News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Behind closed doors?

Did you watch breathlessly to see the results of the residency requirement vote at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night?  If so, you were disappointed (or relieved, perhaps). After all the brouhaha over the residency requirement, it got shuttled off to subcommittee without debate or discussion.  This begs the question:  who is on the subcommittee and when do they meet?  The first part of the question is easy since all the subcommittees are listed on the excellent city website.  (The Personnel Subcommittee to whom the motion was referred is chaired by Kevin Broderick with Bill Martin and Jim Milinazzo as members.)  Subcommittees meet as necessary, so it is a little more tricky to find out when a particular topic will be handled.  When I called the office of the City Clerk they didn’t have any information about when this subcommittee would be meeting or whether or not it would be televised.  As we said before, all city council and school committee subcommittee meetings are open to the public.  But if the public doesn’t know when they are meeting, it effectively puts the meeting ‘behind closed doors.’ 

This gets back to a pet peeve of mine about the overuse of subcommittees.  It lets debates and decisions happen out of the public eye. The effort to televise these meetings is ongoing and important.  There needs to be a public record of what is happening in an elected body that is outside the regular, more public meetings.  This holds true for the city council and the school committee (see list of school subcommittees on related page).  Let’s pay attention, people, and see what our leaders are doing when we’re not looking.


posted in Local Politics | 0 Comments

Leaders need to do the right thing

If you’re paying attention to politics these days, maybe you feel as disheartened as I do. No matter where I look—whether it’s state, local or national—it seems true public service is thwarted by power plays, personal allegiances, and partisan maneuverings where the common good is the victim in pursuit of another agenda. Perhaps it was always this way and I just wasn’t paying attention (most of us aren’t), but as someone who is intimately involved at the seemingly benign level of the school committee, it is discouraging when our leaders do not rise above human frailty and do the right thing. 

At the state level, we have House Speaker Sal DiMasi locking horns with Governor Deval Patrick, and although I recognize these men may have a sincere difference of opinion regarding gambling, why have so many other pressing initiatives been blocked without even a hint of compromise? (Okay, so maybe DiMasi’s recent concession regarding closing corporate tax loopholes is a good step, albeit a baby one, but it should have happened last year.) There is so much more work to be done to revitalize the state’s economy, stabilize its revenue base, and stop the citizen drain: If we are to have any hope of progress, we must demand our leaders forgo their egos and work together to make it happen.

At the local level, we have counselors proposing nonsensical mandates, such as more »

posted in City Life, Local Politics, National issues | 1 Comment

LHS subcommittee off to a late start and then…

I apologize to viewers for the 15 minutes of bulletin board while we waited for subcommittee members to arrive, and I want to thank the students and staff from Lowell Educational Television who broadcast the meeting on channel 22.  I won’t go into everything we covered, but I feel compelled to relate some of the discussion regarding the impact of attendance initiatives (see LHS report) and the subsequent action, which I found particularly disturbing: that is, the motion by Regina Faticanti, seconded by Dave Conway, to suspend ONE Lowell activities at the high school. The motion passed on a 2-1 vote and will be brought before the entire committee at next Wednesday’s meeting (UPDATE: meeting postponed until March 19). ONE Lowell is an organization that serves the city’s immigrant families in a number of areas. For the last few years, the nonprofit agency has worked with the school district regarding student attendance (they are currently involved with truant students and their families from all but one of our middle schools as well as the high school). Funded completely by grants, the group improves student attendance at no cost to the district on a referral basis—schools refer severely truant students, parents sign waivers to allow the agency’s involvement, and ONE Lowell’s bilingual staff visit with families and refer them to other programs and services as needed to get their children to attend school. In many cases, attendance does improve for these individuals as this report demonstrates. My colleagues and some administrators at the high school are not happy with the group’s lack of providing narrative reports on individual students, which apparently prompted the motion to suspend their activities—an extreme reaction to a communication issue that does not appear to be in the best interest of these students. Despite all our budget problems and our struggles with student attendance, dropout, and retention rates, apparently some folks feel we don’t need ONE Lowell’s help. I respectfully disagree.

posted in Education, Local Politics | 1 Comment

Superintendent semi-finalists named

The Superintendent Search Committee selected six semi-finalists, including two local candidates, to be interviewed next week in public meetings at the Lowell High School Little Theater. The committee, chaired by Eileen Donoghue, invited eight candidates to be interviewed out of an initial pool of 21 applicants, but two have dropped out and do not wish their names released to the public. For the names of the six semi-finalists, along with the dates and times of their interviews, check: more »

posted in Education, In the News | 0 Comments

Three quick updates on the schools

Tonight at 7 p.m., the LHS subcommittee meeting will be broadcast live on channel 22 from the Colleen Creegan TV Studio (rescheduled due to weather). The meeting will include high school updates on science labs, alternative programs, security, and the Latin Lyceum, as well as look at the impact of initiatives to improve student attendance. For the complete agenda, check here.  As always, the public is welcome to attend in person or simply turn on the television.

During February vacation last Wednesday, the school committee voted to change the start and stop times at the McAuliffe School, beginning in September, from 8:30 in the morning to 9:10. Letters were sent home informing parents, and a follow-up poll will be conducted this week to determine interest in childcare options, such as having CTI provide morning care on a sliding-fee basis. The time change was a result of many factors that primarily had to do with cost: saving $44K-$88K in buses, closing the Varnum School in June to save $1 million, and changing bus routes due to the condition of some bridges. With many of the Varnum students (a late-start school) being displaced to the McAuliffe, along with the need to maintain transportation efficiency (three runs for each bus) given a potential budget shortfall of $4 million next year, the time change is a necessary cost-saving measure.

