News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Expecting too much from the Sun

Okay, maybe my expectations from journalism class decades ago are too high for a local paper. You know, things like accuracy, balance, and objectivity—the stuff they teach aspiring journalists. But I get tired of the Sun’s same old song of negativity about the Lowell Public Schools. No matter what, they seem to find a way to knock the district. Case in point: Treading Water on Recruiting Teachers, an editorial in Tuesday’s paper, wails about the lack of innovative programs to recruit teachers amid a national shortage of educators: “It’s hard to believe that a school district like Lowell, with a $138 million budget, can’t find $200,000 to start a program that will entice new teachers to work here,” claims the unnamed writer. Morph back in time to March 16, 2005 when the same paper (same writer?) published: Another Entitlement, an editorial that slammed the schools for accepting a $1.5 million grant to launch a teacher academy and mentoring program designed (you guessed it) to attract and retain new teachers. What was the Sun’s problem with the grant? Accepting it meant the district committed to continue the program after the three-year grant money ended, and as the editorial stated, “In today’s tight budgetary times, the program is a luxury.” (Margaret, co-author of this blog, wrote a response to the 2005 editorial that was published a few days later; you can read it here.) In addition to slamming the district two years ago for developing a strategy (and grant funding) to attract the best teachers and then claiming this week that the district lacks innovation in this area, the paper completely ignores the mentoring program and its successes. A national model, Lowell’s teacher-mentoring program has proven effective by enabling the district to retain 87% of its first-year teachers and 95% of its second-year teachers. Equally important, it has helped the district make huge strides in its recruiting efforts. Last Monday when Lowell faculty returned to school, every classroom had a teacher except for one math position at an alternative school—representing 80 new hires for this school year alone. Compare that to 2001 when school started with a shortage of 50 classroom teachers and it’s clear Lowell’s mentoring program is making a difference. That seems worthy of at least a mention in the Sun, don’t you think? (More details on the mentoring program to come.)

posted in Education, In the News | 0 Comments

Team Donoghue wins at wiffle ball!

Could it be a sign for the upcoming election?  Among the three congressional campaigns who battled it out under a perfect moonlit sky last night, Eileen Donoghue’s team of young, pro-wiffle players launched the tournament with a bang by winning 3-2 against Jamie Eldridge’s merry hitters.  Donoghue’s team then went on to tackle the tough Murphy clan, led by independent congressional candidate Patrick Murphy himself, with sister, twin brother and dad, not to mention an assortment of other fun-loving family members.  Team Donoghue won another resounding victory, this time 4-1.  No doubt the secret weapon of the Donoghue team was its youngest player, 10-year-old Chris Gendron, who had “two saves and an all-star catch” as he put it, as well as a pretty decent fast ball.  “Playing wiffle ball was Murphy’s idea,” noted another player, “but Donoghue knew who to call.”  Absent from the festivities was Team Tsongas, who had agreed to compete but at the last minute didn’t have enough players show up.  In all, the opponents shared a friendly game of ball in the best American tradition that proves politics may be local and personal, but it doesn’t have to be petty.  For other team photos, see full post. more »

posted in Local Politics | 1 Comment

Campaign wiffle ball tonight

Just when you thought you couldn’t get enough of the 5th congressional campaign, this just in from Patrick Murphy’s crowd (you remember him—the young, bright idealist running as an independent): Tonight, under the lights of Alumni Field, at least three campaigns will compete in a friendly game of wiffle ball beginning at 7:30 p.m. The campaigns that have committed to play so far include Patrick Murphy, Niki Tsongas, and Jamie Eldridge although others are also expected to show.

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Sparks fly at final debate

Last night, the gloves came off at the final debate before the 5th congressional primary, although whether any lasting damage was inflicted remains to be seen. As someone who attended the first and only one other of more than 20 debates with this group, it was interesting to see how much more polished and strident the candidates were at the 11th hour of the campaign. I thought Eileen Donoghue was formidable as she whacked leading candidate Niki Tsongas on her lack of experience, contributions from outside sources, and vague plans. (For more details on the debate, read Dick Howe’s blog.) As I see it, ED had to come out swinging to try and shake up NT’s lead, and last night, she demonstrated an articulate forcefulness and focus that was inspiring and scary to behold. (Scary because I couldn’t help imagining myself up there and worrying how I would handle such an onslaught.) And that’s where I get hung up: NT stayed above the fray somewhat—and my inclination would have been to punch back when attacked. NT had her own issue with ED regarding her opponent’s ad that she felt misrepresented her position on Iraq, but she never fully addressed the issues ED attacked her on. Perhaps she felt she didn’t need to. ED’s attempt to make this an outsider issue (playing to this city’s tendency to be Lowell-centric in all things) and especially her use of “hijack the campaign,” as if NT’s contributors were bad guys trying to buy the seat for her, seems overly dramatic and a bit disingenuous. Does she seriously expect us to believe that NT does not have the interests of the 5th at heart? As mentioned earlier, these candidates have gone numerous rounds—so folks paying attention should have a clear idea of where they stand on the issues. Now that we know their positions, the final test on who wins the election will be the candidate most people trust to represent their values and get the job done. The vote is still out, as they say, on that one.  

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Catch last debate before primary

In between getting the kids ready for the start of school tomorrow, I will attend the last congressional debate before the Sept 4 primary, which will be held tonight at UMass Lowell’s Durgin Hall on south campus. I’ll post my thoughts on how the candidates do later. If you can’t make it out tonight, watch the debate live on cable TV channel 8. The Republicans will debate from 5:30-6:30, and the Democrats from 7:00-8:00—sounds like must see TV for informed voting.

