News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

LHS crew fastest public school boat in nation

Last weekend, the Lowell High School Crew Team sent two boats to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Cincinnati. Of the 142 teams from across the country that qualified for the event, LHS was one of only 20 public schools to compete in this prestigious regatta. The boys’ lightweight four (comprised of Mike McKeon, Cameron Crockett, Brandon Coombes, Josiah Todd, and Harry Finch) placed fifth overall in the grand final and was the fastest public school boat in the country! This was the third time in the past four years that the Lowell High School crew team competed at nationals. (Special thanks to Coach Jen Bauer for providing this information.)

posted in Education, Lowell High, Sports | 0 Comments

Council, school meetings worth noting

One of the great strengths of a democratic government is the right of its citizens to participate in, even criticize, leadership decisions. That right (a privilege and a responsibility) is especially demonstrated during tough fiscal times when people, as we saw at recent school budget hearings, voice concerns to their elected leaders. Tonight, the Lowell City Council will begin its budget deliberations at 5 pm, and citizens should participate in (or at least watch on channel 10) the process. Also tonight, the school administration will hold a special meeting for parents at the Rogers Middle School at 7 pm regarding transition issues relative to closing the school. Tomorrow, the School Committee will continue its budget hearing around 8 pm in Council Chambers after subcommittee meetings on special education (6:15 pm); transportation (6:45) and its regularly scheduled board meeting (7 pm). Next week, the Lowell High School subcommittee will convene on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 pm to discuss the impacts of teacher and administrative cuts at the high school, particularly regarding class size, student distribution, and programs under the direction of the now-eliminated position of student support services coordinator. These meetings are all open to the public, and I urge you to be involved and express your concerns: a strong democracy, like a strong community, is one where citizens are part of the process.

posted in City Life, Education, Local Politics, Lowell High, Money Matters | 0 Comments

Bemoaning the Budget Blues

After last night’s school committee meeting, I’ve got a bad case of the Budget Blues, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. (Symptoms include a pervasive sense of sadness, frustration, and a craving for sugar.) Yes, we cut another $1.2 million from the school budget which brings our total cuts up to about $5.8 million—two million shy of the number projected by state and city revenue reductions. Mind you, the funding is not definite as the state struggles with its budget woes and the city begins its own budget review. (Check LiL for Mimi’s take on the city’s budget.) And yes, we voted to move out of the downtown rental properties, a loss for the owners and area businesses, but one that does not adversely impact the education of our children at least. Sadly, the same can’t be said about many of the other cuts made last night. As we attempt to bring class sizes at the high school more in line with our fiscal crisis, the struggle is how to do that and still maintain a rich diversity of electives. With middle schools being pushed to an average of 25 students per class while the elementary schools hover at 22 and higher depending on the grade, getting the high school up to an average of 21 students per class shouldn’t be so difficult—if it wasn’t for the impact it has on the selection of courses offered (consider six kids in a Latin class, nine in Business English, or four in ceramics). This dilemma also offered the one highlight of last-night’s long, depressing meeting: that is, the opportunity to hear many eloquent speeches from students, parents, alumni, and staff about the exceptional enrichment of LHS offerings, dance and Latin in particular, as they were slated to be cut. We didn’t make those cuts; and in fact, we ended up reducing teaching staff at the high school by a total of 21 instead of the 25 recommended by the administration. As I said last night, we need a plan that creatively combines course levels, efficient scheduling, and an equitable distribution of students to get to a class size we can afford without devastating programs. Meanwhile, the shortfall continues. Stay tuned for our next budget hearing on Wednesday, June 17.  


posted in Education, Lowell High, Money Matters | 3 Comments

High school on the chopping block

Tomorrow night, the Lowell School Committee will resume budget hearings at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers. The meeting will be televised live on LTC channel 10, public participation is welcome, and if you are concerned about the high school, please come down and participate. With enrollment at the high school hovering at about 650 students less than five years ago, the administration is recommending a 10% reduction in teaching staff.  Also recommended is a 50% reduction in the television studio staff,  elimination of programs such as after-school detention and Saturday morning tutor/buy back, as well as cuts to custodians, clerks, parent liaisons, and instructional technology specialists. The administration also recommends not filling several open administrative positions, such as database administrator, family consumer science chair, and coordinator of student support services. In addition to these recommended reductions, last week high school administrators were instructed by members of the LHS subcommittee to identify an additional $400,000 in administrative cuts. To date, the committee has reduced spending by about $4.5 million district wide, primarily by closing the Rogers Middle School along with a number of central office reductions. The general feeling is that millions more are needed to meet the shortfall. (Check here to see the budget.) There are also several reductions to assistant coaches being recommended, but those decisions may be deferred until after the Athletics Subcommittee meets on Thursday, 6 p.m., at 155 Merrimack Street.

posted in Education, Lowell High, Money Matters | 4 Comments

How many teachers needed at LHS?

