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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Fighting video does not represent our youth

Ask any cop and he’ll tell you, most citizens obey the law. The same for students: most behave and are good kids. The majority of Lowell students are diverse, talented, and energetic young people who accept each other’s differences and behave well at school and sporting events. Yet, my first reaction to Tuesday’s front-page Sun article about Lowell kids fighting on YouTube was horror and dismay that our society had truly reached a new low. Schoolyard brawling, unfortunately, goes back centuries and is not a new phenomenon. Technology enables this brutality to be shared easily with the wider community and brings the viciousness into our homes. Fighting is not taken lightly in Lowell as education leaders work with police to identify culprits and stop them. In our schools, we have extensive policies to thwart bullying in all forms because this behavior is absolutely not acceptable. Even knowing that, the story disturbed me and I needed a perspective check, so yesterday I attended the Lincoln Elementary School’s annual show, and I wasn’t disappointed. Those beautiful, singing, dancing fourth graders reminded me who are children are. They performed wonderful skits they had researched about the environment as well as songs amid a colorful set they designed under the leadership of director and art teacher Erin Noonan. The songs were uplifting, snappy, and educational, with the focus on everyone doing their part to save the environment, and the kids were great.

Of course we also have troubled students, like any community, and we do not ignore the need to address these issues (which is one of our strengths), but we must also remember that the majority of our youngsters are good kids, working hard to learn and contribute to the world around them. On a final note, here are some songs from the Lincoln School show: Driving Miss Lazy “Grab a bike or take a hike, call somebody up you like, you know it’s the right thing to do,” or Turn It Off! “Yeah, turn it off when you brush, it’s a five gallon rush, turn it off (running water), turn it off (save the power), turn it off. Yeah, catch the lights and tv, don’t forget the cd, turn it off!” and It’s Our World “It’s our world and we’ll do what we can to be part of the plan…” These horrible fight videos involve a smaller number of troubled teens and must be dealt with; they do not, however, represent the majority of our kids.

posted in Education | 0 Comments

Washington legislators in Lowell to talk jobs

If you’re around this weekend, you’ll want to attend a  meeting with Senator John Kerry and Representative Niki Tsongas on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 9 a.m. at Middlesex Community College’s Federal Building, 33 Kearney Square in Lowell. State Senator Steve Panagiotakos, chair of ways and means, will also be there along with civic, business and labor leaders. The purpose of the meeting is to share information, and discuss jobs, the Merrimack Valley, and ways to invigorate the economy. Attend this public meeting to learn firsthand from people making decisions that will impact our recovery rate, and take the opportunity to have your concerns and ideas heard.

posted in Local Politics, Money Matters, National issues | 0 Comments

Not motivated to please

We were driving back from the mountains last week, listening to the John Tesh radio show, when he discussed the results of a study that has lingered with me. The study was to determine who was smarter–cats or dogs. Based on a comparison of brain size to body size, cats had bigger brains. Also, when comparing neurological activity in the brains, according to Tesh, cats had almost three times more neuron activity in their brains than dogs did. But despite these factors, Tesh explained, cats were considered far less malleable than dogs; thus, their resistance to obeying even simple commands (not because they don’t know what you want). Dogs apparently have an intuit sensitivity and connection to humans, and they care about the relationship, while cats are simply not motivated to please. This does not surprise me as I think of all the times my cat has ignored my calls to cuddle, so that it feels like a gift when he chooses to sit with me finally. Dogs, on the other hand, are thrilled simply to be near their human friends–part of their pack instinct, most likely, whereas cats are loners. Either way, it feels a lot like rejection (the middle paw in your face kind) and it’s motivating me to consider switching species.

posted in Just for Fun | 3 Comments

The power of blogs

It’s a whole new world out there and we better be part of it or get left behind. Today’s Boston Globe has a two-page feature on a mom-turned-blogger who is shaking up the education scene in Boston, adding her  two cents about the schools, the education lottery, and whatever else she chooses to write about on her blog. Also today, Paul writes on Dick Howe’s site about two new Lowell-area bloggers and how they will contribute to the cyberspace community in our city. No matter what you think of certain sites, there is no doubt that through the power of the internet, individuals can contribute to the discourse in their community (and far beyond) like never before. Expressing ideas and capturing the attention of others on a mass scale used to be limited to those who had FCC licenses and printing presses, but now that power is available to any individual with a keyboard and wifi. Technology is changing the way we relate to each other (interacting with teens now requires texting ability) as well as the world around us. The opportunity to discuss issues in a public context with so many people is heady stuff that invigorates a sense of belonging and makes us less dependent on traditional media for context and meaning. It can also be a major time-robber and should be balanced with direct human connections as much as possible. (My solution is to take days off and focus on computer-free living in the moment.)

posted in In the News, Local People | 0 Comments

Supreme Court decision bad for democracy

It made me sick to read today’s front-page headlines in the Boston Globe and the New York Times about the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited contributions in federal elections. The Times also ran an editorial that puts the impact of this decision in perspective. As Marie reports here, UMass Chancellor and former U.S. Representative Marty Meehan had a similar reaction. While supporters and the prevailing justices tried to frame this as a free speech issue, this ruling has opened the floodgates for undue influence from special interest groups with deep pockets—a decision that will seriously impact the number and diversity of candidates able to run viable campaigns as well as the effectiveness of incumbents to enact reforms that big business doesn’t like. Also, be prepared for the domino effect because state and local election rules likely will be next. One of the reasons I supported the Fair Vote Lowell campaign to change the city’s charter for electing local candidates was the money issue. It is already difficult for a good candidate to run an effective campaign without friends with deep pockets. In local elections, we have seen some candidates spend $100K in a state representative race, upwards of $40K for city council, and nearly $20K for a seat on the school committee. (Not that spending money always equals victory, but money buys visibility to reach voters, which becomes even more critical in larger races.) No matter how you twist it, this issue is NOT about free speech. It is about rich special interest groups having undue influence on a person’s ability to stay in office or get elected. Unchecked, this ruling will result in incumbents who cannot challenge special interest groups without serious consequences, candidates who will not be able to win without befriending big business, and many good people who will not even try. It is tough enough to get people to run for office. Making it all about the money is the exact wrong way to go.

