Leave the Drama to the Drama Department

pexels-photo-220320.jpegLowell appears to have established a personnel practice that is not, in my opinion, a winning strategy for attracting, and more importantly, keeping the best administrators to serve a large and complex school system.  

The last two School Superintendents in Lowell had tenures lasting 3 years. When these former administrators first were appointed, the spirit of collaboration and cooperation was positive. And then, as often happens, the honeymoon period disintegrated. Time passed, the acrimony continues and before you can say “help wanted”, a new hiring committee formed. 

Oh Lowell, this is why we can’t have nice things.

The School Committee agenda published on the City’s website hints at what could turn out to be an extension of this practice, this time directed toward the current superintendent, Dr. Khelfaoui. This is disturbing for several reasons:  the loss of continuity in LPS District leadership and the manner in which what appears to me to be a personnel issue, is being conducted.

Right now, the Lowell Public Schools budget/financial situation is dire. The lack of funding is so critical that K-8 school libraries will no longer have a library aide to oversee them. Effectively, that will end the library access for elementary and middle school students. There have been several cuts, equally acute, at the High School level. Lack of funding is no longer a belt-tightening exercise, it is now affecting students and school services directly. 

Anyone paying attention knows that the amount of Chapter 70 funding allocated to Lowell’s charter schools has increased by $2 million to a total assessment of $19 million. Top that off with a state budget that chronically, and I’d say intentionally, underfunds its obligations to both ELL and low-income students (see Foundation Budget) and a charter school reimbursement that never actually receives funding from the State.  Consequently the swirling vortex of school funding has turned into a tsunami. This is not necessarily the fault of Lowell’s Superintendent of Schools.

The CFO for the District has left Lowell for another Massachusetts school position. Currently the CFO position is vacant at a time when critical end-of-year reporting is in process. Three candidates for the interim CFO position withdrew before being interviewed. Does this indicate that Lowell’s reputation for being a tough gig is limiting the number of candidates willing to work here? 

Lowell, your reputation precedes you.

And that reputation as a “tough gig” brings me to conducting and discussing personnel and evaluative issues. No doubt about it, one of the School Committee’s main responsibilities is overseeing the school superintendent. It is the body that evaluates the superintendent. [Note the last evaluation, overall “Proficient”, was completed and reported at the School Committee meeting on Dec. 20, 2017. Notes for that meeting are found here in Agenda Item 6. under “Unfinished Business].

The three agenda items for the July 18, 2018 meeting (link above in Paragraph 4) which, in short, call for a document to terminate the superintendent’s employment, an immediate move to put the superintendent on administrative leave, and the appointment of a replacement from the Superintendent’s Central Office “team” telegraph that the School Committee has issues with the Superintendent’s performance since that 2017 evaluation. Shouldn’t this be a discussion held in person, either in a face-to-face meeting OR in executive session?  Putting such items out in an open meeting seems vindictive and petty, and not at all benefitting to Lowell’s schools or families. It most likely means any resemblance to a Central Office “team” has now evaporated.

This is an embarrassment to our schools and our community. It does not serve Lowell’s interests now, nor will it serve in the future when a new leader for our schools needs to be selected.

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School Committee Meeting, 5 November 2015

Meeting: Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All members present.

The day after local elections and a short agenda made for a quick public meeting – under 1 hour. The Committee met in Executive Session for an update of UTL negotiations/grievances after the public portion of the agenda.

IMG_0891Most of the 19 agenda items were passed or accepted without much discussion.

Motions

Agenda Item 11, (2015/395) LHS Athletics – Rule 53 Waiver Request, generated some clarifying questions.  The Rule 53 Waiver Request, apparently an annual agenda item, applies to 7th and 8th grade students audition for “selected” high school sports (swimming/diving, hockey). While the aim of the LHS programs in these sports is to have a feeder system through the Middle Schools, there are costs associated with these sports that make that difficult.  In the meantime, 7th and 8th grade student athletes are prepared for participation through the waiver, which passed.

Subcommittees

Some time was spent summarizing Agenda Item 8 (2015/383), the Report from the Curriculum Subcommittee. The four-item focus of this meeting was:

  1. Average age of textbook,
  2. Kindergarten Report Card,
  3. Eureka Math (elementary),
  4. iReady implementation.

A chart of the textbooks in use (see meeting packet) shows there is a need for new materials in the Middle School science (text 1998) and Grade 7 ancient history texts (1995?).

While individual student textbooks become more and more obsolete and the use of “multi-platform programs” becomes more frequent, curriculum focus shifts from following a teachers’ guide to teaching standards (Common Core, NEXT Science Standards, link HERE for Massachusetts standards). The conflict in this approach comes when the program authors interpret a standard; it is important to remember that program publishers such as Pearson are trying to make a profit. Sometimes the connection between an activity and an important standard can be a bit fuzzy.

In my opinion and experience, “textbooks” are becoming less of a one-book-per-student purchase and more of a curriculum or program purchase. For example, the textbooks listed for the Elementary program, my area of experience/expertise, include 

  • Children Discovering Justice (a program based on inquiry experiences led by the teacher),
  • FOSS Science (mainly experiential, led by teacher, brief readings in a textbook collection),
  • Eureka Math (developed from EngageNY curriculum units – teacher scripts/lessons),
  • iReady (individualized Computer Assisted Instruction in Reading/Math),
  • Calkins Writing Units (lesson sequences, relies on example texts) 
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction Toolkit reading guides (suggested scripts, uses trade books)

Adequate and in-time professional development/training will be the key to success with these programs. For the lessons to be successful, teachers need to anticipate and prepare materials (the FOSS Kits for example take hours of teacher preparation). Educators also need to be thoughtful about how the individual students in the classroom will need to be supported. While the LPSD provides some trade books for teaching lessons, it was often my experience that these books, referred to as mentor texts, came from teachers’ personal finances. The school district as a whole needs to continually review the effectiveness of the programs for our students in reaching standards. Notice I didn’t say passing a test.

A second subcommittee meeting’s notes, Personnel, and Agenda Item 13, addressed Dr. Khelfaoui’s evaluation.  Dr. Khelfaoui’s evaluation tool is directed by the Massachusetts (DESE) Department of Elementary & Secondary Education regulations, however, the specific professional and student goals are his own and were accepted.

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.