School Committee Meeting, 15 June 2016

School Committee Meeting, 15 June 2016

DSC_0044_edited-15 present, Mr. Gendron absent

This meeting agenda was packed as the School Committee goes on summer meeting schedules (once each month, 3rd Wednesday) for July and August.  After 3 1/2 hours, the Committee also went in to Executive Session for purposes of administrative salary/contract updates (principals, assistant superintendent, superintendent) and salary increases for unaffiliated employees (otherwise not part of a negotiating group). 

Special Order of Business

Presentation and public hearing regarding the transformation of LHS Career Academy into an Innovation School. Passes (6 yea, 1 absent) with supportive statements for staff and from UTL.

The designation “innovation school”, like a “Horace Mann” school is for schools that are chartered, but still under local control in funding and governance. This is a huge distinction from Commonwealth Charter Schools such as LCCPS and Lowell Collegiate. Both of these schools receive public funding on a per pupil basis but are not governed or answerable to municipal school boards. The innovation school fills a need to continue to reach out to some of our most needy and disenfranchised students with a unique and creative program that will remain under governance of the Lowell Public Schools.

Unfinished Business

2016/246 transfers of money – sounded as if it mainly was to expend Circuit Breaker funds so that this funding source was trimmed to the allowable limit.  Through 3 transfers, the district will be enabled to purchase additional laptop carts (1 cart per grade level per school) and to fund furnishing for the additional Grade 5 classrooms needed to accommodate the bubble at the Middle School.

2016/247 Cost of Education for Children Out of District.  The amount presented $129,610 is estimated for 2015-16 (final year-end numbers available after financials close in July).

Dr. Khelfaoui states that while this number is not for 2016-17, he anticipates the expense for educating 36 OOD students will be “flat” – marginally changed up or down as the number of students will remain the same, just the grade level changing.  When questioned as to meeting legalities according to state law regarding students who may also be out-of-state, Dr. Khelfaoui notes that the district can choose to accept such students but that there is no reimbursement from Commonwealth and that the OOD students who also live out-of-state cannot be included in student headcount for purposes of budgeting/funding.

Public Participation

Jonathan Richmond, of TAKEOFF Space, an entity formed to encourage talented low-income students to apply to prestigious colleges reads statement relative to the rejection of his proposal for Lowell High students.

Laura Ortiz, parent, advocating for more precise and inclusive language in Student Handbook which would include anaphalaxis prevention and procedures/safeguards for all students, not just those specifically hypersensitive to food allergies.

Laura Ortiz, parent, advocating that when addressing rezoning, or return to neighborhood schools, that the Committee carefully consider the impact of any attempts to lift the desegragation order. Mr. Gignac clarified his position as looking at rezoning within the context of the desgregation order yet exploring whether some adjustments might be made to address transportation issues/costs and middle school population explosion.

Motions

2016/251 (Mr, Gignac) report on class sizes for 2016-17. (Note, during discussion of Online Waitlist, Mr. John Descoteaux reports that 56 students are committed to STEM Grade 5 for next year and 11 will be on a waitlist. This effectively ensures that the large Grade 5 class sizes warned about during budget hearings will no longer be a concern).

2016/252 (Mr. Gignac) Request superintendent investigate the feasibility of rezoning (see note under Public Participation).

2016/254 (Mr. Gignac) report on facility repairs and improvement projects scheduled for this summer.

2016/262 (Mr. Hoey) creation of an Early Candidate pool (amended to referral to Personnel Subcommittee).

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 14 reports from the Superintendent ranging from status update on the Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System to a thorough vetting of updates to School Handbooks.

2016/236 Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation update. Follows DESE protocols for evaluations; most are completed including the evaluations of school-wide and district staff.  Report to follow (aggregated) in July.

2016/260 Washington School. Principal Cheryl Cunningham and her team present what makes this school unique, special and successful.  Great presentation on the importance of character education to students.