Tonight at 6 pm, the LHS subcommittee will hear updated reports regarding reducing teachers at the high school based on declining enrollment (650 less students than five years ago) amid a budget shortfall that numbers in the millions—anywhere from $3-5 million more in cuts needed, depending how optimistic you are that the state will deliver on education funding. Also to be discussed at the public meeting, are other recommendations for cuts in high school staffing, such as assistant coaches, department chairs, and the TV studio. Votes based on the information received tonight will be made during the next Budget Hearing for the schools on Wednesday, June 10, at 7 pm in Council Chambers. Please join us tonight to hear these reports firsthand and participate in the discussions. Let us know your thoughts and concerns. After the LHS subcommittee meeting, the school committee will go into executive session to discuss rental contracts downtown, as well as union negotiations. Mimi of LiL has a post on the downtown building issue that brings in a number of voices and is worth a read if you haven’t seen it.

posted in Education, Lowell High, Money Matters | 4 Comments

Teens, drinking and death

Tonight, Lowell High School’s senior prom will be held at the Memorial Auditorium beginning at 6:30. If it’s anything like past proms, it will include hundreds of beautiful, stylishly dressed young people out in droves to celebrate the culmination of their education in the Lowell Public Schools. If you’re near downtown at that time, swing by to catch a glimpse of our youngsters as they promenade into the auditorium dressed in their finest. You won’t be disappointed, as it is truly inspiring to see the diversity, creativity and sheer exuberance  of our youth.  School administrators, teachers and police officers will be on hand to wish the youngsters well and do what they can to insure the festivities are fun, safe, and free of alcohol or drugs. If you haven’t had the drugs and alcohol talk with your own teens recently, do it again. This week’s Boston Globe includes all-too-common heartbreaking accounts of young lives lost or ruined due to a lethal mix of teens and alcohol, such as the Lynn boy, who struck and killed a woman after his prom—despite extensive efforts to curtail drinking from school administrators, and this one about the woman who speaks at area schools about the tragedy of losing her teenage daughter after she wandered away during an underage drinking party.  Speaking of underage drinking, the May meeting of the Friends of LHS had an eye-opening presentation about the risks to parents when underage drinking occurs in their homes either deliberately or inadvertently—whether or not anyone gets hurt. Underage drinking is against the law, and parents will be prosecuted and held accountable if it happens in their homes. Also, as the Lynn example shows, even when adults do all they can, the ultimate decision rests on the teen, and that is why the most important change is one of attitude towards alcohol, and the adult’s role is to model appropriate behavior along with giving lectures about responsibility.

posted in Education, Lowell High | 4 Comments

Weekend drama

No, I’m not talking about the school committee, but our local arts scene: The last play of the season at the MRT is A Moon for the Misbegotten, a classic by Eugene O’Neil. Well, I say classic, but who knows? I saw this play in a college production about 20 years ago and was not impressed, as it seemed melodramatic, overwrought and dated. Still, I’m game to see it again. The great thing about live theatre is that there is always something to like, or to discuss or critique after the show. Productions can differ radically because of the added variables of directing, acting, even set design. I’m going Sunday night, but the play runs through May 17th with performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 8 pm; matinees run Saturdays at 4:30, Sundays at 2:00. Saturday night shows at 8:30 and Sunday night shows at 7:00 pm (call the box office at 978-654-4678). The recent positive review of the play in the Boston Globe indicates to me that some of the flaws in the production that I saw so long ago might have been countered by smart directing and excellent acting. It sounds like it might even be a bit humorous! On the other end of the spectrum, we have home-grown theatre right here in Lowell – the Image Theater strikes again with an ORIGINAL play by our own Jerry Bisantz. Entitled The Straight Line, featuring “beer, romance and gun fights,” the play will be upstairs at The Old Court for the next two weekends, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm. Last but not least, Lowell High School students will perform Little Shop of Horrors, opening tonight with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 pm at the Lowell Freshman Academy Theater (how do you spell that word anyway? – er as in Image Theater or -re as in Merrimack Repertory Theatre? These are the things that keep me awake at night!) So, there you have it, entertainment and then some for your rainy May weekend. There really IS a lot to like about Lowell! Enjoy!

posted in Local Groups, Lowell High, Theater, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Will raising the age, lower the dropout rate?

Adults know you won’t get far without a high school diploma. Dropouts earn less, have poorer healthcare, and are more likely to end up in prison, on public assistance, or worse. Yet every year, too many kids quit school. According to the DESE, overall 11% of LHS students dropped out of school in 2008; that number jumps to 19% for Latinos and 22% for special education students. I attended a policy discussion today, sponsored by the Rennie Center, to hear opposing views about whether making kids stay in school until age 18 will reduce dropout rates.

