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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Women must get in the game to make a difference

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker quotes Suffolk D.A. Ralph Martin’s decision not to pursue public office further—particularly a run for Boston mayor in 2009—as being “…all about the tensions between being attracted to public issues and critical opportunities and the restraint it puts on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from a very personal perspective.” I can relate. This issue has been on my mind as I am immersed in my third term on the Lowell School Committee while also participating in the inaugural class of Emerge Massachusetts, an organization designed to educate, encourage, and inspire political leadership in women.

Last week the organization, the newest sister of Emerge America which currently spans seven states, held its kick-off event on the 38th floor of the posh law offices of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo at One Financial Center. With a birds-eye view of Boston’s State House, Custom Clock Tower, and the harbor, it was a heady experience to join more than 100 people—mostly women—gathered to support Emerge’s efforts in the Bay State. Among the attendees were some of the Commonwealth’s most noted political women: such as Representative Niki Tsongas, the first Massachusetts congresswoman in over two decades; and Attorney General Martha Coakley and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, both the first women in the state to hold these positions. Also present was State Senator Pam Resor, who is retiring at her term’s end after decades of public service; State Representative Cory Atkins; former Green-Rainbow Party governor candidate Grace Ross; and Barbara Lee of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, an organization known for its generous funding of initiatives around women in politics, and contemporary art.

As someone who has struggled with my own family responsibilities and personal goals amid the demands of political life, it has been amazing to participate in the Emerge program (more on that later). It was also inspiring to attend the kick-off event and hear from accomplished women who discussed their own fears, challenges, and rewards regarding life in politics. As Attorney General Coakley put it, “Women must get in the game and play if we are going to make a real difference in our communities.” Clearly, we need more of us in the game, not only so our voices are heard and impact our communities, but so our daughters are given a path to follow, and our sons are taught to value women’s implicit role in governing. 

posted in Local Politics | 2 Comments

Three more great stories

Not having much time for novels lately, I’ve read some great short stories, all in The New Yorker, and wanted to pass along these gems to interested readers.  Raj, Bohemian by Hari Kunzru starts out like all the other postmodern, plotless stories that seem to emerge from a void to which they return with barely a ripple.  We meet a group of young people living a seemingly idealistic and artfully managed (though silly) existence.  They have parties, they hang out, etc. The narrator is one of the group and quite pleased their collective lifestlyle. Scoffing at, yet somehow buying into this picture, the reader (at least this reader) is as shocked as the hero by the actual reality of his friends’ lives, only revealed because of Raj, a newcomer and a ‘wheeler-dealer.’  Only after the sordid reality is unveiled does one look back and question, what was Constantine doing in Sunita’s apartment?  How did these people live? And when the narrator sees the truth and goes on his mission of revenge it is chilling, like Raskilnikov bent on murder in Crime and Punishment.  I liked it a lot.  The Bellringer, by John Burnside is a quiet story with an edge.  As in William Trevor, ordinary lives are revealed, simple events unfold, a life is being lived.  Burnside doesn’t quite have Trevor’s mastery of the form, but this was a good story.  (Speaking of Trevor, he was mentioned in the Globe Ideas section today, a passing reference in a book review by Richard Eder, comparing him to the American short story writer Tobias Wolff, who in the end falls a little short, for “Trevor’s blade can barely seem to move as it draws heart’s blood.”  Well said!)  Finally, I was floored by Jeffrey Eugenides’ Great Experiment.  As an indictment of both intellectualism and capitalism, as a sorrowful rumination upon our natures, our illusions and our history, it reminded me of Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Dicontent.  So, three great stories, my pantheon of writers of short fiction enlarged by two, and I think I might try something by Wolff who is, according to Eder, ‘the closest we have to William Trevor.’ 

posted in Books, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Jackie on TOL tomorrow

There’s a lot to talk about these days in the schools and beyond.  Jackie will be joining Lynne on Thinking Out Loud tomorrow, 91.5 WUML, at 10:00 am, and the conversation will undoubtedly touch on education issues as well as politics at the local, state and national levels.  Listen in if you have the chance and post your comments and feedback here. 

posted in Education | 2 Comments

State leaders’ conflicts front-page news

The front page of today’s New York Times has an article about Mass. Governor Deval Patrick’s struggles with House Speaker Sal DiMasi, claiming the Democratic governor’s inability to accomplish his goals in a heavily Democratic legislature are due to the personality-power conflicts between the two elected officials.  The article claims the struggles between the men are personal, are beyond a difference of opinion about gambling, and have severely limited the governor, who ran on a promise of hope and change, in his efforts to move his initiatives forward.  The article quotes Patrick as saying, “We’re going to keep working on it until we get a Democratic process that’s functioning.”

As someone who continues to support Governor Patrick’s vision for the Commonwealth, I am concerned to see resistance to many of the governor’s plans around revenue raising (his Municipal Partnership Act for instance) that seem to be more about power plays than what’s best for the people of Massachusetts. I’m not at the State House, but from what I’ve heard, representatives are pressured to vote with the Speaker, records are kept of those who don’t, and punitive measures, such as losing chairmanships and getting offices relocated to the basement, are possible consequences for these perceived betrayals. If that is the case, it is a sad testament to what democracy has become in the birthplace of the ideals that formed our government. I agree with Patrick—we need a Democratic process that’s functioning, and that requires representatives who are willing to vote their conscience over the current power structure.