2016/264 Cultural Competency. Along with Head of School Brian Martin, very impressive presentation by Lowell High students explaining the efforts of this group to examine LHS culture in the aftermath of last fall’s racial incident.

2016/265 Parent Handbooks LHS changes explained by Dr. Howe; similar changes presented by Ms. Durkin.  In light of Parent Laura Ortiz’s suggestions, Ms. Durkin to meet with Health Department.

2016/241 Online Waitlist.  Parents will be able to look up waitlist status as long as they know their child’s LASID number. Most students know this from memory already as it is used for lunch check-in. Lookups by LASIDs should be quite easy to do and the waitlist will be more transparent to all. More important, the District has a well thought-out plan to check periodically with families to see if they wish to remain on the wait list for a school.  Sometimes a child may be placed in a school that was not among the family’s listed choices, yet it became a good fit — and in that case, the wait list entry is moot.  

2016/268 Lowell Career Academy Innovation Plan

2016/263 Task force planned to address student growth. To convene in early Fall 2016.

2016/243 Legal consult (re OOD children). Attorney Hall is working with prior documentation of how/when OOD students were placed in Lowell Schools in preparation for offering legal opinion.

2016/259 Report of what civics curriculum materials and programs used in schools.

2016/261 STEM efforts at the High School

2016/262 All principals have been contacted about school materials ordered for 2016-17

2016/267 Nondiscrimination on basis of gender identity

2016/238 and 2016/239 List of eligible teachers and personnel report

New Business

Items accepted and voted favorably include purchases of new food service equipment, financial statements, and 2 donations from the District Attorney’s Office and the Lowell Police Department ($1,000 each).

2016/244 Charter School Resolution was formally voted upon. Lowell will join other school districts and the Lowell City Council in support of keeping the current cap on Charter School seats. Mayor Kennedy reports the City Council unanimously voted on a similar motion during last Tuesday’s meeting.

In my opinion, there are many reasons for insisting on this. The state legislature habitually underfunds the charter school reimbursement account for municipalities.  In Lowell, there is a shortfall of over $1.5 million dollars caused by this underfunding – which means that some municipal program is cut or short-funded so that the money assessed the City for charter school students is paid in full.  There are many other issues of governance and accountability that divide public schools from Commonwealth Charter Schools. I would urge every voter and taxpayer in Lowell to become familiar with those issues as there will be a ballot initiative question in November.

Prior to going to Executive Session, Claire Abrams, Assistant Superintendent, was recognized for her 41 years of service to the Lowell Schools. Claire has been a driving force, particularly in Mathematics, which is where I first met her. With a soft-spoken, calm manner, she has lead many curriculum efforts in Lowell., not the least being toward a mathematics curriculum that is cutting edge. Claire, it was a rare privilege to work with and for you. Your thoughtful leadership will be missed. But you are going to LOVE retirement!

Meeting adjourned from Executive Session. Meeting Packet can be found here.

Sir Ken Robinson on Teaching

Subtitle: EdReformers Have Got It All Wrong

IMG_0200Perhaps you have never heard of Sir Ken Robinson before today, but I guarantee that if you are willing to spend 20 minutes to play the TED-Ed video found here, he will become someone who you can’t forget. Sir Ken, educator, speaker, author and champion of creativity, nudges us to examine what must be done in order to save education in this TedED Talk.

Teaching is, afterall, “a creative profession, not a delivery system. Great teachers mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage.”

Those ideas certainly resonated with me, a teacher for over 30 years. In place of lessons crafted for the students in front of the teacher, educators now are forced to follow pacing “guides” and scripted teaching manuals. You read that correctly. Teachers are provided with a script of the words to use during a lesson. Apparently, anyone can teach as long as there is a script involve.

No need for gauging whether or not students are actually learning; stick to the script. Further evidence that it’s not about the processing of learning or creating a learning experience can be found in the pacing guides driving the sequence and delivery of lessons. These pacing guides assume that the scripts are a guaranteed success for every student in the room. In lock-step, every classroom must deliver the same knowledge act the exact same time. Does that make even an ounce of sense to anyone?