On May 15, the state’s Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission will make recommendations on the compulsory school age as well as other issues. Massachusetts is one of 23 states that allows students to drop out at age 16 (19 states mandate attendance until 18 years; and 8 states mandate until 17). According to the policy brief presented today, there is no evidence that raising the age will reduce the dropout rate or that keeping it at 16 helps. What did become clear to me, however, is that allowing kids to quit at 16 sets a low expectation and sends the wrong message. (It’s not an option for my children. Who would want it for their teen?) Then again, if the youngster is failing and miserable, what good is another two years of forced schooling? Those who favor raising the age limit, see it as a tool that will only be effective if coupled with strong supports and services to engage youth in their education—including early identification and intervention, and alternative programs. But that is the crux of the issue: In this fiscal climate, how can we force disengaged students to stay in school longer when schools don’t have the resources to meet their needs now? Despite data identifying at-risk students based on attendance, grades and behaviorinformation districts knowmost schools struggle with how to provide additional supports to those students given the time, staffing, and revenue limits they face. And that doesn’t even touch on the issue of disinterest and disconnect many of these students feel. The Commission’s recommendations will be interesting, but equally important is who will pay for them.

posted in Education, Lowell High, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Thankful for golden bones

In Cambodian culture, the expression “to have golden bones” is used to describe someone who is greatly blessed. Former U.N. Ambassador Sichan Siv, who visited Lowell High School yesterday, fits the description as someone blessed with brains, guts, determination, and the courage to seize opportunity—as well as a healthy dose of good luck. Siv spoke to a packed auditorium of LHS students yesterday as part of his visit to Lowell and a national tour promoting his book Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America. As a Cambodian-born American who lived through the killing fields, Siv’s experience resonated with our students, who were enthusiastic and respectful, not only for its status as an amazing immigrant-success story but also because of its message of hope and perseverance through hardship. Siv told the spellbound audience how he threw away his glasses when the Khmer Rouge arrived so he wouldn’t be killed, volunteered to run a crane for them and then taught himself how to do it, and ultimately escaped across the border to a refugee camp in Thailand. At the refugee camp where thousands were cramped into deplorable living conditions and depression was rampant, Siv taught English as a way to provide hope to his fellow refugees, who were waiting for passage to places such as the US, Canada and England.  He told about his entry into the United States, finally, with two dollars in his pocket and an attitude to “adapt to be adopted,” which meant he took whatever work he could get and did his best at it. At first, that work was picking apples; later it became flipping burgers and driving a taxi in New York while earning a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. Siv also decided to become involved in our government, and so he volunteered on the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. With the success of that election, Siv was offered work at the White House. Within 13 years, he went from the killing fields of Cambodia to the White House of the United States. Last night, I saw him again at the Angkor Dance Troupe celebration of the Cambodian New Year. He told the audience how our city epitomizes the American spirit, and I was struck by how true those words were and how happy it made me. For more on Siv, check out his website. I’ll be back with a review of his book later.

posted in Books, Lowell High | 0 Comments

Another misleading newspaper article…

The older I get, the more cynical I am about newspaper coverage. (After being misquoted and seeing what passes as “balanced reporting,” I consider it a learned response.) Today’s Boston Globe ran a story about surveillance of public places that erroneously claims: “Police in Lowell are installing sophisticated video surveillance systems to watch students inside and outside the public schools as part of a citywide security system to monitor and deter criminal activity.”

I don’t pretend to speak for the Lowell police here, and in fact, I know little about the city’s plans for cameras except what I’ve heard about prioritizing “hot spots” of criminal activity and having live feeds to the police station. But I do know about security cameras in the schools, and I can tell you we have had them at the high school for years, and there is no plan to expand the system or go to a live feed with the police. At LHS, more than 100 cameras transmit internally to a video control center at the school, which is monitored by a security officer. The cameras view hallways, stairwells, doors, and outside areas, and have been extremely effective in deterring crime and catching perpetrators. For instance, although they are not in the bathrooms or locker rooms, they are installed directly outside those areas, which enabled high school security to identify the student who set fire to a trashcan in the boys’ bathroom a few years ago. The cameras enhance security (consider 3,800 students with only a handful of security and police officers), and they serve as a major crime deterrent. Today’s paper attempts to make this about civil liberties and some may see it that way; but the internal video surveillance system at Lowell High School serves a critical role in student safety, and I’ve got no problem with that. The fact that the paper got the story so blatantly wrong about the city’s plans baffles even the most cynical reader.

posted in City Life, Education, Lowell High | 0 Comments

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