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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
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Art & poetry from the Revolving Museum

All roads lead to the Revolving Museum this week, starting tonight! This is short notice but you can join other poetry lovers at the museum from 6-10 pm, to celebrate the release of local poet Walter Bacigalupo’s new book of poems, A Trip Down Salem Street. Congratulations, Walter!  (Free and open to the public; beer, wine and light refreshments will be served). Tomorrow night, from 6-9 pm, the Lowell Canalwaters Cleaners will hold an open house fundraising event to raise money for the cause of clean canals as well as awareness about their mission.  There will be raffles, an auction, wine bar and finger foods and a lot of fun for just $20, payable at the door. 

Finally, tomorrow afternoon, at 2 pm, you can see what else the Revolving Museum folks have been up to by visiting the Molloy Alternative High School (125 Smith Street) to see the old building transformed by the artwork of its students.  Part of the Revolving Museum’s Visionary School which provides a community arts curriculum to high school and college students, this yearlong project, entitled “Taking the Right Path” celebrates students’ identities, while a garden labyrinth symoblizes the challenges many of the Molloy students face.  The email notice from the museum reminds us that:

The building’s namesake, Hugh J. Molloy, was Superintendent of public schools in Lowell for 21 years, before his death in 1933.  Molloy was a well respected educator, who was renowned for his close relations with students and faculty alike, and for his commitment to the quality of education provided to the residents of Lowell.  That legacy continues at the school which bears his name.   

posted in Art, Education, Youth | 0 Comments

Middle-school students sound their own winning notes

This just in from a proud parent of a band student: “I wanted to share with you that the Lowell Public Schools middle-school-band members traveled to the Great East Middle-School Band Festival in Westfield last Friday, May 23, and took the gold medal.” Congratulations to the students, teachers, and parents committed to the band program at our middle schools. As many of you know, the Lowell High School band has enjoyed many successes over the last years due to students’ hard work, and faculty and parent commitment. Clearly, that would not be possible without a great feeder program from the earlier grades.

posted in Education, Youth | 1 Comment

My uncle: An American soldier

Every Memorial Day I am reminded of my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother. He’s been dead for more than a decade now but whenever I think of the sacrifices our soldiers make and how most are changed forever–even the ones lucky enough to make it home–I think of my Uncle Joe. He talked often about his experiences as a medic in World War II, and as a young girl, I learned that war changes people in ways that are irretrievable, that stay with them into old age. (This Sunday’s Boston Globe has an essay by George Masters that addresses this poignantly.) For now, I want to share one particular moment from my uncle’s war. An immigrant, who came to this country when he was eight years old, Uncle Joe had struggled with belonging in Boston, often running away from my grandmother, his stepfather, and his siblings in the North End, trying to find his way back home to the beaches of Sicily where he was born. My grandmother would find him at the docks, drag him home, and make him go to school yet again, to learn English, to get an education. It wasn’t until the war when he was a young soldier marching the streets of London, and the Brits, who were so grateful for our presence, would shout to him “Hey Yank! Nice to see ya Yank!” that he felt like an American for the first time in his life. 

posted in In the News, Just life | 0 Comments

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yesterday’s Globe reported that “nearly 300 people were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.” The immigrants, who are here illegally from Guatemala, were arrested at the Iowa plant on May 12 and taken to the grounds of the National Cattle Congress. In a span of four days, 297 people were convinced to plead guilty to avoid higher penalties and sentenced to five months in jail—how’s that for due process? They will be deported immediately after completing their jail terms. Later in the article, it states, “No charges have been brought against managers or owners…” This whole episode makes me sick to my stomach. If this crime of working to pack animal carcasses without proper papers is so atrocious, why aren’t the owners being sent to prison for hiring them? And what will happen to the company? Will it shut down or just ship in a new group of presumably low-paid workers to exploit? But the real kicker is, if they’re being deported anyway, why make them sit in prison for five months first? So they can be fed and housed on the taxpayers’ dime? The whole thing makes no sense (a combination of mean and stupid). It stinks, I imagine, as bad as a meatpacking plant…

posted in In the News, National issues | 5 Comments

Tips on getting more at the gas tank

These tips were emailed to me by someone with 30 years experience in the petroleum industry. No more letting my tank get to empty again! Read on for details:  Buy gas in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. The colder the ground, the denser the gasoline; when it gets warmer, gasoline expands, so buying later in the day, your gallon is not exactly a gallon. Also, when you’re filling up, do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. In slow mode you should be pumping on low speed, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created.  One of the most important tips is to fill up before you get below the halfway mark. The more gas you have in your tank, the less air is occupying its empty space, and gasoline evaporates fast. And one final reminder, DO NOT fill up if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks–most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

posted in Money Matters | 1 Comment

Governor betrays youth/supporters on in-state tuition

So much for “having a stake in our neighbor’s success” and other inspiring phrases used by Governor Deval Patrick during speeches while campaigning and since getting elected. If Thursday’s Globe article regarding the governor’s unwillingness to use his authority to push the in-state tuition agenda is accurate (also discussed here on Blue Mass Group), it shows a disappointing lack of courage and a betrayal of promises he made. No wonder people have checked out, don’t bother to vote, and consider politics a slimy profession. (Even as an elected member of the Lowell School Committee, I confess to being uncomfortable with the term politician and prefer to think of myself as an activist.) Look, I know it’s not easy. As an elected person, you’re always faced with the pressures of being popular and trying to make everyone happy, but true leadership demands that you put those concerns aside and do what’s right. And sometimes, just like parenting, doing the right thing may be unpleasant. In-state tuition rates for youngsters who meet residency requirements but don’t have documentation is fair and economically smart—especially for the Commonwealth, a state whose greatest asset is its educated workforce (it’s certainly not the weather or the cost of living) and whose population, other than its immigrants, has been steadily decreasing. So where is the governor who campaigned on change, together we can, economic stimulus, and education reform and equity? History has shown that real leadership, the kind that creates lasting, positive social change from ending slavery to advancing suffragette and civil rights movements, requires courage, action, and at the very least, being true to your word—all qualities lacking in Governor Patrick’s recent decision.