If students in a classroom don’t understand a lesson or need more time to learn, too bad. The frenetic pace that is currently upheld in the classroom is, in truth, only useful for preparing students for testing. Until someone, somewhere, somehow understands that the humans in a classroom are quite unlike widgets on an assembly line, I fear education is destined to remain in assembly line mode, or as Sir Ken calls it, the Death Valley of creativity.

Ed reformers with backgrounds in making profits need to get out of education. Education is not a profit center, it is an opportunity center. It is where young minds learn to love learning, to follow curiousity, to craft solutions to problems. It should not be the one-size-fits-all, narrowly mandated program it has become. No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top and the newest iteration of government driven education reform, the Every Student Succeeds Act, has not and will not work because each and every student is an individual with a range of needs and talents. Students will always be individuals with diverse and complicated needs. Shouldn’t education reflect that?

There should be an outcry from parents, teachers, students, and the general public. From my vantage point, there are several ways to do this:

  • Give equal time to non-STEM disciplines such as physical education, humanities, arts,
  • End mindless paperwork tasks,
  • Reduce the inordinate attention on high-stakes standardized test preparation and testing.

What would happen if, instead of training a generation of conformers, our students were encouraged to be creative and use that creativity to solve problems? What if we trusted educators to meet the needs of our students with absolutely no interference or second-guesses from corporate America’s hotshots willing to put up cash in exchange for dubious influence.

We are approaching education in the worst possible way. We are killing creativity. Education reformers are getting it all wrong. All of it.

Still Ignoring the Evidence

2013fielddayaPlay – real, unstructured brain break time – is as important to a child’s learning as academic time.

So why are school leaders and decision-makers so reluctant to let go and allow more recess? I cringe whenever I hear a school leader lecture that there isn’t enough time in a school day to increase play or unstructured time. Two reasons come to mind:

  • Quantity not quality – somehow the misguided idea that number of minutes and time-on-task are larger concerns than actual learning,
  • Test preparation is driving the construction of a school day.

Quantity not quality assumes that a student can maintain peak brain function and learn every second of a lesson. Ken Wesson tells us that students can attend to a lesson launch for approximately the same number of minutes as that child’s age.  Here is a link to an article I posted some time ago outlining this thought as it applies to a classroom.  If we are serious about optimizing student learning and making sure academic time is effective, we should know how the brain functions. What is the point of just yammering for 60 minutes when a 10 year old brain turned off 40 minutes ago?

I often hear – and truth be told, sometimes would say – that school days are packed. At one point when I taught 4th Grade, there were more minutes of instruction required within the day than there were minutes in the entire school day. And in this day and age, there is test preparation, which has to come from somewhere. Just exactly how much time gets expended to prepare students for those high-stakes tests like PARCC or Smarter Balance?

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Professor of Education at Lesley University advocates for younger students to have more time for play and unstructured learning time as does K-12 writer Caralee Adams in the article “Recess Makes Kids Smarter“. Students are routinely asked not only to sit, but sit still for inordinate amounts of time when they developmentally are not ready to do so. Could misguided school policies requiring students to be on-task for long periods of time be driving the bulk of students perceived to have ADD or ADHD? Brain research makes me wonder.

For more about the importance of recess, free play, and unstructured time, the New York Times Parent Blog posted an article titled “Students Who Lose Recess Are The Ones Who Need It Most”. This article takes the importance of unstructured time a step further by advocating that taking away recess as a means of punishment for out of compliant behavior or for missing homework is counter-productive.  Losing recess may be a major factor in loss of self-control or executive function.

Our kids need to move, they need less chair time for their physical health and for their brains for function. Why do we continue to ignore brain researchers? To quote Ken Wesson, “If your job is to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?”

