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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Regatta on the river

While unsuspectedly driving across the Rourke Bridge to take a walk along Pawtucket Boulevard this morning, I found myself in the middle of the Textile River Regatta on the Merrimack, which seems to draw competitors from colleges, high schools and rowing associations from New York to Maine.

  A Lowell team, but I’m not sure if it’s the high school or the university.

The parking was difficult and the walking was certainly tricky, weaving in and out of families, teams, dogs and long rowing craft being maneuvered by a crew, no less skillful at walking with a boat (skiff? scull? shell?) on their shoulders than when rowing it along the river.  Still, I was pleased to have my daily walk so enlivened. Meanwhile, out on the water, in a manner incomprehensible to the layperson, slender craft were skimming along or maneuvering into position, paddles flashing in perfect time, the coordinated boats and uniforms making colorful statements of intent.  Hard to tell which teams were which and who was racing whom and in what direction – still those concerned seemed to know what they were doing.  I can never see a crew match without being thankful that the Lowell High crew team was NOT cut in 2003, when so many programs, staff and services were lost from the school budget.  It’s great that an urban high school can offer its students the opportunity to participate in Crew, and sure enough, the hard-working Lowell High crew parents were on hand, selling concessions, and the team was ready to row.

posted in Education, Sports | 0 Comments

Gift turns out to be riveting read

I bought Soul Catcher as a perfect gift for my older brother who I never know what to get. I thought he’d like it because he’s interested in the Civil War and the protagonist was the type of manly man who would appeal to him. You know: the gun-touting, fighting kind of tough guy with a double dose of macho and guts. What I didn’t expect was that once I started reading it—just a few pages to determine its flavor—I couldn’t put it down. I actually stayed up one night reading until the wee hours because I got so caught up in the story, I simply had to know what happened next. Of course, now I’m wondering if I can still give the book as a gift since it’s been used. Be that as it may, for more about Soul Catcher by Michael White, check here.

posted in Books | 1 Comment

Politicians lose to reporters

It was a bruising loss and certainly not what was expected, but the Scribes beat the Senators 9-0 in today’s game under bright blue skies at Martin Field. The Senators started with a rough first inning as the Scribes got five runs right out of the gate, and despite a valiant effort, they never completely gained their stride. They did, however, hold the Scribes to the initial five runs for many of the seven innings. And although the team of councilors, representatives, school committee members, and candidates had several outstanding double plays and more than a few exceptional hits, they could not pull out of their slump. Unfortunately, many of the best Senator hits were fly balls that were caught by the Scribes’ excellent fielders. In addition, as several people noted, the Scribes seemed to have a fair share of young, twenty-something aged athletes, while the Senators were a motley crew of middle-age-plus players. My personal performance was somewhat lacking, which is a disappointment only time will heal if ever. Even though I got a decent hit at bat, my moment of truth in the outfield ended when I did not catch a high-flying ball headed right to me. As my son said, “I should have had that one.” (Such is the pressure of sports—and losing—which, of course, are great lessons for life.) After the game, we joined forces for a cookout with the promise (or should I say threat) that we would all “do it again” next year. In all, it was a fun time with rousing spectators from both teams as well as good-natured ribbing all around. The game also raised a great deal of money—thousands—for Sun Santa, Big Brother Big Sister, and the Paul Sullivan Memorial Fund. Speaking for myself,  I’d do again, but I want to practice more than once before the big game, and there’s got to be some way to recruit folks to run for office at a younger age. Anyway, thanks to State Senator Steve Panagiotakos for organizing this event: he pulled elected officials and challengers together in a common goal that didn’t need a winning score to be a win for our community. As for the reporters, they will continue to gleefully attack us with their ink; at least for the time being, they have a whole new topic to write about.

