News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Must-See-TV continues

Last night, there were a few must-see-tv events with live broadcasts of both President Obama’s speech about sending more troops to Afghanistan and the senate candidates’ debate. Tonight also includes informational opportunities via the television: The senate candidates will debate again, from 7-8 p.m. on NECN and WBGH channel 2. This debate will be simulcast on the radio and streamed online by 90.9 FM WBUR. In addition, the Lowell School Committee will meet, beginning at 7 p.m. and broadcast on LTC, local cable channel 10. The meeting will start with a Spotlight on Excellence for 28 students from  middle schools across the city who achieved a perfect score of 280 on the MCAS test last year. The meeting will include a special presentation on the district’s results regarding the Growth Model, the state’s new way of looking at student achievement, via MCAS scores, based on individual student progress over the last three years. Also tonight, the school committee will evaluate Dr. Chris Scott’s performance in her first year as superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools.

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Commonwealth students still leading the pack

This week, the National Center for Education Statistics released the results of the 2009 national math test scores for fourth and eighth graders, which showed, once again, that Massachusetts leads the nation in student achievement. A national report card for math, the fourth-grade test results placed Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont as the highest performing states while the District of Columbia, Alabama, Arizona and Louisiana were the lowest performing. When it came to educating fourth-grade minority students, Black students in Massachusetts scored higher than Black students in any other state while Montana did the same for their Hispanic students. At the eighth-grade level, Massachusetts had the highest scores and the state’s Black students also outperformed their peers across the country.

I’m not saying we don’t have too many students failing to reach proficiency or that the achievement gap, which has not changed, isn’t a problem in the Commonwealth. But as the state with the highest percentage of schools in some form of regulatory sanction as well as threats of takeover by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, perhaps our state education leaders could put at least some effort into promoting the good work our districts do with the nation’s highest-performing students to balance their excessive labeling and sanctioning of the Commonwealth’s public schools.

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New school year begins for “family-friendly city”

This morning I happened to hear the tail end of an interview with Supt. Chris Scott on WCAP Radio as she welcomed teachers, students and parents to a new school year. Since today was the first day of school for Lowell children in grades 1-9, the timing was perfect.  Dr. Scott briefly mentioned the enrollment concerns for kindergarten, first, third and seventh grades where some classes have an average of 25 students rather than the preferred size of 22. (The school committee will be discussing this topic at a special meeting tomorrow at 7 p.m., second floor conference room at 155 Merrimack Street—more on that issue in a later post.) What stuck out for me about this morning’s conversation was Dr. Scott’s assessment of Lowell as a “family-friendly city,” not only because we have been able to maintain our lunch costs at $1.75, but also because we do not charge fees for students to participate in sports, nor do we charge to bus students in grades K-8. Many neighboring communities have not been able to do the same, with parents in some districts paying $500 per student for sports and $300 for busing. Over the last few years in Lowell, the district has been able to save $700,000 in transportation costs while also increasing the number of student riders—even reducing eligibility requirements to pre-2003 distances of 1½  miles for middle-school students and ¾ mile for elementary students. Also, Dick has a post regarding LHS recently being named as one of the top 50 high schools in the state. In Lowell, we still have a way to go to excellence, but I’m thinking there’s a lot to like about Lowell schools. Welcome back!

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Another success story

I’ve started a file in my office that I call “Excellence.” In it, I have begun to collect little success stories involving the people and programs in our community, especially ones about the schools and our young people. Some of these stories you may already know, some you may not. I’d like to share them with you, so here’s one: The Mass. Dept of Education announced in April that the Lowell Even Start Program ranked Number 1 in the state based on a comprehensive review that focused on criteria such as learning gains, test scores, and attendance. Operated by the Early Childhood Development office for the past six years and located at the Family Literacy Center, Lowell’s Even Start Program works with the Adult Education Center to provide educational programs for the parents and children of disadvantaged families. Lowell’s program is one of 19 statewide. If you haven’t visited the Family Literacy Center at 26 Palmer Street, you should—it’s a wonderfully colorful, child-centered, family space that is especially good for reading together. (They also appreciate donations of gently used children’s books.)

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Latin Lyceum one of many successes

As you can see by the photo below of some graduates from this year’s Latin Lyceum, taken at its Arete Awards ceremony last week, the group of smiling seniors illustrates something people used to think wasn’t possible: That is, you could have a rigorous, exam-based, public high school in Lowell that challenged top students and represented the diversity of our population. When it first began nine years ago, most of the Lyceum students came from private middle schools, but that percentage has been changing steadily. As the middle schools have raised expectations and done a better job of challenging our highest-achieving students, more than half (I think last year it was about 65%) of Lyceum students are products of our public middle schools.


In addition to its success in Lowell, Lyceum graduates excel with their peers from wealthier districts who are members of the brightest high school students the state has to offer. Evidence of our youngsters’ success is not based simply on MCAS scores, which are stellar, or even the percentage of our students who go on to college, which is 100%, but also is shown by the range of top schools these young people attend, such as Tufts, MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Emerson, to name a few. One student I noticed, particularly because I knew his father Alvaro from the Citywide Parent Council, was Ivan Soares. Ivan began his education in Lowell at the Rogers Middle School when he was 11 years old and unable to speak English. Yet Ivan graduates this year with a 90% scholarship to Yale (tuition there runs about $48,000 a year) or he could have held out for Harvard, where he was wait listed. Obviously Lyceum students are not the only LHS graduates to go to top colleges each year (more on that later), but their impressive results further attests that this academy has been a good thing for Lowell Public Schools and its students.

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