Citizens for Public Schools, 26 April 2016

04262016Lowell-LisaGDriven by an $18 million advertising campaign, those in favor of lifting the current cap on charter school seats have launched an all-out effort to increase the number of seats allocated to charter schools. This ballot initiative is one of several state-driven mandates, ruling, issues – whatever you choose to call them – that is spurring Lowellians to become more vocal advocates for our Lowell Public Schools.

Last Tuesday, Lisa Guisbond (Executive Director) and Alain Jehlen of Citizens for Public Schools led a discussion and information session about about the impact of not only this ballot question, but other state education policies as well. Should it be successful, the “lift the cap” ballot initiative has the potential of transferring funding away from the Lowell Public Schools.  Why does this matter to Lowell and what impact would increasing seats have on school programs and budgets?

Lisa Guisbond began the session by giving an overview of how and why charter schools began. Starting with their inception in 1993, publicly funded charter schools  have morphed over the last 20-plus years from  schools set up to try to impact learning through  innovation to schools often times managed by corporations. In Lowell, we have both models of charter schools – one run independently and another set up as a SABIS school.

While Commonwealth Charter Schools are set up as chartered public schools and receive funding from the local community, there are several concerns. Accountability to the local community and demographics of the student body which often does not represent the traditional public school student body are among two of many concerns.

Most communities have a limit of 9% of the foundation enrollment on charter schools seats; however, some communities – and Lowell falls in this second category – are designated differently and the limit is 18% (double). Lowell currently has 9.2% of its student population attending Commonwealth charter schools so there is room for growth or even new schools to be chartered within the City. 

Lisa’s presentation triggered discussions about who authorizes charter schools (the state Board of Education), the current Commissioner’s role in monitoring, governance (appointed boards which do not include representation from the community’s governing entities). Therefore unlike traditional public schools where the elected School Committee answers to the public on how public monies are spent or how school policy is overseen, Commonwealth Charter Schools, operate with appointed boards that do not answer to the public funding the school. As Lisa pointed out, there is a prevailing sense of pro-charter support by Governor Baker, Secretary of Education (James Peyser) and the Board of Education, all of whom have had or currently have some connection to Charter Schools through their participation in and/or connections to Charter Schools.

Alain Jehlen, a Somerville resident and member of Citizens for Public Schools, presented 25April2016Lowell-Alaininformation regarding how local funding is allocated to charter schools within a district and pointed out that our very own Commonwealth does not always fund (in fact almost never) the state budget adequately to provide the legislated reimbursement to municipal budgets. The trickle down effect of the under-funding is that traditional public school budgets and/or municipalities make up the gap in funds through their own budgets.

Thinking about Lowell’s budget this current year, about $17 million was paid to charter schools for Lowell students and approximately $3 million was reimbursed by the Commonwealth.  That $3 million was about $1.3 million short of the state’s responsibility. When there is a shortfall in the reimbursement funding, the local community must fill the gap between assessed amount and state reimbursement. In other words, a traditional public school program might need to be cut or a municipal service eliminated. Cities and towns often find themselves making difficult financial decisions because the Commonwealth does not live up to its promises.

According to the DESE website, Lowell’s 2016-17 assessment will be based on 1,494 students enrolled in charter schools (15,300 in traditional public schools) which represents 9.8% of the foundation enrollment.  A District payment of $18,430,028 will be assessed with the mythical reimbursement of $3,708,525 from the Commonwealth IF charter reimbursements are fully funded in the state budget. And if not…. well Lowell, already tightening fiscal belts and consolidating programs, will need to find the difference somewhere in the City’s budget.

The Q&A session from the group continued discussion about the impact of the ballot initiative fiscally and educationally. Several raised concerns about increasing charter seats and how that might impact the proposed budget for next fiscal year. There was some surprise to learn that if a student is counted as enrolled in a charter school on October 1, but leaves to return to the city’s public schools after that, the per pupil funding stays at the charter school until the next school year.

There was interest in continuing informational discussions in the near future.