posted in Local Politics, Sports | 2 Comments

Senators take on the Scribes tomorrow

If you’re around tomorrow, check out the 3 p.m. softball game pitting Lowell politicians against Sun writers at Cawley Stadium’s Martin Field. It’s supposed to be great weather, and the game should offer viewers a show of intense competitive effort as well as a laugh or two—all in fun of course. As a member of the Senators, a motley team of politicos and wannabe electeds under the leadership of Senator Panagiotakos, I am very excited to take on the Sun’s Scribes. Of course, I personally want to do well for my team—no strike outs, no bad throws, no missed catches. And I’m especially looking forward to hitting a blazing line drive right at my favorite editor to disagree with: Jim Campanini. (By the way, congrats on the editorial award.) Obviously, this is all part of my own sports fantasy, but with only one practice under our belts, I am cautiously optimistic the Senators will offer formidable competition at tomorrow’s game. At last week’s practice, we had some very impressive hitters: No specific names mentioned because I don’t want to tip off the opponents. I was also grateful to discover that my own ability to “keep my eye on the ball” had not completely faded from decades of not playing. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, more than a few of us were sore after that practice, but we are competitive folks and we play to win. So in that great American tradition of baseball, let the games begin!

posted in Local Politics, Sports | 0 Comments

Save the date(s)!

Mark your calendar for two education-related events in October:

Monday, October 15th, 7 p.m. - the Citywide Parent Council and UTEC (United Teen Equality Center) will sponsor a School Committee Candidates’ Forum at Lowell High School in the Little Theatre. As in previous years, this will be a LIVE broadcast; questions for candidates can be emailed to lowellcpc@comcast.net

Saturday, October 27th, 8:30 am at the Stoklosa School – the Second Annual Mary Bacigalupo Educational Forum featuring nationally-known educator Joyce Epstein, Director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University.  This event is free and open to the public – please join other concerned community members as we strive to continue the efforts to provide community support for children that we began at last year’s forum. More details to follow.

posted in Education, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Great day for a ride along the river

Knowing chilly weather is coming soon, I figured I should appreciate the warm temperatures while we still have them. So, when my husband announced he was taking a few hours off from work and did I want to join him on a bike ride, I immediately dropped the project I was in the middle of and grabbed my shorts. We rode from the Highlands over the Rourke Bridge and headed on the pathway toward Sampas Pavilion. This stretch is always busy on a nice day and today was no exception. We saw people of all ages enjoying the river: from babies being pushed in carriages, to tikes on training wheels, seniors with canes, folks walking dogs, and even a few young women on roller blades. Once we passed the beach and the public bathrooms, the crowds thinned out significantly until we reached University Avenue and saw college students heading over the bridge. As we continued down Pawtucket to Aiken Street, I noticed a lot of weeds overhanging the sidewalk, blocking the path, and making it difficult to pass (great project for a community cleanup). At Aiken, we left the road and went down to the dirt path along the river where the trees have been cut recently. It was great to open up the view especially if the overgrowth was impacting the river’s health. (A delicate balance of vegetation is needed to support aquatic life and water quality.) I sure hope they’re not done down there. From our vantage point, the tree stumps looked horrible—like ugly amputated limbs—and the path was covered with branches and leaves so that it was difficult to ride. The area, though, has incredible potential as an outdoor, scenic space for biking or walking along the river. Speaking of scenic rides, the Jericho Road Project is holding its annual bike-riding fundraiser this Sunday, so check it out. Meanwhile, if you haven’t been out much today, savor these last gasps of heat—maybe a late-night stroll with your honey by the light of the moon…

posted in Environment, Sports | 0 Comments

Summer readers reap rewards$

Research shows that during the summer, children who don’t read or have some academic exposure can lose 20% of what they’ve learned. Years ago, I remember feeling jealous when my friends’ children from private schools or wealthier communities would receive their summer reading lists. It bothered me that my children didn’t have summer reading assignments. Although the Pollard Library had reading lists for each grade, there was no coordinated district-wide school effort to promote summer reading. Well, those days are long gone from the Lowell Public Schools. Last week at the school committee meeting, 68 children from kindergarten to eighth grade visited City Hall to be congratulated for their summer reading efforts. The students, three from each school, represented youngsters from across the city who had read and written about more than 15,500 books this summer. The names of all students who submitted a log of their books were entered into a drawing to determine the prize winners from each school. When the superintendent announced that the winners would receive $25 certificates to Barnes & Noble, there was an audible gasp from the youngsters who were not expecting such a generous gift (funded by grant money). As their names were called and the children received a handshake and certificate from the mayor, I felt as if we were our own little United Nations: Some last names of the winners are: McBreen, Daigneault, Thach, Garcia, Sweeney, Lau, Rios, Archila, Donovan, Sanchez, Im, Gaudet, Primeau, Chanthavongsak, Fitzgerald, Eltobgi, and Gonzalez. In addition to a promotion effort that began in June with classroom teachers, many principals (using our new ConnectEd phone system) called homes throughout the summer, reminding parents and children about the importance of reading; the free, air-conditioned book opportunities at the library; and the program. In all, it was a great effort and a win for everyone involved.

