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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Whatever gets you through

Early yesterday morning, I rode my bicycle up Route 1A in North Hampton towards Rye along the most beautiful stretch of winding coastal road in New England—endless ocean to my right, stately homes and fresh-cut lawns to my left. The salty smell of the sea, the pounding sounds of the waves, and the sparkling sunlight on the water reminded me how grateful I am to be alive and how fleeting and vulnerable our time here is. We are in the midst of a family health scare, waiting for test results and clutching fervently to optimism. To all who have experienced that treacherous road, my heart is with you for I now understand how terrifying the uncertainty can be. While I pedaled and prayed (and yes cried a little too), I found some peace in the realization that my life has been a series of decisions, relationships, and efforts to contribute to the world around me. At that moment on that stretch of road, it seemed the world—so full of light and fresh air and hope—was affirming those efforts back to me. And I was comforted. 

posted in Just life | 4 Comments

5,105,759

That’s how many people had watched The Last Lecture by Professor Randy Pausch on YouTube as of last night when I saw it. I’m sure many people know about this already, since the original lecture was given last September, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Pausch died on July 25th, but he left us much to ponder.

(I wish I could embed the video, but haven’t figured out the technology yet…)

posted in In the News, Just life | 1 Comment

Sad signs of the times

Times were bad in the Merrimack Valley when we bought our house in Lowell in 1992. My husband got a job with Wang, and they declared bankruptcy the week we were to close on the house. We had money down and couldn’t back out of the deal. The housing market continued to slide after we bought, the house was uninsulated and cost a fortune to heat, downtown Lowell was rather grim and empty, we were insecure about the quality of the public schools, and so on. Well, in the last 16 years, we’ve seen housing values rise (and start to fall again), our son went through the Lowell school system and is now in college, Wang is gone but we’ve survived (despite a wild ride on the dot-com rollercoaster), and downtown Lowell has undergone a remarkable renaissance. One thing I remember about our early days in the house (besides sitting in patches of sunlight on the rug to stay warm in the winter) is the way people would come around on trash day, sifting through the recycling for returnables or scavenging through the trash for something of value. Gradually, as times improved through the nineties and beyond, that sort of activity diminished, but now I’ve noticed it again – lots of cars and vans circling the streets on Friday mornings, checking out the recycling bins and picking up the odd bit of furniture or scrap metal from the side of the road. While talking to a friend at a local financial institution, she remarked that for the first time in 15 years, they’ve had to hire a collections person to follow up on borrowers who have fallen behind on loan payments. Another troubling story showed up in the Globe Northwest Weekly section on Sunday: people who can no longer afford to care for their pets are dropping them off at the Lowell Humane Society. According to the animal care supervisor, Lisa Forbes, “there has been an influx of surrendered pets requiring medical attention.” (An anonymous donor has sponsored a matching gift program to help care for these animals). The foreclosure rates, the sliding stock market, the endless war, the rise in gas and food prices fill the headlines and the tangible effect of these forces can be seen all around us. These are sad signs of the times indeed.

posted in City Life, In the News | 1 Comment

Goodbye and hello

I was sad and surprised to hear that Cafe Aiello has closed its doors. They always seemed to do a good business, despite a somewhat awkward location and limited parking. This ranks right up there with the loss of Capo’s from the downtown music scene, but the formula for success in the restaurant business is difficult to distill: is it business smarts, marketing skills, consistency, convenience or some combination of these? Aiello had a good product and great ambience, but obviously something was lacking. In the meantime, some new daring souls hung out their signs and opened doors for the festival weekend. Ole, a Spanish tapas restaurant is still waiting on their liquor license, but they were proactive in holding an open house during the festival with free Paella tastings. The location, right on Merrimack Street, is a good one, and the interior is beautifully decorated with rich colors, leather banquettes and an authentic looking suit of Spanish armor in the entrance way. They are hoping to open officially by the middle of August. Another new venture, C’est, next to the Welles Emporium, got their business permit on Friday at 3:00 pm and opened their doors by 4:00 pm. They have a unique model as a flower shop with interesting foods to go – cheeses, breads, pates, etc., all supplied by local establishments. They will be offering “fun” wines as well. Good luck to both of these businesses!

