School Committee Meeting, 06 April 2016

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, April 06, 2016

12022015ClockAll members present.

The Special Order of Business tonight focused on the Kathryn Stoklosa Knowledge Bowl competition, which has been a yearly academic match-up since 1988.  The 2016 winning Wang Middle School Team was featured along with all participants. Congrats to the Wang Team and their coaches and to all the participating teams from Middle Schools around the City. This is a huge undertaking and Carolyn Rocheleau Feeney who organizes the event received well-deserved praise.

The Wang Knowledge Bowl Team now continues on to a Regional Knowledge Bowl Competition scheduled for June 6-7 at the Stoklosa School.

Motions

There were 2 motions on the agenda. The motions included:

  1. 2016/149: A request to explore the possibility of LPS acquiring the Franco American School building (Mr. Gendron). This motion was rolled into the report of the Facilities Subcommittee (Item 12).
  2. 2016/151: A 3-part request to respond to what appears to be an insufficient number of substitute teachers available.  The 3 parts specified inquiries about teacher absentee rates, professional development activities held during the school day, and the substitute pool available. (Ms. Doherty).

This should be an interesting report. As a classroom teacher, and I know many of my colleagues felt similarly, I disliked planning for a substitute teacher. Teaching has changed and unless the substitute has an education background, time away is not very productive. Our curricula are packed. The pressure to keep lessons moving forward in order to keep on target for testing and curricula goals often cannot stand a disruption in the flow of lessons and learning.  Also, given the high level of teaching skills required and differentiation needed to address student needs, keeping students occupied with paperwork and reading from a textbook no longer is a viable option when teacher is out of the classroom. 

As Mr. Descoteaux commented, other school districts around Lowell are also experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers. The reasons for this are no doubt fairly complicated and may not necessarily be tied to money. 

Subcommittees

2016/137 Mr. Hoey reported on the Policy Subcommittee meeting of Tuesday, March 15, 2016.  The meeting notes are contained in the packet. This meeting continued discussion and made a recommendation that LPS adhere to state law regarding placement of students in schools.

2016/138 Ms. Doherty reported on the Student Support Services Subcommittee meeting of Tuesday, March 29, 2016.  The meeting notes and extensive documentation regarding the LPS Student Restraint policy are contained in the packet. The policy was voted on and accepted by the full committee.  An item regarding planning for Lowell Career Academy as an Innovation School was accepted as a report of progress.

2016/147 Mr. Gendron reported on the Facilities Subcommittee meeting of Thursday, March 31, 2016 and presented information about Motion 8, 2016/149, a request to further investigation acquiring the Franco American School to address space issues.

Two items from the Subcommittee meeting responded to concerns about open work orders in all schools. Mr. Gendron has a list of prioritized open work orders which should be completed by the end of the school year.  A second item on the subcommittee agenda addressed concerns about transportation safety. John Descoteaux , Family Resource Center Coordinator, requests anyone who observes a bus driver operating unsafely contact him through Central Office so that the issue can be addressed in a timely way.

After learning through Mr. Frisch (Chief Financial Officer) that a 2-classroom modular unit planned for installation at the Wang School would cost over $500,000 (not including set up or break down), the Facilities Subcommittee strongly felt it wise to explore other space options to address the burgeoning student population expected at the Middle Schools starting next year and for several years thereafter.  Two parcels, one at the Polish American Veterans Club in Centralville, and the other being the Franco American School, were considered (the Polish American Veterans Club has since been put under agreement and is therefore unavailable). The motion requests continued exploration as to costs.

One recent report from the Franco American School Board mentioned that any sale would include keeping the Grotto and Stations of the Cross intact.  That could pose of problem for a public school if negotiations were to be successful.  A second consideration – and an expensive one I think – is that, to my best recollection, the Franco lacks ADA compliance, particularly for classroom spaces.  Retrofitting those items might be prohibitive. As was pointed out at last evening’s meeting, there will be little chance of obtaining school building funds from the Commonwealth as the high school project is already in the pipeline.

Reports of the Superintendent

Susan Maze-Rohstein, from Northeastern’s Restorative Justice program reported on the activities and recommendations coming from the program’s interactions with LHS groups following last Fall’s racial incident.  The full report is available in the meeting packet.  Referred to the Lowell High Subcommittee for further discussion of recommendations made by participants.

Carolyn Rocheleau Feeney reported on an extension of the 21st Century Grant to include 2 additional weeks of activities at the Morey and Shaughnessy School Summer programs for 2016.  The program has brought positive gains as seen through reading scores either increasing or through minimizing summer learning loss.  While this program is grant funded and grants only can be stretched so far, it would be wonderful for all of our students if such opportunities existed at every Lowell school.

New Business

  • A grant award for the Wang School was accepted.
  • Aramark, the current food service vendor, recommended to authorize RFP for a 1-year $14.757 million contract (with a $1.7 million revenue share returned to Lowell). The Aramark contract has 2 1-year extensions built in (revenue share would be the same).

