pointed out a flaw in information gathering (survey) relative to School Lunch services (Item 26, 2015/495). Several parents were cut off in mid-survey which skewed the results. Mr. Antonelli said that the additional responses were unable to be added to the results. In response to a question about how the survey was developed, Mr. Antonelli worked with Food Services, Legal Department, and Administration.  He recommends a Fall and Spring survey that will ensure quality food service from vendor.

The report included in the packet seems mostly positive. I realize Aramark has made some financial commitments that sweetened a deal with the school district; however, my personal observation (made when I was a faculty member) of the food quality was a bit different. Large food service corporations can notoriously put on a dog-and-pony show when contracts are being made or renewed (recent NY Times article about college-level conflicts). Frequent check-ins with students and parents with feedback and monitoring to the contractor should keep the food quality consistently high. 

New Business

  • Two reappointments to the LTC Board (Anne Sheehy and Jack Pinard).
  • Acceptance and thanks to Andre Descoteaux for a donation of $450.  Mr. Descoteaux promised a percentage of his campaign funds if his bid for a School Committee seat was successful.

Final Special Order of Business

This was the final School Committee Meeting for 5 of the 7 current members. As such, the departing members were recognized for their commitment and efforts.

Connie Martin and Steven Gendron, the two current members who will return in 2016, expressed thanks and gratiude to all, as well as appreciation to Mayor Elliott for his visibility and outreach to Lowell Community.

  • Kim Scott (2012-2016) thanks family, recognizes the efforts of Superintendent in reaching out to families. States that the attack on public schools needs to end and wishes new committee best of luck.
  • Kristin Ross-Sitcawich (2012-2016) thanks family and colleagues. Admonishes new members  not to break the successes that have been built.
  • Dave Conway (2008-2016) thanks Lowell for the opportunity; has been involved in schools since he attended LHS (age 13). Recognition of his colleagues – current and past school committee members – for time, effort, energy and applauds their sacrifice. Recognizes staff of Lowell Schools for their tremendous efforts; thanks community partners for their participation;  thanks Rodney Elliott for his energetic role in the City.
  • Jim Leary (2006-2016). Thanks family. Recognizes challenging times and learning from colleagues; specially recognizes Connie Martin for her guidance. Recognition of teachers and principals – day in and day out do their best. Thanks public for the opportunity.
  • Rodney Elliott, Mayor. Notes accomplishments of LPS (scores rising, student accomplishments), proud of teachers and commitment to their work as well as students. Thanks Connie Martin and Steven Gendron for their commitment and passion; leaving schools in good hands. Also recognizes Mary Sheehan, Executive Secretary, for her assistance as well as Dr. Khelfaoui.

I, too would like to thank all the members, and especially those who are moving on, for their commitment. We – school staff, administration, community members, families and school committee members have a common goal, and that goal is to offer the best opportunities for success to all students in the Lowell Schools. While we may not always agree on how to do that, we can and should have conversations with each other, respectful of views that might not be our own. 

So I, as a former member of a school faculty and a current community member, thank you for your service to our students. I look forward to seeing a revived City-Wide Parent Council add their voices to discussions, to continued community partnerships, and to a strong bridge from the School Committee to City Council.

In two weeks, there will be five new members to this Committee who will make personal time commitments to help bring the Lowell Schools to the forefront of urban education. We are looking forward to their work as a committee. On January 6, 2016, the new committee meets for the first time. 

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.

School Committee Meeting, 02 December 2015

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Five members present, Mr. Gendron was absent.

This meeting again featured a public portion and an Executive Session. Most of the agenda items were dealt with quickly with little discussion.

Leveled Library


There were two new motions, both made by Mayor Elliott.  Agenda Item 5 (2015/453) addressed some concerns that LHS students appeared uninformed about a Voice of Democracy scholarship opportunity. Concerns were expressed to both Mayor Elliott and Councilor Mercier, and a request for a report on what transpired leading to the lack of LHS participation was requested.

Agenda Item 7 (2015/454) sparked some discussion/questions. This motion requested a vote to release the Executive Session minutes relative to updates to the UTL collective bargaining negotiations and grievance/litigation updates. While Ms. Martin expressed that releasing the Executive Session minutes (which are not public) was premature, Mr. Elliott contended that the release of this information is needed to keep taxpayers and teachers/paraprofessionals up-to-date.  The motion to release the minutes passed with Mr. Elliott, Ms. Scott, Ms. Ross-Sitcawich and Mr. Conway voting in favor (Ms. Martin and Mr. Leary voted no, Mr. Gendron was absent).

