News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

LHS alumni join proud legacy

Marking the fourth year of alumni recognition awards and four million dollars in endowment (so far), tonight’s event was a crowning achievement to celebrate the accomplishments of five special alumni who were touched by their experiences at the high school, and who, in turn, contributed to the world around them. This year’s event was especially poignant because current students introduced the honored guests, which to me was a very real reminder of how important we are as role models to the young people in our lives.  The event was also special because it marks another milestone in celebrating 175 years of Lowell High School history. As the first public co-ed, integrated high school in the country, there are many milestones for LHS. (Belated kudos to the Lowell Sun for a great job memorializing that history in Tuesday’s paper.) Both Marie and Dick have posted on tonight’s event, so I won’t go into details, except to say that as a member of the school committee and parent of an LHS student, I am proud to be part of this community of diverse, talented young people and adults. It is also nice to know that my children will one day be LHS graduates and so earn their own place in this exceptional legacy.

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Superintendent pressure not unusual

Apparently the pressure Lowell Superintendent Karla Brooks Baehr experienced is not unusual to the job or unique to the city. Today’s Boston Globe has an article on Lawrence school chief Wilfredo Laboy, who may be facing a battle to extend his contract. The situations of both school leaders are hauntingly similar: both have served seven years, both have been criticized for hiring practices, and both have seen an upheaval in committee support due to recent elections. The differences, however, are also significant: According to the Globe article, Laboy will receive a base salary of about $189,000 this year along with use of a Chevrolet Blazer, valued at about $6,000, and a $12,000 tax-sheltered annuity. Compare that to Baehr, who leads a larger school district and is due to receive only $155,000 this year. (Baehr’s contract also includes a $5,000 bonus if she “substantially achieves” performance-based goals.)  I’m not privy to the results under Laboy’s tenure, but I do know that in Lowell, Baehr led a total overhaul of math and literacy curriculum for grades K-8, as well as extensive work around instruction, and support for new teachers. Those and other efforts have resulted in measurable progress for Lowell schools.  Some city leaders (including those most critical and in positions to exert pressure) expressed surprise by her decision not to seek renewal of her contract. Given the unrelenting lack of appreciation for her leadership and opportunities elsewhere, I was not surprised—just disappointed and worried.  How do we build on the many improvements in student learning we’ve accomplished with her guidance, and how do we find an equally skilled, affordable replacement?

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Alternative sources for news

I subscribe to the “News from the Lowell Cultural Roundtable” – an email list filled with all kinds of cultural and civic events. It’s a great way to stay connected with what’s going on in the city, which is helpful since I dropped my newspaper subscription recently.  The volunteer coordinator of the Cultural Roundtable, John Greenwald, includes a “Consider this” quote in every message, always pithy, frequently amusing; here’s the one from yesterday:

The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. –Thomas Jefferson

If you would like to subscribe, just email johnedit@comcast.net. Be forewarned, emails can be more frequent than once a day, but always with descriptive subject lines so you know right away whether to delete or read on.



posted in Local Groups | 2 Comments

Raking leaves can be fun

  Yesterday was a great day for raking leaves.  It was especially fun because we got the kids involved (of course we had to pay them) and the cats who found all the scratching and leaf piling particularly curious. After three hours and 35 bags, the fun began to wear off along with the bright autumn sunshine, so we called it quits and went inside for hot cocoa and whipped cream. What a wonderful way to get some fresh air and exercise after a weekend of feasting!

posted in Just life | 4 Comments

Words from Jewel

“If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be that we’re all OK. And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these. I won’t be made useless. I won’t be idle with despair. I will gather myself around my faith. For light does the darkness most fear.

My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own. But they’re not yours, they are my own. And I am never broken.

Poverty stole your golden shoes. It didn’t steal your laughter. And heartache came to visit me, but I knew it wasn’t ever after. We’ll fight, not out of spite. For someone must stand up for what’s right. ‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice, there ours shall go singing.

My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own. But they’re not yours, they are my own. I am never broken. In the end, only kindness matters. In the end, only kindness matters. I will get down on my knees and I will pray. I will get down on my knees and I will pray… And I am never broken. We are never broken. We are God’s eyes. God’s hands. God’s mind…” excerpted lyrics from Hands by Jewel.

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Thankful every day

It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving Day to think about the many things we’re thankful for (instead of complaining all the time), but why not take it a step further and think about the concept of thankfulness as a part of everyday life?  In fact, studies have shown that thankfulness is a healthy habit.  Not only does thankfulness improve your general attitude, but it has physical benefits as well. If you look at the research, the benefits are amazing. From the study, which is dense with psychological language, the findings show that “participants in the grateful conditon felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future….In addition, (they) reported fewer health complaints and even said that they spent more time exercising than control participants.”