posted in Education, Youth | 0 Comments

Focus on best interest of children

I was talking to a friend this morning who reminded me that politics can be nasty. Just like driving in bad weather, you deal with the road conditions as best you can and try to stay focused on your destination. My destination regarding our schools has always been about doing what’s needed to improve the quality of education our children receive. Sometimes, in pursuit of that goal, I have spoken out on issues that have been unpopular, upsetting, or uncomfortable for some people. For that, I am truly sorry because I do not enjoy it when people are upset with me. But in terms of my attempts to present the facts and continue to move the district forward, I make no apologies. My agenda is not about whose friends don’t get promoted or don’t get jobs. It is also not about geography or personality. It is simply about doing the best we can to provide an excellent education for our children. Because I have seen substantive, continued progress in this area, my focus is to stay the course and continue to work at doing better. There are some who would like to frame this election campaign around insider-outsider issues and personalities, ignoring the signs of progress and the many indicators of success at all levels of the district. There is still much work to be done, and this storm of negativity should not be allowed to distract us from our destination. In the end, the really important issues are about what’s best for our children and how do we continue to move our school system forward. It is only by keeping our focus on excellent schools as our common goal that we may actually get there. 

posted in Education, Youth | 0 Comments

School chief scores high marks here

Last night, the school committee discussed its evaluation of the superintendent. While she received an overall grade of 3.59 out of 5, it’s an average of the seven members’ votes and doesn’t adequately reflect my thoughts on her work. (I gave her a 4.04.) Disappointed by the coverage in today’s paper, I offer the following details and correction regarding two of the five priority goals she didn’t make (the ones her $5,000 bonus was tied to): The newspaper accurately reported she got freshmen attendance up so that 78.8% of our students achieved a 90% attendance rate; however, the paper incorrectly reported her goal, which was 80%. She came close to making that goal (one part of three tied to freshmen), but close doesn’t get the bonus nor should it. More importantly for the district, we made strides in improving freshmen attendance—up from 72% last year—an area long identified as difficult to improve. The second goal she didn’t make had to do with progress for struggling readers in grades 3-8. Under her initiative, last year the schools began providing additional, focused reading support (targeted interventions) to students identified as at-risk and reading below grade level. Her goal was to see 80% of those students move out of this category in one academic year. Based on their results on the reading inventory test, 44% of our struggling readers achieved this goal—again not enough for the bonus, but a significant gain for our children. While superintendents across the state and the Merrimack Valley see increasingly higher salaries and benefits, Dr. Baehr is the only school leader who has tied her bonuses to measurable, high stakes goals. So while she did not receive her bonus this year, the results of those efforts continue to make a substantial impact on the quality of education our children receive. I applaud her efforts and willingness to be held accountable. From the top down, her leadership in providing quality instruction is making a difference. For more indicators that Lowell Public Schools are making progress, see here. For specifics on the overall evaluation and a breakdown of how each school committee member scored Dr. Baehr, check: more »

posted in Education, Local Politics | 0 Comments

Problems with the blog

I apologize if you are one of the people experiencing problems with logging on or making comments on this blog. The last few days have been especially difficult. Co-author Margaret and I have had our own share of frustrations. (Imagine writing a post, doing the links, and then not being able to publish it.) Please don’t give up on us, know we are working to address these issues, and try back later if you can’t get on at a certain time. Meanwhile, we will continue working with the human we located at the other end of that cyberspace vacuum (thankfully!) and writing for future posts. 

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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