posted in City Life | 0 Comments

Festival fun under perfect skies

No more complaining about the weather – not after the absolutely perfect temperatures and lack of humidity that we had Friday night and Saturday. Sure it was a bit hot in the midday sun, but nothing like scorchers of previous years. All in all, it was great for dancing, walking around or just sitting and listening to your favorite act. So far we like Henry Gray and the Cats whose rockin’ blues and boogie-woogie piano had the crowd moving (catch them at 5:00 today at Boarding House Park). One complaint: the website for the festival is cumbersome and hard to use. It would be better if you could look at the schedule and click on the performers to get a description rather than having to open the separate Performers page (which doesn’t work that well). That’s a minor quibble; otherwise the festival just seems to get better every year. The Dutton Street Dance Pavilion has turned out to be much better than either the St. John St or Tsongas Arena location. We miss the Market Mills stage, but it makes a nice arts and craft venue. And it’s really fun the way the local businesses are adding music, outdoor seating and expanded hours to keep the crowds happy after the festival officially ends. We were lined up for tacos and burritos at the Mambo Grill at around 10:00 pm last night and every outdoor seat was taken at Cafe Paradiso, Fortunatos and the rest. So, today’s weather may be okay despite rain and storms last night, and even if it isn’t, we can’t really complain. Enjoy the day!

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

WANTED: Lunatics to run for school committee

Okay, I admit it, you have to be a little crazy to want this job, but you can make a real difference in our community and impact the education of 14,000 children—meaningful work, sometimes 3-4 nights a week, for a whopping $6,000 a year. The biggest risk? Repeated written floggings in the local newspaper. (Warning: articles, editorials, and columns can be vicious, but no physical harm results unless you count wrenching your shoulder while flinging the newspaper across the room.) The value of an elected school committee is that we are accountable to the public, and every two years, we must stand before our community and ask voters for their support. Has education improved under our leadership? Has the welfare of children been our primary focus? The problem is each term less people choose to run. One theory is that it’s scary and a lot of work to put your name on the ballot and run a good campaign, which is true (more on that in a later post). Another reason, of course, is the way certain media leaders will treat you. Depending on how malleable you are to their will, they may be fair for a minute if you stay in line and they don’t see an opportunity to improve circulation at your expense. But if you are a person who follows your own convictions, expect to get barrels of ink thrown your way with little regard for truth, logic, or fairness. I’m not talking about simply disagreeing with a position or a particular vote—that’s expected as a healthy component of a democratic society. I’m talking about relentless, repetitious negativity that borders on obsessive. Now some might argue, who in their right mind would submit themselves to that kind of abuse and why would they? Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

posted in Education, In the News, Local Politics | 5 Comments

Folk Festival time!

Wandering downtown today, one could see the whole city gearing up for Lowell’s signature event this weekend. Some streets were already closed, the amount of sidewalk tables at the Mambo Grill seems to have doubled and the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion was ready for tonight’s festivities. Check out the website for maps and schedules. My personal top ten for the festival: getting the latest t-shirt (I caught a sneak peak in Barnes & Noble’s front window and this year’s logo is fantastic!), eating many Laotian spring rolls, dancing to the Cajun music (there’s always Cajun or Zydeco), getting a Gyro sandwich from the Hellenic Orthodox Church food booth (always at JFK Plaza), following the Parade to Boarding House Park, listening to local bands at some of the bars and restaurants that are joining in the fun, fresh-squeezed lemonade from that booth near Cobblestones, sitting in the shade at Market Mills, …..well, that’s only eight, but I’m sure I’ll discover new favorite activities this year. That’s the thing with the Folk Festival, some type of music, food or event that we weren’t expecting to like always surprises us. Well, enough said, I’m heading downtown!

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Putting media abuse in perspective

I’m honored to be an elected member of the Lowell School Committee and serve my community.  But that’s what it is: community service. My passion for excellent schools, my teaching experience, and my willingness to speak out and work hard to better educate our children are qualities that make me good at the job. I have no other agenda.  Come election time, voters will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether they believe my efforts have made a difference or not, and that’s fine with me.