If you, or someone you know would like to continue to be informed about this issue, we invite you to email the local group at lowellcps@gmail.com to be added to the email list. Additional information about Citizens for Public Schools and their advocacy efforts can be found on either their Facebook page or on the web at http://www.citizensforpublicschools.org.

 

 

 

 

Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Presentation, 25 April 2016

Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Presentation, April 25, 2016

flipout5 present, Mr. Gendron absent.

There have been many reports that this budget season is going to be a tight one. Although the City has committed to increasing their contribution by $1 million, the school department had recently floated a budget total with an additional $1 million deficit gap.

Dr. Khelfaoui was on record as against making up the $1 million deficit through cuts to classroom teaching staff (link to Lowell Sun Article). Most of the reductions proposed are achieved through retirements and some through combining programs. Mr. Frisch who is LPS’ Chief Financial Officer, cautions that this budget leaves no room for salary increases in 2017.

Budgeting  and Finance Basics

Several terms – and the source of funding – were explained by both Dr. Khelfaoui and Mr. Frisch as they introduced the budget document (link at end). For clarity, I’m including parts of that discussion here.

Foundation Enrollment: the number of students attending public school in the district on October 1 of the previous year. The enrollment figure for the 2017 budget is based on the October 1, 2015 headcount.

Foundation Budget: the amount of money or minimum budget a community is required to spend to ensure a quality education. This is based on the October 1 enrollment from the previous year times the per pupil spending amount, again determined by the Commonwealth.

Required Local Contribution: The amount that the community is expected to contribute to the budget. It is determined through CASH + IN KIND services. In Lowell “in kind” services are such things as technology services (ex: payroll, purchasing) and maintenance (ex: plowing)

Chapter 70 Aid: This is a dollar amount determined by the Commonwealth and is based on a formula that takes into consideration the financial wealth of a community. The actual amount will be an unknown until the Commonwealth’s 2017 budget is set.

The DESE website holds more detail on all school financial terms and calculations.

Simply stated, the formula for the School’s Budget is:

Chapter 70 Aid + Required Local Contribution = Required Net School Spending

October 1 is a significant date in all things education. It is the date on which a school’s headcount is taken (this has been true throughout the 30 years I taught), and it is a significant date for determining not only the minimum budget for a public school district, but also is the basis for charter school assessments (once the headcount is taken in October and the money stays at the school/district no matter where that student may transfer beginning on October 2). 

Numbers

I am certainly a novice at this, but it seems that if you enjoyed algebra and dealing with unknown variables, you will most likely enjoy budgeting for a school system.  The state contribution through Chapter 70 will be an unknown until the Commonwealth’s budget is in place, the “in kind” portion of the City’s contribution can be estimated, can’t be determined until all of those costs have been tallied (example: how much will plowing out schoolyards in 2016-2017 cost?).  Hence, the back-and-forth between City and School Departments.

The proposed budget from the Superintendent looks like this:

  • Foundation enrollment 15,616 students
  • Times per pupil amount from State*
  • Equals Foundation Budget for 2017 $183,238,362
  • Foundation Budget for 2017 $183,238,362
  • Less Chapter 70 aid (preliminary, best estimate to date) $138,588,381
  • Required City Contribution $  44,649,981

The City contribution is an approximately $1.5 million increase over the 2016 budget.

And now to break out the $44,649,981, because that City Contribution consists of both CASH and IN-KIND contributions. The cost of transportation is broken out separately. For 2017 budgeting, that amount is listed at $7,819,660. City Manager Murphy has committed to a $1 million increase in cash contribution over last year’s cash contribution, making that cash amount $19,856,851.  Breaking away the transportation costs from the cash contribution yields an actual cash contribution of $12,037,191. So,

  • City’s Cash Contribution $ 19,856,851
  • Less Transportation $   7,891,660
  • Net Cash Contribution $ 12,037,191

From here, the City contributes indirectly (in-kind services mentioned above) to a minimum amount of $44,649,981. Those in-kind services could be set higher or end up being more money, but the requirement under state finance is that the City’s contribution is, for now, at least $44,649,981.

