A long, long time ago, as Don McClean says in his iconic « American Pie, » I was born into a family that was adhered to education. My father, at the time, was getting himself in trouble for writing against Joe McCarthy’s views on Commies in the government. This was at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. After obtaining his Master’s Degree in Administrative Education, he became the youngest School Superintendent in Iowa. At twenty six years of age, he took over the rural school in Cosgrove, Iowa. Now Cosgrove was mostly a town which catered to the surrounding farms. There were twenty six people in the town, and television was a brand new invention so it did not cover a small Iowan school district. We had a television but because we were so far away from the station, I grew up without television. I learned from my father, he made special toys for us, and we greatly admired him. I even learned to clap my hands from him. He used to cup his hands to make a louder clap than the other men in town. I was a young boy there in Cosgrove. I grew up in a town with a small population – including eight nuns and one priest in the town. They were part of the twenty-eight. I was very proud of him when he brought home a rowboat that he had built himself. I thought it was beautiful.
I grew up with a Superintendent of Schools as my father. Every new idea he learned at the University of Iowa doctoral program was practiced on me. After years of trying, he got his Ph.D and we had the best party I have ever been to when he got his degree. One of my friends stole a cigarette from his father, and I learned not to smoke that night. A neighbor watching us trying burst into laughter as we burned ourselves trying to light up. Fortunately, I never did smoke cigarettes. However, it was one of my lessons of my young life. And, it happened on the day my father became Dr. Wayne R. Peters. Quite an accomplishment for a man whose father had always been a blacksmith.
I was very proud of my father. He was neat. He gained a reputation as a reformer. He instituted many changes in his school district. It was exciting. Years after Cosgrove, he became the Superintendent of Schools in Lowell, Massachusetts, a depressed milltown in the northern part of the state. I think he was a magnificient superintendent. He found thirty three classrooms not being used in Lowell High School. He fought the two unions that then existed. He started a Modified Open Campus to decrease overcrowding because he knew that Lowell could not afford new school buildings. There was no tax base for that type of expenditure, I believe there is no tax base for the « new » high school that can afford an estimated 100 to 150 million dollar expenditure. I believe the existing building must be fixed and brought up to code. But, that money will not necessarily come from the state, the city must spend a great deal of money getting prepared for the state’s largesse. It will not be easy.
Now, that is how I feel about my legendary father. The Lowell « SUN » stated that « The selection of Dr. Peters came after an extensive search for a highly qualified man. » In its editorial on the movement to deny him tenure, the « SUN » said, ‘We believe that Dr. Peters has done a creditable job and, with greater cooperation could have accomplished more in the past three years. » I agree with that assessment .
Where am I going with this. It is really very simple. I believe that Dr. Salah Khelfaoui Ph.D has also been doing a very creditable job during his short tenure thusfar in the city. He is facing a School Committee that denied him a contract recently when Robert Gignac changed his promised vote to a negative one after promising the reformers that he would vote for the Superintendent’s contract. This action reminded me of those people who voted against my father’s obtaining tenure. It was the same type of mischief.
I told Dr. Khelfaoui that I firmly believed, and this is not to put anyone down, it is just an observation by a former teacher and administrator that he is the best Superintendent that we have had since my father learned how to play politics in Lowell. His first year and one-half has resulted in a reintegration of the Citywide Parent Council, a slew of Parent Teacher Organizations, a review of the busing practices, a potential new High School, an effort by Robert Hoey to get fair pay for the para-professionals who act as teachers during the classroom teacher’s meetings, sick-days, Field Trips, etc. Everyone, it seems, is aware of the fact that para-professionals are paid poorly. Nothing is done to rectify the situation.
The teachers are paid far more equitably and get a living wage. Para-professionals make far less, and many have four year degrees or are working towards them, in the field of education. Dr. Khelfaoui is strongly aware of the discrepancies between what should be and what actually exists. This man meets with me every month during « Peters’ Principles, » We get a chance to talk a lot about education, something I have known about since I was about three years old and my father used to get me a carton of chocolate milk everyday. Now, it is possible that that violated an Iowan law, but my understanding is that now we feed every child in the system. Yesterday, the newspaper stated that Mr. Gignac and Mr. Hoey were examining the daily lunch for « quality, » As one person said to me, what about taste? Does the lunch taste good, as well as be of high quality? Perhaps Mr. Gignac can find out.
This is the best Superintendent since my father. My father was so popular in Lowell that he got five thousand votes more than his second place challenger. Mrs. Stoklosa was the second place challenger, and she was always gracious about that level of bullet-voting. She never begrudged my father his accomplishment. She was a wonderful lady.
So, this is where I am coming from – First, Dr. Khelfaoui deserves a contract. Second, the schools must give the man a chance, at least three more years, to institute his ideas for the curriculum. Third, he needs the support of the most jaded School Committeeman or woman. Finally, he deserves our respect for doing a tremendously difficult job with a staff that has been trimmed in order to save money on salaries. Denying him a contract for no stated logical reason is the epitome of bad taste. This man is essential to Lowell at this time and he is the person I want to see manning the wheel during a time when the city seems confused. If, in the end, he cannot do the job, we at least must give him the chance to show his mettle. Those Committeemen and Women who do not support him owe us an explanation as to why they feel that way. He does not deserve to be denied a contract at the last minute for no given, or a sparsely legitimized, reason.