Regarding the assistant superintendent vote that has caused me excessive, repetitive trashing from our local paper (more than a month of articles, editorials, and columns; four days this week alone), what is the motive behind all their ink?  The leadership at the paper will tell you they want excellent schools, but they do not want to pay for them, nor are they willing to acknowledge when the schools make progress.  Instead, they gleefully headline the challenges and social problems that impact the education of our children and claim it is all the schools’ fault, while bashing us for attempting to keep quality leadership as if it doesn’t matter. They will tell you they protect the taxpayers’ interests, but they do not provide objective, balanced, or even accurate reporting.  As Dick Howe writes here, they even continue to trash former Supt. Baehr because she wouldn’t kowtow to them.  (Count me in that category as I have been consistently ink whipped since being ungrateful for their endorsement last fall.) They have also been exceptionally critical of City Manager Lynch—expelling reams of paper about his contract extension and emphasizing negative stories but not once mentioning he hasn’t taken a raise or providing fair coverage of the many positive results of his leadership—all because of a personal friendship with his predecessor.  

Our media leadership has forgotten the ideals of the fourth estate, and this is a disservice to our community. Maybe they’re tempted to heighten conflict and sensationalize news to combat declining readership, but blatant abuse of the power of the press to punish some, protect others, and promote your own agenda is unethical and harmful. (Too bad they can’t be voted out.) Then again, if they had their way, we’d have an appointed school committee to increase accountability and voter interest. Right. Any guess who would want to do the appointing?

posted in City Life, Education, In the News | 1 Comment

Putting a billion in context…

This morning I overheard a comment that the government is spending a billion dollars every eight hours and 20 minutes, and it could cost a trillion to bail out the failing banks. Numbers this large are difficult to fathom, so I thought I’d share an interesting email sent to me by my brother Dan:

 

A billion seconds ago, it was 1959. A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago, our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. A billion days ago, no-one walked on the earth on two feet.


Now consider that Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) has asked Congress for 250 BILLION DOLLARS to rebuild New Orleans. That means, if you are one of the 484,674 residents of New Orleans (every man, woman, and child), you
each get $516,528. Or, if you have one of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, your home gets $1,329,787.

posted in National issues | 0 Comments

Assistant supt. great career choice/not so good song

When I was a girl, we used to jump rope and sing about who we’d marry when we grew up: “rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief…” I’m not sure what they sing nowadays (hopefully it’s less boy centered), but if it involves lucrative careers, add assistant superintendent to the list. The title doesn’t rhyme easily, but it’s a great job with generous benefits, good money, and meaningful work. 

You might find this sarcasm odd coming from me, especially since the local paper portrayed me as a “fierce” supporter of the recently approved assistant superintendent contracts. Yes, I explained why I voted for the contracts, which give an average 6.19% increase to Lowell’s four assistant superintendents, but I wasn’t happy about spending the money.  (See LTC’s website for replay times or streaming video of the 7/16 meeting.)

My decision to support the contracts was based, like all my decisions, on what I believe is best for the education of our children: These four people were vital to the progress we made under former Supt. Baehr, and they are particularly important now with a new superintendent onboard. The challenges facing our district become increasingly more intense as the economy falters and global competition grows. Poverty, homelessness, language differences, as well as many other complex social issues, impact our classrooms, our streets, and our neighborhoods. Now more than ever, we need excellent public schools, and despite past successes, we still have a long way to go before we get there. 

The new contracts provide parity within our district (we had subordinates making near or more than the assistant superintendent they reported to) and equity within the marketplace (some area administrators making lots more in smaller districts). In addition, the new contracts offer critical language regarding indemnification. The contracts are fair, not at the top in terms of comparable positions in other districts, but enough to show due respect for the key roles these people play in the continued success of our schools. You attract strong candidates with competitive compensation, and you keep the best—proven committed people—by demonstrating you value them. It may not be a song for jumping rope, but it will help get us where we need to go with the schools.  

posted in Education | 19 Comments

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