News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

My voting story

Yesterday, The Sun published an article about candidates and their voting records, where I was horrified to learn I got a 67 because I had not voted in 10 primary elections since 1995. (Ouch! A grade like that stings me in so many ways, not only because I’ve always been an excellent student, but because I consider myself a good American who votes and stays informed on the issues.) I don’t dispute the number, but I would like to explain it: For most of my life, I was registered as an Independent because I had grown up in a very polarized-partisan family. My father was a staunch Democrat and my mother a die-hard Republican who defended Nixon until her death. Every state or national election, they dutifully went to City Hall and canceled each other’s vote. By 18, I knew  partisan blindness was not something I wanted to emulate, and I decided I was going to vote the candidate rather than the party.

I don’t remember exactly when I switched to Democrat, but I know it was after I was elected to the school committee. During my first campaign in 2003, while knocking on doors, a voter demanded to know my party affiliation even after I explained it was a non-partisan seat. At the time, I remember being relieved to say that I was unenrolled, thinking no matter what his party, he would not be offended. At some point, however, it occurred to me that I had never voted for anyone but Democrats (who consistently aligned with own political beliefs better than other viable candidates). At that time, I also realized I was missing a huge opportunity to impact an election by not participating in heavily contested primaries. I decided to take a stand and get involved with the party, which I did. My large Irish-Italian family, however, still consists of hardcore party loyalists on both sides of the fence.

posted in In the News, Local Politics | 2 Comments

Fair Vote is Fair

(This is Margaret writing, not Jackie.) I just wanted to weigh in on Fair Vote Lowell before it’s too late. I’ve felt all along that I was a supporter of this initiative, but I wanted to convince myself (or not) before Tuesday (better late than never!). My first stop was to read all the comments regarding this issue on a recent Left in Lowell post, then to read the Sun’s editorial against the measure-not too persuasive). Next I visited the Fair Vote website and watched the video with local Attorney Michael Gallagher interviewing Professor Douglas Amy of Mount Holyoke College who has written several books on voting systems. My conclusion is that despite some valid objections (the elimination of the primary system – oh, wait, that’s already been done for us – and the fact that it seems complicated are the most valid), the proposed system is better than what we have now. As for the idea that the system is too complicated, I actually think it is going to be very simple and intuitive for voters. (Dr. Amy’s research indicates that voters under choice systems are very pleased.)

Now for the benefits: For one thing, choice voting has the potential to increase voter turnout as well as encourage new candidates to run for office. Certainly, that would be a boon to Lowell, which has seen declining voter turnout for years. For me, the biggest benefit is the increased power given to the voter. A commentor on Left-in-Lowell complained that he disliked the ranking system, because he wanted all nine of his city council votes to be equal. I disagree; I most definitely do not want all my votes to be equal (it’s been a long time since I’ve even cast 9 votes for city council, but under the new system, one could conceivably find 9 candidates to support that might not be throwaway votes). I would rather send a strong message of preference to incumbents and new candidates alike. When Jackie first ran for School Committee, we were advised to tell our supporters to “bullet” Jackie. That way, your one vote would carry the most weight and not be diluted by the other votes you might cast. With choice voting, you can still “bullet”, but you can also show support to other candidates. I think it makes sense, it would allow more candidates to test the waters and it may break up entrenched voting blocks that prefer the status quo.

posted in In the News, Local Politics | 3 Comments

Be a last-minute donor

It’s less than a week until Election Day, and fortunately it’s not too late to support my campaign. Check out my new online donation page, which enables you to donate in minutes with a few simple keystrokes. You know I’m working hard and my leadership on the school committee is making a difference, but I can’t do it alone. I need your help. In troubled times, smart leadership is more important than ever, making now the perfect time to support my cause. We’ll both feel better when you do.

posted in Campaign | 0 Comments

Important community event tonight

The Lowell schools, police and attorney general’s office are sponsoring a community forum tonight at LHS Auditorium, 50 Morrissette Blvd., 6-8 p.m., on prescription drug abuse among our youth. (The meeting will be televised on channel 22.)This problem is not unique to Lowell, however, we are taking a proactive position of partnering together to do something about it. As the parent of teens myself, I know what most of you are thinking: This isn’t a problem that impacts my kids. In fact, when I told my son he was required to attend the event, he gave me a similar response. “I don’t do drugs, so I don’t have to go.” Wrong! We all need to be informed—whether the problem hits directly at home or not. Someday it may impact your teen’s friend, a neighbor, or (God forbid) a family member; well-educated means well-prepared to deal with the issue. Join with us tonight to learn the dangers, warning signs, and actions we can take to protect our young people. Even one life derailed from drug abuse, hurts us all.

