School Committee Meeting 18 January 2017

DSC_0044_edited-1School Committee Meeting 18 January 2017

6 present, 1 absent

Spotlight on Excellence:

Tonight’s Spotlight on Excellence featured the Stem Academy at the Rogers School and the meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance led by STEM Academy students. With over 600 students in Pre-K to Grade 5, the students in Grade 4 were nominated to not only present, but create the slideshow presented to the Committee. Most impressively, students from the STEM Academy are at varying stages of English language acquisition and powerfully demonstrate the integration of academic content.

First up, 2 students demonstrate a “spheros”, controlling it from keypads. The students’ demonstration highlighted the importance of experimentation and the scientific process and how their attempts at controlling the Spheros through a maze informed solutions to problems.

Working with the US Dept. of Wildlife, 3 students explained their project with Blandings Turtles. Investigating these turtles led students to investigate the impact of humans on the turtle habitat. The students not only have done research into their topic, they are creating a website about their subject.

The third project, Block Coding utilizing, demonstrated students’ use of algorithms in coding. Students at the STEM routinely learn coding principles.

Growing Microgreens was the focus of the fourth student presentation. Students made a presentation documenting how  to grow microgreens and their nutritional value.  The STEM Academy has an on-going relationship with Mill City Grows and has one of the first School Gardens created in Lowell. The students distributed the fruits of their labor to members of the School Committee.

The final presentation was a demonstration of a DRONE used by students. The students use the Drone to help the City create images of Thorndike street renovation.  The highlight was a demonstration of the drone in the air. The video with be on Twitter @stemacademylps and on the STEM Academy facebook account.

Permissions to Enter

$66,500 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF) (6 yeas, 1 absent approved)


Five motions were presented

  • 7.1 (C. Martin): Requesting that the Administration, including all members who are cited as School Committee Representatives, provide the Lowell School Committee with a complete report on the history and current status of the charge filed by the LSAA regarding parking for Central Administration LSAA union members. This report should include:
    • the legal language differentiating a “charge” vs a “grievance” and notification protocols required by each,
    • a timeline of past meetings with Union leadership and
    • all associated documents and minutes from those meetings.
  • 7.II (R. Hoey): Request the Superintendent refer the Homework Policy to the Policy Subcommittee to review and revise if necessary.
  • 7.III (R. Gignac): Request the Superintendent provide a report on all extracurricular activities at each school throughout the district.

SC Gignac states parents have inquired about this information He is hopeful this information will also be populated on school individual website. SC Descoteaux would like to also know which activities have stipends.

As a former Instructional Technology Specialist, I am puzzled – and often frustrated by the Lowell Public Schools’ web presence. The revision to the District website is very attractive and clean-looking; however, locating information is frequently a problem. As an example, tonight I attempted to find the Doors Open Lowell Public Schools schedule for the rest of the year so that information could be included in the STEM Academy’s spotlight information. The calendar link does not appear to function and the individual school’s websites are equally non-functional.  This is something that, in my opinion, needs to be rethought. Before a revision to a webpage goes “live”, the revision needs to have functionality and links tested to ensure that they work properly

  • 7.IV (J. Doherty): Request the Superintendent porvide the committee with a report on the time allocated for students to have recess, lunch, physical education and health at each of our elementary and middle schools. Please include in the report any government mandates or recommendations regarding time allotted for these activities as well as if students are allowed to talk during lunch.

School Committee members have had some conversations with parents who express concerns over time allocations for recess and lunch in particular.  Parents are particularly concerned about reports of “silent lunch” periods – not those times when silent lunch is used as a behavior modification, but silent lunch periods used as a general practice. The Superintendent had queried building administrators and noted that silent lunches were isolated incidents and now resolved.

Students are under quite a lot of academic pressure during each day; they need to be able to socialize during “down time”. English Language Learners need opportunities to practice social language – lunch time is an opportunity for that.  If there is an expectation for students to eat silently as a matter of course, that expectation is unreasonable. 

Students may need to learn to appropriately socialize while eating, but an expectation that students, especially elementary aged students, will sit in silence while eating is unreasonable. I can understand that as a behavior modification, out of control and/or inappropriate lunch room behavior may occasionally result in a silent lunch, but as a general practice, no. 

I’ve had numerous conversations with parents of students who have concerns about the amount of time allocated for eating and for recess and physical activity. That is also a concern of mine.

