Making a difference
Much of the nuts and bolts work of being on the school committee happens during subcommittee meetings. As you will see from the list below, I chair and am an active member of key subcommittees. This page includes a brief description of my work on these committees. Although no way complete, it provides a snapshot of some of the results of my efforts in these areas. I also attend most other subcommittee meetings, particularly Personnel and Desegregation even though I am not a formal member of those groups. Held weekday evenings, subcommittee meetings are not currently televised although they are open to the public. (Through my consistent efforts in this area, we were able to have students at the high school videotape LHS subcommittee meetings during the 2007-08 school year, but funding made it difficult to continue that program which was a one-year pilot effort.)
Subcommittee Chair: Lowell High School Special Education
Subcommittee Member: Curriculum and Instruction Facilities
Lowell High School: As chair, I have overseen a number of initiatives that have resulted in key progress: Most notably opening the Freshmen Academy, implementing an intensive remedial reading program for struggling students (freshmen and sophomores) and focused intervention around attendance issues. We continue to work with the high school around scheduling issues, in particular, teacher and student attendance, rigor of instruction, and especially during these tough fiscal times, how to manage with less staff and administrators.
Special Education: As chair, I have led changes to better meet the special needs of our students, notably our hearing-impaired children. The new system provides a process for holding the district accountable to make sure students have effective hearing aids in a timely fashion. We have also increased the teams serving students to determine if they need special education services, which has resulted in a more efficient identification process. The most recent changes to special education is to have school-based teams where staff are actually housed where the students they serve attend school rather than central office. In addition, under my leadership the Lowell School Committee and the Mass. Association of School Committees are advocating for a law change that will help special education students in the care of the Dept. of Children and Family remain in their local schools when appropriate. See more on House Bill 481 under separate post.
Curriculum and Instruction: Working with chair Connie Martin and other members, I have been actively involved in a number of initiatives—most notably developing ways to better meet the academic needs of our students and challenge them to their full potential. We have instituted a number of K-8 interventions designed to identify struggling students and get them immediate and daily help. Interventions also use flexible grouping as way to better serve middle and high-achieving students. Proven effective, it is especially helpful in math at the middle schools where we have established algebra groups. Last year, our high-level 8th graders scored as well as honors freshmen on the algebra test. Also, the last two summers we have offered Algebra Academies for our high-achieving math students entering the high school. Our current focus around improving the quality of instruction is to look closely at enhancing professional development opportunities for teachers.
Facilities: Working with chair John Leahy and other members, I have spoken out on the city’s need to better maintain our school buildings, and we have seen much progress in this area. Through our efforts, the district has developed a comprehensive data collection program to ensure a better working relationship and record keeping between DPW and our school building staff. We have also developed a five-year plan around building maintenance that the city is incorporating into its capital investment program.
Transportation: Working with chair Regina Faticanti and other members, we have been able to reduce the number of buses, while increasing bus safety by adding video cameras and tracking equipment on each vehicle—all while serving students at the same mileage requirements AND saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Finance: Working with chair Jim Leary and other members, we continually look for ways to save money through efficiencies that do not impact the quality of education our children receive. We also worked diligently to get through a very difficult budget, reducing overall expenditures by $8 million, which entailed difficult decisions such as closing the Rogers School and moving out of downtown for $3.2 million in savings. We are currently exploring options around the food service program, as well as ways to reduce energy and utility costs among other things.
Safety: Working with chair Regina Faticanti and others, we have instituted a renewed focus on consistent discipline practices, developing a metric system to measure school success in this area, as well as the creation of a system-wide policy regarding bullying. Another result of these efforts is each school must have a program in place to address bullying.