News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Stand gets a plug

Rep. Kevin Murphy gave Stand for Children a plug at the NPA Legislative Breakfast on Friday. All the local legislators were present at Stand’s highly-successful informational meeting held at the Pollard Memorial Library on March 13th. More than 50 people attended to urge support for Stand’s agenda, and Rep. Murphy told the Stand supporters the same thing he told the NPA yesterday, build support for what you want through letters-to-the-editor, call-ins to local radio and other visibility campaigns. Stand for Children has earned Murphy’s respect as well as increased community awareness through frequent letters in the Lowell Sun. Here is a quote from a letter published in the paper on March 17th:

Stand for Children’s priorities for this year include immediate education funding relief for communities, and beginning the process of re-evaluating the “foundation budget,” which affects levels of state education aid to communities and hasn’t been updated for 14 years. We were thrilled that the legislators expressed support for these goals.

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NPA Legislative Breakfast

The fifth annual NPA Legislative Breakfast was held this morning with over 100 people from local agencies and organizations in attendance.  The local delegation was represented by Rep. Kevin Murphy and State Senator Steve Panagiotakos.  Steve Panagiotakos, who is slated to be head of the Senate Ways and Means committee, told the audience that revenue growth will likely remain flat at about 3% for this year and next year. As this does not even keep up with the rise in healthcare costs, it will be a struggle just to maintain current programs and services, never mind increasing funding.  The current projected gap between revenues and expenses is over $1 billion (about 4% of a $26 billion dollar budget). In the last 2 years, revenues grew by 6%, but that was mostly fueled by capital gains. As the Senator pointed out, with the stock market stuttering and the real estate market wavering, capital gains are no longer a reliable revenue source. Income tax is the most stable source of revenue and Kevin Murphy urged the audience members to be outspoken in the media about the need for increased revenues. Increasing jobs, closing corporate loopholes, giving local municipalities the power to tax meals and hotel (something that most states already do) or tax utility poles (could bring $1million in revenue to Lowell) were all mentioned as ways to close the gap. 

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Event teaches about internet safety and bullying

When we were kids and our parents talked to us about stranger danger, it usually meant avoiding being in the presence of adults we didn’t know. Today, with our children’s access to the internet part of their daily lives, the term has taken on a much broader and even more critical meaning.

Here’s some of what I learned about internet safety at the Resource Fair, which was sponsored by the Parent Information Center, the Citywide Parent Council and Gear Up Lowell, and was held at LHS on March 28.  Along with about 300 parents and children who attended the fair, we learned about the popular website myspace.com and the risks our children are exposed to when they are on these sites–especially if they develop their own site (which many of them do) and include any personal information, such as name, town, school, or interests.

Some key points of advice were to make sure your child has a non-public site that only allows “buddies” to get on it and that you discuss the importance of protecting privacy and all that entails. As parents, we need to be aware of our children’s internet activities–even to the point of having our own site on myspace and being one of our child’s buddies. This involvement includes locating the computer in a common area of the home where you have immediate access and regularly looking over your child’s shoulder and discussing their computer activities.

The event also included a presentation about bullying by the Lowell Police. As a victim of bullying myself (who hasn’t been or at least witnessed it), one of the points that struck me was that bullying is not just a part of growing up. It is not acceptable–ever. (I can also speak from personal experience about what a life altering event it was to finally stand up against the bullying.) We saw a video currently shown to middle school students to help them develop strategies to deal with bullying, whether they are a victim or merely a bystander. None of those strategies advocated violence, but instead suggested telling an adult, avoiding the situation, using humor and unexpected responses, such as drawing attention to the situation by yelling loudly to be left alone. The fact that we have such programs in our schools is important and is certainly an improvement from when I was a youngster and bullying was pretty much ignored or something to be ashamed about.

In addition to helpful presentations, which were taped by Lowell Educational TV to be broadcast on channel 22, the fair included a wonderful assortment of healthy foods and information booths by various youth organizations. My kudos to PIC, Gear Up, and the CPC for a fun and informative event. 