posted in Education, In the News | 0 Comments

UTEC honors Dr. Baehr

Before you go away for the long weekend, make plans to attend this event next week:

The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) is honoring Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr as “Adult Ally of the Year” at their annual semi-formal fundraiser on Wednesday, May 28, 5:30-8:30, at their new location at 34 Hurd Street (across from the Doubletree Hotel).  Dinner will be served, along with fabulous performances by UTEC’s talented teens; there will be a silent auction and the opportunity to both honor our outgoing school superintendent, who has truly been a force for positive change for youth in the city for 8 years, and support UTEC’s dream of building a brighter future for Lowell.  Tickets are $60 and can be purchased online.

posted in Local Groups, Youth | 0 Comments

A timely motion

School committee member Dave Conway made a motion last night to create a Council for Creative Solutions, which would be charged with analyzing and determining the feasibility of cost-saving ideas submitted by school department employees, with a potential for such employees to receive bonuses for successful submissions.  I’m not sure if Mr. Conway reads The New Yorker or not, but in the May 12th issue James Surowiecki describes the phenomenal success of Toyota, which has recently surpassed GM in car sales, and ascribes their long term profitability to a similar program of employee-driven change.  Here’s how they do it:

Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers.  Most of these ideas are small – making parts on a shelf easier to reach, say – and not all of them work.  But cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before. 

Toyota’s changes and innovations result from a relentless focus on incremental improvements in process, rather than product.  Their methods are no secret, and many companies have tried to copy them, but the prevailing cultural mentality of expecting innovation to be dramatic and exciting, which Surowieki likens to crash-dieting as opposed to sensible eating, causes them to abandon such mundane efforts early on.  In addition, as Surowieki points out, most companies (and, I would argue, school districts) are still organized in a very top-down manner, and have a hard time handing responsibility to front-line workers. 

It does sometimes seem that school districts are always ready to put money into a new theory or program, scrapping previous efforts and jumping on the latest bandwagon, like dieters who go from one faddish eating plan to another.   The wearied teachers and staff follow along because they must, but their ownership of such top-down, theory-driven plans is often lacking.  Small, grassroots initiatives may have a better chance of succeeding and may also invigorate an openness to change throughout the system.  I hope the motion passes successfully through subcommittee and is positioned to be simple and effective (do we really need another council?), and that employees and school leaders will enter into the spirit of this, not just to save money but to improve the way we do the job in our schools.  It could pay off for everyone in the long run.
 

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

Restore priority teachers for continued progress

After crafting a budget within the revenue guidelines set by the city, which required a less than one percent increase and the elimination of 60 positions, the Lowell School Committee voted last night to send the manager a list of 10 priority teaching positions to fully or partially restore if additional funds are made available. (Related Sun article here.) The restorations, as the list below indicates, are for teaching positions in core areas such as math, reading, and English-language instruction. Restoring all 10 positions will cost $550,000—not an easy ask given the current fiscal environment. But we can’t afford NOT to do it when the ultimate price may be a serious decline in student achievement. For example, in our latest MCAS results from 2007, 14% more Lowell sixth graders scored advanced/proficient in math and 15% less scored in the warning category. Three of those priority positions directly impact middle-school math instruction. Also, four of the positions are to restore elementary reading teachers at state-labeled Commonwealth Priority Schools—those schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on MCAS. In yet another case of unfunded government mandates, these schools are judged on student performance without being provided the resources to meet their students’ needs. Worth noting: Last year, of the five largest districts in the state, Lowell had the highest percentage of schools making AYP in English, and the second highest for AYP in math. We’re making progress and Lowell is one of the state’s most successful large urban districts, but we still have a long way to go. We will not get there by constantly cutting positions—360 since 2002. The only way to improve our schools is to make educating our children a priority, which right now means funding the priority list. To see the list, check: more »

posted in Education, Money Matters | 0 Comments

Speaking of budget cuts…

In these times of shrinking services, no community is exempt.  Parents cannot be complaisant and must be active and involved advocates for children no matter where they live. No longer is moving to the suburbs a shoe-in for adequate resources for schools.  We’ve read about the “override Moms” in wealthy towns like Wellesley who work full-time drumming up community support for school funding, and an article in Sunday’s Boston Globe relates how Stoneham just barely saved their library from losing state accreditation, as well as many teaching positions and high school sports that were on the chopping block. Speaking of sports, parents in Stoneham will now pay a $300 per semester ’sports fee’ (some call this the ‘parent tax’). Times are tough all over, and as a Selectman of Stoneham says, “Now, the goal is to find more revenue.” Good luck with that! Why is Governor Deval Patrick seeking to bring casinos to Massachusetts and trying creative solutions like closing corporate tax loopholes and his municipal partnership act? With property taxes such a burden, override proposals splitting communities, and everything getting more expensive, one might well ask what does it take to run a civilized society, have a library, educate children, provide basic services, and what are we willing to pay for? Stand for Children has tried to get funding to answer the education question with their “Adequacy Study,” (see their 2008 policy platform). Of course, the study costs money, but it’s hard “to manage what you can’t measure.” For Stand for Children testimony on this issue before the Senate Ways and Means committee, see below: more »

posted in Education, Money Matters | 0 Comments

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