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Summer reading for college

I always wished the Lowell Public Schools would assign books for summer reading.  I think they are doing it now, but as with many of the positive changes in the schools, it happened too late for my family. So, I was excited when my son was assigned a book for summer reading before starting college as a Freshman.  He had to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.  I read it as well and rather liked it.  He didn’t seem impressed, perhaps because he felt that the book was geared toward younger readers.  I disagree with him as can be seen by my review of the book.  The college provided a list of readings and other reviews for students to work on before starting school. Here are some links to reviews from the New York Times and an online magazine called Plus.



posted in Books, Youth | 0 Comments

On decades of marriage

On this day, August 25, my husband and I celebrate 22 years of marriage. The years, which have gone quickly (I never thought I would get this old so fast), have not always been easy. For one thing, it has not been the happily-ever-after story I heard about growing up. There have been hard times. We have disappointed, hurt, and angered each other more often than I care to admit. We have also laughed, danced, and shared the most incredible moments of our lives. We buried our parents—each one an almost unbearable loss. We created two healthy children—amazing gifts. And through it all, we have learned that being persistent (aka stubborn) in our focus to make it work has its own rewards. I guess I’m no Hallmark sentimentalist: I don’t believe storybook romances or love at first sight lasts—at least not in the real world. When it comes to romance, eventually real life intrudes with the daily-ness of bed head, bad moods, and work to be done. But real life is also laughing at late-night comics, singing a favorite tune together, smiling at sleeping cats, and watching your children grow. In the end, it is simply that life is better together; so you stay and compromise, you work on kindness and forgiveness—and you try always to love each other.  As Yeats said, “How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true; But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.” For this I am most grateful. 

posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Last call for Summer Music Series

 Hundreds of smiling, happy people sang and danced at last Friday’s sold out Indigo Girls concert under a starry night and balmy temperatures. It was perfect weather for listening to the amazing harmony, guitar playing, and poetic lyrics that the Girls are known for. In addition to making sure we’re around for the Folk Festival during the last full weekend in July, each summer we try to catch some of the concerts that are part of Lowell’s Summer Music Series held at Boarding House Park. We always end up wishing we’d had time for more of these great events because they truly are fun for all ages. There’s nothing like sitting out on lawn chairs and blankets with a bunch of other music-loving folks and listening to great tunes under the open sky. The series is winding down now, with only a few weekends left, but it’s not too late to catch a concert. For information on the remaining acts, check here.

posted in City Life | 1 Comment

On a mission to recycle

My previous post on recycling compared Lowell’s effort to that of Worcester, to Lowell’s detriment. But there is more to the story.  On the plus side, Lowell’s recycling program seems to be newly-energized, with bi-weekly columns in the Lowell Sun by Recycling Coordinator Gunther Wellenstein and a page on the city website that lists FAQs, upcoming events and hazardous waste days.  The Mission Statement on the website sums up the problem and the approach — I thought it was well worth copying in part: 

Massachusetts’ waste generation continues to outpace the state’s disposal capacity resulting in the need to export trash to other states. Increasing pressure is being placed on each state, by the Environmental Protection Agency, to provide disposal capacity for all the waste it generates. Incinerators and landfills are both sources of pollution affecting the quality of our air and water; building more of these facilities is not the answer. Therefore, the mission of Lowell’s Recycling office is to reduce the amount of trash generated by our City.

By perusing the site, I learned that Lowell has a ‘freecycle’ list where residents can post items they would like to get rid of for free–cool! You can also purchase compost bins and read about how to compost your yard and kitchen waste, which has given me the impetus to start up my compost pile again. I’ve gone from feeling slightly apologetic about my recycling compulsion to someone on a mission to spread the word about recycling – starting with my family!   


posted in City Life, Environment | 3 Comments

Recycle or pay?

As my family will readily admit, I am a bit of a recycling nut.  I am always pulling cans out of the trash and rinsing bottles and pointing out to family members all of the items that can be recycled. I even had a compost pile for a while.  Thus, I was thrilled to see the great recycling effort at the Lowell Folk Festival.  I got my free bag of compost and learned that “the Festival has been recognized as a national model of sustainability, since over 90% of the festival trash is turned into garden quality mulch in just one year!” (www.lowellfolkfestival.org).   

  This is all well and good, but what about the City of Lowell? There seems to be a feeling out there (and in my house) that recycling doesn’t really save money since all that stuff has to be handled and sorted and disposed of in different ways. Well, after talking with Lowell’s Recycling Coordinator, Gunther Wellenstein, I have learned some interesting facts about recycling.  First of all, 24% of household waste is estimated to be glass or plastic and able to be put in the green bin; 39% is paper and cardboard.  Yard waste is another 14% and 6% is waste that could be composted (kitchen scraps). If every bottle, can and carrot was disposed of through recycling or composting, it would divert 83% of our total waste from the State’s incinerators.  Currently the city only diverts around 10% (although this number was skewed lower by the huge amount of debris resulting from the 2006 floods; we are actually closer to 13%).  Why is this important?  Well, the city is charged by the ton for non-recyclable waste – the trash in barrels at the curb that are picked up by BFI.  When BFI takes the waste to the State incinerators, it is weighed and the city is charged again. Recyclables are only charged once and at a lower rate.  At one point, it was estimated that each 1% of waste that could be diverted from the incinerators would save the city $53,000.  This may not seem all that impressive until you realize that Worcester (a much larger city) is consistently able to divert around 50% of its waste.  Do the math, and think of the teachers, police cars, sidewalks or snow-plowing we could pay for with that savings. The difference may be that Worcester has a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ program, forcing people to be mindful of how many garbage bags they put at the curb on trash day. Is this what it will take to increase recycling in Lowell?  

posted in City Life, Environment | 0 Comments

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