So, here’s our challenge to you: Beginning now, take a moment each day to name at least one thing you’re thankful for that day–maybe do it right before drifting off to sleep or while sitting in traffic or in line at the grocery. It doesn’t have to be complicated or detailed: You could be thankful that the sun is shining, that you’re sitting in traffic rather than in a car accident, that your children are healthy. (You get the idea.) The point is a moment of giving thanks every day. Try it for a month and if the research proves accurate in your own life, you will be happier and healthier for it. Oh, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Jackie and Margaret

posted in Just life | 9 Comments

Thoughts on the Education Forum

I finally watched the broadcast of the Mary Bacigalupo Forum (schedule) and have taken some time to read over the materials that were given out at the forum as well as to visit the NNPS website.  I am still trying to figure out how the ideas of Dr. Epstein can be applied to Lowell, how they fit in with ongoing work, including that of the Forum subgroups, and what steps can be taken immediately.  Dr. Epstein’s model is to “develop, nurture and sustain partnerhips to make a difference for all students” and is contingent on a school or district joining the National Network of Partnership Schools (for a modest fee) and taking advantage of resources, sharing of best practices and other assistance.    What I like about her method is the constant collection of data from members and reporting back what works and what doesn’t. (At last year’s forum, Dr. Howard stressed the need to constantly refer to the data to figure out what to do and how to do it – one of the subgroups created at last year’s forum is the Data Assessment Committee.)  The other aspect of the NNPS model is the Action Team for partnerships (ATP) that is tailor-made to fit in with existing school site councils and school improvement plans.  The ideal application of the ATP would bring PTO parents, school staff, district and community partners together to focus on one or more specific problems, such as attendance or behavior.  This kind of results-oriented approach has been a proven success for many NNPS schools.  In short, I think the Epstein model could work for Lowell, either on the school, or maybe later on at the district level.

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Superintendent will not seek new contract

Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr informed the school committee late yesterday that she will not seek renewal of her contract as superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools. Instead, she will apply for the position of Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. It’s a great opportunity for her and a position that impacts the education of more than 900,000 students statewide. (A few years ago, then-Commissioner David Driscoll offered Baehr the job of his number two person, which she declined.) Now, with Governor Deval Patrick, who clearly has a vision for public education, and newly named Chairman of the Board of Education Paul Reville at the helm, it’s as if the stars are aligned for the Commonwealth to take education reform to a new level, and I can understand why Dr.  Baehr wants to be part of it. I wish her well and know she is a strong candidate who would make a great commissioner, but I also mourn the loss of her leadership here in Lowell. We have made significant progress under her guidance in so many areas, especially in terms of curriculum, instruction, and better meeting the educational needs of our students. As part of her decision, Dr. Baehr has asked Headmaster Samaras to defer his retirement until June 2009 and he has agreed. As she noted in her email to the committee:  ”Having Headmaster Samaras at the helm of Lowell High School during this time of transition is in the best interests of students and staff.” Keeping our focus on what’s in the best interest of our students is obviously the way forward, but I can’t help feeling we are losing one of the best superintendents the state has to offer.  It will be difficult and expensive to replace her in today’s competitive market.  

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Teacher-parent communication at tonight’s meeting

The Citywide Parent Council meeting is tonight, 7:00 pm, at the Lowell High School TV studio (3rd floor, above the library).  This will be a taped event, and people are welcome to join the studio audience or watch the meeting when it is broadcast, beginning this weekend at 7 pm on channel 22. The topic is “Talking with Teachers,” and the meeting will include a panel of educators and parents discussing case studies of challenging situations. By examining how parents and teachers can approach difficult topics together, the taped meeting will aid constructive conversation around student issues. In addition to being broadcast later in the week, the taped meeting will also be used for training purposes.

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School chief sets goals for bonus pay

Whether we keep our superintendent or lose her in July, there’s no question the Lowell Public Schools have made progress under the leadership of Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr. For the current school year, continuing that progress includes achieving priority goals from which her yearly $5,000 performance bonus is based. (At an annual salary of $155,000, with no add-on perks or annuities, Lowell’s superintendent is underpaid compared to what area towns and urban districts this size pay. She is also the only one whose contract includes a performance-based incentive.) To receive her bonus, she must achieve four of the five following goals:

  • At the McDonough Freshman Academy, 80% of first-year freshmen will earn promotion to sophomore status—up from 75.2%; 85% of first-year freshmen who complete the year will achieve a 90% attendance rate—up from 78.8%; and 50% of freshmen who complete the remedial reading course will achieve at least two years’ growth in reading proficiency—up from 32%. (at least 2 of 3 met) 
  • For grades 3-8, 60% of students without special needs who complete the “targeted reading intervention” program will move out of the at-risk reading category by the end of the school year—up from 44% last year.
  • Middle school targeted instruction in math will result in a 5% increase in the MCAS comprehensive proficiency index (CPI) math scores for students in grades 6-8.
  • Expanding the Parent Information Center, including development of a web-based Family Resource Guide, will result in at least 1,200 documented contacts with families focused on improving student attendance.
  • And finally, the superintendent will develop a fiscally sound FY09 budget that provides the school committee with information and analysis necessary to allocate resources effectively toward achieving the district’s Five Year Goals.    


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