posted in In the News, Local Politics | 1 Comment

New leaders key to future

Since we’ve gotten over the hurdle of finding a replacement for Supt. Karla Brooks Baehr (assuming contract negotiations over the next few days go well with Dr. Scott), we can get back to the business of the schools, which right now means putting together a budget amid rising costs and diminishing resources. Searching for a new leader is time consuming and important; the repercussions of the decision will be felt for years to come in our schools and in our community. The school committee selected a bright, innovative, and committed professional with a track record of successes and skills that will enable her to build on the progress the district has made under Dr. Baehr. In the meantime, several other key organizations in the city are also conducting their own searches for leaders: UMass Lowell will host inauguration events next week to honor its newest leader, Chancellor Marty Meehan. UML is also in the process of hiring a new provost. In addition, Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) is currently sifting through resumes of applicants for their executive director position—all key roles that will impact our community in many ways. As I said at the school committee’s special meeting to vote for the next superintendent, “This decision is a leap of faith.” You research the candidates and listen closely to the answers, and at the end of the day, you make the best-educated decision you can. The same process applies for electing our new president—each vote requires care and attention—because the resulting leader will impact our nation for years to come. 

posted in City Life, Education, Local Groups, National issues | 0 Comments

Bonner withdraws from supt search

It’s official. Dr. Portia Bonner has accepted the position of superintendent of the New Bedford School District, withdrawing her candidacy from the Lowell pool of four finalists: in-district candidates Dr. Wendy Jack and Paul Schlictman, along with Dr. Chris Augusta Scott, superintendent in Norfolk, Mass. As planned, the Lowell School Committee will meet tonight, at 6:30, in council chambers to cast their votes for the next superintendent of Lowell schools—a vote that will now be made from the remaining three candidates. The meeting will be televised live on channel 10.

posted in Education | 0 Comments

Happy Blog-aversary

Today is the one year anniversary of our blog! Jackie wrote the first post on March 23, 2007, and we’ve been writing ever since. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work to keep this going, more than we anticipated, but we’re proud of the fact that, while we haven’t always been able to post something every day, we have written 376 posts in the last year.  

One of my favorite cartoons from The New Yorker magazine has one dog saying to another, “I used to keep a blog, but now I’ve gone back to pointless, incessant barking.” There are times when we bloggers, and possibly our readers (certainly our husbands!) wonder why we bother? On the other hand, we like to write and blogging is one way to fulfill that passion, as well as draw attention to worthy causes, correct media inaccuracies, and take our activism to the next level by sharing our perspectives on current and local events. Writing is therapeutic, and some of our posts are purely for venting and never get published, but it also is a wonderful way to clear the mind. As the British novelist, E. M. Forster wrote, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say.” So, we’ll keep writing, and we hope you’ll keep reading.  Thanks for visiting us here in the blog-o-sphere!

posted in Just life | 1 Comment

Name your choice for superintendent

The school committee will hold a special meeting on Monday, March 24, at 6:30, televised live on channel 10, to vote on the next superintendent of Lowell Schools. As we gather final information for this important decision, now is your opportunity to express your preference either by emailing the entire committee, writing a comment below, or contacting me personally through the blog’s contact link. Please note that comments for the blog (public consumption) must be positive only and should refer to specific strengths you see in a particular candidate. If you haven’t yet, watch the finalist interviews on streaming video: Paul Schlictman, Wendy Jack, Portia Selene Bonner, and Chris Augusta Scott. The Sun has also run a number of stories on the candidates and their resumes, which are available online, including Friday’s article by Jennifer Myers on the out-of-district visits, and today’s piece by Mike LaFleur on the local candidates. Be part of the process by sharing your thoughts on who you think our next school leader should be. 

posted in Education | 5 Comments

Must we always get along?

Please note: this is Margaret writing 

Yesterday while strolling down Middle Street, I saw a bumper sticker that read “Democracy needs Dissent.” In light of some of the dissension on the school committee these days and repeated calls for everyone to get along, I think we should heed these words. Sure, it is nice to present a united front, to have everyone agree and get along; however, I think putting harmony first, relegating the inevitable disagreements to the backroom, does a disservice to voters. Without public discussion, handled in an orderly fashion according to Robert’s Rules, how will the voters ever clearly see what a candidate stands for, what philosophy drives them and what they are willing to fight for? As an informed voter, I want to see our elected officials stand up for their beliefs and argue for them in an open forum. Yes, it can get messy, it can be stressful, but that’s what democracy is all about. In the past, I felt that there was a reluctance to stand up to city hall, the local media, or even question the delegation; it seemed concerned parents had no one to speak their case, so we had to speak up ourselves. Maybe our new superintendent will have an uphill battle at first, but if people pay attention and see who exactly is blocking progress, they can speak up at meetings, contact the committee, and organize other like-minded people to do the same. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but that’s what it takes.

posted in Education, In the News, Local Politics | 2 Comments

District shines on EQA

The Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) team who reexamined Lowell schools in December reports that the district has shown significant improvement since their previous visit in the Winter of 2005.  At that time, Lowell had been placed on a watch list because of poor or unsatisfactory ratings on 51 indicators.  The EQA’s latest report recommends that Lowell be removed from ‘watch’ status and ‘commended for the advances made in K-8 during the period.’  EQA also analyzed the MCAS scores of the 10 largest districts in the state.  Lowell showed the largest improvement among all 10 districts and is now the third highest scoring urban district.  Congratulations to all the teachers and administrators who made this happen and especially to Dr. Baehr for her focused and visionary leadership.  While we are sorry she is leaving Lowell, she should be extremely proud of what she has accomplished here.  The responsibility now rests with us to keep this momentum going.  On that note, the EQA team identified three challenges currently facing the district:  (1) Articulation between the middle schools and the high school; (2) Special Ed student achievement and (3) an inadequate budget.  These will be the front-burner issues for our new superintendent, whoever he or she might turn out to be.

posted in Education | 0 Comments

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