After that, if you’re looking for more to do, attend the school committee meeting at city hall, at 8 p.m.

posted in Education, Local People, Lowell High, Youth | 1 Comment

Equal time? Depends who asks

Not one to shirk media criticism when it’s warranted, I take space here to express my disappointment with WCAP Radio. Last week was a pretty exciting news week for me. House Bill 481—a bill I helped initiate a year ago—was heard before the Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday, Oct. 20. When I contacted our two media outlets, The Sun and WCAP, to cover this issue, which currently impacts our school budget by $1.3 million as well as the lives of 23 children forced out of district, I was told by our local radio station that it was too close to the election for me to come on-air. Mind you, this was only days after station co-owner Sam Poulten, a member of the Nashoba Vocational School board familiar with the bill, suggested I contact WCAP to discuss the issue, as well as only days after Councilor Kazanjian went on the Warren Shaw show to discuss his news—regarding a subpoena—for an hour!

Okay, they’re different issues—one is a hearing about changing a law to protect kids and save money while the other is a legal mandate to appear in court and give testimony to determine if any laws were broken. Most would agree, however, that House Bill 481 is as newsworthy as a subpoena, which leads me to conclude that getting on WCAP these days isn’t about equal time or even newsworthiness, but rather, it is about who is asking. Perhaps I should feel better that when I mentioned the unfair treatment to co-host Teddy Panos, he admitted to having to “tip toe” around the newsy-enough issue regarding time for the councilor. But the fact is, the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am.

By the way, The Sun did cover the issue before and after the hearing. Besides being news with far-reaching impact on costs and kids, House Bill 481 is not done yet; we now need speedy passage, which is where the bulk of my energy will be invested next.

posted in Campaign, In the News, Local Politics, Money Matters, State Concerns, school committee | 7 Comments

Glorious Morning

This morning, admidst swirling leaves, warm sunshine and bright blue skies, I finally got out on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail from Lowell to Westford. Between work schedules, travel, and bike maintenance issues, I hadn’t yet had the chance to try the trail, although I’ve been an avid supporter for over ten years. Today turned out to be perfect for an inaugural ride. I caught the trail by taking Stedman Street from Westford Street to Route 110, riding straight across and taking a left which let me check out the first leg, which starts from the parking lot at the Crosspoint Towers. The tunnel under Route 3 could possibly be intimidating on a dark afternoon, but was utterly benign this morning, and the presence of joggers, families on bikes and dog-walkers gave the whole trail a pleasant ambiance. I turned around at Crosspoint, biked back across Golden Cove, and met friends in Chelmsford Center where there is bike trail parking by Brickhouse Pizza – I couln’t find a website but here is a write-up from Chowhound. Our friends had stopped there on a previous bike ride and raved about the quality food and good value. The Chelmsford street crossings are a bit convoluted, routing the bikers onto narrow sidewalks at times, but really, no complaints, just happy to not be biking through the Center with traffic which I have done in the past. (This was much better!) When biking through Chelmsford, it was interesting to see how local businesses were advertising to bikers and walkers, and given the amount of people out today, it could well be a recession-buster for these enterprising companies. Leaving Chelmsford, we paralleled route 27, where we escaped traffic noise and viewed marshes, a beautiful lake (I don’t think it could be Freeman Lake, but am not sure what other lakes Chelmsford has) and gorgeous fall colors. Away from the center, even on a busy day, the trail was quiet and allowed for three-abreast biking for long stretches. Arriving at the end of the trail, about six miles from Chelmsford where Route 225 crosses 27, we turned back and retraced our path, about 12 miles in all. I’m so pleased to have finally been out on the trail, to see how well-used it is, and to enjoy this beautiful day outdoors. Thanks to Bruce Freeman who had the vision, the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail who saw it to fruition, and to all the supporters who helped make this a reality. It is truly an asset to our communities.

posted in Healthy Living, Sports | 0 Comments

Two school events tonight

A community forum “Get to Know You” will be held at the Stoklosa School, 560 Broadway Street, 6:30-8 p.m. with Judge Jay Blitzman of Middlesex County Juvenile Court and staff of the Lowell Public Schools. The event is free and open to the community, and refreshments will be served. Also tonight, Lowell High School will host its Distinguished Alumni Award Ceremony at the Irish Auditorium, 6-8 p.m. The annual event celebrates exemplary graduates who “have distinguished themselves by reaching the highest level of personal and professional accomplishment.” As the oldest, public co-educational high school in the country, LHS takes great pride in the accomplishments of its alumni as well as its scholarship endowment for future graduates. On that note, the cost of attending the reception is $50 and includes wonderful refreshments prepared by students in the school’s culinary arts academy.

