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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Showtime!

The Lowell Summer Music Festival has put together a stellar line-up the upcoming months and season passes are on sale now. There are 24 events, including The Indigo Girls, The Neville Brothers and one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Lucinda Williams, plus lots more.  The deal is $270 for the whole season, more than 50% off the individual ticket prices with an additional $10 off if ordered by May 31. Sure, I remember when they were free, too, but they didn’t get these kinds of performers, and you certainly can’t beat the venue, under the stars at Boarding House Park!

posted in Local Groups | 0 Comments

Now that’s good radio

While sitting in traffic for my second time today as I headed home after a hellish commute into Boston for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ Day on the Hill (more on that later), I switched the radio to 980 AM as I reached 128—just in time to hear the hosts interview LHS Band Director Brandon Clark and students Andrew Howe and Emily Anstey. They were discussing the band’s performance in the concert festival in Virginia last week where Lowell High School won Best of Show and Best Concert Band in their division, duplicating the band’s wins two years ago in Montreal. Aside from the many callers, including parents and fellow band students, such as Cory—who called first as himself and then later as “Marguerite,” the group talked about the commitment and benefits of being part of the band family. Mr. Clark, who became the director in 1999, explained how the band program has grown during his tenure from about 20 students to more than 70 today. As a music lover, parent, and member of the school committee, it was immensely gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and energy in their young voices as well as the gratitude and respect they have for their band director. For his part, Mr. Clark made a point of sharing kudos with the many excellent music teachers throughout the district as well as thanking the school department and the committee for supporting the program. Clearly music, like art, theatre, athletics, and other programs outside the standard classroom play major roles in engaging our children in their education. Unfortunately, these programs are often at risk during lean budget times, making today’s radio spotlight that much more signficant. (For a video on the competition, see Dick Howe’s post from last week.) 

posted in Education, Youth | 0 Comments

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down

Too bad you can’t reserve good feelings from sunny weekend days to help get you through the rainy ones. Today’s Boston Globe was full of doom to match the weather and my mood: Northeast bats are dying in record numbers without explanation—scientists don’t know if it’s caused by toxins, habitat destruction, or something else. In addition to adding more species to the endangered list, we can expect an increase in mosquitoes and other annoying insects as nature’s balance gets whacked again. On another note, two fathers managed to accidentally poison their sons with carbon monoxide while trying to get an off-road vehicle out of the mud. And with the sharp increase in the cost of food, more and more people are starving—a fact that impacts us all, even though those of us who are well-fed have difficulty understanding or even contemplating the horrors of hunger. (All this on one cup of coffee, and it wasn’t even 9 a.m.) Thank God, I read further and discovered the equestrian program at UMass Amherst where blue-color kids take on the blue-bloods and actually win enough to make the nationals and ride against “the best collegiate teams in the country.” Kind of reminds me of our own LHS crew kids, who by the way, will be competing this Sunday in the largest high school spring regatta in New England—right here on the Merrimack River. Let’s hope for quick oars for our team and sunshine for all.

posted in City Life, Environment, Youth | 2 Comments

Poetry Corner

Let’s take a pause and refresh ourselves with a bit of poetry for Sunday morning.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert Frost lately, especially with the attention that Brian Hall is getting for his new novel of the poet’s life, Fall of Frost.  He is also getting some heat for taking a nonconventional approach to a revered figure in American letters and a novelist’s liberties with the hearts and minds of his ‘characters,’ but the Boston Globe calls it ‘intensely moving and supremely intelligent.’ In any event, while sitting on my porch last weekend I was watching the first tiny, unfurling leaves of the maple across the street, of so new a green as to be gold and thought of this poem by Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Deceptively simple, like all of Frost’s poems! Here’s another favorite:

more »

