Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Running History of the Lowell Public Schools

I have spent my entire life in public sector schools, except for one and one-half years in a Catholic School in Superior, Wisconsin. In most of those schools my father was the Superintendent. Once, for a half of one year he was the principal, but usually he was the Superintendent. School politics was the name of the game at our dinner table, and I grew up not trusting Teacher’s Unions. I am still that way today and I admit that I am not much of a union type. In fact, in Lowell a few years ago, I was slammed for pointing out the obvious, that public sector unions cannot go on strike. That is all that I said, but by the reaction I received from some teachers, you would think that I had dropped the atom bomb.

Education has been one of my longest-standing employers, I was voted head of the Parent’s Council in Lowell, I got two degrees in the subject, including my Graduate degree in English. I taught History for fifteen years and taught English in Catholic school for three years. I was a Principal for two. So, when I came to Lowell from Harvey, Illinois I spent hours in the archive room of the Memorial Library reading about Lowell’s history in education. It is stellar. Things that were not even thought of by other school systems were tried in Lowell almost two hundred years ago. One thing that I learned was that Lowell had one of the first K through 8 schools in the country. It was called the Highland School and was situated near the site of the current Morey School building. Whether it actually had a Kindergarten component is still a bit of a mystery to me, but it definitely taught children from the first grade on.

That is not to say it was the size of the Laura Lee or Riverside or Colburn schools. It was probably something close to a one-room schoolhouse located in the Highlands section of Lowell. But it had a curriculum based on a 1 through 8 model. And, the article said that it had school teacher who was proficient through the Eighth Grade. In those days you could be a school teacher with a seventh grade education. You could be a woman, but if you got married, you had to retire because of your student’s natural curiousity about procreation.

So, where does that leave us? I believe it would be safe to say it leaves us in a male-dominated culture, in which women were given the opportunity to teach. Every Saturday the Superintendent sat with the teachers and they reviewed “White’s Pedagogy” together. Everyday, teachers had to sweep their one-room schoolhouse clean, stoke their own stoves, and do all of the maintenance work on the building. If they did not do all of that extra work they were not considered good teachers. And, there was very little keeping a school “marm” from being fired at a moment’s notice. The Superintendent had a fairly safe job, as did the higher ranking male counterparts, but the female school teacher had very little protection.

Oh, and since they did not have school nurses back in 1828, the greater part of cleaning up for sick children fell on the school teacher

The mill owners placed great emphasis on the schools One was even heard to observe that he would rather have a young boy work the mills after having gone to school than have him slinging horse manure into a cart which kept the downtown attractive. The technical school was the result of that line of argument and Lowell had one of the first technical schools in lower-level grades in the nation..

November 22, 1963

I had my left hand on the door handle at home, and my right hand held my flute. The black telephone rang and my mother answered it. “Who is it?” my father asked. All my mother said was, “The President has been shot.” I will remember it the rest of my life. We all remember what we were doing when we heard the news. There is nothing new in that. But, there is something I want to say, and that is that there has never been a moment when I was upset that I was getting older and I wished I had been born at another time. I want to have remembered John F. Kennedy as President of the United States. There was a boyishness to him.

I remember listening to him on the radio when he made an address or spoke to the press and I could not get over what an interesting and impossible to understand man he was. Impossible because I was taught to pronounce my “r’s” and he did not. I remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the day that my father brought my older brother Tom and I into the kitchen to listen to the stand-down speech he made when the USSR ships turned around. The look on my father’s relieved face was priceless. I did not understand what I was doing there listening, but it remains a major block of time in my life. I could not understand most of the words, due to the Kennedy accent, (and there was a difference between a Kennedy accent and a New England accent), but I remained there at my father’s behest because I knew somewhere deep down inside me that this was important.

I remained in front of the television for three days as the funeral was on, and I was supposed to watch Oswald get moved and then shot by Jack Ruby but I went to church at that time and I have only seen it in retrospect. I learned what a twenty-one gun salute was, I learned was assassination meant, I cried repeatedly during the next decade when we went from lackluster President to lackluster President, Johnson, Nixon, Ford. All were pale lights next to the illumination that was John F. Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was important but what I remember best about him was, “Let’s go to Chicago and let’s win there!” He never made it out of the hotel.

In my 3,000 book library, I have books written during President Kennedy’s life. “Presidential Government,” by James MacGregor Burns; “Through These Men” by John Mason Brown; “Times to Remember,” by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and many others. They all bear out Kennedy’s tremendous vitality and strength. I have “The Glory and the Dream” by William Manchester as well as his more folksy ‘life and times’ books. All of these show an America that shared a dream. I have the original “Life” magazine’s section on the space race and John Glenn and John Kennedy’s role in the space race. I got to accompany John Glenn in his walk through Lowell in 1984 when we met up with a then ailing Paul Tsongas. I remember someone thrusting the book, “The Right Stuff” at us, and John Glenn gamely grabbing it and signing it. That was the closest I ever got to John Kennedy. I was a young nine year old from Coralville, Iowa in 1963. I am glad I got to witness history, but I never want what happened that day to happen again.