When the City exceeds school spending, as it did last year, that’s fine; but when the City does not, the underfunded amount rolls over onto the next year’s contribution. Manager Murphy appears committed to meeting the City’s spending requirements. Historically, Lowell has fallen into both categories. A good discussion of the past spending/budgeting cycles are on the first four pages of the Superintendent’s proposed budget <link here>.

* The per pupil cost is determined based on many factors, including the economy of the community and the demographics of the students served.  My understanding is that this is not just one number applied across the Commonwealth, but specific to each community. Here’s a link (http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/chapter-cal.pdf) with more detail for this process.

What are some of the suggestions for closing the gap between an ideal budget and reality?

First and foremost, both Superintendent Khelfaoui and Mr. Frisch stated that this budget is very lean and as efficient as possible. It aligns to the “pillars” of the Superintendent’s Strategic realignment plan (yet to be published, but the references to it throughout the budget are clear). There is no room for raises which should make for interesting bargaining for future negotiations with unions and non-union personnel.

Some proposals for solving the cash crunch might include an increase in cash from the City, bringing increased Special Education services within the district so that students with Special Education Plans requiring resources for out-of-district services (placements can range from $55,000 to $83,000 – and up – per student) can receive education services within the Lowell Schools (presumably at a less expensive rate). Lobbying the Lowell state legislative representatives to increase programming dollars from the state to support English Language Learners (ELLs) and Special Education Students and a suggestion from Mayor Kennedy to add school zones to the district so that transportation costs savings would occur (thought to be about $500,000).

Some cost savings will be achieved through retirements/attrition and consolidation of programs. The consolidation of the BRIDGE program for at-risk middle school students administered through Middlesex Community College with the Cardinal O’Connell program was discussed. Adding two fifth grade classes to the STEM School and two to the Wang to accommodate the bubble population of the incoming Grade 5 students. Cutting down requested increases in personnel (cutting the request for 21 ELL teachers to 5 for example) and consolidating administrative positions (example: 2 math coordinators will become 1 position) were also mentioned.  Dr. Khelfaoui expressed the hope that the personnel who will be losing current positions will apply for and obtain positions elsewhere within Lowell Public Schools.

There will be a need to add some line items in order to achieve the savings expected through consolidations. For example, an Educational Team Chair (ETC) is needed to lessen the case load of Special Education team chairs and 6 certified behavior analysts are needed so that services to students with autism can remain in-district.

The school committee had several questions about the impact of these adjustments to programs and staff and other changes in the proposed budget. Those questions and others voiced last night will be further addressed in detail at the Finance Committee Meeting which follows the regularly scheduled School Committee Meeting on Wednesday, May 2.  At that time, more detail about many of the line item changes will be provided.

A link to Amelia Pak-Harvey’s Lowell Sun story summarizing the meeting can be found here.

The full detail on the proposed budget is on the LPS website.

The Other Growth Our Students Need

2013fielddaybAbout 10 years ago, I was introduced to the Responsive Classroom, a program that was highly supported in the school in which I worked. There are many principles of Responsive Classroom that not only make for good classroom management, but create an environment of communal trust within a classroom and a school as a whole.

The first principle of a Responsive Classroom has always been important for me, a foundation of my career as a teacher: The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum. 

Recently, Edutopia and other education news sources carried the tale of how student “grit” is a key to student success.  What is grit? Self-perception, the ability to overcome inner obstacles, persistence, resiliency, self-regulation of emotions – in short, as Carol Dweck has written, it is a Growth Mindset.

These ideas are essential to a child’s education. They are the social and emotional curriculum that form the foundation for academic growth. And they are often missing in classrooms jammed with test preparation and curricular standards.

Sandra Dunning, the Principal who introduced me to Responsive Classroom, believed in the importance of developing a community of learners. Each morning, a 30-minute block of time was carved into our schedules for the community-building of Morning Meetings, Greetings, collaborative activities that fostered this development in each student, teacher, and classroom. There was a calm, purposefulness to our classroom in those days, and when things went off the rails, as sometimes happens, our group was able to process together and resolve whatever issues had preceded it.