posted in Education, Lowell High | 0 Comments

Advocacy at the state level

People who know me, know I’ve spent about 11 years working to improve our schools, first as an outspoken parent on the School Site Council at my son’s elementary school (he’s now a junior at LHS), then as a leader on the Citywide Parent Council, and finally, for the last six years, as a member of the Lowell School Committee. But yesterday was a first for me. Yesterday, I spent four hours in a crowded, hot room at the State House, listening to citizens express their concerns regarding 12 special education bills before the Joint Committee on Education. I was there to testify in support of House Bill 481, the sixth bill on the agenda, and although it was not the first time I had travelled to Boston to talk to lawmakers, it was the first time I spoke on a bill that I helped initiate. Today’s Sun has an article on the hearing, so I won’t go into details here except to add my perspective as someone with a vested interest in changing the law. There were lots of interested parties who spoke at the hearing—many special education advocates, parents, lawyers, and representatives from associations such as special education administrators, school committees, and superintendents. Each speaker was given three minutes, and it took four hours just to get halfway through the agenda. (We didn’t stay to hear the remaining six bills.) While waiting for my turn to speak, it struck me that as tiresome as it was to live through, the public hearing process was a significant part of a democratic society. Our right as citizens to address our government is a key component of representative government. It is not as important as voting, obviously, but definitely instrumental in shaping the type of government that results. Over dinner, I was happy to share my firsthand civics lesson with my children, who I know will become engaged and informed citizens themselves one day. Whether they will spend a day at the State House fighting for education reform, however, remains to be seen…

posted in Education, Money Matters, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Taking it to the State House

The Sun has an article in today’s paper about a hearing tomorrow at the State House before the Joint Committee on Education. I will travel to Boston with Assistant Superintendent Ann Murphy to speak in favor of House Bill 481. It won’t be the first time I’ve testified on issues before the state legislature that impact our public schools, but it will be the first time I support a bill that actually originated from Lowell—a brainchild of our own school administrators at my request for a suggestion for change that is good for kids and makes fiscal sense. (As the Lowell delegate for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, I took the request to their convention last fall where it passed unanimously and became part of MASC resolutions before the legislature.)

Today, support for the bill reads like a Who’s Who list of local lawmakers. In addition to lead sponsor Representative Pam Richardson who formerly served on the Framingham School Committee, other sponsors include: Kevin Murphy, 18th Middlesex; Dave Nangle,17th Middlesex; Tom Golden, 16th Middlesex; College Garry, 36th Middlesex; Jennifer Callahan, 18th Worcester; Bruce Tarr, First Essex and Middlesex; and Thomas Conroy, 13th Middlesex.

Despite the fiscal crisis facing schools across the state, I wouldn’t be going to Boston tomorrow if I didn’t believe House Bill 481 is in the best interest of our most vulnerable students regardless of the savings. The cost in mandated private tuition has been significant, but more importantly, the current practice has stripped school districts of their right to have a voice in where their children should be educated once the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) takes custody. Without that safety net, the true victims are DCF children unnecessarily forced to leave their friends and teachers behind. House Bill 481 gives districts the opportunity to advocate for keeping a child in his home school when that is appropriate, as well as reducing out-of-district costs significantly. (More on the bill after the hearing.)

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

School committee forum Monday night!

The Lowell Citywide Parent Council will hold its School Committee Candidates Forum Monday night at the LHS Little Theatre from 7-9 pm. You can attend the forum in person or watch from home on cable channel 22. If you miss the event live, the program will be replayed during these times. With two hours and only seven candidates for six seats, the forum will offer viewers an opportunity to determine where the candidates stand on the issues and what they see as their role in improving the Lowell Public Schools. As in past years, the forum will include two-minute opening and closing statements, one general question that all will answer, specific questions from panelists and audience members, and opportunities for candidates to “rebut” or comment on each other’s remarks. I know I’m not objective, but the CPC forums are always interesting and informative. Please join us for this important evening of democracy in action. If you’d like to submit questions for the forum, email cpc@yahoo.com lowellcpc@yahoo.com.

posted in Campaign, Local Politics, school committee | 0 Comments

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