“Doing” Justice: More than just forms

Donalyn Miller recently tweeted about a recording sheet she uses for the 40 Book Challenge she not only “invented” but practices with her students in her classroom.  As I’ve recently added her book “The Book Whisperer” to the book study portion of a course I’ve developed, Donalyn’s tweet caught my attention:

Screenshot 2017-08-17 20.30.30

My curiosity over why Donalyn Miller would feel compelled to tweet an endorsement of  Debbie Ohi’s collection of forms led me to read this post from August 2014:  The 40 book Challenge Revisited.

Her point this:

… the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve frequently heard fellow educators reference that they are “doing” the Daily Five or the Daily CAFE. However, digging in a little deeper, misinformed yet well-intentioned educator’s idea of the “doing” is more likely to be incorporating some of the “centers” (sorry Gail and Joan, I know that’s not what you intended) or using some printable for students downloaded from one of the educator enterprise sites.

The Daily Five practice is based on developing a trusting relationship between learners and teacher. The development of this trusting relationship is every bit as important as the student activities.  A gradual release of responsibility leads to developing students independence and accountability.  Joan and Gail’s commitment to research and development of their own practice is the powerful glue that, in my opinion, holds the Daily Five and CAFE together. This becomes the basis for educator changes that lead to best practice.

Shiny new ideas are terrific, of course. That is the basis of being “green and growing”, as one of my former administrators used to say.  However, without fully understanding a method for management of teacher, the practice become so simplified that it often becomes just another tedious fill-in-the-blank task to keep students occupied.


And that, is not a best practice of any kind.


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)


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, 04 January 2017

2017-jan-03_walkinglowell_0187School Committee Meeting 04 January 2017

All members present.

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

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

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

Permissions to Enter

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


Three motions were presented

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

Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Business

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

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved.

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

Meeting Packet can be found here.

School Committee Meeting 07 December 2016

School Committee Meeting 07 December 2016

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

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

Spotlight on Excellence

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

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

Permissions to Enter

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


Four motions were presented

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

Subcommittee Report

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

Reports of the Superintendent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convention and Conference Requests (2) were all approved.

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

Meeting Packet can be found here.


And Now…. In-Your-Face Prejudice

img_0794Within the past week, our United Teachers of Lowell organized and hosted a FirstBook “Books on Wheels” event where over 2000 students and their families received free books. As we sorted and organized 40,000+ books, we heard about a fire in a near-by Lawrence school, the Bruce School, and the impact of the loss on students, teachers and classrooms. What could we do to help? 

Hearing that the destruction impacted 7th and 8th grade classrooms, we set aside over 500 books from our event to donate to the Bruce School. The books were selected by Lowell middle-school teachers working to unpack pallets, boxed up by students and educators who were volunteering at our event, and picked up on Saturday – our event’s distribution day – by the Principal of the Bruce School and the Lawrence Schools COO. One would think this would be a feel-good moment. Not so fast.

We sent a press release (link here) to the Lawrence Eagle Tribune and other news outlets in the Merrimack Valley. However, the report in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune was not accurate  (I refer to paragraph 3) and stated that all the donated books were in Spanish. This is simply untrue.

As a co-chair of the event, our concern in Lowell was that the diversity of the donated materials from FirstBook (and the Disney Publishing house) would not be reflective of our LOWELL community, and as a Lowell community, we raised funds to supplement the FirstBook truck with many linguistic and culturally diverse books. Those supplemental books, meant for our Lowell families, were not included in the donation to Bruce School.

And so, with inaccurate reporting, the caller to the United Teachers of Lowell based her outburst on misinformation. 


Dear Anonymous Caller to the UTL Office,

I regret that I was not there to take your phone call. In what can only be characterized as boorish and rude behavior, I understand you are angry and upset that the United Teachers of Lowell donated books to the Bruce School. You seem to be upset that “we” shouldn’t be giving Spanish language books to “those people”. In fact, how dare we do so?

As I understand it, your objections seem to be focused on the linguistic quality of the books because they were not “American”. Madam, I am not sure which language you consider “American” as most of us are immigrants to this continent, unless you intend for everyone to learn and speak the language of indigenous people.

You are, of course, aware that America is a very large land area which includes countries in both Northern and Southern hemispheres. Just considering the North American continent would encompass at least two other languages, including a very large country to our south where the citizens speak the language you object to, Spanish.

As an acquaintance of mine said to me, recent political posturing appears to have given people a microphone to spout hate and ugliness. So let me be perfectly clear that I do understand the unstated purpose for your telephone call. Racism and intolerance.

Regardless of what the language make up of the donated books, you have boldly allowed your prejudices and bias to reach the point at which you feel free to blast away at an act of generosity from one organization to another without regard to tolerance of differences. Your ignorance is on display.

Unfortunately, the climate of tolerance in our country is being challenged, and an atmosphere of intolerance may become more accepted, even in progressive states such as Massachusetts.

This cannot stand. Your comments were out of line, hateful and intolerant of our communities.


Election Day Thoughts, 2016

This morning I was up early and set out to vote at 7 am. There was a small line already when we arrived prior to the 7 am opening and the usual early-morning rough start as poll workers get into their rhythm.

No surprise here – I am a woman, a registered Democrat – and I proudly cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

I was thinking about other strong women in my own life who have shaped me. My great-grandmother, Minnie Palmer Flournoy, was a suffragette. I never met her, but studying our family’s story, I am not too surprised that she felt compelled to march for women’s voting rights. Minnie Palmer Flournoy became a widow after her husband Richard was killed tragically in a train accident. My grandfather, her youngest of two children, was 1 at the time. The railroad for which my great-grandfather Flournoy worked barely offered compensation or accepted responsibility for his death. Minnie fought that decision, but was turned down.

Returning to her family in Stanhope, MO, Minnie worked as a chamber maid, eventually moving to St. Joseph, MO where she ran a boarding house and worked as a seamstress.  She raised two smart and independently minded children who were devoted to her throughout her life.

My grandmother Edna Wyant, who married Minnie’s son, was another strong woman who was given the right to vote thanks to the 19th Amendment. I’m sure my own Mother can verify this – I believe Edna voted in every single election for which she was eligible.  She became a factory worker during World War II in order to do her part. As far as I know, she voted a straight Republican ticket every single time that I know of.  Even Nixon. As family stories go, my Grandfather would vote in opposition, so my grandparents cancelled each other out.  I wonder if she might have made an exception this time.

My aunt, Eleanor, my Father’s older sister, managed an insurance office full of men. She was opinionated and tough – characteristics that she no doubt cultivated because she was a woman working in a man’s world. Imagine how hard it must have been to be taken seriously back in the 1950s and 1960s.  I can’t help but think she’d be interested in the election today.

And I was thinking of my Mom, Sarah Flournoy Puglisi, as I cast my vote this morning. She was the first of her family to attend college. She raised 4 of us and still leads by example with generosity and service. I think she’s voted in every election (although unlike her Mother, not always Republican – right Mom?). At 93, she’ll be voting this morning in the swing state of New Hampshire.  So if you were entertaining the thought of not bothering, get off your duff and go vote. If Grandma Sarah can get herself to the polls at age 93, you can too.

This morning as I voted, I thought of all these wonderful strong women and how amazing it is to see the cracks in that glass ceiling.  As a woman working in business in the 1970s and 1980s, I feel the deep sense of privilege to be able to vote and witness this historic election. We’re not just fetching coffee or drycleaning for “the boss”, we may just end up being the boss. We’re knocking on the door of the White House. And hopefully putting a large hole in that ceiling’s cracked glass.