Sadly, under the guise of “raising the bar” and increasing “rigor”, by the last few years of my teaching career, the daily activities that had created and fed my students’ social and emotional growth were undermined and replaced by time-on-task schedules, test preparation and packed curricula. Most mornings, we could squeeze in a Morning Greeting between breakfast and leaving for Allied Arts classes; some days we could not.

Responsive Classroom Principle 4 reminds us that To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. We are short-changing our students’ education when we can’t attend to emotional and social growth.

 

 

School Committee Meeting, 02 March 2016

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2016-Mar-01_0051All members present.

This meeting, the first since February 3 due to the Winter vacation week cancellation, was extra lengthy – 37 items. The highlights are posted below.  

Special Order of Business: Spotlight on Youth Mental Health First Aid

This new program was funded through a $100,000 federal grant and trains staff and community members to recognize and offer resources to youth who need to be connected to mental health supports.  Not only school staff, but community members (Middlesex Community College, UTEC, Public Health nurses, Boys and Girls Club, etc.) receive an 8-hour training and in turn, become resources at their organizations for staff not yet trained.  The grant represents a collaborative effort between Project Learn and the community.

No one wants to miss the signs of a mental health trauma and wonder later if there was some resource that could have helped a youth in crisis. This program sounds like it has been and will continue to be a strong support for our community’s youth who need mental health support. Although the grant funding for this program is coming to an end, the coordinators expressed confidence that the “train the trainer” model will allow the program to continue through the use of  trained in-house expertise and possibly a series of videos.

Motions

There were 5 motions on the agenda, although one (2016/91) was withdrawn (no reason given).

Given the revival and renewed interest in the Citywide Parent Council, Mr. Descoteaux and Ms. Doherty, requested (2016/86) a report detailing the parent involvement in each school along with meeting times. The Superintendent’s Report (2016/101) on Parent Involvement provided some detail on the state of parent involvement at this point.  Both Mr. Descoteaux and Ms. Doherty stressed that School Site Councils (a blend of school staff and parents) and other parent involvement-based groups are mandated as part of education reform.

Several schools did not submit information or submitted incomplete information pointing to the need to refocus on including parents in both school-based and city-wide decision-making. Dr. Khelfaoui was quite adamant that all schools will renew their efforts to include parents in schools.

Although participation in parent involvement groups have, over time fallen off, in the past, parent input was routinely sought for such things as the school’s USIP (Unified School Improvement Plan) as well as more routine decision making such as evening events (game nights, curriculum informational nights, etc.). My opinion is that the success of any school or classroom depends on a trusting, shared relationship between parent, school (teacher), and student. It has been my experience that most parents want to know about their child’s education and want to be a part of it no matter the life circumstances that might be interferring. Renewing the Citywide Parents, increasing parent advocacy and support, and insisting that every school include parents in meaningful school discussion and decision-making will make Lowell schools strong and vibrant.

Two additional motions (2016/90 and 2016/93) addressed the next school budget cycle.  Mr. Gary Frisch, the new school business administrator, has committed to preparing a draft budget by mid-April so that the School Committee can go about reviewing and approval processes prior to May 2.  Because of the tight deadline, the mid-April School Committee meeting (previously cancelled), may need to be reinstated.

The final motion (2016/97) by Ms. Martin requested a standing Curriculum and Instruction subcommittee time; however, after much discussion by the committee and clarification of the protocol for scheduling subcommittee meetings as standing meetings by Mayor Kennedy, the original motion was withdrawn and a substitute motion for including the full School Committee in some activities of the subcommittee was approved.

