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.

Motions

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.

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