The RFP was reviewed by Mr. Frisch, and representation from Human Services, elementary, middle and high school administration.  While Aramark has agreed to be part of a monthly advisory meeting which will include parents, I wonder why no parent representation was present during the RFP process.  As I understand it, several parents have concerns about the quality, sourcing (local?) and food service in general and, in my opinion, would have brought an important viewpoint to the discussions.

Following approval of Convention Requests, the School Committee went into Executive Session to review Collective Bargaining proposals and positions. Meeting adjourned from Executive Session.

The meeting packet can be found here.

Onerous Regulations….

Yesterday’s presentation of the Senate bill proposing a compromise to the Charter School ballot question got a predictable reaction. No one is totally happy, but the unhappiest reactions came from those who advocate lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts – the ones who continue to quote the 34,000 student waiting list even in the face of the State Auditor’s report saying that number is unsubstantiated.

This morning’s Boston Globe article contains a reaction from pro-Charter spokesperson, Mark Kenen of Massachusetts Public Charter School Association (you’ll have to look Dr. Kenen’s credentials up on Linkedin yourself). The quote, from the Boston Globe, is:

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, added that “it imposes onerous new regulations that will shackle the operation of existing charter schools.”

Wait a minute, those “onerous” new regulations, those regulations that will “shackle” operations? Some of these regulations are things such as using enforced suspensions of students as a means to create “school safety”.  The reliance on suspension over other less-draconian discipline actions have recently come to light nationwide (see UCLA report on Charter School suspension rates here making note of the 44.7% suspension rate at Roxbury Prep).

And then there are those pesky regulations requiring certification of teachers and representation of parents and teachers on governing boards the same standards required for traditional public schools. (For more on governance, see the Annenberg Report, Whose Schools published yesterday).

Wow, if those things are considered onerous, then why not unshackle traditional public schools as well?

Reference to the act, S2203, is found here.

An Invitation

If you believe everything you read about education, you would think that public schools have been taken over by slackers only interested in making a quick buck, the “generous” benefits, and extra long summers off.

If you truly wish to know what really happens in a public school classroom, go visit one. Seriously. And be certain you go to a PUBLIC school, not a charter school funded by the public and run by for-profit corporations. Then write about what you observe.

So many private sector business types want to “improve” education by standardizing it. They figure that if clueless educators know what the expectations and goals are, the students will naturally perform better on standardized tests. They conjecture that making teachers accountable for the standardized test scores of their students, by quantifying a teacher’s worth with some “value-added” metric, the challenges of education will be solved. And it won’t cost a penny.

These ideas are coming from the very same people who give themselves 6-figure bonuses, but won’t up the minimum wage.

How I wish that those experts with the answers to all things education would step into a classroom for a couple of hours before spouting off! But then, those that don’t see a need to provide a living wage to their company’s workforce would probably not notice the child who can’t focus because food is in short supply at home, or the child who needs glasses to see, but whose parent can’t afford them, or the child whose culture and gift for speaking in a language other than English needs a more time to learn the nuances of English – the test language under which they will be assessed for the whole of their education.

The experts and pundits probably would not see that the social challenges of families living on or below the poverty level are nearly insurmountable in this “ownership society”.  Own what, I might ask. Well unless you own a big fat CEO-style paycheck, you are basically screwed.

It’s a lot easier to pontificate about what is “wrong” in education, to advocate for a program which just happens to provide some investment opportunity which may become a “profit center”, and to ignore the neediest of our society.

Everyone deserves an education. That’s right. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. How can this be called a civilized society if only a select few are allowed the advantages of learning?

So if you ever want to take me up on that challenge – to see what it is truly like to teach in a PUBLIC school classroom, my door – and the invitation – is open.

Dear Mitt…

As a citizen of the fair Commonwealth of Massachusetts for quite a number of years – nearly 35 at this point – I feel uniquely qualified to respond to Mitt Romney’s latest education campaign speech.

You see, as a public school teacher in a small urban Massachusetts school district, I wonder how Mitt can call the US public education, particularly this state’s system “third world” when his fiscal policies directly affected the state’s ability to adequately fund education. Draconian cuts to the state’s education aid and education budgets were implemented by the Romney administration so that Candidate Romney can now point to his budgets as being so lean and mean that he was able to cut taxes. And if our education system resembles anything “third world” – and I disagree about that pithy little soundbite – Mitt should look in the mirror for the one to blame.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen the district in which I work decimated financially.  Teachers, paraprofessionals, librarians,  cafeteria, custodial staff, social workers…. all cut heavily and some cut in entirety. Buildings closed. Class sizes are bigger, which means that there’s far more crowd control in an elementary classroom today than there used to be.  Sorry Mitt, but despite your crack “research” from McKinsey & Company, size does matter.

Yes, Mitt, successful education is dependent on a partnership – parent, teacher, and student – who support each child.  There may be lots of reasons for that partnership to fail, but it is insulting and simplistic to think that a child’s school success is dependent upon a two-parent family unit. Forcing your own social prejudices into education policy is just plain ignorant.

Hopefully your flawed and obvious pandering to win votes will be seen for what it is. Garbage.