posted in In the News, Local Politics, Money Matters, National issues | 2 Comments

Committee to discuss charter school tonight

Prior to its biweekly meeting, the Lowell School Committee will meet at 5:30 in Council Chambers tonight to discuss options related to the potential closing of the Lowell Community Charter School, and the impact the 841 students will have on district classes next year. The meeting will be televised live on cable channel 10 (should also be available on streaming video at some point through LTC). In December, Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester indicated that he will recommend closing the school at the end of the school year; the Board of Education will vote on his recommendation at its meeting on Jan. 26 in Malden. Tonight, the school committee will get more information about the charter-school students who live in Lowell, the potential impact to the district, and various options available to the board if the charter school license is revoked. I will be on WCAP tomorrow morning—sometime after 6:40—to discuss those options briefly on the radio. I will also report my thoughts on the issue here, so stay tuned.

posted in Education | 4 Comments

Lowell Reads….a look back

Years ago (1999? 2000?), I was part of the group “Lowell Reads”, which was an attempt to have a community-wide book reading, with discussions and related activities. This was part of the One City One Book movement which started in Seattle in the late Nineties. The idea is to “build a sense of community and promote literacy.” As others have noted, these goals may be too ambitious; however, it was a lot of fun planning activities to go along with the book, and there were reading groups at the high school that got some young people involved. Our book was Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which with its overtones of terrorism and fear juxtaposed with the dreamy, slightly surreal progression of the plot and the beautiful dream that art can change hearts and minds, turned out to be a perfect choice. UML Professors joined in with informative sessions shedding light on some of the book’s themes, and the Lowell Opera Company (no longer active, I fear) performed some of the pieces mentioned in the book, which features a renowned soprano who ends up as one of the hostages. I remember loving the book, but never got around to reading any more by Patchett until I recently picked up Truth and Beauty, her 2004 memoir of a friendship (my review here). This got me wondering why I had never read any of her other novels and also why the attempt to do another citywide book never got off the ground. Part of the problem was choosing a book, then the driving force behind our group, Mary Johnson Lally, Director of the Pollard Memorial Library, retired, and the group just dwindled away from there. Still, the movement persists. Chelmsford has been doing it for a few years and has had some nice events to go along with the books. I went to a Bob Martin concert at the library that I think went along with reading Empire Falls and last year they had an art contest to coincide with their community reading of Three Cups of Tea. I wasn’t able to determine if this is a yearly event or what their book choices have been over the years or how successful it’s been; but I suppose it’s something that might work better in a smaller community. In any case, I’m going to read some more novels by Ann Patchett!

posted in Books, Local Groups | 6 Comments

Shredding for a cause

Something about the start of a new year seems to motivate people to get organized and reduce clutter (along with other unrealistic goals), but the fear of identity theft can make disposing of confidential paperwork problematic. Even if you own a shredder, it is tiresome to get through large amounts of unwanted statements, notices, credit card offers, etc. The Merrimack Valley Food Bank has a creative way to help while also helping neighbors in need (MVFP provides food for shelters, pantries and programs in 29 communities in northeastern Mass and southern NH). This Friday, January 15, from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, you can have up to three full boxes of documents professionally shredded*. All it takes is $5 and a bag of nonperishable food. Bring your boxes to the warehouse at 735 Broadway in Lowell and get one of your New Year’s resolutions out of the way. Nothing to shred? You could still drop off a bag of food on your way downtown. With elections, politics and other dramas crowding the headlines, the issue of hunger doesn’t get much coverage, but it persists, and the folks at the food bank could use our help.

*Shredding is courtesy of Doc Shredding Corp of Plainville.

posted in Local Groups | 0 Comments

A book and a movie

Coincidentally, I just read a book and saw a movie about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Today, the islands, which are only about 8 miles from France, are littered with German bunkers and fortifications leftover from the war, but I, for one, never realized that the Germans had set foot on British soil. After Dunkirk, the British withdrew their soldiers from the islands which were promptly bombed and occupied by the Germans as a first step toward invading England. Hitler boasted that he was “wiping his feet on the doormat of England.” The occupation was harsh, including deportations, executions and concentration camps and lasted from 1940-1945. It makes for an interesting story and a chilling preview of what might have been if the Nazis had prevailed. more »

posted in Books | 4 Comments

School committee to meet on local charter school issue

Yesterday’s Sun had an article regarding Wednesday’s discussion among school committee members of the Commissioner of Education’s indication that he would recommend revoking the license of the charter school on Jackson Street in Lowell. The Mass. Board of Education will vote on that decision later this month. In the meantime, the Lowell School Committee will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 5:30 in Council Chambers, to explore the district’s options should the 800-plus students in grades K-8 be returned to its schools. Factors to be discussed included the breakdown of students by grade and the impact on classroom size, options regarding school building facilities and costs, information regarding the possibility of creating a district-controlled Horace Mann Charter School, as well as funding for the returning students. (It is possible funding for those students would require special legislation in order to avoid a year lag time.) Although the state board of education is the ultimate decider regarding the future of the charter school, if those students return to our district schools, it is in their best interests as well as the city’s that we have begun the process of exploring our options. The meeting will be televised live and can be seen on cable channel 10.

posted in Education, State Concerns, school committee | 1 Comment

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