Last night, the Lowell High School wrestling team topped off a great season by winning the Division I State Championship. Congratulations wrestlers!  A winning team reflects the commitment of students, coaches, and families, who all worked tirelessly to make this season successful. As the Winter Sports Award Ceremony on Monday demonstrated, LHS is filled with gifted athletes, caring coaches, and involved families. Congratulations to all those who participated—your commitment to your sport makes you a tribute to LHS.

posted in Education, Sports, Youth | 5 Comments

Questioning the residency requirement

Check out the city council meeting tonight (6:30 pm on Channel 10) to see how our elected officials vote on the residency requirement.  I have an instinctive dislike of such a motion; it seems xenophobic and petty to me, and I have a few questions about it.  First of all, why are we even wasting time on this?  I don’t recall this coming up on any councilor’s campaign platform.  I don’t think it has much to do with economic development, neighborhood improvement plans, or ‘giving back to the city.’  As someone who is very concerned about our public school system, I am glad to know that teachers (and all union employees) are exempt from such a requirement.  It’s my understanding that whatever the council decides tonight will not impact school hiring, even for non-union employees.  I want to know that our schools can hire the best and most qualified candidates for the job, regardless of where they live.  Why shouldn’t that be the most important requirement for any city job?

It’s funny, but there was a motion to have a residency requirement for the superintendent search committee that failed with very little support.  Mayor Caulfield spoke out vehemently against it, asking why we should deny ourselves the services of a CEO of a company who might live in Andover or why we should restrict Chancellor Marty Meehan from choosing the most qualified person from his staff to be on the committee, someone who might not live in Lowell.  The same logic should apply to hiring anyone who works for the city. (To see what Councilor Caulfield had to say on the residency requirement when it was debated back in 1994, see this interesting post by Dick Howe.)

 I’ll certainly be watching to see how the Mayor (and the rest of the council) votes tonight!


posted in Education, In the News, Local Politics, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

CPC meeting tonight!

This is short notice, but I’ve been out of town.  The Citywide Parent Council is calling on all interested parties to join together tonight at the Daley School, 7 pm, for a discussion about the current state and future direction of our school system.  They want to hear from CPC members, PTO parents and other school based organizations as well as any parents and Lowell citizens who are concerned about the schools.  The meeting will not be televised in hopes of fostering a good conversation about what is working in the schools, what isn’t working, and how the CPC and other groups can work together to make things better.  This is so timely given the unknown future of our district leadership as well as uncertain budget projections.  Please try to attend.

FYI: The Daley School is on Fleming Street in the Highlands (off Stevens Street) with ample parking.

posted in Education, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Celebrating a life

It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Boothbay Harbor as I sit overlooking blue water and snow-crusted rooftops from the inn at the top of the hill where we spent the night. Yesterday, we attended a memorial service in celebration of a life, and the grieving husband’s heartfelt emotion and words still echo in my mind—a nougat of sentiment to express a marriage of 55 years and a lifetime together: “She was not only good to me, she was good for me.” His words remind me of my tenth-grade English teacher, who first impressed me with the notion of relationships that encourage us to be our best. This particular moment of enlightenment came during a phase in my life when I, an honor student and three-season athlete, was most interested in the leather-clad boys who hung on the corners rather than the jocks, who seemed immature, or the college-bound intellectuals, who seemed so lacking in adventure. Decades later, I don’t pretend to have an answer for how we go on when loved ones pass, or what it is that enables a relationship to thrive for more than 50 years, but I agree with my teacher: It is not so much what you give to each other or even how you weather the joys and disappointments of life, but rather who you become through the relationship that will define what it has meant to your life and those who love you. 

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

Persistence pays off in marathon call

The other day, I spent 3½ hours on the telephone with Sprint trying to trace an order to replace my son’s cell phone. Despite being transferred and disconnected numerous times, speaking with incomprehensible folks with heavy accents, and being told by various people: a. they had no record of the order; b. they had an order but it was for a different phone; c. the confirmation number I had been given three weeks ago was NOT Sprint’s; and d. the order was stuck: I refused to give up. Each time I was disconnected, I called back, and finally—after they tried to recycle me to departments I had already spoken to—I insisted on speaking with a supervisor, and yes, I would wait. (At that point, I had been on the phone three hours with no resolution.) I admit I was nearly hysterical by the end of the ordeal, although I never swore, screamed, cried, or was overly belligerent to anyone. I was persistent, however, and I confess to laughing shrilly when I was told they found the order and it would probably be shipped any day now. Finally, I got the supervisor, who spoke perfect English although her voice was so soft and far away she sounded as if she were in India, and I impressed her with my need for satisfaction. She offered to overnight deliver the phone and did. I’d love to say I was triumphant, but since I recently extended my contract with Sprint, I feel trapped and shaken by how much of my life was lost on hold: God forbid I have a problem with my bill and have to call them again…

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

My kids distract me

Sorry, I’ve been so out of touch. It’s vacation week, as many of you with school-age children know, and I have been distracted by my kids. I offer this not as an apology or excuse, but merely my reality. We have been doing day trips and much-needed house cleaning, taking care of errands and to-do items that have been ignored because of the hectic pace of our regular days, and having as much fun as we can. With today’s storm silently blanketing the world outside as I write, I realize I am grateful for my home, the distractions of my children—who as my mother-in-law used to say “are living pieces of our hearts running around”—and the opportunity to be part of all this white wonder, safe and warm, and connected to others by a few clicks on a keyboard.

posted in Just life | 0 Comments

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