  • 7.V (J. Doherty): In view of the upcoming implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this fall, request the Superintendent develop local measures of assessment focused on the whole child such as school culture, social and emotional learning, and the arts.

ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and many people who are of the mind that there is too much emphasis on academic testing see this as a step in the right direction. ESSA encourages schools and districts to ook at other factors that indicate school success. SC Doherty notes how these idea support the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan and Vision. Can we determine how to measure those other factors; how can we measure things like school culture, for example.? How do we show “evidence” of good schools outside of using standardized academic testing?

Superintendent Khelfaoui refers to the Massachusetts Consolrtion for Educational Assessments (he is chair). Currently 6 districts are meeting to research and explore this very topic. Each of the six districts is represented by the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Teachers’ Union. They are working together to determine performance assessments that track accountability which will include other means of measuring quality schools.  Lowell is on the cutting edge of this and lots of work has been done over the past 5 months.

SC Martin mentions a MassINC call on Friday – more info on the changes resulting from ESSA.

Lowell’s Superintendent and UTL President Georges should be commended for working on this complicated, and historically politically charged issue. Test scores from standardized testing are indeed never going away, but there should be so much more that goes into determination of how a school is valued.  

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 8.1 Participation Opportunities in Food and Nutrition Program

There seemed to have been some misunderstanding of what was being requested. There was quite a lengthy discussion of opportunities for feeding students over the summer (or during the evening) through acquisition of a food truck. The report presented tonight asks the School Committe for their input as to whether or not to pursue the permissions (zoning for example) that would make such a program a viable option.

The cost of the food truck would seemingly be picked up by reimbursements to the Food Service Accounts and, like the free-to-every-student breakfast and lunch programs, cost the City and School Department nothing.

SC Doherty makes a motion to support exploring this opportunity, which eventually passes.

However, the original motion was a request for food trucks on an occasional basis for LHS students. these trucks would be sources of different foods (more ethnic variety). According to the report included in the packet, this would result in non-reimbursement for these meals.

Additional discussions about the satellite school meals (satellite schools are those without kitchens – those meals are cooked at the STEM Academy and transported to the schools without kitchens) and wasted food.

Motion roll call: 6 yeas, 1 absent approved

  • 8.II Science and Engineering Fair Update

SC Martin offers thanks and encouragement for moving forward with these opportunities. She would like the schools to continue to be mindful of opportunities, some of which can be at the Univeristy. SC Hoey asks for clarification about LHS student participation (1?). Ms. Desmond explains that while 1 LHS was selected to participate in the MIT Science Fair, several other high school students did participate. Ms. Desmond notes the $35,000 cost associated with science fair impelemntation and the pursuit of mini grant funding for the same.

  • 8.III Sick Time Report

SC Hoey appreciates the report as it stands; would appreciate a report broken down by school. SC Doherty recommends via motion that the report should be referred to the Policy Subcommittee to discuss attendance incentives for staff and to review staff attendance policy.

  • 8.IV December Financial Report

SC Gignac raises questions about budget transfers that need to be prepared to offset negative balances in some accounts. Mr. Frisch states budget adjustments are ongoing starting in January. SC.Gignac refers SC Gignac’s question about the Suspense Account (2400, 577771 for $179K) on page 3.  Mr. Gignac makes motion to refer to Finance Subcommittee.

  • 8.V Lowell High School Education Program and Space Use Plan The detail is found in this PDF document.

This report was taken first at request of SC Gignac.  Head of School Martin presents the documents forwarded from Educational Leadership Team (ELT). Next steps is to refer this document to the subcommittee, with the approval of School Committee then sent to City Council. Visioning sessions inclusive of the LHS community (cross-section), compilation of the ideas and documentation of the programs needed/desired at LHS.

SC Gignac – motion to refer plan to joint meeting of LHS Subcommittee and Facilities Subcommittee next Tuesday at 8 pm. SC Doherty suggests that this joint meeting be held at the STEM Academy television studio.  Questions in advance of the subcommittee meeting would be best handled by email so the architect and project managers as well as ELT can be queried. The meeting next Tuesday will be for clarification and inquiry – vote on the report will be February 1. Questions can be directed to Assistant Superintendent Durkin.

  • 8.VI Facilities Maintenance Report

Student Representative Leahy notes heating issues. Requests resolution as fast as possible; all three LHS buildings were cold today.  Superintendent Khelfaoui concurs and notes the age of systems in several schools makes this challenging. He has received emails from parents and students.