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 12 reports from the Superintendent. Due to some confusion over 2017 February School Vacation, the School Committee meeting dates and School Calendar for 2016-17 may contain an error (to be reviewed and presented for final approval at next meeting). Several reports were responses to motions made by former Mayor Elliott about scholarship information (it sounded like communication of the two scholarship opportunities may have unintentionally slipped and that this has been remedied for the future). There was also a response to Mayor Kennedy’s STEM curriculum proposal. This information is thoroughly outlined in the packet for those wondering what STEM offerings are currently offered and what the plans for increase STEM coursework

Additionally, Assistant Superintendent Durkin offered an update (2016/89) on the LPS response to complying with new (January 1, 2016) regulations from DESE regarding student restraint.  However, the reports (see packet) are quite lengthy and the Committee needed more time to process the reports. By working throughout the  fall, the LPS has addressed the new regulations and they are compliant with the new regulations; however, the report was referred to Student Support subcommittee prior to formal acceptance.

Two programs impacting student success were highlighted in this portion of the meeting: the Dropout and Recovery Program (2016/96) and Middle School Intervention Program and Policy (2016/102). There is plenty of statistical detail for both programs in the packet; however the presentation for both of these programs was quite impressive.  With collaboration and persistent effort to reach all affected youth, the drop out rate in Lowell is effectively 1.6% – an historically low number.

The High School staff know exactly who has not been attending school, who is in danger of giving up and therefore dropping out, and makes a multi-prong effort to reach out to students. However, that is not the end. Through collaboration with many supportive partnerships and departments, students in danger of dropping out are only encouraged to continue schooling through meaningful and often personalized solutions and support. This enables that student to continue their education and obtain a High School diploma. Examples of such supports include allowing a student who is juggling infant/child care to come in during 2nd period to accommodate childcare arrangements, and finding ways to make up missing credits (credit recovery). Knowing how essential it is to continue to reach disengaged students and not give up on them, this is truly an effort to be recognized.

Sometimes, the most effective solution is a result of looking for creative ways to solve a problem and that, it seems, is what has been the result of defunding summer school at the Middle Schools. Ms. Durkin explained that when summer school (estimated costs $250,000) was defunded, her office cobbled together about $20,000 from a variety of budget sources. With that money, the Middle Schools offered extra interventions (before/after school, Saturdays, April vacation) for students in danger of failing coursework or in danger of non-promotion. Middle School administrators reported that the interventions were far more successful than Summer School.

The packet contains details for these two programs, but a suggestion might be to look for the re-broadcast of the meeting or the LTC video link for this meeting online. Discussion and presentations for the two items come up somewhere in the vicinity of the 90 minute mark.

New Business

The biggest item from this portion of the meeting was the School Committee’s approval of the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL) and Lowell School Administrators (LSAA) contracts. The principals’ and Assistant Superintendents as well as SEIU were discussed in Executive Session. 

The contracts were approved quickly with virtually no discussion save the comment by Mr. Gendron that this was the best agreement for all parties along with a stated wish that the contract could have been 3 years, not two.  The negotiations on a successor contract will begin shortly.

Those viewing the meeting may have wondered why Mr. Descoteaux recused himself from the vote.  Mr. Descoteaux, like I, retired in June 2016, and the recently ratified and signed contract will have a personal financial impact.  As I understand it, there will be benefit from the 0.5% increase that went into effect in January 2015 as there will be a change and adjustment in salary reporting to MTRS for the purpose of pension computations. 

For the uninitiated, pension amounts (funded through contributions to Massachusetts Teacher Retirement System or MTRS) are impacted by collective bargaining agreements as a retiree’s pension amount is a percentage (based on age and years of service) of the average of the highest (usually the last) 3 years of remuneration.

When a collective bargaining agreement has lapsed, as it did in Lowell, the reported salary for a teacher is considered tentative. In simple terms, as far as MTRS is concerned, any Lowell teacher who retired last June will need an updated 3-year salary average, and recalculated monthly pension amount.  Since Mr. Descoteaux is benefiting from the “new” contract, he must recuse himself from the vote. 

The meeting packet can be found here.