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Mentoring new teachers – it’s worth it!

On Monday, WBUR had a story entitled “Looming Teacher Shortage” in which Lawrence and Lowell are praised for having mentoring programs that help retain new teachers. The shortage stems from “record numbers of baby boomers retiring from teaching at the same time as younger teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate.”
When Superintendent Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr first came to town about six years ago, she predicted that a dire teacher shortage would soon be upon us.  I recall much scorn from the media about the ’so-called shortage’ but it seems that her foresight is now paying off. She took steps almost immediately to attract and retain highly-qualified teaching professionals. Some of the steps were simple - changing the compendium, the list of job openings in the district, so that instead of coming out once a year in late spring, it comes out in several batches and much earlier. This makes the whole process much more efficient and allows the district to recruit new teachers much earlier, which is important in a competitive hiring environment.  Another, bigger, step was to create a teacher-mentor program, a way to allow teachers with more experience to work with, encourage and guide newer recruits. Despite flack about the expense (which was grant-funded for the first three years) from the local media, the School Committee approved the initiative and the program was launched.

It’s no secret that urban teachers have a much harder task than those in the suburbs.  The WBUR story notes that  Massachusetts cities lose over 50% of their new teachers in the first 3 years- given the investment in hiring and recuriting new teachers, they add that it would be cheaper to give new teachers more mentoring and support.

Lowell’s Mary Sterling, who heads up the program, was quoted in the story:

For us it’s a very sophisticated role where you are partnering an adult learner through a very difficult phase  — the beginning of their career, so we provide really strong support for the mentors themselves.

Let’s keep good teachers where they can do the most good!


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Globe story misleading about Lowell schools

I was thrilled to see Lowell mentioned in Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine on March 25 as one of “The Hot Five” places for affordable real estate. However, a quick scan of the piece brought immediate disappointment when I realized the reporter, Kimberly Blanton, although complimentary about Lowell “becoming a cultural mecca” with a “beautiful old downtown area” also wrote: “Lowell’s school system is considered troubled by some, but its special education program excels, and St. Michael Parish School is a good private alternative. New parents might consider moving across the Merrimack River to Dracut for better schools and single-family homes under $300,000.”

Nothing against Dracut, but I can’t help wondering where Ms. Blanton got the information for her indictment against the Lowell Public Schools? Did she consider our high school graduation rate, which according to a recent state report, was about 10 percent higher than other urban school systems? Was she thinking of the fact, which was headlined in her own paper last fall, that Lowell was one of only three urban school districts that had 50% or more of its tenth graders score proficient or advanced on MCAS? Or could Ms. Blanton have been thinking about our Latin Lyceum Academy where our kids out perform most public high schools in the state? I know Ms. Blanton was not thinking of our athletics, band, and chess programs, just to name a few, where Lowell students have consistently achieved divisional, state, and even national recognition.

Ms. Blanton’s disregard for the many positive aspects of this district does a disservice to the people educating our youth and those whose children attend our schools. Facing the challenges any urban system must, Lowell schools are not perfect, but we make progress everyday in the quality of education our children receive. I, for one, am proud to have my children in the Lowell schools and to be part of an ongoing effort to be the best urban school system in the state.

posted in Education, In the News | 2 Comments

More on NCLB – from ‘across the pond’

 Technical difficulties! If you are seeing this old post on our home page, please click on June 2008 archives to access our most recent post – scroll to the bottom to see the latest.  Sorry for this problem; we’ll get it fixed ASAP. 

I hope we don’t end up having to rename this the “No Child Left Behind” blog, but there is just so much wrong with this piece of legislation that we could probably post on it every day. The Economist recently had an article about NCLB, in which they describe it as a ‘noble attempt to impose discipline on American schools,’ (I prefer to describe it as a deeply cynical attempt to undermine public education). The magazine does lay out one of the fundamental problems with NCLB, that federal penalties and subsidies are dependent on standards that states themselves set.