posted in Books, Poetry | 4 Comments

Happy Birthday precious girl

Our daughter was born on a morning much like todayexactly12 years ago. I remember bringing her home from the hospital and while holding her tiny body in my arms, seeing as if for the first time, the huge magnolia blossoms that crowded the blue sky outside my window. Those blossoms, like fluffy white and pink handkerchiefs, seemed to wave to me in celebration of her birth and the promise of her life. I gazed into her sweet face and felt the magnolia blossoms were a good omenhow auspicious to be born on such a day. As I have watched her grow into the beautiful, smart, young lady she is becoming, whether she is dancing, drawing, creating board games or texting her friends, she carries that light and hope within her. And every year when we celebrate her birth under the glorious magnolia blossoms, I am reminded again that she is our gift to the world and its blessing back to us. Happy Birthday precious girl—we love you! 

posted in Just life | 2 Comments

A trip back in time

Today we’re taking our kids for a trip into the past—most notably, key moments in our nation’s birth that occurred in Boston. (To say my teenager is reluctant to embark on this adventure with his geeky parents and younger sister is a major understatement. Fortunately, I have no problem dragging him to things he doesn’t want to do for his own good—he can thank me later.) Our schools do a fair job of exposing our children to Lowell’s unique role in American history (more on that in a later post), but my children have never had a field trip to Boston or walked the Freedom Trail. So, today is it! We’ll start with a free guided tour of the State House, and then we’ll walk the Freedom Trail, stopping at key sites such as the Park Street Church, Granary Burying ground, site of the Boston Massacre, Old North Church, Paul Revere’s House and the Old South Meeting House etc. I haven’t decided whether to have a guided tour, led by an18th-century-costumed guide, or do it on our own. We’ll definitely stop in Faneuil Hall for refreshments and end with a meal in the North End before heading home.

posted in City Life, Education, Travel | 2 Comments

Rafting on the River

Amid the joys of spring finally arrived, perhaps you’re looking for some way to get out, enjoy the weather, and have an adventure? Well, look no further than our own beautiful Concord River. Years ago, whitewater rafting was quite popular with my circle of friends and family. Disclaimer here: Rafting is not for the faint heartedit requires life jackets, wetsuits and actually paddling, but it is truly a fun and exciting adventure. We’ve done several trips down the Kennebec River in Maine as well as experienced class IV rapids in West Virginia. After 15+ years of living in Lowell, we have yet to take on our very own Concord River, and now is the time to do it while the spring rapids are flowing. (Rafting trips on the Concord River run weekends in April and May.) A whitewater gem in the heart of Lowell, the Concord River plunges rafters over three rapids: Twisted Sister, Three Beauties, and Middlesex Dam. The trip, which originates and concludes at the DoubleTree Hotel, 50 Warren Street, includes passage through an 1850s lock chamber as well as class III-IV rapids. Zoar Outdoor runs weekend trips starting at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., for $80 per person, 14 years or older, wetsuits, life jackets and paddles included. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust. It’s a three-hour adventure practically in our back yards, so why not check it out?! 

posted in Sports | 0 Comments

MRT – season closer

THe MRT has had a great season, with several stand-out plays, such as “2 Pianos 4 Hands” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  My favorite was “Tunney/Shakespeare,” but, overall, subscribers who have struggled to stay loyal in recent years were rewarded with a quality line-up of well-directed offerings for the MRT’s 29th season.  That made it easier for us to go inside yesterday afternoon for the matinee performance of “The Four of Us,” the last play of the season, and fortunately, it is well-written, funny and thought-provoking.  The material is somewhat slight, it is the story of a friendship and the tensions that develop over time between two would-be writers, one with a best-selling novel and movie, the other a struggling playwright. There are no depths plumbed, but the surfaces are teased – the differences between the two and the history they share are examined and re-examined through clever use of of flashbacks and a play-within-a-play motif. I especially like the sprinkling of references to the past that are dropped into the dialogue only to be fleshed out later on in the flashback scenes.  It’s a hook for the viewer and also builds a realistic sense of their shared memories.  The playwright, Dave, as played by Joel Orlemann, has a goofy, boyish charm and carries the play in the beginning, when the cooler, more cerebral and distanced novelist, Benjamin, mostly repels. A careful build-up of impressions generates more sympathy for Benjamin and insights into their friendship.  I expected more from the ending, some hints that were dropped were not fulfilled; however, on the whole, we all liked the play. (Through May 11, call the box office 978-654-4678).