I’m going to refrain from commenting here as a former UTL member. However, I would comment that releasing Executive Minutes could possibly be a limiting factor in reaching agreement during contract negotiations. It seems to me that discussion of issues and proposed solutions might be less forthright and/or there might be less willingness to compromise or seek creative resolution when the parties know that whatever is said will go through the filter of public opinion. 

Subcommittee Meeting Notes

Three subcommittee meetings were on the agenda.  Ms. Martin reported on the Curriculum Subcommittee Meeting of Nov. 17 which highlighted current and future collaborative efforts between the University of Lowell Graduate College of Education and several Lowell Schools.  See Meeting Packet for details.  As the Personnel Subcommittee Meeting reflected a discussion regarding the CFO position, that discussion was combined with Item 15, later in the meeting.

Ms. Scott reported on the Policy Subcommittee meeting during which refinements to the Weather Cancellation Policy (school cancellations and the 2-hour delay proposal) were discussed.

Reports of the Superintendent

  • Item 10 (2015/440) – LRTA schedule. Mr. Antonelli (Interim Superintendent for Finance) reported that conversations with LRTA resulted in increased service; however, Ms. Ross-Sitcawich reports parents contacted her regarding overcrowded buses in the afternoon. Mr. Antonelli will investigate further.
  • Item 11 (2015/441) – LHS had recently committed to a violence prevention program (Mentor Violence Prevention or MVP). LHS has identified students who, along with faculty advisors, will receive this free training  via Northeastern University. The SWEAR program, referenced in Mr. Conway’s motion on 9/16, will be included in a program assessment at the end of the school year.
  • Item 12 (2015/442) Ms. Durkin explained the yearly process LPS engages in regarding review of bullying prevention and intervention. Although this is mandated every 2 years, LPS does this every year and updates manuals as needed.
  • Item 13 (2015/445) Mr. Curley (LPS Maintenance) met with city-side counterparts to ensure reponsibilities for efficient removal of snow. A concern is that the snow accumulated at bus stops makes waiting for buses unsafe. Ms. Ross-Sitcawich requests that school committee and LPS administrators monitor the bus stop safety issue throughout the upcoming winter.

New Business

A new CFO (Chief Finance Officer) contract was developed through the Superintendent’s office.  The most significant changes include the removal of the sick-leave buyback provision and the addition of earned vacation time (25 vacation days, 12 sick days, 2 personal days). The vacation time earning process is similar to that of private sector companies where a portion of the maximum vacation time is earned every pay period. 

The District went through a series of interviews and have selected the successor to Jay Lang for a the newly-renamed CFO position. Of the 18 applicants, Kevin McHugh, former Lowell School Committee Member and currently Lynn Public School Business Manager was the successful candidiate.

The vote for the contract was 5 yeas (Martin, Leary, Conway, Scott, Ross-Sitcawich), 1 nay (Mayor Elliott) and 1 absent (Mr. Gendron) Here the discussion got a little muddy as to whether the Committee was approving just the contract wording or a revision that would include Mr. McHugh’s name as CFO. However, Amelia Pak-Harvey (Lowell Sun) is reporting that Mr. McHugh was the successful candidate and has received a contracted salary of $145,000 beginning on January 1, 2016. Link here to the Lowell Sun article.

The revisions to the 2-hour delay policy (Agenda Item 17 2015/450) were presented. Those revisions include

  • using ConnectEd to telephone families,
  • the addition of local cable access TV show as an official means of communication,
  • outlining which employees would report as usual upon a school delay (cafeteria and custodial staff), and
  • cancellation of before school programs in the event of a cancellation or delay.

This item passed (6 yeas, 1 absent) and Dr. Khelfaoui will update the current written policy (dated 2004) and disseminate.

The discussion regarding establishing an Accountability Office was deferred until next meeting.

Prior to Executive Session and Adjournment, Ms. Martin requested that the incoming School Committee members are invited to the next meeting (December 16). Dr. Khelfaoui reported that his office had already reached out to the future school committee members through a introductory coffee meeting.

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

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.