States thus have a multi-billion-dollar incentive to game the system.  In Arizona, for example, only one-fifth of eighth-graders were rated ‘proficient’ at maths after taking the state test in 2003.  Two years later, that proportion had magically tripled.  Does this mean that the test got easier to pass?  “Yes,” says Janet Napolitano, Arizona’s plain-talking governor.

In Massachusetts, we have a very difficult test, and the trend is to make it even harder. I don’t have a problem with that, but I think that before people throw around the terms ‘underperforming schools’ and ‘failing schools’ they ought to understand that these are labels imposed by the federal government that do not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground here in Lowell.


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Too many children left behind

I’ve never been one to shy away from accountability—my own or others—and certainly I’m not against making sure our schools do a great job of educating our children. After all, those are my kids, literally. But give schools the resources to do the job, develop fair assessment tools, and then hold them accountable.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal legislation up for re-authorization this summer, attempts to hold public schools accountable by setting arbitrary (one could argue unattainable) goals, under funding its own mandates, and establishing punitive measures without regard to the actual progress being made in the schools. More…. more »

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Blogs in mainstream print media

 Imagine my delight as I prepare to launch my own site to discover two noteworthy mentions of other established blogs in the mainstream print media yesterday. The Boston Globe carried a story in its Sunday magazine about the blog Blue Mass Group, conducting an interview with founder David Kravitz that asked, among other things: “What are you getting that the mainstream media are missing? 

That seems to be the proverbial question as blog readership grows and more people, myself included, get on the blogging bandwagon. The opportunity to participate via the internet in multiple discussions and learn a variety of perspectives on current issues has huge implications on citizen awareness and activism. Although Kravitz took the humble road, saying he questions that his blog actually impacted votes in the recent governor’s race–even if it was showing close to 10,000 hits a day around election time—clearly blogs have become an important tool in the Information Age. By enabling average citizens access to a world of others’ opinions, as well as the ability to express their own opinions in a public format, there is a real shift in the power of the established mainstream media.

The Lowell Sun gave several inches of ink to Dick Howe’s blog in its Sunday Column, even going so far as to quote extensively from his comments regarding the 5th Congressional District and implications of the early-out-of-the-gate campaign of candidate Niki Tsongas Excited as I am about this new tool for political discourse, which clearly adds pressure for established media to provide more balanced, accurate coverage (increased competition for one thing), I also can’t help wondering how will we find the time to read it all?

posted in In the News | 0 Comments

About this site

Welcome to jackiedoherty.org, a site dedicated to sharing news and commentary on education, politics and the world at large from a uniquely Lowell perspective. As someone who considers herself a long-time political activist, as well as being an elected member of the Lowell School Committee, I have opinions on just about everything, and I am excited about this opportunity to connect with fellow citizens on a variety of topics. My hope is that this site will give you the chance to learn new perspectives on issues–especially ones that are often outside the venue of established media sources–and that you’ll respond with your own comments, ideas and suggestions.

Please know that all comments will be screened before posting, not because I don’t value freedom of expression and an open exchange of ideas, but because I hold myself and this blog to a standard of political discourse that has no room for personal attacks. (I also want to keep spam out of the blog as much as possible.)

Another author on this site will be Margaret Gilsenberg, a dear friend, my campaign manager, and a colleague who also sees civic engagement as a way to positively change the world around us. Margaret and I both subscribe to anthropologist Margaret Mead’s philosophy: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

That said, thank you for checking us out, and please feel free to participate.  



posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Technical difficulties

Yes, our blog is having a technical problem! You can still read our latest posts by clicking on the June 2008 archive and scroll to the bottom – for some reason our latest posts are now the last ones showing. Just bear with us and we’ll get it straightened out ASAP. Thanks for reading!

Jackie and Margaret

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