posted in Art, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Buyback issue regarding unions

I love this quote from yesterday’s Sun editorial: “We know many elected officials won’t have the courage to buck the vote-getting unions, so the state should lend a hand by requiring unions to relinquish these pricey perks.” (my bold) Obviously this editor is unaware or considers irrelevant the hours and hours (sometimes until 3 in the morning) for more than a year of months on end that the school committee met in negotiations (finally with a state mediator) trying to forge an agreement with the school unions regarding benefits and salary adjustments. When your priority is what’s best for our children, NOT having an agreement or having teachers “work-to-rule” isn’t in the equation. Having unhappy or pressured staff—even the most dedicated are pressured to conform to their union’s call for solidarity—distracts everyone from focusing on the education of our children.

So a RESOUNDING YES to this editor for calling on the state to require unions to relinquish pricey perks because the reality is God doesn’t have enough money to buy these perks out of union contracts—even to grandfather-in current employees and cap future buyback requires more resources than is remotely possible in the near future. Consider this: after about 18 months of meetings, the Lowell School Committee negotiated contracts that included a 2.5% salary increase the first year, 3% subsequently—not exorbitant certainly. Yet, that’s about $3 million more we’ll need for next year’s budget, and it doesn’t include the increases in health care (we spend about $15 million on health benefits and it’s expected to go up at least 10 percent), utilities, heat etc. Just as we have seen our gas, food, and living expenses increase in our personal lives, so have school-department costs. As someone trying to be a fair employer and provide the best education for our children amid rising costs and shrinking resources, lack of courage, as this editor so casually claims, is not the primary problem.

posted in Education, In the News, Money Matters | 1 Comment

My view on amending supt contract

My brother once told me, “act in haste, repent at leisure,” a proverb that seems especially appropriate given last night’s school committee meeting where the mayor was unhappy with the board for amending the superintendents’ contracts during his absence. I regret not waiting for the mayor, especially now that I’m aware it was important to him; fortunately, the issue can be revisited and he can weigh in—nothing has been signed, the matter will be re-opened for discussion.

Regarding the committee voting unanimously on April 2 to add language to Dr. Baehr’s contract, I believe it was the fair thing to do. (I am writing for myself only as I do not presume to know the intentions of my colleagues.) The original severance language of her contract read: “At the time of the Superintendent’s retirement, death, or termination by the Committee, the Superintendent or her estate will receive 100% of accrued vacation and one third (33 1/3%) payment of all unused sick leave.” Because Dr. Baehr was neither retiring, getting fired, nor dead, the lack of language to address the actual terms of her departure—such as resignation or non-renewal of contract—precluded her getting reimbursed for her unused vacation and sick days. (I have since been told she was always eligible to get paid for the 39.5 unused vacation days, totaling $26,921.62.) The issue that remains, however, is without amending the language to include the specific terms of her departure, she would not receive payment for one third of her unused sick days or $23,397.95.   Dr. Baehr provided eight years of excellent service to the Lowell Public Schools at a salary well below market rate when she could have gone anywhere and earned more. She stayed here, committed to our students and staff, and worked relentlessly to improve the quality of education our children receive: We will benefit from the results of those efforts for years to come. To not pay her for unused sick days she would have gotten if we’d fired her, or if we had appreciated her more and she’d stayed until retirement as was her original plan, is not only unfair, it’s ungrateful.

posted in Education, Local Politics, Money Matters | 0 Comments

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