The age and disfunction of heating (and AC systems) and leaks in roofs are a major concern. The SC members all express a feeling of urgency. Mayor Kennedy cautions blame-assignment and finger-pointing; we all have to work together on this.  He has asked departments to identify the most egredious issues. Mr. Underwood notes that there must be a response to these emergencies; there is frustration, but we are not pointing fingers. We need to figure out how to resolve these issues without fear of hurt feelings. Notes the response to emergency by DPW is excellent. Mr. Kennedy says he will have a report at the next meeting. Ms. Leahy expresses gratitude toward Facilities and DPW. SC Hoey notes city and schools just need to get along a little bit better. Not here to have a war with the City.

Motions accepted and placed on file.

  • 8.VII Home Education

Approved (6 yeas, 1 absent)

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

To download meeting agenda and support documentation, click here and navigate to the School Committee meetings. The agenda are organized by date. 

School Committee Meeting, 06 January 2016

6 members present, Jackie Doherty absent

As the first meeting of the year, this was a very quick one (about 25 minutes). Most of tonight’s agenda was routinely dealt with so I’ve only noted points in the meeting whflipoutere there was some discussion.

After the roll call, Mr. Gendron received committee persmission to have LHS students from Generation Citizen address the Committee. If you, like I, were a bit confused about the program, here is a link to a December 30 article in the Lowell Sun by Amelia Pak-Harvey.  This project is a pilot meant to introduce students to civic engagement.

The students present at tonight’s school committee meeting explained their process in determining a need for a financial literacy course and asked for the Committee’s support in implementing a financial literacy program at the High School. After the presentation, Mayor Kennedy suggested that the students’ request be put more fomally on a future meeting’s agenda.

And, as a side-note, Ms. Martin noted a 4-day summer program for high school seniors which is sponsored by CTI. The program, Student Finance 101, is offered for free and is designed to assist seniors navigate financial aide and other financial issues as they move on to college and greater financial independence.


Mr. Gendron presented the two motions on the agenda tonight. The first motion (2015/506) requested planning and a follow-up report for what has annually been a Community Service Day  throughout the school system each Spring. Last year, my fourth grade students participated in this effort by cleaning and beautifying Lincoln Square Park; throughout the City, students do similar service projects embracing the importance of becoming active in their community. 

The second motion, 2015/507, requested a plan for the handling middle school population explosion anticipated to begin next school year. In addition to modulars (portable, leased classroom spaces), the district needs to consider teaching and support staff expenditures needed. Ms. Martin suggested that along with consideration for modular spaces, the district should also look at the anticipated re-zoning of schools (see Item 7 from the prior meeting on November 18, 2015) – which of course will make this a lot more complicated, but should result in an effective solution to significant increases in the middle school population.

I would agree with Ms. Martin’s suggestion here. Looking at the increased needs at the Middle School level along with the complex issue of creating a neighborhood school approach to student assignments will definitely be a daunting challenge. Rather than patch the immediate need for space with a band-aid, a more thorough analysis of student assignment and school zones will provide a longer-term solution and should result in a more permanent policy.

New Business

Under new business, a budget transfer request (2016/9) to increase the NEASC (New England Association of Schools & Colleges) accreditation budget from $15,000 to $24,000 was questioned by Mr. Gignac.  Mr. Antonelli was not able to identify the origin of the budgeted amount ($15,000) as the budget was developed prior to his tenure (possibly based on an historic figure from prior budgeting the last time LHS was accredited?). The increased amount ($24,000) covers the travel expenses for a Visiting Team of educators participating in the accreditation of Lowell High as well as the report presented to the District (due in Feb. 2016).

During the course of the accredition process, the high school hosts a visit, or peer review, by a  visiting team of  colleagues who observe nearly every aspect of a high school operation. As a result of this on-site visit, a report is made noting strengths and areas where improvement might be needed according to the NEASC guidelines. Here’s a link in case you’d like to read more about this. The travel expenses for this 4-day visit are included in the requested increase of $9,000. 

A side-note to routinely approved Convention and Conference requests was made by Ms. Martin.  The Martha McQuade Adventure Fund (story written by Jen Meyers here) offers scholarships to assist students who would like to participate in international travel opportunities, but find the costs limiting.

Meeting adjourned at 6:56 pm. Record time.