Dr. Wayne R. Peters Dedication

A couple of years ago, I was writing in Dick Howe’s Blog about my father’s losing battle with cancer. He had been exposed to asbestos in the military and had actually lasted longer than many other veterans of WWII who were also exposed. He made it a valiant fight and, in his last year especially, shared with us his pride in being in the Navy during WWII. The disease ultimately killed him, as I explained a couple of years ago.

Mesothemioma is an insidious killer, robbing you of your lungs one by one. There are, of course, only two in you. After his death, I remembered that I had promised him that I would work with then City Councilor Patrick Murphy to name a copse of trees after him. He liked the copse of trees idea because it would not put undo stress on me and Patrick might have an easier time gettng some shade trees named after him then something/anything else.

When I broahed the subject with Rita Mercier, whom I consider to be a friend and a woman I admire, she suggested that a copse of trees might be a bit to simple. She apparently had her eye on something else. So the motion that went to the City Council that Rita seconded, I believe, was to leave what it would be open for that period of time. They let me speak on it, and the entire City Council voted unanimously to recommend to the School Committee that something of some import be named after my Dad. The School Committee, under the stewardship of Mayor Murphy, voted much the same way. They also voted in great strength.

After meeting with the Mayor and Mr. Jay Lang, the Assistant Superintendent, we locked it down to a library or gymnasium. Mr. Lang looked into it, and could not find a library or gymnasium that did not have a name. So he recommended a splendid alternative, the Computer Room at the LHS Library. Granted, my father was not versed in Microsoft, but he was intensely interested in computers as a learnig tool and during my tenure at Wang, had vigorously pushed his children to support them. The result was that I, my brother, Tom, my sisters Liz and Mary all worked at Wang at some point. That was not what my father was pushing for, but it worked out nicely. By 1980, my father had learned enough about computers to realize that they should be a part of the classroom.

I enjoyed talking to my father about computers. It was something we had in common. My brother, Tom, and my sisters Cynthia, Liz, Estelle, and Mary, and myself, had all worked in programming, auditing, or some aspect of high technology.

I was proud of having a father, who, although he was not a programmer, was interested in the world of computers. He told me he applauded Dick Howe, Jr’s. attempts to computerize the Registry of Deeds. I felt that that was a step in the right direction and made it easy to accept naming a Computer Laboratory after my father.

On Saturday, November 16, 2013 we dedicated the room. I would like to thank Mayor Murphy, former City Councilor George Anthes (who is on television every morning on “City Life,”) as well as Councilor Rita Mercier, School Superintendent Jean Franco, Dr. Roxanne Howe, and School Committeeman David Conway, who were all present at the commemoration. In addition, two prominent Lowellians, Mary Abraham and Eleanor Sullivan were present as were most of my brothers and sisters. Two of them coud not make it, but my mother, Jeanne, and sister Margaret flew up from Florida. My sister Liz motored down from Machias, Maine.

My brother Tom and younger brother, Andy, as well as my sisters Mary and Estelle, attended the dedication. I got to speak for the family. Mayor Murphy, Superintendent Jean Franco, ex-City Councilor George Anthes, and Councilor Rita Mercier were also speakers. Rita Mercier informed my sisters and brothers that I was a “pain in the a–” about naming something after my father. I suppose I was.

The entire event went off without a hitch thanks to the assistance of Ms. Mary Bator of Jay Lang’s office. She was wonderful and could not have been more helpful. Dr. Franco and everyone were so nice and it was very nice being able to meet everyone. I would like to thank the City Council, the School Committee, and the School Administration as well as Attorney George Anthes for their kind words and sentiment. It meant a great deal to me and I am humbled by the experience.

More Paul . . .

I last wrote about Paul beating me at tennis and my beating him at track. After that point, I continued to bicycle (I bicycled an average of thirty-five miles each day), so I did not need a car. We finished painting his front room and one day I received an invitation to attend a meeting for a Brookline politician who was also Greek-American named Michael Dukakis. Mr. Dukakis looked over the one hundred plus people in that room and stated something to the effect that no one buys a home with a room like that unless he has politics in his blood. Which described Paul quite handily. I did not see much of Paul that day but Danny Brosnan asked me if I wanted to meet Paul’s sister. I only knew about Thaliea, his twin, and did not realize that he had a little sister.

She was so inundated with well-wishers that we could not get close enough to make introducations. Paul, in the meantime, was making introductions for Michael Dukakis and I got to meet a man who would become my personal friend for the first time. I diid not say much, Paul did most of the talking in the introduction, and I left on my bike. This was before helmets, and I enjoyed the wind in my hair. I do not know how many people I left at the party but biking seemed like a good way of distancing myself from the hustle and bustle of the crowd.

My father-in-law to be had been introducing himself as the only Republican in the room. I found that to be funny. Pau found it, I believe, to be just another of his father’s jokes. And he had heard most of the jokes at length by then. It turned out to be the second time I had the opportunity to meet my future wife. It was not to be.

At this point, Paul had Congress set in his sights. Mr. Dukakis was right in his observation about the size of the room. It was good for campaigns. On the ride home, I thought alot about who the Paul Tsongas was whom I helped paint that room. He was gracious, humble, funny, and quick with a brush. You had to use a brush, no rollers or gimmicks were allowed. I decided on that bicycle ride that I liked Paul Tsongas. That never changed.